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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.

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