Purple Belt Distancing

As we discussed elsewhere, Ma Ai refers to the engagement distance between yourself and an opponent. How you might elect to move can be determined by the magnitude of this distance. We previously introduced three primary distances that we consider when deciding how to move.


Chikama (or Chika Ma) refers to a short distance. This usually means that the opponent is already within striking distance. This distance is often interpreted to be about three feet, but it could be a larger or smaller distance. It simply means you or your opponent is close enough to strike without having to move.

Because of this short distance, any potential strike could be delivered fast, providing you with little time to react. If you find yourself in a potentially violent encounter you do not want to stand, with your current level of training, within Chikama distance. Position yourself back so you have more time and space in which to react should an agitated person suddenly launch an attack.


Ittoma (Itto Ma) refers to an intermediate distance. We use it to refer to a distance between two people that requires one step to be in striking range. There is no strict definition of this distance. A person is not quite close enough to strike without stepping so they must move forward one step to be in striking range. This distance would be different for a person using their bare hands and for a person using a weapon like a sword. The distance is also different for a person with long limbs versus a person with shorter limbs. The key is the necessity to close some modest distance before a strike would be effective.

Something that further complicates Ittoma is that some strikes, such as a Kizami Tsuki, may be slightly out of range and therefore would be considered to be at Chikama range. But a kick such as Mae Geri may well be within Chikama range even though a hand strike is at Ittoma range. When thinking of Ittoma you should consider the maximum range of all weapons that a person can use to strike at you without the need to step. That would be considered your minimum Ittoma range or distance. You would need to be at least that distance from the person to be at Ittoma distance.

As you begin to spar (in the next belt) you will gain an innate sense for this distance. You will find that you naturally position yourself at this distance so that your sparring partner must make some commitment to body movement before they can be in striking range. This body movement hints at how the opponent might strike and his or her intended target area. This provides you some (quite limited) time to consider how you wish to respond.


Toma refers to a long distance. This is again a relative distance. It could be twenty feet, or it could be a mile. It implies that the opponent must traverse some significant distance to attack. We define this as being two steps or more. In other words, an opponent who must make at least two steps to attack is said to be at Toma.

Many of the same considerations about appendage lengths and striking distances for various potential weapons still apply.

Movement Considerations

There are many things to consider when discussing distance. Distance is a dynamic thing-it constantly changes throughout a conflict or sparring match. That means you need to know much more than how to respond when an opponent adopts or attacks from a specific distance. We will cover much of what you will want to consider about the complex topic of distancing.

Replacement Theory

You will study Replacement Theory in more detail in a future course but now it is relevant to consider one aspect of this concept. When an opponent attacks with great intent and energy, he or she will end up exactly where you are currently located. He or she will replace you in your current location.

If you are at some location X and your steaming-mad opponent is at location Y, then when the opponent attacks the effort will be with sufficient energy and momentum that the opponent will end up within a few inches of location X. This allows the opponent’s strike to pass through you as a means of imparting the most damage. You will suffer a severe blow or be propelled away from location X.

This usually refers to hand-strikes. Kicks often employ a different delivery mechanism and replacement is not as common when an opponent kicks. Nonetheless, there are a few kicks that may use replacement. Some of the kicks you study in this belt may offer that benefit.

Not all hand-strikes involve replacement either. A Kizami Tsuki is unlikely to involve replacement. But an irate opponent is probably not interested in sparring. He or she wants to get to you fast.

How can you prevent an opponent from pressing into and occupying your space? You can’t. Can you stop the attack? Perhaps, but it is unlikely and could be painful. What can be done about it then?

You don’t do anything about it. You let the opponent occupy the space. You move away using some beneficial stepping pattern and let the opponent step to location X. You know exactly where the person is going to end up. You can escape, step nearby and strike to location X, or move to another neutral position at a known distance from location X. You decide how much distance will result after the opponent reaches location X.

Single-Part Distancing

Your attacker’s distance can influence (but not dictated) how you move. If someone attacks from Chikama then it may be prudent to step back to Octagon angles 6 or 8 to move you off the opponent’s Center Line, increase the distance, and buy some time. Stepping to angle 2 would buy some time and increase distance, but it does not take you off the Center Line. Now the opponent is at Ittoma and can step forward to attack you again. You will want to get off the Center Line so this follow-on attack is not such an imminent threat.

If the opponent is at Ittoma then stepping back to angle 6 or 8 are much less viable options. This is because of that required step. It allows the opponent to track your movement and then use that intervening step as a pivot point. The person will track your movement, pivot during that step, and attack you at your new location. At that moment the opponent will be at Chikama distance, making you an easy target.

So a more beneficial movement is to step toward angles 3 or 4 as the attacker plants that single step. The attacker will retain some limited ability to track your movement with his or her eyes, but must now turn to attack your new location. By stepping to angle 3 or 4 you can rotate 90° relative to your opponent. You will now be beside or somewhat behind the person and can flee, strike, or control your opponent as warranted. Because of your position, the opponent will find it very difficult to pivot the 90° required to strike you. This does not mean he or she cannot strike you, it only reduces the chances. A capable and skilled opponent may still raise a knee or use Yoko Geri to strike at your future location even if you are off of his or her Center Line. There will always be circumstances you must consider whenever you are dealing with a thinking opponent.

The above stepping pattern will not work if the opponent must take two or more steps (from Toma). They will again be able to track your motion and adjust their advancement so they can strike you at your new location. You must now consider moving to angles 5 or 7 during the attacker’s approach. This again proves difficult for the attacker to track you and he or she will find it difficult to change the attack direction. You will now find yourself behind your attacker.

It is possible to move too early when an attacker begins an assault from Toma. You must wait until their attack has engaged in full before you move. If the opponent takes a single step and hesitates, he or she is at Ittoma, not Toma. If the opponent commits to a forward attack from Toma, then you would wait until he or she is between the first and second steps (assuming they were only two steps away) to move to angle 5 or 7. This is a great way to start an escape or to then turn and deal with your opponent from his or her Back Side. You might strike into their rotation as they turn to see where you went. You might initiate Nage by attacking his or her legs or moving the opponent’s head off of the Mother Line.

Work with a training partner to see the effects of all these distance considerations. When you or your training partner have some experience with these movements then increase the intensity of the attack. Work toward a full-fledged direct attack toward one another. This form of full speed attack will show you how easy it is to utilize the principles and how you can avoid most aggressive attacks with ease. Start at a moderate pace so everyone feels comfortable with what is happening and how to move, then move in increments up to powerful and intentional attacks that you will wish to avoid.

When you train like this, make sure not to target any vital areas. Nobody wants any unfortunate accidents. But also ensure that if you are the person attacking (the Uke, in this case) that you do not strike the person if he or she did not move appropriately. It should not be your goal to make it easy for Tori to get out of the way, nor is it your goal to strike Tori if he or she did not move in time. If you are functioning as Tori, work to stay relaxed while you move to your next position. You will move faster and with better control if you remain relaxed.

Two-Part Distancing

The previous section discussed moving one to avoid an attack and then either escaping or performing some useful countermeasures. You might also find it useful to step more than once to use distancing in other ways.

Two-part distancing involves moving as an opponent attacks and then moving a second time as the opponent tries to attack you in your new location. The second movement might involve escaping, maintaining a neutral position, or somehow intercepting your opponent.

Two-Part Escapes

As an opponent attacks, you might step first using a neutral stepping patter, then utilize an escaping pattern when the opponent attempts to strike a second time.

Why you may ask, don’t you escape during the first attack?

Perhaps you could not escape. If the logical exit from a room is between you and the attacker, you may find it impossible to reach the exit in one move. You might need to move to a better escape position while maintaining a safe distance during the first attack, then escape toward the exit during the second strike attempt.

The first attack could also surprise you. Moving to a neutral distance gives you time to assess the attacker’s temperament and intentions. You can then escape if a second attack ensues.

An example might involve an opponent stepping forward to strike with Hidari Oi Tsuki. We can discern from the nature of the attack that the attacker began the attack from a distance of Ittoma. In response to the attack, you might use the Neutral Stepping Pattern R7L4 to move to the attacker’s Ear Side and retain Ittoma distance. The assailant must now make a significant structural change to strike again, affording you both the time and opportunity to escape.

Two-Part Neutrality

When evaluating what to do with an opponent who persists in his or her attacks you may decide to repeatedly use Neutral Stepping Patterns while you evaluate and consider how the conflict will conclude. This only works for a limited time, but avoiding the opponent and maintaining a neutral distance can give you time to consider how the opponent moves, the person’s determination, what options you have available, and the best way to end the conflict.

You can use Neutral Stepping Patterns perhaps up to three times before the opponent tries to trick you by setting a trap. My advice is to do it no more than twice and then change your tactics. Otherwise, your movements become predictable.

Two-Part Engagements

If you determine that escaping is not an option and neutrality is no longer viable then you will need to engage the opponent in some form of thwarting, destructive, or manipulative action. You can use your knowledge of distancing to your advantage here as well. This time we will assume the attack originates from Toma.

Let’s explore an example where the opponent steps forward with the left leg then the right leg to strike with Migi Oi Tsuki. The strike used is not that relevant. You will be moving before you know for certain which strike the attacker decides to use.

Between the first and second steps, you initiate a Neutral Stepping Pattern. If you use R7L4 as we did in the previous example you will end up on the opponent’s Face Side at Ittoma and facing the attacker. The opponent must now rotate toward you, step, and strike. This forces the strike to travel along a circular trajectory. Your strike or thwarting action will arrive along a linear path and therefore will make contact first.

You may have noticed that the R7L4 pattern did not maintain the initial Toma distance. To maintain the original distancing you might elect to use the L8R2 stepping pattern. This will help ensure there are two steps between yourself and the attacker.

But let’s examine this further because, in reality, you are Ittoma away from your opponent. This is because we need to factor in your intent. If you intend to escape or maintain a neutral position, then your opponent is at Toma. If you intend to strike, thwart, or manipulate your opponent then the opponent is at Ittoma.

Wait, how can the opponent be at two different distances at the same time? It’s all a matter of perspective. Let me explain.

If you used a Neutral Stepping Pattern to maintain Toma distance then your opponent will remain two steps away (a different analysis is needed if the opponent is more than two steps away). To strike, he or she must again step twice to get in range. You will only need to step once.

As the opponent takes the first step you step to local angle 5 or 7 and strike toward your opponent. You will hit, thwart, or manipulate the opponent as he or she completes the first step. Since the attacker intended to step twice with an offensive mindset, he or she may be ill-prepared to offer an effective defense against your action.  Your opponent’s one step and your one step is all that was required to close the two-step Toma distance.

This tactical use of distancing is more effective if you have previously established a pattern of escaping or using avoidance. The assailant may now assume you will repeat this behavior pattern without realizing your intent has changed.


Don’t forget about Escaping Patterns. They remain a viable method for utilizing distancing. You might elect to escape and strike the moment you reach your destination. You can often strike directly back to your original location to take advantage of Replacement Theory.

You could also escape, pause as your opponent rotates into a more favorable orientation, and then strike. This is a form of Inducement (which you will study in a future course) where you appear to be a vulnerable target for a moment in to get your opponent to commit a movement error.

You may also escape multiple times to get the opponent to chase you a bit before you decide to leave for good or undertake some means to bring the conflict to a close.

These are all ways by which you can use distancing and changes in distance to your advantage. This is a key and essential skill. You should spend many hours trying to appreciate the many ways in which you can use this skillset.


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