This question is a little different than a previous question on speed and footwork. Recently my sensei critiqued my sparring, saying my block and counter techniques are pretty strong, but I'm lacking in that initial attack speed. Essentially, I'm doing better with defense than offense. While my footwork can still use some improvement, I know what to do for that.

He suggested using hand and ankle weights when practicing the techniques, but I am resistant to that idea for a couple reasons. Firstly, the loading just isn't natural and increases the stress on the joints. Secondly, my sensei also had to have both his hips replaced due to the extra training like this that he did when he was younger. However, the basic principle of his recommendation seems sound: add resistance so that you need speed to overcome it.

From my weight lifting experience, when lifters are trying to work on speed they will use band resistance on the bar. That increases resistance the further the bar travels. Basically, you have to do the technique quickly or you won't be able to do it at all. I was thinking that this might be a good way to apply my sensei's recommendation without killing my joints. When I mentioned it to my sensei, he said it makes sense and would be worth a try.

So, am I on the right track, or is there something else I should try or incorporate?

Just an addendum. My technique is good according to my sensei. The "go slow" approach and focus on technique is how I got as good as I am with blocking and countering. Once the distance is closed, and I am actively fighting, I'm in my element.

The issue is increasing the speed to close the distance and deliver the initial attack. Depending on the situation and the opponent, you can't always rely on just the block and counter. There is strategy involved, and sometimes going on the attack is what is needed to deal with a particular opponent.

In terms of power, once my strike lands it will deliver in spades. The fundamental problem I'm trying to solve here is to deliver that power quicker. While I'm not a physics guy, I do know enough that when you combine work and speed you get power. The engine has enough torque, it just needs some more horsepower.

  • I think we're using different definitions of "power". When I say "power" I mean "strength applied rapidly", and training power means increasing the speed at which you can move. I think that when you say "power" you mean "hitting hard" or "imparting force to the target". Is my understanding accurate? Apr 27, 2012 at 20:41
  • That is correct. Most people I've talked to in martial arts tend to apply the word "power" with that understanding. While not accurate in physics terms, that's a common understanding. Apr 28, 2012 at 11:05
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    Also, accurately enough, I am trying to improve the "rapid" component of the "strength applied rapidly". The strength is there (and continually being worked on). I perform power cleans with regularity, but I'm still not quick when closing distance. Apr 28, 2012 at 11:08
  • Red Bull gives you wiiings!
    – LemmyX
    Jan 13, 2020 at 4:09

10 Answers 10


There are several things I can think of that might help, depending on exactly what the underlying problems are.

Slow Repetition

The most fundamental thing I've ever seen improve speed is slow repetition. We say that "speed comes from repetition" in my Hapkido class and when I trained with a rapier we had similar expressions: you had to go slowly before you were able to go quickly.

Frequently this is because as your technique improves it gets faster, and it is easy to throw slop when you are performing these techniques quickly. If you train slop as being "correct" for your muscle memory, you will plateau in speed, but slowing down and training that muscle memory can help dramatically. A lot of issues, such as muscle tension, can dramatically impact your technique and can be addressed through training slowly.

Go into a stance and start performing your punches (say). Going slow. Breathing at a speed scaled to the speed you are performing the technique. Do 4 slow, two off of each hand, and then do four fast, then move on to some other hand technique or repeat the cycle with your punches.

Reaction Time and Body Reading

Another component of speed is actually not about the speed itself, its about the appearance of speed as the result of when you have registered the need to start moving. This may be less applicable in your case since you are talking about initial attacks, but I figure its always wort mentioning.

In rapier fighting there we people we referred to as "chargers" who would start fairly far back and basically charge at you with a blade by stepping from a reversed stance (sword on the same side as the back leg) to a forward stance (sword on the same side as the forward leg) very quickly. If you didn't move out of the way you could get skewered fairly easily, and some of these guys were downright fast.

But, because of the nature of their attacks, you could see that very fast attack coming and you didn't have to move as much to defend as they did to attack. The amount you had to move was… frequently a 15º pivot and a parry-4 (across the body). You didn't have to move as much as they did to defend, or could even preempt their attack if you could see them getting ready for it.

So take some time and train body reading: the ability to identify what your opponent is going to do and work on your reflexes.


Build "explosive" strength: the ability to rapidly generate a lot of power through the use of plyometrics. Things like clapping pushups or gymnastic exercises.

This will help develop the muscles for these sorts of techniques, and is something that's easy to do without additional equipment or even time in the gym.

Don't Forget Bringing it Back

One of the things about "fast techniques" is that they come back faster than they go out. It's not just the ability to throw that first punch fast, it is the ability to throw the next one.

So when training your snaps, focus on getting the hand chambered back into place for an immediate follow-on. This is also where going slow at first comes in: It makes it easy to train bringing it back faster than it goes out.

  • The slow repitition is how my block and counter got good. I can respond to an attack well and turn that into a score for me. However, it's the launch when I'm the attacker where I'm not as good. Apr 27, 2012 at 16:23
  • +1 for clapping pushups and reaction training/body reading. Similar answer here. Apr 27, 2012 at 16:24
  • +1 for slow repetition -- as my Taekwondo master explained the value of this to me, repetition, worrying only about correctness and not speed builds the muscle memory to perform each technique correctly; performing the technique correctly leads to efficiency and power, and efficiency and power lead to speed.
    – jimwise
    Oct 9, 2012 at 19:43
  • +1 I think you should add at the very end the following disadvantages of slow returns (more relevant to armed combat but somewhat also to open hand): exposing yourself to counter-attacks, throws, locks.
    – Vorac
    Jul 27, 2021 at 19:12

Just a small note: I am not a fan of using wrist and ankle weights when training in martial arts for a couple of reasons:

  1. It places a large amount of weight out at the ends of long levers (arms/legs), which makes it really easy to hyperextend the joints when doing any kind of technique at speed.

  2. Contrary to popular belief, training with a heavy object can actually slow down the speed later. There was a study in the early 90's with baseball, swinging a heavier bat than your actual batting bat in the on deck circle produced slightly slower swing speeds.

  3. Balance and timing will be thrown off. You'll be used to balancing to counter act the weight, and adjusting your techniques for the weight, and then it will be off a bit when the weights come off.

The more you can reduce the amount of thought in your sparring, the faster you will be. Practice, practice and more practice. Try goofy things, weird combo's, have fun with it. Your offense will get better, but there's also nothing that says striking from a defensive counter isn't just as effective.


Tom Kurz' book, Science of Sports Training, has a chapter on speed training. Some of the major relevant points for your question:

Sports fall into five groups according to how they require speed. Your training falls into the first of these, "demanding maximal manifestation of all three components of speed [reaction time, time of a single movement, time of performing a number of movements] in nonstandard situations", since it is an "individual contact sport".

(Page 179 and 180).

There are three elements of speed training: perfecting reaction, speed training proper, and auxiliary training consisting of strength exercises, power or jumping exercises, coordination exercises, and flexibility exercises (Sozanski and Witczak 1981).

(Page 181) I think that puts my other answer firmly in the realm of auxiliary training.

Directed speed exercises for boxers are reaction time exercises with tennis balls and practicing single punches with additional light resistance...for wrestlers, short sets of throwing a dummy at maximal and high speed. A sport-specific speed exercise for wrestlers would be throwing a partner (Nowak and Ptak 1995, Perkowski 1995, Glaz, Klimas, and Kosmol 1995).

(Page 191)

The best time to do these, Kurz says, is "immediately after the warm-up", scheduled either "after a rest day, or on a day following the light technical workout" (page 192). He also advocates many very short speed sessions performed throughout the day or week.

The book itself is dense with information, and very helpful with planning and programming. I recommend reading it to get all the pieces I must leave out for brevity's sake.

I would try resistance on punches, but I share your aversion to hand weights. Single punches against a band (Kurz recommends "a pulley or bungee cord"), with rest between attempts, sounds like it would jive better with Kurz' amalgamation of research. Reaction time drills sound like another area ripe for training: circle your partner, and at some sound or signal, or perhaps when they are in a certain position, you launch forward with an attack. General strength and power exercises (sprints, push presses, jerks, cleans, snatches) would seem called for as well.

  • +1 for clear strong citations & close relevance to the question.
    – MCW
    Sep 28, 2012 at 12:55

I think I have something similar. For myself, my current conclusion is that I lacked skill in entry. The idea of "speed" is more of a method to enter within range where I have the advantage. The strategy I have chosen to implement this is less of speed, and more of moving in a way that does not set off someone's reactions.

This was built on top of the basics though: training power in the legs to close the gap faster. Fortunately, there are specific forms within my art that trains precisely that.

Update: Eliminate hesistation. See: how to overcome "freeze"?

  • +1 for power plus timing and trickery. Any chance you could detail the forms that produce leg power? Jun 26, 2012 at 18:54
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    @DaveLiepmann I've seen this training outside of my primary art. By default, do the forms much slower and lower and do not "fall" into the step. If you do them at slow speed, it forces you to remain balanced on a single leg until the probing leg touches the next spot. Over time, you become more difficult to uproot. Xingyi has specifically a footwork called "half step", where the first step is 1.5 strides ahead, and the other foot follow steps. It appears so often in the forms that you end up practicing that the most. Jun 26, 2012 at 21:08

A tip no matter what kind of movement you are trying to do fast is to relax the muscles when executing the move then tens your arm/hand when making contact with you opponent so that you don't break you arm.

You can't go fast if you tense your muscles when kicking or punching.

This is explained here in a more scientific matter:

The main issue addressed here is the paradox of muscle contraction to optimize speed and strike force. When muscle contracts, it increases in both force and stiffness. Force creates faster movement, but the corresponding stiffness slows the change of muscle shape and joint velocity.

The purpose of this study was to investigate how this speed strength is accomplished. Five elite mixed martial arts athletes were recruited given that they must create high strike force very quickly. Muscle activation using electromyography and 3-dimensional spine motion was measured. A variety of strikes were performed. Many of the strikes intend to create fast motion and finish with a very large striking force, demonstrating a "double peak" of muscle activity. An initial peak was timed with the initiation of motion presumably to enhance stiffness and stability through the body before motion. This appeared to create an inertial mass in the large "core" for limb muscles to "pry" against to initiate limb motion. Then, some muscles underwent a relaxation phase as speed of limb motion increased. A second peak was observed upon contact with the opponent (heavy bag). It was postulated that this would increase stiffness through the body linkage, resulting in a higher effective mass behind the strike and likely a higher strike force.

Observation of the contract-relax-contract pulsing cycle during forceful and quick strikes suggests that it may be fruitful to consider pulse training that involves not only the rate of muscle contraction but also the rate of muscle relaxation.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20072065


As Dave Leipman indicated, sprints are an excellent choice, but particularly, I've heard recommended short sprints from an external signal. So basically, stand ready but relaxed and when someone blows a whistle, sprint from one side of the room to another and then relax again until the next signal. It builds reaction time and explosive power, plus it has the beneficial side effect of getting you to actually relax in between action so that you don't start training yourself to constantly be tense.


I train technique so I do it right, I train strength so I can do it against people my size or bigger, I train conditioning so I can keep doing it when tired. But to do it faster, I train power. I've found success with:

  • Olympic lifts, Olympic lifts, Olympic lifts
  • Sprinting

My N=1 tests with those have felt like they turned some of my strength into speed-strength.

I've also heard that these exercises are also helpful, but I doubt they are as good as power cleans and sprints:

  • Weighted jumps (wear a vest, do box jumps and broad jumps), or just unweighted box jumps, per Wendler
  • Dumbbell or kettlebell Olympic lifts, which are less productive than the barbell version, but safer and can be done for higher reps
  • Clapping push-ups
  • Throw heavy things, again per Wendler
  • I'll definitely have to step up my sprinting, and I'll probably up the power cleans too. I'll be mapping out my training for the next year soon, and will keep this in mind. While they will help with foot speed I also need hand speed. Apr 27, 2012 at 16:36
  • @BerinLoritsch For hand speed, perhaps push presses and clap push-ups? Maybe ball slams too? I haven't tried these seriously. Apr 27, 2012 at 17:13

There is more to possibly improve on than I read above:

Full body

A huge thing I miss here is use your full body, even more so; your core body. It depends per technique but many of them requires that you move your feet and hips first (even the straight punch). When pulling back, move your feet and hips back and then your arms. The speed comes from the base of your body, not the limb you want to move/hit with.


A good stance helps a lot. Bend knees, shoulders towards opponent, feet spread as wide as shoulders etc. There are more effective stances but this is the base.

Don't become too muscular

I'm not saying it's bad to train your muscles, like Dave says in the comments quite the opposite. Just make sure you keep track and mind your fighting progress. "Too" is hard to define because it is different for everyone. Muscles are heavy and when they get to big: slow. On top of that, bigger muscles are shorter which makes you less flexible and ultimately: performing techniques often harder.

Plan your attack and set up attacks

Always going back to your base stance isn't going to open up many different situations. Planning an attack beforehand, or even planning the next positition/situation can open so much.

An example: lowkick the front leg with your front leg, don't pull your leg back but step over with your front leg to his side. Now you are vulnerable at your back but so is he: you can turn to make any spinning kick or punch and these are very quick and effective from this situation! You can hit him both at the front as at his side. Just train situations like this and you'll learn what to do from there and quickly.

One more: Step in with your front foot and punch to the face of your opponent simultaneously. While stepping, make sure you turn your foot and hip slightly to the inside. Because of the punch, your opponent will not be able to notice you turning in for any spinning attack, even if he blocks. Now you can perform any cool spinning attack quickly, even more so because you have already initiated the spin.


In the end this is what will do the trick. It simply cost time.

  • Sigh. It's always depressing to hear "watch out! You might get too muscular!" as if it's something that happens easily. Plenty of very, very muscular people are very, very fast and very, very flexible. Oct 19, 2015 at 13:38
  • I agree Dave, there are those, but not everyone is the same. Some people aren't that flexible by nature. I actually had 2 students who really had troubles in fighting because they trained a lot with weightlifting. It is also a problem that "too" isn't specific. If you keep training, you can always feel when you're going too far.
    – Bart Burg
    Oct 20, 2015 at 7:20
  • By the way, one of those students was at the same level as I was (both on the ground as standing). Half a year further and he had grown 10 kg. He was now easy to reverse and though his punches could come strong and fast, it was much harder for him to adjust when he would miss. This is pure logic because there was more force behind his attack that he had to try to stop/adjust. Also on the ground he was a lot easier to submit. So yes I agree, but it's not the case for everyone and as long as someone always keeps that in the back of his or her mind, I think they're ok
    – Bart Burg
    Oct 20, 2015 at 7:23
  • I agree that excessive bodybuilding can cause trouble, but weightlifting doesn't cause inflexibility. Quite the opposite. Oct 20, 2015 at 7:24
  • What sport is this where gaining 10kg of muscle made someone easier to submit? Did this person stop training the sport in favor of lifting? Oct 20, 2015 at 7:25

Go slow. You need a partner who can work with you very well on this (though if you're both learning the drill, it's fine). Organize various sparring situations where your partner has initiative, then some where you have initiative. Both of you are to move at about 1/4-1/3 speed, so you can examine the situation.

You'll see where you're not moving when you should be. And then you'll be able to figure out when you should start moving.

Now, when taking the offensive, it's particularly important to get feedback from your partner. You'll know what your tells are, where your blockages are, and he/she will even tell you when you missed an opportunity.

You'll also give your body the time to relax the muscles that need to be relaxed so you can move faster (including your brain).


Look here, they have perfect explanation how to improve karate speed:


Lift weights

  1. Develop maximal strength (80-95% of 1 repetition maximum) and moderate to high volumes (2-3 sets and 2-6 repetition). 3-4 minutes pause

  2. Develop power (Rate of force development) low to high loads (30-80% of 1RM), and low volumes (2-5sets and 2-5 repetitions)

  • 2
    At the moment this looks like spam and is subject to link rot. Could you make clear this is not spam (are you the author?) and sum up the article? Aug 17, 2018 at 7:00

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