Lessons from My Masters 5

“No Fear, No Hesitation, No Surprise, No Doubt.”
— Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings


As I discussed in the last installment of “Lessons from My Masters 4”, Grandmaster Perkins taught me how to move at what I referred to as “Supernatural Speed”. In this installment of “Lessons from My Masters” I’m going to delve a little into another aspect of this because after thinking about it I realized it’s not enough to be able to move at Supernatural Speed but also how do you get in on an attacker while being unavailable yet unavoidable? And what you do when you get there? Once you’re there, you’re there and that’s generally not the time to figure out what to do in a real fight for your life. As always I’ll describe this as best I can because like a lot of things Grandmaster Perkins does, this has to be felt and seen up close to be believed.

Okay here we go…

Phase I: The Slam Bag

Pai Mei: [punches through a block of wood from three inches away] “Since your arm now belongs to me, I want it strong. Can you do that?”
The Bride: “I can, but not that close.”

Pai Mei: “Then you can’t do it! What if your enemy is three inches in front of you, what do you do then? Curl into a ball? Or do you put your fist through him?”
–Scene from Kill Bill Vol 2: The Cruel Master Pai Mei and The Bride

This is like one of my favorite scenes in the “Kill Bill” Movies because it is so dead on. Let’s face: it the enemy gets a vote and is probably not going to wait for you to channel all of your energy into one all-powerful kill shot like “Dragon Ball Z” or some nonsense. So if you have to “layeth of wood’ on someone there can be no hesitation or doubt in your ability to penetrate them at whatever range you find yourself at.

So anyway, I say I’ve probably been doing Guided Chaos for about two years or so and I’m hanging out near the end of class one evening talking with Grandmaster Perkins. So I was discussing how Grandmaster Carron had the unusual ability to not only strike with authority but when he struck you with the open hand it was like getting hit with a frying pan.

John starts laughing so now I have that “Scooby Doo” look on my face like, “Ruuuut?”

So he goes on to explain and says something along the lines of:

“You know it’s interesting when I first started training Tim he actually had relatively soft hands especially for a guy who worked with his hands all of the time. I had to actually firm his hands up so he could slap people in half”.

Now for anyone who never had the pleasure (if you want to call it that), if Tim hit you let’s just say you “stayed hit”. Tim had a “different touch” and when I mean “touch” I literally mean like the “Vulcan Death Touch”. If he “slapped” you on the back, you could almost feel your soul leaving the body. He could hit you where it looked as if there was no exertion of effort whatsoever yet bring you to the edge of unconsciousness and then snatch you back from “the light”.

I remember once during a multiple attacker drill where Tim was being attacked and one of our instructors jumped into the fray at John’s command when Tim had his back to him. Tim literally turned to his right looking over his shoulder with that look you have when you’re watching the ball game and your wife asks you some question like, “So which dress should I wear?” and you say, “That one”, and she says “Yeah but which one?” and you say, “Oh did you say something?” For the married guys, you know the kind of questions. (For those who’ve been married for any length of time you know these are not good words on your part…)


He looks over the shoulder and turning his right hand upside down almost cupping his hand “thumps” him in the ribs. The sound was pronounced and stopped him cold in his tracks.

Well… The next class when that instructor showed up he showed everyone the bruise Tim gave him. It looked like someone hit him with a baseball bat. It was a huge bruise almost resembling a small volcano. Of course we all thought it was funny especially since it wasn’t us. My point is, he could hit like that.

So knowing how Tim could hit I was all ears. John said,

“I used to use a bag made of leather filled with steel shot or beans and I would have Tim ‘drop’ every time he struck the bag”.

So I said something like, “Oh you mean like an Iron Palm Bag?”

He said, “Similar, but I use leather because the canvas messes your hands up and I teach people to drop on the bag while in midair.”

So I said, “You know I think I have an old Iron Palm Bag a friend gave me years ago”.

So John says, “Bring it to class next time and I’ll show you”.

So that Thursday I brought my bag to class and I hand it to John and so he begins to demonstrate how to drop on the bag and he says,
“This is really not good…you really need leather. You can see how I drop on this. You really can’t drop after a while with this, also it will eventually mess your hands up. You really need leather or some kind of hide. Let me take this to my leather guy and I’ll show you how to really use this and do it right”.

So I guess about two weeks later John comes to class with this “Slam Bag” as he referred to it since you have to slam it when you drop. So he says, “Okay let me see you drop.” So after a few drops and a few corrections (you know–the usual mistakes: hopping in the air before dropping, etc.), he then hands me back my bag and says, “Feel this—it’s made with genuine buffalo hide. Notice how thick it is, yet soft?” I say “Oh yeah”.

He then has me begin to drop on the bag focusing on penetrating or cutting the bag in space then grabbing it on the downward drop. He then shows me how to line my body up at different angles, teaching me how to drop on the bag from the side and keeping the bag close so as to not torque my shoulders or elbow joints. Later on, as I further developed this skill over some time, he would actually throw the bag to me and first I had to drop and stop it as it came at me. Then I would have to drop and clear the bag with one hand and then immediately chop with the other hand. This drill by the way will put lightning on your hand’s ability to clear people’s arms as you enter in on them.

He then explains the difference between how he trains people’s hands versus how most people train to develop their hands for insane striking power. Most of us, if we trained in the martial arts for any length of time (especially if we trained in the traditional arts) have worked out with Makiwara boards and other such training aids to develop our hands.

I can remember when I was on Okinawa and almost to a man you could see how virtually all of the higher level karate instructors had hands that literally looked like stone. Their knuckle’s white and ashen and calloused over, for many their hands barely looked functional. Years of hard practice on the Makiwara. Now of course if they hit you it was the real deal. But as Grandmaster Perkins explained to me,

“You see these guys who have years of hard style karate or kung fu under their belts from striking hard immoveable things all of the time, the problem is I’ve seen over time their hands become ossified and arthritic. I know guys whose hands are basically useless when it gets cold outside and they’re in constant pain because of all the damage they’ve done to themselves. Sucks for them if they have to manipulate a weapon in a real fight or what I call the ‘blood dance’. The other problem is they’re all striking objects that don’t move so you know what? Sure they can hit hard but how does that work against an attacker moving on you in berserker mode?  It’s like breaking boards and bricks—you’ve seen me do it but it has nothing to do with real fighting. People are just different and can take more than people think. Now, the way I teach it you have to learn to strike and penetrate objects in space. When you hit people it’s a different thing. People are mostly water so when you strike you generally have to ‘splash the tissue’ and you only want to penetrate about 3” to 4” inches. You probably learned in karate to punch through the target but what I found is people tend to push more than strike when they do this. This is why when Tim was hitting you, you notice it felt like a wave going through you.”
I said, “Absolutely!”.

John said,

“That’s how I trained him so even if you try to get out of the way if he connects it just goes right through you. There’s also the timing of the drop. When you learn to do it right even if they get loose most of the time they can’t get loose fast enough because of the speed and penetration of the drop strike. The main thing is you want to be able to penetrate a person even at close range. The Slam Bag training along with the proper dropping lets you do that.”

Even to this day as with the Wobble Board, the Slam Bag is a major tool in my kit when developing people and it doesn’t take much to develop their hands. Since it mostly works the muscles and tendons in the hand it gives you the ability to maintain the structural integrity of your weapons when striking and you are able to develop this in a relatively short period of time.  Now it does work the density of the bones to some degree (it’s called “micro fractures” but it doesn’t damage your hands but makes them stronger, which is what everyone else is trying to do but they have the wrong modality of training to do it right).

I’ve seen on average it takes between three to four weeks a couple of times a week to develop your hands to a base level, after that you only need to touch it periodically to maintain your muscles and tendons and your timing. There’s a little more to it than I’ve described here such as the use of horse shoes and dynamic tension exercises like the old Charles Atlas stuff. Later as my own skill at developing this ability grew I would teach it to students.

I can tell you we have some students that if they hit you there’s a good chance you’re not coming back from it. I shit you not! One of our 4th Degrees, Joe Troy also known as the “Ink Ape” has hands and forearms of iron. His ability to hit is insane, I mean it really makes no sense someone can hit that hard with virtually no effort. I had to tell him to stop hitting people before he ended up with a murder charge. Yet he makes his living designing awesome tattoos. Think about that? A guy with probably some of the most developed hands you’ll see anywhere earns his living doing something that requires some of the highest fine motor skill of any profession (“oops” is not a good word in the tattoo business).

That’s what I’m talking about!

Phase II: The String


“The true science of martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.”
― Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings


So after driving Tim crazy asking 6,000 questions about how John is able to just dive in on folks who are much larger and have longer reach than him. Tim says,

“Well I shouldn’t say he’s just diving in. It only feels that way. He’s actually feeling his way in”.

At this point this makes absolutely no sense. So I say yeah but how? So Tim says, “When he comes later you should ask him”. So after my training with Tim, John shows up and sometime during class I ask him about what Tim and I were talking about and I told him what Tim said and that Tim told me to ask him about it.

So John says, “Well if you watch what I’m doing here…” (here we go) He then touches my hand… and just disappears. The next thing I know his elbow is at my throat and his body is against mine but I can’t move.


So he says, “Watch I’ll do it again”, so this time I tried to move on him but met with the same result. So this happens about eight more times and you have to know John at this point he’s having too much fun with me. He’s even got me laughing. Then he explains,

“So, if you watch what I’m doing as Tim said I’m feeling my way in as I go but I’m also isolating my body around what I feel on the way in just enough to enter but I never stop moving in on you. If you change, I change. Notice there’s no force from my hands, that gives it away.”
Then I say, “Yeah but how come I sometimes can feel force from you?” and he says—and pay very close attention to his answer,

“No, no, no that’s not me pushing that’s you trying to stop me I’m just giving you enough force to load my spring. The more you push the more you give me to spring off of to strike with.”

Okay, at this point there’s smoke coming from my ears. By the way it would take me years to fully appreciate what I was being shown. You have to understand because I have long arms even with people who are taller than me I generally don’t have to move much to slug people in the face with great force. It is a gift from God to have the kind of reach I have. So it’s hard sometimes to develop a skill where 99% of the time you really don’t have to do much to make your stuff work and send people on an out of body experience.

Naturally at this point I want to know how it’s done.

First he has me doing this on the bushes lightly touching the leaves while trying not to disturb them stepping in with my body touching random leaves as I enter. Later he had me doing this with a string hanging from a tree branch. He used a washer or nut from a screw set, I can’t remember exactly to give the twine some weight and to straighten out the string to provide some rigidity to it.

He then has me perform what we would later call a very basic “Isolation Drill”. This drill is important because it teaches students how to move in while “hiding their intention” as they enter.  As you touch the string with your hand usually starting with the back of your hands you attempt to step in without disturbing the string if possible.

The idea is to remain as light as possible in the beginning to develop the ability to isolate as you bend your arm and hide your intention as you enter by collapsing in without disturbing the string.

Once you get the hang of it as you transition forward and move in you want to perform “The Drac” while angling your head and body slightly off line using the string as a guide. This simulates making contact with an attacker and then folding on the way in moving behind the guard.

While obviously this does not take the place of proper Contact Flow practicing this very simple and easy drill helps develop the ability to Collapse Your Sphere as you enter to strike and hit at extreme close range or what I like to refer to as “uncomfortable man distance”.  As you improve you want to learn to move in from every possible angle as well as “Answering the Phone”  as you enter etc.

Later on you can do this with weighted balls or just with your hand isolated in space but to get the full effect. However, this is still something that has to be practiced on a person during Contact Flow starting slow and then working up to full speed to develop the proper feel and timing while another person is moving.

Which brings me to the next thing…

Phase III: Collapsing Sphere

“When you decide to attack, keep calm and dash in quickly, forestalling the enemy…attack with a feeling of constantly crushing the enemy, from first to last.”

― Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings

Okay this is what I’ve been building towards.

At a slightly more advanced level you want to learn how to “Collapse Your Sphere of Influence” onto another person’s Sphere, disrupting their movement. [Note: as stated previously without the ability to Drop Strike at close range it is very difficult to Collapse the Sphere and strike effectively if you can’t deliver your strikes with crushing force when you arrive.  It’s not impossible, just difficult.]

Collapsing the Sphere can be accomplished by learning how to isolate your body as you enter transferring your center of gravity as you move forward while attacking the attacker.  Understand, as you move no matter what direction even as you collapse inward your sphere always moves with you.

As you enter on an attacker you are not just flowing in with your hands working off of their arms or body, but feeling your way into the target areas with your entire body while avoiding their strikes in the process (unavailable yet unavoidable).

Okay I’m going to cut it off right here because there’s more that I need to explain on this and I don’t want to get too much ahead of myself. Besides I want to hold you in a little suspense for the next installment. But I leave you with this:

Before I conclude, there’s one thing I want to clear up so people don’t go off creating a whole art based on some of these things I write about. These things I describe are real things within the art of Guided Chaos but at the end of the day they are just that, “a thing”.

For example, while I speak about the Sphere of Influence, understand that your Sphere of Influence is just a representation of what you are able to do within the natural range of motion within your body as far as your arms and legs can strike with power in every direction emanating from your center of gravity. It is just a concept—the goal is not to “protect your Sphere” but to learn what is the art of the possible within “your Sphere”.

These concepts or “Things” as I like to sometimes call them are nothing more than a grain of sand on the beach. The point is sand is important to the beach, it’s real and you can touch it but you need a whole lot of sand to make a beach. This is not to diminish the importance of these concepts or techniques but to merely keep you from creating in your mind a whole art or as we like to say “rules that don’t exist”.

Remember, how you think of a thing influences how you move, act, behave etc. These self limiting “contrived rules” based on your own idiosyncrasies about fighting only serve to close off your mind and inhibit your creativity and growth. There’s thousands of techniques but only FIVE PRINCIPLES OF GUIDED CHAOS, as far as I’m concerned, it’s only the principles and that’s it. Again, this is something very, very important that was ingrained into my head by my Masters. It’s way too easy to go off on a tangent away from what’s real. I’ve seen it.

Remember, we’re training to fight for our lives, how creative would you want to be to protect your family? Your own life? You have to ask yourself, how good would I want to be if I had to fight in what Sun Tzu called “Death Ground”?

It’s the only question you really need to answer…

Everything else for the most part is all BS.

As Mr. Miyagi said in the Karate Kid, “Daniel-san, Miyagi no fight for points, Miyagi fight for life!”

Damn straight!

Okay, final, final thought, after getting a little more feedback from students on some other stuff that comes out of my mouth. I realize that ultimately I’m trying to help orient your mind around a concept that I keep alluding to called “The Quantum Sphere”. I call it that because it, a) sounds really cool and I like sounding like Stephen Hawking; b) I got the Grandmaster’s permission to call it that (John doesn’t get all wrapped up around this stuff) and; c) I truly believe that after nearly 30 years of studying this art that Grandmaster Perkins has created something that explains so many of what I call “anomalies” in human movement (i.e., those things that have that “dimensional feel” to them that seem to defy explanation yet they exist).

So I leave you with this: The Quantum Sphere is a concept and nothing more, it is not the whole art but a natural outgrowth of developing yourself through the principles of the art. It is also, “I believe” the place where creativity and virtually infinite possibilities originate from within all human movement.

As Musashi bluntly summed up…

“The only reason a warrior is alive is to fight, and the only reason a warrior fights is to win”
― Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings

These “Things” are just part of being a Warrior and nothing more, so be a “Warrior”.

Learn and train to fight to win!

Until next time.

Thank you.
LtCol Al Ridenhour
Senior Master Instructor

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► Removing stylization “traps”
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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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