by Phillip Starr

“When you are young”, I tell my students, “Practice to develop speed. As you age, your speed will slowly decrease; that’s just the nature of being human. But remember that you can always improve your timing.”

There’s a considerable difference between speed and timing and many martial artists don’t fully grasp it. Speed is just that…speed of technique. There are numerous ways of developing speed in your techniques and I’ve elaborated on them in previous articles; using the candle, paper, and other routines are intended primarily to enhance this very valuable asset. However, it’s well to bear in mind that we reach our physical peak sometime in our late 20’s or even our very early 30’s. After that, strength and speed begin to slowly decrease. Sure, there are exercises you can do to retard this process but the fact is that eventually, you begin to slow down in terms of technique.

Timing, however, can be polished and improved throughout your life. I define “timing” as the moment when, during a given movement, you execute your technique. In the case of a punch, for instance, do you fire it AFTER your leading foot hits the ground? Do you punch so that your fist impacts the target AT THE SAME TIME that your foot hits the ground, or possibly even BEFORE it touches the ground? There’s no single correct answer; it depends on distance and “rhythm.”

In the case of a BROKEN RHYTHM, you strike after the opponent has executed his initial attack but BEFORE he can generate a second one. It is, in a sense, striking into the “spaces between his techniques.”

In the case of the MUTUAL RHYTHM, you evade or deflect the enemy’s attack and strike him at the same time. The techniques occur at the same time but hopefully, yours hits its mark and his doesn’t…

The PRECEDING RHYTHM requires that you learn to “sense” when your opponent is about to attack and you beat him to the punch, as it were. This doesn’t necessarily require tremendous speed at all; it requires razor-sharp reflexes and the ability to “connect” to your opponent.

All three of these rhythms are discussed in detail in my book, “MARTIAL MANEUVERS”, and training routines are laid out for each of them. Each one should be practiced very assiduously until you reach a high level of skill. Simply practicing each of them a few times to “get the feel of it” isn’t nearly enough.

If someone’s “timing” is sharp, it often gives the illusion of tremendous speed. Take the founder of modern aikido, Morihei Uyeshiba, for example or even his student, Master Gozo Shioda. They sometimes appear to be faster than their training partners but the truth is that their timing is perfect. Face it, there’s no way an 80-yr. old man can be physically faster than a 25-yr. old. However, the senior’s timing can be much finer than his junior’s.

Such perfection is not something to be wished for, nor can it be achieved in a short time. It requires great effort over a period of time. Hurrying will only result in lost, wasted time.

2 thoughts on “Speed and timing; The Difference

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