Distance is very important in the martial arts.

If you train (in the Bujinkan) you’ve probably heard it many times, “watch your distance”. In the beginning this is told to you over and over again. After a certain amount of time you are expected to understand this concept and not have to be told anymore.

But what exactly are you expected to understand? Distance is extremely important. When I tell my students to “watch your distance” what I’m saying specifically is to pay attention to where you are in relation to your opponent. When starting a training scenario you should start “outside” of reach of your opponent, then the aggressor should move in closer to the defender and at the appropriate distance the aggressor should perform the attack. Let’s try and break this down. First, where exactly is “outside of reach”? If you are approached by an aggressor, and attack is imminent, if you wait to move until the attacker is within arms reach you’re to late, you will have to take the first attack. So start all training scenarios outside of the reach of the attacker, you want to stay just at the point that the attacker thinks he can reach you if he steps quickly enough, but can’t reach you without stepping.

You must learn to control that space, start well outside that space and through footwork close the distance until you reach that friction line. Eventually you will be able to “feel” where this line is without consciously thinking about it, but in the beginning you must think about it, pay attention. Sometimes ask your training partner to try and reach you without stepping.

This is important not only in receiving the attack but also for the attacker. As the attacker in these training scenarios you must also be able to “feel” this line to know when it’s appropriate to attack. I’ve seen it many times, attacker and defender both assume the appropriate posture for the technique being practiced and then the attacker attacks without understanding of the distance involved. You can perform all the techniques perfectly, but if you don’t understand the distance required they will all fail.

This is why, in the beginning, we train very slowly. Not only do you need to learn the physical technique but you also need to learn the distancing (not to mention, timing, and angles these, hopefully, we will cover in other posts).  If you are training properly you will eventually be able to “feel” when someone is close to your personal space even if you can not see them.

It’s actually very simple, if someone can reach you without stepping he can probably hit you before you can move out of the way, if he has to step, then that gives you that extra fraction of a second to move.

Distance is also very important in other areas of our training. I have seen many Godan tests over the years, and (this is just my personal observation) when someone is kneeling in front of Soke for the test, if they kneel to close, or to far away from Soke, they usually fail the test. You should be aware enough by the time you take the test to put yourself in the proper position in front of the person performing the test, if the person performing the test has to step forward or backwards to adjust to your position (in my opinion) you’ve already failed the test.

I have pretty much limited this discussion to a specific type of training scenario; some one closing the distance and striking. The distancing changes with each different type of scenario, for instance, once you add weapons to the scenario the distance has to adapt to take the extended reach into consideration.

You’ll notice that there are a whole lot of people who do not understand this concept naturally. I’ve noticed standing in lines that most people just don’t care about others personal space or their own apparently. When someone comes in close behind me in a line, they can’t possibly know what that does to my attitude, if they did know I’m pretty sure they would take a step back. When someone gets that close to me, my awareness jumps up a few notches. This usually causes me to turn slightly or completely to the side so that I can see them, as well as where I’m going. Pay attention to this the next time your in line somewhere see if you can be aware of everyone around you and see if you can control the space around you, positioning yourself so that most people would have to step to reach you.

How does the saying go? “Be nice, but always have a plan to kill everyone in the room” 🙂 or something like that.

Gambatte (Keep Going)

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