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Timing relates to the interval between two actions. It is important in all aspects of martial arts.

Some times where timing is important:

  • Training. Training partners appreciate good timing since they do not want to hurt each other or themselves while practicing techniques. For example, during a board break, a mistimed 360 jump-spin side kick may miss the boards and hit the holders.
  • Sparring. Timing is used to control an opponent's actions and reactions. Timing may be used to strike when the opponent has a target exposed or to cause the opponent to expose a target by your using timing to deceive him or her. Good timing helps ensure:
  • Your focus is correct.
  • You have time to complete a technique.
  • You can avoid or block an attack.
  • You are in a good position for judges to see your attacks.
  • Blocking. Timing is also important during blocks. If you mistime a block you could:
  • Miss the attacking arm or leg and get scored upon.
  • Expose yourself to another attack.
  • Injure yourself or the opponent.
  • Patterns. Timing is important throughout a pattern, but some patterns have timing changes that are a part of the movement.
  • Self-Defense. Timing is vital in self-defense since your, or your attacker's, life or death may be evolved. A split-second misjudgment may affect the rest of your life, or it may end it.

Timing vs. tempo

Tempo is the overall speed of a pattern or an attack combination. If the tempo of a pattern is too fast, the pattern will appear rushed and will not score as high as it would at the proper tempo. The same is true for a tempo that is too slow.

Sparring tempo helps set the intensity of the sparring action. At a high tempo, attacks are coming fast and numerous. A high tempo may be difficult to sustain due to the high energy output required. If one fighter has a higher tempo than the other, and he or she has the endurance to maintain the high tempo, then he or she will probably win since he or she will fire many more attacks than the other. Even if the slower tempo fighter gets in a few powerful shots, the accumulation of attacks from the high tempo fighter will probably overpower the slow tempo fighter.

Timing vs. rhythm

Rhythm is a group of timing intervals. The intervals may be even or uneven. Some points about rhythm include:
  • A steady rhythm with even intervals between attacks makes the attacks predictable. If the rhythm of a combination (such as a jab-jab-cross combination) is always even (such as 1, 2, 3) the opponent learns to anticipate each attack.
  • A broken rhythm with uneven intervals between attacks makes attacks unpredictable. If the rhythm of a combination (such as the jab-jab-cross combination) is sometimes uneven (such as 1, hesitation, then 2, 3) the opponent may be caught unprepared.
  • The intensity of sparring action may also have a rhythm. The tempo may be varied in a rhythmic manner, such as a flurry of attacks followed by varying periods of defensive rest.

Timing in blocking

When blocking, timing is crucial since you must stop all attacks. Some points about timing in blocking include:
  • If you block too soon, you may get hit and may open yourself for a combination attack.
  • If you block too late, you may get hit and/or it may prevent your being able to counterattack.
  • If you move too soon to avoid an attack, you may give your opponent time to change the trajectory of the attack to a new target, or to stop the attack and fire a second attack.
  • If you move too late to avoid an attack, you may get hit.
  • If you move too quickly to avoid an attack, you may overreact to feints and fakes and leave yourself open.
  • If you move too slowly to avoid an attack, you may get hit—often.

Timing in attacking

Against an experienced fighter, your attack timing is crucial if you expect to get an attack through his or her defenses. Some points about timing in attacking include:
  • If your timing is off, your attacks will be blocked or avoided, and you may leave yourself open to a counterattack.
  • Mistiming means you will make many non-scoring attacks that quickly exhaust your energy reserves.
  • If you precede your attack with a feint or fake, mistiming may make the actual attack ineffective.

Timing in Sparring

Timing in sparring takes the above blocking and attacking points into consideration, but also involves other timing issues:
  • Adjust your tempo to fit your level of physical fitness to ensure you can move, block, and attack continuously throughout the allotted time.
  • Change the rhythm of your movements and attacks so you never become predictable.
  • Try to time your attacks to your, and your opponent's, breathing. You should attack at your exhale and try to catch your opponent at his or her inhale.
  • Time your counterattack to the first movement of an incoming attack. At this moment, your opponent only thinking about attacking, not blocking.
  • Time your attack to move as the opponent is regrouping after the initial attack.
  • Increase your tempo near the end of a round, this can influence the opinion of the judges as to who was the winner of a round.

Timing in patterns

Timing in patterns is mostly determined by the traditional rhythm to which the pattern should be performed, but there are some still some important ways timing is used.
  • The tempo in patterns is important. When nervous, or after making a small mistake, students tend to speed up the tempo of the pattern. Concentrate on keeping the tempo smooth, even, and regular, except when a tempo change is mandated by the pattern.
  • Concentrate on hand and foot timing. Ensure all attacks or blocks occur just as the stepping foot touches the floor.

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