The illusion of speed – Kim Taylor, Feb 11, 2015

Added with permission from Kim Taylor Nanadan (CKF) Iaido, Rokudan (CKF) Jodo and Niten Ichi Ryu Shidoin, January 2023

As I was riding to the coffee shop (Brenda drives) I watched the driver ahead pull into the oncoming lane, partially pass the two cars in front of us, turn left into a plaza, shoot through it and turn onto the side street at about the time we were driving past that same side street.

The time saved could not be more than it would take to get out of the car at the end of the drive, even if that driver had waited for the moderate opposing line of cars he or she jumped in front of. Did I mention the sun was in the eyes of the oncoming cars and that their reaction times would have been reduced should they have seen a car going the wrong way in their lane.

The result of all this excitement, at least in the mind of the driver pulling the stunt, would be the illusion of speed.

How do we know we’re going fast? Certainly not when we’re calm. Do you feel as if you’re doing 400 miles per hour in a jet plane? Or 140 kilometers an hour on a two lane straight road with lots of other cars doing the same speed? No not really, but hit that sharp bend and suddenly you’re fighting friction and experiencing that adrenalin rush that comes with not paying attention until you’re in trouble.

There’s the speed we feel, which is often illusion, and real speed, which is getting from point a to point b “faster than”. Speed is always relative, we’re traveling at some science-newsie-superlative even when we’re standing still because the earth is speeding along.

Go to an amusement park and we may thing we’re going really fast on a ride but what we’re doing is going at relatively slow speeds around a tight corner, or dropping with an acceleration close to that of gravity so that our stomachs go flutter flutter. An illusion created in brains that evolved to deal with the speed of walking or of boulders falling on our heads from cliffs.

We drive on a multi-lane highway and change lanes a lot trying to get into the one that is going fast, this creates a dangerous situation which bumps our adrenalin levels and makes us pay a little more attention to the environment giving us the illusion of speed. Is it real? Pay a bit more attention to the slow trucks around you, are you really “going faster” by lane jumping? How much faster? Is twenty feet from behind to in front a real thing or the illusion of getting somewhere?

Be a scientist and test this, drive like your usual maniacal self one day and time your trip to work. Now the next time drive in one lane only, pick any lane, and go with the flow, keep a safe distance, let people merge, do all the horrible time wasting things that you usually avoid doing. Now check the time it takes to get to work. Do this on alternate days for a month and see if there’s any time difference between methods of driving as opposed to the variations between days of same style driving.

Roaring from one red light to the next through town is another interesting way to speed. The whiplash of your little stoplight sportscar (you know, those little commuter cars with loud mufflers and an effectless spoiler) may give you the impression of speed but are you going any faster than the delivery van that keeps blowing through the intersection while you’re mashing the accelerator at the green light?

How do we know we’re going fast in budo? Well we smack him before he smacks us right? So how come we kids, with all our fast twitch muscles can’t hit the old 8dan guy? He shuffles and pokes along in the hallway to the dojo but manages to get his hits in before we do every time we fight him.

Perhaps we have the illusion of speed while he has real speed. We bunch our muscles and wind up and huff and puff and explode into a strike. He just lifts his sword and lets it drop on our heads.


He’s learned to get out of his own way, he doesn’t wind up, he doesn’t tighten his muscles, and he doesn’t waste time thinking about strategy. We twitch, he sees an opening after he’s hit it. Yes I said after, he doesn’t see the opening then think “there’s an opening” and start to swing. He hits the target and then thinks “maybe I should tell that kid that there was a great big opening there…. oh wait, he probably knows because I hit him”.

Calm down, pay more attention to what’s happening around you, stop trying to go fast by getting in your own way. Slow down and go faster.

Kim Taylor

Feb 11, 2015

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