Once upon a time, when I was still a budding kickboxer who was new to the game of punchy-kicky face, I was sparring with my instructor, Jason Chinnick. He was lighting me up like a pyro-technic display at a Kiss concert (don't ask how I settled on that particular simile because I have no answer for you...) and after one particularly tough round I was shaking my head and telling him that he was "too fast" and that I couldn't seem to keep up with his speed. His answer to that is something that really struck me and made me think about things differently going forward in my training. He looked at me and said...
"Nope... You're actually faster than me!"
I looked at him with a face that requested he explain himself further because from what I could remember, every time I time I tried to defend his attacks, his hands and feet would flash and I would feel an impact somewhere on my body. When I tried to attack him, he was easily able to evade and or block me and usually was able hit me with counters that seemed effortless. I couldn't understand his logic.
He went on the explain that I could move my body or parts of my body from one point to another faster than he could. My punches and kicks, my body in general, moved from point A to point B faster than his. I asked him to clarify why I was so unable to hit him while he seemed to be able to hit me at will.
He said that the difference was in our timing. His experience in the sport had giving him the ability to overcome my greater speed with excellent use of timing. While it appeared to me that he was moving at a pace I couldn't possibly follow (which was partially true... for a 220 pound man he was ridiculously fast) the real secret was that he was a step ahead of me in recognizing my movements for what they were and thus he was able to get the jump on me on setting me up and making me pay for virtually any choice I made. Years later meow (Super Trooper reference!), I understand exactly what he meant.
The entire game is pattern recognition. If you know what comes next, you are able to set up for it and respond. When you don't have the timing to come up with an appropriate response, you end up reacting. Responses are well thought out or drilled until they don't require thought making them difficult to anticipate. Reactions are what you do when you don't know what to do and can be much more easily anticipated.
Better timing requires putting focus on recognizing the patterns of an opponent so that you can time their next move. By practicing moves that require a certain timing, you will improve your ability to use that move without having to think about it in the moment. I often spar with new people in what feels like slow motion. I don't have to utilize my full speed because I am 3 steps ahead of their next move. It's not that I see what they are doing and make a plan to answer it in the moment... It's that I have seen most everything that can happen in a sparring match so I know when not to bite on a feint or how to evade and counter while using very little energy. The higher level my opponent, the harder it becomes to break down their timing and stay ahead of them in the chess match that is sparring or fighting.
The following descriptions of "speed" and "timing" were written into the curriculum years ago and I thought it may be helpful to some to read them. Enjoy and feel free to leave feedback in the comments!
Speed is defined as the ability to move your body or a part of your body from one point to another quickly. Developing speed without compromising good form is a major asset to a fighter’s repertoire. The benefit is mostly self-explanatory. If you can perform techniques faster than your opponent then you will be able to land more strikes of your own while avoiding the strikes of your opponent. Faster techniques also add power. The key to developing speed is to make sure that it doesn’t compromise form. Practice techniques at a speed that they can be done with near perfect form then add a little bit of speed at a time to push the limit of that good form. Once the technique is comfortable to perform at the increased speed you can repeat the process but even a little faster. Incrementally, speed will increase over time. Older fighters who are losing speed or those who simply are not naturally fast can make up for it with better timing.
A fighter with good timing can be defined as someone able sense the rhythms of their opponents and use techniques at the appropriate time to make them most effective. Due to this ability, fighters with good timing are easily mistaken for having more speed than they actually possess. Because their opponents cannot seem to hit them or get out of the way of their attacks, the tendency is to chalk the ability up to having speed. An example of effective timing would be throwing a jab at the right moment to stop an opponent who is rushing in or to throw an uppercut or hook while simultaneously slipping a straight punch. It is not only important to develop timing in your own techniques but also to develop ways of throwing an opponent’s timing off so they cannot use good timing against you. Timing is generally developed naturally with training and application but paying attention to the concept in training will help you to gain an understanding of it faster and to better effect than simply waiting for it to develop without that attention.
The purpose of this blog
This blog is intended as a place to discuss ideas relevant to both both martial arts and life in general. Our school doesn't exist with the sole purpose of making great fighters but also of helping its members develop themselves into great people. The entries are about sharing ideas. I will not spend much time editing grammatical errors so please try not to let it drive you crazy when you come across them!