Space (i.e. the distance between you and your opponent) is one of those concepts that we rarely give any consideration too. Yet it is an important concept. Having the ability to manipulate the space between you and your opponent will give you a definite edge, and in many cases, it is the person who is most able to manipulate and make use of that space that comes out on top.
To make this discussion slightly easier, I will consider the concept of space in four different contexts: non-fight, pre-fight, in-fight and post-fight.
Non-Fight And Space Management
Non-fight is when you are not fighting (funnily enough!). It is when you are leading a normal everyday life that is free from aggressive or violent conflict, which is 99% of the time for most people.
As I pointed out in my article on communication in self defence, even though you are not engaged in any kind of conflict here, you should still be very mindful of how you put yourself across to people in your daily life. This means carrying yourself with enough confidence that any would-be attackers will be put off from targeting you as their next victim. It means remaining switched on and making yourself into a hard target as much as possible without crossing the line into paranoia or some kind of hard man act. Read the communication article for more detail on this.
Here, I want to talk about space. So how does this concept come into play in a non-fight context? It’s simple really. You just put as much space between you and potential troublemakers as possible.
That could simply mean steering clear of bad areas and known trouble spots. So if a particular part of town is known as a dodgy area, you don’t go there. If a certain bar or nightclub has a reputation for trouble, you steer clear and go somewhere else.
Similarly, if you are walking down the street and you spot an individual or a group of individuals who look like they could be trouble then you put as much distance as possible between you and them. You cross the road; you take a different route. Whatever you need to do to extend that space.
The less space that exists between you and potential trouble the more likely it is that you will get caught up in that trouble.
It’s common sense then. The more space you can put between you and potential trouble the less likely you are to get tangled up in it.
Sometimes though, for whatever reason, we end up in conflicts that we have to deal with and the concept of controlling space becomes even more important and immediate.
Pre-Fight Space And Space Management
I’ve already written at length on the importance of controlling space at the pre-fight stage so I won’t go into too much detail on it here. You can read this article here for more information.
Suffice to say that if you find yourself in some kind of aggressive conflict with another, especially if the other person wants to get physically violent, then the concept of managing your space is vitally important.
It is very much up to you to take control of the situation here and not allow your aggressor to dominate or dictate too much how things go. The best way you can achieve this is by being as assertive as possible without being aggressive yourself, and using some kind of fence/guard position to actively control the space between you and your would-be attacker.
Get this part right and there is a good chance you will be able de-escalate the situation and extricate yourself from it. If not, and the other person insists on pushing the matter, because you have been controlling the space between you to a greater or lesser extent, you will have given yourself a good chance of further controlling things if the situation goes physical. By this I mean you will either strike pre-emptively or have time to defend yourself against whatever attack comes your way. Either way, the context has now changed to in-fight.
In-Fight And Space Management
Things are obviously a little more hectic (or a lot more, depending on the situation) at this stage of the game and you’ll either be attacking or defending. Whichever you do, space control becomes vitally important.
If you are attacking your attacker then you will need to continually create space for your attack to continue unabated. One of the best ways I know off to do that is to continually index and strike until your attacker is down or distracted long enough for you to escape.
Again, I’ve already covered indexing at length in this video and in this article, so if you need more detail then check those out. Indexing, as I see it, is an extension of the fence position. You are still controlling the space, but this time to achieve optimum distance from which to strike.
In fighting, you are either creating space or closing space. Whichever you do will depend on the circumstances of the fight and what kind of fighter you are.
In general, if you prefer to strike then you will largely try to create enough space from which you can strike. This is especially true if your attacker has somehow closed that space down by clinching you in some way. If this happens you will have to employ elbow strikes or gouging or head-butting to drive your attacker back and open up the space again so you can strike.
Of course, when you do manage to create space, you are also giving your attacker space in which to strike as well. A good way to prevent your attacker from striking back is to use forward pressure as you strike, keeping your attacker on the back foot and maintaining full control of the space you have created for yourself.
If you are an infighter and prefer to grapple then you will not be worrying about creating space. Your goal will be to close down the space between you and your attacker so that you can clinch and takedown. You will also be taking away your attackers ability to strike, since they won’t have enough space to do so with any real effect.
You may also use this strategy if you are forced on the defensive and your attacker gets in first with the strikes. After covering or putting up some kind of guard you may choose to rush forward into your attacker, closing down the space and clinching them in some way. This can be a very instinctive strategy for a lot of people when they are under pressure.
The same applies when you find yourself on the ground. If your attacker is still on his feet and trying to close the space between you, then you can use your legs to kick out and maintain that space until you get a chance to get back to your feet again.
If you’re attacker is on top of you, again you can close them down to prevent them striking or you can try to create space to do something else, which could be to strike, to kick them off of you or to lock them up in some way. Again, it comes down to your preferred way of fighting and exactly how much space you have to work with.
Quite often in fighting you won’t have a choice in how much space there is. If you are in an environment where little or no space exists, like a toilet cubicle or small room, then you will have to work with what you have. This is why it is a good idea to practice with varying amounts of space in training. Lots of people continually train in large areas where there is plenty of room to move around. If you are not careful you will risk getting a false sense of security that comes from always relying on the fact that there is always space available. So try to practice sometimes in confined spaces to counteract this.
Post-Fight And Space Management
Even after the fight is over you should still be aware of your space. When you no longer have to fight then you should leave the scene, putting as much space between you and your downed attacker as possible.
If there are other people around then you are back to controlling your personal space again, making sure no one else gets in to have a go.
This is even more important when you may have to hang around afterwards, perhaps to stay with someone who is injured. You should still be on high alert and your guard should still be up in case things kick off again. I’ve been in instances before when I’ve thought things where over, only to have them kick off again.
Space Management Conclusion
So hopefully you can see how important the concept of space control is in self defence, before, during and even after the fight. The better you understand the concept of space and how and why you should control it, the more effective you will be when it comes to applying your particular form of self defence. Play around with the concept in training until you become skilled at manipulating space to your advantage. Such practice will be time well spent.