Understanding Martial Arts Timing Drills

Timing in the martial arts is VERY important. We often talk about getting lucky in the moment when a technique is applied or scoring a point in a competition. Martial artists that are “lucky” create their own luck by controlling the timing.

So where to start?

Just like with distance, we are going to now look at the three levels of timing so you can begin to see them in your own martial arts training and start to look at manipulating them.

Back to the mat with your training partner.

Timing 1: For the first timing you stand off across from your training partner and they execute an attack- which attack really doesn’t matter, and you respond to the attack with a technique- again really doesn’t matter, BUT pick and perform something you are comfortable with so you can focus on the concept of timing rather than trying to execute a fancy technique.

The first timing begins with your training partner executing the attack and then you respond to it. They start, you see it coming, and then you respond.

For the most part this is where and how many of us learn a martial art technique in the dojo- but is this the best timing for us?

Not really since your training partner has picked the type of attack and the moment to deliver it, forcing you to react.

In dealing with this type of timing you are going to need something to slow down their attack with (distance!) so you can properly respond without being taken by surprise.

If you don’t have distance you are going to have to put something in the way physically- perhaps an object of something in the current environment to slow them down.

Naturally we don’t want to be at this timing for anything other than learning and practicing techniques, but we need to understand it and be able to move from it both as a building block to the second timing and as a way to deal with it as it happens.

Timing 2: The second timing again has you and your training partner squaring off with any attack and response.

Now in the moment that they attack you also respond- both happen at the same time!

The key here is to respond appropriately at the same time, so obviously if your training partner is going to be delivering a punch and you are responding at the same time, you don’t want to run into it and knock yourself out!

Think about HOW distance and balance can force your training partner to respond with a certain type of attack…

For example, if you are at the second distance, and maybe a little out more as we discussed the most likely attack is a punch, especially if you lower your guard for a moment to lure in your training partner with a particular type of punch/attack.

NOW you know what is coming and can respond as it is happening.

This type of timing is getting closer still to where we want to be- if your training partner executes a good committed attack, the moment it starts they will not be able to change it without destroying their balance, and making it ineffective.

They will have no choice but to continue along the arc of the attack.

Since you are going at the same time, there is no gap in the movement between you two, or moment they can counter. Literally as they are finishing their attack you are starting your technique on them- there is no room in the movement for anything else.

Timing 3: OK, so timing three is where we want to be at- and we only get there though understanding, training, and manipulating the other two timings.

Back to the mat…
Now the moment before your training partner executes an attack you respond as if they have executed the attack.

Take a right punch as an example since every martial art has it in some form or combination. The moment they think of executing a right punch, the moment before they lift that fist, shift that foot, you respond with a counter as if they executed the punch since the thought of it is the same as doing it in terms of exposing weak points in their movement.

Admittedly this is a hard concept, but we are coaching and pushing you to be the best martial artist right?

So how do we learn and practice this third timing so we can adapt it to our art?

Imagine you and your training partner again standing across from each other and I come over to them and whisper in their ear: “Throw any kind of attack you want at them…”

Your training partner is going to look at you, and have their choice of attacks.

Do they go for a grab?

A punch?


Tackle, takedown, and submission?

The sky is the limit.

Now, take what you have learned and been exploring with distance and balance and think how you can move your own body to limit the number and types of effective attacks your training partner can deliver.
Just by turning your body to the side off line of the attack will protect half of it…

Extending your arms forward will further make certain attacks much harder…

THINK about the postures (kamae) in you martial arts and how they will limit the type of attacks thrown at you…

…and suddenly based on that, plus distance and balance you will be able to know what is coming and you can execute the third timing.

This will give you a level of endurance against a training partner who might indeed have a much higher level of endurance then you naturally.