One of the things that I spent a lot of time in rapier drilling on were range drills. The essence of a rapier range drill is that there are three fundamental ranges that you frequently find yourself at:

  1. Lethal Range: Close enough to hit by moving your arm.
  2. Critical Range: Close enough to hit by shifting your center of gravity (e.g., in a lunge).
  3. Out of range: Anything beyond what can be reasonably reached by a lunge.

There are some nuances in this (e.g., you can also be "under the point" and someone who is out of range can get into range in a hurry, albeit at some cost), but essentially this rough breakdown appears frequently both when unarmed and dealing with weapons.

When teaching students, one thing I've seen is that there is a tendency to naturally drift either too close or too far away (depending on the student and the circumstances) and that judging range is not something that comes naturally.

So I am wondering, what are effective ways to teach range analysis, so that you can both know what will work from a given range, and know what you need to look for at a given range?

  • With #2 do you mean leaning forward or stepping forward, or both?
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 19:14
  • Deceptively simple question. I started to give a knee jerk answer, but then realized the subtlety. Can we clarify the question? The answers seem to make different assumptions about what you're asking. Are you asking for rapier, or for all martial arts weapons, or for empty hand?
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 15:51
  • Empty hand, specifically, though more general answers would also be good. Rapier I know plenty of drills for, but they require significant adaptation in some cases since empty hand lacks some of the visual cues that rapiers let you check within an inch. Commented Sep 17, 2012 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


With empty-hand, I usually do the following exercises to get people used to distancing differences. I simplify it and do just "one" range - which should map pretty well to your situation.

The student stands still, and I do the striking.

Every strike is preceded with a question like "Can I hit you from here?". Variations on the question will become obvious as you read through the list.

  1. Natural stance, facing each other.
    • About one (human) foot within reach for a kick with either leg
    • About one (human) foot outside of reach for a kick with either leg
    • About one inch outside of range.
  2. Fighting stance (one leg closer to the student than the other).
    • Repeat the three earlier distance experiments with both legs
  3. Now, add a step, and repeat the earlier distance experiments.
  4. And now, a sliding step, and repeat the earlier distance experiments.

This is repeated a few times in its entirety. I usually only do this once per session (or every few sessions), though you could probably fill an entire session or seminar with such exercises.

Once the student is familiar with this exercise, I just bring back one of those at some time, to teach the student to learn to gauge distance at will. The strike itself, over time, becomes unnecessary. In essence, this is just a one-sided one-step striking drill.

I'm sure you could apply this drill to the rapier, and bring in your own variations. I never got around to playing with stepping around the student, having the student in a stance/guard and seeing if it was possible to get to openings from there and how - and whether that was a beneficial exercise or not. Usually, we take this knowledge and apply it in sparring and other free-form exercises.

  • 1
    Aww. I got downvoted. May I please get some feedback as to why this answer was not useful?
    – Anon
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 11:45
  • I downvoted because I've done this drill and found it unproductive. It seems to me to be more of a karate mind game than a useful exercise in learning distancing. It lacks footwork, live experimentation with the range, and agency on the part of the student. The last sentence also indicates a troubling lack of meaningful integration of the drill with sparring or more robust live drilling. It is similar to a useful drill, but the one-sidedness of this version, combined with a lack of movement on the part of the student, makes it unproductive. Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 15:47
  • @DaveLiepmann These are all valid points. I chose to omit all of these for the sake of brevity. Why was it unproductive? Or was it just because of the arguments you listed? If so, I would hazard that maybe you did the drill without complete mindfulness. It is also entirely possible that you do not learn well from drills like these and require drills with more movements to integrate the learning, just like I don't learn as well with drills that have more movements, when I am on the fundamental level.
    – Anon
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 1:33

Since footwork more or less determines reach, drills related to that will give good guidance. Further, while analysis works well during training, is too slow at speed. People jerk away or move too slowly because they react to artifacts of the mind. Such a drill has to address that.

There's a fun drill where you only use footwork to step and evade incoming attack. You're not allowed to use your hands to block. With a twist. You let the attacking weapon shave as close to the body as you can. In the case of empty-hand, that means allowing contact and letting it slide past. (Precursor to sticky training).

There is a space about an half-an-inch to about an inch off the skin where people naturally jerk away from someone. Movement with hostile intent within that range tend to create this very strange sensation. People usually go mindless when something enters that range, and knee-jerk reacts to it. The attack has not yet made contact, yet people will react to it as if they were in pain. The point of this drill is to trigger this particular feeling, and instead of jerking away, to go with it and move with the feet.

You're not really trying to suppress this feeling. You're training to not react blindly to the feeling when it comes, and instead, stay present and let your training come out.

I've found people who have done this particular drill often enough will square off at pretty much exactly just outside the critical range (where you shift weight), and have good intuitive sensitivity on where boundaries of personal space are.

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