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Simple Lessons:

Short, concise lessons and concepts helpful to students and teachers

Keeping Your Distance

By Terry Bryan

A central principle in most martial arts is the concept of distance. The Japanese word for this notion is “ma-ai,” which more precisely translates as “space” or “fit.”

The proper spacing that "fits" the situation is a crucial element in combat, especially if you add timing to this concept. This concept has been used in combat as long as we have recorded history. Let’s discuss this concept from a martial point of view and how it applies to other areas of our lives.

Each person develops a specific distance from which he or she feels the most comfortable when engaging in conflict with an opponent. This distance is developed due to a number of elements, including body type, attitude and tactics or styles of training. A larger person may feel more comfortable at grappling range, while a smaller person may be more inclined to use a hit and run type of tactic.

In America today, most martial arts programs are very pragmatic and teach a variety of techniques from different ranges, but in general pure arts tend to specialize at a certain distance. For example, a Tae Kwon Do practitioner would prefer a kicking range, while a judo person would feel much more comfortable at grappling range. The modern warrior has to develop the ability instantly to identify the strengths of his opponents and developing a strategic response based on his attributes, which can neutralize those strengths.

Taking the opponent out of his natural range, or modifying the timing of techniques, may be the key principles in this tactic. Your opponent may not notice this change, but will find that all their techniques are suddenly off a little. Also he or she won’t feel entirely comfortable. This can give you an advantage.

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About the Author:

Terry Bryan is the former General Secretary for the USA-NKF (National Karate Federation), the official governing body for the sport of karate with the US Olympic Committee. He currently is the Executive Director for the American Black Belt Academy, a 501c3 non-profit organization located in Colorado Springs. His column, Simple Lessons, regularly appears on

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Maai, martial arts strategy, range of combat, distance in the martial arts, karate, martial arts

Read more articles by Terry Bryan

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