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Improve Your Hand Speed & Timing
By Pete Kautz
Whacka-ta-tacka-ta, whacka-ta-tacka-ta, whacka-ta-tacka-ta...
Ah, the hypnotic song of the speed bag! The distinct rhythmical sound of the bag rebounding with each cleanly placed consecutive strike.
To hear it instantly transports the listener to the realm of the boxer. In movies or TV it's almost a shorthand for "the sound of the gym".
While the speed bag's pugilistic cousins the heavy bag and the focus mitts both have been adopted by the general martial arts community, the speed bag is not as widely seen in in schools. Of all the schools I visit, maybe 1 in 5 has a speed bag if that many.
When there is one, unless it's specifically a boxing gym there's usually not a long line of people waiting to use it. Kind of like the chin up bar. (There's an old joke that the chin up bar is the item in the gym in the best condition since it seldom gets used.)
It's too bad, because the speed bag is a great device to help you accelerate your hand speed & sharpen your timing for unarmed fighting or weapon arts.
So, why is the speed bag underutilized? For at least two big reasons I can think off off the top of my head.
The first is a general perception that it doesn't offer a lot to the martial artist. I say perception because most people have never actually taken the time to learn how to work the speed bag. They just saw some flashy thing with one in a movie and decided it wasn't for them.
Like most things you see in movies, however, that basic back-knuckle roll that is so identified with the speed bag isn't the limit of the bag's potential. That's like thinking the heavy bag is limited to practicing only side-kicks on!
The second reason I think they don't get as much use as the heavy bag is that they take more time to get used to working with. The heavy bag is pretty obvious - you hit it. But the speed bag requires a whole different level of skill in terms of delivering clean lines on your hits and timing the blows to meet the bag as it moves forward on the rebound.
In the animal world, I think of the heavy bag and speed bag like dogs and cats.
The heavy bag is a dog kind of toy. You knock hell out of it. It's very direct. It's very much the same every time and that's what you love about it. Consistency.
The speed bag is more cat like. It moves fast and at funny angles and in ways you don't expect. You are always having to balance between being on one hand mentally ahead of the bag where you're setting up your shots and on the other hand playing catch-up when the bag does something you had not intended and you must purely react.
1) Get the basics - Speed bag skills are easily acquired in just a few hours of dedicated training if you have a good resource to learn from. Next to doing it hands-on, the next best is DVD. Here I like Jim Keating's Panantukan Knife Boxing because it shows not only the basics with hands and elbows and trapping but also how to apply everything with weapons, so you can build a cross-style training approach from the start. That way no matter if you're coming from a empty hand or a weapon based system you can integrate the material.
2) Learn to do the simplest thing right - Spend time when you first start learning to just throw a straight punch (Chinese Fist) with your best hand. Then learn to do it with the other. Then get a 1-2 starting with either hand. Then alternate hands. It might not sound like much but don't try to skip this step if you're new to working the speed bag. Crawl before you walk before you run...follow a natural progression.
3) Work martial arts hand techniques - Don't limit yourself to boxing punches. Learn to use all your chops, back knuckles, elbows, palms, and so on. One of my favorites on the speed bag is the explosive, non-telegraphic finger jab. As opposed to doing finger techniques on the heavy bag where you have to pull the strike or break your fingers, the speed bag allows for delivering hard, precise strikes.
4) Move your pins - Keep active with your footwork as you hit the speed bag. Don't limit yourself to standing in one place. You'd probably never do that in a fight so don't do it here. Side to side circular and triangle stepping is the name of the game.
5) Close the gap - Don't start off by standing in range to hit the speed bag, but just outside it. Work closing the gap and moving out on each strike. This will develop your push off in the closing and escaping motions as well as your direct, non-telegraphic delivery of the strike.
6) Don't look - Watch the speed bag with only your peripheral vision. Look down or off to the side. You will catch faster motions out of the corner of the eye and learn to hit them without the central focused vision.
7) Stare intently - The opposite of not looking, here the idea is to learn to not blink when something is moving towards your face. I find this works best when done at very close range where there is the chance you'll get smacked with the bag if you don't employ body motion. Otherwise, if you know there's no chance even remotely that you could be hit there is not the psychological pressure in having to keep your eyes open.
If you've never tried working the speed bag before, let me tell you - you're in for a treat! If you've got a dusty one sitting in the corner, why not try some of these ideas next time you work out.
All the very best,
Panantukan Knife Boxing
(Use Of The Speed Bag)