“There is an echo of all principles in all movement of humans regarding martial arts. The trick is to concentrate these things into a method that culminates into a cohesive training methodology that is free of the prejudice of form in both the physical and the mental.”
► Grandmaster John C. Perkins
As I discussed in the last installment of “Lessons from My Masters 3”, one of the things that I’ve always been fascinated with is the ease with which Grandmaster Perkins negates the movement of another person and 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 other thing I’ve always been fascinated by is how he moves at what I call “Supernatural Speed”.
In this installment of “Lessons from My Masters” I’m going to delve a little into this as best I can because, like a lot of things he does, this has to be felt and seen up close to believe it.
“Attacks must be delivered with supernatural speed…”
► Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In the martial arts there are generally two things that people are obsessed with and that is power and speed. Black Belt Magazine used to be full of articles and ads on how to develop blinding speed. There was even a guy going around calling himself “The Speed Man” who boasted he could strike “eleven times” or some other nonsense in one second.
Even when I was a kid watching Bruce Lee movies, his blinding speed and power were all the rage. Later on I would even buy virtually every book that had his name on it. Of course I had “The Tao of Jeet Kune Do”, “Bruce Lee’s Fighting Method” and even the excellent book “Wing Chun Kung Fu” by J. Yimm Lee (no relation) that was edited by Bruce Lee.
The problem was as I got older and began to develop my own martial skill, such blinding speed seemed to be an elusive quality that was never really seen outside of the movies.
Even when I was stationed on Okinawa and had an opportunity to see demos from some of the Okinawan Masters, though fast, they were nowhere near as fast as in the movies. Also, even when I saw impressive demos one of the things I was able to discern was that they were just that, “demos”. The real question is: Can you do that at speed against an uncooperative person?
And there in, as they say, “lies the rub”.
It wasn’t until I started studying Guided Chaos that I would not only see in the flesh this “Supernatural Speed” but actually meet people who knew how to teach it.
[As a side note—and I know I speak sacrilege here to those who’ve made a “god” of Bruce Lee—when I look at his movies now or martial arts movies in general for that matter he just doesn’t look that fast to me anymore. I’m still a big fan so don’t get me wrong because I’ve seen “Chinese Connection” like 87 times, but it’s just one of those things that when the “scales fall from your eyes” and you’ve seen what fast really looks like, it’s just not as impressive anymore. You see, when you find out that the “Great Wizard” is just a man over a loud speaker turning knobs behind a curtain… it’s just not the same. Yeah, I know it’s only a movie and I guess that’s the point I’m making, his movies were just that, “movies”, but what I’m talking about here is “for real” because my Masters not only taught me how to do it but I’ve developed it in others as well. Those who’ve experienced this “first hand” know exactly what I’m talking about!]
“You’re always going back to the beginning.”
► Grandmaster Tim Carron
I was once asked by Master Joe Martarano, “So what is it that you do that allows you to figure out how to train someone in something or yourself?”
I gave it some thought and I said something like:
“You know I asked Tim that one time and he said, you’re always going back to the beginning. You’re always going back to the most fundamental aspects of the principles. I mean he didn’t say it exactly like that but that’s basically what he said.”
Joe said, “Makes sense but how do you know what to train? How do you know what to do? You know what I mean—what do you focus on?”
I gave it a little more thought since he basically put me on the spot for an answer and I realized “of course”, Tim had already given me the answer.
So I said, “You know how I do that thing when I start off with a new student and I go through the principles: Balance, Looseness, Sensitivity and then I finish off with Body Unity by introducing Contact Flow to them?”
He said, “Yeah…”
I said, “That’s how I do it. I start with the most fundamental thing and work my way through the principles. I’ll also tell you that when I first started training with Tim I would say he probably spent about 80% percent of the time working my balance, maybe a little less and maybe another 10% to 15% working on getting me loose.”
Tim understood if he could get my body to move right (as I said in a previous post in this series) everything else would be easy. Stay with me on this because you will see how this plays a major role in developing the ability to move at “The speed of Angels”.
The Wobble Board*
So… I show up for my weekly workout with Tim and he walks over to me and he has this board in his hand and he says, “Here I want you to stand on this. Try to stay on this and don’t let me knock you off.” So I step up on the board and as soon as I get up there he says, “Stay with me” and begins to do Contact Flow with me.
Within a few seconds I already find myself unable to stay on the board so at this point Tim is saying stuff like, “Relax, stay loose, don’t fight it, don’t try to balance off me”. At this point he can tell that I’m frustrated so he says, “Step off the board let me show you something”. Now for those who’ve done Wobble Board training with me you’re going to recognize what happened next, he steps up on the board and says, “Okay do whatever you want just move with me”, and as soon as I start moving with him he’s just pushing me around all over the place.
So, while I’m on flat ground with every advantage I can’t move him at all but he’s moving me seemingly as easy has he does when he’s standing on the ground with me. So now I’m sort of perplexed and scratching my head and then he says something like, “Let me give you a piece of advice, don’t look at the boards as trying to stay on the board…think of it more like you’re standing on an uneven surface and that’s just the ground you have to fight on”.
This would be one of many of Tim’s, as I liked to call them, “Zen Lessons” he would give me over the years. Like the “Zen Gorilla” Master Martarano, Tim had a way where he could tell you one thing and bam!—like “Occam’s Razor”—sum up the essence of everything you’re trying to do and get you “un-stuck” with whatever you’re having trouble with. Tim by the way was the one who recommended I read “Zen In the Martial Arts” by Joe Hyams. It’s really a great read with lots of little anecdotal or “Zen” lessons.
[Special Note: I can tell you the Wobble Board even after all these years is a major tool in my kit when training students as well as myself. When I do my private lessons I always make sure I have at least two in my car to use with students. It is perhaps one of the single greatest training tools we employ in Guided Chaos and has a multitude of uses to develop a variety of skills to include speed and “drop hitting” power. The person by the way who makes the best boards is Master Martarano. I rate his boards of the highest quality and he was the one who designed the original travel board for me when I deployed to Iraq. I would use it in my down time and even practice striking at the “prison gym” as we use to call them on base against the heavy bags while wearing my gear. Trust me: if you drop strike wearing that extra weight it will get your drop hitting right.]
Tim would go on to explain that the reason the wobble board works so well is because it deliberately throws off your balance, forcing you to constantly find ways to adjust and control your equilibrium. He understood and, more importantly, ensured I understood that in order to freely move within your body when moving you have to be able to control and recover your balance instantly, which is why he placed so much emphasis on balance. In a real fight for your life that’s not the time to be figuring that out.
Made sense to me…
After being on the Wobble Board for probably no longer that 15 minutes my legs were like two oak trees yet my upper body felt as if it were floating on top of my legs. My hips swayed with ease, but in a “manly way”, you know what I mean.
He would also go on to tell me that the more you control your balance the looser you can be in your body and the looser you are the freer your movement because you can control your body better. This equilibrium control, as I like to call it, is at the root of being free in your body, which is a major component of moving at supernatural speeds.
After some time and getting my balance right I guess Tim felt it was time to put some more weight on the bar and up the game a little. So he takes me into the back area of the church we used to train at and he has this ladder laying on the floor. This is not some flimsy fiberglass thing you get at Home Depot. This is a ladder he made out of sturdy woods and as with everything Tim made it was of the finest craftsmanship.
That was the other thing about Tim, if he made a training aid it was no bullshit! It was a tool that did exactly what he intended it to do without fail. Knowing Tim, he probably cut the wood from “The Yiggrasill Tree” which connects the “Nine Realms” (that last part was just to enhance your professional development).
Like I said Tim was all about “Go big or go home”.
So like with the Wobble Board he puts me on this ladder only I have to walk on the rungs back and forth, turning and twisting. While fighting him. Mind you he’s on the ladder as well. He also did some weird stuff like walking right past me while on the ladder and striking as he went past. Like I said, “weird”.
Imagine the famous scene in all of the Robin Hood movies with Little John and Robin Hood fighting on that log? Well it was worse than that because I was denied the luxury of falling after being struck. Each time I lost my balance and almost fell off Tim would catch me and he would say,
“I’m not going to let you fall because I don’t want you to get hurt so relax, also I want to hit you and if I let you fall I don’t have a chance to end the fight right there”.
That understanding of ending the fight as quickly as possible and not allowing the other guy a chance to get back into the fight was a very important aspect that has become a big part of my training and teaching.
What always amazed me was the effortlessness and speed he could reach out and catch me but what was weird until I understood it better from working with Grandmaster Perkins was that when he would grab me it never felt like there was any force being exerted against my body. Like John, Tim had the unique ability to touch you at blinding speed and stop your body from falling or catch you on the edge of your balance and stop your forward progress with what seemed like “a feather’s touch”. When it happens to you, even if you understand it, even though you know it’s just physics and not magic, none the less it still feels “like magic”.
Way cool that’s all I can say…
After getting off the ladder my legs felt like iron, it literally felt like I would never lose my balance ever again. No matter which direction I stepped I felt so rooted it was like if I lifted my feet too fast I would rip the tiles up from the floor. More importantly the freedom my body moved with was liberating.
Okay, this is like something right out of the movies like “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (aka The Master Killer”). So I show up to class one day and Tim tells me come with me I want to do something with you.
Somehow I must have passed some sort of trial because he now takes me up on this rock that was in front of the church. Now…when I say it was a rock I’m not talking about some boulder used to mark the entrance of some park or something. This was a huge rock that was more of an outcropping like something you see along the highway with a sheer side that had to be at least 10 feet high, maybe 12. So Tim takes me up there and has me stand on the edge with my back to the open space behind me and begins to do Contact Flow with me.
So…that’s right—you know where this is going.
As I’m working with him he’s trying to take my balance. When he’s pushing and pulling I’m fighting not to fall backwards and every time it appears I’m heading to the afterlife his hand comes out of “The void” or “The Ether” with lightning speed and like with “The Ladder” catches me always seemingly at the last possible moment. He would later confide in me that he was grabbing me at the last possible moment just so I would learn not to panic with it.
So I’m like, “Oh now you tell me…”
The Sledge Hammer
So, I’m working with John one day and he says, “I want to work something with you to start getting you to fly”, as he sometimes called it, when you want to move on someone.
First of all, I’m all about flying, and if you’re like me where you used to fly all of the time in your dreams, when you get around the age of 45 or 50 years old it kind of sucks that for some reason you just stop flying in your dreams… What’s up with that?
I also notice I haven’t stopped falling. Hmm…
So, John gives me this Wheelbarrow Handle and has me begin to do the Box Step Exercise with it. As I do this exercise the whole time he’s telling me to control the over-travel (very important tip). So this goes on for a while and then I’m done with that for the day. The next time I see him he has a Sledge Hammer and tells me,
“Okay this is a lot heavier but the thing is because all of the weight is near the end you’re going to feel the hammer tend to pull your center of gravity more. The trick is to counter the force as it’s trying to pull you off balance.”
So I proceed to move with the sledge hammer in the same fashion as the wheel barrow handle and sure enough the first rotation practically pulls me off my feet. He just laughs and says, “I told you so, so watch it”.
So I do this back and forth for a while he then says, “Okay now I want you to step with it in every direction and sink and recover with each step sinking a few inches pushing from your root. Do not hop, just step and control the hammer.”
So I do this for a while until my legs feel like jelly. He then says, “Okay put that down, now watch what I do with this stick…this is what I want you to do. Hold it over your head like a Katana and I want you to put all of your weight on the back leg, I want your front foot lightly touching the ground in front of you like a fencer then I want you to take a step forward. When you step forward pushing from the rear leg I want you to drop into the front leg striking downward with the stick. Notice my rear leg trails the other leg but notice it’s lightly touching the ground like my front leg did in the beginning. Now when you return to the original position I want you to push with the front rooted leg back to the original position without over-traveling as you go back. You should drop into the rear leg with perfect balance. Then just go back and forth.”
So after doing this for a while he then says okay now take this, and he hands me a sledge hammer. Then he says, “Hold your hands where you have some leverage and do the same thing you did with the stick. Now because all of the weight is at the end the hammer is going to tend to pull your center of gravity when going back and forth so you need to control the over-travel.”
So I start doing this and as I’m doing this John is making corrections as I do it, “Slow down, sink more into your feet, sink into your step, you need to drop more, you need to push from your root more etc.”.
As I’m doing this I can feel the hammer trying to pull my body in different directions but as I go along, I can also feel my body counterbalancing and learning to control my balance. More importantly I can feel my root building explosive power.
After I’m done and a little rest he begins to show me what is “The Art of the Possible”.
This is way cool…
So he says, “You know when we do the stomp from the Close Combat where you push from the root and drop hard as you step? (We would later on name this the “Rocket Step”). He says, “Notice when I step fast you never here my feet stomp. You may hear my feet hit the ground but it is a controlled step to a new root”.
I’m like, “Yeah?”
He then says, “Well if you watch what I’m really doing…”
[OBLIGATORY EDITORIAL COMMENT: Okay at this point here’s where I insert the obligatory editorial comment. Whenever John says the words, “Well if you watch what I’m really doing” or “If you pay attention to what I’m doing with my body, my feet, you’ll notice… etc.”, he’s basically giving away gold because he’s revealing something he doesn’t necessarily or explicitly say or something that is not easy to explain, but he is doing it for all to see. So if you know enough to pay attention to what he is doing with his body you will begin to understand some of the salient points and subtle things he does with his body that defies explanation.]
He then begins to move on me “all over the place”, one moment he’s in front, then to the side, the front, in back of me, the side, the other side, he’s all over me. Then he starts with the hitting. Now those who have experienced this know that the only way to describe it is like trying to run from the “Tasmanian Devil” from Bugs Bunny where there are nothing but fist and kicks flying in every direction. He’s everywhere and nowhere all at once. Unavailable yet totally unavoidable. It happened so fast that it seemed like he just appeared out of nowhere and then he’s gone.
He then explains, “Instead of just stepping, what I’m doing is pushing from my rooted leg in the direction I want to go and landing with my foot as flat to the ground as possible. As I do this the reason you can’t deal with it is because once I arrive at where I’m going it’s as if I were already standing there. Once you get your timing on all this you’ll be able to hit even while moving with power”.
Years later I would dub this technique the “Push Step” since you’re pushing from your root to allow you to instantly arrive at your future attack position. But I want to point out this is an entirely different technique than the “Rocket Step” and is much faster and more refined.
I once taught this technique at a Masters class several years ago and even though I called it the Push Step. Ari Kandel, 4th Degree Guided Chaos dubbed it with, in my opinion a better name where he called it, “teleporting”. So teleporting it is…
I’m all about this name because that’s how it feels when you’re the one on the receiving end of this where the person seems to just “show up” where you don’t want them.
Well that’s it for this installment but I’ll leave you with this thought because I’ve been getting a lot of comments on some of these posts. All good by the way.
Understand, that in order to fully appreciate this stuff, if you ever want to develop these abilities the most important thing you have to do is suspend disbelief that they are even possible. Be scientific and definitely keep a healthy dose of skepticism because as we all know the martial arts are full of all sorts of charlatans with “special powers” and “Ninja magic”.
However, don’t be so closed minded that you shut off your own sense of curiosity, wonder and spirit for adventure or you’ll miss out on what is “The Art of the Possible”.
I’ve just been lucky to have met two remarkable human beings whose abilities after nearly 30 years still amaze me. Even more importantly having the privilege to actually be trained by them. It is only my goal to share these experiences to help guide your development as you train (plus I just like talking about this stuff so why not share it?)
Once again Einstein had it right.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
► Albert Einstein
Until next time.
LtCol Al Ridenhour
Senior Master Instructor
*►►► Coming soon: The “WOBBLE BOARD TRAINING VIDEO” (DVD or Download–will come with our new “COMPACT SIZE WOBBLE BOARD”, stamped with the GC logo and signed by Grandmaster Perkins). Watch for Newsletter announcements.