My favorite questions are those that make me think. (For the record, my least favorite questions are those that show me the person asking ISN'T thinking.) In this particular case, a student had a question about timing. Specifically, "how do I work on it?". Which is a pretty reasonable question, which I then realized was also a fairly complicated one. In trying to answer, I realized that I don't really like the vocabulary I have to describe speed, timing, and the relationship between the two.
Here's where I am so far.
In really simple terms: speed is about raw measurements. Timing is about relationships. Both of them can apply to individuals, and to the interaction of individuals. Both matter, to varying degrees. Tony Blauer's ASAP model plays into this too, but I haven't made sense of how, exactly. Yet.
On an individual level
You have raw speed, which I tend to think of as "ballistics", although some quick research shows me that I'm using that word incorrectly. I'll stick with speed. Raw speed is just how fast something moves. So if you're talking about a punch or a kick, it's how many miles per second that punch or kick is going. In my experience, raw speed is really nifty if you've got it, but trying to develop it is usually an exercise in diminishing returns. Once people get past a certain baseline level of skill, they just don't seem to get that much faster, in raw terms. It also seems to be one of those factors that is heavily mitigated by physiology. In other words, some people are just fast. Some people aren't.
It's also one of those qualities that everyone WANTS to have when they start training, but people keep telling them isn't very important. I tell people that too, I'm just working on a vocabulary of why.
Raw speed is one of the few totally objective things I can think of in this whole mess. You punch as fast as you punch. Period. Whether or not your punch is "fast" is relative to your opponent, your situation, and so on. Even if you ignore all those factors, speed still ends up being relative. If you punch at 20mph (I am absolutely making up numbers here, don't take them as anything approaching accurate), and I punch at 30mph, I am a faster puncher than you. Objectively.
In my experience, that fact is not nearly as important as other factors.
Gotta go teach a class now. More on this later.