What can we do against a harasser who comes at a distance of two inches of you with a clearly menacing attitude. What strike could be applied at the distance of two inches standing face to face (I suppose the one-inch punch would be the ideal solution, but it's not feasible for me). If you assess the situation and consider a violent confrontation inevitable (but prefer to strike first), and there is no distance for kicking.

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    This question seems a little too general? It feels like the question boils down to "How SHOULD I hit someone?" to which there's as many answers as there are styles of defense. Can you give some more specifics as far as what you're looking for or limits to the situation?
    – Bankuei
    Jan 24, 2015 at 17:18
  • Question updated. Jan 24, 2015 at 21:16
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    Have you considered any form of wrestling instead of strikes? Jan 24, 2015 at 22:53
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    So, to clarify a) You cannot walk/run away, b) there's no obstacles you can put between you and the person, c) are they just talking trash? Is this life threatening?, d) do they have to get THAT close before you can act? Might they have a knife? Might they have friends? I feel like this question lacks critical context in a lot of ways. And, as Dave pointed out, grappling works as well. It's not like there's 1 miracle technique that works up close for everything. Tell us the situation w/o scraping off the reasons.
    – Bankuei
    Jan 25, 2015 at 1:03
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    I think the reason you're finding they don't have a technique for that is because when someone is threatening and you see they're threatening you don't wait for them to get within your body space before taking action to get away? The folks who get that close either have run up on you from behind and are attacking or have a weapon at your side or back and are threatening you. Otherwise it only happens when two guys start playing the yelling/pushing game before fighting.
    – Bankuei
    Jan 25, 2015 at 4:47

7 Answers 7


At that distance you are most in danger of a headbutt.

Firstly, don't find yourself in that situation. When things start to get hairy, lift up your arms to about chest height, with PALMS FACING OUTWARD IN A NON-MENACING WAY so as to show you want to avoid confrontation. Any cameras (security or people with camera-phones) will show you to be the non-aggressor if you end up in court. This will also serve to keep your personal-space well defined, any breach of that space and you can act quicker.

Secondly, if you do find yourself 2 inches away from an aggressor, just push him away with a double palm push (or strike depending on your point of view) to the chest. Best way is the Wing Chun straight down the centre-line as that will be the quickest, even if your hands are low.

  • Headbutts are not as effective as people think, especially from such close range. However, the rest of your advice is spot on. Show non agression, get your hands in a defensive position and as a priority, gain space between you and aggressor.
    – JohnP
    Mar 2, 2015 at 21:06

The more important question you should be asking is what's actually going on here? What is the psychology of this situation? Knowing that is the only way of figuring out how you should react. The actual fighting techniques you might use are of secondary importance, and I kind of think any martial art will have a number of techniques and strategies that you can use effectively in this situation.

And by the way, no technique is guaranteed to finish the fight in one blow. That happens only in movies and martial arts folklore. In reality, knowing what to do after that first blow is just as important. Things will go wrong. You need a system. You need training. There are no "trick" techniques that work all the time in this situation.

My observation of the stare-down scenario is this: If the aggressor in this situation has not initiated any physical contact (no pushes, no punches, etc.), then it is an indication that he is unwilling to fight.

If he wanted to fight you, he would not hesitate to shove you hard or punch you. Instead, he is waiting to see what happens. That is a dead giveaway that he doesn't want to actually fight you.

As the defender, you have three choices:

  1. Deescalate by backing away, gesturing, and using your voice.
  2. Preemptively attack by punching, tackling, etc.
  3. Stand your ground (do nothing except stare back confidently).

The fights that I have personally witnessed as well as those I've watched on youtube which started with a stare-down initiated by an aggressor tend to show that the best two choices are #2 and #3. But even #1 will work, though you have to be careful with it.

In the first choice, you deescalate. That means you try to put some distance between you both and turn your body to the side to protect yourself. You put your hands up, palm facing outward to gesture that you don't want to fight. And you ask the guy what's the matter.

Deescalating doesn't always work, of course. The guy could take it as a sign of weakness from you and will try to lunge forward to punch you. Be ready for it. Once he attacks physically, your best option is to fight back, rather than continue to back away.

You need to be able to instantly flip the switch in your mind from deescalation to full-on fight mode. That's something most people just aren't trained to do, even most martial artists. It happens so fast. In most fights whereby someone attacks while the other guy is deescalating, the one who attacks generally wins. And it's because the defender in this case hasn't flipped that switch, and he's probably also very psychologically intimidated and afraid. He's not confident and not ready to engage.

The second choice is to preemptively attack the aggressor. Since he's unwilling to initiate the fight physically, he probably won't be psychologically prepared for your attack. And at this close range, it's quicker to act than to react. You can punch or take him down to the ground before he has a chance to react to it. And chances are, the person who initiates contact first will win in this situation.

But preemptive strikes aren't guaranteed to work. That first strike is just the beginning. You can make it the best punch you've ever made, and it lands square on the jaw, but that guy might not be phased. You need more than just a single strike plan. You need a full fighting system to use after that.

Also, you don't know if this guy has a gun or a knife, or if one of his friends is standing behind you ready to jump on you. There are a lot of ways a preemptive strike could go wrong. The main thing to keep in mind is that you could be hurt, so it is risky.

The last of the 3 choices, in no particular order, is to stand your ground. This is actually not a bad choice. Once again, I observe that the aggressor seems unwilling to fight you if he hasn't initiated physical contact. You might reject choice #1 (deescalation), because you think he will see you backing off and will interpret it as a sign of weakness, so you figure he'll try to punch you or something if he sees that. And choice #2 (a preemptive strike) seems unnecessary or too risky (physically, legally, etc.) to you. So you choose to stand your ground.

Standing your ground here means you're not going to back down, nor are you going to initiate any physical contact here (like by pushing him). You'll stare him in the eyes and not look away. Your posture should be strong and confident, ready to fight. You won't verbally or through gestures try to deescalate (which would signal to him that you're weak). You can verbally indicate a willingness to fight him should he touch you. It's a warning. That's perfectly fine and works well in cases when the aggressor is not confident enough to initiate physical contact like this.

During the stare-down, some aggressors decide to try to escalate the fight by pushing you. If you are ever pushed, you have only one option in my opinion: strike him back and keep striking him (or grapple with him) until he backs off. Why? Because standing your ground no longer makes sense, and deescalation won't work in this case. Once someone has initiated physical contact, they have signaled that they believe the other guy is weak and will continue to attack him, because they believe they will win. If you attempt to deescalate, it will merely confirm his view that you're weak, and he'll use that as an opportunity to hurt you.

But there's also a pretty good chance that the stare-down scenario will result in nothing happening. Simply standing up confidently, not showing fear, and not backing down is usually enough to intimidate someone into backing down. The more time that goes by, also, the cooler the aggressor will become. It gives the guy a chance to vent, say a lot of cuss words, pound his chest, etc. Eventually the guy gets bored and leaves.

My homework assignment to you is to watch candid youtube videos of street fights of all kinds, not just this stare-down scenario. Pay close attention to how the fight starts and who wins. Sometimes it helps watching the fight with the sound turned off, so you can pick up on all of the physical cues. Notice this trend: The one that appears unwilling (who is reluctant) to fight is indicating weakness. The other guy will generally win if he attacks (even if he's not the aggressor).

Legal disclaimer: Of course there's doing what's right, and then there's doing what is legal. I don't give legal advice. You need to look into how the laws in your country, state, town, etc. are setup for self-defense situations. Preemptive strikes are the hardest to sell to a jury. The easiest is to convince the jury you attempted to deescalate the situation and only responded with enough force to stop the attacker from hurting you and then got away (never more than that). Standing your ground could go either way, but it might work in your favor if someone sees that you didn't initiate it. This is critical in situations where either of you are seriously injured or killed.

Hope that helps!

  • +1: deescalating, -1: preventive strike, +1: legal disclaimer! The last paragraph deserves more emphasis. Jan 26, 2015 at 7:32
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    I'm not advocating a preventive strike, just describing it along with the other 2 choices. It's good to go over all possible choices and let the individual figure out when to apply them best, in my opinion. And yes, the legal aspects of self-defense are rarely discussed in martial arts classes, and that's just downright negligent. After all, there's an instructor telling people to do this or that, and the students should know that stomping on someone's skull after they're unconscious, for example, may result in jail time. There might be better things to do, in other words. Jan 26, 2015 at 22:39
  • Clearly, we are on the same page. ^_~ Jan 27, 2015 at 7:57
  • Another thought on preemptive strikes: if the opponent has any experience fighting from this intimidation stance, they likely have been struck at before. You may find that that strike is exactly the thing they were asking you to do to overcome an internal limitation they have put in place to protect them from themselves. You may literally play right into their hands.
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 4, 2015 at 18:09
  • What I find most risky in this situation for the defender is to back down and not want to fight. Generally when they show weakness and an unwillingness to fight, they get attacked. The pre-emptive strike can go horribly wrong also. Just like you said, it's possible the attacker is suckering you into punching him first. But fight videos generally don't back up that theory. Bottom line is to be ready to flip that switch on and fight when you need to. Aug 4, 2015 at 18:29

You've created your own problem in letting someone that is obviously showing aggression to get within two inches. In many cases where they move in that close, they don't really want to fight, they want to intimidate. If they were intent on damage, they would start swinging or similar as soon as they were in range. However, in cases such as this where they have gotten that close, you want to do one of two things, either create distance or close it to your advantage (with a couple random things thrown in):

Create distance:

  1. Step back. Either one foot drops back in stance or you simply step back.
  2. Push away. As noted in others, double strikes to torso should help create some space, but you are at a disadvantage already because your leverage is reduced.
  3. Step sideways. Especially with someone that is relentlessly pressing forward, a quick side step gets you distance and flanks you to the aggressor.

Close distance:

  1. Step into attacker. This is somewhat dangerous, but may be mandated by location (Such as you are against table/wall/similar). When you step in, you want to be able to control the body and arms as soon as possible.
  2. Combine #1 with a push and a trip, such as a heel catch. Either they go down, or they stumble back.

The biggest thing with both of those is that you HAVE TO COMMIT, and you NEED to know what you are doing. If you are horrible at in close maneuvering or your grappling skills are bad, you are gambling. If you go at it half strength/uncaring, you are likely going to get overpowered.


You can't really do a lot of damage with any kind of strike from within 2". Forget dim mak, 1" punch, all the movie crap. Even the head butt is questionable at that distance, and requires that you are a similar height as the attacker. Unless you hit the nose square, any other head butt technique will place you at just as much risk of damage as them. (For example, if you are a few inches shorter, you may smash their mouth, but it's not a debilitating strike and if their teeth gash your forehead which is likely, you now have your own blood in your eyes). Same with leg strikes, unless you get absolutely lucky, you aren't going to be able to target or get leverage to make an effective groin strike.


  1. Depending on your abilities/confidence, you can try for some of the pressure points in/around the armpit/ribs.
  2. Redirect - If you can combine the step to the side with a wrist grab, you can gain leverage/distance/control all in one shot.
  3. Step on his foot. For most untrained, they will either instinctively try to pull their foot away (distance), look down (distraction) or both. However, be aware that if you put too much weight, you may get unbalanced if/when they pull their foot away.
  4. Grab his belt/top of pants. Same reactions as #3, it's unexpected and their first reaction is to pull away.

sorry, I'll skip the obligatory 'don't fight' advice. The most effective strikes you could employe at that distance are :
(assuming he has already entered your personal space, at 2 inches apart you don't have the time to draw your arms back, you can't really punch at that distance either)
1. head Butt to the face
2. cupped-hands strike to the ears
3. knee to the groin
4. Upward elbow strike to the chin/face, while stepping back, with leading hand
5. elbow to the chin,while stepping back, with leading hand (similar to how you throw a boxing hook)
Edit: A lot of what I suggest won't work at 2" per se, you could start from there though

  • Head butt is not as debilitating as everyone thinks it is, especially at a distance of 2". Cupped hands to the ears, same, and cannot be effectively executed at that distance. Knee to the groin is dubious at best, especially at close range.
    – JohnP
    Mar 2, 2015 at 20:56
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    I strongly disagree with the head butt comment, it's probably the most useful tool that upclose
    – madhukar93
    Mar 3, 2015 at 6:44
  • No. At 2" away, you don't really have the space to get leverage enough to make it a debilitating type of strike. Also, you have to be at the right height in comparison to your opponent. Walk up to a wall and have your nose about 1/2 - 1" from wall. Now try to whack the wall with your head without drawing your head back. (Drawing your head back signals the attack, and places you in a VERY vulnerable position). Again, at 2", a headbutt is a dubious proposition at best.
    – JohnP
    Mar 9, 2015 at 17:38
  • I agree with what you say thanks for your input. I should daze the opponent at least ? Wont any kind of movement from that range will be picked up on ? Except Maybe you could stomp a foot.., or trap one of the opponents feet beneath yours and push away to make him fall, then make your escape.
    – madhukar93
    Mar 10, 2015 at 9:19

In that situation, you can strike to the groin with your knee. Also, if it's not so life risking then you can step aside and push him in the direction he is applying his body weight. Palm Strike/Straight Punch on his solar plexus or nose can be done. You can deliver an Elbow Strike on his jaw as well.


For me, it depends what you feel comfortable with. Bruce lee did say 'box a fighter, fight a boxer'..

My first option is basically always to 'shove' them away to create a safe distance from you. This will buy you sometime to asses the situation. If you are a wrestler, shoot and take him down. If you are a boxer, punch him as he comes forward and etc etc. There is also a possibility that there would be more than one attacker, so shoving gives you the opportunity to run away.

Always remember that striking the first blow is always frowned upon and might get you into trouble, no matter what the situation.

If you really really need to strike the first blow, surprise him with a forward simple leg trip, where you shoves him forward as you hook the back of his legs with yours, causing him to fall backwards, and hopefully with you still standing, else you would at least be on top of him.

Or a knee it the nutsack(if close enough & the height is just right), Or a strike to the throat (which is very dangerous as it would cause the throat to collapse) if you life is in danger.


(I am assuming the confrontation is inevitable; if it isn't - just step back if you can and yell for help). If you mist fight, here are few points to consider:

1) just try to do some sparring at this distance (if you have a sparring partner or you are training in a dodjo) - no amount of perfect tips will get you much unless you try them and get comfortable in this situation

2) watch positions - (both your and your opponent) very carefully; few degrees (or inches) could mean a lot at this distance

3) try to fight at several levels at once - low/middle/high. For example, there are combinations like step forward (through your opponent) with knee strike to the groin, at the same time right elbow goes to his stomach and left arm is protecting your face

these things are hard to explain, you have to see and practice; I recommend trying moves from Naihanchi kata (imho, this kata is very good for in-close fighting, just be careful with all those elbow-to-the-throat/head strikes, it's dangerous)

4) be prepared to mix fighting and grappling -> grapple a fighter and fight a grappler (requires lots of practice too)

5) someone did mention WingChun here already; it's great for in-close fighting

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