Bridging the Gap
By Sensei Neil Prime

One of the single most difficult components of sparring is getting from the outside range of your opponent (the safe range) to the inside range (where you can hit or be hit). This is what we call "bridging the gap." If you do a good job moving in, you get to hit. If you do a bad job moving in, you get hit instead.

Bridging the gap is probably one of the most important elements of sparring. You can have great punches and kicks, but if you can't reach your target or your target keeps moving out of the way, then they're not going to do you any good.

The following drills we will discuss are the 3 main approaches that I like to use to get into the fight zone while minimizing the risk of the "counter attack."

Deceptive Penetration:
(Utilizing Angular Attack)

The worse thing you can do is to be caught flat-footed. This is where you literally get caught with you feet planted so firm that you can't get out of the way of what is coming in, even if you see it coming. This generally happens when you get so focussed on something you miss the big picture, like you opponent setting you up. Deceptive penetration is where we use footwork and body motion in combination to confuse the angle of attack. This helps get our opponent disoriented and hence, becomes flat-footed.

A simple 3-step footwork drill works quite nicely with a bit of timing.

Take your normal fighting stance at a realistic starting range from your opponent. You will pre-determine your take-off for ease of the drill, although if you are working any striking drill in 3's, then it is simple enough to remember that you will end up striking on the open side of your opponent, which should be the side you lead from. This does not necessarily mean that if you lead right you will strike with your right hand or foot though. This simply determines the side that your opponent will be opening up to attack.

If you want to attack to the right, then step on a forward 45-degree angle to the right. If you are convincing, your opponent will follow. Once you have completed your step in this direction you will immediately shift your step to a 45-degree angle to the left. Your opponent will follow and should at this point (because you are now almost at striking range) be anticipating your attack to the new angle of attack.

With a quick shift back to the right you should now be close enough to strike simultaneously. As you make contact you can either follow up with a combination of techniques or if you were in a point tournament you should at this point hear the centre referee crying "matte" and you can complete your shift into that direction and safely clear the zone.

Speed Speed Speed
(Fire your weapon first)

This drill requires the utmost relaxation, and this is sometimes easier said than done. It is also important to have your opponent relaxed. The sleepier the better!

Take your normal fighting stance at a realistic starting range from your opponent. I suggest that you keep your strong side to the back because it is generally faster too. Your front hand will act as a shield. Your front hand is always important in your defense, but in this drill it is going to act for both defense and offense.

To successfully bridge the gap with speed you have to be able to catch your opponent off guard. To do this you want to get your weapon (in this case, your fist) as close to your opponent as you can before he even sees it. Plant your back foot firmly into the ground like a sprinter would in the starting blocks. Without showing any movement in your body, including any slight twitch in your face caused by emotion, you are going to simply extend your reverse punch as far out in front of you as you possibly can. Again, nothing moves until you reach this point. The millisecond you reach this point everything else takes off like a rocket. Rotate your body so that your reverse punch now becomes your front punch. At the same instant, blast out of the starting block and push as far forward as you can.

With a bit of control (when point sparring) you will reach your opponent successfully without them being able to clear.

Consider this; this is not a power technique. It is pure speed. You have to follow up with either a combination or a clearing technique to be effective.

Offspeed timing:
(Make them think your going to fire before you do)

To me, this is the ultimate fake. Generally when we fake we lead with one technique and we actually try to score with another. Here, we fake with our intended strike.

For ease of explanation, we'll talk reverse punch again. Unlike the previous drill for speed, it is a good thing if your opponent can see your technique coming at them. So, if this is the case, a bit of over-acting works to your advantage.

Note: As a defender, if I see someone lead with their back shoulder I expect a reverse punch. I think you'll agree.

Take your normal fighting stance at a realistic starting range from your opponent. To convince our opponents that a reverse punch is coming we have to commit to the technique 100%. We want to execute this reverse punch to a target area of your opponent either slightly above or below the centre of their body. The reason for this is because a good counter fighter may shift their body and not just their arms to block. If this happens you'll only be punching them in the arms. Once we reach the virtual point of no return we're going to hit the breaks. By stopping suddenly we are forcing the defender to complete the block. At this point in time we are going to continue forward with our punch and reach are target which is now open because the block has gone beyond it's intended zone.

Again, this is not a power technique. It is a deceptive timing technique and although in most cases it won't knock your opponent down, you can certainly startle them. I have actually knocked the wind out of people by aiming at the solar plexus with this technique. The reason being, the defender's ki has been relaxed once they have passed the block zone and they are trying to reposition themselves, thus their mid section is now weak and unprotected.

After you develop this with your punches, practice with your front kick. Shoot the knee forward from your back leg like your going to drive it through your opponent, then instead of following through with a snap with the bottom half of your leg, simply place it on the target at half speed. It's my personal favorite and it's just as simple.

If you develop these principles of "bridging the gap" you'll have newfound confidence in your sparring. Try not to make things difficult, the simpler the better. Three simple drills with a couple minor adjustments to each (per the situation) soon add up to multiple ways of being able to execute your techniques effectively.

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