Welcome to the lesson of the Turtle Hermit School series on Pokes and Normals.
Poking and learning the range of your normal attacks is very important. A habit a lot of people fall into is using the first two hits of your light auto combo to close the distance, doing this is quite risky and wasteful. Learning the proper ranges of your attacks and making sure they miss as little as possible is very valuable.
Poking is the term for using long range normals to land hits on your opponent outside of their effective range. What properties do we need to be mindful of when learning a normal attack?
The speed of a normal is very important for close quarters combat. Medium attacks lead to the most damage and have greater range than light attacks but when both players are in range of each others light attacks; medium attacks become riskier unless used in a 'blockstring' (more on that in the pressure sections). A general rule when starting out is to always use the fastest move you have that will reach your opponent.
As I mentioned above, the range of a normal is important when deciding what to use. Medium attacks are incredibly useful in the neutral game, but you have to make use of their range to get the best results. Being able to land an attack from the furthest possible range will give you the best possible results in exchanges.
Combo options and damage scaling
Different normals will lead to different combo routes, combos are covered in a later lesson so don't worry about learning them just yet. For now just be aware that the normal attack used to start a combo may dictate what combo you want to do, though most medium combos can still be used after landing a light attack. Damage scaling is a bit more complicated of a subject but essentially the normal than begins a combo will dictate how much damage it will do. Most of the time more hits = more damage but combos starting with light attacks will do less damage as a result of the faster speed.
Examples with goku
Now that we have an idea of how normals work and what makes them useful, lets look at some examples with SSJ Goku.
5M - Long range medium normal that moves Goku forwards. Very useful for approaching and can be combo'd off of with 2M > 5H for easy damage. On block, following up with 2M is almost always what you want to do.
2M - Long range medium normal that has to be blocked low. Excellent for catching opponents not blocking low or moving forward. Can lead into Gokus most damaging combos. On block you can go into 5H, 5S, a special move or an assist.
5H - Longest range normal and leads into a super dash for easy combo potential. Usually beats a lot of other pokes. Unsafe on block so cancel it into an assist or a special move to make it safer. Goku's 5S is an excellent tool for this. Best used for very long range punishes as the others are better options for standard use.
236S - The Kamehameha. Full screen poke that is unsafe when your opponent blocks it but if you are far enough away they won't be able to punish you. You can combo of this with vanish or supers but its quite difficult, for now just throw out an assist with this move to make it safe or get a bit more damage.
Here we have 4 different pokes with 4 different ranges and 4 different combo options. The most important of these is 2M because of its damage potential and low hit, punishing people for not blocking low.