The Deception of Speed: How to Be Fast When You Are Not

Eureka!  Like a mad scientist, I have unlocked the secret to how to be fast in karate.  By the end of this article I will have hoped to show you that even as you get older and your physical abilities start to diminish you can still get faster.  The answer my friends is found using everyone’s favorite high school subject…Physics!

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this answer, we must first define what how to be fast in karate really means.  This part will not contain the physics I mentioned earlier, that will come later, so all you hardcore nerds out there don’t get mad at my definitions.  Being “fast” means different things to different people and depends on the situation.  All of the following examples below can be considered fast:

Finishing a marathon in 2-3 hours

Running a 4-minute mile

Performing the 40-yard dash in 4 seconds

All of these require different skill sets and require muscles to do different things.  In each example, the body is moving at a different speed.  From a strictly numerical standpoint, the 40-yard dash sprinter is the fastest since his speed is the greatest.  However, if we were to only look at the mile runner, we would consider him as fast.  In these examples, being labeled as fast is partly dependent on the situation. How to be fast in karate is different than how to be fast as a runner or sprinter.

Learning how to be fast in karate is not as simple as just not being slow
Learning how to be fast in karate is not as simple as just not being slow

The reason I bring this up is because in a certain context, I am faster than all of these runners.  I have never run a marathon but if I did, I’m guessing it would be in the 6-8-hour range.  My best mile run was just under 6 minutes and that was 15-20 years ago.  I’ve never been a good sprinter so I can’t even guess what my 40-yard time would be (although it would not even be close to 4 seconds).  However, throwing a side kick from a stationary position to someone’s rib cage I am fairly certain I can do at a greater speed than all of the runners above even at my current age.

I did not write this to brag about my being a fast kicker.  I’m confident there are many, many, many martial artists that are way faster than me.  The reason for this analogy is to identify what we label as fast and more importantly, what we label as not being fast.  You don’t have to be a superstar, Olympic athlete to be fast.  You just need to understand the context.

Obviously, as a martial artist, I am writing this in the context of striking an opponent, whether with a kick or punch or any technique for that matter.  Now, there are two fundamental components of being fast:

  1. Being physiologically faster
  2. Understanding distance
If you can learn how to be fast in karate you will have a huge advantage
Faster is always better

At this point it is important to understand the equation that defines speed (velocity without direction):

s = d / t

where s = speed, d = distance, and t = time.

I am going to define being “faster” as being able to strike your opponent in the least amount of time.  Using this definition, to be “faster” we need shorten the time (t) in the above equation.  There are 2 ways to do that:

  1. Being physiologically faster (increasing s)
  2. Understanding distance (shortening d)

Increasing speed (s) is a physiological process.  You train the fast twitch muscles in your body for optimal performance.  Doing sprints, plyometrics, footwork drills, and simply kicking repeatedly over and over in short bursts will improve kicking speed.  Improving flexibility will also have a positive impact on speed.  There are physical limitations to this, however.  Body type and age will have an impact on just how much a particular person can increase their speed.

The other way to be faster is to shorten the distance (d) between where your strike starts and where it finishes.  So, just be closer, duh!  It’s not that simple unfortunately.  The closer we get the greater the threat of getting hit ourselves.  In order to optimize distance and maximize how fast we can reach the target we need to do 3 things:

  1. Understand critical distance
  2. Disguise our motion
  3. Freeze our opponent

The critical distance is the distance at which we can get as close as possible to our opponent while still being safe.  Being safe refers to not being able to get hit.  Critical distance will vary slightly depending on the size and ability of your opponent.  A good starting point however is the two-arm distance: you and your opponent extend your lead arms and touch fists.  We can train to learn the critical distance using stance, footwork, and awareness.

If we start from a stationary position, casually move our body into the closest possible point in order to attack, our opponent will see it coming and move to negate the shortening of the distance we just accomplished (or worse yet, they’ll hit us before we try to hit them).  By disguising our motion, we get closer to the opponent without them knowing.  We also slow their reaction to our movement which will work to not re-increase the distance between us.  Constantly moving the hands in an unpredictable motion and keeping the feet moving, with slight bouncing of the toes will accomplish this goal.

The last thing we need to do to maximize our quickness is to make sure our opponent does not move. Unfortunately, the Mortal Kombat Subzero freeze move does not work in reality.  But utilizing fakes, feints, and other types of footwork will work to help keep your opponent from moving initially, just long enough for you to execute your technique.  Remember, if you keep your opponent from moving, you control the distance and can shorten it.  You also delay any counter technique your opponent may be contemplating.

Freezing your opponent will help you learn how to be fast in karate
Freezing your opponent will help you learn how to be fast in karate

I hope I was able to communicate effectively how controlling distance can make you faster even as your physical tools start to diminish or reach their peak.  

If it does not make sense to you, that is fine.  I explained a similar concept years ago to a friend of mine who is a great fighter, Master Wheeler.  To my take on how to be fast in karate, he simply replied, “I don’t know about all that stuff sir…just be faster.”  So, when in doubt, just be faster.

If you want any more information, tips, nerd talk, or videos on sparring (specifically distance control), please contact me at

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