12 Fighting Principles to Help You Succeed

These 12 Principles will lay a foundation for you to improve from. Once you have mastered these, you can explore the offensive side of each principle where relevant, to trip up your opponent. We have a saying: Learn the rule. Know the rule. Then you can break the rule.


Rooting is an essential part of everything you do when fighting. If you are unbalanced, too upright, and disconnected from the earth, then you will be on the verge of falling over, ineffective in your fighting, 

How to Root

Lengthen your stance and drop your pelvis closer to the ground by bending the knees. This will assist in stability and not falling down or being rocked when blocking, striking, or being pushed/pressed.

Everything comes with a price in fighting. In order to gain one advantage, you must give up another. It’s the nature of the beast. There are three heights you can use in your stances: High, Mid, Low, and each has it’s pros and cons.

High Stance

A high stance does not mean you have to sacrifice your rooting. Bend your knees slightly and drop your weight. Keep your body weight on the balls of your feet for maximum stability/mobility. I’ll explain that further in a moment. This stance should be used when you are trying to A) get in and out quickly on an opponent. B) are still outside Critical Distance (see
Range Principle). C) in need of an escape with faster footwork to get away from your opponent and create space.

Mid Stance

A mid level stance is the best of both worlds. You have a bit more stability without completely compromising mobility. You cannot move as quickly as in a high stance, but you are fairly functional. This is a good stance to use once you have passed ‘Critical Distance’ (see Range), or are in mid range and engaged in striking.

Low Stance

A low stances are great for digging in. Once you have moved into close range, drop your stance for the best stability. Think about wrestlers. Mobility is severely decreased here but once you are in grappling range you are extremely vulnerable to throws, shoots, and takedowns, 
so a lower entrenched stance is a must.

Balls of the feet - keep the weight centered on the ball of the foot. Flat footed means you can’t move quickly. <HINT>Catching an opponent flat footed is a good opportunity for an offensive attack. The heel should be light but not overly high off the ground; an inch or so. Keep your weight off the toes as they are meant to balance, stabilize, and propel, not support your weight full time.


Three traits that give one fighter an edge over another fighter, but don’t necessarily decide the victor.


Some are faster than others. He/she who hits first, can gain quite an advantage in a fight if they know what to do. Someone distracted by the first punch or two, will have trouble defending against the next 3 to 5 punches in a solid combination.


Some people are bigger than others, some are stronger than others even without being bigger. Power is another attribute that can vastly affect a fight. If someone hits harder than the person they are fighting, it could mean the end quickly without a good defense/fighting strategy.

Removed for Training

When training, one should keep the speed low for learning and fast for
testing. This will reduce stress and reliance on natural attributes that can unlevel the playing field.

These attributes will come back into play during sparring sessions where you are testing your skills. Power is difficult to remove but staying light and learning proper technique will make a stronger fighter even better. You already have the strength...

Connecting Principles: Focus, Emotional Control

Guard Principle (One In/One Out)

Guard principle defines proper defensive positioning of the hands and arms. A good guard position reduces the number of available targets that you present to an opponent. It also protects you while you are striking.

During striking or blocking, always move the other hand back to a defensive position (one hand out, one hand in). If you extend two arms simultaneously (two out), you will not be able to block your opponent's counterstrike.

The Guard Defined

With your body in a bladed position (see Blading under #8 Centerline Principle), your hands naturally stagger one in front of the other. This allows for you to gain range on your opponent with your lead hand; making it easier to reach them with an initial strike. You also protect your centerline from attacks to some of the ‘Effective Strike’ targets that
would otherwise be left open if you faced off with your opponent square.


  • Do not let your elbows wing outwards. They stay in so they can protect the ribs and maximize the strength of the arms. Be sure that you are not cocking your wrists, which will mask incorrect forearm alignment and slow the arms down.
  • Line your hands up with your opponent's shoulders. If your hands are too close together, you open up targets on the outside where we are anatomically weak. If your hands are too far apart, it will be difficult to block strikes to the center and your delayed response will cause you to get hit. Shoulder width is a good spot.
  • The height of the hands is determined by A) the height of your opponent, B) the range to your opponent, and C) where you can comfortably keep them so they can react quickly against incoming blows.

    Hold your hands up to roughly the eyebrow level of your opponent (with fingers relaxed but straight). If you do not hold your hands up high enough, you will not be able to block upper strikes effectively. If you hold your hands up too high, you will expose body targets and weaken your arms.

NOTE: You can always compliment your blocks with slipping and ducking later on, but it is good to hone your blocks to the highest degree so you know they are dependable when needed.

Guard Hand

The effective use of the Guard Hand while striking can maximize your
defense while taking offensive action. Be sure to return your nonstriking
hand to the guard position while your other arm is striking.

Connecting Principles: Zone, Door, Range

Zone Defense

The body is divided into 9 sections (see diagram 1) called zones. These zones help define a system of where your hand should and should not be while fighting.

Zone Principle can be divided into offensive and defensive categories. Practitioners should only learn defensive side first, then later add the offensive. In order to effectively defend as many doors (potential openings for opponent to hit you see 'Door' principle) as possible your hands should not pass between more than 2 zones.

**assumes the student understands 'Basic Fighting Position' taught in the first level.

  • Left hand covers left side. Right hand covers right side. Either can go into the center zones.
  • Never cross more than 2 zones (includes the one you are currently in).

Example: Right hand is in top left quadrant in diagram 1. Opponent throws a round kick at lower right quadrant. The right hand would have to cross 2 zones to get there and is therefore out of position
and unable to return to the top left quadrant to defend the the open door which is now available for opponent to strike.

Zone Defense Drills

3 way random blocking - slow, medium, fast.
Once the rules are understood then minor adjustments or exceptions to the above rules apply.

In order to cross to the middle zone to defend the groin against a strike coming from below (scraping fist or palm), you should change the height of your zones. In other words crouch lower in your stance.

In order to cross to the low zone to defend a kick to the leg, you should change the height of your zones. The only time you should do this is to affect a throw by grabbing opponents leg, or to neutralize an opponent shooting for your legs. Otherwise, never bring your hands down to the
lower zones.

Closing Door

'Closing Door' is the principle of keeping as many doors closed as possible while fighting. Doors are openings for strikes and kicks to walk through. This principle is heavily connected to Guard Principle. A proper guard will close down many open doors.

Elbows In

Keeping the elbows in allows for the ribs to stay protected and the upper block to function with proper strength. 

Hands in line with Shoulders

Forces opponent to go around or inside your arms to hit you. Also
assists the upper block in having the strength to function. Liability When striking you naturally open doors. To minimize the potential negative effects of this be sure to apply zone, guard, blading.

Neutral Position

This is the position you want to work from early on against an opponent. Your feet are lined up with their feet. When they circle, you match. When you have a bladed stance (see Centerline Principle), and move to match their stance, you neutralize advantages they may gain from angles.

This increases the effectiveness of our blocking system, and shuts down
access to certain vulnerable targets. This is worked heavily in Mirror Drill.

Rule of Three

The rule of three states that the first two strikes can be effectively neutralized by even a somewhat unskilled opponent. We all have two hands. You punch with two arms, they block with two arms.

A less skilled opponent however, will not return their first blocking hand to the correct guard position, and will thus have created a hole in their defense, i.e. what we call an open door. On our third strike, therefore, we will have a higher probability to penetrate their guard and land a strike.

This is why we practice combinations containing at least three strikes.
A more skilled opponent will be able to block more than three strikes in a row. Over time, your objective is to string more and more punches together so that eventually your opponent will make a mistake and be out of position. At which point you can capitalize on the open door.

The more skill, the higher the number of strikes to open doors without the use of more advanced tactics. However, the converse also applies to the aggressor; the more punches you string together, the more likely that you will fail to guard correctly and be unable to block your opponent's counter (see Guard for decreasing this risk).

Random Striking

Changing Levels

Changing levels refers to varying the targets of your punches between the head, body, groin, and legs, to avoid predictability and confuse the opponent’s defenses. The lower skilled fighter will typically focus on the head for psychological reasons, and because it takes a little more practice to locate effective targets on the body.

Head-focused striking is easier for an opponent to block with their hands up. He or she knows where the punches are going, and they do not have to travel far to block them if they simply put their hands up in a defensive posture.

The less skilled fighter will not be able to block shots to the body effectively; even if they do block the lower shot, they will probably not return to correct guard position and will be open for a head shot.

By intermixing high and low shots during combinations, the opponent is forced to move up and down with different blocks, increasing the difficulty of the defense and increasing the likelihood they will violate 'Zone Defense' and open those 'Closed Doors'. This type of variation is what leads to holes, or doors, in the opponent’s defense and is the foundation for ‘Effective Striking’ principle.

Vary Target

Vary Targets is used in conjunction with 'Rule of Three' and 'Changing Levels' to confuse your opponent and lure them out of position with their blocking arms, thus opening doors. When applying this, use combinations that change not only from high to low, low to high, but outside to inside, inside to outside.

The key is to mix up the targets so the opponent doesn't know where the next strike will land.

Centerline Principle

Centerline Principle is protecting your centerline by blading and circling so you do not end up square to your opponent.

Squared Up

The body is turned facing toward opponent giving each arm equal striking range and strength. Vulnerabilities are - increased access to effective strike targets such as groin, solar plexus, liver, bladder, and stomach. Allows opponent to use ‘Three Up the Middle’ on you (see below).


The body is turned to a 45 degree angle (shoulders and hips) to deflect punches from vital targets, facilitate a 1 in and 1 out with the arms, help with rooting, create a smaller target.

Deficiencies with this stance - decreased power with the lead hand. What you lose, you gain in defense of vulnerable targets.

Three Up the Middle

When an opponent is square to you and their arms are up, fire a 3 punch
combination up the middle changing levels, and you will hit them with at least 1, if not all 3 strikes.

The Female Paradox

After training women alongside men over the years, it became abundantly clear to me that the female body makes it extremely difficult to maintain the bladed body position. The rear arm becomes very difficult to keep in a good position for offense/defense due to the anatomy of a female versus a male. 

You will have to adjust the position and fight square to your opponent. This will make you vulnerable in some areas, but you will have to compensate with your defense to keep those doors closed (range manipulation, slipping, evading, etc.). 


Range is absolutely crucial in fighting. It means the difference in getting hit or not, blocks working properly, elbow and knee strikes going live, grappling, clinches, etc. Paying attention to and
learning range can make you a highly effective fighter, offensively, or defensively.

Critical Distance

The line that separates you from being hit or not being hit by your opponent. Critical Distance is determined by the range just outside the reach of your opponents longest weapon their rear leg.


  • Long Range is the range outside critical distance or right on the edge of it. It is where there is no fight, or the beginning of a fight where someone uses a bridging tactic to enter the circle.
  • Mid Range is where the fight takes place, and where you want to spend most of your time training. Kicks, punches, some knees, are all open game here. Some grabbing and seizing will take place at this range as well.
  • Close Range is the stand-up grappling range. Close range is extremely important; where you need to change your blocks, have a good shoot defense, know the clinches (neck, body, mantis holds), and grips or how to defend against them. Throws, trips, and takedowns are in play. Elbows and knees are in play.


Bridging is an art in and of itself. When you pass critical distance on the offensive, your opponent has the advantage. While you are focused on moving in and striking or attempting a takedown, they are just waiting and watching for an opening to hit you or counter your takedown.
Later you will learn more indepth bridging tactics (double kick, flying knee, superman punch, fakes, feints, etc.).

For now, focus on using your long range weapons (kicks) when closing
distance. If you are inside ‘Critical Distance’ and you aren’t striking, grappling, kicking, clinching, throwing, then you are in trouble and waiting to get hit.

Changing Gears

Remember...when the range changes, you have to adapt your guard, and your offense accordingly. If you disengage the clinch, but maintain grips/hooks with your arms, and change the stance back to mid-range, expect to be kicked by your opponent as you are now in range. 

The same goes for hanging out inside critical distance without taking action. Once inside, you must be either - striking, kicking, kneeing, or shooting for a takedown. Otherwise, you are a prime target for your opponent who is sitting on defense waiting for the moment to strike.

Focus Principle

Focus Principle is how we neutralize our opponents speed so we are able to block their punches in time. When your opponent is within striking range you are reacting to their action, so you are always behind.

Using your peripheral vision to counter your opponents speed while maximizing your reflex time for blocking is what focus principle comes down to. By all accounts you seem superhuman after you learn to do this. When you stare at a punch coming at your face and then try to block it, you will fail and get hit in the face. If you are looking offline
and seeing the punch with your peripheral vision, you will have the reaction time to block it. 

Maintaining focus principle while fighting is another story. One must attempt to stay in focus principle when on the defensive, ignoring the motion of their opponent, and getting back to peripheral vision after getting hit. To do this, we cross our eyes and uncross them quickly to get
back into focus, or rather, out of focus.

Effective Strike

Effective Strike (Xiao Da), is the Mantis Boxing principle of striking to vital targets, or targets that have more destructive impact than other areas of the body. This is a common concept in many styles of martial arts.

Below are the targets and their desired effect. For more information you may want to read ‘Xiao Da: The Truth on Effective Strike’

Head Targets

  • Throat - Crush the larynx making it difficult to impossible for opponent to breathe
  • Side of Neck (Brachial Stun) - Knock out blow, or excrutiating pain at the least
  • Back of Neck (Occipital Lobe) - Knock out blow
  • Jaw - Break or Dislocation. Extreme pain.
  • Nose - Pain. Bleeding. Watery Eyes causing reduced vision.
  • Eyes - Loss of sight. Extreme pain.
  • Ears - Tear them off for extreme pain.
  • Temple - Knock out blow. Extreme pain. Disorientation.

Body Targets

  • Shin - Extreme pain and discomfort.
  • Knee - Break/Dislocation. Extreme pain. Loss of Mobility.
  • Outer Thigh - A solid kick to this target can cripple a fighter and make them think twice about closing distance.
  • Inner Thigh (Femoral Nerve) - Identical to the Outer Thigh, this target causes excruciating pain.
  • Groin - Extreme pain and discomfort. Potentially cripple opponent.
  • Bladder - Pain and discomfort. Possible bladder release. (you figure it out)
  • Rib - Break. Extreme pain and discomfort. Possible breathing effects.
  • Kidney - Potential knock out as well as extreme pain.
  • Liver - Knock out blow. Extreme pain/discomfort.
  • Stomach - Knock out blow. Extreme pain/discomfort.
  • Solar Plexus - High concentration of nerves. Also the meeting point of the heart, liver.
  • Collar Bone - Break. Extreme pain. Loss of use of arm on that side. Note: Hard target to hit and not effective on everyone.

Emotional Control

The final principle is ‘Emotional Control’. This is an often sought after, and rarely attained, side effect from martial arts training. We envision the wise old master sitting quietly in meditation only to turn into a verifiable badass the moment the movie needs an action star.

What we don’t see is the detail that emotional control doesn’t come without sparring/fighting, and yet, it doesn’t come with sparring/fighting either. It really comes from proper training and constant diligence in applying that training.

Being hit is a very emotional act for many people. For others, the act of hitting someone else is emotional. If someone studies martial arts but never spars, they will never know what it is like to function under that stress until it is too late. 

On the opposing side, if someone spars all the time, and isn’t taught to control their emotions (rage, fear, jealousy, inferiority, retaliation, pity, etc.), they will not develop this emotional control attribute either. Emotional control does not mean you don’t feel fear, anger, or other emotions while in conflict. It means that you feel those feelings and you function without letting them control you. Rage and anger can cost you a fight.

So how can you build emotional control without putting yourself in the fire? While sparring with one another - talk about a movie, game, the weather, what you did this weekend. Get to know your partner. Silence is deafening when fighting in a training environment.

By talking, you learn to stabilize the emotions while getting hit or hitting someone else. Removing the stress from the situation allows the brain freedom to learn, and the ability to maintain a good speed for advancing skill.

I have heard many people say “but I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing if I’m talking.” Right!

When we’re sparring, we are in ‘test mode’, not training mode. The training of moves should have been done before getting to this stage and now it is time to test. If you’re not getting it down, you need to go back to your training to fix something, not on the fly.

Focus on relaxing and gaining this emotional control. Later, when you have achieved this and sparring is less of a stress to you, you can focus on trying to fix things while sparring. You’ll be in a different place skill-wise by then.

A note regarding 3 Way Blocking

We use a blocking system known as 3 Way Blocking. It consists of Upper Blocks, Middle Blocks, and Lower Blocks and allows you to cover all ‘Zones’ while keeping ‘Doors’ closed. I highly recommend using the following 3 Way Blocking System to work from when using/applying these principles.

This blocking system is the best I have found for martial arts/fighting. Work from here and later you will “break the rules” and apply even better defensive options that you find in martial arts.

In this video Randy Brown breaks down the foundation for a highly effective and efficient blocking system that can give you an edge in martial arts, training, fighting, sparring. Includes: Upper Block, Middle Block, Lower Block, Guard Position, Close In Blocking, 3 Way Blocking, 3 Way Blocking with a Partner.