Martial arts, like all areas of human endeavor, has specialized vocabulary that helps practitioners and observers alike understand the mechanics and strategies that are at play. This vocabulary, unfortunately, is sometimes used simply to keep outsiders out and keep insiders puffed up about their superior knowledge.
Luckily, the terms “inside” and “outside” fighter are pretty simple. An inside fighter is someone who likes to get in close and do things like clinch, grapple, throw, and/or strike while being nose to nose with their partner. An outside fighter is someone who likes to move and strike (and maybe sweep) from a distance.
The terms are simple to understand but for martial artists, the question of what to do with these words is less obvious. I think first, it is important to understand your preferences regarding being inside or outside, if you have any. Do you like to play inside or outside? Second, I think it’s relevant to notice your physical stature compared to your opponent. Are you taller or shorter than your partner?
Given preference and reach, you can start to formulate a plan. If you love being outside and are taller, then it’s a win/win. Stay away and jab all day. If you’re shorter and dream of knees and elbows, it’s easy peasy. Get in close and stay close.
As with most things in MDP, it would be to our advantage to have some capacity to both inside and outside fight, and yet we have to be realistic in our assessment of our preferences and physicality as well as realistic in our assessment of our partner. If you don’t have any idea if you like being inside or outside, start with your height. If you’re taller than most folks, try being an outside fighter. If you’re shorter than most folks, try being an inside fighter. You can adjust and change as you gain experience.
With all this in mind, this month for the all system advanced class, we focused on outside fighting. First, we drilled footwork. If you want to stay on the outside, you’ve got to know how to keep moving. Second, we worked on striking while staying mobile. If you get to preoccupied with throwing power shots, your feet become tree roots, and it’s hard to stay an outside fighter. Third, we drilled a couple ideas from boxing about what to do if your partner does get inside. Even though you may know your preference and your physicality, it is important to train for those moments when things go wrong – when the inside fighter breeches your defenses and gets in close.