For the final parts of Lessons from My Masters I’m going to explain some things and point out some stuff that are just my observations from nearly 30 years of experience, practice and instructing the art of Guided Chaos.
These are my impressions and observations from training hundreds or perhaps over a thousand students at this point, if I include all of the workshops and seminars both formal and informal and people from all walks of life, including people in the military, law enforcement, the medical field and house wives.
My observations span a range of skill levels of seasoned martial artists from numerous disciplines and from training people from nearly all over the world.
With that said, these are just my impressions and mine alone and I’m sure there are folks who are going to disagree with some of them if not most of what I say here depending on what you understand or don’t understand.
I’m going to lay these things out in shorter blog posts unlike the others and focus on some of the deeper concepts and observations as well as to reinforce the “Why we do what we do the way we do it.”
Again these are just my observations gleamed through my experiences.
Why We Do a Martial Art
It starts with a basic question that we all have asked ourselves at one time or another. Why do I do what I do?
For some it’s because they wanted their edge due to the nature of their work, for others they just wanted to know how to fight to no longer be a victim or to prevent themselves from becoming one. For others, it was all about developing a sense of peace of mind if for nothing else just to learn how to overcome their fears. Whatever the reasons as far as I’m concerned it’s all good.
The key then becomes “What is the best art for you as a person?”
Philosophically speaking for the average person most martial arts are all the same or that all arts have something to offer and that it is just a matter of finding the right style for you. The problem I’ve seen with this over the years is that most of us when we first started to learn the martial arts didn’t have enough knowledge to know the difference between what was real versus what wasn’t.
For those old enough to remember when Bruce Lee became all the rave, he to his credit, actually started a revolution in the martial arts but he also in my view looking back at it, added to the confusion.
You see on the one hand he had the balls to buck tradition and the status quo and for that we should be very grateful because it was this example that convinced Grandmaster Perkins to pull away from tradition and create the Way of the Spirit Fist (I’ll explain later). On the other hand, he also in my view created chop suey because he preached a philosophy of absorbing what was useful but the problem is if you can’t tell the difference between tea and horse piss how do you know what is useful?
So what you had was people without an understanding of real fighting creating all sorts of hybrid arts. Where they thought they could take a little here – a little there and voila have the super-secret art to defeat all arts.
Even worse, because they were creating arts based on techniques that tended to play to their physical strengths, if you didn’t fall within a certain parameter of physical attributes you were probably not going to succeed within that art.
This is something that you see today with MMA where with the implementation of weight classes and structure to protect the fighters and given the skills required to fight at the highest levels, what you see is a certain body type emerge within MMA. Where if you don’t fall within those parameters you’re probably not going to be successful at MMA.
So how does this help the average person who just wants to learn to kick ass to save their life or that of their loved ones?
Answer: Simple it doesn’t.
They have the right attitude but they have the wrong understanding so they just can’t get there from here. They’re trying to do the same thing that doesn’t work in these other arts over and over and expecting a different result because they do not know that a fight for your life is a different dynamic with different rules.
This is one of the most profound understandings that I gained from my Masters from the very beginning. As Grandmaster Perkins has said to me over the year’s numerous times,
“Everything has its own dynamic and just like there’s a different dynamic for sport fighting there is an entirely different dynamic when you have to fight for real. The way people move, the intensity, the ferocity of a real attack, the things people can withstand and endure. It is a different animal entirely.”
Again, when it is for real, it is not a duel and not a sports match. So they fail in the real world regardless of who puts their name to the system because have the wrong modality of training or mechanism to make it work in the first place.
This is for me one of the main things that separates “The Way of the Spirit Fist” from all other arts: the focus on developing people with the body they have right now to deal with the utter chaos of a real confrontation.
For me, you do a martial art for one primary reason and that is to protect life. Yours, your family’s, friends’, fellow brothers’ in arms, your community’s, the innocent, etc. All of the other self-actualization benefits gained from having real martial skill is just gravy. But above all you learn a martial art to crush bad guys with utter and complete ruthlessness. There should be no ambiguity about this in your mind. You see as I tell my students, I view my students as the good guys so most of my students are not the kind of people looking for trouble.
They are the kind of people that would rather de-escalate a situation than antagonize one. Therefore, if they have to go into action in most cases a lot of things had to go bad real fast for it to escalate to that point where they have to give battle. If they have to give battle they need to have the skill and proper moral certainty to go there.
Those who train with me know without a shadow of a doubt there is no bullshit in what I teach nor is there any ambiguity as to what I’m training them to do if they have to go there. You see as I’ve stated in previous blog posts, no one really wants to die per se including the bad guys. So as Grandmaster Carron used to say,
“I don’t know if I can kick anyone’s ass but if you mess with me you’re going to have to kill me.”
It is a philosophy I not only try to instill in my students but to drill into my own mind sort of like a mantra until the concept seeps into the marrow of my bones. If I have to give battle I have every intention to fight with everything, I’m prepared to hold nothing back and utterly crush them. Whatever your style you study, whatever your reason for wanting to study a martial art, if your goal is self-defense and this isn’t at the fore of your thinking, you’re wasting your time.
On The Martial Arts
“Think about all of the time when you were studying another art and all along while you thought you were learning something you were really learning nothing. You thought you were learning something but you were just kidding yourself.”
–Master Joe Zen Gorilla Martarano, 5th Dan Guided Chaos
I remember this conversation like it was yesterday. We were both talking about the amazing art Grandmaster Perkins had created and thinking about how when we were doing other arts or as I like to refer to them, the “heathen arts,” how we thought we were learning, as they say, the “true” art, only to realize that sure we were learning how to strike etc. (and all of those things are important) but the one thing we were not learning was how to make it work when we needed to make it work.
And therein as they say lies the rub…
“Professing themselves wise they became fools…”
–Romans 1:22 KJV
We were given the best tools, the hardest kicking techniques, best methods on how to punch and elbow, but not the knowledge in the body to wield them properly. So they became worthless in our hands because we were unskilled in their use. So unless you had a lot of athleticism where you could sort of muscle through it you probably were not going to make those techniques work. Looking back at those days, while this seems so obvious to me now, at the time I had no clue.
I went on to say,
“Now think of all of the things you have learned since then and where you would be if you hadn’t taken the leap of faith and at least given this art a try? Think of how oblivious you’d still be? Thinking you knew something? When in fact much of what you knew was worthless.”
“It’s a scary thought especially when you see people who you would never in a million years think they could do the things they can do.”
Joe when on to say,
“It’s funny how when I talk to people I know about the art how they can’t get their heads around it. Also what it is, is most people when they join a school are looking for the romance of the arts. They want to be able to learn how to take people out and look cool doing it while wearing a cool gi. The masters want people to follow behind them like they’re gods or something and follow them with some sort of awe like they’re something special.”
(As a side note, Master Martarano by far has some of the best drills and training aids within the art. His school is literally a laboratory for combative movement development. Or as one student described his school with his ingenuous training aids allows you to “hack” your proprioception at an accelerated rate. Even as a Master myself I gain new insights from watching people perform the drills with his training aids. If you have a chance to make it to his school, it is a must. I guarantee you will leave there and feel a noticeable difference in the way your body moves. For more information, visit him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MartialPhilosopher/ and check out his school https://guidedchaos.kartra.com/page/kingstonny Get there!)
I concurred because I’ve seen this nonsense as well. Like Joe said, most martial artists of all stripes view what they do as a religion or purely an art and not a realistic system of self-defense to save their lives or that of others. Period.
As he says they want the romance of the arts. The prestige people heap on them for knowing they’re a martial artist, Master, Sensei, Guru, Sifu or whatever, they live in a bubble, an alternate reality. They’re in Wonderland and the longer they stay there the deeper down the rabbit hole they go. The reality is, what Joe and I are talking about and what they’re talking about, are not the same thing.
Self Defense for me is Life Defense. As Mr. Miyagi said in the Karate Kid when Daniel asked him about fighting in tournaments growing up Mr. Miyagi replied, “Miyagi no fight for points Miyagi fight for life.”
They fool around worrying about concepts that have no basis in the reality of how a real fight goes down. So they think that shit will work like magic when they try it as if the person they may have to fight is going to cooperate like their training partners or students.
But our Masters taught us better…
Our Masters taught us that the bad guys get a vote and are under no obligation to cooperate with your plan and that you need to train accordingly.
That to combat this, one must learn and accept there is a knowledge to fighting that goes beyond physical ability, and that there are concepts that transcend technique.
Yet at the same time they gave us a profound understanding that at the end of the day you’re just dealing with motion, and that he who has a better understanding of how to move in their body has a huge advantage over a person who only knows how to swing on you.
But you must put in the time to develop yourself and train with the proper mindset and modality of training through the principles of Guided Chaos as Grandmaster Perkins has outlined. And to be blunt, stop thinking you know more about his art than he does and stop messing up his drills. I just had to say that.
I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about and I almost forgot about this because it still makes me laugh to this day.
First though I have to tell you, I have friends who are Police and Corrections Officers and they tell me all of the time that criminals laugh at art martial arts. They know that 99.9% of it is pure bullshit. Now you can disagree but these are direct quotes from these guys who deal with criminals, many who are violent thugs all of the time.
Anyway, I remember when a friend of mine was play fighting when we were young with one of my cousins who trained in Karate in the basement of one of the local churches. He laughed and said to my cousin, “That shit only works at the church…” and preceded to teach my cousin a lesson in ruthlessness.
Was this guy imbued with great martial skill? No. He just didn’t care and wasn’t afraid to get hit. He was also much larger than my cousin so he probably knew he could take it.
Sure my cousin was able to hit him but it didn’t stop him from attacking. I never saw my cousin back away so fast. While this is all hindsight now, I’ve come to realize it was a lack of reality in what my cousin was training in that placed him in such a humiliating position.
One of the other observations that I’ve had about most martial artist is they also lack a proper (if any) historical understanding from a military perspective or how the techniques and arts they train in arose. While I’m a big critic of flowery moves in the martial arts I also understand there was at one time a very practical basis for why they did what they did when they did it. Sort of like the evolution of rifles, as they became more accurate, repeating, more reliable, the need for an 18 inch long bayonet or longer rifle that acted as a spear as well, was not necessary.
Sure we still have both but the lethality and accuracy and the changing dynamics of warfare have actually made a longer rifle with bayonet more of a liability than an advantage especially in close quarters fighting. Being a military guy who’s both seen and studied war I can clearly see and understand this. Most martial artists, have absolutely no clue why they do, what they do, within their arts.
They are just copying movement without any understanding as to why, and calling it good. Even worse, I’ve often found their explanation as to the reason they perform certain moves the way they do is about as phony as a $3-dollar bill.
They’re just paper tigers. I’ll give you an example: I do a twice monthly workshop in Philadelphia where the vast majority of arts taught are internal arts. There are many forms they teach but one thing that I was discussing with some of the folks down there is the reason most martial arts look overly complex or technical is because people are copying movements from old manuals that were written at a time when there were no films of the masters or military instructors actually performing the movements. Only those arts that survived long enough for film to be developed give us some glimpse as to what these arts must have been like. Imagine Western Boxing. Now imagine if you never saw what a boxing match from the earliest days looked like and you tried to learn it from a book. Good luck with that!
Think of all the subtleties that you would never be able to study over and over if all you had was a static manual describing something without actually seeing it let alone feel what it’s like to get punched in the face?
It’s sort of like when I played football. I don’t care how good you are as an athlete, until you get knocked on your ass you don’t get it!
Without being able to see something in action, or hear an explanation and feel what is really going on it is impossible to know for sure if what you are studying is for real. So when you see a technique in say Karate, Wing Chun or Tai Chi or whatever, what you and I are looking at is the beginning of a movement and the end of a movement without any consideration whatsoever as to how they got there in the first place or how it was actually performed.
In other words, from the beginning of a movement to the end of a movement there are things going on. There is this thing that Grandmaster Perkins does as I like to call it “The Space in Between.” Grandmaster Perkins and I were once discussing this and he said,
“It’s sort of hard to describe but it’s not just that I’m moving in a certain way to strike where I’m just throwing the strike, but that there are adjustments that I’m making within the movement. It’s like the movement is ‘malleable’. Changing within change, adjusting with their movement but I’m not just doing this with my arms but with my whole body.”
Let me just pause here and say that this is a very profound understanding and goes a long way as to why when performing Contact Flow and a variety of exercises, as you move you need to learn how to work slowly and then gradually build up to full speed. Nonetheless, you need to give your body time to develop all of the coordination and timing to be able to “change within change.”
I believe this is something that even today, as well as in ancient times, is one of the skills that many advanced martial artists and athletes in general possess. The ability to adapt and change within change. The problem is most of them are unaware that they do it so they can’t teach it to anyone else. You don’t know what you don’t know.
If you do not understand this for the most part when you’re looking at a martial art technique from a manual all you know is: 1) they started here and 2) they ended up there, so as a result because we really don’t see (or know from a manuscript or pictures alone) the subtle nuances of how a master may have actually done it, we can only imagine from our experiences and knowledge or whatever that may be to figure it out.
So when you see for example, a Tai Chi Sword Form or Broad Sword Form and you see the long flowing movements, if you understand that at onetime people used those swords for war, the movements of stepping and thrusting, parrying then begin to more make sense.
The same is true when you see some low creeping form with a halberd. If you knew what a halberd could do to your body, like cut you in half, you’d probably learn to quickly duck and thrust at the same time as well. A great example of this is the show on the History Channel Forged in Fire: Knife or Death. When you see what some of these modern versions of these ancient weapons can do to flesh, you have a greater appreciation for those techniques and having a rifle for that matter.
But, without knowing that and having a sense of what it’s like to have to fight with a sword or halberd, spear, ax or whatever, for your life, the concept is alien to us so our brains fill in the rest of the information so that it makes sense even if that information is incorrect. Otherwise we are confused.
Our brains don’t like confusion so it fills in the missing information by making it up. This is how most deceptions by the way and (optical and physical illusions) work. Make sense?
Again, what is equally important as technique but beyond the understanding of 99.999% of martial artists is this thing John talks about where it’s not so much that he does a technique as a one off type of thing but that it is again malleable. That there are changes within changes within his movement or “The Space in Between” (i.e., “The Quantum Sphere of Guided Chaos.” Absolutely brilliant concept by the way from Grandmaster Perkins).
It is in this space where the real, almost secret application of the technique is applied. This is one of the main reasons why Guided Chaos works for real, it is the mastery of moving our bodies though the principles of Guided Chaos within this space, that allows us to not only adapt within movement in real time but become creative. It is this understanding that allows you to transcend technique.
The Way of the Spirit Fist
You want to become so sensitive that even within the shades of grey you can see the specks of black and white.
The first time I heard John say this was when we used to train in the park in Nyack, we were discussing sensitivity and I said something along the lines of, “Wanting to be so sensitive that you could see the shades of grey…” then he corrected me and said,
“No. you want to become so sensitive that even within the shades of grey you can see the specks of black and white.”
To this day, I find this a very profound statement because as my understanding would grow over the years I would see how this concept would form the foundation of how John’s movements transcend technique. To transition seamlessly, smoothly, invisibly from one movement to another, to even develop this thing or what the Grandmaster calls “pre-movement,” or as I like to refer to it, “The thing you do before you do the thing you’re going to do.”
Like a lot of things the Grandmaster says and does, he does them and says them right in front of people all of the time but because he doesn’t make such a big deal out of them they are lost on people.
Although we call it “Guided Chaos” and have so for pretty much the last 20 years or so, in my mind the art still is and will always be at its core “The Way of the Spirit Fist” or “Ghost Fist.” I just think it is a more accurate reflection of the essence of the art and what the art really is. Because that’s how it feels when you’re on the receiving end of getting hit.
The elusiveness, the freedom of movement, the lightness of the contact, the unavailability yet ability to be unavoidable.
The ability to disappear right in front of people.
These are some of the most sought after attributes within the art and from the first time I ever experienced this from Grandmaster Perkins it was a skill that I have tried to cultivate as well as teach.
In my opinion the whole concept of “Unavailable/Unavoidable” is one of the most profound concepts of the martial arts probably within the last 500 years and I can see why if developed by the pioneers of the martial skills–whether in Asia, Africa, ancient Greece, England or by the Native American warriors–I can see how people who didn’t have the understanding of the science of motion, the physics of how people move within time and space, and how humans perceive time and motion could easily believe that the ancient masters had supernatural powers.
Because that’s how it feels when experiencing it.
Well that’s it for this installment hope you got something out of this.
LtCol Al Ridenhour
Senior Master Instructor
The GC Matrix is coming…
I enjoy reading your insightful blogs. They give great clarity as to why we do what we do. Even though it requires going down the rabbit hole further and further. This blog reminds me of the time John had me move with a new student back in the day. We had recently relocated to the North Yonkers Church from out old spot in Dobbs Ferry. It was a summer evening and we were out back in the parking lot. I was into my 3rd or 4th year of the art. John introduced me to a man who I would guesstimate was around 35 or so. At the time I was still young and very strong. So John asked me to go easy on the new student and teach him to move using contact flow etc. I did as John requested. The gentleman tried with all his effort to penetrate my defenses and to protect himself from me touching/.contacting him. Needless to say he grew increasingly frustrated as he could not get any of his stuff off and could not prevent me from contacting him at will.
At the end of the evening when we were leaving to go up to Dobbs Dinner, John asked me how I felt working with the new student and what did I see as the areas he needed to improve on, So I discussed the fact that he was very tight and that he was telegraphing everything he was going to try to do and that defensively he was trying to protect himself with patterned blocking techniques. It was then that John revealed to me who the gentleman was and that apparently I had caused him to become very upset when I worked with him because I would not let him get his strikes and blocks off and that I was moving too fast for him keep up. I assured John that I followed his instructions and worked at a our contact flow very slowly. John laughed and said not to worry as he watched me and that he observed me working as he instructed me. It was then that he said that the gentleman I was working with became upset almost to the point of tears because he was a 7th degree black belt in his art (which escapes me at this point as to what it was) and that he had been at it for some 30 years starting as a young boy and going on to teach and have his own school.
So to your point and Joe’s. Imagine training in an art for 30 years of your life to find out it was for the most part an exercise in futility and that you went from thinking yourself as being a martial arts guru to being a defenseless student at best. Needless to say his ego did not allow him to return to us. I can only imagine how many students he has instructed over the years who think they have the ability to defend themselves when they cannot. Talk about a false sense of security.
Just some food for thought.
Keep up the insightful blogs. You have the ability to clearly and concisely explain some very difficult concepts. I greatly appreciate the effort.
Mike Mancuso An old student of Ki Chuan DO.