The Quadrants

Quadrants are a useful way of looking at techniques in martial arts. Not only will it help you learn where you and your opponent are open, but it will also help you build combinations and attacks that maximize effectiveness. For today, we will look at quadrants as they relate to standup sports martial arts (so nothing below the belt). However, these same principles still apply when allowing leg strikes, takedowns, and groin strikes in self defense.

The Quadrants


As you can see we’ve divided the upper body into four mathematical quadrants. Not only can you refer to these as 1-4, but also as high-outside, high inside, low inside, and low outside. Inside in this case means towards the front of an opponent, and outside is towards the back. If the opponent’s left foot is forward, quadrants 1 and 4 are the outside while 2 and 3 are the inside. So now we know the four quadrants, let’s look at how they apply to hand position:

Hand Positions

In general, two hands and four quadrants means you can cover half your openings.

quadrant hand positions.png

Looking at quadrants it’s clear there’s a connection between them and hand positions. If you have both hands high, you’re leaving quadrants 3 and 4 open (top left image). If you have both low, 1 and 2 are open (top right image). Experiment in front of the mirror and see which angles of attack look open in each variation.


Here’s where we put it all together. When building a combination, a good starting point is to aim at an uncovered quadrant, then follow up with a move to a quadrant that will become open as a response to your first move. A classic example of this would be a jab or backfist to the head (Quadrant 1), and then a cross or reverse punch to the body (Quadrant 4). A hand will raise to protect the head, which causes the body to be open. Similarly, striking to one side can open up strikes from the other side. A kick to the stomach in quadrant 3 will open up  the ribs in quadrant 4.

When you increase to 3 and 4 move combinations, the effect of quadrants only amplifies. Imagine throwing a jab to quadrant 1, a cross to quadrant 4, and a hook to quadrant 2. You’re going from high to low and outside to inside. Imagine how much the defender’s hands will have to move to block. Now imagine the same combination but with a jab to quadrant 1, a cross 2 quadrant 1, and a hook to quadrant 2. No high-low, and only outside to inside on one move. Practice this combo with a partner and see which version gives you more success! Want to hit every quadrant? Do the same jab-cross-hook to 1-4-2, then add a kick to quadrant 3. It’ll be very difficult to block a kick after all those punches!

If your opponent has a very good defense you can use combinations to overwhelm them. Let’s look at an opponent who covers quadrant 1 very well. Does that mean you shouldn’t attack quadrant 1?

Yes and No.

If you plan to throw just one move, the answer is a strong no. If you’re starting a long combination, then yes! A jab to quadrant 1 still occupies the defender’s hand – they can’t simply ignore the attack. It will still cause them to be open in quadrant 4 for your next move! When you throw a combination using quadrants, you pull your opponent’s defense in one direction then another. Each move you throw in this way has a higher chance of hitting than the one before it.

Know Where You’re Open, Know Where They’re Open

When you look at a match in terms of quadrants, it becomes easier to see openings and be aware of your own. Once you see them, you know how to exploit them. If you don’t see a good opening, you can use quadrant-based combinations to create one. Practice in the mirror and practice with a partner – this concept is all about mindful practice.

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