Building True Self Defense Power – Train Slower To Move Faster

During the day working in lower Manhattan, a common sight in the early morning hours is people performing Tai Chi near City Hall. Their slow, graceful, effortless movements, their deep roots and continuous flow are hypnotic. Most people looking on (including many martial artists) have no idea that the essence of developing the type of explosive power that martial artists desire is in fact based on the type of slow movement found in virtually all internal systems of fighting.

The question, “Why do I need to move slower to get faster?” is a common one and is something that once understood will add a level of power and speed to your abilities beyond anything that you can imagine.

In this newsletter I’m going to delve into the importance of training extremely slowly then gradually building up to Contact Flow and other free-form internal movement exercises at full speed. Some of this information may seem technical and can therefore be very dry so you may want to get a cup of coffee before you continue reading.

It is a given that in a real fight for your life, any motion or action you undertake that is not automatic will not work in a real confrontation. With that said, the subject that I’m going to cover in this newsletter is perhaps one of the more perplexing concepts that we teach within the internal art of Guided Chaos. In order to fight, you must be able to move with supernatural speed. In order to develop this ability you must start off extremely slow, ensuring that every fiber of your being is moving as one. As your Body Unity improves you’ll want to move faster and faster up to full speed, remaining relaxed throughout. As your timing and muscular control develop (along with balance, sensitivity, body unity and looseness) your striking will become more efficient as well as powerful.

Why People Speed Up

Let’s face it: when moving slowly with a training partner, you can easily counter the other person’s movements if you suddenly speed up. If in reality, you were already five to ten times as fast as a normal human being then you wouldn’t need anyone’s fighting system because you’d be Superman. The real challenge is in finding and defending openings while consistently moving slowly–and that is a tremendous source of growth in your spontaneity training.

People speed up mostly due to ego, so no matter how slow you tell them to move, they just cannot resist trying to “win.” This throws off not only their timing, but their body unity as well, since generally when people speed up it is just their arms that go faster. They become disconnected from their root so their strikes lack power.

The other reason people speed up is that they intuitively feel their bodies are out of position to strike effectively. As a result, they try to “catch up” by moving their arms faster, rather than aligning their bodies to a better position. For those who regularly attend our classes they have often heard me discuss that it is not so much a matter of speed but body positioning. It’s just like playing tennis with a good tennis player: they don’t run, they make you run! They play position and cut off angles, make you play beyond your “Sphere of Influence” (a critical self defense concept). When you’re close to the net, they knock it over your head just inside of the back line. When you’re far from the net they “chip” the ball just over the net and make you sprint to return their serve. If you’re to the far left they hit the ball to the near right and so on… The same applies in self defense when you have superior Body Unity.

Haste Makes Waste, Slow Harmonizes and Refines

“Danger, Danger Will Robinson…” –The Robot, Lost In Space

You can always tell when people are not moving in a unitized manner because their arms begin to flail like the Robot from Lost In Space. Their movements lack power because their bodies are not connected, and because they are not unitized they are unable to accelerate and are limited to arm strength. This disconnect is the main reason most people can’t avoid the initial onrush of an attack. They can’t link up their arms with their feet and step and hit with unitized power under duress.

This is the direct result of a lack combat–specific balance training. Many martial arts systems have incorrectly theorized that controlled movement training in the forms of katas will correct this inadequacy. They attempt to “structure” the fight. Their fatal error is that these patterned movements do not take into account the randomness and utter chaos of a real bloodbath, and as a result they train for a reality of fighting that does not exist. Their movements fail because they attempt to move in a manner which is inconsistent with all known laws of physics (unless you’re from Krypton).

I know it’s hard for some to believe but the fact remains that in order to move with lightning speed and power, one must be able to move with a unitized body. The only way to achieve this in short order is by moving extremely slowly in free-form, non-patterned contact flow in the beginning and then gradually increasing your speed. By moving your body in a unitized manner it ensures that not only are you able to strike with power but you are able to maintain the full range of motion with your arms and legs, preventing you from getting over extended or over committed and fighting within your Sphere of Influence.

While body types may vary the one thing that remains constant is that every person’s arms and legs are just long enough for them to protect their bodies. Your sphere of influence extends from the center of your body to as far as you can strike with your arms and legs with power in every direction. There are some who call this sphere your “personal comfort zone” or “zone of influence.” We prefer the concept of a sphere since the fight can truly come from any angle possible, therefore you need to be able to fight in any direction from virtually any position (even from the ground).

Bring the Whole House

When you move you want to bring the whole package and not just your arms and legs. Move from your center of gravity, align your body and strike from your center outward. Using the principles of balance, looseness and sensitivity culminate in what we call Body Unity or “grace.” Again, this can be accomplished by first moving slowly, then gradually picking up the speed. Control your center of gravity as you either step or transfer your body from one root point to the next. This body transference must be smooth and even.

This quality is the culmination of your timing and muscular control ,along with balance, sensitivity, body unity and looseness. If developed, it allows you to move as little as necessary in order to strike with maximum and lethal power from anywhere to anywhere. When performing the free-form Contact Flow exercises, the continuous movement forces you to become totally immersed in the movement. Through total immersion training, the body begins to work on autopilot even if the cognitive side of the brain cannot fathom what is going on. This idea falls in line with the Zen Warrior Monk concept of “Mushin” in which you become totally immersed so that your subconscious mind can learn.

The Sixth Sense

I’m not talking here about “seeing dead people.” What I am talking about is using the senses that you already have. For levitation, Yogic flying or talking with spirits, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Bruce Lee once stated that you want to train all of your senses to the point where they “trip” over into having sort of a “sixth sense,” or words to that effect. Either through training or astute observation, Bruce Lee had it right. The only flaw I find in his theory was the methodology he used to get there. To be fair, Bruce Lee was a rare exceptional talent and philosophically speaking, we agree on many points of martial training. If you read the first 30 pages of “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do” it’s sense development in a nutshell. However, when you delve into the “how to” aspects, the rest of the book is lacking because it still relies on many of the same techniques that only work for the most physically gifted fighters.

How Does It Work?

Moving slowly, allowing your sensitivity to drive your actions, you will learn to stay several steps ahead of the other person. You will learn how to defeat another person’s movement even before they have a chance to strike. This is combat efficiency. Training in this fashion is referred to as “neural training” and must be progressive in nature to be of any value. As muscle and tendon fibers are stimulated and broken down, the nerves connected to them become stimulated and shock your system. This triggers the neural/muscular anatomy to develop new neural connections with the brain to develop greater speed, strength, coordination and finesse. By continually confusing the muscles you never plateau in your development.

Proprioception: The Real Sixth Sense

Proprioception: [n] The ability to sense the position, location, orientation and movement of the body and its parts.

Is it merely our sense of touch that allows us to distinguish objects based on feel? Is it just our vision that allows us to interpret motion as danger? Without the interpretation of spatial relationships our senses’ input is meaningless.

Proprioception is “… the process by which the body can vary muscle contraction in immediate response to incoming information regarding external forces.” Regardless of fighting system, enhanced proprioception is essential for dealing with the chaos of real violence.

If the conscious mind (which can only focus on a few aspects at once) had to be responsible for all of the input from all the different muscles, the confusion would be overwhelming. Thinking takes time, whereas the unconscious nervous system responds immediately through hard wired processes.

Proprioception also permits multi-tasking. The more it is trained, the more simultaneously you can mount attacks and defenses. Proprioception provides you with:

1. A sense of position

For example, we can ‘feel’ where our feet are in relation to our arms when striking.

2. A sense of movement

We can accurately feel the speed and direction of the movement of our limbs. This allows us to co-ordinate our limbs in relation to our bodies and sense of balance while we are moving.

3. A sense of force

The amount of effort a muscle needs to produce an accurate movement, which is particularly important when flowing, sticking, pulsing, bouncing people or dropping into strikes.

Below are some other key terms related to Proprioception:


[Perception is what in truth drives your sensitivity since it places the stimuli you feel into context. This is more mental than it is physical and therefore one must not limit their responses solely on what they can physically feel but what they “mentally perceive” is going on.]


[n] The ability to know where your body parts are in 3-dimensional space

[This is influenced by your sensitivity and your ability to control your body in relation to your opponent based on what you feel in three- dimensional space]


1. [n] The ability to respond to affective changes in your interpersonal environment

2. [n] The ability to respond to physical stimuli or to register small physical amounts or differences

3. [n] Physiological responsiveness to external stimuli

[It is your sensitivity, kinesthetic awareness and spatial awareness which drive all of the other principles and allows you to develop your proprioception to the nth degree. This is the catalyst for all body unity.]


1. [n] Equality of distribution

2. [n] Stable situation in which forces cancel one another

[This relates directly to your ability to root or balance but it goes much deeper than that since you want to develop a root that no one can find. In turn, by developing greater control of your equilibrium, you are able to hide your root and thus control theirs. Controlling balance, equilibrium and sensitivity is both a mental and physical process.]

The Importance of Body Unity and Footwork Drills

Believe it or not, sprained ankles and other injuries common to highly trained athletes often have nothing to do with strength or flexibility. Rarely do they have anything to do with endurance. More often than not, sprains and strains have to do with poor balance or poor proprioceptive balance and body unity / foot alignment. From tennis to rock climbing to fighting, changing your center of gravity and properly lining up your body is the key to efficiency in any physical activity. The technical term is “agility.” Agility is what allows us to move gracefully, wasting little motion. It allows our joints to move through the full range of motion smoothly and confidently.

In Tai Chi (and our art of Guided Chaos) this is what is referred to as “Threading the Nine Pearl Gates”. By properly aligning your joints you are able to move with greater efficiency, power and speed and, if necessary, change direction with power and speed at the drop of a hat.

The Guided Chaos balance training comes in a variety of forms. For example, we can train our bodies to improve proprioception by creating balance challenges, forcing our muscles to make subtle changes in our feet, legs and body position to accommodate our balance. This allows us to work on the stabilizing muscles in ways that they are not normally developed. A good example of this is working on wobble boards which constantly throw off your center of gravity. You are forced to develop new neural connections which serve to further increase your ability to control your equilibrium. This gain in balance allows you to gracefully step to a new root point, allowing you to strike instantly with power from virtually any position.

Talk Through, Walk Through, Run Through

We do so many things best if performed without thought. For example, the harder a driver focuses on what their muscles are doing as they drive, the choppier their movements, and the worse the driving will be. This is also why patterned fighting movements are doomed to failure. Please re-read what I just said because it is the essence of why fighting systems which have little to no free-form play fail in reality.

As you ingrain the habits of spontaneous, body-unitized movement into your solo free-form drills (Washing the Body and Polishing the Sphere) as well as your partner contact flow training, you can begin to increase the speed. When performing two person practice, care should be given to avoid the face and neck since the strikes are inherently dangerous and potentially lethal. It should also be agreed upon by both participants when you will pick up speed and for how long. It is important that you both remain at the same agreed upon speed and energy level so as to not develop an unnatural perception of timing and cheat your development.


I believe that proprioception truly is the “Sixth Sense” with regard to self-defense. The development of our proprioceptive responses via working the principles of Guided Chaos, tai chi and other internal arts is truly the “Holy Grail” for motor coordination development. Through dedication and hard work one can easily develop a level of coordination, grace, finesse and striking power that is clearly off the charts.

Something that in a fight for your life you can never have too much of…

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