Closing the Distance When Sparring a Taller Opponent

Mind Over Matter


So you’ve joined a Muay Thai gym or MMA gym and you’re faced with a taller opponent for sparring – how can you close distance without getting obliterated? [Spoiler Alert: This blog post isn’t about being small and speedy.]

Mind Over Matter

When sparring or fighting someone taller or larger, it is crucial to think at least 2-3 steps ahead. Clear your mind and strategize your counters because someone with a longer reach is going to beat you to the punch first. You don’t need to be quicker or larger to win, but your timing must be on point.

Your Taller Opponent’s Game Plan

Now that you have insight into what your mindset should be. You also should know what your taller sparring partner is thinking, “I have the upper hand. If this smaller guy (or gal) gets close I will clobber them with my fists and elbows.”

What A Shorter Fighter’s Game Plan Should Be

Again, KNOW the taller guy will pretty much always hit first and that someone will always be faster and quicker so timing is key.

  • Basically, counter off of every attack. Be strategic.
  • Choose your timing carefully to close distance and get in your range to attack.
  • If you can’t find your range, move back out of the range of your opponent to strategize. As the bigger person is in range, counter.
  • Any defensive counter that helps move your body forward to cut distance is your best friend.
  • In Muay Thai, your weapons from longest to shortest range are legs, knees, fists, elbows, head butts and then prum (stand up grappling). As you move forward gaining more weapons, you also remove those weapons from your opponent.

* PRO TIP: When someone throws punches, knee them – knees are much more devastating than a punch and harder for your taller opponent to counter IF you can throw a proper knee.

Common Scenario: Push Kick (Tiip) or Round Kick

The first attack is usually a push kick (tiip) or round kick.  When your opponent throws a round kick to your body, try this:

  1. Knee Block
  2. Once you Knee Block, step forward with your lead foot to close distance while throwing a jab as your foot hits the ground – immediately throw the rear leg kick while your opponent is off-balanced.
  3. That hard jab will shift the weight of the upper body of your opponent back. This causes your opponents weight distribution to be off and they won’t be able to counter the rear leg kick which is thrown immediately after the jab.

*PRO TIP: You will be moving more on a half-beat rhythm than a two-beat rhythm for effective timing.

If you are in the Northern Virginia or the Southern Maryland areas, drop by one of our Muay Thai classes. Check out our schedule and locations, here. Live out of town? Visit T.A.G. Muay Thai on YouTube.

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about how to improve your timing.

Kru Chris

Head Instructor, federal law enforcement officer.