One of the most important factors in your training to get right is reaction training. No matter how great your technique is, if you have not trained it properly, it will be useless. You must train the technique to be reflexive. You cannot rely solely on your conscious ability to analyze your situation and recall the appropriate technique when you need to act in fractions of a second. It is just too slow. Using a progression to train your reaction skills is the best path to your success. Here is how to get started:

Coordinate the Mechanics

Program your body to do what you want it to do. First, learn the movements related to the technique or response that you plan to make reflexive. Coordination and familiarity with the movements of the technique are the cornerstones of training for success in this. Your central nervous system must develop a clear map of what it should do when the time to react comes. Mindful practice and quality repetition together with a clear understanding of the right mechanics will get you there.

With practice and repetition, your mind will create an internal profile of a technique so that you can access and perform it quickly. The more you practice and refine the movements involved in the technique, the more easily and quickly your mind can access them. After many repetitions, your mind will eventually consolidate all the individual motor movements that comprise the technique into a set. This set can then function as if it where only one movement. With only one trigger, all the related movements can be launched together, in sync. This is possible because the movements and their relationship as a set has been committed to your long term memory.

Because the set is in your long term memory, you will be able to respond without needing to consciously remember all the individual parts of the complete technique. This is crucial. The more definition you can embed in that memory, the better your ability to recall it with precision. This process of motor learning and the result is commonly referred to as "muscle memory."

Moving to reaction training too soon will not give you the best results. Take your time and really develop your coordination before moving on to reaction training. In order to take advantage of muscle memory, you must first create an experience that you can remember. If your central nervous system does not have a complete profile on your technique, then you cannot expect the recall to be very smooth or accurate.

When practicing techniques under pressure, your training experience will often be etched more deeply into your muscle memory than it would be if there were no pressure. It is the stress and emotion from the pressure that causes this to happen. Your mind pays more attention when there is danger or challenge. This creates a more vivid memory.

If after several repetitions under pressure, you do not respond the way you intend, then slow down and reduce the pressure so you can get it right. Otherwise, you may develop bad habits that are hard to undo. This is why you should give your mind a better chance of getting it right by working hard on coordination at first. Don’t obsess over the tiny details, but make sure you can repeatedly perform the movement correctly on command at full or near full speed before you focus on reaction training.

Even after you have started reaction training, you should continue to improve your coordination. The better coordinated you are with the specific movements you are training, the faster you can perform them. Because of this, it is best to continue to practice your techniques again in future sessions to maintain and improve your familiarity with the movements.

Identify the Cues for Reaction

You need to know what to look for before you can react. To develop your ability to react, you need to know what is it about your opponent’s movement or situation that will cue you to the proper response. Design your reaction drills so that the cues are clear and you know exactly what the response should be. For example:

One drill may require you to recognize a particular angle of attack. Another drill may require you to recognize a specific situation, such as when your partner’s weapon is down, or he is somehow exposed.

The structure of your reaction training drills should make this very objective. Set up your drills so that you can focus on recognizing the cues, not exploring new movements or pondering theories. This clear structure will speed up the learning process.

Once you know the proper cue or situation that you need to recognize, you can then focus on the tells that help you recognize it quicker. You must know what it is you are looking for, and you will have more success if you can recognize it quickly. To do this, refine your ability to recognize telegraphing movements that your partners present when they are preparing or just beginning to deliver an attack. These telegraphing movements, also known as tells, can range from changes of expression, movement of the eyes, shifts in balance, footwork, positioning, posture, etc. that present before the actual technique or movement that will cue you is performed.

When you improve at recognizing these details, you will recognize the cues and telegraphing movements earlier. When you can recognize them earlier, you will have more time to process what is happening and more time to respond.

Increase the Challenge

Gradually increase the level of challenge in the reaction drills as you improve. You want to find a balance so that you are reaching above your current skill level, but still getting it right 65 to 85 percent of the time. As you improve, the level of challenge is increased to match your performance. Your performance will still fall into the sweet spot of the percentage mentioned above, but you will be doing the drill with more challenging. The gradual increase will allow you to progress successfully and progress further.

Ride a wave of improvement as far as you can, rather than crash hard and struggle to get your technique right, even once. Use this gradual, progressive approach to adding challenge so that you can continually develop. There is a place for trying the impossible, but in most of your training, focus on what gets you the right results. Use the gradual approach.

Increase the challenge in your reaction drills by modifying the following:

Increase the speed of the attacks / cues. This will reduce the amount of time available to recognize the cue. It will train the student to process the information and act more quickly. This is likely the first adjustment you should include when adding challenge to a drill.

Decrease the amount of time between the attacks or cues. This will reduce the amount of time for the student to get mentally ready for the next turn. When done progressively, this will allow the student to regain his mental balance and state of readiness more quickly and keep him in a higher state of awareness.

Reduce or minimize the tells in the cue so that there is less information to recognize. When there are fewer or less obvious tells, the student will become more keen in recognizing the ones that are available. For best results, reduce them gradually, one at a time and test the results before removing another. To do this, the feeder must be aware of what tells he is presenting. This may include manipulating things like looking at the intended target, leaning or stepping to the side, raising the elbow, loading the shoulder, etc.

Increase the number of variables or cues in the drill. If the student must make a decision that involves selecting the appropriate response, he will need to process more than one if / then sequence. This process takes time and practice. Usually, it is best not to include more than 3 variables at a time when first working on reaction skills.

Above are just a few options that will help you improve reaction time and performance by adding more challenge and pressure to your training. Adjust one option at a time and wait to see progress before combining them together.

Avoid introducing faking movements into reaction drills until a baseline of proficiency has already been developed. Though the end goal is to be able to operate under constantly changing, chaotic conditions, the programming of skill requires an organized process that starts simple. Once you are good at recognizing and reacting to the cues, then the added pressure and challenge of faking movements can be included.

Don’t expect to transition cleanly from your slow coordinated practice to reacting smoothly within fast-paced reaction drills. Your skills will break down initially when you are under pressure. However, they will improve through practice under pressure. This is a normal part of the process. Don’t let it discourage you.


Training for reaction requires a structured and progressive approach. 
Developing sound coordination and a good understanding of the cues and proper responses involved are prerequisites for reaction training. From there, success is all about the training method.

By gradually adding pressure that allows you to reach just a little above your current skill level, you will make progress quickly, and you will continue to see improvement. Going too fast and too hard can lead to sloppy results and bad habits. We cannot rely on a huge leap of faith to get us from basic drills to live application in just one step. A sink or swim approach of going from 0 to 100 MPH and expecting our skills to keep up is unreasonable.

Ultimately the goal is to use drills to bridge our skills up to the level required for application. Drills are tools that should be used to move you towards using technique that will translate to application in a live situation, not just something that will give you a win in the drill format alone. Adjust your training drills to support this point, and you will see useful results. Breathe life into your drills and get some good work done.