There are several fighting zones that we aim to become proficient in while training in the martial arts. In a typical hand to hand fighting system, we cover the grappling zone, trapping zone, punching zone, kicking zone and neutral zone.
Neutral Zone: Infinity to just before you can be reached by the opponent’s kicks (or longest weapon).
Kicking Zone: Distance at which you can kick the opponent, but are too far away to effectively punch them.
Punching zone: Distance at which you can punch the opponent but are too close for effective kicks and too far away for short range weapons such as elbows and knees.
Trapping Zone: Distance at which you can effectively trap the opponent’s limbs and strike with elbows, knees and head butts, but are too close for traditional punches and too far for effective grappling.
Grappling Zone: The distance at which you are too close to throw effective knees, elbows and head butts and are in direct contact with the opponent’s body.
One of the most important zones to master is the Neutral Zone.
The Neutral Zone lies just outside the kicking zone. When you are in the Neutral Zone you can neither hit your opponent (you can’t reach them) nor be hit by them (they can’t reach you). Technically your neutral zone can be anywhere from infinity right up to the point where you are just outside of the opponent’s kicking range or longest weapon.
The cool thing about the neutral zone is that once you establish that you are out of reach, your opponent will never be able to touch you so long as you maintain the same minimum distance. So, if your opponent moves forward 6 inches to try to kick or punch you, then you can likewise step back or to the side 6 inches and maintain a distance where you can never be struck. (Think about when you try to pick up a small dog and he always steps right outside your reach and stops. And, when you move closer he steps away again.)
There are, however, a few potential weaknesses of improperly maintained neutral zones. Be sure to protect yourself from these pitfalls while exploiting the opponent’s mistakes under the following circumstances:
- The opponent closes before you can move to compensate the lost distance. Increasing the distance here will buy you more time if your reaction time or ability to move is slower than the opponent’s.
- You are in cramped quarters and are not able to move freely or as far as you would like.
- The opponent has a weapon that you didn’t know about such as a club or a knife (or gun) that extends the distance needed to maintain your zone of safety.
- There are differences in height and length of limbs. When facing a taller opponent, remember that just because you can’t reach them doesn’t mean they can’t reach you! The neutral zone’s distance is always determined by the opponent’s size, speed and ability.
One last consideration when talking about the neutral zone is determining what you have to do with the opponent in your given scenario. Specifically, do you need to engage in a hand to hand combat or put more distance in-between?
If you need to go “hands on”, you need to understand that the farther away you are from the opponent (as you maintain a safe zone), then the more distance you are going to have to recover to effectively kick, punch, elbow, or take them down. Skilled fighters have a keen perception of their opponent’s capabilities and are able to ride the very edge of the neutral zone so that when the opportunity arises, they have almost no distance to cover before they can strike the opponent. I am sure you have seen a boxer who always seems to be just out of the opponent’s reach while being able to counterstrike them with ease (footwork is key here!).
If you don’t need to go “hand’s on” with the opponent, then you can maintain your neutral zone right up to the point where you leave the threat area and arrive safely inside your home. This is why the neutral zone can be your best friend. If someone asks you why you walked away from a fight, as you sit on your comfortable sofa with a cold beverage, tell them, “I didn’t walk away…I am just maintaining my neutral zone!”
Gunfighters! Be advised that if you are in a deadly force situation, the best thing you can do is to increase the distance between you and your opponent. Distance equals time and if you are in close proximity of an opponent and a close range deadly force incident erupts, you do not want to close with the opponent. Your weapon determines your zone and a firearm’s advantage is its ability to hit from a distance. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but when you train, work at moving back and off the line as you draw your weapon. If it starts within contact range, then practice pushing the opponent away from you as you create more distance and draw your weapon. Most people who close the distance in a gunfight get hurt or killed, oftentimes with their own weapon.
In review: If you need to go hands on, stay as close to the opponent as possible, but right outside of their reach. If you don’t need to go hands on, then leave the threat area completely. And, if you are in a gunfight, increase the distance between you and your target.
Professionals practice staying safe by staying neutral!