Lessons from My Masters 18: Observations – Ruthless Intent Part II

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“It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.”

― Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


Okay I know I sort of hinted at how you go about developing Ruthless Intent, but I realized after discussing this with a few folks, that I needed to elaborate on this a little more from a mindset perspective. I also want to reiterate something that I alluded to in the last Blog Post. Understand that I am talking about a way of thinking, a way of focusing your training but I also understand that for some folks this Ruthless Intent is something that is innate to their nature. Meaning on some level if for some it is not innate to your nature there is a place you may not ever develop the ability to go to. And that’s okay. Just because there are certain things that you could never see yourself doing such as using a knife or a gun on someone does not mean there is no value in you learning how to summon this response. Just the mere change in attitude toward someone that they sort of know you’ll knock them out may be enough to deter someone.

I remember a recent email exchange I had with Prof. Brad Steiner President of the ICMAF, where he was discussing this whole “Sheepdog versus the Sheep” mentality that has permeated law enforcement and military circles. Basically there is a philosophy out there that folks in those communities have adopted where they in law enforcement are the Sheepdogs protecting the sheep from the wolf, and that everyday civilians are the sheep to be protected by them. And that it is their responsibility to protect all of the helpless sheep etc. Brad called BS on the whole notion and I’m in total agreement with him because as he stated, “it’s just a bunch of statist bullshit” where they presume that they and only they are capable of standing up to evil etc…


Let me be very clear here! You and I have every right and a moral obligation to not only protect our lives but our loved ones as well and you are not required to give up that right just because you’re not a cop. Nor do you give up the right to defend your nation just because you’re not in the military even if you’ve never served.

Me personally (as I tell folks when they ask me about all of this sheepdog stuff) I basically tell them,

“Listen I really don’t like that analogy. I mean I get it and understand what they are saying but let’s get something straight. The Sheepdog works for the rancher not the sheep because he knows if the wolf kills any of the sheep he doesn’t eat that evening. Now me? I prefer to make people into Lions or Lionesses, you know why? Because neither wolves nor sheepdogs hunt Lions.”

In a world, of sheep, sheepdogs and wolves be a Lion!


The Essence of Ruthless Intent


I remember some time back when Gen James Jones, Commandant of the Marine Corps, implemented a mandatory standardized martial arts program. Now, while we had always had some form of martial arts instruction in the Marine Corps even well before my time, one thing I did not know was that there had never been a requirement for people to maintain proficiency in the pugilistic arts. Sure we had boxing and there used to be what we called “Boxing Smokers.” But this was different.

For the first time we were going to, by order, have a martial arts program in which people in order for promotion and by rank had to achieve certain levels in order to advance. I can tell you right now when this first started out as a proof of concept as they were developing the program there was all sorts of wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was unreal to say the least. First there were all the naysayers discussing the irrelevance of having a martial arts program. You know what usual arguments, “Well I’ll just use my rifle”; “Well a gun negates all of that,” and on and on.

As the program developed (and to be honest–I had my own misgivings about some of what they were doing–not that I was against the program but I was against some of the things that they were teaching due to their lack of practicality), in the beginning there was a heavy influence on ground-grappling and I can tell you if that’s a problem on the street due to all of the limitations ground-grappling poses, you can only imagine the difficulty of doing it with 40 to 50 pounds of gear on, including your weapon. Not good.

Much of this was influenced by the folks who created the system–some who I personally know–who were all highly proficient not only in the striking arts but also in the grappling arts such as Judo, Wrestling, and Jiu Jitsu so naturally the art reflected their prejudices. I get it. We all play to our strengths. The other thing was these guys were the type of people who would be tough in a real fight if they knew nothing. They were beasts of men and very athletic.

Often when I would point these deficiencies out there would be folks who would say, “Well cops wear gear and they use many of these techniques.” I would then have to educate them on the difference between a guy who by law has to stop people first (and using deadly force is a last resort) versus a guy who is fighting where the whole intent is to kill the enemy so he’s already fighting for his life.

Anyway, as the program evolved it ironically became closer to the stuff advocated by people who thought as I did (and there were many) and that is: stay off the ground if possible and focus on blows with your weapon or your hands over throws. I think the real turning point in the program (beside the fact that the Commandant said “You’re going to do it so shut up and do your duty!”) was when Gen Jones stated that he wanted to meld the best of many martial arts techniques with rigorous conditioning, mental discipline, and character-building.”

As a company commander in Vietnam, Gen. Jones was impressed that the South Korean marines serving there had black belts in Tae kwon do.

He also in other interviews, and this is important to understand, talked about how the Viet Cong had absolute dread and fear of the South Koreans because it was known that they took great pleasure in killing the Viet Cong hand-to-hand.  Sure he said they feared and respected us, but they dreaded even getting near those guys. He wanted to give the U.S. Marines a similar edge, so he ordered the development of an intensive new martial arts training program for all Marines. Gen Jones and the men who developed the first iteration of the program, Col Bristol, MGySgt Urso and MSgt Colemen got it.

Once people had a better understanding of the intent of what we were building, much of the criticism died down. Today the program is first rate, simple, fierce and to the point. I commend LtCol Joe Shushko, USMC (ret) for where he has taken the program. And I’ll tell you (and I’m not just saying this because I’m a Marine) it is the envy of the other services.

Now, there would still be critics, I remember talking with the Commanding Officer, Joe Shushko and his Master Sargent who ran the program with him and they discussed some of the critics who still wanted to kill the program even after almost 20 years of existence and I remember the Master Sargent asking me,

“Sir, why do you think there are still some senior officers who don’t like the program and even a few senior Staff NCOs?”

I said something like,

“Listen a guy can shoot well, and people can sort of get over the idea that a guy they know even of lesser rank can shoot better than them. They can handle that. You may even be able to run faster than another guy or do more pull ups. But nothing bothers a man more than the idea that some guy regardless who they are can kick their ass or even worse kill them with their bare hands. Everybody gets the idea of a gun but knowing you can best them in hand-to-hand, man-on-man combat? No matter a guy’s rank, take away the rank or out on the street and he’s still just another dude. He puts his pants on like anyone else and when he gets punched in the face it hurts just like it does for anyone else. You have to understand this stuff you guys do scares people. I mean, no matter who you are you’re not leaving this training program without getting punched in the face, in the body or kicked, multiple times or slammed on your back. Everybody, no matter what, gets beat up here even if you’re the best at this game because the intent of what you guys do here is not some form of legalized hazing but gives people their mental edge. It’s set up for people to get their ass kicked a little so they learn how to muscle through it. Listen this shit hurts man and the sooner guys and gals know they have to get back up and get back in the fight the better off they’re going to be. When I worked at the Warfighting Lab there were some folks there who were retired folks who did not think this was a wise investment for the Marine Corps but as I got to know some of them I realized all it was, was that you guys were a threat to their egos. As far as I’m concerned that’s their problem.”

They all nodded in agreement.


In china there was once a man who liked pictures of dragons, and his clothing and furnishings were all designed accordingly. His deep affections for dragons was brought to the attention of ‘The Dragon god,’ and one day a real dragon appeared before his window. It is said that he died of fright. He was probably a man who always spoke big words but acted differently when facing the real thing.

― Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


As we know, the martial arts is full of a lot of big talkers. Hell, the world is for that matter. Lots of paper tigers out there, all show no go. Sure they’re in shape but can they bring it if they had to?

Now, the true essence of combat is rooted in the killing of people. It is not in any of the things that people (due to pop culture and entertainment) think it is, i.e., breaking boards, doing splits, looking cool, winning trophies or tournaments, forms etc., but in killing in the most efficient manner. This concept is non-negotiable. If you are to develop your prowess for Ruthless Intent, you must learn and study to kill as quickly as possible, since a real fight is nothing less than an attempt on your life.

The point is, being a warrior is a matter of mind and spirit, in real martial arts the goal is the survival of yourself and the ultimate destruction of your enemy. There should be absolutely no ambiguity about this. Ruthless Intent is but an extension, a thing among many of a warrior’s skill.

This is why I admonish those who look at the Contact Flow exercise as just a way to feel good because they can kick ass in class. Or they view Contact Flow as some sort of magical thing where if they just do enough Contact Flow without giving thought to the qualities and attributes they wish to develop in the body, that through some form of magic or osmosis they’re going to develop the skills they desire.

They’re wasting their time…

More importantly, they’re wasting a golden opportunity within the finite time we have in this life to learn to do something that 99% of martial artists, let alone people on planet earth, don’t get to do, and that is learn to deal with the utter randomness of another person’s motion.

Just even doing Contact Flow in the proper context for a short period of time improves a person’s sense of awareness and coordination for dealing with random motion a hundred fold. I’ve personally heard this from students who can only train with me privately whose opportunity to do Contact Flow is infrequent.

The point is, no matter how much time you put into it the context in which you practice is just as important as moving. You want to develop real skill within the proper understanding lest a Real Dragon show up and you die of fright


“As for me, all I know is I know nothing.”


It is an amazing training modality that Grandmaster Perkins has created and I personally don’t think we fully understand how profound an impact this exercise has on shaping and developing all of the facets of the principles of the art in the body. I believe this is because we’re always improving and just when you think you’ve got it, you realize, as I told Master Martarano once, “The more I learn within the art the more I realize how much I really don’t know…”

The same is for developing Ruthless Intent…

The more you develop it, the more layers of false armor you realize you have to discard, the more you have to come to terms with your own humanity; the more useless nonsense in your head you have to strip away, to let go of. The incessant chatter between your inner angel versus inner devil, the part of you that says, “Oh I don’t know if I canI wish I could…,” versus the part that says, “What the Hell are you waiting for? Why are you holding back? Let that shit go man…”


Taking Things to Their Logical Conclusion


“Do not rely on following the degree of understanding that you have discovered, but simply think, ‘This’ is not enough.”

― Tsunetomo Yamamoto, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


I remember some years back John had a student who was once a trainer of a very famous boxer (I’ll give you a hint: I quote this boxer quite often). Anyway, I remember once during a class he had an epiphany and said, in my view, something very profound to John. He said something like,

“You know I have to tell you I would always tell my boxers something similar to what you just said about being loose. You are so right! But we never thought of taking it to its logical conclusion! Man this stuff is amazing!”

Like what this trainer said above in order to develop Ruthless Intent, you need to start from the most logical point and let your mind follow that path to its logical conclusion.

As I said, you need to strip away the false armor of ego, bravado, pain, suffering, irrational fear. To your raw naked essence and come to terms with your own humanity and mortality. Like King Leonidas in the movie 300 where as a young boy he was sent off into the wilderness with nothing but a loin cloth. Stripped of weapons, of title, of comfort, of his mother. Hardened by the elements, by pain, by hunger, only to slay the wolf, returning with his skin worn proudly around his shoulders to warm him and to show his supremacy over the beast. No longer a boy and more than an ordinary man, a Spartan. So too, if you are to develop Ruthless Intent you must you strip away everything to gain everything.

As John’s uncle Bob told me (like practically on his death bed), “You must think of your enemy as prey…”

You see, this is the kind of cool thing I’d like to be remembered for after I pass into the afterlife.



“Sincerity does not only complete the self; it is the means by which all things are completed. As the self is completed, there is human-heartedness; as things are completed, there is wisdom. This is the virtue of one’s character, and the Way of joining the internal and external. Thus, when we use this, everything is correct.”

― Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


For those who are Star Wars fans if you will recall one of the more enigmatic scenes in the franchise was in the Empire Strikes Back where when Yoda is asked by Luke on Dagobah what is in the cave, Yoda responds, “Only what you take with you.”

This is one of those Homer’s Odyssey type things where Odysseus had to face multiple challenges. What happens in the cave with Luke as with Odysseus represents the inner struggle as they had to deal with the consequences good or bad of their choices. It is this same inner struggle that we all face as we move through our own cave, slaying our inner demons towards developing the healthy sense of self, necessary for the development of Ruthless Intent. Coming to terms with our fears in order to overcome them while not taking council of them.

The obstacles to achieving this are, Only what you take with you.

Think of it like this from a logical standpoint of course:

  • The enemy is human and can only move so fast, and has the same limitations in reaction time as you and I. You must anticipate his actions and throw the monkey wrench in early and often. Move first and make him deal with your motion.
  • You must look at them like prey to be hunted and figure out a way to take them out. So no matter their size, their head is their head, their neck their neck etc. and generally, have the same vulnerabilities as you do. Head hunt and take their head and seize the prize.
  • They can only strike you if you are available to them, so you must become the matador in the bull fight. Unavailable yet unavoidable.
  • You must always look at the glass as being half full and look for solutions around their advantages or your limitations, however you want to define it.
  • You must use their advantages to your advantage and make them a weakness or limitation for them by forcing them to rely on them, while you develop ways to negate them and make your perceived limitations your strengths and advantages.
  • You must fight within your own Sphere of Influence (i.e., body) and not beyond it. Control your space, control your body, and make them fight by your rules by making them have to fight your whole body.


Training to Kill is Easier than Training to Fight


“All that matters is having single-minded purpose (ichinen), in the here and now. Life is an ongoing succession of ‘one will’ at a time, each and every moment. A man who realizes this truth need not hurry to do, or seek, anything else anymore. Just live in the present with single-minded purpose. People forget this important truth, and keep seeking other things to accomplish.”

― Yamamoto Tsunetomo, Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai


The military does this everyday with great success so this is not hard (well at least physically it isn’t). The hard part is in the mind. While this may sound paradoxical to what you may have been taught throughout your life, in truth, training to kill (at least physically) is far easier than training to fight with people. It is for this reason why sport fighting has rules. This is why it is important to train people with the single-mindedness of purpose to strike and to begin from day one to develop some level of Ruthless Intent.

As I’ve stated in other posts, Ruthless Intent is but an extension of your will so when your life is on the line you must be able to strike to penetrate people with the emotional and moral will to cut through them. Your intention must be to destroy them and you must set it in your mind before-hand that no matter what, you intend to take them out. Through proper training what appears like a simple natural movement on the surface has the crushing force of an ocean wave crashing against the rocks, of lightning splitting a tree down the center or a tornado tossing a house like a toy.

In truth, as I described John’s motion in Part I, real killing skill looks like nothing at all, which is why people miss it even when it is staring them in the face. All systems which attempt to structure the fight through forms or rigid dogma are actually moving away from the natural, wild, free-flowing motion of what your body is capable of and they are barley scratching the surface. It is in this chaotic motion where the deadliest of skills are found.


How Ruthless Must You Be?


I love telling this story and I use it a lot in my training because even to this day I find it awe-inspiring.

I remember once teaching self-defense to a mother and daughter. I would say the daughter was about 20, and the mother was my age. So in order to get this point across I asked a question of this young woman’s mother who literally was a librarian and looked the stereotypical part.

Anyway, with both of us looking at her mother I asked, “If someone were trying to harm your daughter how hard would you fight to protect her?” and she looked at me and sort of leaned forward and into my eyes and said, “I would give my life for her.  She didn’t raise her voice but the emotion and intensity of her voice, the look in her eyes, the trembling of her upper lip, you knew in that moment, in that instant, her mind was there.

The look on her daughter’s face was one of utter shock and surprise like, “Who is this woman? Who is this Warrior?” Hell, she even took me aback. I’d seen that look too many times in my life. I had no illusions that in that moment, nothing else existed for her, reality had melted away, her blood and her veins were of fire and she was ready for war…

This is what I’m talking about…that fire, that intent…

I remember when I was in Afghanistan, and after one of my jaunts to one of our locales I was back to brief the Commanding General of our Region. And so while sitting in his office he asked me, “So tell me Al, what are they doing up there?” (meaning the enemy). I said,

“Sir, based on the guidance you gave me before I left, and based on some of the intel up there, they’ve figured out the right amount of charge to put in the IEDs to blow off our feet and legs without killing us because they know the demoralizing effect it has on us. It’s not a lack of material–they have plenty of that–they want to maim us so we can see our buddies like that.

In that moment–I say I was about four feet away on the other side of the table in his office–I could see him slowly clench his hands into fists. His face turned beet red, as he slightly bowed his head as he learned forward toward me and still looking at me with his eyes. I could see the anger, the fire, his eyes were bloodshot red. And he said, “If it were up to me I’d kill every fucking one of these bastards. I said, “Well Sir, that makes two of us and probably another 40,000 Marines.”

He sort of nodded in agreement and after my briefing he said, “I’ll see you tonight, the staff is going to form up outside of the CoC.

I said, “Yes Sir.”

I knew what he meant. We were having one of our “Dignified Transfers.” We were sending our fallen brothers home to Heaven, Paradise, Valhalla, the afterlife… His anger was understandable, it had been a rough 48 hours, we had lost seven of our brothers and we didn’t have any scalps to show for it, at least not in the numbers we required. You could feel it in the air, the pall over the base camp. To say we were angry was a gross understatement, we were far from alright with that shit… and we would have our day.

Just as an aside, nobody liked the Dignified Transfers, about the only thing I could say was thank God our casualties were so low and infrequent that it was actually a big deal when a Marine or Soldier died in battle. It’s one thing to read about it or see it on TV. But when those caskets roll by you with Old Glory covering them or in the case of some of our British Brothers, the Union Jack, I don’t care who you are, even if you didn’t know them, every one, as they salute their brothers going to their final resting place gets choked up and has to fight back the tears. Because we are human.

But it is because we are human you can feel it. The anger, the emotion, the focus of our intent and the will to act! This is what I’m talking about, this is what you must be able to harness, this experience, this feeling, to be able to control it on some level if you are to develop the Ruthless Intent you desire.

When your life or your fellow warriors’ lives are on the line, when you move you must move to strike and strike to kill. If their arm is in the way if necessary, you must be intent on breaking it. If their eyes are available, you must strike them with the intent of permanently destroying them. If their groin is available, you must knee them or kick them so hard that you intend to crack their pelvis.

You must chop the throat and neck with every intention to cleave their heads from their bodies. If they take you to the ground, you must kick with all that you have with every intention of breaking every bone within their body. If they fall to the ground, you must stomp and kick them and utterly crush them from head to toe.

In short you must be willing to do unto them everything they intended to do to you and develop the will to do what must be done!

Remember that generally speaking, your attacker, no matter how bloodthirsty, doesn’t want to be hurt either. They are not super human or invincible, which is why they use speed and surprise to overcome you but they are determined. You must in all of your training be willing to fight on their level, strike without mercy and win! I cannot overemphasize this point.

Well that’s it for this installment. In the next installment I’m going to share with you some of my personal journey towards learning how to develop this and harness it. More importantly, how to develop it in others.

Thank you.

LtCol Al Ridenhour

Senior Master Instructor




This Fall:


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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