Need for Speed: 3 Principles that Shouldn’t Be Sacrificed to Go Faster

As you progress in your chosen martial art into more advanced levels of development, you start to work on higher level skills. At our dojo, higher level students, usually purple and up, start to learn to apply their skills with more speed. Speed is important in the martial arts. The faster you can move, the more likely you are to catch your attacker off guard and get out of the way of incoming attacks. That being said, there are 3 principles that should not be sacrificed in order to become faster. They are as follows:

1. Technique.When people go faster, they have a tendency to cut corners in order to do so. This can happen in a variety of ways. They use less hip rotation, when striking, focusing more on the movement of their limbs. They don’t follow through on their movements, so as to move on to the next movement as quickly as possible. They don’t properly break balance as much or bend

2. Flow. When people take short cuts that lead to more strength-based application, they tend to be more tense throughout all their movements. This leads to more staccato like movements, which cause them to lose flow. When you keep your technique more relaxed and flowing, you are better able to adapt to changes in attack. It also makes your own movements harder to predict.

3. Control. When people add too much speed to your martial arts techniques before they’re ready, they lose control over their movements, which can lead to injury to themselves or their training partners. This can come about in a number of ways. Perhaps you might not properly set up a strike or spot your targets before striking, which can cause you to miss your target making it less effective or you may strike a target harder than you mean to causing injury to yourself or your partner. If throwing someone, you might throw them in a dangerous way because you didn’t break their balance properly. When doing joint locks, you may not give your partner sufficient time to tap out in time to save their joint. You absolutely MUST be very aware of what you’re doing as you add more speed to your techniques, and work at a pace that you know your partner is ready for.

The biggest problem when people begin to add speed is that they think it’s all about explosive power. They rush through their techniques, increasing the amount of strength they use in order to achieve this. This is the wrong way to go. The reason why we don’t emphasize speed and power at lower levels is because we, as instructors, want to ensure that these principles aren’t compromised. Before we start to introduce more speed, we expect our students to have their basic principles quite ingrained so that they are less likely to lose it as they speed up. If they do, we simply ask students to slow down to a speed that keeps things clean.

The best way to add speed to one’s techniques should focus more on body control and flow, keeping the body relaxed and tensing on impact, developing the concept of “snap”. Here’s a post I wrote about using snap as applied to strikes.
Comments (7)

7 thoughts on “Need for Speed: 3 Principles that Shouldn’t Be Sacrificed to Go Faster

  1. partly agree, partly disagree.

    Control is important, if you are going faster, you can't hurt yourself or anyone else.

    Good technique and good flow are ultimately what is desired at faster speeds.

    One way you can approach it is repeat things within your capability till you get faster

    another approach is to do things beyond your capability and learn from how and when your technique and flow breaks down. Using speed as a way to stretch your abilities. Quite useful for moving through plateaus.

    It's often easier to learn from massive fails rather than doing things well over and over till you get even better.

    Not that you keep trying to go as fast as you can. You use speed as a way to stretch yourself, then reset to where you are capable where you can dissect what goes wrong when you go faster.

  2. Thanks for your well thought out comment. I have no issues with massive fails (having had numerous ones in the past that have led to great breakthroughs). Because in our style we do almost everything with partners, massive fails as a result of speed though have inherent risks, and if one is to explore these types of failures, one should make sure they're working on them with someone who is capable of taking a bit of punishment or reacting in a way that prevents the punishment from causing damage.

    Of course, if you're working on pads or another inanimate training tool, or on doing forms, it's not such a big deal as long as you're being smart about it as you've described.

    Great comment! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. It stands to reason beginners should first learn correct bodymechanics and mind the details: only when you fully master the technique you can work on your speed of application. However even then it's still useful to sometimes go slow and really analyse what you're doing: even very basic techniques that you've been practising for years can still be improved upon if you once again take the beginner's mind and go slow, paying attention to the details. In a stressful situation such as a fight when the adrenaline starts to flow your technique will degrade anyway (except maybe on the highest of levels) so if you're sloppy in training and want to go fast right away because it looks and feels good it's likely the technique will fail and cost you greatly.

    I very much agree on the safety issue: in my mind rule number one in any dojo or gym should be to always be mindful of possible dangers and always, always respect your partner. Usually beginners don't really understand why a technique works (that is why they're beginners of course) and they start to rush it or apply force to achieve their goal: this can very easily lead to injury (most locks rely on precise application of force: if it's focused on the wrong spot it won't work, even though force is used. If the same amount of force is applied to the right spot the result can easily be a break, hyperextension or dislocation.

    I'd say speed and flow depend on good technique and result from it: techniques are supposed to be the most efficient (in terms of force and time) way of attacking or defending. If your technique is good you'll be fast and become able to flow from one technique to the other. Everything in the martial arts depends on practice, as Musashi put in his compendium on strategy: "this should be practiced thoroughly". Truly: a master is simply one who, with an honest heart and a clear mind, practiced the techniques of his style thousands of times to the point they became totally obvious and natural.

    As to Keith's comment: I'm very much opposed to letting people practice difficult techniques when they aren't ready for it since this'll likely lead to accidents and injuries. First learn to crawl, then walk, then and only then you can start running. I'm not sure I understand what he's suggesting: how can you learn from more difficult techniques when you didn't comprehend the easier ones first? This would be like trying to learn a foreign language from a work of literature instead of a handbook designed to give you a basic mastery of vocabulary and grammer. In any form of learning there are levels and trying to skip the beginning or intermediate stages will only lead to failure and frustration. Unless you're some kind of genius who immidately comprehends even the most difficult or foreign things of course. I know I'm not a genius: are you?



  4. Speed comes from efficient movement.
    Efficient movement comes from practice.
    With practice comes correct attitude.
    Correct attitude allows relaxation.
    Relaxation provides control.
    Control comes from sensitivity. Sensitivity to your own movements as well as another's.

  5. Thank you for your comments Zara. I definitely agree that speed and flow come from good technique. And as for the most recent anonymous comment, I just love your way of putting it! Very poetic. 🙂

  6. Excellent post! Much of what you said applies to Filipino Martial Arts (Arnis/Kali/Escrima). I share many of the same concerns when it comes to the issue of speed and how it might compromise technique, flow and control as outlined in your post, particularly for the less than advanced students. Before I teach “speed” though, I try to point out the difference between “speed” and “timing” to my students. I tell them not to focus on the sheer velocity of their techniques but focus on changing the timing of their techniques (1 beat to 1/2 beat). I tell them to keep their velocity constant but change their timing and voila they look faster! Increasing the speed without changing their timing can only do so much.

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