It’s almost a given; a taken for granted aspect of training, we make assumptions about speed.
There’s no doubt, we as martial artists need to be able to be the fastest we can be. Like the gunfighter in the old Western movies, quickest on the draw wins; the slowest hand loses.
But I wonder if speed as a concept would bear a closer examination?
I want to avoid the biomechanics of speed; that’s best left to the Sports Scientists; except to say that slowness can be avoided by understanding relaxation and unnecessary tension; this is something we pay attention to, particularly in Wado. Sugasawa Sensei once said that no tennis or golf coach would ever say to his protégé, ‘you need to be more tense!’
Way back in 1979 I came across a book called ‘The Amateur Boxing Association Coach’s Handbook’. In an attempt to give myself and my student’s an extra edge I studied the book carefully and I borrowed exercises and drills to work into my routine. But what particularly interested me was the short section on how to get young boxers to appreciate that concept of speed. The coaches recognised that the youngsters under their guidance needed a realignment of what they understood speed to be. They were carrying around assumptions and misconceptions, based upon…what exactly? The coaches wanted to expand their experience in a very physical, non-verbal way (no amount of explaining about speed can get you to appreciate just how fast the human body can move).
Recently a friend had their first experience of watching a top class Wimbledon tennis match between two of the highest seeded male stars. They told me that there was no substitute for the actual experience of witnessing up-close the sheer power and speed of the serve and the reactions needed to respond. Raonic hit the second fastest serve in Wimbledon history (147mph) to Andy Murray in the recent Wimbledon final, and Murray returned it! These types of experiences are what the boxing coaches were struggling to get across.
In the handbook the answers were a little thin, but the fact that the issue had been raised was enough to make me question the idea. The book mentioned one method. The suggestion was hill running. But this was hill running with a different twist. The suggestion was a very steep incline, full speed, full tilt, balls to the wall sprinting downhill! Yes, downhill!
I could imagine many a young boxer whose legs fail to keep up with his body arriving in a crumpled heap with gravel rash on his chin!
I once visited a sports museum in Pittsburgh in which the public were invited to run alongside a virtual 100 metre projection of one of the world’s greatest female sprinters. It was an amazing experience!
So maybe what we think is fast is really an illusion and it’s up to coaches, teachers and Sensei to develop ways of creating new experiences for our students. I have a few ideas, but they have been at the experimental stages longer than I would care to admit.