Self-defence from the point of view of the communication sciences – Part 6

Distances are particularly important in extreme circumstances such as a self-defence situation. Read how you can make use of the psychology of distances for self-defence purposes...

Comparison of distances in tabular form

The table below compares the psychological zones with the physical zones. It is immediately obvious from where these distances take their origin.
In terms of self-defence, the distances involved in the BlitzDefence programmes are based only on close quarters, producing the techniques that are possible at these distances. The BlitzDefence starting position is intended to provide protection during an incursion from the social to the personal distance. At this distance, kicks are e.g. countered by advancing.

Fighting distances
Psychological distances
Head-butt and throwing distance
<= 15 cm
Direct intimate distance
< 15 cm
Hand distance
15 to 70cm
Intimate distance
15 to 45 cm
Elbow distance
15 to 30cm
Personal distance
45 to 120 cm
Knee distance
0 to 45 cm
Social distance
1.20 to 3.60 cm
Kicking distance
45 to 120 cm
Public distance
over approx. 3.60 m
Short weapons
Swords etc. 1.20 to 3.6 m
Long weapons:
Long pole/spear over approx. 3.6 m

Bridging the distances

As we saw last month, each distance zone has its advantages. We must not forget the disadvantages either though. When looking at how the distance is bridged in a self-defence situation, we must always distinguish between two possibilities in a confrontation:
1.) I know I have to fight, and it can no longer be prevented or avoided. This situation occurs in competitions and in duels, the difference being the prize for the winner or loser. Gold or silver, hospital or winner’s rostrum, and perhaps even life or death. The prize for the fight tells most about whether it is a serious confrontation or not. If I recognise the attack in time, I have enough time to prepare and adapt for it.
2.) I am taken by surprise by a situation which suddenly places me in a fight-or-flight dilemma. Often the situation is not worth worrying about, but it has occurred and it is necessary to act. I am referring to a ritual combat situation. My Si-Gung, GM Keith R. Kernspecht, has described these in great detail in his books about ritual combat, BlitzDefence and reaction times. The important aspect with respect to distances is that it is only at close quarters that these ritual combat situations begin to get serious. The verbal preamble is often not recognised as an attack in good time. It is for this form of distance transgression that the BlitzDefence programme was developed.
When we refer to bridging the distances, this means that we are always talking about a duel-type situation. In a ritual combat situation the attacker has already bridged the distance in most cases, and only damage limitation is possible.

Basic facts:

Bridging distances is unarmed fighting, as in battle, is not possible without a physical approach, and this in turn is not possible without footwork. In terms of our perception training, this means that we should not pay as much attention to the positioning of the opponent’s upper body as to the position of his feet. If the opponent cannot reach me even by shifting his centre of gravity to his forward leg, this means that he must inevitably take a step towards me. Added to which it is impossible for the attacker to launch a heavy attack with both an arm and a leg at the same time. He must give preference to one or the other if he is to move dynamically. Moving diagonally with the right arm and left leg will hardly enable him to gain distance as well.


Here are a few practical exercises:

Exercise 1
If I want to push more than just the arms of an opponent, but rather his body, I must direct my power line so that I can transfer energy without shifting my centre of gravity onto my forward leg. This means that my power line ends where my toes end when performing a pursuit step. In order to transfer energy, the point I want to push must be above my forward knee. Try it for yourself: stand in front of a wall in a frontal, turned stance, e.g. BlitzDefence position. The toes of your front foot should touch the wall, and your centre of gravity is of course 100% over your rear leg. You are standing correctly if you can touch the wall with your palms when the arms are extended. Now try to push the wall, making sure that you do not shift any weight onto the forward leg, as this should be behind your attack. You will quickly find that you are shifting your weight forward to transfer energy to the wall, or that you are touching the wall but cannot transfer much energy. Now try to contact the wall with your elbow from this position; you will find that it is not possible to bridge the distance to the wall with sufficient energy if you do not shift your centre of gravity forward.

Exercise 2
From the same starting position as in 1.), try to strike the wall hard with your knee, but take care not to injure yourself. You will probably just be able to reach or touch the wall with a little of your energy. But as soon as you move your front foot back from the wall by around 10 cm, you will lose your balance forwards or backwards in most cases. Naturally you may be a special anatomical case, i.e. have extremely long arms or legs, but here too the limiting factor is the length of your thighs. In combat you would now try to pull yourself towards the opponent, or to pull him downwards to overcome this distance problem, and of course you must not draw back first.

The solution to the problem:

The motto used nowadays is "Hau Fat Sin Ji" or "Move later but arrive first", or "The last will be first". It was once referred to as "responding to an opponent who shortens the distance" or "the magnetic principle". In all three cases it means that we respond to a lessening of the distance by a further change in the distance, like two magnets which suddenly begin to attract each other when they reach a certain distance apart. But be careful in interpreting this, as the three things we are talking about are only apparently the same. In fact there are three different courses of action possible here. The book by GM Kernspecht, "The Last shall be First", explains clearly that we do not respond when the attacker has already entered the critical distance, but already when the attacker initiates his decision-making process. The term "responding to an opponent who shortens the distance" represents the next time stage. If I have missed the first opportunity, I must react to actual shortening of the critical distance. Whether this is by increasing the distance or maintaining it is of no initial importance. Increasing the distance in this case would be a defensive tactical alternative.
The magnetic zone principle prescribes a certain course of action in such a case, namely to "advance aggressively". For reasons of reaction time, the decision between fight or flight is made for us. This was once called the "universal solution", i.e. advancing with a front kick and chain-punches. This reaction could lead to legal problems if it comes to a court case.
My own opinion is: "Better to be the focal point of a court case than the focal point of a funeral." 
For more on this topic I recommend the book "On Single Combat", where it is discussed in detail by GM Kernspecht.
If I have missed the opportunity to advance at the right moment, there is no sense in advancing nonetheless. Instead, if this is still possible, we thrust our arms forward in order to make contact with the opponent’s attack. Any further reaction to the attack depends on the position of the attacker. If he is moving towards me at the right distance, I must take care not to be where he will reach the target point of his attack. I achieve this by absorbing the energy of the attack and converting it into my own movement, which means that the attacker puts me in a position of safety.
This capability is called Chi-Sao. It is gained by having reflexes implanted by our own Si-Fu, followed by practice during the Chi-Sao sections.
This makes it clear that three apparently different mottos actually do mesh like gear wheels, are only different for fractions of a second yet still follow the principle of simultaneity.
If the attacker pushes forward even further, he will inevitably cross every threshold right down to elbow distance. It must be clear to everyone that the centreline also plays a decisive part here, as the range of a technique also depends on the actual target. If I leave the centreline to strike the opponent with my elbow outside the centreline, e.g. on the upper arm, I run a great risk that the opponent will use the gap to launch an attack. This regularly occurs e.g. when the defender tries to "push the attack aside", as he is too complacent to move or allow himself to be moved.

Increasing the distance is a defensive tactical course of alternative action. This applies both in normal communication and in BlitzDefence. Increasing the distance reduces the stress factor that is caused by insufficient distance.

Sifu Thorsten de Vries
3rd TG WingTsun