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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #8

The Matt Kovsky Chronicles...
My first experience training with Matt Kovsky was the first time I attended the Nanuet class.

I had been attending the weekly Manhattan class for a few months and had had a few private lessons with Lt. Col. Al. At the end of the class, Lt. Col. Al asked Matt to work with me. Little did I know that Al had asked Matt to really test me out, throwing everything including the kitchen sink at me. It started out gentle enough, but soon escalated to perhaps the toughest ten minutes I'd ever experienced up until then. (I've since had tougher ones--some at Matt's hands in other periodic "kitchen sink" sessions!) Once I realized after the first couple minutes that I'd be lucky to even brush Matt's torso with my finger, and in any case would be solidly hit at least a dozen times in the time it took to do so, I determined that I'd simply try my best to stay in there and not give up--no running away (although I was being moved backwards most of the time), no going fetal, no visible tears. Finally, Matt stopped and said, "Good job. Good fighting spirit." I think those were the first words he'd said to me besides "Hi."

We then began to chat and I found out that despite the uncharacteristic introduction (Matt revealed shortly that Al had asked him to give me hell--I had suspected as much), Matt is probably the most "normal" martial arts master I've ever met. He's extremely laid back and easy to talk with on an equal-feeling footing about anything (even when he DOES know far more about the topic at hand than I do). (A major topic lately for him: the horrors of home improvement.) Further, unlike the other Guided Chaos masters, he does not and never has had a high-risk profession, nor is he particularly genetically gifted for combat. Actually, I and most of the other Guided Chaos students "beat" him in height, weight and reach . . . yet he still has no trouble dealing with us. Anyone who has worked with Matt at anything beyond very slow speed can attest to the signature "sting" even his lightest hits carry, and to the frustration that can quickly build as you try in vain to even lay a hand on this "sticky" mongoose skittering around you.

Matt is constantly experimenting with and pondering the Guided Chaos concepts. A lesson with him often includes an illuminating discussion about what HE has been working on lately, not just what I should work on. To a great extent, what I feel while working with him depends on what's been on his mind. If he's been thinking about the way Tim typically operates, I may end up bouncing around between his pulses and strikes, completely off-balance and out of position, while he stands relatively still and experiments with my responses to his pressures and how he can take advantage of them. At other times, when he considers how John can move, I'll be lucky to feel him at all, save for the strikes that twist and ghost in from unexpected angles as his root constantly changes, impossible to find or pin down. Sometimes he'll experiment with the "long Keech" style that Al often uses, his arms swinging in wide, unpredictable arcs. Somehow Matt can make that work even though I outreach him. On the other hand, it's usually worst for me when he becomes "sticky" as glue and climbs in very close, where I feel cramped and begin to tense up against his pulses, thus sending his elbows and palms snapping into my face.

This brings up one of the elements that he most adamantly tells me to work on: getting out of the habit of "biting" on pulses. "Biting" on pulses or pressure refers to tensing against a push rather than just going with it. Beginners typically bite on everything, tensing up in response to any pressure, but people with some experience can still be made to "bite" by someone who knows what they're doing (like Matt!). Often the biting is caused by a deficiency in balance or some subconscious mental block against just letting the pressure go. (As Lt. Col. Al says, after a certain point, improvement in Guided Chaos is all mental.) In any case, biting against a pulse administered by Matt gives him all he needs to control my balance and/or bounce off the tension into a barrage of ricocheting strikes.

Matt's also brimming with analogies and metaphors to help people get their minds and bodies around the Guided Chaos principles. One of his latest is the "air hockey" analogy to help people get an idea of sticking combined with the disengagement principle. Other Matt Kovsky favorites include:

--"Move as if the enemy is covered with a foul-smelling slime [or something more explicit],"
--"Move like a pissed-off alleycat," and
--the "hot potato" analogy to explain the idea of being engaged yet disengaged.

He has a talent for identifying associations with students' previous experiences to shed some light on more obscure Guided Chaos concepts. Examples he's given me have included:

--certain skiing maneuvers compared to dropping,
--tennis footwork compared to root changing and aligning for strikes, and
--comparisons with aspects of various martial arts styles I have experience with (wing tsun, JKD, etc.).

It's always great to work with Matt, whatever's on his mind, not in the least because it reminds me that diligent cultivation of the Guided Chaos principles can make one extremely formidable even without a violent upbringing and career, mile-long arms, or titanium bone structure. . . .

. . . Speaking of mile-long arms and titanium bone structure, perhaps a post about training with Big Mike Watson is in order. . . . Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #7

Guided Chaos, Chicago Style...
Hey all, in this post, I'll take a brief break from the lesson recaps to discuss my Chicago trip, visiting family there. Great time all around.

While there, I set aside time to meet with Ken Freeman, the Guided Chaos training group leader and organizer there, and his training partner Chris. They had recently hosted Lt. Col. Al for an intensive day of training, and had trained with him once before previously. Aside from those contacts with Al, they had trained with each other and spent lots of time practicing the Guided Chaos solo exercises.

I must say that I am EXTREMELY impressed and almost embarrassed by the progress that these dedicated individuals (and others like Bob Miller in Oregon) make in the art despite little to no hands-on access to Guided Chaos instructors. I'm impressed because they've truly begun to internalize the principles and make Guided Chaos work for them just from reading the book, watching the videos, E-mailing with instructors and experimenting and practicing on their own. Of course there are certain elements or "refinements" that may be missing because they have no one to really challenge them on a regular basis, but these folks soak up every tidbit of information like a sponge and use it to improve themselves as much as possible.

My embarrassment stems from the fact that while these guys have worked so hard to squeeze every last bit of improvement from the resources available to them, viewing even a single day of access to a Guided Chaos master as a dream come true, I and others in NY take for granted how lucky we are to be able to train all the time with the masters. If we (and I certainly include myself in this "we") worked even HALF as hard as these out-of-state folks work to do what the master instructors tell us and absorb the teachings they give us every day, our progress in the art would be astronomical.

Ken's and Chris' development is a testament to the effectiveness of the Guided Chaos exercises laid out in the book "Attack Proof". For most of 2006, they've had little opportunity to practice Contact Flow (they practiced together more in 2005). However, they've kept up with the solo exercises, and it shows! Ken's balance while doing "Polishing the Sphere," for example, is phenomenal. And he can certainly apply it. He told me about how pleasantly surprised he was recently when a trained fighter "tried him out." Ken said, "I saw no trained technique," because Ken, using the Guided Chaos principles, was able to easily cut off anything the guy tried to do. That's how it's done!

Besides working with Ken and Chris, I also got to work with five acquaintances of theirs who are preparing to graduate from the police academy. Some of these guys already had a little exposure to Guided Chaos (video, book, a token beating from Al during his last visit to Chicago), but hadn't begun to train yet. We went over some concepts relevant to police work:

--Real-world gun retention
--Reactionary gap/sphere of influence
--Lethal-force and low-force close combat tactics related to the interview
--Fright reaction
--Dropping applied to striking, controlling a suspect's balance and escaping ambushes

After some demonstrations of the Guided Chaos exercises, we all did contact flow. Everyone got into it very quickly, amazed at how easily anything they tried was neutralized by Ken, Chris and me using the Guided Chaos principles. These guys will be the core of the Chicago training group, and they're off to a great start.

I HIGHLY recommend that anyone in or near Chicago contact Ken about training. He and his group are great guys to train with.

Stay tuned for the next post: "Experiences with Matt Kovsky."

Monday, January 29, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #6

Combat Conditioning with Lt. Col. Al...
It's a little difficult for me to objectively describe private lessons with Lt. Col. Al, partly because they're my original standard of what Guided Chaos training is. My first experience with Guided Chaos, as I've mentioned previously, was a 25-minute thrashing from Al. After that, for a period of several months, I attended the weekly Manhattan class and took a private lesson with Al every couple weeks or so. During this time, I continued to attend the Mixed Martial Arts classes I was taking, as well as the occassional Wing Tsun and Escrima class, just to fill out the rest of each week (I was accustomed to training nearly every day). Al finally convinced me to take the time and trouble to make it up to the Nanuet classes (this was before I had access to a car). He even picked me up from the Tarrytown train station twice per week to drive me the rest of the way to Nanuet. After a couple of classes with him and John Perkins in Nanuet, my attendance of the other martial arts classes quickly tapered off, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For the first few months of my Guided Chaos education, Al was my only private instructor. During each private lesson, he gave me an exercise or two (or several) to practice. For the first few lessons, in fact, we did little contact flow, and instead spent most of the time perfecting exercises and discussing and demonstrating how they relate to combat. Al was very clear that if I wanted to make progress in Guided Chaos, I would practice the exercises, properly and regularly. Seemed logical to me.

The first exercise he had me practice took me a bit by surprise. Al told me to simply hit myself! To be more precise, he advised me to apply various strikes (chops, palm strikes, etc.) lightly to various parts of my body in order to begin to get a feel for hitting people with various anatomical weapons ("ridges"). This goes back to one of Al's favorite sayings, which he reminds me of frequently to this day: "Hitting is a part of sensistivity." It takes a precise "touch" to strike a specific part of the human body in such a way as to most efficiently create maximum damage.

Other exercises Al taught me during those first few months were variations of Anywhere Strikes on my BOB striking dummy, all the most basic and important balance and footwork exercises (Ninja Walk, Vacuum Walk, Box Step and related exercises), and some exercises for coordination and body unity (e.g. Puppeteering, Hackey Sack).

We also started spending more time on contact flow. . . .

It's impossible to say what it's like for me to do contact flow with Al, because what I experience depends entirely on what he wants me to feel and learn. He can be as solid and resistant as a rock or as ghostly as a . . . well, as a ghost! This relates to his refrain that once you've mastered sensitivity, you can be as soft or as hard as you want--at the same time. Sometimes he'll use pulsing and tiny changes in position to "take up the slack" until you're completely off-balance with nowhere to move (a feeling of extreme vulnerability), and then a minute later you'll be unable to lay a hand on him as he gyrates and pockets impossibly deeply and loosely to land extremely heavy, penetrating strikes from odd angles, using every possible ridge.

Some common experiences for anyone who's done contact flow with Al include:

--Getting your arms crossed and tied up in a variety of ways, allowing at least one of Al's arms to hit you at will;

--Feeling every bone in your body shake from his dropping chest slam (that's Al striking you from the side with his chest), which allows both of his arms to strike and manipulate your head and neck while you're helpless to do anything about it;

--Watching Al's fist do the "Sugar Ray Leonard" flourish behind his head before dropping through your solar plexus--and, strangely, not being able to get out of the way despite the obvious telegraphing.

Another important aspect of my education from Al has consisted of long conversations during car rides to and from train stations. I must say that my not having access to a car for over a year turned out to be a real benefit in this regard! The conversations ranged in topic from Guided Chaos and martial arts in general to real experiences with violence, child rearing, military strategy, married life (especially around the time of my engagement) and others. No matter what the topic, often the conversation would morph into a discussion of politics. You can get a partial sense of Al's thoughts on this subject by reading the "Letters from Iraq " section of the website. Sometimes the conversation would consist of my simply asking the right question, which would spark a 20-minute cross-disciplinary dissertation. There were times when I wondered whether Al was a human being or an advanced nanochip-based coffee-fueled multi-role uber-officer built by the Marine Corps to process information, train others and win wars. . . . I'm still not fully convinced that that's not the case. . . .

As I advanced in Guided Chaos, private lessons with Al became like trying to drink from a fire hose. I spent much of the lesson being bombarded with concepts, sayings, corrections and training tips as well as fists, chops, palms, fingers, elbows, shoulders, boots, knees, chest slams, hip checks and the occassional head butt. Oftentimes Al would say something very thought-provoking but would cut off my thought process within seconds with a palm strike. The experience for me would be, "Wow, interesting, I wonder what that--OOPH! Stop thinking and MOVE!!!" Much (but not all) of what Al says during a private lesson is intended as food for subconscious digestion. I started to realize this when I began having the experience of "getting" things physically months after a particular lesson, even though I'd consciously forgotten what Al had told me. I might be doing contact flow with another student, my body would do something good, and I'd have the sudden realization: "Aha! So THAT's what Al meant during our private lesson three months ago!"

I have received WAY too many lessons and tips from Al over the last couple years to recount even a fraction of them here. You can find many of them explained in writing in the E-newsletter archives. For now, though, here are a few recent highlights:

--Turn completely to avoid crossing arms.
--Practice Washing the Body with as small movements as possible, making small adjustments with the whole body to escape pressure in very little space.
--When advancing to hit, MOLD body IN until in ideal position to STRIKE.
--Do NOT be tempted to speed up to exploit openings. Move whole body into perfect position to strike.
--Know when you've LOST (i.e. give up on a movement to avoid overcommitment), and know when you've WON (penetrate despite resistance when you have a definite mechanical advantage).
--Move in while "making them miss.
--Release shoulder-body connection to move body around or through arm grabs and pushes.
--Pocket to create space for multi-hits in ultra close range.
--COMPLETELY separate yin from yang (i.e. NO tension build-up) in order to apply pulsing (i.e. using tension purposefully).
--When you MUST stop his attack with a dropping strike, MAINTAIN the pressure (equal pressure--no overcommitment) on the stopped weapon to mask your movement.
--Pulsing: you must catch the exact TIMING, bouncing straight to hit AFTER he begins to "bite" but BEFORE he can recover or change.
--Turning and folding: you must POCKET to make room to bring weapons to bear.
--Slightest pressure . . . nay, mere STRUCTURE of enemy sends ENTIRE body swinging loosely into motion.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #5

My Second Tim Tune-up Continued...
Tim explained how his whole body is involved in every movement, even when it looks like just his hands are moving. For example, he showed me how the arm break he'd gotten me with a half-dozen (okay, maybe closer to a full dozen) times was powered by his shifting weight onto his rear leg, not by any increase of strength in his arms. Likewise, a strike he hit me with was created by the slight repositioning of one of his feet, not by the thrusting of his arm.Tim eventually ended the physical part of the lesson, but then had me sit down with him in the front office to discuss any questions I had. We discussed aspects of exercises, things I should concentrate on improving, and general concepts about Guided Chaos. Here are some highlights:

"Looseness" is not floppiness, and it's definitely not SLOPPINESS, but maintaining a "flow" throughout all movement so that you'll go around anything without being stopped.

To Tim, the opponent always feels rigid as a statue, whether Tim is applying no force or 100 pounds of force.

After asking my age, Tim pointed out that I've been using my hands for 27 years. He thinks they probably know how to work together without further guidance! (This was in response to a question I asked about the Tai Chi concept of yin hand and yang hand.)

It's all just balance, sensitivity, coordination between hands and feet . . . and art.

For correct body positioning, imagine how you would stand to push a big old Cadillac up a hill. You would align your body and dig from the legs. The elbows would be down, and the arms themselves would not do much of the work.

During our discussion, Tim got up and we went back into the studio so that he could demonstrate some things he was explaining:

He wanted me to start out in a "safe" position (the L-stance and arm position discussed in the previous lesson), then use the movement of my body and legs to stick with his arms, rather than moving my arms to follow his. If I moved my arms to follow his, my arms ended up out of position and my body ended up open, such that he was able to hit at will while tying up my arms. If I used only body and leg adjustments to stick with his arms (beyond simply turning the waist), my arms remained in a "safe" position, covering my body and connected to it. I noticed that this idea automatically had me moving behind a guard with good (or at least better) body unity. Powerful idea!

Tim also showed me that despite the non-stop barrage of powerful hits he dished out, he was actually playing almost all defense! He stuck to my arms and maintained a safe position for himself, penetrating and hitting only when I made a mistake (balance, tightness, alignment) and put myself in a position where I had no hope of hitting him. He said that to do otherwise was to risk trading punches, which he is not willing to do against someone who really means to hurt him. Furthering that idea, Tim admonished me not to rush my hits. I should hit only when I am in a good position to END it, hitting a good target with full body unity with no chance of being hit back. Anything else is simply asking to trade punches.

Finally, Tim showed me how he uses pulsing. If I have a good position that Tim cannot safely penetrate, he uses a slight addition of uncommitted pressure to force me to move somewhere, even if it's just pushing back to maintain my position. This increase in energy or movement away from a safe position on my part is all he needs to feel my mistakes and begin the slaughter.

By the time I left Tim's studio, my brain was so occupied with pondering everything I had learned that I completely forgot about the visit to the Baskin Robbins near the studio that I had promised myself before the lesson! (Two scoops of Jamoca Almond Fudge does wonders for your sensitivity and balance, by the way.)

For the next few blog posts, I'll discuss my experiences with Lt. Col. Al and Matt Kovsky. Plenty of interesting stuff. . . . Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #4

My Second Tim Tuneup...

Hey all, administrative note:
Please feel free to post any questions or comments about this blog on the Guided Chaos forum. Also any special requests. Please keep them considerate though--no "Have Lt. Col. Al break your ribs and drive them into your heart and then write about how it feels." I'll be sure to check the forum every few days. Now back to the races. . . .

My second lesson with Tim was less brutal and even more educational than the first.

In the three-week period between my first and second lesson, I concentrated on eliminating the bad shoulder-raising habit he had pointed out. I also worked on minimizing movement through the use of the ideas Tim had taught me in the first lesson: maintaining the L-stance and turning the waist to absorb pressure and counterattack. A bit of online research revealed the connection between these concepts and similar ones in Tai Chi (see "fa-jing") and gave me much to think about. A private lesson with Lt. Col. Al (more about that in a later post) also helped me get a clearer idea of what Tim had taught me.

Driving to Tim's studio the second time, I did not have Patrick to lead me . . . so of course I missed a turn, had to double back, and wound up almost fifteen minutes late. I called ahead and Tim didn't seem to mind much. Hey, at least I got there!

Very soon after we began contact flow, Tim commented, "Well, your shoulders have gotten better."


The lesson continued, and I found it less scary than the first one. I took hardly any neck breaks or telling blows to the head, although the body shots proceeded at a healthy pace. I did my best to a) NOT speed up no matter what (which probably explains why I ran into far fewer shots), and b) respond to pressure by turning rather than by making inefficient arm movements.

Tim pointed out that while my shoulders were doing better, I still had little moments of tension to eliminate, and I seemed to have a habit of raising my far shoulder and elbow when turning. For example, when I would turn to the right, my right (backwards-moving) shoulder tended to rise and the right elbow would leave its relaxed position. Simply another example of habitual and useless (rather than responsive and purposeful) movement . . . and indeed, HARMFUL movement, as it got me hit or got my arm "broken" every time I did it!

This part was comical: At LEAST a half-dozen times (okay, probably closer to a full dozen) in a row, Tim gave me a little pressure that prompted me to turn to my left to let it go. Because of my rising left shoulder and other factors, every time this happened, Tim's hands (guided by my movement--all Tim was doing was applying a little pressure) ended up in perfect position to break my left arm. After at least a half-dozen (okay, probably closer to a full dozen) repetitions of this, each one of which left me dumbfounded, Tim must have concluded that I wasn't going to figure this one out for myself and proceded to explain something to me (after giving my left arm a slightly firmer final tweak, lest I forget the experience!):

Tim pointed out that I seemed to have fairly good awareness of my environment. He came to this conclusion because of my skill at avoiding knocking into the photo and lighting equipment that surrounded us in his studio, even as he backed me up and occassionally tossed me all over the room. (He did notice though that I seemed to have a problem with the vacuum cleaner in one corner. I bumped into and got tangled in this a couple times. I told him that I'm much better at avoiding what appeared to be expensive equipment, in contrast to an old vacuum--no offense to his vacuum.) He then explained that I have to be similarly aware of my whole body in relation to his whole body, not just particular parts under momentary pressure or movement. I shouldn't focus on any one limb, but use the entire body at once all the time. He showed me the consequences of having a narrow focus by drawing my attention to one place (e.g. pressure or an impending strike along one arm) and then hitting me somewhere entirely different with his other arm. This was weird--it seemed at times as if he couldn't be hitting me from the second angle based on where he was standing. He also showed me the difference between using the limbs sequentially as many people do (striking with one arm, then the other, one strike at a time) and using the whole body at once. First he attacked me sequentially, and I was able to evade most of his strikes (not that it was easy!). Then he attacked using everything at once, and . . . I have NO idea exactly what he did, but it SUCKED!!! He didn't actually hurt me, but I was immediately off-balance and immobile, being hit heavily in the torso in one direction while my body was being propelled in the opposite direction (not actually moving though). It looked as if he just stepped in. Point taken: use everything at once!
To be continued....

Monday, January 22, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #3

Tim Tuneup Continued...
I should probably mention at this point that throughout this blog, I will be referring to ideas and principles explained most thoroughly in the book "Attackproof." You will understand the blog better if you've read the book. At the very least, in order to learn about the basic principles of Guided Chaos, you should subscribe to the free E-newsletter. The first newsletter you receive upon signing up will contain an article explaining the Guided Chaos concept and its four major principles. Note that you won't find this article in the Newsletter Archives (where you'll find loads of other valuable information)--you need to sign up for the newsletter to receive it.

Picking up where I left off in my last post, my first lesson with Tim:

As the initial beating calmed a bit, Tim started to give me tips about how to improve my movement.

The first tip was to stop raising my shoulders for no reason. I never before realized how much I did this. Tim pointed out how my shoulders frequently shrugged up when there was no need for them to. (Raising a shoulder could be warranted to protect the neck or head from an incoming strike or to gain new attack angles.) The effect of the randomly raised shoulders was to raise my elbows, decreasing protection of my torso, and reduce the reach and range of motion of the arms. It also introduced unnecessary tension into my arms, reducing my sensitivity. Well, the most basic effect was that every time I did it, I got hit! Point taken--I'll have to work to break that habit.

Another of my problems was failing to constantly stick to Tim's arms. In my effort to be light and not push or overcommit, or while moving to strike, I was often losing contact. I can get away with this against some people. Not against Tim! Every time I lost contact with one of his arms, it hit me. I have to work on getting that balance between sticking constantly yet not pushing (which is overcommitting), and not being lazy in cases where I can get away with not doing it right. That just brings on bad habits.

In general, Tim was ramming home to me that ANY superfluous or incorrect (i.e. not in line with the Guided Chaos principles) motion with any part of the body could get me killed. Also, he was critical of how I tried to strike the several times he asked me to hit him. He said that I used way too much arm effort and not enough body, resulting in weak strikes that exposed me to counters. I felt that he was breaking down everything I knew (or THOUGHT I knew!) in order to build it back up again in a more efficient manner. What follows is how he did that.

He had me stand in a good, rooted L-stance (not a T-stance, which would imply crossed legs), with the front foot pointed straight towards him and the rear foot pointed 90 degrees away. He told me to distribute my weight perfectly 50/50 initially, so that I could move it forward or back depending on what was dictated by my sensitivity (never remaining double-weighted once the action begins). He then had me grab his thumbs, which he was holding maybe 18 inches in front of my upper chest, and just let my arms hang limply from his thumbs. He pointed out the position this put my arms in: relaxed, shoulders down, elbows hanging low and naturally in front of my torso, the forearms covering most of my torso. He then had me add just enough tension to the arms to keep them in that position without actually resting on his arms. This would be the basic position I would use to stick to his arms during contact flow.

From here, settled in my 50/50 L-stance and sticking to his arms with mine in the basic relaxed position, I was shown how I could negate any advancing pressure or any attempt to penetrate my guard by simply turning my waist and shifting weight appropriately to maintain balance and space, while keeping my arms in the same basic position relative to my body. In this way, I was always sticking to his arms with my relaxed arms in-between his arms and my vital areas, never getting out of position or making superfluous movements ("moving behind a guard" in Attackproof). From there, I was able to use the natural rebound of the waist turning back to center and beyond to counterattack with body unity, using rocker-type motions of the arms to whip out chops, elbows and palm strikes powered by the turning of the whole body (driven from the legs) while keeping his arms far from my vital areas. This was a very efficient way of moving that brought all the Guided Chaos principles into play with minimal movement!

Tim gradually turned up the difficulty level for me as I tried to apply this simple way of moving while remaining loose, balanced, sensitive and unitized. The few times I did everything right (or right-ish), I received a "Good!" or something like it. The rest of the time, I got hit whenever I made a mistake.

Too soon, the physical part of the lesson was over. Tim and I talked for a few minutes, during which he gave me some additional advice and philosophy for my own practice:

--It all comes down to the BASICS, and the better practitioner is the one who makes fewer MISTAKES.

--EVERY time you get hit, it means you made one or more of the following mistakes: you were off-balance, you weren't loose somewhere (i.e. you tightened up and didn't move with something), and/or you didn't stick.

--Work very slowly; DON'T speed up, even to avoid hits; and work with your eyes closed.

After this first lesson, this was my interpretation of Tim's teaching style contrasted with John's, Al's and Matt's (keeping in mind that this is only how these guys teach ME--they may work very differently with others, based on the student's needs):

Whereas John, Al and Matt allow me to experiment in contact flow while subtly and gradually nudging me towards fuller and more efficient expression of the Guided Chaos principles, Tim immediately punishes any deviation from good movement according to the principles, conditioning my body to do nothing BUT good movement. It's an interesting contrast, and from my perspective, both methods are extremely useful. That's why I'll continue to take lessons from as many Guided Chaos masters as possible--and you'll get to read about them here!

I waited about three weeks before arranging another private lesson with Tim, because I wanted time to work with the advice he gave me and to try to eliminate the bad habits he pointed out. You'll find out in the next post how well I did, what Tim thought about it, and what else he decided to teach me. . . . Stay tuned!!!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #2

Time for a Tim Tune-up...
Before I went to Tim's photo studio in Yonkers for my first lesson with him, I received all sorts of advice from many people: "Whatever you do, DON'T SPEED UP!!!" "Do NOT try to kick!!!" "If he takes out a rusty screwdriver, MOVE!!!" "You'll DIE!!!" "You'll have your arms broken, THEN you'll DIE!!!" "Be sure to check your ego at the door and ask questions." (That last bit of advice was from Lt. Col. Al. It proved to be the most useful.) Many folks warned me that Tim has a much more brutal teaching style than Matt, Al or John. I wasn't especially nervous though, considering I'd never heard of Tim actually killing a student, and he has plenty of very skilled and devoted students. Heck, Al attributes a great deal of his progress in Guided Chaos to his year of weekly lessons with Tim. What concerned me most was the possibility of getting lost on the way to his studio. Fortunately, Patrick was nice enough to lead me there in his car.

I decided three things before the lesson began:
a) I would NOT attempt to strike Tim unless he told me to.
b) I would NOT kick, or even lift my legs, unless he told me to.
c) I would do my best to do exactly what he suggested to the best of my ability.

The lesson started with Tim feeling out what I could do. He was immediately very amused and a bit dismayed by how much I moved unnecessarily. I knew this was a problem for me: Lt. Col. Al's most frequent admonition during our last few lessons had been, "You're moving too much." Further, a key aspect of Tim's reputation is how he accomplishes so much destruction with so little movement. The first ten minutes or so of the lesson were indeed a bit brutal. Patrick, who was watching, told me later that while I was not speeding up to attempt strikes, I was unconsciously speeding up in attempts to avoid Tim's strikes, which necessitated Tim's accelerating slightly to maintain control--which he certainly did maintain!

Tim encouraged me to view contact flow differently from how many Guided Chaos students view it. As he explained, in a real violent confrontation, ANY successful attack from the enemy can mean your demise, either directly or because of what can follow. So, instead of treating contact flow like a fun exercise where both trainees will hit and be hit and learn from it, he demands from his student perfect movement and control of the situation at all times--and all mistakes are punished immediately. I felt right away that no matter how hard I tried (if I were indeed trying), I would never even come close to hitting him if he didn't want me to. His arms stuck to me lightly but consistently, like glue. His whole body moved subtly in response to any movement on my part, immediately cutting off tiny angles such that I'd have to move much further to get around. Any deviation on my part from good positioning and unitized motion allowed one or both of his arms to slip through and hit me or break one of my arms or disrupt my balance. All of Tim's strikes were incredibly loose and effortless--like they were "falling" horizontally--but every single one also had fully unitized body motion behind it. I felt that Tim was not hitting me hard, in that he was putting no effort into increasing the speed or power of his strikes. However, even at low speed with minimal motion, a loose, fully unitized body packs a lot of wallop! The only blood that was drawn (from my lip and a little bit from my nose) was the direct result of my running into his hands while unconsciously speeding up in attempts to squirm away from his strikes. Tim was very passive, never initiating anything (as far as I could consciously tell--more on that in the second lesson), but simply taking advantage of every mistake--and it seemed for the first ten minutes or more, every movement I made was a fatal mistake!

Some of the most memorable and frequent hits I took were neck and arm breaks. John and Al had done simulated neck breaks to me before, always stopping far short of doing any damage. The ones Tim did were different. He would drive the fingers of one hand into the hollow on the back of my head where the skull and spine join to secure my head for a split second, and WHACK with a straight palm strike with the other hand to the front of my head at just the right angle to send my head spinning. Every single time he did this, I felt a weird feeling in my neck--but no pain afterward. Also, my eyes seemed to vibrate back and forth horizontally for over a second after the WHACK. No doubts about the effectiveness of that one! This happened to me many times, and although it didn't really hurt or cause any damage, it was not a pleasant feeling. The best I accomplished in trying to prevent it at one point between the initial grab and the palm strike was to squirm my head so that Tim's palm accidentally hit my nose instead of the less painful areas he had been aiming at! That's where the nosebleed came from. And yes, it still felt like my neck would have been snapped. Tim's facility with arm breaks was amazing. I couldn't escape from them even when he put them on very slowly. He just made tiny adjustments to his body to prevent me from getting away. He never sought the arm breaks. He just picked them up whenever I overextended and put my arm into position for them. Good motivation not to overextend!

And while I suppose I didn't merit a rusty screwdriver, Tim's pocket knife did come out at one point to demonstrate the importance of getting out of the way and viewing all attacks in contact flow as potentially lethal. As he pointed the knife at me and slowly moved forward, he asked, "What would you do?" Without thinking about it, I stepped sideways and turned, giving the knife a wide berth. "Right," he said, "but you moved too far."

That's enough for this one. In my next post, I'll go over what specific things Tim suggested I do, and what specific lessons I took away from the lesson. Stay tuned. . .

Friday, January 19, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #1

Hi all--- This blog is going to discuss lessons I learn (or attempt to learn!) from Guided Chaos masters such as Tim Carron, Al Ridenhour, Matt Kovsky and of course, Guided Chaos Founder John Perkins.

A little background about me:
I'm currently a Guided Chaos 1st Degree Black Belt, having trained in Guided Chaos for about two and a half years. Prior to discovering Guided Chaos (through a 25-minute introductory beating by then-Major Al, during which I managed to hit him all of zero times while he pulverized me), I had trained in Wing Tsun, Escrima, Mixed Martial Arts and Close Combat, as well as dabbling in a couple other systems and doing the whole kiddie Karate and Tae Kwon Do thing earlier.

Since beginning my Guided Chaos training, I've had many private lessons with Lt. Col Al and Matt, and a few semi-private lessons with John, but up until about a month ago I had never trained with Tim, John's highest-level student. My first lesson with Tim will be the subject of my next post.

Stay tuned...