Lessons from My Masters 20: Observations – Ruthless Intent Part IV

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“When I’m moving with someone I get the ‘Shadow Impression’ of their body.”

–Grandmaster Perkins to the Senior Master Instructor


[Editor’s Note: The early order discount for the Oct. 5-6 “Ruthless Intent” seminar in Los Angeles ends Sept. 5]


The first time I heard that I was like, “Whaaaaaaat!?!”

It kills me because John says this sort of thing all of the time and yet it goes in one ear and out the other for most folks. Their loss. Shame.


Okay now this is way cool…

So, I ask a question of students frequently–it doesn’t matter–I’m just trying to make a point to open their minds to another possibility they may not be aware of, and so I ask, “So how did that happen? How do you think I did that?” They’ll give me all sorts of answers none of which are incorrect per se. They say, “Well you moved a certain way and I reacted to what you were doing and moved here etc.” Like I said: not incorrect but then I tell them,

“Well, what happened was I moved in a way where I allowed you to get there and I created the path or space that I wanted you to enter into. I used a Shadow Impression of your movement and I directed you there. In other words I put you there, and if I can put you there then I can move in a way to not let you get to that position in the first place. In other words it was a focus of my will. If I can direct you to the right place I can also direct you to the wrong place.”


“When your enemy is making a mistake don’t interrupt him.”



This ability to create the path you want your enemy to enter into, this focus of will, is an aspect of Ruthless Intent that if you want to manipulate your attacker like prey into a death trap, you have to think of moving with them in a different fashion.

Now that I’ve covered a number of Observations of the things that my Masters have taught me over the years, I’m going to cover something that is very difficult to understand let alone describe. It is a skill that allows you to apply Ruthless Intent as early in the battle as possible by getting ahead of their movement in order to crush them before the fight really gets started. Without feeling it directly this is just one of those things you have to feel to believe. However, for those who have felt this it will make or at least begin to make a lot of sense.

Something spoken of often but not always explicitly stated is the concept of what is called “The Shadow Impression.” Of the many skills of my Masters, one of the skills that I’m not sure people are aware of that they often showed was their ability to seem to know what another person was going to do in real time before they did it. This ability has an almost “pre-cognition” feel to their movement and is often the cause of people speeding up with them. The reason is that much of their movement actually feels like speed.

I’ve discussed this before but I’m going to cover this from a little different perspective based purely on my experiences and personal observations but more importantly from a mental perspective. People always ask me, “How is it that you seem to know what I’m going to do before I do it?” Well the truth is I don’t know anything, you see, you tell me through your body or intention what I need to know (I’ll explain later).

In order to develop this there is a certain “mindset” that you need to have in your training, a certain Ruthless Intent to get ahead of the game if you want to take your skills to the next level regardless of what you study. I really don’t care what you train: wrestling, boxing, Jiu Jitsu, Guided Chaos. Understanding the Shadow Impression and how to develop it is, in my opinion, one of the key skills to develop if you are to ever learn how to “transcend technique.”

Now as always, I have to preface this stuff because every time I talk about this sort of thing especially in class there are always those who want to just roll their eyes. Yet they are the same ones who complain how some people can just get past them like they were standing still (it’s always the way). They miss the point that if I can get past your weapons first and I enter with Ruthless Intent, the good news is it will be over for you quickly.

Others I’m sure have a different opinion on this stuff, fair enough because I really don’t care, and I’m sure there are many who are not even aware of what I’m going to discuss. I’m just telling you what it is. What you do with this information is up to you, but as I told a student recently, when all is said and done at the end of the day you’re not going to accuse me of never telling you these things that my Masters have taught me. Okay enough of that.


November 1988, Quantico, VA. Marine Corps Officer Candidate Course


I can still hear the voices in my head…

The yelling, the screaming, the saliva flecks hitting you in your face as the Sargent Instructor stands with his face one inch away from yours yelling at the top of his lungs, no particular reason, it was just because he could. As you stand there with the thousand-yard stare trying believe it or not… not to laugh. As we used to say, “in the squad bay no one can hear you scream…”, so you either took it and persevered or you folded. And many did.

I can hear Gunny Gardner even to this today.

“You think this is funny Candi-dirt?” (a substitute for calling you “Candidate.” They preferred it that way.)

“You think this is funny Wide-hour? Weed-hour whatever the Hell your name is?” 

(He could never pronounce my name even after I ran into him later on in my career.)

“No Sgt. Instructor!” I replied.

“Then wipe that stupid grin off your face!”

“Aye, aye Sgt. Instructor!”


“Aye, aye Sgt. Instructor!”


“Aye, aye Sgt. Instructor!”

“I can’t hear you!”

“Aye, aye Sgt. Instructor!”

Gunny continued, “Now listen here, you getting ready to da-gone take these things over here.”

(When he said “things” he was pointing to the other Candidates in my fire team).

“And you’re going to lead them on this mission. You think you can lead these men, you think you can lead Marines, but I don’t think so. Personally, I don’t know why the Hell you’re even here. But we’re going to find out and if you fail, which you probably will we’ll have our answer.”

(BTW he said the same thing to a good friend of mine who turned out to be the Honor Grad of our OCS Class.)


At this point he issues me my Operations Order and I have ten minutes to issue the order to my team, and complete the mission. The test I’m about to take is the Small Unit Leader Evaluation or “S.U.L.E.” (pronounced Soo-Lee) or S.U.L.E. Module

The module as they refer to it, is about the length of a football field squared, and consists of six “situations” on each side totaling 12 modules, the walls are 20′ feet high and you cannot see the other modules until you get up on them and there is a catwalk that runs along top down the middle. This is where all of the senior evaluators and our Sgt. Instructors stand and “observe.”

The thing about the S.U.L.E. is that no matter what you do, you never really know how you did sometimes until maybe a day later sometimes longer as to whether you passed or not. So you really had no idea. It wasn’t until years later from buddies of mine who were Commanders at Officer Candidate School that I would learn why.


Like the “Kobayashi Maru”, the fictional Star Trek test designed to evaluate the character of Starfleet Academy cadets in a no-win scenario, the S.U.L.E. test is designed to do just that, create a no-win scenario to evaluate whether you had what it took to lead Marines. Only because we’re the Marine Corps, with a few distinctions instead of a simulator, our test involves the probability of physical failure, possible injury and above all definitely, “humiliation.

The catwalk you see, where all of the senior evaluators and our Sgt. Instructors stood served another purpose: this is where they not only observed us, but heckled us, and “laughed” at us as we failed over and over and over. Oh yeah, and laugh they do… even the evaluators as professional as they tried to be could not help but laugh at us. To be honest after you’ve done a couple rounds even you can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous stuff they have us do. The missions are purposely “stupid,” even little kids wouldn’t do shit like this.

They do this on purpose because, a) it’s fun and; b) to see if you can persevere when everything and everyone is stacked against you. The ridicule and heckling is encouraged and part of what we call “The Harassment Package.” All designed to obfuscate the true intent of the exercise, to see if you can think on your feet, to see if you can think three or four levels deep, to anticipate and “foreshadow” what is to come. To see if you can hack it.

At least half of the modules contain a water obstacle and each module is designed for one purpose, “for you to fail” as President Trump would say “Bigly.” When you failed it was like Lucifer falling from grace, it happens fast and early. The entire exercise is designed for this, there is nothing you can do about it because nothing they give you in the form of time or materials to accomplish your mission work as advertised. You need a rope but the rope is too short, you need a board but it’s too short as well. Or even more insidious they give you materials that are “barely” able to help you so you have to be 100% precise in their employment.

The water is dirty, stagnant and cold. When I went through in late November I can remember there being thin layers of ice on all of the water obstacles, and the water obstacles are too long unless you’re a world class long jumper to jump across and deeper than you think. Meaning your ass was getting wet not matter what.

I was not feeling that plan…

I had a buddy who went through the course in the summer and he told me when they did their S.U.L.E. evaluation there was shit “moving” in the water. For real!

There is no right answer because it’s not about getting the right answer it’s about “you” and whether when your plan falls apart, by design of course, can you gather your men, regroup and carry on with the mission?  Or are you going to “spaz out” and curl up into a ball with your thumb in your mouth. This elaborate deception was designed for one purpose: to get to see “the real you.” They shroud the process in secrecy and even to this day I do not know what they were actually looking for all I know is somehow I passed. Some folks however who thought they did well “didn’t,” but it became a tool from which they could then be coached on improving their deficiencies. It’s only if you totally “spazzed” out that you were drummed out of the course and sent home. It’s actually a brilliant concept because the secrecy ensures you have no way to prepare for it. You’re either a leader or you’re not.

At this point you may be wondering why I went in to such detail and on and on about this. It is because it is a perfect example of how deception (though an elaborate one) can be used to either produce a certain outcome or in this case evaluate people for certain innate traits. To see how we think or to see if we have the potential to learn to think a different way. To make logical assumptions based on the information available in real time. Can we make “go” / “no-go” decisions rapidly? To see how we make our best “guess” in real time.

Anyone can prepare for something if they sort of know what’s going to be on the test.  As a side note this is actually a problem in a lot of martial arts or self-defense training where people “game-the-game” as I like to call it so you don’t get a true evaluation of where any deficiencies in training or thought are. I look at self-defense videos all of the time and I literally see how instructors either set their students up to fail or literally in their demonstrations and drills change the rules in the middle of the drill.

Sort of like Lucy constantly pulling the football out from Charlie Brown just as he’s going to kick the ball. Believe it or not there is value in this type of training where you change the rules as the game goes a long. But you need clearly defined goals as to what the objective is and not just so you can get a rise out of watching people fail.

Anyway, so they deceive us about the true intentions by telling us they are evaluating whether we can follow orders and accomplish the mission. They don’t care… they want to see how we react in the absence of orders, when nothing goes our way. It rarely ever goes your way! How we role with the punches, adapt, overcome and win the battle, because the enemy gets a vote and that’s how life and death combat is.


The Acme of Skill 


“For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

–Sun Tzu, The Art of War


Now, what if you could win the battle before the battle even started?

What if you could perceive intention before there was movement?

What if you could move before your attacker or move in a way that neutralizes their movement before they really get started?

Final question, what would it be worth to you to be able to “move better,” to move in this fashion even at the most basic level?

The Shadow Impression is the ability to see that which cannot be seen with the eye but with the mind. To feel what cannot be seen. It is a way of thinking, a way of thinking about movement, a way of moving in the body without thought. But it starts in the mind.

  • First you need to know it even exists because, “you don’t know what you don’t know” (unconscious incompetence).
  • Then you need to understand it to know how it is done (conscious incompetence).
  • Then you need to practice it and work at it consistently (conscious competence).
  • Finally, you need practice it until it becomes a part of you until you just own it (unconscious competence).


 You’ve Been Doing “It” All Your Life


“It doesn’t matter whether the arm is up or whether the arm is down. When you move in that instant you are the master of that motion.”

–Grandmaster Perkins


The Shadow Impression is not magic. It is actually something we do all of the time in our daily lives. However, because we are not consciously aware that we are doing it we think it is something outside of us. Something beyond our ability to understand let alone develop.


Now there is a science to how we do this as humans but I’m not going to get too deep into that right now…maybe in another blog post.  The bottom line is we do it all of the time but you have to recognize it in order to begin the process of developing your abilities to make these logical inferences without having to think about them.


adumbrate [a-duhm-breyt]

verb (used with object), ad·um·brat·ed, ad·um·brat·ing.

  1. to produce a faint image or resemblance of; to outline or sketch.
  2. to foreshadow vaguely; prefigure.
  3. to darken or conceal partially; overshadow.


Like I said, we do this all of the time. In anything you’ve learned throughout your life you’ve done this. This “foreshadowing,” this “outlining,” this “prefiguring.”  This ability to make “logical inferences” based on even the vaguest of information. The key to understanding this in the beginning is that it starts in the mind but at some point becomes something that you “adumbrate” in the body.


“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

–Will Durant


Though also attributed to Aristotle this quote pretty much sums up what you want to do if you are to learn how to develop “The Shadow Impression.” For example, you drive a car. How do you know how far or how little you need to turn the wheel?  You just know. You throw a baseball. How do you know how much force to put on the ball? You throw a punch, swing a bludgeon or shoot a gun. How do you do these things with accuracy?  You just know from training, practice, and experience even if it’s informal. These are all examples of how we adumbrate and how we can do things with a minuscule of information.


Take the Leap of Faith


“It’s strange but what we think protects us actually makes us vulnerable and what we thought would make us vulnerable actually is what is protecting us.”

–LtGen Larry Nicholson, USMC – Commanding General RC Southwest, AFG

I remember sitting in then Maj Gen Nicholson’s office briefing him when I was In Afghanistan and he made this statement to me and I found it fascinating. You see when we were in Iraq we were very tied to our armored vehicles and as a consequence while the vehicles protected us from an IED blast, it also made us more vulnerable to them due to the reduced visibility as well as if they scored a hit on a vehicle with enough explosive it  would be catastrophic in terms of casualties.

So, with those lessons we pretty much in Afghanistan abandoned our vehicles and so while we were more exposed to the IED’s because we were on the ground it dramatically increased our awareness and ability to avoid getting hit. It also greatly reduced our casualties since a hit on a unit inside of a vehicle could produce far greater casualties than if the same unit was dispersed on the ground. Later on you would see this same approach taken to the wearing of sapi plates with our plate carriers. I will tell you right now there were units that virtually ditched their sapi plates and in doing so increased mobility and gave them much greater freedom and ability to go after the enemy. The point is in anything you do–especially when it comes down to life and death combat–there is always, always risk. The key is defining what is the acceptable level of risk and just going for it. Like the saying goes, “If it’s your time it’s your time.”

The Shadow Impression like the example I gave above and like many things in life requires that you take a leap of faith in your abilities to accomplish. You have to accept that if you are to develop this skill you must determine for yourself what is the acceptable level of risk. For some folks, I’ll tell you right now they will never develop this to their fullest ability. Because they will allow their fear of thinking they are losing control or that they might get hurt to override the fact that it works. But you have to work at it and be willing to let go and trust in the ability to develop it.


“Don’t let it happen in the first place.”

–Grandmaster Carron


Depending on the level of skill we develop at these activities determines how fast we can make these decisions even if we are only doing them in the body.  This is how we get ahead of movement, Fight in the Future, Anticipate or, “…subdue the enemy without fighting.”


“A good hockey player plays where the puck is, a great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

–Wayne Gretzky


I love this quote because it really sums up what I’m trying to do all of the time. The reason is because I always approach what I do from this perspective and that is: if I had to fight for my life or my loved ones how far ahead of the game would I want to be? As far as I’m concerned I’m going to be where the puck is going to be. But in order to do this there is something else I feel you need to be able to do.

Savvy [sav·vy]


  1. shrewdness and practical knowledge (common sense); the ability to make good judgments.
  2. know or understand (verb).

Folks, I have to level with you, if you want to get there from here you have to develop some wisdom on this stuff. Too many folks within the art of Guided Chaos or any martial art for that matter think that how the more advanced folks make stuff work is that they are physically gifted. That helps, to a point–until it doesn’t. But what it really is, is that they are more aware within their movement of the relationship between their body and the other person’s and are able to take things to their logical conclusion without thought. They’ve developed a level of adumbration in the body where from a physical sense at least, can be called “savvy.”


Teachings from the Sith Lord


I remember talking with Grandmaster Carron on numerous occasions when I first started training in the art. I recall one evening after one of his crushing sessions I asked him about his training when he first started.

“Well I would say I probably worked out throughout the day about three hours a day…I mean it’s not exact. When I would take lunch I would train a little here and there. When I was home because I lived on the fifth floor in my building I would do the Ninja Walk up and down sometimes carrying things.”

He also told me he used to train with John for hours at a time sometimes outside even in the snow. Tim basically said to me,

“I knew what I wanted and where I wanted to be and I dedicated the time to doing it. If John gave me an exercise I did it. Now understand some things John had me do were specifically for me so it may not necessarilly work for you or someone else.”

These conversations were great information and gave me an insight into how Tim thought about training and his own development. But there’s something else too. Like I’ve said before, Tim was one of the most talented people you would ever meet. But there was something else…

One day I’m working with Tim and as usual I’m getting flustered because I can feel myself resisting him and he literally had to stop a couple of times and place his hands on my body to get me to loosen up. So he’s like, “You’ve got to loosen up.” So I said to him, “Yeah I understand that and I’m working on that with people but no matter how loose I get I’m still getting hit.”

So he says, “Well, then don’t let them.”

“Okay, now I’m confused,” I said.

He says, “Just stay with me.” So we begin to move and as we begin to move he catches my elbow and lifts me up, breaking my balance.  He says, “See that? The reason I was able to catch that was because you lifted it unnecessarily.”

So I said, “Yeah but I was trying to get loose.”

So he says,

“Yes but you have to do something with it…you’re just moving for the sake of moving. Here watch this, just touch my hand here and watch what I do here.”

So I touch his hand and he says, “Give it a little push.” So I do it and his elbow comes up and touches me on the side of the head. So he has me do this several more times only now he’s making me push on his body. No matter what I did his body always made an adjustment. Not big movements but as I recall “proportional” to what I was doing.

He said,

“When people move with you or you move, no matter what you do it’s usually going to cause them to react. They’re going to do something. When you’re working with people you generally can feel what they’re doing and where they’re moving. I feel you push my hand so I bring my elbow up but notice I put it right in your face where you have to deal with it. You either deal with it or I take your head off. You push my hand down, I bring it around and hit you. You push my palms I redirect you but I’m always moving to hit.”

Okay let me tell you this stuff he was sharing with me was “gold” because it was the beginning of my understanding and how he changes and negates things (adumbrates) within movement. With little to no effort where half the time by the time you realize you’re in trouble it’s too late. He would go on to explain a lot of what I call anomalies within the art that at the time made no sense.

I asked, “How is it that you catch my arms or my wrists yet tell me not to grab?”

Tim starts laughing and says,

“Well what you’re doing is, because you’re trying to get your hand out it’s not that I reach out and grab your wrist. I catch it on the way back as you retract your arm. I know how your arm works, how it moves and how it’s shaped so I know your hand is at the end of your wrist so I catch it as it slides through my hand. I know how your body moves and how it works so I know how it doesn’t work.”

So I ask him at a different time,

“So why is it when we’re working fast it feels like I can’t even feel where your arms are like they’re disconnected but I can’t get past them?”

Tim’s now shaking his head and says,

“No, no, no… what’s going on is I always have a little contact it’s that when I’m moving fast like that unless I’m trying to break your arm I don’t move or make any more contact than I need to hit. Besides, once I start hitting you I don’t need to know anything more than that.”

This by the way would not be only my first understanding of the concept that hitting is a part of sensitivity but also how Tim and John would take these “impressions” these Shadow Impressions, and use them to move to hit off of. You see, Tim and John when they are moving to hit, they don’t wait–they feel what they need to know and they just go. With but a touch, but a breath, the vapors, The Shadow Impression, they sum up all that they need to do in a microsecond and do what they have to do.

From millions upon millions of impressions their bodies just “know.” This is what you want to develop in your body, this is what you want to learn how to do. This is the savvy, the talent that you want to cultivate.

To be continued…

Thank you.

LtCol Al Ridenhour

Senior Master Instructor




And 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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