Coach’s Corner: A Brief History of Timing

Every Monday Coach Barry sends out a mail on training. There are hints, tips, and often videos and training ideas.

You can subscribe to these mails by clicking here. Here’s today’s:



Good afternoon,

Look this is a long mail, I make no apologies. It’s about skill development. It’s good stuff, but if you’re just looking to train tonight for the first time, scroll to the end all the info is in the last paragraph.

Let’s talk about training today and specifically modes of training.

When I was starting out, everything was structured around preset moves. Punch follows kick, then block etc etc etc. Same way every single time. Most of this was formulated in to patterns or what some people know as Kata. These are the “dances” of preset movements you might have seen performed in martial arts classes. The idea, originally, was that these were a memory aid to the movements, and were methods of training masses of people at one time. They then became an art unto themselves and there even Kata/patterns competitions. I have a few medals from those in my Taekwondo days.

These were often my least favourite things to train. I preferred to be hitting pads and bags, or sparring. I loved sparring.

In BJJ and MMA, there are no “patterns”, but we do have set techniques. A sweep or a takedown has centuries of discovery behind it, and besides a few of the more modern Jiu Jitsu guard positions, the armlock technique you learn this evening is probably not all that different from one that a novice learned in the 1800s. There are only so many ways to use the human body, and today’s martial artists stand on the shoulders of giants.

But we do now know more about the science of human learning, and it’s vitally important to keep up to date with the developments in coaching. Now look, not much is new. 90% of what I do in class is going to be the same as what someone would have done 30 years ago. But we can learn from what science tells us, and it’s pretty in keeping with common sense too.

So let’s first draw a line between developing technique (which is what I was doing when I was doing all those patterns) and developing skill (which we did very little specifics of)

Developing technique is a lot like lifting weights. You start small, and build your way up. Like lifting a weight, increasing the number of times you can perform a task successfully is vital before you make the task more difficult or the weight heavier. Slow increases and repeated, consistent, efforts lead to dem gainz in the muskles over time, and in technical progression.

Where the roads deviate lies in the fact that the weights don’t have minds of their own and don’t decide one day to stubbornly resist you or move unexpectedly. This is when we begin to talk about skills. Skills are what is required when the variables change, and the biggest variable in martial arts is your opponent. He can do whatever he damn well pleases. you want to grip his arm but he pulls it away. You want to sweep his left foot but he keeps putting his right foot forward.

Now if you go straight from drilling your armlock to sparring, you’ll be very frustrated immediately. It just won’t happen the way you want it to. But if you have good coaching, then there will be a good understanding of the variables (your coach should have been there, done that with everything he’s teaching, or at least have a good knowledge of the “what ifs”) and an opportunity to test those variables in what I call Closed Circuit drills. These are sparring drills where there’s only one outcome, success or failure of a specific technique or techniques. Good coaching also means good partners who understand that you’re learning together, and not being a bastard by resisting everything you do with all their might!

In this way you develop good timing (yes the subject of the mail). Timing has many meanings. It can be the knowledge of when to stop and when to go for example. But the main way we mean timing when we talk about skills is doing something at the right time for success. This can be seeing an opportunity and seizing it, or, at a more advanced stage, doing something without even thinking about it- the so-called muscle memory effect.

The final stage is to use them against an opponent in sparring. Be forewarned. Developing any skill is hard and there were things that took me years to be able to bring into action, no matter how well I was able to do them in drilling! Some of that is confidence, some of that is patience, a lot of it is good timing.

When I talk in terms of years, I sometimes feel a bit bad. I should emphasise that there are skills you will develop as a beginner in your first few weeks! But like any craft, really good Jiu Jitsu is the product of hours upon hours of consistent practice. I know that might sound depressing if you’re only in the beginner phase, but there’s good news.

Knowing what we know about the science of skill development means that we can now dispel the notion that only talented/tough/aggressive people will prevail in martial arts. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can be further from the truth. I have the genetic gift of height, but I was never coordinated or strong. I was often last picked in football (which didn’t stop me from trying to be Maradona) and if you ask me to sprint 100m you will get a good laugh, and as a bonus you’ll be laughing for AGES because I’m very slow and always have been. But I’m a black belt in Taekwondo and BJJ. I got that way through persistence and just really enjoying it enough not to quit.

I’ve kept you long enough this afternoon! But hopefully it’s been educational! By the way if you’re looking to start tonight then remember the Beginner Course is on this evening from 7.15pm. It’s the first run of the new year. We’d love to see you there. If you haven’t signed up yet get on to Theresa now at but don’t waste any time cos I believe we’re fairly close to capacity. Nogi tonight so shorts and a tee shirt but if you sign up before this evening you’re getting a free Gi worth €100 which is decent!

Have a nice day! See you on the mat!

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