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Timing in the Martial Arts

Timing is one of the most crucial aspects for successful techniques in the martial arts. In a punch performed in the air, for example, letting the power leave your fist too soon means that the power is gone before it reaches the target. Not allowing the power to be released until after you hit the target might mean that you hurt your fist on the target. There would be no power there to reinforce the punch. If one’s defending arm has not reached the correct position at the correct moment, you could be hit. This is, of course, not a terrible problem in the training hall but it could be in a real self-defense situation!


In Wing Tsun, we can make the time-factor more effective by defending and attacking at the same time. However, we must practice dual timing in that one must place their defense and their offense in play at the same time. It can be useful to practice with these ideas separately or even in separate contexts. Combine them later for better techniques.

After hands have been mastered, we must combine stepping with hands. We must unify the two ideas. In Wing Tsun ‘advancing step,’ a trainee must learn to coordinate the pulling forward of the rear leg with a punch or other hand movement. This is a timing exercise and the human brain can master this with a basic level of practice. In fact, some timing can be helped by picturing the movement over and over in the mind’s eye, then performed in repetitions. Other timing skills must be practiced with a live partner. By this time, the techniques are more complex. We combine attack with defense and stepping at the same time. The body must now learn more complex movements, having learned the timing needed for a single punch, then combining two hands, then adding in the feet.

By this time, he or she can practice these elements, which, by the way, are considered simple movements in the martial arts, with a partner. There are no complex circles which are combined with punches and spinning with difficult balance in the formula. This all would make for an unreliable and not actually repeatable series of movements which could be taken advantage of by smart opponents.

These explanations take more time to explain on paper than they do to perform them in practice. The trial and error effect is built in to the human brain and you can teach your body with the proper guidance of a qualified instructor.
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg

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