Lessons from My Masters 14: Observations – Unity

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“All I know is I know nothing.”



While generally when discussing the principles of Guided Chaos we refer to the over-arching principle or super principle as “Body Unity,” for this installment I’ll refer to it as “Unity” because I’m going to cover a few more things that are not normally discussed.

In this installment of my observations on the art of Guided Chaos, I’m going to need for you as I’ve asked in the past to suspend disbelief, not your common sense just disbelief.  I’m going to need for you to put aside whatever it is you think you know. I need you to take the Red Pill and swallow hard. To step outside of your personal comfort zone of what you like and put aside the prejudices of what you dislike. I need you to put your feelings aside and remove all of the emotion to your thinking.

I need you to do these things so you can get out of your own way. Over the years I’ve seen many, many, many practitioners of Guided Chaos come and go. Some blessed with great physical talent, some have a unique very intuitive feel for the art and unfortunately in some rare instances some just never grasp the concepts. Some will, some won’t…

Now, some grasp the concepts and then because they think they know more about Grandmaster Perkins’ art than he does, they create rules that don’t exist. They think they can summarize the art like doing some sort of book report where they only have to get the top three points and they have the whole picture, not realizing that within all of the stuff they left out. They missed the salient points, the subtle hints that the Grandmaster makes, the seemingly inconsequential remarks that he makes regarding a certain technique or attribute. As Gichin Funakoshi says in his autobiographical book, Karate Do Kyohon, regarding the misconceptions many people have about the essence of Karate: “…they are fooling around in the leaves and branches of a great tree without any conception of its trunk…”

If you fall into this category in your martial arts training I have bad news for you, not only are you not even close (and forget the idea of going down the wrong path) you’re not even on it!

Those who try to summarize Guided Chaos and the concepts into a few key points are kidding themselves. Like Socrates, All I know is I know nothing…, meaning of all that there is to know out there one cannot possibly think they can simplify all of human movement into a few key points or a checklist. If you think this way? Well, good luck with that.

They want the magic pill, the secret! Yet it stares them in the face. I’ve already discussed how the universe works so I won’t go into it here, all you need to know is, it is the principles of the art and nothing more. You can only understand it at the most fundamental level and go from there.


A Little More Clarification


In the last installment I discussed the different ranges of Looseness but I realize there were a few things that I needed to discuss as well. Understand, that those ranges of looseness as I described them with the charts, have to do with different qualities which eventually I believe when you develop the ability to use, translates into this thing we call “skill,” and that is what you need to develop within your body.

These qualities / skills if you will, are really ranges of control or subtle muscle control within your body and are every bit as much a mental process as a physical one, in a sense that when your mind is free and uninhibited, when you are mentally loose, your body is physically loose. In this way your body is able to move freely and able to respond depending on what you feel. In this state is where I believe what the Samurai called “Mushin Mind” or “Mushin,” it is this state we today call Flow State, The Zone, Zen, whatever…

I believe all of these things are the same thing, where your body and movement becomes so responsive, so in tune that it just happens. For those who have experienced this it is a way cool feeling. It is a state when experiencing it everything feels effortless; you feel like you can do no wrong. Even cooler you feel as if you are watching yourself at times in the third person. Like watching yourself in a movie where you’re in it yet watching it at the same time. Like Tim said to me long ago, “This is weird stuff…”

This is what the Grandmaster means when he says to me,

“No, no, no…you see you’re thinking too much. You’re trying to think about what you need to do. It’s not a step-by-step process, so just let it go and see what happens… Just let it happen…You have to let go, clear your mind, get out of your own way…what I’m showing you is just a thing so it’s not a set thing, so don’t fall in love with it… It’s just an idea to guide your mind, you need to get beyond technique, etc.”

In order to transcend technique you must have Unity! But before I get into that there is one more thing I need to discuss…




No discussion about Unity or Body Unity would be complete unless I offered my observations on Sensitivity. Sensitivity is, especially at the higher levels, purely mental. While obviously there is a physical component through your senses, it is the context in which you understand what you perceive through them and how you act upon what you perceive that determines what you do, the choices you make, the actions you take.

This is the reason why it can at times appear to have an almost spiritual element to it.  Where things seem to manifest themselves out of the ether. As one delves deeper into its aspects the art becomes almost a free-flowing meditation. When practicing you have to learn to feel everything.

You must become so sensitive that even the gentle breeze feels as if you are being pushed. When moving through the air regardless of speed you should be able to feel the air around you when you move.  So even when you move your arm you should be able to feel this.

The thing about Sensitivity is that after you get good at being aware of your movement it takes on a floating feeling and begins to feel almost as if you are moving through a fluid medium.  This sensation will also allow you to begin to become smooth and more graceful in your movements. Each move that you make should–within reason–feel graceful, fluid and efficient as if moving through water.

Again, your sensitivity is based on what you both physically and visually perceive is going on. This is not only based on being trained on what to perceive as a threat but also on your sensitivity to external stimuli.  In other words, as you feel, therefore it becomes, based on what you feel.  As you flow, your sensitivity controls all movement and drives all of the other principles. In other words:

  • It is your sensitivity that tells you where and when to be balanced, when to move your root and where to move it.
  • It is your sensitivity which tells you where, when and how to become loose and by how much or how little.
  • It is your sensitivity both internally (interoception) as well as what you feel and perceive externally, which tells you based on what you feel in relation to your body how to align your bones, how much force to use or how little. It also tells you how little or how far to move and it controls all of these things all at the same time.

Understanding this we can learn the following information:

  1. A sense of position – For example, we can ‘feel’ the attitude of our body and where our feet are in relation to the other person when striking.
  2. A sense of movement – We can accurately feel the speed and direction of the movement of our limbs. This allows us to co-ordinate our limbs in relation to our bodies and our sense of balance while we are moving.
  3. A sense of force – This is the amount of effort your muscles need to produce accurate movement, which is particularly important when flowing, sticking, pulsing, bouncing people or dropping into strikes.


Sensitivity is Awareness – Awareness is Sensitivity


Additionally, when we talk about Sensitivity (at least from a visual and mental perspective) what we are also talking about is Awareness. You cannot separate the two. The only difference is when you have distance and, depending on what you understand, the sooner you see trouble the sooner you can react or prepare for trouble or prepare for battle. What I mean by what you understand is what you can conceive of in your mind. If you can’t see it in your mind your eyes cannot see it and you cannot react or act upon it within any reasonable amount of time. I can recall John saying numerous times in the past,

“When I use my Awareness I’m not just basing it off of what I can directly see but what I think is going down. I push my Awareness out as far as I can. To the end of the universe figuratively. Whatever I feel through my Awareness–just like if I feel through touch–I’m already there. I’m not waiting.”

The moment John has you on his radar his body and mind are already in motion, already taking action even if it appears he hasn’t moved. He hides his intention within movement or what I’ve discussed before as “pre-movement.” Where he is already in position where he needs to be to influence your movement before you have time to do something about it because he’s already in the future.

In the military we call this an ambush.

I’m so all about the ambush…


The Sphere of Influence – Sphere of Opportunity


I want you to think about something with me. I want you to think about how your body moves, think about all of your joints and how your body can articulate to a multitude of positions. Think about all of the space you are able to control within your Sphere of Influence as far as you can strike with your hands and feet in any direction with power.

Now consider this, think of all of the possibilities of how you can move within your body, and realize that all of the things that your body is capable of within your natural range of motion.

All of the positions your body can articulate into, all of the possible positions that you can strike from, regardless of any actual or perceived physical limitations, think of everything that your body can do. Now, realize all of those possibilities already exist.

This is why the Grandmaster always says, “None of us knows what we can really do until we have to do it.”

Because if we’re honest, we really don’t…

My question is if you had to fight for your life why would you give this freedom of movement up?

Why would you limit what is the art of the possible and your ability to create?

To strike from the void of possibilities? The ether?

Why would you do this to yourself?

When your body is unitized, when you move in Unity, when everything is synchronized and your body moves as one, you are able to then, through the principles, not defy but manipulate the laws of physics and use them to your advantage. To transcend technique, to go beyond your limitations whatever they may be.

It is through Unity with the principles that you are able to achieve this. But here is a catch. In order to do so in most cases, you have to do the opposite of what you think you have to do. What you’ve been trained or conditioned to do. You need to totally rewire or as John talks about at times, “overwrite the code” of how you’ve been programed to think and move. I can tell you from training hundreds upon hundreds of people over the years from all walks of life the “getting people’s body’s right” is the easy part, it’s rewiring how they perceive and think about their own movement that is the hard part.


Respectful Disrespect


“One of the things my father taught me when I was studying with my instructors was to listen to what they say but watch what they really do. He called it ‘respectful disrespect.’ You have to develop the ability to see what they are really doing regardless of what they’re saying. Because that’s what they’re doing, that’s what they mean by what they say. That’s what you want to learn to pay attention to.”

–Grandmaster Perkins


I can’t tell you how profound this is because it is one of the things to understanding some of the things John does. When Tim told me,

“When John is demonstrating in front of the class you need to be paying attention because he’s giving away gold.”

People watch John move, he explains things as best as he can, given he’s trying to sum up 10 million things of how the body can move under dynamic conditions in a two-hour class, and yet they still don’t get it because they won’t use “Respectful Disrespect.” They hear the words but they are not paying attention to what he is actually doing. They see but they don’t see. They want him to give them the cookie cutter answer to something that may not have a clear cut answer. Sometimes the answer is there is no answer.

I was recently watching some stuff on the computer with the wife and she was watching John move with folks including me and she said, “John’s movement is just too smooth. None of you move like that.”

She also said, “I notice John doesn’t move a lot while ya’ll are trying to block his hands all the time.” (My wife is a southern girl so “ya’ll” is a perfectly acceptable term and has been approved for use).

If you watch how John moves, one of the things you will notice is that when he moves he not only moves his whole body (even if it is ever so slight) but he lets a lot of things go. But if you’re not using respectful disrespect you miss it because it’s a very subtle thing that he does. I would say that John probably allows or redirects 90% percent of the things coming at him and lets them pass by and only deals with those things he knows he has to deal with. Either because he can’t get out of the way in time or because he senses an opportunity to stop something before it ever gets started. When you allow most of the things coming at you to just pass by instead of trying to stop everything it really simplifies things for you. It also allows you to neutralize a lot of what the other person is doing regardless of size or strength.

(As a side note to this, remember when John’s training folks he’s allowing for a lot of things in order for us to learn. If he shuts everything down, then you learn nothing. In truth when I work with John and he’s just going off he’s just hitting. It’s simple to me: if he can redirect my hands or let them pass by then it can only mean one thing, he knows where they are. Meaning for the most part he doesn’t have to deal with them in the first place. If he knows where they are he knows where they are not, so he just hits. In order to develop your skill to where you can just hit, you have to develop your whole body through the principles to learn to get ahead of movement to the future to become unavailable yet unavoidable.)

The other thing is, he doesn’t wait to move his body (or change the attitude as I like to refer to it) of his body. But I don’t think this is a conscious thing he does, I think it is a byproduct of mastering the principles, being in a lot of nasty scrapes, and working as a cop at a time where a perpetrator would have no problem taking a swing at a cop. Either way it doesn’t matter: the point is he’s not there, he’s already in the future position, causing you to deal with his movement. Putting you on the defensive, on your heels making you react instead of act.

One thing that I’ve observed is that John is always doing this stuff all-of-the-time within his movement. Hell, he even says it, but most of the time this stuff just glazes over people’s eyes. They focus on the shiny object, the end result, but miss what’s going on as he forges the blade right in front of them. If you’re a fan of Forged in Fire on the History Channel like I am, then you know, no matter how well made the final result of a finely crafted blade, the process is often ugly and unimpressive looking to the eye. But as the blade takes shape, like magic, a rough, twisted piece of steel becomes a finely crafted weapon. It is the same when John is demonstrating a concept. You have to be willing to look at the whole process and stop thinking there is some sort of trick or shortcut to it, and just accept that as John is demonstrating whatever he’s showing it really is what he says it is and nothing more.


The Vacuum


“Striking from The Void is the way of nature.”

–Miyamoto Musashi, “A Book of Five Rings”


Within the freedom of how we can move our body’s within our Spheres we are able to change our bodies in ways that allow us to create opportunities that cannot be seen with the eye but only felt through our sensitivity. You’ve heard me discuss before how you can strike from the void, the place of infinite possibilities. It is the ability to strike from wherever, whenever, without thought. Well if you can strike from The Void you can also evade from The Void.

I once had a student I was training with where I was telling him the story of working with a new potential student for our school and I was telling him how the guy, who had good size on him, was so scared that I could literally feel the fear in his body. I was telling this to him, “I haven’t felt that level of primal almost, visceral fear in a person in a long time.” But the student I was working with at the time made a great point and sort of called me out. He said something like,

“You know you guys do this stuff all of the time and I’m not sure if you’re aware that when people work with you, anytime they move against you there is this ‘vacuum’, this empty space where we feel like we’re falling. It’s very disconcerting. It’s just not something we expect so it scares us especially when we get hit.”

Goes to show you, no matter how advanced you are, it doesn’t mean that those you teach can’t teach you something. But he was right.


“You’ll notice that when John wants to get in on people he pretty much gives up his body. He moves his body in a way where he can just go in with reckless abandon… He almost dares you him to hit him.”

–Grandmaster Carron


When John enters, as I’ve describe before, there is almost this dimensional feel to how he moves in on you. He creates, as my student described, this vacuum where as you enter there is nothing there. It’s as if there is for a brief moment a rip or tear in time and space where you fall though this hole only to collide with whatever he’s throwing. I remember John telling me once,

“It’s not so much when I’m entering that I strike people as much as they get in the way of my strikes so it surprises them because there’s no time for them to react.”

He evades from The Void as well as strikes from The Void simultaneously. Like a sponge with a spike in it, the harder you strike the sponge the deeper the spike penetrates you. In essence it feels as if that space disappears. This is why when moving with him his movement feels as if he is moving faster than he is. It is because, as he creates space for himself by letting things go, he enters and takes it away from you. Time expands for him while it contracts for you so whatever you’re trying to do–no matter how fast you move–once he creates that space, that vacuum, that void in space, you are already in trouble because you cannot move fast enough to negate what he has done…because it already happened.

Way cool stuff…

Well that’s if for this installment.

Thank you.

LtCol Al Ridenhour
Senior Master Instructor


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Al Ridenhour

Al Ridenhour is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps with 28 years of active and reserve military service with multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Although he was an instructor in unarmed combat for his unit, Al Ridenhour knew he had found the right self-defense system in 1992 when people half his size from John Perkins' school could strike him at will with "penetrating force," yet remain elusive to his own strikes. Even though he'd traveled the globe with the U.S. Marines and trained with a variety of U.S. military and Asian martial arts instructors, Al's first thought was "if this works for them, it'll work for me." He resolved then and there to become a student of Perkins' unusual, free-flowing and highly adaptive art. In 2019, after rising to the rank of 7th degree master, Al Ridenhour left the Guided Chaos organization.

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