“An automatic and often inborn response to a stimulus that typically involves a nerve impulse passing inward from a receptor to the spinal cord and then passing outward from the spinal cord to an effector (such as a muscle or gland) without reaching the level of consciousness and often without passing to the brain”
– Merriam-Webster Dictionary
In short, an automatic response to an external stimulus.
Now, is it possible to improve it, and if yes, how can we do that? There are plenty of exercises out there to help improve your reflexes and today we are going to focus on improve your reflexes so that you can respond better in a combat situation.
Reaction Ball Training
Starting from a general athletic method, the reaction ball toss is a very common training program designed to improve the athlete’s reaction time as well as hand-eye coordination. The reaction ball is not exactly a circular round regular sphere but a ball with odd bumps all around. The odd bumps render the bounce to be very unpredictable. There’s no telling of which direction the ball will bounce toward.
One method of using it, is engaging a partner to stand a distance away and release the ball from his chest level. The rule is very straightforward. Upon release, the trainee will run towards the ball and catch it in mid-air right after the first bounce. The ball cannot sustain a second bounce or else the trainee would have failed the bout.
Another method would be tossing the reaction ball against the wall and upon the first bounce on the floor, the trainee will have to catch it before the ball goes for the second bounce on the floor.
Check out this video below for a very comprehensive guide on how to utilise the reaction ball in your training program:
Coin Catch / Coin Drop
This is yet another method that is common among asian martial artists as well as athletes in improving their reflexes, and also training their hand-eyes coordination which is so critical when someone is attacking you.
First, place a single coin on the back of your hand. When you are ready, toss the coin up in the air and catch it with the same hand that it was on. You can later increase the difficulty levels by placing more coins and you have to catch all of them before they fall to the ground. Not only do you have to catch them all, you have to catch them one at a time, while they are free-falling their way to the ground.
The coin drop drill requires a partner to drop the coin and your hand will have to be place above his. Your job is to catch the coin before it touches the ground. As simple as it is, the difficulty level can also be adjusted based on the distance between your partner’s hand to the ground.
Watch this video to get an idea:
The reflex bag is commonly used by boxers and the MMA guys to train on punching and reaction towards punching. The bobbly nature of the reflex bag makes it difficult to punch it continuously and makes it a wonderful training tool for dodging punches that comes really very near to your face.
This training tool also allow you train your reflexes without having the need for a partner. You can determine how fast the reflex bag comes back to you based on your own punches.
Here is a video that best illustrates what a reflex bag is and how you can use it to train:
Focus Mitts are also very commonly used by boxers, Muay Thai and TaeKwonDo practitioners. The whole idea is to have your partner hold on to the focus mitts and focus on combination training. Behind that, the crux really is about you getting to react as closely as possible to a real punch. In a way, focus mitts provide a semi-sparring environment for you to get a good feel of moving targets, finding opportunity to counter as well as to dodge punches.
And the whole point is, if you realize, one of the best ways to train your reflexes in a combat scenario, is to get into a combat scenario. You can start off with slow sparring or partner shadowboxing, where no contact is made. This allows your body to form natural responses and new neuro-pathways whenever it encounters a similar stimulus, knowing exactly what to do when a punch is headed your way.
You then build on faster sparring where you get to detect even the slightest twitch in the body and your senses will begin to identify that every time a person moves in that micro-manner, you know a front thrust is coming or a strong roundhouse punch is coming within a split second.
Get in the game and you will start to develop the ability to read your opponents, there’s no better way than that.
Partner Hand Drills
We took this from Wing Chun as we discovered that they not only have some of the fastest punches around, they also seemingly able to respond to close contact punches really fast. It is almost as if it is already beyond what they can see. If you noticed what we mentioned just a couple of paragraphs above on sparring, it is in fact that aim – being able to detect and respond even if you do not visually see it.
Wing Chun hand drills are great because it is a series of hand drills that conditions the practitioner to respond in a systematic manner, yet having the flexibility to progress and translate to multiple possibilities that only one’s mind can limit. Wing Chun partner drills also trains you on discovering opportunities to counter-attack while defending simultaneously. Every movement has multiple objectives, and no moves are wasted.
There are many ways out there to train your reflexes, especially in the domain of self defence and martial arts. However the undeniable methods always revolve around getting as close as possible to the actual combat scenario, be it fast sparring to hand drills or pad workout. We hope that this post adds tremendous value to people who has had trained martial arts for quite some time, and we look forward to taking you to the next level.