Understanding Distance Control and Timing through Drills.

Lately I’ve been using this musical analogy when describing martial arts training.

1.  Basic training is like learning your notes and practicing your scales, with each weapon a different musical instrument. Therefore, playing an “A-sharp” on a piano will be different than playing the same note on a violin.


2.  Distance and Timing drills are your mid level training and are like learning the structure of Classical Music. You need to first learn the rules before you can understand where and when you can successfully break the rules.



3.  Advanced techniques should be viewed as samples of improvisational jazz. You learn the combinations that worked well for great musicians as a comparison study. You are learning through comparisons, so that you have the mental flexibility to make your own improvisations successfully when you need them.



This essay is about that middle level of training, our “Classical Music;” distance and timing drills.

The main factors that separate beginners from experienced fighters are the latter’s level of understanding of distance control and timing.

Distance control in striking arts is usually accomplished via footwork: while timing is the ability to use specific elements of fighting at the correct time.

Getting good at these skills helps you be in the right place, at the right time and using the right tools to accomplish your goals.

One way to develop these skills, especially in the early stages of training is through drills; but these drills must be structured in specific ways to develop the desired skill. As in nearly all our drills with beginners, we do these as slowly as necessary for the students to do the drills correctly.

DISTANCE CONTROL DRILLS: The purpose of these drills is to give an understanding of the opponent’s range with various weapons.

 1.   Two Man Empty Hand Reverse Triangle Drill. This is the first two man footwork drill I learned when I started training. Begin by facing your training partner at arms length. Each partner will move simultaneously in a reverse triangle, while each is passing the other at their backs. This starts as a symmetrical drill (meaning you both do the same movement, at the same time), but becomes asymmetrical in the advanced stage.
It begins with open reverse triangles, then moves to closed triangles, and then has one student changing direction and the other responding after the students becomes proficient at each stage.  

2.   Two Man, Two Stick Connection Drill. Start facing your training partner. There are two sticks in this drill, with each of you holding one end of each stick near your hips. From overhead the two people holding the two sticks should form a rectangle or square.

Level one of this drill has one person walking forward a few steps, while the other person walks backwards, step for step, maintaining the distance. (See photo below for position).

Level two has the two people move through an open diamond pattern while maintaining the distance between the two.

Level three has the two people doing the same open diamond, but this time one is feeding strikes (usually the four diagonals) and the other is responding with the same strikes. Work on keeping your head at the same level during these drills, so your eyes will not have to change their focus (and your brain recalculate the distance to the opponent) so often.

3. Wave in-Wave out Drill. The attacker makes a simple forehand strike in the air and freezes it at the point where he intends to hit a target. The defender stands just outside this range to judge the distance. The attacker now chambers his stick. The defender, now knowing the range of this strike, leans just far enough into this range to fake an entry and draw an attack (AKA the “wave in”) . The attacker will now SLOWLY begin his strike. The defender now leans back to get out of range of the strike (the “wave out”).

I usually teach this drill during 4 Wall training. See video below.


RANGE & POINT OF PERCUSSION* DURING A CUT: When humans make a simple fluid strike with a stick or cut with an edged weapon, the movement is closer to a spiral than it is to a full circle. If the weapon is in your right hand, then the greatest reach will be with the weapon pointed straight out to your right, in a line across the shoulders, However, the point of greatest force in a cut will usually not be where the greatest reach is. For example, on a horizontal cut at shoulder height, this will be when the point of percussion of the weapon is roughly at a right angle to the line of your chest. Also notice in the video the angle of the elbow. A straight arm during a cut will not have as much force as an arm that is slightly bent at impact; as a slight bend in the elbow allows more muscle groups to deliver force into the target.

Tangent Lines: A straight line outside a circle which just "touches" the circle, and intersects it at exactly one point, is called a tangent line.
The tangent line is perpendicular to the radius at the point where it intersects the circle.*

GOING OFF ON A TANGENT: If we think of the path of a sword cut or the potential range of a punch as a spiral, then it becomes possible to evade these attacks with footwork that moves you in a line at a tangent to the apex of the opponent's circle or spiral.

Pekiti-Tirsia Entry Drill Break in-Break out video: In the figure below, the black lines represent the opponent and the reach of his stick, while the red line represents your footwork direction.


Footwork in Boxing & FMA video: In the figure below, the blue lines represent the opponent and the reach of his arms, while the red lines represents the direction of your footwork and punches.


Blade Boxing Footwork Drill video: In the figure below, the blue lines represent the opponent and the reach of his arms, while the red line represents the two potential directions of your punches after your footwork brings you into position.



This is a sample from the long dagger drill that begins the first set of PTI double knife. This section is based on long European style daggers and probably has its roots during the Spanish period in the Philippines. The drill is based on the Ranging Footwork pattern, with 6 attacks, 6 counters and 6 recounters.




JUEGO-TODO DRILL: The drill in Pekiti-Tirsia where many of these elements are put together is called Juego-Todo (lit “game everything” AKA the anything goes drill).

If you look at the strikes I am using, you will see they are mainly simple techniques from the 5 Attacks Subsystem, used with advanced timing and distance control.

The progression of drills to develop many of these skills can be found in the video Understanding Multi-Strike Timing Drills.


Train Hard, but Train Smart,
Tuhon Bill McGrath

PTI Videos or blog posts related to this essay:






BOWIE POINT- (Discussion of the Center or Point of Percussion)


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* https://geometryhelp.net/category/circles/tangent-lines/