Lessons from My Masters 17: Observations – Ruthless Intent Part I

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The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means…

― Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings


People are always asking me about this.

They want to understand what is it, where it comes from, but most importantly, how to get it.

I’m going to cover this from a more mental aspect at first in Part I, and then build on it from there because without getting your mind right you really can’t get there from here.

The first time I ever even heard of such a thing was one time training with Grandmaster Perkins. He and I were working out under the “learning tree” in Nyack, NY near our old school. He just moved in on me, cutting through my strikes like nothing and striking me in the head at the same time, with just one hand.
Now, I had felt this before training with the other Guided Chaos Grandmaster, Tim Carron, so I began asking him over time how it is, when he and Grandmaster Carron just want things to work, they are able to just cut through what people are doing even if they are prepared for it.
You see, I don’t care who you are, the first time you feel it, it shocks you to the core because it just makes no sense. The effortlessness of the movement, the lack of winding up or preparatory movement…the fluidity…it all just seems to happen at once.


Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the face.

–Mike Tyson


You see it but you can’t get out of the way of it. You try to stop it but it is futile. You can’t even really judge it because it doesn’t look any different than any other strike they are throwing, so as far as you’re concerned you’re doing all that you can to deal with it.

Until you get hit.


The Beginnings of Understanding “Ruthless Intent”


I can still hear Grandmaster Carron saying to me,

“I don’t know if I can kick anyone’s ass all I know is if you mess with me you’re going to have to kill me.”

To this day that conversation plays over and over in my mind because he was talking about something very fundamental and that is if you go there you had better be sure because if you’re not, you are not coming back from it. More importantly he said something to me along the lines of–and I’m just paraphrasing here–“Ruthlessness trumps everything!”


“All men are basically the same and he who is best is trained in the severest schools.”

–Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War


Tim would also say some other things to me and a lot of this was along the lines of when he was showing me what he and John called “finishing moves. For those who’ve heard me discuss how Tim and I use to talk all of the time about some of his experiences in Vietnam, (and also how I regret how I never told him how brave I always thought he was), one thing that always stood out (and I can remember it like yesterday) was him telling me that,

“You know there’s really no such thing as a coward. The same guy who is scared to death one day is the same guy doing what he’s got to do when the time comes. The bottom line is you either have the will or you don’t and a lot of times it’s just moment to moment and what you do in those moments.”

I totally understood where he was coming from with this.  No matter who you are or where you come from, fear and the dread of death is a part of life. It is what drives us to do things beyond what we think we are capable of, especially in the face of adversity. No one is without fear, no man is invincible, no one is so brave that they are not startled by the unexpected. Anyone who says differently is full of shit!

It can only be overcome and understood but never fully eliminated and you don’t want to because a healthy dose of fear is what saves you many times over. The problem though is most people (including most men) do not have a healthy understanding of these things. If anything, they have an irrational understanding or irrational sense of fear so as a result they have a warped sense of not only what courage is but of themselves. This is important to understanding “Ruthless Intent” because without it you will never get anywhere near toward developing it.


Ruthless Intent is an Attitude and Mindset


“The Way of the Samurai is in Death.”

― Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


Ruthless Intent is all about mindset but it is also influenced by how capable you feel you are in the body. I’ll come back to that. You see most people have never had to come to terms with their own sense of mortality. The finality of death, the extinguishing of their very existence. Sure they know that someday they’re going to die and sure they know there are things that can kill them, but deep, deep down as crazy as what I’m about to say sounds, it is, I’ve found, none the less true. They really don’t believe it! I say this only because if they did they would think differently, and this holds true even for people who train in the fighting arts. This is why when faced with death it shocks them to their core. Paralyzes them instead of empowering them into action.

I can remember when I was in Afghanistan listening to a bunch of Marines one evening talking trash and as usual the conversation invariably turned to sex. Because that’s all we think about other than staying alive. Anyway, one Marine asked the group, “So which type of sex do you think is the best make up sex or pre-deployment sex?”

So they debated back and forth as to which was better and then one Marine chimed in and told them they were all wrong. He said, “The best sex is ‘post war sex’, because you both know your ass is lucky to have made it home alive.”

Damn straight!

Sometimes it is that way of thinking, that single-mindedness of purpose, that focus to see your loved ones again that gets you through. It is this same understanding and focus you must develop in order to develop the necessary ruthlessness that I am describing here. The desire to crush all that stand in your way if necessary if for nothing less than to see your loved ones again or to save their lives. Like I’ve said before and in my observation over the years when you stand for something greater than yourself you do not need to find courage, courage finds you. And so does the ability to become ruthless when you need to.

“There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A man’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. There will be nothing else to do, and nothing else to pursue. Live being true to the single purpose of the moment.”

― Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


For people who’ve come close to meeting God and are able to process and overcome the emotions that come with it, they have a different appreciation for life. For them life is fuller, more meaningful and richer because they’ve been taught a hard lesson of how fleeting life really is. They understand that life is about moment to moment as Stirling Siliphant once said in the excellent book Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams (this is a book by the way that Grandmaster Carron once recommended to me, great choice):


“Each moment, each hour, of each day you’re burning time off your existence and you don’t get it back. So when people waste your time they are stealing from your existence. So when you waste my time you are stealing from my existence and I take that personally.”


Through the proper training and understanding they are also able to develop a different edge, a different focus. “Ruthless Intent” is rooted in the understanding of coming to grips with these fundamental truths because they apply to all of us. Those willing to risk putting life on the line gain life, live life, enjoy life, even if their days be shortened. Those who struggle out of fear to cling to life, who are ruled by the fear of pain, fear of injury, fear of loss of life, though their days be long, they never really live. To live with such irrational fear, the constant dread of death, is to die over and over each day. Many people are alive but they are dead inside, fear of death has robbed them of life. They eat, sleep, go to work and poop but their souls are dead. They travel through life like Zombies hoping to just merely exist another day and like the dog that returns to lick his own vomit, they start all over again the next day.

“Lo, There do I see my Father

Lo, There do I see my Mother and my Brothers and my Sisters

Lo, There do I see the line of my people back to the beginning

Lo, They do call to me

They bid me take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla

Where thine enemies have been vanquished

Where the brave shall live Forever

Nor shall we mourn but rejoice for those that have died the glorious death.”

–Norse Prayer, Dated between 4 B.C. and 3 A.D.


Folks I have to tell you I am so all about dying a Viking Warriors Death. It wasn’t that the Vikings were without fear it was that they knew through the proper mental focus and mindset they could overcome the fear of death by embracing it. They lived hard, fought hard, made love hard and drank hard and if it was their time, “C’est la vie,” so be it. No fear, no hesitation, no regrets… Embracing the reality and only wanting one thing and that was if they were to die that it be in noble battle. That when people talked about them for all eternity they tell tales of bravery and not how they died choking on swallowing a bottle cap or some other ignoble death worthy of the TV show One Thousand Ways to Die.

From my personal observation this is something that outside of the military of course, is something unique to the art of Guided Chaos. This concept of Ruthless Intent, this single-mindedness of purpose, this focus of the “Mushin Mind,” the “Zen State,” “Flow State,” “The Zone” if you will–whatever you want to call it–where in a micro second, if properly trained, you can learn to focus in a way where all reality seems to collapse around you and there is nothing else except your sword and his sword in the moment, where your mind enters the state of Tachypsychia and everything seems to slow down as if everything else around you has almost come to a screeching halt or where it seems that time and space collapsed and you’ve somehow teleported to a different position with literally no exertion.

Like Tim said, “Weird stuff…”

Other Martial arts systems talk about this stuff but I’ve trained enough people over the years from a variety of arts where I can tell you while some get close they can never really get you quite there unless you’ve either had previous experiences dealing with the possibility of death or it is something that is innate to your character. Again these are just my observations.

I believe a part of this is, as Grandmaster Perkins has said to me at various times over the years,

“There is an aspect to this art that touches men’s souls… It cuts right to the heart of your character and who you are because no matter what, they can’t fake or deny the fact that they are getting hit. It’s funny because I’ve trained all sorts of guys over the years and no matter who they are or how bad ass they’re supposed to be everyone panics when they don’t understand how they’re being hit. Just goes to show you…you never know what’s inside of a person regardless of how they look or what they’ve done or who they are… You just never know.”

At times he would continue with stuff like,

“No matter what you’re feeling, if you stay with it and do the exercises and the Contact Flow the right way, you know what I mean. It’s almost like as if your skills and senses ‘trip’ over into a sixth sense. I really don’t know how to describe it. When I’m really moving with people or something is going on in front of me it’s like I see it or get a picture in my head before it fully takes place. It’s almost like I can see the lines, the arcs, the angles of movement right in front of me but it’s in my mind. I don’t know if that makes sense… When I want to hit them it’s as if I just will it to happen. If I want to strike the arm or affect their body a certain way I just do it, it’s not pre-planned I just ‘know’ when I need to do it and I just do it. Now when I hit people with intent I just know how to hit with the right touch, but what’s weird is it always feels like I just touch them. It never feels like I’m striking hard but it is hard.”

Makes perfect sense to me, like hitting a golf ball correctly or a baseball on the sweet spot of the bat. It’s effortless. It feels like a touch and the ball is just gone. Anyway, this, as you can imagine, is a conversation we’ve had many times and I once said something like,

“Well you know what it is, until you get hit, until you feel it for yourself you don’t get it and you don’t want to believe it. Until you feel it, until you feel like you’re about to lose consciousness from getting hit by you or Tim. Or you clash with Master Michael’s bones and you  get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach where you feel like you’re going to puke. And then he says, ‘Oh sorry, you okay?’ Or Master Barnett, or Martarano and some of the other guys thump you in the chest and you feel the lights dim. I’m sorry but until you feel it you don’t get it. I mean think how humbling it must be to go through life thinking you’re this ‘badass’ and who knows–maybe in your neck of the woods you are, and then you come in here and get beat up by some housewife? It’ll definitely knock you down a few pegs.”


Neither Wisdom nor Technique has a Place in This


Again, I’m going to cover some of this from a more philosophical stand point because this is truly all about a different mindset than you may be use too. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with technique and there’s nothing wrong with understanding these things on the deepest levels but the time to figure that out is beforehand.  You have to develop this up front. It is a learned thing but it doesn’t happen overnight. But if you cannot develop this mindset as with other stuff I’ve written about in my opinion, you never, ever learn to transcend technique, you never learn to create on the fly, to shape the battle without thought, and strike down the enemy with impunity and you never learn Ruthless Intent.


“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”

― Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


I left the full quote as stated so you can get the whole understanding. As far as plunging in recklessly, aaaaahhhmmmm…. No!

But I understand what he’s trying to convey here. The point is anything you do can get you killed especially doing nothing, so doing nothing is not an option. I believe the first step in developing Ruthless Intent is, as I’ve alluded to, coming to grips with your own mortality. Coming to a level of acceptance and looking at things from the perspective that no matter who you deal with on the most basic level we’re all the same and that no one wants to get killed or die anytime soon. In other words, it’s all about coming to grips with your humanity.

You see one thing that I see all of the time in the martial arts, especially in the reality based systems, is we build up the bad guys like they’re super human or something. Talk of prison trained monsters etc. This is nonsense… Think about it: The vast majority of criminals are not guys that look like Dwayne the Rock Johnson or The Mountain from Game of Thrones. They’re average looking people. Some muscular, tall or large but most are thin and lanky meaning they fall within the body types of 90% percent of the human population.  So why are we trying to train people through fear of a genetic body type that probably represents less than 2% percent of the human population?

This way of thinking is not productive but more importantly it dulls our senses to real threats that may be staring us right in the face. Like I said, if you can’t see it with your mind you can’t see it with your eyes. That’s why I train people to focus on behavior and not just how a person looks. I mean obviously if a person is dressed like every thug you see in your neighborhood they more than likely are a thug. Why do you think gangs have colors, certain dress codes or tattoos? Hey they’d like to know who’s on their side as well. When I was in Afghanistan one way you could always distinguish the real fighters from the posers was the fact that the real fighters always wore tennis shoes, usually Converse All-Stars. Why? Because if you had to run from us in the mountains you’d want a reliable shoe as well and not a pair of sandals. Made sense to me.

Now usually when I say that, people say, “Well how do you know they are a thug? They just could be a person who dresses that way.” So here’s some food for thought on that because I’m sure others have had to answer that question for their students in the past. As someone who was a kid in the 1970’s I can still remember Hippies. I can remember being in the 4th grade and me and my friends who used to see hippies hanging out on our way to school would ask them, “Hey man why do you dress like that?” Here’s what they would say, “Well, little man you see the reason I dress like this is to express my individuality…”

Now, mind you… while saying this, it was always interesting that we could always tell who all of the tie-died, sandal wearing, dirty haired hippies were a mile away. Why? Because they were wearing the Hippie Uniform. Are you kidding me? Even as a kid I could tell Hippies apart from other folks the same way I could tell some bum apart from everyone else and definitely could tell who the stoners were in my town. To deny such a thing is to deny reality. In the same way you can develop your powers of discernment to judge good from evil.

Listen, they are human and just because they have the capacity to be evil doesn’t make them brave–just evil. Your goal should be to crush them with utter ruthlessness and spare no quarter. In a nut shell? Screw’em!

One of my favorite scenes in the movie 300 was when the Spartans were told the Immortals were coming after them and one of the character’s said, “Hmm… Immortals… we’ll see about that…” In other words, Fuck them! Bring it!

I’m totally on board with this attitude.

I once had a friend ask me,

“So what are your thoughts now that North Korea is acting up over what Trump said?”

So I asked a simple question, “Why are you so afraid of them?”

Now of course he said, “Well I’m not afraid of them!” (because that’s what people who are afraid always say after being asked such questions.)

I said,

“Listen, if we really wanted to we could turn Pyong Yang into a fucking smoking hole in the ground and they fucking know it. Now do we have the will to do so? Well that’s another matter but make no mistake about it we could cause them to cease to exist.”

You see, like I’ve said, nobody really wants to be killed but when your mind is there and you’re prepared to go there it’s a different thing and gives you a different edge. No matter how it happens, a shot here, a bomb there you can only be killed once and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s on the battlefield or in your town, a fight is a fight and dead is dead. The only thing that changes are the numbers involved and the weapons used and if it’s your time it’s your time. Not to get off the track here but it’s funny how over the years I’ve observed that the people least likely to fight in a war generally seem to be the ones who worry the most about it. Go figure.

Anyway, I remember talking once with Master Martarano and I told him, “As you know, Tim and John have a different touch.”

He said, “You ain’t lying!”

He then asked me, “So what do you think it is?”

I told him, “Simple, they mean that shit!”

Your mind and spirit needs to be settled before hand on this matter. This is the first step in the process. If you can’t get your mind there then you are not going to get to the place you want.

Now, Tim never had any reservations of letting people feel the kiss of death so to speak when warranted. John on the other hand is always careful to not hit certain people for fear of seriously injuring them.  As a result, I would have folks say things to me like,

“I was talking with such and such and he told me that Tim really does the art the way it should be done.”

Or even stupid shit like, “Such and such said, ‘Tim does the true art’ etc. What are your thoughts?”

I would very matter of fact then explain,

“First of all let me make it simple for you… He’s an idiot and doesn’t know what the Hell he’s talking about so disregard anything he said to you.  Here’s the deal. He’s confusing the fact that because Tim would light his ass up where John wouldn’t, that somehow because John was being easy on him, he assumed that John’s striking skill, (to a person who’s never felt his touch) was less impressive or effective. Listen, I’ve had a number of guys express the same thing over the years so let me tell you. Having been hit by both, yes if Tim hits you for real you’re not coming back from it and it’s the same with John. The difference is John’s more compassionate, (not by much) but more likely to seriously injure you. So he’s always worried about breaking people or even overly dominating people because (as I have seen) they get their feelings hurt or seriously injured. I saw John ‘tap’ a guy on the side of his face with his fingers over in Nanuet and knock the guy out cold. Like no shit! Part of the reason was the guy tensed up. Listen, people spaz out with John all of the time. I see it! Or they stiffen up to his touch because they feel the vacuum, the void, the danger, so they panic. Most of the time they don’t even realize they’re doing it. They don’t realize as long as they react like that he really can’t move with you because you will get hurt. This is why Tim used to always counsel me on how to move with John. Tim once told me that John caught his arm one time and he said after that he’s never allowing anyone to grab him again. He said he could literally feel his shoulder going.”

Okay I’m going to cut it off right here because I want you to marinate over what I’ve said because in the next installment I’m going to go over from my own perspective and personal observations what it feels like when employing Ruthless Intent on people.

Way cool stuff.


Thank you.

LtCol Al Ridenhour

Senior Master Instructor



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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