MAC Blog

Reaction training in Martial Arts

As martial artists we need to react to a stimulus fast. If someone tries to strike us, our ability to avoid, block or counter is determined first of all by our ability to pick up on the stimulation.

Relying on our senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, balance, pain and so on and their ability to pick up quickly on the stimulation, in many ways is determined by our level of awareness and concentration which are part of the mental training process.


After our senses do their “job” the time for applying our response will be determined by our speed of reaction.

Our brain has to absorb the stimulation, make a decision, and send the electronic signal or pulse telling our body what the response will be.

This process is usually known as the OODA loop which stands for OBSERVE, ORIENT, DECIDE, ACTION.

This is the process that the brain has to complete before any action is taken.


Training along with agility, quickness, and speed, are mainly what will determine the quality of execution of the brains decision and many times our response (whether we made the right decision or not) will be successful. All this can be accomplished with right training conducted under the circumstances that you will face i.e. train under the most realistic conditions you can perform.


This element has two aspects to it 1) the time it takes for you to recognize the stimulus. 2) The time it takes for you to decide your course of action and respond, and the time it takes for your body to perform your response.


There are two types of reactions

  • Simple reaction
  • Complex reaction


Simple reaction is used when we know what we want to do and are just waiting for the stimulation. I.e. when performing a drill to the pads and we know the pattern that we are going to perform and we are just waiting for our partner to raise the pad which would be our stimulus.


Complex reaction is used when we don’t know the kind of stimulation to expect and we don’t know the kind of response we will need to respond with. I.e. when we are confronted in the street and we don’t know what if anything they may do to us.

Complex reaction can be improved. Again through proper training where we can work the correctness of our response to the stimulation by performing a high number of repetitions of the response at the speed it will be performed at in real time. Scenario and sparring training are good training tools for this.


All this training is for you to be able to allow your subconscious mind to take over from the conscious mind under pressure so that you perform the action without conscious thought as this is too slow under pressure.


Through practice our body and mind learns to distinguish and narrow down what it is our opponent is likely or even able to do according to his position, posture, weight distribution etc.


For instance in boxing if he starts taking his hip to the right and his balance is on the right foot, it is likely he will punch with his right and shift to his left foot. Or on the ground if a person totally stops for a split second chances are he is going to explode at the next.


Therefore experience is invaluable to our reaction times and speed of action, because it helps simplify the complex reaction process by providing only a few possible reactions to any situation. This on its own dramatically improves the response time.


Reaction time and speed is definitely something worth improving, but even more so it is important to respond in the correct manner. In most martial art training systems improving the reaction speed is trained as part of the drills and techniques training.


Here is a short clip of the instructor team training boxing responses to specific boxing stimulus, that being attacks to the body and head mainly from a right hand.