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The Speed Training Of Bruce Lee
How To Be The First With The Most
by William Holland
The object of a fight is to hit your opponent before he can hit you. Easier said than done.
Martial arts instructors can teach you how to improve your timing, balance, mobility and endurance, but how in the world can they teach you how to hit faster than your opponent? Speed is an inherent quality, and difficult, if not impossible, to teach.
Or is it?
In Bruce Lee's fighting method jeet kune do, the development of speed is not only addressed, it is dissected and approached in a variety of ways.
Types of Speed
In jeet kune do, speed training is broken down into five phases, each of which can be developed independently or as part of a whole.
Perception speed. When fighting, martial artists must constantly sense and respond to various stimuli. Mastering the ability to perceive the subtleties in an opponent's movements, is he attacking, retreating, punching or kicking? is the first phase of speed training. Simply seeing the opponent's movements is not enough. You must learn to hear, feel and smell the opponent's intentions.
Perception speed is defined as the time it takes you to mentally register the opponent's intentions once you first sense his offensive or defensive stimulus. To increase your speed of perception, it is important to maintain an attitude of "emptiness," or what Bruce Lee called "no-mindedness." You must learn not to concentrate too much on details. Look at nothing, but sense everything. According to Lee, "A concentrated mind is not an attentive mind, but a mind that is in the state of awareness can concentrate. Awareness is never exclusive, it includes everything. A mind must be wide open to function freely in thought."
Mental/decision speed. Once you have sensed the opponent's intention, you must decide how to respond. Do you evade, block, parry, jam, intercept or counter his attack? Your decision speed is determined by the length of time it takes you to sense the opponent's stimulus and select an appropriate response. Your ultimate goal is to be able to respond quickly and instinctively.
Initiation speed. The time that it takes to transfer your decision to punch from the brain to your fist, and actually begin the punch, is your initiation speed. You must condition yourself to relay the opponent's stimulus to your brain, and then to your striking or defending limbs as quickly as possible. The slightest hesitation can mean the difference between hitting, or being hit by, the opponent.
Performance speed. Once your response decision has been converted into an initial movement, the time it takes you to get from point "A" to point "B" is your performance or "raw" speed. You can have the quickest perception, decision and initiation speed in a fight, but if your fist travels like a salmon swimming upstream, your chances of scoring on the opponent are minimal.
Alteration speed. Lee defined alteration speed as "the ability to change direction midstream." In the ever-changing conditions of a fight, there is always the potential to make an unwise decision or dangerous mistake. If you freeze up in such situations, you have a strong chance of getting hit. If you possess good alteration speed, however, you can make a reflexive adjustment, correct the error, and still score on your opponent.
Now that you are familiar with the various types of speed, how do you go about developing maximum levels of speed in each classification?
For some fighters, speed is an inherent quality. These individuals don't work on developing their speed, yet still hit like greased lightning. Others, however, must train extremely hard and overcome many physical obstacles in order to improve their reaction time. Following are some of the factors to consider when training for speed:
Compact structure. Lee believed proper posture was a key element in the execution of sound offensive and defensive techniques. Your fighting stance should be one which enables you to both attack and defend with minimal preparation or repositioning. You should feel loose and relaxed, yet springy and ready. You should be devoid of unnecessary muscle tension, yet be coiled and explosive. Your feet should be placed almost directly under your shoulders to allow for quick foot movement, yet still provide stability. Your rear heel should be raised so it can react like a coiled spring, ready to release or explode like a sprinter coming out of the starting blocks. Your hands should be held in close to the body, with the elbows aligned with the body's centerline and maintaining a spring-loaded energy. Your hands, like the rest of your body, are compact yet loose, ready yet relaxed. Keep your shoulders relaxed and chin tucked safely downward.
Explosiveness. Whether attacking from long or close range, your initial explosiveness is crucial. If you need to close the gap to reach the opponent, your rear foot must push off the ground explosively. If you are already within hitting range, your initial strike should explode toward the target like a missile. Upon impact, explode into the target with great energy and penetration. Your strike should glide effortlessly, but with great speed and directness.
Relaxation. Just as it is important to maintain a relaxed, yet ready, mind in combat, so too should your body be relaxed and devoid of excess tension. For maximum speed and efficiency, you must remain relaxed during all movements. Most novice fighters have a tendency to try too hard and rely on force or muscle in delivering a blow. Experienced fighters, however, generally learn to avoid this problem and rely on method over muscle. Muscular tension acts as a brake and causes friction during movement, thereby reducing the speed and power of your strikes. The only time your muscles should tighten while striking is the instant they impact the target.
Economy of motion. Like the saying goes, the quickest distance between two points is a straight line. Jeet kune do emphasizes simplicity, directness and economy of motion. The JKD stylist eliminates any cocking, loading or repositioning of the striking limb prior to delivery of the technique. By maintaining an economic fighting structure, he is always ready and coiled, and does not need to chamber the strike prior to delivering it. The jeet kune do practitioner strives to eliminate any clue as to his next move. Subtle adjustments in stance, tensing of the muscles, changes in breathing, or shifts in weight all read like a billboard to a seasoned opponent. The JKD fighter should be able to initiate an attack from wherever his weapons happen to be at the moment he senses an opening in his opponent's defense. Preliminary motions are eliminated as the jeet kune do stylist achieves maximum power in his techniques with a minimum amount of movement.
Conditioning. Speed training must be conducted consistently and diligently. Although speed can be an indirect by-product of weigh/lifting, running and stretching, you must train specifically to achieve maximum speed in your combat movements. You must focus on developing hand speed, foot speed, speed in combi- nations, lead-side and rear-side speed, attacking and defending speed, counter-attack speed, evasion speed, etc. You should train for any circumstance.
Tone. Although conditioning drills can develop the fast-twitch nerves and muscles needed for speed, your speed potential will still be limited if you do not have proper muscle tone. Excessive fat or muscle will slow your strikes. Proper nutrition, aerobic training, and balanced muscle development help streamline your physique and provide maximum speed in your movements.
Attitude. Many times, the difference between success and failure in combat is attitude. Many athletes go through a ritual known as "psyching up" prior to competition. They will yell, stomp, bang their heads against a wall, anything to pump themselves up and get their adrenaline flowing. Athletes who rely on speed for success must also find a "mental groove" for maximum performance. A fighter must feel fast, loose and springy. Speed should flow off of his fingertips and out of his pores. A sense of speed should envelop him. As Lee said, "Your strike should be felt before it is seen."
Speed Training Drills
The jeet kune do stylist has a variety of training drills to choose from that will help him improve his fighting speed.
Reaction drills. Reaction drills utilize a training partner who presents you with various targets to strike. Using focus gloves or a striking shield to protect himself, the partner places the pads at various positions which coincide with the primary targets of the human body. Reaction drills can be conducted at long range to allow you to develop footwork, mobility. Kicking and distancing skills. Or, if your partner holds the targets at medium range, you can work on short-range kicks, punches, and counter-fighting speed. At infighting range, you can practice slipping, bobbing, weaving, and short-range blows such as hooks, uppercuts, head butts, and elbow and knee strikes. Choose a minimal number of targets at first, and expand to a larger variety as you become comfortable with the drills. Your partner can add to the degree of difficulty by varying the striking angles and tempo, which prevents you from anticipating a target's placement.
Choice-reaction freeze drill. To confuse his opponent and slow his foe's reaction time, the jeet kune do stylist is taught to make subtle motions with his hands, feet, head, knees, elbows and shoulders during combat. The opponent is forced to acknowledge such stimuli and must decide what to react to and what to ignore. The JKD fighter practices these quick, compact movements by utilizing a partner exercise known as the "choice-reaction freeze drill." As the jeet kune do practitioner executes the choice-reaction moves. his partner will occasionally call out "stop" or "freeze." At that moment, the JKD stylist freezes his body and limbs exactly where they happen to be. The partner then presents the practitioner with a target at any level or angle. The jeet kune do fighter then strikes the target with his best available weapon.
No-mind/peripheral-vision drill. One of the key areas to consider in developing combat speed is the concept of responding without looking or thinking. There are three types of speed related to this concept: perception, decision and initiation speed. A good place to start when trying to enhance these speeds would be the visual process. Lee emphasized maintaining good peripheral vision and stressed not concentrating too hard on one area or movement by the opponent. The idea is to look at nothing, but see and sense everything. One approach is to look toward the center of the opponent, giving you equal peripheral vision to both sides of his body.
Backhand speed test Protective head gear and light gloves are recommended for this drill, which enables partners to work simultaneously on speed enhancement. One fighter develops offensive speed as the other hones his defensive speed. To perform the exercise, the partners face off in matching stances at a distance of about six-to-12 inches further than arm's reach. Each fighter holds his lead hand below waist level. The objective of the offensive fighter is to execute a backhand strike to his opponent's temple. The defensive fighter, meanwhile, attempts to deflect the blow by raising his lead hand. The offensive fighter should attempt to sense his opponent's weaknesses by examining his muscle tension, breathing patterns, and movements. Both partners should try to maintain the basic speed qualities of relaxation, economy of motion, etc. To add to the degree of difficulty, the offensive fighter can attempt to strike from longer range.
Cross-speed test. This drill is similar to the backhand speed test. In this case, however, the offensive fighter is developing speed for a straight cross to the opponent's head, while the defensive fighter is developing speed in his rear-hand parry. The partners begin the exercise in unmatched fighting stances about arm's length apart. From a normal guard position, the offensive fighter delivers a rear cross to the opponent's temple. The de- fensive fighter, who initially holds his rear hand in the center of his chest, attempts to parry the cross before it lands. So as not to telegraph his movement, the offensive fighter must learn to begin the punch at the fist, rather than leading with his shoulder, hip or foot.
Focus glove speed tests. This is another drill that allows both partners to train simultaneously on their combat speed. One partner holds a focus glove in a predetermined position, while the other partner positions himself where he can hit the glove without any preliminary footwork. The offensive fighter attempts to hit the glove before his partner can move it out of the way. The glove holder, who remains stationary, can only move the pad upon sensing his opponent's initial move. The drill not only helps the offensive fighter eliminate telegraphing movements prior to his strike, but it helps his partner learn to sense an opponent's telegraphing movements.
Regardless of whether they are applied on the streets or in a competitive arena, the principles of speed training can enhance a fighter's performance. The key is to keep your movements simple and direct. Eliminate unnecessary movement and energy, focus on method rather than muscle and, most importantly, strive to hit first with the most.