Reaction Time 101

The faster we can counter attack, the safer we become. This very basic knowledge is in essence the core of every reality based system. Everyone system is trying to shorten the reaction gap. Two major principals are applied to explain how this works and why we do it. The first is the OODA loop that maps how we make choices and react. If you want more info on this please go back to my article titled “NSI newsletter article”. The second is the Hick- Hyman law or Hick’s law for short. As a refresher Hick’s law states that the more options a person has to a stimulus the longer it takes to cycle through those options and react. Hick’s law, originally based on a computer study done in  1952, is still valid and used far and wide by many high level coaches but the research has made some pretty big leaps since the 50′s. So please consider this your update.

First let’s start where the stimulus is processed,  the brain. Of our five major senses three primarily come into play in combat. Sight, touch and hearing are our major stimulus delivery systems when being attacked. By far of these three senses sight is the slowest response time. In the most recent studies for a simple response; sight reaction clocks in at 190-200 milliseconds (ms),Touch takes second at about 140-150ms, and sound is the fastest at 80-100ms. You can see this all apply when a car backfires in a bad neighborhood, people drop their head throw up their hands and then they look around. This is also why most law enforcement, whether they know it or not like to have their hands on people as they are escorting them, it gives them a quicker reaction to sudden movement by using touch over sight.
Now that we understand how quickly we process sensory info let’s add to it with the  model of the great Bruce Lee (and the OODA loop principal). In this we  have two speeds; perceptional speed(OO), as I described above and reactionary speed (DA). To use a working example if you have ever played baseball swung and knew you were going to miss, that is perceptual speed versus reactionary speed. You saw the ball and swung incorrectly but your reactionary speed was not quick enough to do anything about it.
With that in mind lets jump back to Hick’s law and apply it to reactionary speed and reality based training . We see that having one response for an attack is clearly quicker than having multiple responses for an attack.  Though we have  taken this idea one step further. We now have a automatic or “flinch” type training that responds to multiple attacks with one response. Pretty much every reality based system worth anything has an instant response to a sudden attack. At KPC you have seen it in our intercepting entry and we are not even close to the only system that has a response like this. Hick’s law though the reason that we have developed an instant response does not explain what our body should be doing  when it reacts. Lets expand on Hick’s law with some newer research. When it comes to reaction time we have four basic options that happen with the information we have.
1. Simple reaction time (SRT): one option
2.Choice reaction time (CRT): multiple options
3.Recognition reaction time (RRT) multiple options including not to respond
4.Discriminatory reaction time (DRT) multiple options with multiple stimulus
For the purpose of this article we will only be dealing with the first two options. Hick’s law was founded in CRT. It states the more options the more time it takes, and this is true according to a study done on drivers each new option presented adds about 100-200ms to your response time. What needs to be said is that the point of training an instant response is that we are moving out of CRT which on average takes about 370ms at its base (2-4 choices)
to a simple reaction which is on average about 190ms. Why does this apply and why is training an instant reaction so important? It is so needed because stabbing, and punching are simple reactions and simple reactions are twice as fast as choice. Why are streets fights faster than sparring? Cause in sparring I am gauging you and making choices, CRT, in an attack it is usualy repetitive movement, a simple reaction. Why is almost every doorman hit at least once before they restrain the patron? Because they are making choices and responding while the other guy is just activating simple movement the same applies to stabbings. So if you have too many variants to chose from you will be reacting at roughly half the speed of the aggressor.
We know that action always beats reaction thanks to the OODA loop and we now know that using choice based response time takes twice a long as simple response. In short, you  NEED to have an instant response, whatever that may be in your system, to dramatically increase your response time. Without it you are going to be eating at least one solid strike or stab at best  before you can move forward and do what you need to. Training that movement pattern will improve your reaction times to faster than listed here which gives you the advantage against their initial attack. So work your intercepting entry  people, that s$%t works!

Leave A Comment