“All warfare is based on deception.
Hence when able to attack, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Fein disorder and crush him.”
That first line is HUGE! To be successful in a conflict the opponent must not be able to ascertain your intent. One very important Martial arts principle is that of telegraphing. Telegraphing is the sending of signals to your opponent that tells him your intentions. This can occur in many different ways. Watch any professional fight and pay close attention to the shoulders of the fighters. Nine times out of ten right before they throw a punch you will see the shoulder move back as they are winding up their punch. This is telegraphing. The key here is that the defender has, just like in sending an actual telegraph message, to know and understand the language that is being communicated in order to decipher the message. You have to know that the shoulder moving back is a predecessor of the punch to come. Another example is in an MMA fight watch the fighters lead leg. If you see it move across their body from left to right ( or right to left depending on the initial stance) you will see a spinning kick follow. Moving their lead leg across toward the middle of their stance sets them up to spin. Another is the rear leg roundhouse kick. Watch the hip of the attacker and you will see it pull back in preparation for the kick. Then the kick will follow. The point here is that the attacker is sending you a message that tells his intent before he actually does the technique. All you need to do is understand the language and watch for the cues.
If you are the attacker one way to hide your cues is to use combinations. How many times have you seen a countdown film before a MMA match where they show the fighters doing bag work? They are hitting the bag pulling off one combination after another. But when the fight begins you are lucky to see them even muster up a one, two let alone a five or six punch combination. This points out a sore subject with me. The absolute horrible coaching that goes on in the MMA. When you see this situation occur it is painfully clear that the coaches are not informing the fighters of the purpose of practicing all those combinations over and over. It is as if the fighters think that it is just another one of many forms of exercise that they are doing. By doing rapid combinations it first of all makes it much more difficult for the opponent to discern what is coming next. The other thing it does brings us to Sun Tzu’s last line.
“Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Fein disorder and crush him.”
Many people may understand about telegraphing in the sense described above. What they may not understand is the concept that you can purposely telegraph a “false” intention to confuse the opponent. Anyone who has seen films of Bruce Lee will know that he often threw up his lead hand high in the air to get the opponents eyes to move upward and then follow that with a low kick or strike. That initial movement was a feint or fake movement with the sole purpose of causing distraction so the chances of the second real strike hitting its target are increased. Boxers use the Jab often in this way. They throw a jab when they are actually to far away to actually connect with the Jab. This causes the opponent to wrongfully focus on the jab while the boxer moves closer in range to throw a body shot. In the example above with the spinning kick try this simple combination. Let’s say that you are in a left lead stance. Instead of throwing the spinning kick straight away try the following. Make sure you are at a distance that will enable you to get two kicks off instead of one. Skip forward and throw a low left front roundhouse kick. The kick comes close but misses the opponents lead leg. As soon as you complete the front roundhouse kick plant your left foot toward the center of your stance and then do a spinning side kick with your right leg. The initial feint (fake) lead leg roundhouse kick will cause the opponent to focus downward and then before he knows what is happening he is receiving a rear leg spinning side kick to his stomach or ribs. The last thing that the combination does is that it is very difficult to continue to effectively parry or block attacks when they come in at different levels and angles in rapid succession. The defenders mind becomes overloaded and sooner or later one of your strikes will get through. Another way to accomplish this is to create a false opening in your defenses. Let your hands drop or be spaced out to far and your opponent may try to attack that opening. But since you created the opening you can use it as a chance to counter attack. Just be sure to have the correct space when doing this or your opponents attack may be successful!!
The last sentence of SunTzu’s words are:
“Hence when able to attack, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
The understanding of spacing or range is another overlooked concept. There are some different interpretations of space or range but ultimately it comes down to three basic ones, Far, Neutral, and Close. In Japanese this is called Ma-ai or spacing. This is not to be confused with the idea of ranges, such as trapping range, as that has a different connotation. This is simply the space between you and your opponent at any given time. It is imperative to know your relationship in terms of space with your opponent. Some different systems have exercises to help you maintain the space you want and some do not teach anything about it. Neutral space is the space from which a single step is required for you or your opponent to deliver an effective attack. Far range means that you or your opponent cannot strike without taking more than one step forward. Close range means that without any forward movement you or your opponent can strike effectively. If you understand the space than you can use it to your advantage. If you are in Far space and your opponent punches or kicks you do not need react at all, they can’t hit you! After they have over committed in a vain attempt to reach you, you can counter attack. If you can always control what space you are in it can be manipulated so as in Sun Tzu’s suggestion, when far away we appear to be near, when near we appear to be far away. If you can stay at the very edges of each space this can be accomplished especially when your opponent has no concept of Ma-ai.
One exercise you can use to begin to gain a understanding of Ma-ai is the following:
You and your partner stand facing each other with your feet shoulder width apart and parallel to each other. Stand at a distance where with both you and your opponents arms outstretched directly in front of you, your palms touch. Each person then steps back with their right foot. You are in Neutral space. Next each person starts moving, and for the sake of the exercise stays in a right stance, like you are sparing. Whenever your opponent moves forward toward you to attack you need to move an equal distance away in any direction. The idea is to stay in Neutral space. Have a third person randomly blow a whistle or yell stop. Whenever they do this bring your right foot back to its original position a shoulder width apart and then stretch your hands out. If you have maintained Neutral space your palms should touch together as before. If not you know that you need to make adjustments. It takes a while of practicing to get the hang of this, it is harder than it appears. Then the third person whistles or shouts begin and you both step back with your right foot and start moving again. Both people should try to advance when they see an opening and the other person should move to maintain the neutral space. The first few times you try this just use your feet to move. After you start to get the hang of it start throwing punches and kicks. You shouldn’t try to actually hit the other person, you are just feeding them something to react to. If you can consistently maintain Neutral space it is easy then to take a step forward to Close space or a step back to Far space. When your opponent attacks you will be just out of range, when he thinks you cannot hit him, you will. If you can keep yourself on the edges of each space you can create the illusion that Sun Tzu speaks of and fool your opponent.
One thing I would like to mention about these types of exercises. An exercise like this is designed to isolate and teach you a specific principal. They are not meant to be a fighting technique in and of itself. I have heard many people say that exercises like this, Chi-sauo, or Hubud do not work because they say “you don’t fight like that”. These people are missing the point entirely. These exercises are meant to teach you a principle, in this case, space (Ma-ai). If you learn through an exercise like this to control and maintain your distance (space) you can use it to your advantage and it give you an advantage and can be a deciding factor in any conflict.