Martial Arts Strategy


With strategy you have some basic ideas and concepts that you should consider. The first two things we look at are the “physical match up” and the 2nd primary factor is the “skill match up”.

First look at the physical match up. Which basically just means how do you match up against your opponent physically.

There are two main components to that. One of them is reach, so you do you have more reach than the opponent or you have less reach than the opponent?

(Some reach may be affected by what skill sets you have for instance the opponent might be very tall but if they can’t kick and use the reach of their legs and you can kick your longer legs going out reach their arms)

Reach is an advantage in the fighting arts. If the opponent has a sniper rifle and you have a pocketknife then at longer range obviously it favors the opponent and they will try and maintain distance against you and not let you get close. But at shorter arrange it favors the smaller weapon, so if the fight in a small room or closet then the pocketknife would be the superior weapon.

And that’s a simple understanding of how you make use of reach within your strategy for a fight. If you have more reach than the opponent then you try and stay long and use your superior distance weapons. If you have less reach them the opponent you try moving closer where the long range weapon won’t function and the shorter weapons will be more functional.

The second physical characteristic you want to consider in martial arts skills and strategy is mass and power. And we have the same sort of dynamic going on here. If you’re stronger than the person and you can get to closer range during the fight then your mass and power will be at advantage for you.

On the other side of the equation if the opponent has more mass and power many times that also translates into less speed and maneuverability. So if the opponent is much larger than you you want to force the fight into a hit-and-run, highly mobile situation where larger person is at a disadvantage because they don’t have the same mobility and can’t move positionally as well as you as the smaller fighter.

Then you just take the two physical match up characteristics and put them together. So when you evaluate the opponent you look and you see do they have more reach or less reach than you do? Does the opponent have more mass and power or less power than you? And that will give you 4 possible combinations (leaving aside the physical being physically equal for the moment). As you’ll see on the video the four different strategies can be mapped out on a grid for explanation purposes. But the basic idea is very simple, go away from your opponents physical advantages and move to their disadvantages. If they have more reach then you stay away from them, and then quickly move inside their superior reach where your shorter reach can work more freely and they will be bound up.

It’s like the idea of the long range weapon in a very enclosed space versus a short range weapon. So if the opponent has a 6 foot long staff and you have a pocket knife but you’re fighting in a phone booth. Even though you normally would be at a serious disadvantage against that weapon the enclosed space neutralizes a lot what that on that weapon can do and the short weapon will be far superior.

In martial arts lore there’s a story of Mayomoto Masashi, (The samurai who wrote the classic martial arts strategy book “The book of five rings”) at one point as young man during a sword fight in an enclosed building he drew his short sword and used it during the fight rather than his longer katana. This was seen as a demonstration that he understood strategy and tactics even as a younger man. He realized that the shorter weapon, which normally would be inferior, under the circumstances was the superior choice.


Another primary factor in martial arts fighting strategy is to quickly evaluate the opponents set of martial skills. Basically what kind of fighter are they. What are they good at technically on the distance spectrum of martial arts skills? So are they a close range grappler or wrestler, an infighter or close range kung fu wing chun etc., are they a puncher or boxer, are they a long range karate, kickboxer or taekwondo guy?

Once again you try to go to the opponents weakness rather than opposing their strengths. So if they’re close range fighter or a wrestler then don’t fight them on the ground. If they’re a long-range kicker then don’t fight them at kick range.

When you’re fighting an opponent go away from their physically advantages and also stay away from their technical advantages. Fight them where they’re physically at the disadvantage and also technically they don’t have skills. Don’t play the opponents preferred game by their rules make them play your game by your rules. We call this “controlling the fighting range”.

So if they want to fight close range generally you will want to stay away. If they want to stay long range and kick etc generally you will want to close in. Don’t fight the way that they prefer to fight and don’t let them use their best skills against you.

Most street fighters have a small set of preferred skills that they have had success with and like to use. Your average American will be some sort of pseudo-boxer and pseudo-wrestler. Probably not extremely technically proficient at either skill set but with some basics that allow them to be successful -especially when they are fighting and untrained person who most likely had no desire to be in a fight. It’s not really a street fight it’s a street attack.

There’s a lot more to these strategy & concepts that will add to your overall understanding of martial arts strategy.

We teach this extensively at our dojo.

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