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Marcus_1's picture
Getting used to close range sparring

Hi, I am a shodan in Shotokan but now training a different style.  Last night we did some sparring which was fun however I really need to lose my "sports karate" sparring attitude and get used to up close sparring.

Are there any ideas on how I can do this?  My previous sparring has always been from distance, not up close and I need to get that mentality right now.

Frazatto's picture

I never fully immersed myself on that sports approach, but my early training enforced that response to combat and I need a long time exploring other stuff before overcoming it. The trick, to me, was to show your brain fighting close is not actually MORE dangerous than fighting afar, it's a matter of personal stile and both carry strength and issues we need to keep in mind.

Believe it or not, TaiChi helped immensely, I didn't found direct application for much (it's a complicate subject) but that feeling for the center of balance and those very wild open hand movements, it really loosened my body to fight close. It took a year, but with little effort I started to use only the hips and hand/arm circular moves that guided the opponent "around me", instead of the "get in, get out" of most of the time linear sports training.

The next thing was Judo, it was a short experience, but it made clear there is a lot of strength in keeping your adversary close at hand. You may notice many of the sequences Iain suggests ends in a trow or are actually setups for a trow. I had the misconception such moves only made you open for getting punched in the nose hahaha but if you use a direct attack to close quarters and after the trow you manage to end in a strategic superior position, it's quite a trick to have.

I still don't have the coordination to use this stuff at "fighting speed", but those are the things that made me change my mind and are helping to close the gap.

Wastelander's picture

It's going to take exposure, mostly--the more you spar at close range, the more comfortable you will get. Engaging in grappling will help, as will kakie and kakedameshi. For free-sparring, you can tie yourself and your partner together with rope or belts so that you cannot get further apart then that, as well, which will force you to engage at that distance.

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

I don't know what your training environment is like but here's the entry level drill I use for close range striking stuff, I think I learned the original version from my Goju teacher Kris Wilder, and added in my own details:

First, start by spending a couple minutes just "touch sparring" level of contact where the opponent just stands there and takes 2-3 punches etc. It seems counter-intuitive, and is probably not a good idea to spend a  lot of time here due to the habits one might build, however, for entry to close range work it is an easy way to get even heavy-handed folks working at a controlled and sane pace, where safety is bult in to the method. I have to emphasize don't skip this step. I have some high energy/heavy handed students, and with this progression I have been able to keep close range sparring safe and productive. It is not like point sparring and there is a lot more potential for injury, in my experience.

If people get too far away you either tell them to get closer or just use Iain's great idea of tying them together with a belt or something else. I've seen boxing gyms where they do it with a therapy band.

After you've done this a small bit, the partners now throw 3-5 strikes at close range while other passively defends with a "shell guard", cross arm gaurd, body movement etc., in a kind of loop, without any pause between turns once they are capable. This is not realistic but again it helps people to establish a sane and doable pace for close range work in the vein of "light" and "technical", where a third party can both monitor contact level and help with encouragement, etc.

The next part is you begin removing the passive defense and steps, so now for instance you might get down to two defensive movements before a person attacks, restarting the loop. You might also go from passive defense (covers without movement, etc.) to more active defense, limb manipulation, crowding and clinching etc.

Eventually you get down to 1 aggressive defense plus 1 attack each side and can just start basically sparring at this range once people are ready, adding in clinch work etc.

Another excellent close range defense drill I learned from Rory Miller's drills book:

Cross your arms over your chest, and grab your shirt if needed, you are the defender (definitely wear gloves at the least for both these drills, btw), now the attacker will begin (at a sane pace) lauching punches at you. Your job is to use body movement, shoulders and elbows to protect yourself, but not your hands, because they are still crossed at your chest. You learn a ton about how to stop people's attacks at close range from this drill, not using your hands really illustrates some interesting things.

Beyond that, you should buy Iain's Kata Based Sparring DvD and try that out if you have people to work it with. I use Iain's KBS dvd constantly for sparring drills and general direction for live work.

The ideal thing  from my point of view is to have a person actually coaching and montoring this stuff in a progression (they do not have to be highly skilled neccessarily, they just need to understand progressive training and understand the goal of the training), if that is not happening in your new training environment then I imagine the best thing is to find a partner you are comfortable asking to work with you on specific skills so you can gradually acclimatize yourself. Going straight from point-sparring to close range sparring with no progession is bound to leave you feeling off.

In my experience best thing is probably to begin with more limited forms of sparring and progress from there, not to go from full on point sparring to full on close range sparring. If that is what is happening then you may need to set your own agenda - "hey, can we work on this skill", etc. So I think your training partner(s) and (hopefully) available instructor/coach make a big difference on this question.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Marcus,

You may find these old podcasts interesting:



They key things for me would be to start slow and focus on learning and not just fighting. Not easy to describe in text, but I can get people doing this stuff pretty quickly at seminars. I’d start with “playing for grips” to get familiar with the lay of the land and to develop the vital gripping skills needed to land strikes, set up throws, etc at close-range. That’s the core framework from which the rest of the stuff flows.

All the best,