(Excerpt from Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts)

Timing is the skill of executing a move at the right time. What is the “right time”? It’s the time at which the move can be the most effective.

Some moves work without timing, providing you have a strength advantage or leverage, or both. If your opponent is standing square on his feet, poised and ready with good balance, you may be able to lift him and throw him anyway if you are much stronger. No timing involved. You will however spend a lot of energy, and your chances of getting countered are very high, especially if your opponent is skilled.

Whenever you do a move, you want to think about the right time to do it. Figure out the right timing.

The proper timing requires the following conditions to be true:

  1. Your opponent moves into the (weak) position you anticipated, the way you anticipated;
  2. You are in the right place to do the technique;
  3. Your position allows you to perform the technique; and
  4. You know how perform the technique.

If these 4 conditions above are met, you can execute the technique with good timing.

#4 is your technical skill.

#1-3 have to do with predicting the future: You need to know where your opponent is going to be ahead of time, so you can put yourself in the right spot and position yourself in such a way that when the opponent gets into the weak position, you are ready to attack.

Some people think of timing in terms of fast reaction time: you see a weakness and you attack it right away before your opponent gets a chance to make himself secure.

This is a shortsighted approach and will only work if the opponent remains in a weak position for a long time. It happens, especially in groundwork where people can spend several seconds or even minutes in weak positions because they don’t realize they are exposed. Standing, timing is far more difficult to achieve as people, even beginners, move and constantly shift their balance.

Fast reaction times will only do so much. To have good timing, you need to predict your opponent’s position and movement several seconds in advance.

You might be thinking, hold on, I can’t predict the future!

That’s actually not true. You do it all the time without even realizing it. Think about the simple things you do every day, like crossing the road. You look on both sides, and once you are satisfied it will be safe, you cross. And when you cross, you know that you will not be hit by a car 2 seconds later, because you have looked, analyzed the situation and realized that the cars were too far away/too slow to hit you. Or you saw that there was a red light and that the cars were stopped. Hence, they will not hit you as you cross the road. You’re predicting what the situation will be a couple seconds ahead of time.

There are ways to predict the future:

  1. Direct observation;
  2. Patterns; and
  3. Causation

The same principles apply to grappling. When you see/feel your opponent lifting his back leg, you know that in less than a second, all his weight will be on his front leg. You also know that his back leg will most likely be coming forward and about half a second later his weight will shift onto it.

These are opportunities to apply your techniques with timing. It is however extremely difficult to do on direct observation due to the speed involved. Half a second is very short if you need to position yourself and attack. To have more time to prepare, you can look for patterns in your opponent’s movement. If you can figure out what he is going to do a few seconds ahead of time, it will be much easier to attack with proper timing.

However, your opponent will react to your movement and if you are familiar with Sci-Fi B-movies, you know that your actions can change the future. 😉 If your opponent notices you are getting ready for a technique, he will avoid it, or worse, counter it.

Attacking based on pure observation is hard, you must be fast and your technique must be very good. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

To learn more about timing and other vital concepts of grappling, get a copy of Principles and Concepts of Martial Arts.


-Guest post by Sylvain Galibert

A lifelong martial artist, Sylvain Galibert received his Judo black belt at the Kodokan in Japan and trained Muay Thai in Thailand. He is the author of Principles and Concepts for Martial Arts and Chess principles for Martial Arts.