Creating Critical Distance

Updated: November 3, 2015

Wikipedia, the critical distance for an animal is the distance a human or an aggressor animal has to approach in order to trigger a defensive attack of the first animal. The concept was introduced by Swiss zoologist Heini Hediger in 1954, along with other space boundaries for an animal, such as flight distance, etc. Edward T. Hall, the cultural anthropologist, reasoned that, with very few exceptions, flight distance and critical distance have been eliminated in human reactions, and thus proceeded to determine modified criteria for space boundaries in human interactions.

Critical distance is “smaller” than the “flight distance”, thus your reaction timing becomes more acute and critical for survival or self-defense. Basically once you have been encroached on too closely, you have no real time for flight and you must fight! This timing must remain acute, keeping the potential or attack to as little time as possible. The longer the encounter, the more likely you are to experience distress and become prone to anxiety and aggression. Either way you will lose your energy rapidly due to chemical reactions within the mind and body. I relate this to your basic human behavior. This is why when you train for defense, you must build in rapid response and short violent burst of defensive solutions.

If you become alerted to a threatening situation, you should make moves to evade or escape, by crossing the street, walking into a store or between cars or simply run away, if you are in fear. De-escalate  while there is still time to react. This is referred to as an escape distance.

Once you have failed to respond to the escape distance you will enter an initiation distance, I call this the critical distance. Flight has been reduced and fight is the new scenario. At this point it is all about survival, staying alive. Ok, so now you are within arms reach of your attacker. What to do?

Before initial contact can be made:

-Step outside or just beyond their reach, causing them to have to take a step or close the gap to get to you.

-You can also take advantage of the environmental situation, by stepping between two cars in a parking lot or somewhere you can place an object between you and your attacker. This has to be a fast step, preferably a boxers “push-slide”. This push-slide foot work can be practices in every direction. You balance is essential to creating distance to fight of flight. The initial move must be fast without losing your balance.

-You could also step out at an angle creating a misstep by your attacker, while he attempts to play catch up, typically causing him to step across or cross his own feet, in doing so either causing him to widen his stance (low center of gravity) or feet too close together (high center of gravity), either case giving you more defensive options based on your training. Once your attacker is off balance, you have more ability to escape or attack.

-During this phase make sure to create a shield by lifting your hands up to protect your face or create a distraction by throwing your keys a book, phone or anything in your hands or even spitting in his eyes. Your reaction to an attack and the intensity of emotion can also determine your level the success or failure of your response. The higher your level of emotional response can create more anxiety or aggression, leading to a quicker loss or win.

-Once contact has been made it is important to maintain your balance by practicing being pushed off balance and regaining your fighting position as quickly as possible, less than a second. Remember you fight stance and flight stance are about the same. Close to a sprinters foot position when in the starting blocks and aligned like a boxer. Never crossing your feet and avoiding too high or low center of gravity. This way you can side step, push straight in or turn and run with equal ability.

-You can create distance by striking and the using a violent 2 handed push off. It is most important to   cause your attacker to have to step before he can strike, touch or grab you allowing you time to react effectively.

  • Remember a lot of things are going to happen very fast. First someone is approaching you. Look at their hands make sure they are not holding a weapon or hiding one in his pocket.
  • Leave yourself a way out while you still have time for the flight.
  • Once your attacker has entered into your critical distance zone, position yourself just outside of his reach. This may cause him to be off balance upon his initial attack. Many time you can just push him off and run.
  • Keep your hands where you can lift them to protect your face once someone has encroached into or close to your critical distance line, (just outside of your arms reach).
  • Take a step in any direction to maintain and create this distance.

If you have been grabbed your critical distance has been breached, you now must create distance for punching, striking, kicking, stomping, head-butting. Controlling the inside distance and getting you balance to be able to deliver an effective strike is much more difficult and you don’t have much time. Make distance for your strikes. There are effective zones for striking. For example when you are just outside of the critical distance line, kicking will give you more reach. Once you are inside of the kicking range, then straight punches would be appropriate. As your attacker get closer, then your elbows, knees and foot stomps will become more useful. After that, head butts, eye gauging, nut slaps and strikes with the knees become your new weapons of choice.

If you are totally overwhelmed and knocked off balance, then you can also regain your distance by falling to the ground and onto your back, keeping your attacker at your feet. You may have to scramble a little and use a little crab crawling to make this happen. This may also allow you time to pull out a knife or other weapon if you have one.

Always make the first move and start by creating enough distance between you and your attacker to make defensive choices and become more effective.