Much of what is used to train younger students focus on the “entertainment” value. Training reaction timing can be very entertaining. One of my favorites is using balloons or beach balls. Blow up a bunch of balloons or beach balls and have the students try to use their punches and kicks to keep them in the air. Make sure you have ample space between each student and let them roam wherever the balls or balloons take them. If you want to make it even more challenging, turn on a fan or anything which will blow them in different directions.
For older students, the idea of kicking or punching a balloons or beach balls may seem childish, thus it’s possible to modify the exercise by using things like scarves. Magicians have a great trick where they try to maintain a series of scarves in the air in a juggling exercise. This can be translated onto the Martial Arts floor. Take the students and form a circle. Using offensive and defensive techniques, try to keep the scarves moving around the circle to another person (a version of hot potato).
Another idea of beginner students where the class size may be smaller is the use of “reaction balls”. Reaction balls are generally used in various sports, such as baseball or basketball, to train players on how to recover from odd bounces. While not specific to Martial Arts in use, this can be an ideal way to practice reaction times with limited participants. This can even be practiced when only one person is involved by utilizing a wall to bounce the ball off of.
When students are comfortable in facing one another and being able to do so in a controlled and safe manner, reaction training can advance into actual face-to-face combat.
One simple drill is to have two combatants facing each other. The attacker will initiate a tap. The more skilled the participants, the more variety of taps one can use. However, to start with, simply isolate the attack to a single region of the body, such as the top of the head. The defender must react to the movement and block.
As the participants increase their skill, vary the attack as well as decrease the proximity of the combatants. The closer the opponent, the less time there is to react and the quicker the reaction time must be.
Be careful not to fall into a pattern or rhythm with the attacks as it become too easy to predict when the next attack will come. The best way to overcome this is to change partners and positions frequently and keep everyone on their toes.
Training reaction times is a key to advancing a student’s skills in Martial Arts. It can begin at any level and any age. But most of all, it is a lot of fun to train this very important skill!