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As with all forms of technical study, a specific form of language develops which is used to effectively communicate a particular instruction or idea. Some words or phrases have a generalised meaning behind them – for example ‘punch then kick’ – whereas others have a more exacting meaning to them, such as ‘double jab, rear round kick’. Having a lexicon specific to a martial art allows better learning and easier teaching of that art, and of course there is often an over-lap of language across different arts where they share common or related techniques.

Empty-hand distance in fighting can fall into one of the three general categories: Long Range; Medium Range; and Close Range. A fighter who can control the distance can normally control the fight, standing a much better chance of winning. The weapon or technique chosen for an attack will depend on the distance. Some weapons can be used in all ranges, while others only apply in one or two, e.g. you would not want to throw an elbow at kicking range (you would close the gap first), nor would you want to throw a round kick at close range.

Empty-hand ranges are defined as follows:

  • Long Range – Kick Range: If I stretch my arm out, my fingers would be just short of touching the opponents nose. This is just outside punching range (note that most kicks where you use the shin are usually delivered within punching range).
  • Medium Range – Punching Range: With an outstretched arm, I can touch the opponents nose with my palm. I am just outside trapping range. Most punches and the long hooks are thrown at this range.
  • Close Range – Trapping Range: With an outstretched arm, my palm covers the opponents ear. This is just out of grappling range. Most trapping, standing locks, and the close hook, occur at this range.
  • Close Range – Grappling Range: My arm can grab the opponent’s head. Within this range I can use headbutts, elbows, knees, body strikes, and grappling techniques.


Once an external weapon is introduced the meanings of the ranges shifts into a new dimension that is more specific to the particular weapon used and the distance in which the weapon is able to effectively function. For example, a short bladed weapon has a very different set of ranges when compared to a long wooden staff. Once a student builds an implicit understanding of one set of ranges it is often simple to translate this understanding to a new weapon and its ranges. This ‘universality’, if you would, helps propel a student’s learning in one area through to seemingly unrelated areas, and all knowledge gained in one aspect gives a learning edge to all other areas.

The core idea of ranges pervades all martial arts and can adapt to all situations. Understanding the range you are in is crucial to the effectiveness of any attack or defence being used successfully, and to what positions you and your opponent can flow as a situation develops.