Reaction Time

Reaction time in a martial art – Learn what it is and how to improve it in any martial art…

Reaction time and agility, quickness and speed (AQS), are 2 elements which are part of our physical training in a martial art

In the physical training article we examined the agility element of a martial art and the different characteristics of it varying from the needs of different martial arts.

We will begin understanding and defining the meaning of each element and the difference between them.

* This is not a Webster’s Dictionary definition, but rather that of experienced martial artists coming from different language backgrounds (Warriors Project) – so as long as we can understand the essence of what is said and avoid “vocabulary semantics” we’re going to be o.k.…

Reaction time – The ability to respond to something… Fast!

As martial artists we need to react to stimulations fast. If someone tries to strike us, our ability to avoid, counter, block or offer any other response is determined first of all by our ability to pick up on the stimulation.

Relaying on our senses - seeing, hearing, feeling, equilibrium, pain and so on - their and our ability to pick up quickly on the stimulation, in many ways, is determined by our level of awareness and concentration which are part of the mental training process.

After our senses do their “job” the time for initiating the response will be determined by our reaction speed.

In other words the time it takes our brain to absorb the stimulation, make a decision, and send the electronic signal or pulse telling our body what to do.

Agility, quickness and speed (AQS) are mainly what will determine the quality of execution of the brains decision, and many times if our response (whether we made the right decision or not) will be successful – this element has two aspects –1. The time it takes our body to perform the task it has been “asked” to do – raise the hand, kick, side step, joint lock, roll over…

2. The time it takes us to perform 2 or more separate actions – For instance – the time it takes us to throw 2 punches or the time it takes us to step twice or three times back…


We’re in a night club, and someone tries to break a beer bottle on our head. We see it coming from our side vision (senses, awareness level and concentration) we “tell” our body to step aside (reaction speed), it took us half a second to reach or side step position (the first kind of AQS), after he missed we “decide” to strike back with two punches. The first punch we deliver (the first kind of aqs) the second punch (the second kind of AQS).

In this article we will examine reaction speed and the way of improving it.

Human physical reaction

Our reactions are controlled and determined by our nervous system.

We have our central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and our peripheral (outer) nervous system (the connection between the 2 nerve systems is done by neurons and other specialized cells.

In general the peripheral system supplies the centralized nerve system with stimulation by sending electric pulses; the central system processes it and decides on the reaction. This is then returned to the peripheral system, by electric pulses, in order for them to execute it. The responses can be internal or external or both – and they signal back to the muscles and or glands.

Our nerves direct and redirect the electric pulse at a speed of 100 meters per second (so from that perspective the signal to move, for instance, the head arrives at about the same time as a signal to move our toe would…)

There are 2 kinds of reactions:

• Simple reaction

• Complex (choice) reaction.

Simple reaction is used when we know what we want to do and are just waiting for the stimulation.

For example, when we know that our opponent is going to kick and we know that when he does we will move in with a punch - we’re just waiting for him to kick

The speed of our simple reaction is hereditary and genetic and little to none can be done to improve it.

Complex (choice) reaction is used when we don’t know the kind of stimulation to expect and we don’t know the kind of response we will need to give.

For example, when we are on the ground with an opponent and we don’t know if his going for a submission hold or a strike…

To make things worse we also don’t know if he will attempt a submission hold by going to the side in which case we might want to roll over, or by mounting in which case we might want to put him back into our guard position…

Improving our complex / choice reaction time

Complex reactions can be improved. However the main element we can improve is the correctness of our response, to the stimulation and situation.

This is done through simulation and sparring training and is part of the 4th stage of the martial arts techniques training.

It is important to focus specifically on this element from time to time, because we can easily get carried away and focus only on the execution of the response and not whether or not it was the correct reaction to begin with.


Another aspect of correct and fast reactions is the conscious and subconscious experience we gain through simulation and sparring.

Through practice our body and mind learns to distinguish and narrow down what it is our opponent is likely or even able to do according to his position, posture, weight distribution and more...

For instance, in boxing, if he starts taking his hip to the right and his balance is on the right foot, it is likely he will punch with his right and shift weight to his left foot.

Or on the ground if a person totally stops for a split second chances are he is going to explode at the next.

This experience is invaluable to our reaction time and speed because it helps simplify the complex or choice reflex by narrowing down the options.

There are martial arts which try to simplify the complex reaction process by providing only a few possible reactions to any situation. This on its own dramatically improves the response time.

For more drills and tips on improving reaction time and more join our free

Warriors Project – Drills and Tips Ezine

Reaction time and reflexes

Reactions are different from reflexes in that reactions get their commands from the centralized nerve system, namely and mainly the brain, where is the reflexes or the reflex arc (“arc” meaning how central does the reaction go to get “approved”), get their commands from the spinal cord.

Reflexes happen in many cases, even if we’re totally unaware (i.e. if we happen to touch a hot object our muscle will contract automatically…)

The reflexes provide our body with faster responses which are automated and automatic to and in our body, and therefore do not need to be decided upon.

We can not and should not want to add a “martial art reflex” to our reflex repertoire, because reflexes must be kept simple to keep us out of danger.

Importance of improving reaction time

It is far more important, to the end result (for succeeding in what we want to achieve), to react correctly rather than just to react. “What” we should do is determined in the theory of the specific martial art

For instance – it is faster to move the head or the hand than it is to move the whole body; it is faster to turn our hip than it is to bend our back.

Going back to the night club scenario – it would be faster to raise the hand to block than to move the whole body out of the way. On the other hand it would be safer to move out of the strike than to block it, because the bottle might be broken and cut us, or just hit the arm and break the bone, or break on it and have pieces of glass flying toward our eyes.


Reaction time and speed is definitely something worth improving, but even more so it is important to respond in the correct manner. In most martial art training systems improving the reaction speed is trained as part of the martial arts techniques training.

However as we showed here it can also be improved separately by:

Improving awareness levels and concentration capabilities in different situations; part of our

• mental training

• Narrowing down the number of responses for any stimulation.

• Focusing attention when training on performing the correct response and not only a good execution, (asking ourselves not whether or not what we did succeeded, but rather whether or not it was the best possible answer for that situation).

• Training sparring and simulations to gain and improve experience


Reaction time and AQS training in general should be trained when the body and mind are fresh and energized and after a good warm up.

Learn more about Physical Training in the Martial Arts

Improve your Stamina in the Martial Arts

Improve your flexibility

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