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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!

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