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In most martial arts, especially those which involve either a self defense application or any kind of competition, one will sometimes want to move as quickly and with as much power as possible, while at the same time being technically correct and maintaining proper form. Maximizing all three elements – speed, power and proper form – is a goal as one moves beyond beginner level, but it is…challenging.

If one does a striking combination as quickly as one can, the punches are likely to not land with as much power as one had hoped for. If one tries to throw one’s partner really hard, one may find oneself getting all contorted and having poor form while doing so. If one is attempting to execute a joint lock with great technical precision, so that the attacker is thoroughly neutralized with little chance of countering, one may find that difficult to do at any realistic speed.

Speed, power and precision are all important, but it is nearly impossible for a beginner to focus on more than one of them at any given time. That is understandable – for someone new to the martial arts, or even just new to a particular style, there is so much to think about. When doing unfamiliar movements, ones which have not yet found their way into muscle memory, it is almost always necessary to work slowly and carefully, with a lot of attention to doing those movements correctly. But even for intermediate and advanced practitioners, emphasizing one of these qualities often comes at the expense of at least one of the other two. This can be frustrating – how can one feel as though one is doing “real martial arts,” the sort that one has seen in the movies, the sort that can equip one for actual self defense situations, or even just the sort that will win a tournament, if one is not able to execute techniques with speed, power and precision? There are doubtless very gifted martial artists out there who find it possible to work at full speed and full power while maintaining a very high level of technical precision. But for most of us, the answer is to work on developing each of those qualities one at a time. If one always trains with an equal emphasis on each of these qualities, the result will likely be that one fails to reach one’s potential in any of them. With some creativity and flexibility in one’s approach, however, one can improve the speed and power of one’s movements while still being precise. Once one gets the general shape of the movement under control, the emphasis might shift to doing it more quickly. Think of how to work on that. Practicing just the first part of the technique – the sleeve pull for a judo throw, the first punch of a punching combination, the footwork that sets up the joint lock or strike – with a fast count will help jumpstart one’s execution of the technique as a whole, reducing the reaction time one needs to deploy it. As one focuses on speed, one will probably lose a certain amount of power in the technique. Most people will naturally generate maximum power when allowed to in some way “set” themselves, and that often requires a pause. So another time, one might train in a way that is more focused on delivering power than speed – hitting a heavy bag, trying to move a resisting partner, deflecting a very strong attack. As one works on speed and power, one’s execution will in all likelihood get a bit sloppy – but that just means that one needs to put speed and power aside for a bit and return to very controlled, thoughtful movement, to sharpen one’s precision.

This approach will result in an overall improvement on all three fronts over time, and then one can play – work (insofar as one’s particular martial arts and training environment allows) on putting it all together, moving with as much of a “real world” (or competition) level of application as possible.

And then, of course, one will need to take it all apart again and work with attention to each aspect of one’s movement. And that means more training – but that is what we train for.

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