Reaction Training

Reaction Training


Having quick reaction time is a valuable trait. Surely, reduction of reaction time must be one of the most important goals of Karate practitioners, whether practicing for tournaments or self-defense. Even though most of us probably realize its importance and occasionally think about improving our reactions, how much attention are we really giving this type of training?

There are many types of reaction training. Here, I would like to break the major ones down by stimulus type:
• Auditory (reaction to sound)
• Visual (reaction to movement that is seen)
• Physical (reaction to touch)

In most traditional Karate dojo, the opportunity to practice auditory stimulus reaction training exists many times during almost every class. Whenever there is a count [1, 2, 3…] each count represents another chance for training. To simply listen to the count to remind yourself how many more repetitions remain is a way of limiting your training. Instead, imagine that each count represents an opportunity to react to your imaginary opponent. Start the movement as soon as you can after the number is heard. When you are attacking, imagine that the count represents a gap in the imaginary opponent’s guard or awareness. When defending, imagine that the opponent is coming in very quickly as the count is heard.

For visual training, we also have many opportunities in most Karate classes. Every time we practice with a partner, we have the chance to train our reaction to visual stimulus. But how many of us simply follow the count mindlessly, as with individual repetition, or jump the count altogether? By waiting for the attacker to initiate the movement, the defense side has not only a chance to practice moving quickly, but also to practice reducing reaction time based on visual stimulus. You can watch for any visual indication at all that your partner is about to move or you can wait until you are sure of what particular attack is coming, depending on your particular level.

Reaction to touch is not practiced so often in most Karate dojo. In some other martial arts, such as Aikido and Judo, this type of reaction is practiced much more often. This is simply a factor of how long we remain in contact with our partners during techniques. Karate techniques usually involve separation from the partner as soon as possible after contact is made. Grappling arts involve longer periods of contact.

Here is one example of how we might practice reaction to physical stimulus in a Karate class:
In pairs, one person stands behind the other.
The person in front assumes a stance.
The person behind touches the front partner on the arm or back.
The front person then attacks forward as soon as possible.
For more advanced practice, the front person could attack with the limb that was touched.

Obviously, it is best to be prepared to react to any of the various types of stimuli that may occur in an encounter. By practicing all of them, we should become better prepared for various situations, not simply relying on the one that usually works in typical classes at one or more particular dojo, with a limited number of training partners.

If you would like to test your reaction to visual stimulus now, see below. Good luck!

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published May 1999)