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Some thoughts on improving reaction time

"You should here learn firstly how to recognize an opening quickly, secondly how to act against it." - Meyer, 2.15r

How do we improve both the speed and quality of our reactions?

1. Simplify the stimulus to only the relevant
2. Limit our reactions to only the optimal

While also making it difficult for our opponent to do this to us, simple huh? No.

"Cognition is the art of focusing on the relevant and deliberately ignoring the rest" - Gerd Gigerenzer & Peter M. Todd

The Principles tell us what information is relevant and then neatly packages this into simplified concepts:
  • "Mechanics" recognizes that force generation and body language is highly important information. This is packaged into Guard postures and Openings. 
  • "Place" highlights that the space between you and your opponent is highly important information. This is packaged into Measure and Line of Fight. 
  • "Time" highlights the speed is highly important information. This is packaged into Tempo and then Timing. 
This is a huge refinement and narrows down the environmental stimulus from infinite to relevant. The next question is what is the optimal action, this is significantly more complex especially against a skilled opponent.

Against an unskilled opponent simple one action responses can and should suffice. To my mind this is what the earlier treatises and actions like the "master strikes" are about, delivering a single skillful counterattack against the uninitiated in a one off encounter. However the optimal actions get less sure against skillful opponents who have knowledge of the same bag of tricks while evaluating and adapting to your strategy over a period of multiple bouts, i.e. what Meyer was facing in the fighting schools. He was designing multiple action, variable strategies against peers, a much tougher proposition.

This is what I think it looks like:

1. Limit the scope to manageable groups of up to 4 tempos and break this down into tactical "phases"based on Principles - Onset, Middle, Withdrawal
  • Onset (Measure: out to wide, Mechanics: guard positions and "principles cuts", Time: 1 or 2 tempos)
  • Middle (Measure: narrow, Mechanics: handwork, Time: 1 or 2 tempos) 
  • Withdraw (Measure: narrow/wide to out, Mechanics: guard positions and "principle cuts", Time: 1 or 2 tempos) 
2. Understand the tactical goals of your actions across the phases - Provoking, Taking or Hitting
  • Provoking: creates a situation for you to react to, often used to progress from Onset to Middle
  • Taking, allows you to work in narrow measure, takes you to Handwork in the Middle 
  • Hitting, the point of it all and the start of Withdrawal (whether you hit or not) 
3. Avoid predictability while optimizing your responses by using two variables combined into four strategies: Before or After, Active or Responsive 
  • To act in the Before or After (Timing) 
  • To be Provoking or Taking (i.e. Provoking the situation or taking advantage of the situation)* 
(2.99r translation from Forgeng 2nd Ed)

"And the first are those who, as soon as they can reach the opponent in the Onset, at once cut and thrust in with violence." Violence (Before - Provoking)

"The second are somewhat more moderate, and do not attack too crudely, but when an opponent has fully extended with a cut, fallen low with his weapon, or else has bungled in changing, they chase and pursue rapidly toward the nearest offered opening." Cunning (Before - Taking)

"The third will only cut to the opening when they not only have it for certain, but have also taken heed whether they can also recover from the extension of the cut back into a secure parrying, or to the defence Strokes; I also mostly hold with these, although it depends on what my opponent is like." Judicious Observation (After - Taking)

"Now the fourth position themselves in a guard and wait thus for their opponent’s device; they must be either fools or especially sharp, for whoever will wait for another person’s device must be very adept and also trained and experience, or else he will not accomplish much." Foolish Comportment (After - Provoking)

It's important to note that Meyer doesn't expect us to embody one of these strategies but seems to envisages that we'll adopt different strategies as part of an OODA loop:

"you must assume and adopt all four of them, so that you can deceive the opponent sometimes with violence, sometimes with cunning, sometimes with judicious observation, or else use foolish comportment to incite him, deceive him and thus not only betray him concerning his intended device, but also make yourself room and space for the opening, so that you can hit him that much more surely."

Or, in other words:

"The key is to obscure your intentions and make them unpredictable to your opponent while you simultaneously clarify his intentions." - Harry Hillaker


* My thoughts on the Provoking or Taking thing probably requires a further note. The Violent and the Foolish types are reducing their reaction time by eliminating much of the need for evaluating the situation by creating the situation. The Violent type by immediately attacking to the nearest Opening and the Foolish type by setting up an ambush, thus "Provoking" your opponent to act. This works by simplifying the required thinking time at the expense of making your actions predictable.


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