In the final post of our 3-part series on enhancing your martial arts skillset, we talk about distance – simply defined as the space between two points. In the first post, we explored improving your timing, and our second post examined hand speed. In martial arts, whoever controls the distance, controls the fight. Managing the distance between you and your opponent determines when you are safe, when you are close enough to be hit, or how easily you can take advantage of an opportunity to strike.

Here are some tips to help you better manage distance:

Know your range. In karate and kickboxing, for example, the fighting range must be further because you need to stay out of range of kicks as well as punches, but a boxer can stay just an inch out of his opponent’s punching range, quickly close in and hit, and then get out again. Be aware that fighting ranges can change rapidly.

Adjust your guard. Holding your hands in a more extended guard position when you’re fighting at a distance will help to keep your opponent further away. You’ll need to adjust as your opponent gets closer to prevent them from getting under the guard.

Work according to your body type. A tall, long-legged, long-armed fighter will manage distance differently from a shorter-limbed fighter, who might move in and out more quickly.

Work according to your timing. If you’re slower, you might want more space (and therefore time) to respond to oncoming threats.

Work according to your opponent. Throw a miken and see how your opponent responds. Do they back up, giving you the extra distance (for a kick), or do they slip and move closer, giving you a different opportunity (e.g. knee or elbow strike)?

Use your weight. Keeping 80% of your weight on your rear leg gives you more space to see what’s coming at you. If your weight is too far forward, you don’t have time to react when your opponent moves in to strike.

Shorten your stance. A shorter stance allows you to be more agile. A longer stance can make you slow or feel stuck.

Forestall and footwork. Just as your opponent moves to strike, throw a counterstrike. Immediately after counter-striking switch the angle of your body by pivoting your feet. Better footwork can help you move in and out of range, land better strikes, and counter your opponent’s strikes.

No matter your skill level, knowing yourself, and the tools to improve your distance control, will ultimately help you become a better fighter.