Speed, Distance and Timing – The Essence of Martial Arts
An interesting article was published by the Daily Mail last year, looking at the Bruce Lee’s one inch punch and how it was possible for him to catapult grown men across the room from only an inch away. At first, people believed it was Lee’s superhuman fitness and conditioning, as well as correct technique that allowed him to produce such power in so short a distance, but new studies reveal it may actually have be his brain structure that accounts for it.
The study found black belts are able to punch incredibly hard, but this is not necessarily due to muscular strength, but more timing of the muscle movements produced by the brain. Effective punching came from the synchronization of the wrists and shoulders more than muscular strength alone, and this was determined by the brain structure. As Dr Ed Roberts, who ran the study states:
“We think that ability might be related to fine-tuning of neural connections in the cerebellum, allowing them to synchronise their arm and trunk movements very accurately.”
Martial arts novices were not able to synchronise their punching power through the whole body, with punches being based on muscular arm strength. As a result, the punches were not as quick, hard or effective, arguably showing that timing and coordination is essential to any martial artists training. Without correct timing, strikes or blocks will not be half as effective, relying simply on muscular strength. The full article can be found here.
In addition to timing, I would argue that distance is a major factor in relation to effective martial arts training. Traditional martial arts use the concept of ma-ai (distance) in all their techniques to effectively employ technique, whether this is striking such as in Karate, or locks and throws as in Judo or Aikido. In MMA, distance is judged through sparring and being able to judge whether to strike from standing or on the ground, or go for the takedown, closing the gap to allow the match to be taken to the ground. In terms of self defence, Geoff Thompson’s idea of The Fence shows the effective manipulation of distance before an altercation occurs, as well as Tony Davis and Matt Frost from the Combat Resource Centre explaining how going toe to toe with someone in terms of distance is not always a great idea, especially when dealing with multiple attackers. Links to their Home Study Self Defence course can be found on my homepage, as well as on my post on the Combat Resource Centre here
Speed is obviously essential to effective martial arts training, whether this be traditional martial arts, MMA or self defence. The opponent who is slower, sometimes regardless of technique, is always at a disadvantage as movements can be read and predicted, allowing the faster martial artist to effectively control distance. They can then close the gap when needed to deliver strikes or a takedown, or move out of range to avoid attacks. This concept is best shown by the Ghost method of fighting, developed by Phil Norman which emphasises being elusive through speed, and controlling distance through constant movement, delivering fast, effective striking and avoiding being hit.
Speed, distance and timing and essential skills for the martial artist to learn, whether aims are self defence, fitness, traditional martial arts or sport fighting such as MMA. They all interlink as well, with speed allowing you to control the distance and timing of your opponent, shown in Ghost training. The correct distance allows you to be fast, moving in and out of the pocket, delivering strikes or takedowns with good timing for effectiveness, and the correct timing allows speed, power and control of distance.