Increasing Speed and Power

The startle reflex is your natural response to sudden noise or pain. Everyone has it, and I'm going to give you four steps to change your startle reflex into an effective defense technique I call the "converted startle."

Photo: Daniel AbidinPhoto: Daniel Abidin

The first time I used a converted startle reflex was to defend my 3-year-old daughter from an animal that took a swipe at her. Without hesitation, I tapped the animal with my fingertips, making it tumble and run away. The converted startle reflex enabled me to respond quickly enough to prevent the animal from touching her.

The startle reflex is your natural response to sudden noise or pain. Everyone has it, and I'm going to give you four steps to change your startle reflex into an effective defense technique I call the "converted startle."


These four steps will help you execute a universal move to increase your speed and power for all self-defense moves such as strikes, kicks, and even weapon draws. You can use the mnemonic F.A.S.T. to help you memorize them. It stands for:

  1. Forced Blink/Head Snap
  2. Arms Move/Convert Startle
  3. Stomach Crunch
  4. Tramp Foot

Practice F.A.S.T. until you can perform all four steps as one move. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. (Once you memorize the F.A.S.T. move, you can also use it even if you are sitting or lying down.)

F.A.S.T. will give you more than just increased speed and power. F.A.S.T. will also:

  • Improve your reaction time.
  • Help you to respond without flinching.
  • Enable you to end the fight with one strike.

In a normal startle reflex, you'll blink your eyes, raise your arms, bend your knees, and lean forward. This all happens as one move, without thought and without delay. These are gross motor moves and they'll become helpful in a real fight, after you learn the converted startle.

The Four Steps

Here is an explanation of the four steps for transforming your startle reflex into the converted startle. Note: As you practice these moves, begin slowly and then gradually increase until you reach maximum speed.

Forced Blink/Head Snap—Use a forced blink to trigger your move. Imagine you're suddenly attacked. Blink your eyes then rotate your head about one inch to the left. (Look at the person to see if they're a real threat.) Don't let your head stop, but make it return to where it started. Start slow, then increase it to a quick, snapping move with your head.

Notice that your head snap begins the rotation of your shoulder in the direction your arm will go. Once you learn F.A.S.T. you won't have to think before you strike out at a threat.

Arm Moves/Convert Startle—In this step, I'll start you moving your arms in a normal startled fashion, then I'll have you change your movement to improve your speed and power. Using the startle gives you the flexibility to respond at any time from any position.

Begin with your palms resting against the side of your thighs in a relaxed but ready manner. (Once you memorize it you can do this motion starting with your hands at other positions.)

There are three parts that you'll do all together. Quickly bring your arms up in front of you, bend your knees, lean forward, and stop. Then return to your starting position. Quickly do this step five times.

Next, put your palms against your thighs again. This time explosively close both of your hands as though you were grabbing something. Do this explosive grabbing 10 times. Notice that the grabbing moves your hands away from your thighs.

Now put your palms against your thighs again. Do the same explosive hand-grabbing, but this time make your hands go up in front of your armpits, bend your knees and lean forward, but this time, without hesitation, explosively return to your starting position. Do this as one move. Practice the move five times. We've added the explosive return movement so you are ready to make your next move. (In case there are multiple attackers.)

The next part includes a change. This time you'll move one of your arms toward an imagined attacker. (Use the right arm to start, but practice with the left once you've learned the whole F.A.S.T. move.)

Next, blink and snap your head and grab your thighs, bring your left hand up in front of your left armpit, and make your right open palm go directly into the attacker's chin. (Moving your hand directly avoids the telegraphic move of raising your hands up before striking.) Focus on penetrating the target three inches and quickly whip your right hand back. You will also bend your knees and lean into your strike.

The hand coming toward your armpit increases the rotational speed that started with your head snap. Using rotational speed gives you the advantage of both maximum quickness and maximum power together, once you're able to do F.A.S.T. as one move.

Keep in mind that your left hand has a shorter distance to reach your armpit, but you must make your right hand strike the attacker at almost the same time. This means that your right hand must move even more explosively than your left. (This movement sends a shockwave through your arm to deliver extreme power.)

Stomach Crunch—In this step, start from a relaxed ready position, explosively crunch your stomach to make your upper body rotate slightly left, and tilt toward the attacker. Do this step 10 times. Next, blink your eyes, snap your head, bring your left hand up, make your right open palm go into the attacker's chin, bend your knees, and lean toward the attacker using the explosive stomach crunch. Quickly return to your starting position. Practice this step 10 times. (Notice how energy is moving through your body toward the attacker for more power.)

Tramp Your Foot—Step closer to the attacker, forcefully tramping (stamping) your foot down. Keep a shoulder-width stance for better balance and a shorter reaction time for your next move.

Step toward the attacker, letting your toes skim across the ground. (This avoids the common mistake of hopping up, which slows you down.) Then tramp your foot down hard. (Notice how this moves your weight toward the attacker.) As your foot lands, your toes must be pointed at the attacker so your force goes directly into him, instead of glancing off him.

Practice this move 10 times on both sides so you're ready to respond to attackers on either side of you.

Next, blink your eyes, snap your head, move your left hand up (your right hand goes out), bend your knees, lean, crunch, and tramp your right foot down. Make your foot tramp down a split second before your open palm strikes. (This puts more power into the strike to quickly stop the attacker.)

Deliver your strike as an impulse load. In other words, after penetrating three inches, explosively pull your striking hand back, so that all your force goes into the attacker. (If you feel recoil force, you've made contact for too long. Shorten your contact time by pretending your hand has touched a hot stove and quickly whip your hand back.)

Finally, drag your other foot with you to maintain a shoulder-width position for balance and readiness for the next move. Then return to your starting position.

Practice for Performance

These four steps must be performed almost simultaneously. Keep practicing to build your speed so you'll do the entire move in the blink of an eye.

Once you memorize the four steps of F.A.S.T, they will increase the speed and power for all your self-defense moves.

Al Abidin has 35 years of self-defense experience; teaching, speaking, and writing for the law enforcement community. He has produced training DVDs that use the startle reflex. They are available at

About the Author
Page 1 of 213
Next Page