Controlling the Distance

Take away space when attacking and create space when defending.

Distance management is a concept consistent between all combat sports. Whether you are kickboxing and trying to stay out of range of your opponent’s strikes, or a wrestler setting up the perfect shot, you want to engage with your opponent on your terms.

Generally speaking, in Jiu-Jitsu you want to close the distance when attacking and create space when defending.

Below are some examples of controlling the distance in Jiu-Jitsu:

  • When passing your opponent’s half guard, you may take away space by capturing your opponent’s head and securing a far underhook.
  • When blocking a guard pass, you may frame with your arms and hip escape to create space.
  • When on the bottom in open guard, you may create space by backing out, then standing up.
  • When on the bottom in open guard, you may go on the offensive by getting underneath your opponent, taking away space, and attacking his legs.

In most positions, there are three general ranges:

  • short range: you are very close to your opponent, using the connection of your bodies to create pressure.  This is ideal for attacking.
  • mid-range: you are neither close nor far, but rather in a nebulous middle zone.
  • long range: you have space between yourself and your opponent, allowing you to set up effective defenses.  This is ideal for defending.

As a general rule, don’t get caught in the mid-range.  From this distance, you are neither attacking nor defending, which means you aren’t dictating the terms of the fight.  And this means your opponent can.  You always want to be either pressing the attack or establishing a defense.

For example, when playing open guard from the bottom you want to be either very close (attacking) or very far away (defending).

A common mistake people make when sparring is starting in an established guard, rather than fighting to secure the position.  The positions are often dictated by the person who controls the distance.

Quite simply put, if you can manage the distance in a fight, you can dictate the terms of the fight. Distance management is essentially the ability to stay in a good enough position so that your opponent can never put you on the defensive. You will do this by winning the grip battles, managing and replacing frames if necessary, keeping proper alignment, and breaking your opponent’s alignment (their base, posture, and structure).