Movement speed is the ability to quickly transition from one point to another. Your movement speed is determined by your ability to contract and relax your muscles efficiently. This is the type of speed most readily recognized by the untrained fighter or the public at large.
Most novice fighters place too much emphasis on movement speed. What they don’t realize is that movement speed (without visual reflexes, mental reflexes, auditory reflexes, initiation speed, and all the other Speed Loop components) does not ensure success in competition or self-defense.
Movement speed has multiple components. To realize your full speed potential, you must break down each one of these components and work with it separately. This is the isolation principle of development.
The first component of movement speed is extension speed. Extension speed is your ability to quickly “lengthen” your muscles through contraction and relaxation. Throwing a jab or a front kick from your ready position is an example of extension speed.
The best way to develop extension speed is to practice drills and techniques while consciously focusing on throwing them faster each time. When training, pay close attention to the level of tension in your muscles as you move. There is an optimum state that is the perfect balance between muscle contraction and muscle relaxation. Finding this optimum state of muscle tension will maximize your movement speed when launching an attack.
Retraction Speed is your ability to quickly “shorten” your muscles through contraction and relaxation. Pulling your jab or front kick back after it has landed is an example of retraction speed.
One immediate way to increase your retraction speed is to practice recoiling or snapping your hand or foot back to its original position. Focus on pulling your hand or foot back faster than it went out. Imagine your strikes rebounding off the target after connecting.
The following drills will greatly improve your extension and retraction speed.
The Paper Target
This inexpensive and invaluable piece of equipment is a must for anyone interested in improving their movement speed. Bruce Lee adopted this drill and used it regularly.
To construct a paper target, use an 8-by-11 sheet of paper. Tape one end of a piece of string to the top edge of the paper, and attach the other end to the ceiling or the top of a doorway. Adjust the string until the paper is at face height.
Practice shooting jabs at the paper. As the paper turns and twirls, try to anticipate when it will turn to face you again. When it does, immediately strike the paper. This will improve your visual reflexes and reaction speed too.
For balanced speed development, alternate your leading hand while practicing the drill. Also, practice a variety of different punches and strikes. The constant use of this simple, inexpensive tool will improve your movement speed in less time than you thought possible.
Repetitive Movement Speed
Repetitive movement speed is how quickly a strike can be thrown repeatedly with the same hand or foot. Not only are you concerned with how fast your punch or kick moves from point A to point B, you’re also concerned with how fast you pull the punch or kick back from point B to point A, and extend it to point B again, and back to point A, and so on.
Repetitive movement speed gives you the ability to rapidly strike your opponent repeatedly with the same hand, foot, knee, elbow, etc. Although this type of speed is rarely applied in actual fighting, it should be developed because it will enhance your extension and retraction speed. It will also serve as an introduction to the muscle control necessary for developing overwhelming flow speed, the ultimate attribute for competition and self-defense.
To develop your repetitive movement speed, you can use the same training tools that you use for developing extension and retraction speed. Use the paper target and paper bag drills discussed earlier. The only difference is that now you will be using repetitive punches and kicks with the same hand or foot.
Start at two repetitive strikes and work your way up from there. Be sure to extend your arm or leg to near-full extension before re-cocking it. Also, be sure to re-cock your arm or leg completely before shooting it out again.
Flow speed is the ultimate fighting attribute! Very few fighters possess this type of speed in abundance. Unfortunately, most fighters are hampering their own flow speed because they insist on clinging to rigid concepts and patterns.
I have seen trained martial artists with seemingly superior attributes get knocked out by novice martial artists. You may have heard stories of black belts getting their butts kicked by a street thug. How is it that an untrained adversary could defeat a highly trained martial artist?
One explanation is that a thug may possess superior innate attributes. A much more common explanation is this: a thug is actually better trained than most martial artists for the setting in which you are most likely to meet him—the streets.
You will not find a mugger at the local Karate school sweating profusely from a friendly sparring match. He is more comfortable in his own realm where he can prey on victims who are not as familiar with real fighting.
There is one vital rule of street fighting that you must be aware of as you train for self-defense: There are no rules in street fighting!
This will greatly improve your flow speed when done correctly. You need good control of body mechanics to elevate your flow speed to a high level, and shadow fighting develops fundamental coordination.
Learn combinations that feel natural to you and practice executing them faster and faster. Then work on new combinations. Start slowly and work on speeding up as you become more relaxed and coordinated.
Do not be too concerned if you initially feel slow and awkward throwing various combinations. Keep training diligently and you will see consistent improvement. You are not practicing the combinations for specific application, but rather to enhance coordination and fluidity of movement, which will allow you to put much more pressure on an opponent.
This drill is an excellent way to build the foundation for superior flow speed. The key to this drill is to move as quickly as possible from right-side attack to left-side attack and vice-versa. For instance: Throw a right jab-left jab-right jab-left jab. Or, throw a right front kick-left front kick-right front kick-left front kick. Keep pushing for more and more speed, but make sure you are relaxed and not straining. You can practice throwing alternating punches, kicks, elbows, or knees.
This is a drill that more martial artists should engage in for attribute enhancement. As small children, everyone who was physically capable ran sprints regularly. But, most adults can’t remember the last time they ran a full-speed sprint.
Warning: You should always warm up and stretch before your sprint training. Otherwise, you risk injuring your muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Also, be certain to wear suitable footwear. You should consult your local athletic footwear store on how to choose the best running shoes.
You can practice solo sprinting, or you can practice sprinting against a partner. You will benefit more if your partner is faster than you by a slight margin. Remember, you are trying to challenge and improve your physical skills.
Even though your partner may initially be faster, you should try your best to win. Use your imagination. Picture yourself outdistancing your partner.
Remember, your partner is probably also improving and may have started out at a higher level than you did, so don’t get frustrated if you lose. Instead, you should focus on being better than you were yesterday.
Sprinting speed is similar to flow speed in martial arts. When sprinting, you are trying to move as fast as you can while relaxing your body and focusing your mind. Also, you are developing that intimate “feel” for the optimum tension level and learning to maintain it during rapid movement.
When done realistically, sparring helps develop flow speed. You can practice sparring with your partner at half-speed in order to develop your basic sense of flowing. As your reflexes and speed improve, you should speed up the action until you are eventually ready for full-speed contact sparring with protective gear. Concentrate on exploding your attack when you sense the optimal attack moment. Once the flow begins, keep it going until one of you concedes.
Although full-contact sparring is not actual combat, it will familiarize you with the ranges, rhythm, contact, adrenaline rush, and flow of combat. But, keep in mind that you cannot use the most effective self-defense techniques (eye gouging, biting, groin strikes, throat strikes, face claws, and joint breaks) when sparring. You can practice developing these more vicious techniques for self-defense.
A long-time and indispensable tool for all boxers, the speed bag improves hand-eye coordination, movement speed, rhythm, and reflexes. You can use one hand or two hands to hit the speed bag.
The secret to hitting the speed bag is to understand rhythm. After you punch the speed bag, you should allow it to rebound three times before punching it again. Put simply, you should hit the bag on every fourth count. 0-Punch, 1-bag bounces backward, 2-bag bounces forward, 3-bag bounces backward, and 4-punch.
Practice rotating punches until you can consistently hit the bag using the 4 count rhythm. Start off slowly and it shouldn’t take very much time to get the hang of it. From there…you can challenge yourself to increase the bag’s movement speed by punching faster.
Speed Training Tip
Flexibility plays a key role in your ability to extend and retract quickly. You should adopt a consistent stretching program if you want to achieve superior movement speed.