I like this. Some great street fighting advice I once got was, "Always get the first punch. It's usually the only clean shot in the fight." It does tend to digress into a grabastic wrestling match after that. But there are wristlocks that work well at those ranges, if you can keep from getting hit while you're sinking them.
Getting the first punch in is a fine strategy sometimes for sure.
However, pre-emption can be a dicey road. I think there is a very fine line in the decision cycle. I am all about getting the first punch in if I can or have to. But...damn...there is that whole escalation of force, use of force, and liability thing we have to deal with.
You can always go with the "I hit him cause I felt physically threatened and his violence was impending so I defended myself"
many times though if we are the "beta" to his "alpha"...meaning we are not the guy going around starting the fight...then by the time we process what is going on...it is too late to get that first strike in.
I think the answer we are skirting around here is that you need to practice all ranges of combat. Striking, weapons, grappling etc.