Speed, distance, and timing are three interlinked, essential skills for martial artists to learn and master.

  1. Speed is the amount of time it takes for the strike to move from initiation to the target.
  2. Distance allows you to move in and out of range, to hit, or avoid being hit.
  3. Timing is the ability to recognise an opportunity and capitalise on it at the perfect moment.

In the first of this 3-part series, we take a closer look at Timing i.e. the blend of speed, perception, and accuracy – knowing when, how, and with what, to hit.

Here are 5 ways you can improve your reaction time, even when training on your own.


1. Practice Mindfulness

Experts agree, perfect timing can’t be achieved through technique alone. Equally important is letting go of the body and allowing a zen-like state of mind. It’s about being in the moment, free from fear, anger, worry, or any other emotional state. The mind must be empty and quiet, allowing you to sense your opponent’s imminent move, so you can act without thinking.


2. Observe

According to the academic paper by Cohen 2007, improving your timing consists of developing your ability to notice slight fluctuations in your opponent, such as a change in facial expression, a rotation of the shoulder, or movement of the front foot. At the same time, you need to learn to hide your own telltale signs. Concealing your decision to strike is not only a physical skill but depends on your capacity to remain calm and detached.


 3. Start slowly

Every technique has its own timing. Practice your technique slowly or at half-speed and then gradually increase the pace so that you get comfortable with the movement. When you’re ready, practice on a heavy bag, initiating the movement as quickly and powerfully as you can. This will help you develop an understanding of how and when to move in a fight.


4. Condition your body

A weak body can’t execute fast techniques, so do specific exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and agility. Plyometric exercises like box jumps, clapping push-ups, jump squats, kettle bell swings and medicine ball throws help train fast twitch muscles for explosiveness. Remember, processed meals, trans fats, sugars and refined carbohydrates make the body sluggish, so eat lots of leafy veggies and hydrate with plenty of water.


5. Play games

Grab an egg-shaped ball or one with a bumpy surface. Drop the ball and catch it after the first bounce. Repeat, but catch it after the second bounce, then the third bounce. The ball’s behaviour becomes more unpredictable with each additional bounce. Or you can bounce a tennis ball on an uneven surface so that the bounce is erratic.

Bonus technique if you have a training partner:


6. Target Practice

Have a partner show you a target at unpredictable intervals. React to the target with any technique at quickly as possible.

It’s true that the opponent who is slower is always at a disadvantage – their movements can be read and predicted, effectively allowing the faster competitor to control the fight. Increasing your reaction time will allow you to better close the gap to deliver a strike or move out of range to avoid being attacked at all.


Osu no Seishin [The Spirit of Perseverance]