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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Home on the Range

Aww yeah, let's get nerdy up in here.

Newbies in the martial arts usually have to be taught a number of core things that are universal regardless of style.

Things like targeting properly, timing, footwork, smooth movement, learning to relax and flow, etc.

Then there's range.

"Range" means how close to a target you to position your body in order to do what you're intending to do - punch it, kick it, hit it with a weapon, etc. It varies based on the length of the item you're attacking with and what you want to hit.

For an average healthy brain, it's not that difficult to get to correct punching range, because our brains are very aware of our arm length and where our hands are in space. Our brains use a LOT of its sensory and motor perception on this, although it's interesting that we apparently perceive our hands as shorter and fatter than they really are.

For most of us, we can easily close our eyes and touch our index fingers together without much trouble, because our brain knows where our hands are in space. We can do it behind our backs, above our heads... it's not a problem. It's why we don't have to think at all to clap our hands together, and we don't have to see it to do it.

It's also relatively simple to naturally step to a point without measuring it and be close enough to an object to pick it up or touch it without having to adjust range much. You can test this by literally stepping up to a wall with the intent of touching it with our fingertips and we can usually do it with a couple of tries easily, not being too close or too far to do it. Again, this is why we don't usually have to think about it much when we pick up objects.

This is why range is not terribly difficult to learn when you start punching with your fist in the martial arts. The adjustment usually comes when you shorten your hand (from outstretched to a fist, which means you lose a couple of inches in reach), how your footwork adjusts your range (adding or removing how far you have to reach), and the idea of punching at or through what you want to hit.

Range is NOT as easy to learn with kicking, as your brain isn't used to using as much capacity to manipulate your feet in space. It takes more time as you learn what part of the foot/leg you want to kick with, how high you want to kick, and how much distance you have to have to kick properly. However, since your brain does generally know where your feet are in space, it gets the feedback it needs to learn this in a short time.

The problem intensifies when you put an object in your hand.

Your brain doesn't "know" where the part of the weapon you want to use is in space naturally. You have to teach it. And while learning one weapon certainly helps you train for another, the big problem in range when you use multiple weapons of varying lengths is that you have to learn ALL of their ranges and be able to deploy them easily.

The longer the weapon, the more difficult the problem becomes. Put something short, like a pen, in your hand and touch the middle of your opposite palm with the tip of it. Close your eyes and do it, and I bet you were pretty successful in touching your palm with your pen without looking.

Try it with longer objects and you'll see your first-time accuracy decline. And your brain KNOWS where the target - your palm - is in space. It becomes even harder when you are targeting something not attached to you.

In Arnis (and in kobudo), we spend a lot of time learning this. We learn what part of the weapon is "optimal" to hit with, and how close or far we need to be to use it optimally against various targets. For example, you need to get closer to hit to the legs than you do to hit the arms with a short weapon as the distance is greater.

Learning how to make range adjustments against moving objects is MUCH harder than it seems, even with the empty hand. Range becomes greatly affected by timing and judgement of how whatever you're trying to hit is moving in space by direction and by speed.

Then you have to learn how range gives your opponent advantages and disadvantages, like in the image above where one guy is out of range but the other positions himself to be IN range for the counter-attack (note, if his right foot had been backward he'd be out of range, but with the right foot forward, BOOM!).

Range seems like a relatively easy problem to solve, but as you can see, it really isn't when you break it all down.

That's why many trained people who are really good with empty hand fighting will prefer reverse grip (aka "icepick" grip) with a knife vs. standard (or "saber" or "fencing" grip). It's because they don't have the same range issues when they can basically punch with a knife, which greatly simplifies using the weapon. If you've ever sparred with knives you can see that reverse grip is NOT necessarily an advantage vs. saber grip (because wow, those inches you lose in reverse grip DO matter).

Here's a nice video that basically illustrates the problem. There's a place where they go slow-mo and the dude with reverse grip MAY have made a successful strike if it was in standard grip (he was out of range).

Read THIS from Hock Hochheim for more discussion on knife grips, by the way.

As you can see, if you wanna hit stuff successfully, you really have to solve problems of range, and you have to understand all of the variables that affect range. It's not always as simple or intuitive as it appears, especially when you use tools.

This is one MAJOR way you can really spot someone who has trained with weapons vs. someone who hasn't (even if they are trained in an empty hand art), because the range will be all wrong - too close or too far - for the untrained person.

How do you discuss range in your training? How do you teach proper range for what you do? Are there any major hiccups you've noticed in teaching range? Let us know in the comments!

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