There are many different ways to classify martial arts ranges, but one relatively simple method way to divide all combat up into 5 distances…
- Projectile range (guns, javelins, arrows, thrown rocks, etc.)
- Handheld weapons range (sticks, swords, handheld spears, knives, clubs, etc.)
- Striking range (punches, kicks, elbows, knees, headbutts, etc.)
- Clinching range (overhooks, underhooks, collar ties, lapel grips, sleeve grips, etc.)
- Ground fighting range (mount, guard, side control, rear mount, etc.)
Most martial arts specialise in one or two ranges of combat.
Combat handgunners, Kyūdō (Japanese archery) practitioners, and people who throw axes are all operating in the projectile range (range 1). They are launching attacks with some sort of tool or weapon that actually leaves the hand.
Kendo, western fencing, historical European martial arts (HEMA) and much of Filipino Martial Arts focus on the handheld weapons range (range 2) where they are using swords, sticks, knives, clubs, pikes, whips etc. to amplify power and increase reach.
Boxers, Taekwondo practitioners, Krav Maga and Kyokushin Karate practitioners operate mostly in the striking range (range 3). It’s here where we see most of the natural weapons of the body used like punches, kicks, elbows, knees and headbutts
Judo, Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling spend a LOT of time at clinching range (range 4), breaking grips, trying to achieve dominant positions, and jockey for the takedown.
And ground fighting arts include BJJ, submission grappling, and the ground portions of Judo, Sambo and MMA.
BLURRED LINES BETWEEN MARTIAL ARTS RANGES
Now of course these are imperfect divisions!
Boxers might clinch many times in a match, so they actually flow between ranges 3 and 4.
Many Filipino martial arts (FMA’s)and traditional Japanese martial arts that specialise in weaponry also cover empty handed fighting and clinching in their curricula, which is necessary because you can always lose your weapon at close range or have someone crash in against you.
Grappling situations in the street have to take account of weapons weapons and strikes.
And wrestlers often include surreptitious striking in their competition – just look at how many of them compete with bandaged heads due to ‘accidental’ headbutts and clubbing forearm strikes delivered in the windmill of gripfighting arms.
(There’s a reason that so many wrestlers end up competing with bandaged heads)
So the classification isn’t perfect, but it’s a fact that various martial arts are at their best in specific ranges.
The Filipino martial arts may have a small ground fighting component, but if you want to become a skilled grappler then 99% of the time you’re best off going to a BJJ school and not an FMA school.
Conversely traditional Gracie Jiu-Jitsu includes some very basic defenses against knife and club attacks, but if you want to specialise in that area then you’re way better off going to train in Kali, Escrima, or Arnis.
THE NECESSITY OF ALL RANGE FAMILIARITY
You may have your favourite martial art and your favourite fighting range, but here’s the thing…
A serious martial artist needs to be at least semi-familiar with every range of combat, because you never know exactly how any given confrontation is going to turn out.
You could start a confrontation at projectile range with your gun drawn, but what if your gun jams and the other guy rushes in and takes you to the ground? You’ve just gone from range 5 to range 1 in less than 5 seconds.
Or you could be in clinching range only to have the other guy break away and pick up a nail-studded 2×4. You might be an expert grappler but you also better know what to do in handheld weapon range.
I’m not saying that you need to be an expert at every range. But you also don’t giant blind spots where you have absolutely no idea what to do!
So sure, go ahead and mostly train in your favourite art and at your preferred range. But back yourself up and develop at least some familiarity with every range you might need to fight at.
If you’re a grappler learn how to throw a stiff jab. If you’re a kickboxer learn how to escape mount. If you do MMA learn how to swing a stick.
A basic understanding of what the main hazards are and a plan to defend yourself at every range will go a long way to eliminating your blind spots!
THE PODCAST VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE
You may or may not know that I host and produce a podcast.
I discussed today’s topic in episode 178 of my podcast (‘The 5 Ranges of Every Martial Art’).
You can subscribe to the podcast at the links above and check out episode 178, or listen to the embedded audio below.
Hope you find this and all the other episodes and topics I’ve covered on the podcast useful!