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Building fences


A fence surrounds an area and shows you want to keep people away. When an unauthorized person breaches, or attempts to breach the fence, you usually may legally take reasonable action to prevent the breach. A self-defense technique known as the fence acts similarly.

Your defensive fence sets the boundaries of your personal space. You are waiting peaceably but apprehensively inside your fence for the situation to end uneventfully or for some action or event that will trigger you to spring into action.

Guard versus fence


A guard is when the arms and hands are held in a defensive manner that allows you to use them to deflect or block an incoming attack quickly and deliver your attack quickly. A problem with the guard is that, to most people, it could be construed as threatening, so it should only be used against an imminent threat. The guard is discussed in more detail in another article.


A fence is when the arms and hands are held in a non-threatening manner that still allows you to be prepared for an attack, to deflect or block an attack quickly, or to deliver your attack quickly. Open hands w appear less threatening than closed fists, but the hands still form a barrier between you and the attacker.

Which is best, the guard or the fence?

A fence is used to defuse the situation before it leads to your being attacked. A guard is used when an attack is imminent, and you must be ready to defend against it. When having to convince a court that you were not the aggressor in a confrontation, having witnesses say you were not doing anything threatening will help show that you only acted in self-defense.

Using the fence

When confronted by a threatening person:
  • First position yourself in a nonthreatening manner so you may instantly move to effectively defend yourself or, if necessary, attack the person.
  • Stand in a relaxed fighting stance, which is a front stance with the feet just under the shoulders, knees slightly bent, with the body and feet turned 45 degrees away from the attacker. You want to look confident and be ready for action but not appear threatening or as though you are looking for a fight.
  • Hold your arms in one of the fences described below until an attack occurs or is imminent, then hold them in a guard as you firm up your fighting stance.

Types of fences

  • High fence. This fence is commonly used when the attacker has a weapon. The hands are held above the head with the fingers spread and palms facing forward, this is the classic "hands up" position. You want to causally maneuver so you are in reach of the weapon without having to lunge. The fence permits the defender to use gravity to add speed and power when dropping the arms to deflect, block, or grab the weapon when it is within range.
  • Middle fence. The middle fence is well suited for most hand-to-hand fighting situations; thus, it is the most used fence. There are several variations of the middle fence:
  • Close middle fence. This is just the standard middle guard but with the fingers open and the palms facing forward. It is not as threatening as with the fists closed, and, when used in combination with verbal and body language, it helps to portray fear, which may be useful when trying to defuse a situation. You want to stay at a range that requires the attacker to move toward you before he or she may touch you; this allows you more time to react and the movement toward you makes him or her the aggressor. While open hands do expose the fingers to injury, it does have its advantages, some martial artists even prefer to fight from an open hand guard rather than a closed fist guard.
  • Extended middle fence. This fence is like the close middle fence except the palms are extended forward toward the threat to help keep it further away and help judge range.
  • One-arm extended middle fence. This fence is also like the extended middle fence except one palm is held in close while the other is extended forward toward the threat. Even though both hands are open, this is a more threatening fence since the attacker probably assumes that you are using the extended hand to measure and set range while keeping the other hand back to make a powerful counterattack if needed.
  • Thinker fence. In this fence, the leading forearm is held vertical against the body, hand at the chin, with index finger extended. The trailing forearm is held horizontal across the abdomen with the hand at the elbow of the leading forearm. This is the arm position many people use when thinking; it is a variation of the arm position seen in Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker." It is a pensive, non-threatening fence, but it still allows the hands to instantly defend or attack.
  • Low fence. This is the least threatening fence. The arms and open hands are either hanging to the sides of the body or they are held low in front of the body and used for hand expressions while talking. When used along with talking, the hand movements seem natural and nonthreatening, but they keep the hands in front of the body, ready for instant action. When in a low middle fence, you want to keep yourself at a range that requires the attacker to move toward you.


The range you maintain between yourself and protentional attacker depends on many factors, such as your size, power, and quickness in relation to those of the attacker, how much you think the attacker intends to harm you, and any other people in the area, such as your family. You may adjust the range to change the location of the plane, or you may change the location of the plane without changing the range, such as by moving it closer to the attacker to give yourself more time to react to an attack, or by moving it closer to you to help prove that the attacker was trying to harm you when he or she attacked.

The trigger event

For you to legally defend yourself and counterattack, there must be some action, usually made by the attacker ,that triggers your reactions. The trigger could be the attacker cocking an arm back for a punch or making a challenge to your fence, or it could be a sound or a motion made by someone else that indicates an attack is immanent.

Types of triggers

  • High fence trigger. When you are in a high fence and the attacker has a weapon, the trigger is the weapon itself and you may act whenever an opening presents itself for you to control the weapon and counterattack.
  • Middle fence trigger. When you are in any of the middle fences, if the attacker moves into contact with your fence, it indicates an imminent attack and should trigger your defenses and counterattacks.
  • Low fence trigger. When you are in a low fence, the trigger is an invisible vertical plane located about halfway between you and the attacker. Once the attacker crosses this plane, it triggers your defenses and counterattacks.


The use of fences should be an important part of your self-defense training. Just as you practice to improve your guard and your defensive and offensive self-defense skills, you should practice your fences so you can use them effectively when needed.


  • Thompson, G. (2000). The Fence: The art of protection. West Sussex, UK: Summerdale Pub Ltd.
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