In Praise of Agility

Fighting is often regarded as a battle of strength. From the Colosseum to the octagon, a strong fighter fulfils the public vision of a warrior. But it is frequently the more agile competitor who succeeds.

The agile fighter is in control of the ring space and therefore decides whether and when to make the engagement with the opponent, whatever their strength. Agility bestows the ability to escape when this is the right thing to do, and close the distance when this is the right thing to do. This advantage is a major one.

The control of space is all a fighter really requires. The more agile adversary will seek to accomplish command of the space between the two bodies, because he or she is habituated to creating shapes that serve his or her next move, and matching the outline to his or her intentions.

As agility controls space it steals time. With time – and timing – on their side, agile fighters work when they wish to work, rest when they wish to rest, and perceive what is happening quicker than their stronger opponents. They may anticipate and evade each strong assault.

A former Savate world champion said to me once that Savate is not about strength but cleverness, which I take to mean both mental and physical agility.

To a discerning spectator, the agile fighter is poetry in motion. An agile display can be breathtaking; a brute strength one merely impressive. The agile fighter can touch and not be touched, hit and not get hit – the mantra that most tellingly determines the outcome of any fight.