More about the melee: how does it fit with other "range" categorizations?

People often query my use of the term "melee range". The counter this concept by saying that range is a simple proposition. A typical response is:
    "The 3 ranges of stand up combat are kicking range, punching range, and clinch range,"1
The fourth is obviously grappling.

I'm told by my good friend Brad that Renzo Gracie considers that there are also 3 ranges of combat, except he expresses it as follows in his "Mastering Jujitsu", namely:
    (1) the "free movement" phase "because you are both free to move as you wish, and this would apply to armed attacks as well";

    (2) the clinch range which "occurs when some sort of fixed contact is made with the opponent...whether it be a literal clinch, or something as simple as a wrist grab" and thus you are no longer both free to move about as you wish, and thus are no longer in the free movement phase"; and

    (3) "last but not when you're on the ground".
Both of the above paradigms seem quite effective and reasonable ways of distinguishing ranges. How, why and where should one fit a "melee" range into any of these constructs?

It is important to note that my construct "melee range" is not intended to be distinct from, say, the ranges described by Renzo Gracie. Rather it is a group of ranges where you are actually in position to strike but before full clinch/grappling (body to body) occurs.

I called it the "melee" because it is, as is pointed out above, so chaotic and hard to "control". It is a place of storm or panic because your maximum power blows can land (where in full clinch/grappling your ability to maximise power is stifled). This would include a full power kick, a full power cross, a full power hook or a full power elbow. People in any of these ranges naturally feel very vulnerable. It is the point of engagement before you can stifle by closing distance alone.

My "melee" construct is useful because it is frequently ignored as an issue. People will talk of moving from "free movement" (which could include just out of range to body to body, provided neither side has grabbed the other) to "clinch". The maelstrom of the panicky punching/kicking/scrabbling that embodies some of the "engaged" aspect of that free movement until the clinch that interests me, because it is here that most civilian defence scenarios begin and end in my experience (as a prosecutor and otherwise).

In both civilian defence and combat sports this maelstrom lasts for a few seconds at most.

In boxing/kickboxing it decides the fight by knockout or TKO, or both sides back off without determining the encounter or the end in a clinch where they "rest" (or bite ears in Mike Tyson's case). Sometimes they do some largely ineffectual jabbing punches to the floating rib etc.

In MMA/UFC etc. it follows a similar path, except that the clinch could go into a grappling match.

In civilian defence it usually decides the fight because the first punch is unexpected and therefore lands (I've even seen boxers "caught out" because their defence tactics are not optimal at this range - see my reasoning below).

Rarely in combat sports does anyone pause to consider how to deal/train optimally for the "melee". They take for granted that it is a maelstrom; chaotic and unpredictable. They focus instead on tactics of entry from "circling" as a means of minimising risk and dictating the following events, like a game of chess where a move can determine the next 15 or perhaps right up to checkmate.

By contrast, in traditional martial arts a great deal of time is spent on techniques applicable in this melee. In arnis they have trapping drills like de cadena which control flurries of blows once you are inside optimal stick striking range. In wing chun they specialise on generating and controlling "flurries" both with trapping drills and chi sau (sticky hands) - sensitivity exercises. Goju karate similarly has its "kakie" sensitivity exercise, while the internal arts have various "push hands" exercises for that purpose.

In karate/shaolin/internal arts there is generally a high emphasis on what people call "blocks" (usually better termed parries/deflections and sometimes strikes) which only work in the melee. The footwork (ashi sabaki) and tenshin (a kind of body evasion used with blocks) deals entirely with this range. Some arts (eg. shorin ryu) specialise at the mid to outer edge of the melee. Some, like goju, wing chun and white crane, deal with the mid to inner edge of the melee.

De cadena trapping drill from arnis

I believe that it is because the time spent in the melee is so transient that it is glossed over in combat sports. Time is often better spent on entry tactics because you have the time and space to train this; you know when the fight commences and there are no surprises in that regard. Accordingly "melee" management in combat sports primarily comprises training to "bridge the gap" (ie. enter the melee) and what you do to get out (clinch/grapple). The in-between is really regarded as having been determined by your entry tactics (ie. how you bridge the gap).

As I've pointed out in many of my articles (see in particular Evasion vs. blocking with evasion), sports-type evasion such as bobbing and weaving works best at the outer edge of the melee; once you are "toe to toe" you simply don't have the time or space to move your body to avoid his punch which is probably only one or 2 feet away at its start. His handspeed will beat your "body speed" when you are close in; the hands are wired for such fine motor skills where the body and head musculature is wired for gross or macro movement). So in sports combat melee training typically comprises hitting things and using combinations, be it "dead" training (shadow boxing, pads, bags) or "live" (a moving pad/target or a sparring opponent). "Blocks" or parries etc. are secondary. As my friend Kampfringen will tell you, the reverse emphasis is true even in the Western world; the more civilian defence oriented traditional arts from the West have movements which correspond to many traditional blocks. Kampfringen just commented on this to me the other day3 that there is nothing special about goju's hiki/kake uke - the "wax on and off" hooking or pulling block; it exists in renaissance and medieval fighting traditions, just as it exists in shorin ryu schools of karate, in the Chinese external and internal arts, and in in practically every oriental fighting art.

The hiki or kake uke applied

Even boxers will use parries that resemble the hiki uke; however they get to this point often by trial and error; combat sport has lost deflection as the primary focus. The primary focus is to win - ie. on your strikes. In civilian defence the primary focus is on not getting hit, and usually in civilian assaults this begins and ends in the melee. Your attacker is usually close enough to hit, but not yet close enough to grapple. He/she usually doesn't scream, then start running at you from across the room, nor is he or she circling you just prior to the conflict (unless you've organised a fight, in which case this falls outside my definition of "civilian defence").

In other words the "melee range" is not an alternative method of categorising distances to, say, the Renzo Gracie method. Rather it is about focussing attention on a particular stage of combat; a transient, but highly determinative point where traditional martial arts techniques focus their attention. The fact that many traditional techniques are never used in sparring/combat is a function of ignorance as to their applicability at this stage of combat resulting from information loss or "dilution". Traditonal teaching methods are largely to blame; the "train, don't question" approach is very limiting to understanding the nuances of, say, the art of deflection. Furthermore the tendency to "hold back knowledge" or "secret techniques" has resulted in many students of different traditional disciplines being perpetually stuck in honing basic skills but never learning how to apply them in a "live" (ie. dynamic) setting. This kind of dilution has led to people attempting (and failing) to use traditional methods in combat sports where other tactics (bridging the gap) are probably more relevant and determinative of the outcome. The traditional martial art practitioners become disillusioned, resort to trying more "combat sports" effective techniques (or poor copies - what I call "faux boxing") leading to further dilution of knowledge.


1. See this post on the Evolve MMA blog.

2. See Brad's post on the Traditional Fighting Arts Forum here.

3. See Kampfringen's comment here.

Copyright © 2009 Dejan Djurdjevic


  1. I like the category: melee.

    In the second video, the first punch is not yet in melee range. That's, I think, a common error in training.

    How about subcategories: finger gouge, elbow smash, head-butt?!

  2. Yes - he was being kind and didn't come in close enough. I think he didn't expect me to block the punch! I'll have to redo the video at a closer range.

    In any event, yes the "melee" describes a group of ranges rather than a specific range, so there would be subcategories.


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