Although we touched on the concept of distance in our discussion of the Four Grounds I think the importance of this aspect of the art of defense warrants taking time to discuss it in more depth.
Distance is a fundamental concept of fighting. It’s every bit as important as maintaining a good guard or being able to execute a valid attack or parry. In some ways it’s possible more important. A fighter must have a good understanding of distance so that he will be able to stand so that he is outside of his opponent’s range but close enough to his opponent that he can still reach him with a step forward and an attack. With a proper understanding of distance a fighter knows when he’s within range of his opponent and open to attack, when he’s well outside his opponent’s range and perfectly safe, or when he’s found that sweet spot where he is safe but his opponent is within his range and open to attack. Thus it’s important to understand distance and range and be able to asses not only your range but also that of your opponent.
For example, let’s say that fighter A and fighter B are standing 5 feet apart. For simplicity, say they both have an arm reach of 2 feet, which means that with their arms extended they still have one foot of distance between them. Now, give each fighter a standard 36-inch weapon. Now each fighter, with their arm extended, has approximately a 5-foot reach or range of attack, due to their 2-foot arm reach and additional 3-foot sword length. At a distance of 5 feet, neither fighter has to move at all to reach their opponent. If we change the distance between them to seven feet they can no longer simply reach each other by extending their arm but each is still well within attack range with a simple advance or small lunge. However if we give fighter B a 40-inch weapon he is now 4 inches closer to fighter A than fighter A is to him. There will also be a distance at which fighter B can strike fighter A without having to do anything more than extend his sword but fighter A will have to do more work to attack him
This is a very basic example but it highlights the importance of understanding not only your own range, but also the range of your opponent. Once you understand these ranges you are able to determine not only when you are within range to attack your opponent but also when you are within their range and in danger of being attacked yourself. Once you have obtained an understanding of range and distance you can then manipulate them to your advantage.
The best way to gain a true understanding of distance is by practicing with other fighters. The truth of the matter is there is no better way to learn distance than in a combat situation. If that is not possible, Swetnam recommends that a fighter may gain a good knowledge of distance by practicing alone and using a wall to represent one’s opponent. When using a wall for practice a fighter should be standing with his rear foot approximately 12 feet from the wall and should be practicing with a rapier approximately 4 feet long.
Distance is a fundamental concept of fighting. It is important that a fighter understand and be able to determine not only their body’s distance from their opponent, but also the distance covered by his and his opponent’s range of attack. It is vital that a fighter have an understanding not only his own range, but also the range of his opponent. Once he understands these ranges he will be able to determine not only when he is within range to attack his opponent but also when he is within their range and in danger of being attacked himself. Once a fighter has obtained an understanding of range and distance he can then manipulate them to his advantage.