Saturday, August 17, 2013

Speed - diagnostic and curative!

Among the people who train in martial arts/fighting methods with at least declarative goal of being able to "practically use it", the occasional or regular inclusion some of pressure testing is not a new thing. In most cases, it entails moving fast, i.e. faster than in normal training. When these scenarios and/or kid of drills is done, the main thing to look for is identifying the problems, more specifically, the things (techniques, tactics) that do not work in full speed. This diagnostic aspect of speed training is by now more or less widely accepted, and in good training groups followed by getting back to the "drawing board" and drilling to fix the problems.

However, I've been wondering lately, what happens when the battery of those speed tests is repeated in continuation for a while, without getting back to refinement immediately? And sometimes, it means simply doing more than a single round/scenario...

In search for an answer, I experimented a bit with my group of trainees (although, in all honesty, the amount of training and the size of the sample were by no means exhaustive). And guess what? Some aspects of training could be improved by doing the fast training alone!

This kind of methodology seems to have particularly beneficial effects with certain type of trainees, in this case the guys in their mid-teens whose overall coordination may be suffering as the result of growth spurts or similar challenges. For that kind of population, this sort of "task oriented drills" tends to be much better suiting  that the training that focuses on the mechanics of moves, i.e. motor actions themselves. In other words, my limited experience seems to corroborate the approach professed by Luis Preto (take a look at my posts relating to his work).

OK, let me give you concrete examples. After a period of screening, I introduced knives and related work to the guys in my group. Now, the thing is that while working on one's empty handed skills, and especially AGAINST empty handed attackers, some people have the proclivity of believing it is a good strategy to take a punch or two in exchange for a better/more powerful one (or more). That in turn leads to inadvertent neglect of the footwork and general movement skills. Well, the introduction of knives (even trainers) tends to address that issue rather quickly.

I put each and every one of the boys through 6-8 consecutive rounds of knife sparring/dueling. I know, it had nothing to do with "street savvy" skills, but more with certain technical elements. Not to mention that is fun to do :-) (I am kicking myself repeatedly for not having filmed the session).

Being that they do not need to use much power when striking with a knife, it naturally laid emphasis on the speed and efficiency of the movement. And here goes - one of the guys found out during the first round that his long arms and legs did provide the ability to cover a lot of space relatively quickly at slower tempos, but at full speed it represented major challenge to his balance and mobility, in the sense of changing directions daftly enough. In the second round, we saw him less but more deliberately. In the third, he started moving more again, but with shorter gait and better focus. By the fourth round, he was already pretty solid on his feet and could focus on the actions of his upper body and tactical considerations.

Another member of the group a very tall and lanky fellow. My previous pointers about the need to bend/relax the knees were futile for the most part, but here again, the task at hand worked it out! In the first round he was almost like stuck in the mud or something, and even fell on his ass when trying to move back and keep the distance against a charging opponent, even without any physical contact. The second time through - lo and behold, his knees were bend and the entire movement much more springy! The third round even brought some sideways movement, albeit with lousy balance. However, that issue started self-correcting in the fourth round.

Yet another chap had had the inclination to avoid punches by bending from his waist, or use the same "tool" in order to reach the target that would move away from his own. That in turn did not carry over to well the message for the necessity of weight transfer and related issues. Once put through the multiple rounds of knife sparring - yes, the problems were first blatantly exposed, and then proceeded to "self healing" part. First, he noted that the leaning thing does not work against attacks to the legs or against fast combos, because the second or third blow would easily catch him. So, from almost non-existent he developed some workable footwork in a matter of minutes! Next, he saw the need to be able and go from moving forward to going back, or viceversa. It lead him to lowering his center a little and bringing the feet to act in a more coordinated fashion in transferring the weight for that direction change.

It does not end here, but you get the picture. All that said, though, the fast training is not some kind of panacea by any means. Namely, while certain mechanical/technical aspect did seem to be susceptible to getting fixed this way, not everything worked out so smoothly.

With regards to fighting strategy and tactics, training at high speed does function beautifully as a diagnostic tool, but I did not notice any actual short-term progress in either plugging the tactical holes in one's game or boosting the ability to take advantage of someone else's mistakes. Evidently, it is a different kind of cognitive process that requires a longer and continual work in striving to get better at this aspect of performance.

In conclusion, training at higher or full speed is not be all end all approach, but probably could be used more, not just as a diagnostic tool, but as a cure, too.