The full gamut of skills needed to truly be fast is more than getting the muscles to contract as quick as possible. The true set of skills of speed can be broken down into three sections:
1. Perception speed: This is the amount of time it takes our brain to register that something is happening. That something could be a punch coming towards you, someone pushing you, or seeing someone drawing a weapon. Why is this important to develop? Because if you don’t perceive the danger or see the opening, then it doesn’t matter how fast your hands or feet are – you’ll never land the shot!
2. Processing speed: This is the amount of time it takes our brain to decide what we need to do; for example, evade, counter, block, run, etc. It is extremely important to develop this to the point of reflex. Why? Because if it takes you too long to decide what to do in any given situation, you will never be a good fighter or self defence practitioner. You must be able to make split-second decisions. Furthermore, you must be able to make the right split-second decisions.
3. Performance speed: This is the amount of time it takes our brain to send the signal down the nerves and for our body to actually do what our brain tells it to. If you can see the attack coming and decide on the appropriate course of action but can’t move fast enough, then you will still fail to land the shot or effectively defend yourself.
When putting this into the context of a self-defence or fight situation, you can see that these 3 speed levels must be practiced and improved simultaneously. If any one of them should be considerably slower than the other two, one’s responses will not be effective.
When looking at speed with a broader definition, the type and number of strategies that can be used in combat greatly increases. If one can disrupt any of the opponents 3 P’s, chances of winning (whatever your definition of winning is – KO, get home safely, scoring points, etc…) greatly increase, and they force the opponent to restart the 3P cycle! Let’s look at some of these strategies:
1. Disrupting the first P – Perception: By disrupting your opponent’s ability to perceive attacks, you greatly increase the chance to land a successful strike. The sucker punch is a great example! Most attacks in self-defence situations happen when one is distracted or being made to look away by the attacker. This gives the opportunity to throw the strike without a chance for the victim to react.
This can also be used in competition. Many boxers use their jab as a way to blind the opponent for a split second in order to unload the next strike or flurry in the combination. Many dirty boxing and Filipino martial Arts practitioners practice attacking from odd angles that make it harder to perceive the oncoming attack, and force the defender to heavily rely on having excellent peripheral vision. The same can be said for many styles of Karate that use unique kicking techniques.
2. Disrupting the second P – Processing speed: The great Mannie de Matos always says ‘engage the brain to control the body’. This is particularly relevant to the second P! By disrupting your opponent’s ability to make effective split second decisions, you greatly increase the chance of landing a strike due to the opponent taking too long to make a decision, or forcing them to make the wrong decision. This can often be seen in self defence situations where attackers seek victims who are tired, intoxicated, etc, so that even if they perceive the threat, they will react very slowly to it.
Changing the angles, speed and level of strikes can often have the same effect. When you force an opponent to react to unpredictable combinations, their processing speed slows down significantly, allowing the attacker more opportunities to land a successful strike.
3. Disrupting the third P – Performance: By disrupting the opponents ability to deploy their chosen weapon quickly, the ability to successfully land a strike again increases. Consider the self-defence situation of someone with a cast on their leg or arm in a sling. Should they be attacked, they may still be able to perceive the attack and their brain effectively telling their body to move in a particular way, but physically they may not be able to do so. In much the same way, an effective strategy of dealing with a faster opponent is to throw enough damaging leg kicks or body shots to limit their ability to move explosively. In other words, while they will be able to perceive and process, they will not be able to perform.
I would like to again highlight the importance of ‘resetting the loop’. You may not need to reset all 3 of these to effectively control an opponent. Most of the time, if you can effectively and consistently disrupt one of these you will be able to effectively win an engagement!
Stay tuned, stay safe!