If you’ve seen enough martial arts movies, particularly kung fu movies, you will notice that the writers/directors like to show the most skilled characters casually catch a falling cup from a table, snag a flying dart out of the air or quickly catch a punch with their open hand that was flying toward their head. Many times, the skills displayed are exaggerated, but sometimes what they show are very real. This skill is generally given the term of “reflex action” or more simply “reflexes” (although not the dictionary’s definition of reflexes). While catching a falling utencil out of the air is not something we train for at our school, many will find heightened reflexes a nice by-product of kung fu training.
Reflexes, in the martial arts nomenclature, are, among other things, the ability to react very quickly to a stimulus such as fists speeding at your chest, feet flying at your gut, elbows rushing to your head. That being the case, sparring at the school is the ultimate developer of quick reflexes as your desire to avoid getting hit/swept/thrown outweighs slow thinking and slow action. It demands awareness of what is going on around you and your surroundings as well as instantaneous reaction to an action. There is definitely no daydreaming during sparring. Partner forms such as dui wushu and spear vs. sword and the training of san shou also develop the students reflexes. Peripheral vision, sense of touch and sound, even a sort of sixth sense all come into play during those exercises and most all of the training, which is why martial artist’s reflexes are at a higher level than most.
Without awareness and concentration of your environment, there is no way to utilize and exhibit martial skill. However, if you are aware of something that is happening quickly, you must respond quickly and with exactness. If your opponent feints an attack to your head so that he/she can take out their primary target – your knee, for example – you must both see and feel the attackers intention and react appropriately. If you’re outside of the school and something doesn’t seem right, trust your instincts and be prepared to react quickly to what might come. Awareness of your surroundings is the first step to developed reflexes. The more you train, the more heightened your awareness. The more your train, the faster and more coordinated your reaction to an action will be.
So don’t be surprised when you open the refrigerator and catch that falling container before it spills on the floor… it’s just one more benefit of your kung fu training. If it falls to the floor, there’s only one answer, clean up the mess and train more.