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How quick are you?  How quick do you need to be?

You do not have to be the quickest that you can be. You only need to be quicker than your current opponent. Quickness is relative.

It's about time

Reaction time, quickness, and speed are interrelated. Reaction time is how long it takes before you react to a threat. Quickness is how long it takes for you to react once you decide to react. Speed is how long it takes for your reaction to complete its task. All these involve a measure of time.

Time measurements

All these time measurements fall under the general term of quickness.

Perception time or intuitive recognition

This is the time it takes for you to perceive an imminent threat. It may be increased by repeatedly exposing yourself to situations that require instant analysis, such as by free-sparring. You perceive threats by using your five senses:
  • Sight. This is your ability to spot small body movements and behaviors or expressions that indicate intentions (telegraphing), spot openings, or track movements.
  • Hearing. This is your ability to hear and evaluate critical things, such as breathing, shuffling, steps, grunts related to pain, etc., that may help you react to a threat.
  • Touch. This is your ability to feel movements or imminent movements. For this to work, you must be in contact with the opponent. I once played Judo with a blind black belt who would detect your intentions and tell you what you were planning to do before you did it.
  • Smell. This is your ability to smell danger. Dangerous smells may be hazardous gases or liquids, decay, smoke, body odor, etc.
  • Taste. This is your ability to taste danger. However, to taste something, it must be in your mouth and sometimes things that taste good are deadly.
Intuition is your ability to "sense" a threat. Some say is not a real sense, it is just coincidence. That there are many more times that you sense something is wrong and it turns out not to be nothing than there are times when there was actually a threat. Others believe it’s an instinctive feeling that alerts us to danger.

Reaction time

This is the time it takes for you to react to an identified threat. You react quicker to expected threats, such as when you are sparring you know what types of kicks to expect and how to react to them due to practice and the sparring rules, and you know the attack is not meant to seriously harm you. In unexpected attacks, such as in self-defense situations, you do not know what the attack may be, but you do know the attack is meant to harm you. Since some self-defense attacks are unexpected, you don’t know what type of attack to expect so you have no trained reaction to rely upon.

Execution time

This is the time it takes for you to execute your technique, such how quickly and accurately can you fire a side kick. This is the time that most students focus upon.

Closing time

This is the time it takes you to close on or retreat from an opponent. This involves the movement of the body as unit, not the movement individual parts. This time has a great effect on your execution time.

Recovery time

The time it takes for you to recover after executing and attack. This includes re-cambering a kick and re-assumption of a stable stance.

Adaptation time

This is the time it takes you to adapt to changing situations, fighting styles, injuries, etc. Sometimes, changes must even be made during the execution of a technique or movement, so you must be able to control, change the direction, change the target, or stop techniques instantly.

Ways to build quickness

Traditionally, training for quickness consists of repeating a movement until it is ingrained in the muscle and becomes automatic (muscle memory). It involves focusing on increasing your overall physical speed by doing such things as sprints or high-rep/low-weight training. Build strength to increase the explosiveness of your attacks.

Some other ways to build quickness include:
  • Kiai. Many athletes hold their breath while exerting themselves to magnify their strength, through the pneumomuscular reflex of intra-abdominal pressure. For quickness, you must exhale during movements. The optimal performance zone is at the end of exhalation, so your exhale should begin in time to end at the moment of impact. However, you should not visibly inhale before an attack; an experienced fighter will know that your sudden inhale signals that you are getting ready to attack. In martial arts, the kiai has been used during attacks for centuries. All warriors use a "spirit shout" when they attack, even modern-day warriors such as the Marines. Even street fighters use a spirit shout, but their shouts tend to be obscene. One way the kiai aids in your attack is that when you kiai, you must exhale. 
  • Practice. Conventional wisdom says that to be quick, you must practice doing techniques as quickly as possible. However, practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. To be quick, you must perform techniques slowly and perfectly. Speed depends on effectiveness and efficiency of movement. To increase your effectiveness and efficiency, you (or others) must be able to see what you are doing wrong. When you only perform techniques quickly, problems cannot be seen and corrected and thus they get practiced until they are embedded in your movements. Practice techniques slowly, concentrating on making them perfect. Quickness will be the result.
  • Move more things. The more parts of the body involved in a movement, the more power, the more speed, and the less energy expended. This does not mean using extraneous movements, it means relaxing the body so all the parts move freely toward the desired result.
  • Balance. If you are slightly off balance, your quick will suffer. If your opponent is slightly off balance, he or she cannot react as quickly, thus giving you the speed advantage. Try to maneuver your opponent so he or she is off balance, and then attack.
  • Slowing too soon. Sometimes students start a technique quickly and then it slows before completion. This may be because of focusing too soon, being unsure of the ending body position, not knowing which muscles to use and in what order to use them, fatigue, poor training, or improper breathing.
  • Focusing too soon. Focusing too soon is a common problem. Strong students want to be powerful at the moment of impact so, in anticipation of the impact, they tighten too soon, especially the upper body. To correct this, you perform the technique with no power and focus until AFTER you have completed the motion. Practice the technique with no intention of focusing, just use speed and good form-, and, after you finish the movement, tighten the body sequentially. For example, with a punch, tighten the abdomen and legs first, the drawing arm, and the technique arm last. Once you have this mastered, then move the tightening moment back to the moment of impact.
  • Body position. If your ending position is unstable, even minimally so, your body may try to protect itself from injury by easing up its speed and power. The movement of impact should not be a sudden stop for the body; it should "flow" into the target. To test this, step into a powerful fore fist punch. At the moment of completion, hold the position for a second and then relax. If you find yourself "settling" on the relaxation, then you are stopping the body too soon and not focusing. Practice until the body is completely settled at the moment of impact.
  • Muscle use. Another common problem is over-tightening the small muscles around the joints. You usually notice this as small cramps around the hip joint or pain in the back. Power should flow through the joints without tensing them. The small muscles only tense at the moment of impact and then they immediately relax. To correct this, relax the body until impact, then tense the body, and immediately relax again.
  • Breathing. Taking too big a breath takes time and slows you down. Holding your breath tenses the body too soon.
  • Hamper opponent's speed. If you do things to decrease an opponent's speed, you are in effect increasing your relative speed. If you train to fight while constantly circling your opponent, your effective speed will increase if your opponent is slowed due to having to constantly keep turning to face you.

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