One could easily write a book just on the subject of using distancing to good effect. This will be a continuing part of your martial arts education, but we will introduce a few initial concepts and ideas as a start.
As you gain experience you will begin to appreciate the range from which you can utilize the various Uke, Atemi, and Keri you have learned. If you find yourself in a potential conflict you will want to observe your opponent’s size and limb length to gain an impression of their likely range as well. This will suggest whether you or they will have the range advantage. If they have the advantage then you will want to stay back out of their range or move closer so you are inside of their range. If you have the range advantage then you may be able to use this benefit judiciously. Whenever you work with a new training partner try to assess their likely range and then consider how accurate your forecast was as you train together. This is the best way to develop an innate sense of this aspect of distancing.
Whenever you or anyone else moves in a conflict situation you are instinctively moving at a time and to a location where you have the best orientation, stance, and posture for your purposes. You will even do this when stepping forward to pick up a glass of water on the counter. You will naturally assume the best posture to facilitate your purpose. This may be referred to as your Optimal Structure. If you grab someone you will adopt the best and strongest position to support your grab without any conscious thought at all. If you strike you will again establish the Optimal Structure from which to deliver your strike (this improves with training). You will do this without any conscious thought.
Establishing Optimal Structure is quite natural, but it relies a great deal on distance and timing. If you step forward and grab an opponent you will naturally move, grab, and settle into your Optimal Structure. But if you are in any way interrupted in this process then you will not establish an Optimal Structure and your resulting grab will be weak and much less effective.
Disrupting Optimal Structure
We use this to our strategic advantage by interrupting the process of establishing Optimal Structure. One way we can do this is by moving the opponent’s target in, out, left, right, up or down as the opponent moves to the target. All of these movements will make the opponent establish a structure that is no longer optimal. When they began their movement they instinctively computed how to get to the optimal state. Because you interrupted them during this movement (because of Hyoshi) and made them grab or punch to a different location (Ma Ai) they will be unable to recompute and establish an Optimal Structure for the new position. Try this with some simple wrist grabs to see how ineffective a grab is if you change the distance while your training-partner is in the process of grabbing. You might also wish to consider how timing plays a role here as well.
This also works for punches and kicks. If you change the distance as a strike is in progress the opponent will not be able to establish the best possible structure for deriving maximum power for the strike. The strike may still land, and it may still hurt, but it will not have the full power it would have been afforded if the opponent had achieved their Optimal Structure.
You need to be somewhat cautious here, though. It is possible to change the distance and to move to a more precarious position. An example might involve Mawashi Geri[/Mawashi Geri]. If you move closer during delivery of this kick you might find yourself on the receiving end of what turns out to be [glossary]Yoko Hiza Geri. This could hurt. On the other hand, the knee will not be the focus of the kick and your opponent might lose structure and stability due to the resulting unexpected impact.
Another use of distancing involves creating a level of frustration on the part of your opponent. If you strategically focus on moving and staying just beyond your opponent’s range, you may eventually cause him or her to feel frustration. This may cause the person to leap or sprint quickly in your direction in an effort to overcome your intelligent use of distancing. Unbeknownst to the opponent, you were actually inviting him or her to close quickly on your position. This is now the perfect opportunity to move in the direction of the opponent. This will disrupt his or her planned Optimal Structure and will afford you with an immediate positional advantage. You will find you are standing directly beside (or in front of) a destabilized and surprised opponent. Often simply maintaining a well-placed guard position during this sequence is sufficient to cause the opponent to lose balance and fall. At the very least the person will represent a vulnerable target.