Create Space Or Close Distance–Which Is The Better Tactic In A Fight?

Let me ask you this: During a physical altercation, is it better to close distance with your attacker or create space between you and your attacker?

 Your answer to that question will depend essentially on how you train for such situations. Some people train to close down an opponent when they are under attack so they can get to grappling distance. Others train to create space between themselves and their attacker so they can strike.

closing distance street fight

But which strategy is best? Which one will offer you the most advantage and give you the greatest chance of prevailing in an attack situation?

The purpose of this article is to answer that question by looking at the advantages and disadvantages of both strategies to see if one is better or wiser than the other.

I was actually discussing this question of distance the other day with someone. The discussion was prompted by an article on the Senshido Connecticut website, an article which fervently supported the benefits of closing distance with an attacker, and dismissed entirely the strategy of creating space with an attacker. The author of the article is actually quite zealous in his point of view and completely dismissive of the opposite view point. You can read the article here, which you should do before carrying on here.

According to the author of the article there is only one thing to do in a fight and that is to close distance with your attacker. But is he right? Let’s see, shall we?

Closing Distance With An Attacker

According to the author of the article and those in the Senshido camp in general (as well as many grappler’s out there) there are a number of advantages to be had by closing distance with an attacker.

The main advantage put across is that by closing distance with your attacker you are taking away their ability to strike. Most people need space, as well as grounding and torque in order to fire of an effective strike. Closing distance will take those things away from your attacker, leaving them all but helpless.

Apparently most people don’t know what to do when their space and ability to strike effectively has been taken away from them. But if you are the one closing the distance then you will know exactly what to do, which according to the author of the article just mentioned is to start using quarter beat strikes in conjunction with “shredding” the other guy to overwhelm and incapacitate him.

Tactically speaking this seems like a sound approach until you consider a couple of important factors. The first one is that by taking away your attackers ability to strike effectively you are also by default taking away your own ability to strike effectively. Yes it is possible to strike from that range, but not so effectively. Quarter beat striking seems fine in theory and in a training environment when your opponent is wearing a protective helmet, but against a fully adrenalised attacker? Do you really think a quarter beat palm strike or a close in elbow strike is enough to put someone down? I doubt it.

You only have to look to MMA to see why this is true. Often in cage fights you will see two guys clinch and begin to use short range punches and elbows on their opponent. These strikes might be painful, they may even cut the other guy (in the case of elbows) but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get knocked out or even go down because of being hit by these short range strikes. You could argue that MMA fighters are used to such punishment, but so are many street fighters and criminals, and when you add in alcohol and drugs to the mix, you have an attacker who isn’t going to feel much pain, much less hit the floor after you rap his head a few times with your palm. So against a determined attacker (and what attacker isn’t determined?) quarter beat striking is all but useless and will not only stir up an attackers aggression even further, but will also give them time to recreate the space that you just took away from them.

Of course I realise that these strikes are done in combination with the Shredder, but is the Shredder really that effective against a real, slavering, highly aggressive and determined attacker? Is it enough to completely stop an attacker? I wouldn’t think so. Face rubbing and scratching an attackers face would create discomfort at most. It wouldn’t be enough to stop someone. And remember, we are talking about a fully adrenalised attacker here, not some role playing participant in a training environment. There is a big, nay massive difference.

But what about attacking the eyes? That’s part of the Shredder strategy. For sure attacking the eyes can be a good tactic, but not really in the way that the Shredder does it. The Shredder presents a superficial attack to the eyes, nothing more. If you want to attack the eyes then fucking attack them. Use the thumbs to properly gouge the eyes, not just scratch or press on them. That would be more effective than any amount of scratching or face rubbing.

The other elephant in the room here is that effective self defence techniques are supposed to work for even a person of average attributes and abilities. Given that the Shredder relies upon a person getting their opponent to a chest to back position, how is a smaller person, say a 100lb woman, supposed to get a larger man into that position in the first place? Against a fully resisting opponent, this can prove difficult for even a skilled fighter. And to then go on to “shred” their larger attackers face? It’s just not going to happen, I’m afraid.

Back when I was bouncing I used to close people down a lot, but that’s mainly because I wanted to control and restrain them, not hit them. Hitting them would have been much easier, believe me. Trying to get even a small person chest to back if they are really resisting you can prove very difficult unless you are significantly bigger and stronger than most, which I wasn’t.

Which me brings me to my next point. Getting in that close, things can turn messy very quickly. Not only are you yourself open to punches to the head from your attacker (they mightn’t knock you out but they aren’t pleasant either), as well as biting and gouging. You take away someone’s ability to hit and they will resort to savagery out of pure instinct. A wrestling match will often ensue at this distance as well. An attacker will hold on to you and if you try to take them down you will often go down with them…even if you are busy “shredding” them.

Bottom line is that for a small person, closing distance with a bigger attacker is suicide for they would just be playing right into their attackers hands.

The other stated tactical advantage of getting in so close is the “psychological invasiveness” of doing so. Most people get very uncomfortable when you invade their space and get in their face (literally in the case of the Shredder), so psychologically speaking they are now cowering and you are at an advantage because you are used to working within such confined spaces.

This is debatable as well. Some people may feel a sense of panic when someone is that close to them, but enough to significantly affect their determination to hurt you? I doubt that. More likely it would push them into savagery, which in my experience is what happens when you get that close to a psyched up attacker, they resort to biting, gouging and clawing out of instinct or a sense of panic. The last thing I want in a fight is to get bit. It’s happened to me before when I closed a guy and ended up on the ground with him. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Neither was the tetanus shot I got the next day.

Creating Space In An Attack

So now let’s look at why I consider creating distance to be a better option in an attack than closing it.

As I’ve already stated, by creating space you are giving your attacker the advantage of being able to use their strikes at full capacity, this is true. But you also have the exact same advantage, which is what many distance closers’ seem to forget. It then becomes a question of who can capitalise on this advantage the most and in the quickest time.

If you know how to set someone up to strike them and you know how to strike properly, this isn’t actually much of a problem. It is certainly an easier proposition than trying to manhandle your attacker and finish them with face rubbing, face scratching and quarter beat strikes that have next to no impact potential. Again, for a smaller person against a larger person, this would be even more preposterous.

The fact is, the best and most effective way to stop an attack is stop the attacker, and the best and most effective way to do that is to hit them on the head, either knocking them out or hitting them enough times that they go down, at the very least giving you the chance to escape the situation. None of that is possible when you close distance. You can’t knock someone out with the Shredder and if things go sideways and you end up in a grappling match, how much harder is it going to be to escape then? If you are woman being attacked by a sexual predator, your attacker will have you right where they want you–in their grasp!

All else aside, let’s not forget about the single biggest contributing factor here: that of real world evidence.


The tactic of striking an attacker to the head to affect a knock out and finish the fight has been a proven one since time immemorial. We’ve been finishing fight s like this since we lived in caves. Even chimpanzees fight like this. They batter their adversaries into submission (or death). In the history of fighting, striking the head has been the single biggest cause of victory. As a tactic it’s as high percentage as you can get.

Now consider the Shredder. It was conceived of within the last twenty years or so and within that time I have never heard of anyone even trying to use it in a fight, much less successfully. If it was really that effective then everyone would be using it, would they not? And it’s not like no one knows about it either. Anyone who trains in self defence knows about the Shredder. The only people who claim to have used it are those who just happen to also teach it. I say this not to cause an argument, but only to point out that for all the marketing and claims of effectiveness, there is little or no evidence to support these claims.

Just because a few select people can make a tactic or technique work for them, doesn’t make that tactic or technique effective in a broader sense. We all have techniques that only seem to work for us as individuals, but that doesn’t mean we should expect them to work for everyone else as well.

When it comes to self defence, whatever techniques that are taught, they need to be high percentage techniques in that they will have a high chance of working in most situations. Not only that, they also need to work for the average person, not just for someone with superior strength, size or skills.

As a final point, some of you may argue that this all just a matter of personal preference. Some like to close the gap, others like to create a gap. Some like to grapple or shred, others like to strike. As the person I was discussing this with the other day pointed out, that’s fine all things being equal. If you have similar attributes to your opponent (equal size, weight, skills) then that argument might wash. But how often is this the case? How many women are the same size and have the same strength as their male attackers? Few if any, which is why specialist or low percentage techniques can’t be relied upon to get you out of trouble. To stand the greatest chance of getting out of trouble you need to use techniques and tactics that have been proven to work over and over again, not techniques that have no proof to validate them.

So what do you think about this? Is closing distance a good or bad idea? Are there any Shredder advocates out there who have consistently used their technique to prevail in an altercation? If so I’d like to hear from you. Leave your comments below.

Written by Neal Martin

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