Here is a good question: How much time do you spend during your combat training working on your reflexes? I am guessing if I polled this question, I would get a number somewhere between 0 and 5 minutes. Now I am sure a lot of you are saying “But during my training I am constantly having to react to situations and targets, so in that sense my reflexes are being tested”. My answer to this would be Yes, they are being TESTED, but they are not being ISOLATED and CONDITIONED on their own. After all, quick reflexes could make the difference between life and death!
So in designing a set of exercises to sharpen our reflexes, we need to first understand what SENSES are used to send the signal to our brain that tells us to act or react to a stimuli (reflex). Without a doubt, the primary sense used for quick reflexes is good EYESIGHT.
It goes without saying that to be a good shooter, you need to have decent eyes, but beyond that, you need to regularly exercise your eyes not only to track that front sight, but also to react to threats in a dynamic way. Some good starter eye exercises can be found HERE.
Moving on, the next thing we need to look at is our PERIPHERAL VISION. Without a doubt, this is one of the most important skills the CO needs to sharpen since in essence, it aids in staying aware of your complete surroundings. In reality, you are not really sharpening this sense as much as you are “re-awakening” it. Remember, our ancient ancestors HAD to have this sense sharp at all times because most everything around them was trying to kill and eat them, and most predators like to either flank or rear attack. Also, your peripheral vision goes into your brain 25 percent faster than your central vision [what you use to read the eye chart]. About 20 percent of your peripheral nerves aid your ability to remain balanced. To understand how much your peripheral nerves impact your balance, try standing on one foot with your eyes open, then with your eyes closed. You will feel a big difference! An added and often overlooked bonus to improving your peripherals is it also helps improve your night vision..more on this later.
Here is a simple exercise I have used for a while to sharpen my peripheral vision:
1. Sticks and Straw
You will need a straw and two toothpicks for this exercise.
- Draw a black line around the center circumference of the straw
- Stand one to two feet in front of the straw, which is being held horizontally by partner
- Focusing on the black line, hold a toothpick in each hand and attempt to place them into the ends of the straw
Try to notice the ends of the straw with your side vision first. Again, relax your vision and be aware of the ends of the straw while looking at the center.
- If this exercise is too difficult at first, make the straw shorter
- Once you master this exercise, make the straw longer by taping two straws together
OK, now that we have exercised our eyes, let’s move on to some total body reflex exercises. Since there are thousands of these types of exercises out there, I will give you 3 of my favorites. Each one covers a distinct skill set, ie, footwork, hand/eye coordination, mental acuity and overall quickness.
1. Reaction Balls
A good friend helped me discover these crazy things..at first glance I thought to myself ‘What is this Mickey Mouse looking stuff?” But I soon discovered with the right exercises, these funny looking things are deceptive and will improve your reflexes and reaction times ten fold!
- Partner Catch- A Partner stands 15-20 ft away and bounces the ball at you..you react and catch with one or two hands.
- Drop & Catch – Drop the ball starting from around waist height, let it bounce once then catch it. Gradually increase the height as you improve.
- Ball Toss – From a split stance (a runner’s stance), throw the ball high up (10 ft or better) allow the ball to bounce once and then try to catch it.
- Wall Toss – Stand about 8-10 feet away from a solid wall. Throw the ball underhand against the wall, let it bounce once and then try to catch it using either one or both hands.
2. Elastic Head Ball
Used by Boxers and MMA Fighters alike, this excellent cross-training exercise will get your hand/eye coordination RAZOR Sharp! In addition, you can work on different types of empty hand strikes.
3. Linear Footwork Drills
I use an old football drill for this one, but you can do any variation as long as the main goal is accomplished: Get quick feet!
I typically do this as a warm-up for classes to get the blood flowing.
Have a partner space out 15 yards from you, as he hold out his arm to a direction, either left, right, forward or up (for backwards) you as quickly as possible, explode off the X in that direction with either a Pekiti or Russian Take off and go 10 yards or so. If moving laterally, shuffle-step, (plant either left or right foot and shuffle the other) this avoids getting your feet crossed up. When moving backwards and forwards, be sure to pay attention to your arm movement..tuck your elbows in and really swing those arms to get momentum. Have your partner gradually increase the pace until you are good and warmed up.
As a dovetail follow up, you can move right into “Get off the X” Drills with pistol and rifle, remembering your footwork fundamentals.
Stay Quick & Stay Dangerous!