Control the Distance with J’Den Cox
Think about how you move in your everyday life. You always have to be cognizant about your surroundings, or else you may face danger. Whether your hand is too close to the stove top or your feet are not close enough to the steps, the concept of distance cannot be overstated. The same thing applies to sports. Athletes require distance management all the time when competing, as it could mean the difference between effectively blocking the shot in basketball or watching the running back take off with the football. In combat sports, it’s no different. Knowing how to control the distance in wrestling means taking away your opponent’s ability to effectively attack while building your own offensive strategy.
However, learning how to control the distance is not something to be learned in one sitting. It takes a tremendous amount of practice and timing in order to get it right. To help in that endeavor, three-time NCAA champion J’Den Cox demonstrates how to manipulate your opponent’s movement and distance in the video below.
One of Cox’s main inspirations for his footwork comes from the late great boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He explains that Ali would use misdirection to slip between punches and control the pocket. Cox uses a similar concept with his foot positioning, where his feet are pointed in the direction he intends to move. At the start of this section, his feet are pointed to the left, but he rolls his motion to the right in order to get his opponent to lean right. The same concept applies in motion, as you can constantly adjust where your feet are planted to either directly move in that direction or use the mobility of your ankles to move the opposite way. Think of it like a crossover in basketball and how you can force movement in the wrong direction.
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Using Your Opponent’s Reach
Controlling movement does not have to be strictly proactive; it can be reactive based on what your opponent does. Cox brings up another scenario: your opponent is reaching out to make contact. On the surface, it may seem like your only option is peel the arm and move forward or simply back away. However, you can use this reach to step across to target the near side leg. At this point, you’re now the proactive one, so your opponent responds by backing their leg away. Cox remedies this by pressuring the head and steps across on the other side. The general concept here is that even if your opponent makes offensive movements, you can continue to move to a better position instead of solely being dependent on their next move.
Wrestling Off of Your Knees
This may seem like a misnomer for longtime wrestlers or grapplers. Veteran wrestlers are constantly told to stay off of their knees because it greatly diminishes your driving power and puts you in a vulnerable position against a standing opponent. However, there will be times where you will be put in this position, so it is important to know how to work around it.
Cox finds himself on his knees against a standing opponent. The first thing he does is keep his opponent at bay by keeping his hands in their biceps. This controls their reach that would’ve otherwise been lost by simply grabbing their wrists. There’s still one issue: he can’t shoot from his knees. His solution is to raise one knee up to a kneeling position and shoot across to the other side, just like he did earlier when the opponent was reaching. By doing so, it gives him the chance to change which knee he wants up and which direction he wants to go. It also gives him a chance to climb back up to a standing position once he’s made contact.
Side-to-Side to Straight-On
The general premise of the above techniques is to illustrate how moving side-to-side can keep your opponent off their game trying to catch up with you. Eventually, as Cox points out, the opponent will catch on to what you’re doing. In the video, his opponent starts to match his speed and anticipating where he will go next after going from one side to the next. His solution? Start making straight-on attacks. If the opponent is completely preoccupied with stopping you from hitting sweep singles or outside attacks, their sense of direction is focused completely laterally. By doing so, this leaves them open for linear takedowns like the double leg or snapdown. This is all part of chaining takedowns together into one cohesive system. If at some point the opponent starts to counter the straight-on attacks, you can go back to the side-to-side movement that worked well at the beginning. What started off as a two-dimensional movement scheme adds another layer with repeated takedown attempts.
Distance can be the one thing separating you from stepping on the mat confident and stepping off deflated. Knowing how to control the distance means understanding how your opponent responds to your movements, how you respond to their movements, and being able to work off of compromised positions. J’Den Cox’s extensive breakdown of wrestling distance is guaranteed to make your next move a lot more focused.
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