Any one who is familiar with fighting has had to deal with distance. It can be your worst enemy or your best friend depending on how you utilize it.
Distance is time:
Distance is a factor in every single technique you perform be it a kick, punch, throw, or lock. Distance also effects timing, because as I always say to my students, “distance is time”. The farther away the target is the longer it takes to cover the distance; thus, given equal speed and start time the shortest technique will always win. It is because of this that schools and students spend so much energy finding ways to add distance to their opponent without adding any to themselves.
In my school, we teach a technique called “monkey back” that we use to steal inches from our opponents reach and add them to ours. This technique has saved my bacon many times. I remember doing a lot of san shou sparring(close range trapping/redirecting utilizing tactile control skills) with Zac, a Hopkido black belt. He used to be constantly frustrated by the consistent failure on his part to connect because of my monkey back. He would have a clean shot and miss because I would be suddenly out of range – but only for him, he was never out of range for me. I learned a great deal from him about how to utilize my styles techniques in sparring.
Distance in defense:
Because “distance is time”, it can be a lifesaver in your defensive strategy if used properly. I have a class brother named Danny who is very hard to hit, one of the big reasons is because he uses distance to his advantage so well. He seems to be adept at staying just outside of reach all the time. If “distance is time”, then the more distance you keep between your opponent and you between technique exchanges the more time you have to respond to his/her attacks – and as we all know, in a fight time is measured in miliseconds.
Keeping your opponent at a manageable distance requires good footwork and a sharp eye, and it can often be the single greatest thing that makes your defense work for you. Every time someone attacks they leave something open, if they are forced to constantly cover a greater distance than they are comfortable covering to attack you then you have more time to identify and counter against that opening, thus forcing them to expose themselves and take the beating instead of you. In a fight, you want to always draw your opponent into the area that you are strongest and he is weakest, sometimes distance can be the factor that causes that to happen for you.
Distance in offense:
As I just discussed, distance can be a great tool in a defensive strategy, but it can also be the thing that saves your offensive game as well. Have you ever tried to throw a kick in a really short range? If you have you probably understand that it does not work quite as well as you would like. The reason is because kicks (like all techniques) have a range, and when the target is inside that range they loose effectiveness.
I remember my first sparring experience in class, a lowly white sash against a black sash. I sparred Tom, a black sash/belt in both Xing Yi and Taekwondo and deadly with his feet. The safest place for me and the most dangerous place for him was real close. As long as I stayed real close to his body I had the advantage because he could not use his favorite weapons – his feet. There have been many a time I have gained the upper hand in a fight/sparring match against an opponent by jamming him/her up and not giving them the distance they needed to opperate comfortably. If you are good at reading someone by contact, and have good covering/jamming techniques then close range is the way to go sometimes.
Distance and footwork:
In order to keep the distance that you want when you are fighting you have to have good footwork. It is your feet that take you where you want to go, if your feet are not moving quickly and correctly then you will constantly struggle with controling distance. I remember in the early years of sparring, I was having a hard time maintaining a consistant distance from my opponent. He would advance with an attack and I would invariably shoot way too far backwards on instinct, and then have to regain that distance in order to put me back within striking distance myself. Too far away means work that I have to do in order to attack, and I must counter attack or I am guaranteed to loose. Also, if I step in and attack and I do not step far enough, or over step then I am either out of range when I fire my strike or jam myself up, respectively.
If your opponent is pressing you hard and you continually step backwards to manage the distance between you, then you can count on getting backed into a corner. Your feet have to utilize ping (lateral movement) by either circling with your opponent or stepping off to the side at a 90 degree angle. If you are the one pressing them and they are retreating too much and you want them close, then try stepping on their foot to pin it down, I have pretty good success with that strategy.
If you do not allow intention to control distance in your fighting then you will continually find yourself frustrated by your opponents who use it against you all the time. Distance is a fundemental factor of fighting and must be trained just the same as every other resource we possess. Hope this helps some of you out there, and as the fictional ninja master Storm Shadow says, “Train hard, fight easy!”