There are a lot of great reasons for wanting to train speed of entry of martial arts techniques. Your initial reaction in a self-defense situation is vital to determining the outcome of the altercation. The first contact you make has the potential to completely turn the tables on your attacker, and vice versa, if you’re caught off guard and take a bad hit right off the top, it’s a lot more difficult to recover effectively. Speedy entry into techniques is equally important in the competitive martial arts arena. The faster you move into a technique, whether it’s a strike, throw/takedown or submission, the more likely you catch your opponent off-guard. Speedy entry, of course, is only one factor among many, but it is an important one.
For smaller stature people like me, the speed of entry and application of techniques helps make the best use our natural agility, and advantage we have over many larger/stronger attackers or opponents. Regardless of size, speed of entry helps the defender make better use of the element of surprise. It helps you stay one step ahead of your attacker or opponent, making it harder to mount a defense, whether through the use of strength or technique. There are lots of benefits to improving speed of entry, so below are a few tips for effectively applying and training this concept.
Paying Attention to Body Cues
The body often gives away the intent of the attacker, whether in a self-defense scenario or in a competitive context. In a self-defense scenario, before a heightened situation has escalated to violence, look for pre-fight cues, like physical signs of adrenalization, readying to move, eye cues, hand movement, etc. Read a full list in Chris Olson Sensei’s article, Danger Cues You Can See to Prepare You for Self-Defense. In a competitive context, look for tells.
Opponents often do little things right before or as they enter into a move. They might shift their weight a certain way, favour a certain combination of moves, adjust their guard, etc. If you can see a tell and act on it before your opponent has fully entered their technique you can start your entry into the technique earlier. While this technically does not make you physically faster, it does give the appearance of speed because your reaction time is faster, getting you into the right place to do your technique faster. More on this concept in the next point.
Right Place, Right Time
Being fast is more about doing more in less time than it is about training your body to physically move faster. The body can only move so fast, even if you put in the hours to train it. Being in a position where less movement is required to block strike, throw, etc gives the illusion of being faster, without actually being faster. You’re just reducing the reaction time and movement required to do it.
Keeping your hands up in a good guard, for example, makes it easier to block a fast punch. From a self-defense point of view, they should be high enough that you can more easily block your head, close enough to your centreline that you can more easily block your face, but still low enough that you can use your elbows/forearms to block strikes to your body. You can also use this concept in response to a charging attacker. Rather than backing away from a charge, evade by moving on an angle just enough so you can be in a better position to redirect their energy or do your own counter attack, whether by using a sprawl or some sort of counter strike. More on this concept in the next point.
Martial Arts Multi-Tasking
Combining movements is another way you can effect your attacker faster without physically moving faster. For example, if someone is throwing a punch at you, you have two choices to keep from being hit. Move your head, block, or both. Whichever you choose, whether you’re ducking/slipping or blocking, do so in a way that moves you closer so that you can also counter-attack. Of course, if you can move back and still be in range to strike, that can be a viable option too. MMA fighter Lyoto Machida is a great example of a person who uses this concept very effectively, as seen in the video below.
Practicing Entry without Follow-through
Judo practitioners often practice uchi-komi, which is simply the repetitive practice of a throw’s entry to improve technique and speed. The idea is that the entry, if done quickly and with proper balance-breaking, is vital to proper execution of the throw. This concept can be applied to the a variety of other types of techniques, like strikes, or joint locks.
If practicing a block and strike combo for sparring or self-defense, you can do so without following through and hitting a target that could injure your partner. This is fairly commonly understood. But if you’re working on speed, you need to be able to train with even less follow-through than when you train at slower speeds to prevent accidental contact that could be dangerous to your partner. As you become more adept at controlling your speed, you can increase the follow-through gradually and still train safely, as long as your training partner knows what to expect. Sometimes less experienced students will be startled by the speed and react in an unexpected way to their own detriment.
To apply this concept to locks, you simply stop the lock at the point that you affect structure and balance but without causing pain. This should be done with techniques with which you are already very well familiar, and with a familiar training partner for whom you already know where their limits are. Adding the extra twist that causes pain is the easy part. The entry to the lock, in which you affect balance and structure, is the harder, more technical part of the lock, made even more challenging by doing it quickly. So by repeated practicing this way, you’ll learn to get into the lock faster with good technique thereby improving your overall effectiveness in the application of the lock. And by not following through, you spare your training partner’s joints throughout the training process.
These are just a few ideas on training speed of entry into martial arts techniques. Have you done any training specifically on this concept? If so, how has it helped you in your development as a martial artist? Please share in the comments.