Understanding Martial Arts Rhythm Drills

Every social interaction has a rhythm to it- including the martial arts, which is at its core an interaction between two or more people- you and your training partner(s).

Society, how we grew up, and the current social norms for the group we find ourselves in dictate how we act even if we are not aware of it.
Since that is the same with the martial arts, it is the fourth skill we want to be able to master and apply to the art we study.

Rhythm is the flow of the martial arts interaction from start to end and is often dictated by the attack or aggressor since they have a plan in their mind of what they intend to do.

Imagine this as the starting point to understand rhythm in the martial arts…

You are standing over your training partner and have their arm locked and immobilized on the ground- but how did you get to that point?

MANY things happened BEFORE that which influenced the outcome.

First your training partner sized you up from a distance, perhaps trying to figure out where you are weak and how to attack in the most effective manner.
Then they made their approach to you, perhaps undetected up to the last moment.

When in range, they executed and attack, and you responded.

There was a flow in their mind from start to finish, which is RHYTHIM.

Now what would have happened to that RHYTHM if they had sized you up and started to approach from behind you, and just as they were closing the distance to you undetected you turned around with a smile and waved “HI!”.

No I’m serious!

There would have been a momentary PAUSE on their part for a moment before they figured out what to do next- by turning around and saying “HI” you broke their rhythm- a break in time, a moment you can take FULL advantage of as appropriate to the situation (run away!) and your martial arts skill.

How to do this in the martial arts ?

Well obviously a general awareness of what is going on is required- if you are taken by surprise or are not aware of potential surroundings or training partners then you can take their rhythm in the first place.

We don’t need to really look at or focus on martial arts awareness since I KNOW you are diligently working on that skill anyway without any coaching…

They key to taking rhythm is in the movement as your training partner is setting up the situation. You want to be closer and further away as they are planning their way in so you can break the rhythm at the moment which is best for you and worst for them.

The spiral at the start of this chapter shows the most important fundamental concept of taking the rhythm- moving in a spiral.

As your training partner is planning, approaching, and executing their plans they are making assumptions about you based on your actions and where/how you are standing.

If you move away a little faster, they will adjust their speed, etc.

Moving in a straight line means they can see how you are moving and adjust to keep their advantage, but moving in a spiral allows you to adjust without them knowing.

The spiral can move both in and out, from the center, and to the center- making things big or small depending on where you are on it.


Put your training partner in the center of the mat and stand away from them a good distance.

Ask them to raise their hand when you get close enough to throw a punch and then start walking towards them.

Each and every time they will be able to tell you to STOP when you get close enough.

NOW, instead of walking straight in, start walking in a circle around them and start spiraling in closer and closer with each few steps- done correctly you will have the illusion of moving but not really closing in.

Eventually they will realize you are closing in, and they will raise their hand to stop, but you and they will find that you are MUCH closer than they thought.

Use this spiral concept to be closer when you need to be farther and farther when you need to be closer when interacting with a training partner to take their rhythm.