After attending the seminar live, my main take-aways had been: How do we do contact flow better, for deeper and faster learning? 1) go slow, 2) zen out, 3) move like Tina.
This was all accurate (especially the “move like Tina” part, reinforced by my most recent visit to NY), but there was more that I had missed, either due to the sheer volume of information shared or my own tiredness and lack of focus.
Some things emphasized in the video that I kinda missed in person are:
1) The primary importance of being absolutely unavailable
2) The importance of the “descending parabola” in all stepping and shifting
3) The fact that John’s ability to move people comes from his sensitivity to angles where people aren’t balanced, NOT from applying a lot of pressure
4) If it requires effort, it’s bullshit (to quote John directly)
5) We have to be completely liquid and structure-free, except for the split second of the drop where the structure exists between the root point and the enemy like a flash of lightning and then vanishes
Regarding being unavailable:
In the “unavailable yet unavoidable” mantra, unavailable comes first. If you are available to the enemy’s strikes/pressure/manipulation, you give up control of your own body, preventing you from making your own attacks/pressure/manipulation unavoidable by the enemy.
A problem is that many students, in their misplaced desire to skip to the “unavoidable” in contact flow by landing strikes and taking balance, cheat and deceive themselves on unavailability. They’ll accept pressure and obstacles to press forward with their own attacks, erroneously thinking they sufficiently “absorbed” or “mostly avoided” the training partners’ movements, or their balance was “good enough,” or some other justification for allowing themselves to be available. Unfortunately this is setting them up for failure. Under real conditions against bigger/stronger/faster enemies, being too available can be fatal as movement, impact and penetration are magnified. As with other Guided Chaos ideas like balance and looseness, it behooves us to “overtrain” unavailability so that it’s most likely to be maximally available to us under duress.
I recall Tim saying back in the day, “The board doesn’t lie!” He was referring to the GC wobble board used to challenge students’ balance. His point was that the challenging balance situation created by the board made it difficult for students to lie to themselves about their availability and balance. If a student allowed herself to be available to pressure/striking/leverage during contact flow on the wobble board, she’d fall off the board. Nothing nebulous about that! A similar effect can be achieved by practicing contact flow on one leg.
So on Sunday morning, with two private students, I did just about all my contact flow standing on one leg (and encouraged the students to do the same, short of overly fatiguing their legs), focusing on unavailability. Guess what? It worked! Not only was I able to be far less available, but it seemed my unavailability was infectious. Both students for the most part were far less available than usual, even when they stood on both feet. Cool.
The power of integrating the descending parabolic movement into all movement cannot be overemphasized. I felt it first hand Sunday morning each time I briefly switched from flowing on one leg to flowing on two, while being mindful to use the descending parabolic path in each weight shift and step. It enhances unavoidability and penetration while also enhancing unavailability as better balance and looseness are maintained, reducing available structure. Rather than move the whole skeleton directly into the enemy with a straight weight shift or step, using the descending parabolic movement allows the body to “melt” into the enemy without structuring—or so it feels on each end. Need to play with this a lot more until it becomes the norm, as it is for John.
As with unavailability, we need to be far harsher on ourselves to move each other via sensitivity rather than via effort and pressure. It’s too tempting at times to apply JUST A LITTLE MORE pressure to take a training partner’s balance. Unfortunately, that temptation sets back our training. Adding pressure reduces unavailability and unavoidability, increases structure and commitment, reduces sensitivity and generally increases our vulnerability while conditioning our mind to accept that more muscular effort is a good thing. Bad news all around! Having the patience to move slowly and experiment with low-effort angles and changes may not produce as much instant gratification in terms of immediately affecting our training partners, but it will pay off big-time as we gradually learn to feel how we can disrupt things with minimal effort and pressure. Using the wobble board and/or standing on one leg can help with this as well, because use of excessive pressure/structure/effort is immediately punished by loss of balance.
There is WAY more to unpack from the 4-hour-plus video, and way more that I’ll have to overhaul in my own training and movement habits beyond a single successful morning to get on a better path. Hopefully though I’ve communicated how valuable it can be to have some of John’s deepest lessons and demonstrations available to you on video. No, I don’t think you can easily “learn Guided Chaos” from scratch exclusively via video. Hands-on contact with experienced teachers is invaluable to ensure you and your training partners are on the right track. That being said, careful study of video lessons, especially one so dense and deep as the Combative Movement Immersion Seminar video, can most definitely supercharge and advance the training of any dedicated practitioner.
My recommendation is redoubled: save up and GET IT!