This article about the Fright Reaction, one of the most fundamental and important ideas taught in Guided Chaos, originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Black Belt Magazine. Enjoy!
Recently I posted on facebook.com/internalselfdefense a brief review of the new Combative Movement Immersion Seminar video, available for sale now at Attackproof.com. In the review, I wrote, “I feel that this video more than any can really help ADVANCE anyone's training.” Well, the next morning (Sunday), I proved myself right. (Don’t you love when that happens???)
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!
Lots of videos, photos and information being shared on our new Facebook page:
Please check it out, like and follow! Thanks!!!
And, starting this week, classes are now Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8p! See you there!!!
I had some recent success with a couple students revisiting the meaning and application of The Root That Can't Be Found, one of the basic ideas discussed in the book Attack Proof.
Remember that a person can stop your motion, jam you up and off-balance you only if he has a direct line with his pressure to your center of gravity, no matter where he's pushing from or through.
If he can never find your center of gravity, he can never stop your motion, jam you up or off-balance you.
One way to lessen his ability to find your center of gravity is to keep it constantly moving--which you should usually do anyway in the name of body unity.
Let’s talk about “center of gravity” in this context as the point on the ground coinciding with the plumb line that falls from your physical center of gravity within your lower torso. We keep it constantly moving by pressing our feet against the ground such that the position of that point on the ground keeps changing relative to where our feet are on the ground. This can apply even if you are on one foot, as there are infinite points on the ground within the span of your foot on which that plumb line can fall, and infinite points on the bottom of that foot with which to push against the ground to shift that plumb line’s position. If you have two feet on the ground, of course, that range of possible “center of gravity points” greatly expands, but remember the ideal is to move things as subtly as possible, not as much as possible.
Here, try to push me off-balance. So long as I keep my center of gravity moving, I’ll be okay, and your attempts to push against my center of gravity will fail and slide harmlessly off my body as my center of gravity continues to subtly move, such that when you think you have a bead on it, it’s already moved somewhere else.
HOWEVER, people frequently mess this up due to allowing their conscious minds to fixate somewhere. Let’s say this time, when you go to push me off-balance, you do it a little more suddenly and violently, such that my mind registers the contact as a threat or something to worry about. As my mind fixates on that threat, my center of gravity stops moving and becomes vulnerable. Often I’ll also do something stiff, spastic, overcommitted and disunited in an attempt to evade or escape the perceived threat. That combination of catastrophes will spell my doom.
Hence we see that our survival in this case comes down to our ability to control our mind, or to not allow our conscious mind to control us.
The idea I drilled with my students was as follows:
No matter what happens, as we flow, concentrate only on the feeling of the feet pressing against the ground, ensuring constant change, ergo constant movement of the center of gravity, creating a Root That Can’t Be Found. Consciously ignore anything else that is going on, simply stay in contact and allow your body to move with everything while keeping your head suspended from a string (i.e. neutral, relaxed posture with no leaning). Focus on and visualize only the bottoms of your feet against the floor, feeling every tiny change as precisely as possible.
As long as you are able to maintain that mental focus, notice that nothing bad happens to you! Attempts to push you off balance slide harmlessly off your body. Attempted strikes drift harmlessly past you, as your moving center of gravity moves your head and body above it as well.
But notice what happens the instant you allow your mind to shift to what I may be doing to you:
You mentally register my attempt to push you, and rather than allowing your center of gravity to continue to move and obviate the potential problem with no effort, that movement STOPS as you focus on the hand on your body. Your body may attempt to pocket or twist out of the way, your hand my try to push my hand away, but because your mind became fixated, your center of gravity became stationary, your root is found, and all excess efforts are for naught.
Keeping your mind in the bottoms of your feet, you can move in, cutting off my movement and ability to stay on balance. Even as you step forward, you are not COMMITTED forward. Just as in the balance exercises, you place your foot and shift your center of gravity, keeping it free and movable in any direction at any time. Remember that feet cannot move any faster than the hands and the rest of the body.
Remember that the idea of keeping the mind focused on the bottoms of your feet is just a trick to prevent the as-yet-untrained mind from fixating on anything else. Eventually you want to train your mind to observe everything and fixate on nothing, staying open and present while freeing the subconscious to do what it does best, without having to resort to tricks or devices.
Generalizing from here, if you can keep your mind fluid, you can keep your body fluid, and have little to fear. As soon as your mind fixates, you are screwed. The better you can maintain this mental and physical fluidity under increasing amounts of pressure (speed/power/danger), the greater your mastery of Guided Chaos and the greater your potential combat effectiveness.
Spoiler alert: A moving center of gravity can still be found and taken advantage of by someone with a higher level of sensitivity. We then must get into deceptiveness, masking the movement of the center of gravity behind false surfaces and equal pressure, etc. LOTS more levels to this stuff!
See attackproof.com soon for purchase/download info. Very excited for this one!!!
"This art is really about understanding people. Understanding yourself, understanding others. If we all understood each other better, maybe we could avoid things like Vietnam. . . ."
--Tim Carron, Guided Chaos Grandmaster and Vietnam War Veteran
Between what Tim told me years ago and more recent developments such as the Combative Movement Immersion Seminar, and peeling back the layers of example provided by John and his advanced students, I have reached some conclusions (for now) about GC and contact flow:
At more advanced levels, contact flow is (in part) about human connection and deepening our understanding of human behavior, motivation, thoughts and emotions, beyond mere movement. John has called it "deep listening" and "empathy." Tim sometimes called it "love."
This means that, in order to learn, we must allow our training partners to express themselves fully, rather than stifling them or allowing our own thoughts and emotions to overpower theirs. We are not listening carefully if we're shouting at the same time.
Likewise, just as you can't hope to understand your significant other's feelings and thoughts if you are already hostile to them, you will not be able to learn as much from your training partner if you are reactive with your own fears, judgments and corrections. Listening effectively entails suspending such knee-jerk reactions in order to fully understand what you're hearing/feeling. This can even apply to solo practice: are you really listening to yourself, or shouting yourself down by "trying" to do things "right"?
John has mentioned that more intuitive people tend to get the hang of GC faster than others. It can be even more challenging to those of us who, had we been growing up today, might have been classified somewhere on the less severe end of the autism spectrum in terms of our difficulty understanding other people and their inner lives. The good news is, it seems to cut both ways. While having less natural intuition might make learning GC initially more challenging, perseverance in GC can help us all learn to be more intuitive, sensitive, mindful and understanding of others.
If this post is getting too peaceful for your tastes, remember that the better we understand people on a deep, subconscious level, the more easily we can manipulate them to their doom should they threaten us. The subconscious knowledge gained from meditative contact flow is what enables us to disrupt and defeat attackers with the smallest movements and efforts, thanks to our developed intuitive awareness of where they're coming from and where they must therefore go on a deep level. In particular, our ability to read intention on a subliminal level is enhanced by all the subconscious knowledge we accumulate through good contact flow, enabling us to get the jump on people and not fall victim to deception. So the deepest "love" is what enables us to most effectively kill.
That being said, for most of us, what might be more useful in our everyday lives: the well developed ability to more effectively kill, or the well developed ability to more effectively listen, understand, and love?
Tuesday morning I woke up with a headache, in a rush to get to an early morning dentist appointment. Not an auspicious start to the day!
On my way to the dentist, I recalled awareness and presence strategies taught in GC and decided to apply them.
We teach awareness as being actively engaged with all the beauty around us at each moment, rather than actively looking for threats. This allows our subconscious to usually identify and warn us about anything out of place, unusual or threatening. Increased internal and external sensitivity, developed over time through training, enhances these abilities. Being sensitive to and trusting our subconscious allows us to act early and swiftly to deal with any potential threat.
The far more frequent benefit of this strategy, however, is the positive effect it can have on our psyche. Our minds are increasingly occupied by work, planning, electronics, and other things that tend to take us out of the present and distract us from fundamental positives in life. Aspects of modern life are purposefully engineered (typically for commercial reasons) to occupy our minds and keep us anxious about a variety of things. Practicing GC awareness can help us break the stress spiral of modern life and refocus on the miracle of consciousness and other pure joys of being living human beings.
So Tuesday morning I applied GC awareness and some attention to breathing, even while driving, with the result that by the time I got to the dentist's office, my mind was in a far more present, pleasant, positive place than it had been an hour earlier. And this mental state persisted, even through the dental work and some potentially stressful business calls. I'm no photographer, but on the way back from the dentist I tried to capture a couple examples of appreciating the everyday beauty all around us. In a "normal" modern mental state, such scenes are typically ignored as our minds focus internally on future stressors. Tuesday morning, I'm glad I was aware enough to notice them (and many, many more).
The scenes I noticed also reminded me about the "sun meditation" John has taught. I'd forgotten about that for a while. Might need to give it a try again soon. Have a great, aware day!!!
Today while teaching a private lesson, I recalled something Tim once told me, and spontaneously learned something new from it.
Tim told me that his first heart attack taught him that he could not rely on strength to win.
His second heart attack taught him that he could not rely on his own energy at all to win.
(Unfortunately there was no third lesson, as Tim's third heart attack took him from us in November of 2014.)
I had always accepted as obvious the first lesson of not relying on brute strength.
The possible meanings of the second lesson, however, had evidently eluded me.
I recalled Tim's explanation of his experience of taking beta blockers to protect his heart. He explained that normally, if you change from walking on a flat surface to even just a five-degree incline, your heartbeat adjusts slightly to keep enough oxygenated blood pumping to the cells of your body to support the needed effort at the given moment. In his case, however, the beta blockers stopped his heartbeat from adjusting in that way, keeping it at a base level to prevent any additional stress on the heart. The effect was that any physical endeavor that required any additional effort beyond baseline would promptly exhaust him, as his body was trying to put forth the effort without the additional oxygenation that it required.
My new (spontaneously sprung from the subconscious while teaching) interpretation of this:
Tim realized that he could not count on any additional energy from his own body beyond the barest minimum needed to stand and slowly walk on level ground. Therefore, he needed to depend on the other guy's energy and impetus to get his own skeleton moving to prevail.
I played with this idea briefly while working with my student . . . and quickly realized that it was pretty damn powerful! By keeping my skeleton balanced and the joints free, I was able to use any impetus from my student to propel my skeleton where it needed to go, with little or no perceived added effort or energy on my part. In fact, my student found the experience far harder to deal with than my "normal" movement, as it was nearly impossible to read (because my body was putting out virtually no signal of effort or energy) and my bones arrived with significant authority, by necessity unhindered by movement-stifling tension in order to allow his smallest input to drive my entire skeleton. (This is clearly, by the way, related to the idea of "feathers in your body but bowling balls in the bottoms of your shoes," or John's recent turn of phrase, "Float like a butterfly, root like a tree!")
My body even spontaneously replicated a couple peculiarities of Tim's movement, such as his tendency to strike the arms of the opponent when driven to by the opponent's movement. This is something I had almost never done spontaneously before--and yet now, newly inspired by one Tim's past lessons, there is was.
All of this happened towards the end of the scheduled lesson, so I didn't have much time to experiment with it. Much more to do!
In the erudite words of many Guided Chaos students through the years: "Damn, this shit is so cool. . . ."
This moment marks one week since the kickoff of the November 3-5, 2017 Combative Movement Immersion Seminar in Elmsford, NY. About 30 newcomers, students, teachers and masters came from as nearby as down the road, and as far away as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Kansas, Washington, California and even Hawaii. We missed some of our local folks who couldn’t make it, as well as our Guided Chaos brothers and sisters from Europe, Asia, South America and other U.S. states, but they stay in touch well from afar and hopefully will visit and receive visits in the near future.
I almost did not attend. Between work and family obligations, I assumed that it would be impossible to spare the time and expense to travel to NY for an immersive three-day weekend. As the date drew closer, however, the excitement of fellow long-distance students, some gentle encouragement from John, the surprising availability of my student Keith to travel with me (and split costs!), and my incredibly understanding and resourceful wife conspired to make me think hey, this just might be possible.
WOW am I glad I made it! Keith and I flew into White Plains Airport the morning the seminar began (thus missing the first hour or so) and out the evening it ended (likewise missing the end of the seminar and dinner), but what we did manage to experience in Elmsford last weekend was perspective-changing and possibly life-changing (in addition to potentially life-saving, of course).
This was my first time attending a GC seminar as a long-distance student, since moving from northern New Jersey to Florida in 2014. I had attended portions of the 2012 Guided Chaos Boot Camp, and worked out with some of the long-distance students at their hotel a couple evenings during that event, but this would be different. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
The first thing that struck me (besides the limbs of various students and teachers) was the sense of family in GC that I had partly forgotten about. Within minutes of arriving at the seminar already in progress, it felt like being welcomed home. Great start.
The rest of this may become so gushy (splooshy to Archer fans) as to be almost unbelievable, but . . . heck I could hardly believe it myself, and I was THERE, so join the club!
John, the masters and teachers, and the enthusiastic students combined to create an extremely open atmosphere very conducive to deep learning.
The overarching theme of the seminar was how to understand and practice Guided Chaos better, at a deeper, more internal level. John and team made the higher levels of the art more understandable and accessible, and placed the students on the road to far deeper physical, mental and spiritual practice. And made it so freakin’ fun!
Being a long-distance person made it even more fun and immersive for me. Just look at this schedule:
Friday: Land at airport, drive to seminar, train, drive to dinner with a bunch of GC peeps, eat a great Italian dinner while discussing GC and related topics with Al and friends, return to hotel, train with the dozen or so students staying at the Hampton Inn, sleep.
Saturday: Wake up, have breakfast at the hotel with the students while discussing GC and related topics, drive to seminar, train, drive to dinner with a bunch of GC peeps, eat a great Japanese dinner while discussing GC and related topics with John and friends, return to hotel, train with the dozen or so students staying at the Hampton Inn (plus Patrick—thanks for visiting!), sleep.
Sunday: Wake up, have breakfast at the hotel with the students while discussing GC and related topics, drive to seminar, train, promise Keith we’d start saying goodbye at 4p in order to not miss our flight, manage to not leave until much later than planned yet still not miss our flight, talk GC and life at airport and after landing.
Thereafter: witnessing the torrent of texts, emails, Facebook posts, shared pictures, videos, etc., between new and old friends who were there, unable to contain themselves about how awesome the weekend was. Trying to pass on the lessons and experience to my class here in FL.
John demonstrating and teaching ideas that I may have already had certain inklings and impressions of . . . and then taking them to the eleventy-billionth level in practice and in application against big, fast, multiple attackers.
Making new “old” friends: new temporally, but as if old in terms of comfort, trust and general awesomeness. Reconnecting with old friends on much deeper levels.
Amazing conversations with amazing people about amazing experiences. Discovering connections between our lives and experiences that we never knew existed.
Witnessing vast improvement in students from beginning to end of weekend.
Witnessing vast improvement in old friends since I last saw them and worked with them.
Witnessing even longer term students starting to open up to the deeper possibilities of GC for the first time.
Doing that myself.
Starting to understand some things John and Tim have told me over the years:
Make no mistake, all of this was trained and discovered within the context of combative reality. GC has NOT gone all hippy/new-age/cultish in any way shape or form. John was his usual jocular self, steadfastly staving off any attempt (conscious or otherwise) of any student to view him as anything other than a regular guy who has merely built up a shitload of martial arts knowledge based on tons of real experience.
Following the seminar, among the long-distance crowd, notes were exchanged, impressions were shared, and plans are already being made to keep the contact and momentum going. Lamentations about the physical distance that separates us, preventing us from training together more frequently. A lot to figure out. . . .
I know I haven’t gone into detail about the curriculum of the seminar, the drills and exercises we did, etc. That wasn’t really the point. Heck, a lot of the best and most educational moments of the weekend came when John interrupted the planned curriculum, went off script and communicated exactly what was needed in the moment.
Here are some ideas/images that have been useful lately, for students from Florida to California to Pennsylvania to New York:
A long time ago, Tim told me that "looseness" is not floppiness, and it's certainly not sloppiness. It's maximum freedom in all your joints at all times. Lately I'm beginning to understand part of what he meant.
Each joint of your body, be it your elbow, shoulder, hip, ankle, each joint in the spine, etc., has a natural range of motion. Maximum freedom in a joint exists when a) the muscles around the joint are as relaxed as possible, and b) the joint is at the center of its range of motion. If the joint is at one extreme or the other along its range of motion, it's not really "free" because it can't move any further in a given direction. Even if the muscles around the joint are relaxed, the lack of freedom in a nearly or fully extended or closed joint can spell our downfall, as it creates a rigid structure that can be used to disrupt balance and/or inflict damage.
How do we keep the spine free? By standing and moving as if our skeleton is suspended from the ceiling by a string that attaches to the top of our head. This creates a posture the provides maximum skeletal support to the whole body, requiring minimal muscular effort to maintain balance. It also leaves each joint in the spine at or near the center of its range of motion, allowing movement in any direction with minimal effort when necessary. After any necessary movement, return to the center like a trampoline.
The elbow loses freedom when it nears full extension or contraction. However, if someone is applying pressure towards you through your forearm, and you want to keep the muscles around the elbow relaxed and avoid offering resistance, how do you avoid closing the joint all the way?
Simple: Rather than absorbing your training partner's motion via large movement of a single joint (in this case, your elbow), distribute the motion among as many joints as possible, minimizing the amount any one joint has to move. So instead of closing your elbow all the way, the elbow moves only a little, and the shoulder moves a little, and the spine moves a little, and the hips, the knees, the ankles, etc. A little bit of movement in each joint, keeping each joint close to its natural center and hence free to move in any direction, while maintaining as much skeletal support as possible, allows a great amount of movement to be absorbed and dealt with while maintaining maximum freedom and balance and looseness throughout the motion. A big key to this is keeping the joints of the upper body free by utilizing the joints of the lower body more. This is not easy, as Tim said: "Many guys are good with their arms, some are good with their legs, but very few are good at connecting the upper and lower body together."
One might also call this body unity. . . .
By distributing all necessary motion among as many joints as possible, minimizing disruption of any one joint away from its natural center, we are better able to maintain a physical and mental state of maximum comfort, balance and nonresistance. If we can maintain that mental and physical state, regardless of what's happening to us or around us (the eye of the storm) we become strangely unavailable (movement distributed among many joints moving a little is less perceivable to the untrained eye than movement confined to a few joints that move a lot), and scarily unavoidable (we are constantly free to move in and destroy).
Remember, this isn't a RULE, just an idea to play with. The only constants are balance, looseness, sensitivity, body unity and freedom of motion.
Guided Chaos Instructor