Lessons from My Masters 3

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“It is very clear that Guided Chaos must be felt. Much will be revealed that cannot through reading, and video. All the drills lead up to the actual application of Guided Chaos… The exercises are designed to enhance the average martial artist’s basic abilities and to guide the Guided Chaos student when a class is not available… All the principles that can be learned from the book and videos will put a student in the right direction for enhancing basic power and all the other attributes. Physical initiation can give a spark toward a deeper understanding. The ultimate result is to feel like water and then vapor… The higher levels are there to be discovered even if only for the art of it…”
– Grand Master John Perkins

Over the years from my training with Grandmaster Perkins one of the things that I’ve always been fascinated with is the ease of how he negates the movement of another person. It seems that regardless of size he always seems to know how to move just enough and soon enough to preempt the other person’s movement.  The thing that I think that is often overlooked is not so much what he is doing but how he thinks about a thing and how he thinks about dealing with things.

In this installment of “Lessons from My Masters” I’m going to delve a little into this but more from a philosophical perspective rather than discuss any specific techniques because I think to focus solely on technique is one of the reasons people often miss what he is teaching or describing. But before I get into all of that I need to talk a little about my Master and friend because people I feel need to understand this.

“When I’m working with you I’m always working two to three levels deeper than what it appears I’m doing…”
–Grandmaster John Perkins

John says this stuff all the time and “whoosh…” it goes right over people’s heads. Part of the problem is as humans we’re always looking for the definitive answer to everything. We do not like uncertainty, we want to know how to deal with this or how to deal with that. We want John to tell us specifically “in detail” what he is doing when he is doing it and why he is doing it. We want instant feedback. We want an exact science when in truth, while there’s probably a science to how 99% percent of what we do and how it works, much of that understanding at this time is probably beyond us.

Meaning, I’m sure there’s a logical explanation or a science to how he does many of the things he does, but the explanation at this time escapes us and all that we know based on how the human body operates within time and space when moving dynamically.

Remember, in science you start off with a hypothesis or, as we used to say in the Marine Corps, a “SWAG” (scientific wild ass guess). And as you prove things out as you go along where required you have to modify your theory to suit the facts that are known at that time. The point is there’s more we don’t know than we probably know which leaves plenty of room for discovery. Well, isn’t “discovery” kind of the point?

When I work with John the main thing I try to do is to focus on whatever it is he wants me to do because I know there is other stuff going on and if I concentrate just on that thing my mind will get out of the way of the other 50 things that are going on that I’m picking up on that my cognitive mind is unaware of.

So if he says, “Just move with me” then that’s what I try to do because otherwise I don’t learn to feel what else is going on. If he says, “Move a little faster with me and just focus on hitting”, “Stay loose with this and try not to move your feet”. Or sometimes he says, “Stay with me, if you can and step with this”.

John is The Master of “paradoxical learning”, and he’s all about getting your body to do what it needs to do without directly telling you he’s doing it. It’s an amazing talent that both he and Grandmaster Carron had that I always, within my own abilities, try to emulate when teaching—that’s why often students will hear me say, “Stop messing my drill up just do the thing I want you to do and let me worry about correcting you”. This was a very important lesson that I learned from my Masters.

You see for the most part people don’t want to fail, and even more importantly people don’t want to look bad so they are always trying to “not make a mistake” when working with me. But they have it all wrong you see trying to not make a mistake “is the mistake”. Please re-read what I just said because if you get that, life will get a whole lot easier for you in your training especially if you’re training with someone more advanced than you.

When I work with John I try very hard to fight this urge because I know it gets in my way, the reason is he already knows the answers because he’s controlling to flow of the battle. More often than not he’s allowing openings to allow my mind to learn without thinking of where to strike.

John you see is “always doing stuff” as I like to call it, and every time you “try to win” as I like to call it (i.e., prove you are as good or know more than he does about his own art, oh yeah… I’ve seen this in folks) you short circuit what he is trying to get your body and mind to do. So stop messing his drill up!

John also has a great sense of humor, and whether he’s just messing with me or whatever, he’s always having fun. It is not uncommon for him to say to me, “Move with me, just have fun with this…” I can honestly say that when I work with John, even when the lesson was demanding I can’t recall not having fun. It’s always interesting at the least and fun. When people see me working with John unless we’re filming something more often than not I’m laughing half the time because I can’t believe some of the stuff he does, but it’s always fun.

This to me is a key thing toward helping people learn as well as cope with the fear of almost getting their heads severed from their bodies. When you’re having fun you’re more likely to stay in the battle, you forget your fear and even if you’re getting pounded because as you learn to become more “unavailable” you literally thrive on dodging bullets while returning fire.

It’s sort of like friends I had in the Marine Corps who insisted on jumping out of perfectly working aircraft, as one of my buddies recounted when he got jump qualified, “The first time you jump you’re scared to death, the second time you’re like ‘I got this’, the third time your like get out of my way I’m going first. The fear and apprehension never goes away, it becomes, believe or not, ‘like a rush’ when you jump”.

While I was never jump qualified I’ve done plenty of rappelling out of helicopters to know the feeling. It’s one thing to rappel off of a tower it’s quite another from a helicopter that’s swaying as you lean over the rail and go for it.


I don’t care who you are in Guided Chaos, the first time you dodge something that you know if it were for real that it would have possibly killed you and you return the favor striking in sync, I don’t care who you are, inside, your mind goes, “Now that was fucking way cool”. Let’s be honest hitting people is a lot of fun, and hitting them after you made them miss is even more fun.  All you need is that quick “dopamine hit” and you’re all about doing it again. That’s why I often have to admonish students when they’re working with me to “not admire yourself” too much when they do something really cool because they may have some more fighting to do.

One of the things that I’ve learned over the years that I believe is a major takeaway from working with my Masters was the difference in thought as to how they viewed not only themselves but other people. I already spoke on how Tim used to view people. Well as you can imagine, John has a similar view as well.

I can remember talking with John to get his view on this and it went along the lines of, when looking at a person as a potential threat, instead of looking at them from the perspective of “if I had to deal with this person I don’t know…what would I do?” instead you should view if from the mindset of “if I had to deal with this person for real how would I make myself unavailable yet unavoidable to end it as quickly as possible?”, “How would I move to negate their advantages?” “How would I avoid a bad situation in the first place etc.…” the point is by thinking in this fashion you begin to develop a more realistic approach to mentally preparing yourself for the potential blood bath that may occur and not one rooted in irrational fear and false hope. 

John’s way of looking at this sort of thing is actually quite simple. As he’s related to me numerous times:

“If I can “perceive” your intention no matter how slight then not only can I manipulate you but I can move in a way to cut you off, or wait for you to run into my strikes. By moving even in the slightest I can alter the fight before your momentum gets going and do all of these things at once. I’m always throwing a monkey wrench in your movement to throw you off”.

Or words to that effect. Because it needs to be said, one point I want to reiterate that I’ve discussed before in other blog posts, is that all too often in Guided Chaos as one’s skills develop they attempt to control another person’s movement by trying to stop everything they are doing. The problem with trying to stop everything is, again:

1) it makes you defensive which is a mistake of like 99% percent of martial arts systems;
2) it allows your attacker to regroup for another attack and keeps him in the fight;
3) it plays to your attacker’s advantages if they are larger, stronger or faster than you and
4) there are just some things you cannot stop because the physics in that particular instance are just not in your favor.
How long in a real fight to the death do you think you can keep this sort of thing up?
The point is you can’t win on the defense. At some point you have to put some points on the board.

Now as I appear to speak out of the other side of my mouth there is a way to stop people but it has to do with cutting them off before they get their momentum going—but that’s for another time.

Enough on that…

The Inverse Relationship of Movement from One Person to Another

Okay this is wild…

When reading this you need to suspend all disbelief and you really need to get out of your own way. When we discuss the Five Principles of Guided Chaos: BALANCE, LOOSENESS, SENSITIVITY, BODY UNITY and ADAPTIVITY (sometimes referred to as FREEDOM OF ACTION), the one that always (at least in my mind) gets short shrift is “FREEDOM OF ACTION”. This I believe is because FREEDOM OF ACTION is purely mental.

You see when we say “FREEDOM OF ACTION” what we’re really taking about is “CREATIVITY”. CREATIVITY is hard. The reason, I believe, from my own observations both in the art and elsewhere in my experiences, is because being CREATIVE is an entirely different thought process.

Again, it’s been my experience that people who are CREATIVE whether in music, art, science, business and of course the martial arts, literally look at the world through a different pair of eyes. They could be looking at the same thing that everyone else is looking at and where people only see one possibility they see 10,000 possibilities.

This is the reason why when I used to train with my Masters unless there was something specific they were showing me I never had a clue as to what they were doing. The reason is whatever they were doing with me seemed like it always came out of “the ether” or “the void” was because they were already there. Even if they were only mentally ahead of my movement, they were already there none the less.

If you ever wonder how most Guided Chaos practitioners seem like they’re everywhere and nowhere, it is this philosophical underpinning of the art (as developed by the Grandmaster) that allows for this. Many people by the way are doing this but they don’t know it so as a result they can’t take advantage of it because they don’t even know they’re doing it.

Once you begin to understand a little bit more about motion and how to deal with it, you then need to understand that there is an “Inverse Relationship” to moving with another person, a “cause and effect” that you have on their motion and their motion has on you and/or others who may be involved at a given time in the battle. This is the essence of how the Grandmaster negates the movement of others even when they are doing the “right” thing.

(By the way, in my opinion, if you get this understanding and begin to work it, it will have an exponential effect on your skills. This understanding has the effect of negating, countering, shaping and redirecting multiple movements simultaneously within the same amount of time to accomplish one movement.)

Again, all too often in the martial arts, as people begin to learn how to deal with motion (including within Guided Chaos) they want the answer as to how: how to stop “this” or how to stop “that”.

They’re really asking the wrong question. What they should be asking is how did the person get there in the first place, and what can they do to prevent it from ever happening again? (i.e., don’t let it happen in the first place).

For example: a person grabs, deflects or pushes a person’s arm or touches them in a way to cut them off. Aside from the obvious of “How did they get there in the first place?”,  they must understand that everything done after that is usually too late if one is thinking about what just happened the wrong way.

Just as an aside, I never, ever if possible, wait for people to do things, and even when it appears that way it’s usually because I already set the condition for them to fail. In other words, once I set the trap I have to give you time to fail in order for it to work otherwise if I move too soon you’ll pick it up and do something different.

It’s just like fishing: if you want to catch the fish you have to learn how to “set the hook”. Pull the lure out too fast and the fish can’t bite down on it, pull it too slow and he recognizes it’s a lure and spits it out. The timing must be just right.

The other question they should be asking (when touched of course) is are they (the attacker) touching, grabbing, pushing my arm or am I allowing them to be there in order to set them up to be crushed?

This is crucially important because depending on how you answer the question will determine how you will respond since your actions will be based on how you perceive what is going on. This understanding by the way is at the root of how I set people up for failure. I feel where they are and based on what I am feeling, I create so much “stimuli” that their brains become confused. Causing them to make (from their perspective) “the right choice”, but from my perspective it is for them “the wrong choice”!

This is important because as long as you can get a person to not react appropriately or react at all by hitting their panic reflex causing them to change their body position or posture, they will generally make the wrong decision because they don’t know it was wrong in the first place.

Like Napoleon once said, “When your enemy is making a mistake, don’t interrupt him…”

Here, here!

Grandmaster Perkins has mentioned this many times to me under “The Wisdom Tree”. He calls this “Sleight of Mind” or “Sleight of Body”.

I’m so all about this!

The point is (stay with me on this) because this blew my mind when he discussed this with me and I’m paraphrasing what he said here. So philosophically speaking:

• Your pull is my push,
• Your push is my pull,
• Your sliding energy is my skimming energy,
• Your skimming energy my sliding energy,
• Your looseness becomes my entry and penetration point or point to break balance since you can only get but so loose,
• Your oversensitivity and overreaction to my movement becomes my pulse,
• Your root becomes my opportunity to root you and fix you to the ground so you can’t move or isolate around that point to break your balance elsewhere,
• Your forward motion becomes my opportunity to redirect you on a different vector,
• Your attempt to stop my arm becomes my fulcrum to load my spring and kill you,
• Your isolation becomes my isolation,
• Your pulse my pulse,
• Your Ghosting becomes my Ghosting,
• My looseness becomes my weapon to suck you into your death,
• Your strike becomes my entry,
• Your speed becomes my speed to misdirect, redirect you to your death or penetrate you sooner,
• Your tool replacement becomes my tool replacement or my isolation point whatever I desire,
• When you strike you generally have only one option however my retreat or looseness becomes limitless possibilities to destroy you,
• Your awareness becomes my awareness,
• My counter moves realign my body to cut off angles that you cannot even begin to perceive because they are so slight, they cannot be seen with the eye but only felt through your own awareness and through proper body unity.

And on it and on it goes… there is no end…

In other words, if I can perceive your intention and feel your motion all of the above are always available to me.
I don’t care who you are, what you have done or can do in the heat of battle, there are only two things here, your sword and my sword and nothing else. If you do not have the development and the proper understanding and thought process to go with it in the microsecond between this and that, you have nothing.

You may be a better shot but you have to hit me and if you’re within my Sphere of Influence you are done, because you don’t have enough time to figure all of these things out in the microsecond they all take place.

If you can’t see it with your mind you can’t see it with your eyes even if it’s right in front of you.
It is in the world of “Unavailable Yet Unavoidable” that I exist…

This is what My Masters taught me!

Well that’s it for this installment. There’s much more that I could say on this but I wanted to get it out there just to start helping people understand that there is a much larger world out there all for ours to be discovered.

I’ll leave you with this final thought: everything that you can do within your body right now, every movement, every strike, every evasion or step, everything that’s possible, already exists. The key is to develop your body to take advantage of it.

The question is: why would you deny yourself this ability?
Hope you got something out of this.

LtCol Al Ridenhour USMC (ret)
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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