Last night I finished my Swetnam article. Part of the article concerns his principal rules, namely: maintain a good guard, understanding of distance, understanding place, “to take the time”, “keeping the space”, and practice.
I wrote in my article:
“To take the time”, the fourth rule, dictates that a fighter should take care to strike his opponent the moment his is given an opportunity to do so. He must take care to both defend himself and attack his enemy in the same time. He also must take care to attack quickly and not allow his opponent to regain his guard or else he will lose his advantage.  If a fighter does not take care to defend himself when he attacks his opponent then he runs the risk of leaving himself vulnerable to a counter attack and places himself at a disadvantage to his opponent. Similarly, if he does not take care to attack and defend in the same time but takes multiple times to complete these movements he also leaves himself open to a counter attack by his opponent.
This advice seems simple on the surface but it touches on a crucial and often difficult concept. Timing. But what really is timing? It’s such a crucial concept to fighting and yet it’s one of the most nebulous and difficult to really understand. Distance is easier. You can measure distance. You can measure your range. But timing is more difficult and refers to many parts of the bout. Timing refers to the rhythm of the fight and to the rhythm of each individual fighter. It refers to the speed of attacks and parries and it refers to the rhythm of the fighters’ footwork. It can also be used as a verb: to time your opponent. When you time you opponent you gather enough information about their rhythm that you can predict and exploit the timing of their attacks and the speed of their fighting.
In a way developing an understanding of time is like developing and understanding of music. You can read the rhythm of the piece. It is written out for you and measured out on paper. But you don’t truly begin to feel the rhythm until the pieces is played. Similarly, you can gain a wealth of information from watching a fight but you don’t truly begin to feel the rhythm of the bout or the timing of your opponent until you are actually fighting. You feel the rhythm of the dance between fighters. The beat of the bout waxes and wanes as the two fighters compete to gain control of it, to find and create weaknesses in each other.
Understanding timing is about understanding that rhythm. It’s about understanding distance relative to time. Yes, it can be nebulous and often it’s hard to verbalize but when you do understand it everything else begins to seem much simpler.
Swetnam, Noble Science, p.83