The Importance of Speed in Martial Arts

In order to be a good martial artist you must aim at excelling in a number of different skills and having at the same time:

  • Strength
  • Agility
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes
  • Balance
  • Endurance
  • Speed

The last but definitely not least one in the list, Speed, is to be considered of extreme importance because it affects most of your performance when practicing any martial art and the techniques you are performing in a combat situation. Certain applications of internal martial arts that are practiced for healing, meditation and relaxation purposes are usually performed really slowly and obviously have not connection with the content of this post.

Speed affects the kinetic energy you produce by a quadratic factor: if you double your speed the kinetic energy grows by 4.  Therefore if you are interested in increasing the damage produced by your punches or kicks you should train for increased speed.  Higher speed can come from higher physical fitness by also by learning how to best coordinating all muscles involved in a technique so they all push with precise timing in a well coordinated direction.

By increasing your speed you are not only ensuring that you can hit your target faster and producing more damage; the technique arrives to its destination in a shorter time therefore it’s ready to go back to its original position much faster, making it ready for the next strike.

Being able to perform a technique or combination at a high speed will allow you to surprise even a very well prepared and skilled opponent.  If you could move one arm or leg 10 or 20 times faster that the average martial artist you would not need very complicated combinations and attacking from many different angles; you could just attack your opponent with that single strike and score, every time.

Training for speed should be a mental as well as physical exercise; muscles are trained to become stronger and therefore release more power but, at the same time, speed should be thought as the main goal when training for it.  For instance keeping your muscles relaxed while training and program yourself to tense just the right ones that are involved in a specific movement will offer maximum efficiency for the muscles involved and minimum dissipation of energy in unnecessary movements.

A training scheme I suggest when coaching somebody with the intent of improving their speed is usually represented by the following list of activities:

  • Relax physically and mentally
  • Think and see the movement you are about to perform
  • Concentrate just on the muscles strictly involved in the movement
  • Consciously relax the remain part of the body
  • Try to tense the muscles in the most explosive movement you can possibly imagine
  • Repeat a few times until it becomes second nature

I am a big fan of speed and, while it can be a function of your fitness, speed can be trained and deliver amazing results.  When can you start?

Meet Bill Wallace: training with Superfoot

I wrote about Bill Wallace in the past and I explained about his amazing style built on very fast techniques and combinations always developed from the left side stance.  Given his strong knowledge about the human anatomy, built on a master in Kinesiology, he developed over the many years of his amazing career the so called “Superfoot” system that first helps to develop flexibility on the main groups of muscles involved in kicks and then teaches how to use, in a very effective way, the three kicks and the couple of punches on which he bases his system.

Earlier today I had the opportunity of finally meet one of my heroes in martial arts: Bill “Superfoot” Wallace was running a morning seminar organised by Colin Payne from TKO in Chatham (Kent, UK); although I found out about it just a few days before, I dropped all of my engagements and simply went there J  Bill Wallace was famous when I started Kickboxing in 1981 and I never had the opportunity of meeting him so this was a chance not to be missed.

At first impression Superfoot appears as very friendly and unassuming person: he arrived with a big smile and looking to “have some fun”.   Within minutes from his arrival we started with some warm up techniques, very similar to some I have seen on his DVDs and we worked out flexibility for both the hamstrings and internal adductors in order to help relaxing the muscles needed for the 3 main kicks that make up the Superfoot method:

  • Round kick
  • Side kick
  • Hook kick

Then we started some simple exercises to improve speed and coordination about delivering individual kicks from the above list; finally we worked at combinations that use either a punch (typically a jab or back fist) or one of these kicks as a preparation for another kick.

His philosophy was and is conceptually simple: keep hitting with one technique that works and hurts a bit and keep changing angle.  Although the repertoire is quite limited it just works.  It is about working on speed, surprising the opponent with techniques that will probably not knock him down straight away but will upset him many times, make him nervous and help building up for the eventual final strike while scoring many and many points in the process.

At 65 Mr Wallace is no longer a young man: from his face you could compare him to other men of similar age.  Looking just at his body most people will think he is at least 20 years younger and that is until he starts moving.  That’s when you think he could be 25 or 30 years younger.  He can stretch his legs more than the majority of kick boxers and other martial artists I know of.  When he was a professional fighter his kicks were of truly lightening speed but even now he can kick amazingly fast.  There were several under 30 at this seminar that could not do what he was demonstrating at the speed he was doing it.

Is he a super human (apart from the Superfoot)? Absolutely not! He simply (!) managed to improve his techniques to perfection and then he adds to his techniques an amazing knowledge of what works, what scores, what helps you winning.  Full contact kickboxing is today dominated by a number of good boxers that work out how to put a few round and front kicks within a rich combination of punches.  His technique and style is unique and I don’t know of any professional full contact fighter that could fight today in this style but still he can be described with similar words I heard by a TV commentator during one of his fights: “you know he will come from a left side stance and you know he will either kick side, round or hook kick; nonetheless he scores and he does it every time”.

Meeting Bill Wallace was an amazing experience and although the workshop was less than three hours long I took home a list of amazing tricks that I will surely add to my repertoire and I will start teaching straight away.  Thanks Superfoot, looking forward to seeing you again.