The need for speed

Speed from a martial artist’s perspective, is the ability to react or move faster than your opponent. Although some people are naturally fast, speed is a skill that can be acquired like any other. It is important to remember that speed is not the same as rushing.

To become faster, it is important to focus on technical skill and efficiency in movement. In his book “Ultimate Fitness Through Martial Arts” Sang H. Kim identifies four physiological factors that effect overall speed.


Perception Speed

This type of speed is about quickly recognising that a response is required to a particular situation. For example, if your opponent throws a punch, a block is required to prevent you from getting hit. Before you can block, your brain has to recognise that an immediate response is required. Alertness is a key component of perception speed.

You can improve your perception speed by putting yourself in situations that require instant analysis. Sparring is a great way to improve your perception speed. You have to be alert, knowing when to attack or defend. Analysis of a given situation, in a timely manner is key to providing an appropriate response.


Reaction Speed

This type of speed is about quickly formulating and initiating a response to a given situation.  For example, as your opponent throws a punch to you head, you have to decide what the appropriate response will be and what part of your body you will use to initiate a response.

Like perception speed, reaction speed can be improved by putting yourself in situations where awareness of your situation is required. If you constantly practice a response to a given attack, there comes a time when you don’t have to think, but reflexively act in response to that attack. Again sparring is a great way to improve this type of attack.


Execution Speed

This type of speed is about how quickly you execute a response, once it has been initiated. For example, when your opponent throws a punch to your head, you quickly get your arm into a position to block.

This is the most common area focused on when doing speed training. To improve your execution speed, attention to detail is very important. You need to understand the technique you are performing. You need to know when to reflex or contract your muscles. You need to know when to shift your body weight. To improve your understanding of a technique is sometimes best to practice the technique ultra slowly. KarateByJesse has a great post on this.

Another way of improving your execution speed is by being relaxed. Tension in your body can seriously hamper executing your techniques quickly. I’m sure you have been in a situation where as you’ve become tired throwing techniques become difficult and they appear to be slower.


Recovery Speed

This type of speed is about how quickly you return to a state of readiness after executing a response to a situation. For example, after blocking a punch to your head, you need to return your arm to a guard position in readiness for the next attack.

Recovery speed has a direct relationship to execution speed. For example, what makes a jab a fast and effective technique is how quickly you throw the punch and how  quickly you bring it back to its starting position. The speed of execution and retraction should be exactly the same. Neglecting the recovery phase can actually make a technique seem slower. Also, it means you’re not in a position to execute another technique quickly.

An important point to remember is that the path a technique follows during the execution phase is the same path that should be followed during the recovery phase.


How to improve speed

As previously stated, it is possible to improve one’s speed through how you train. Following the steps below will be of help:

  • Basic conditioning
    There are many factors required for developing speed. This includes flexibility, strength training and agility training. This conditioning is required to give the basic fitness needed for more intensive speed training.
  • Explosive power development
    This follows on from basic conditioning. The aim is to develop power through resistance exercises such as weight lifting. The idea is to develop the muscles that will be used in the execution and recovery phases.
  • Skill refinement
    Once target muscles begin to strengthen, start working on improving your techniques. Examine and eliminate unnecessary movements and working on improving the efficiency of your techniques.
  • Skill loading
    Once your muscles have become stronger and your skills refined, start adding execution and recovery speed to your techniques. This is a gradual process and the aim is to perform your techniques faster whilst maintaining the refinement you have developed.
  • Full speed training
    Eventually the aim is to perform your techniques at full speed in as skilful a manner as possible.


As you can see from this post, there is no great secret in developing speed. It is a skill that can be aquired like any other, and just requires constant practice.



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