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Sunday, February 25, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #18

Personal Reflections...
No training tips or lesson recaps this time around. Just some personal thoughts about martial arts, real-world-applicable training, and life. . . .

People often discuss the character-building and life-enhancing aspects of martial arts training. But I doubt that many of them have the same idea about it that I have.

Some may be referring to the discipline martial arts training is supposed to develop, particularly in children. But this has less to do with the martial arts themselves than it has to do with the traditional authoritarian Asian didactic system simulated in most mainstream martial arts schools. Similar sternness applied to all aspects of a child's life will produce the most effective results in that vein. Western children who would not normally accept such an atmosphere of authority due to the relative permissiveness with which they are raised are more prone to accept it in a martial arts school specifically because of the air of exoticness and excitement that surrounds the Western stereotype of the Asian martial arts. It is debatable whether this type of training for children develops true internally motivated discipline and work ethic, or a tendency towards obedience and a deep desire to please those in authority. For adult students (emotionally adult, that is), beyond the personal preferences of the individual, any improved discipline gained from martial arts study could be gained at least as well through the intensive study of any art form, such as calligraphy, dance, etc. In any case, for most adults, gains in discipline would likely remain specific to the chosen activity itself, overall work ethic and life habits having been ingrained earlier in life.

Some people emphasize the health aspects of martial arts training. However, Western-standard physical fitness, to include cardiovascular fitness, strength, strength endurance, flexibility and appearance, is better and more safely achieved through exercise methodologies not to be found in most martial arts training (e.g. aerobics, weight training, gymnastics, etc.). Most martial artists who are serious about physical fitness owe their physiques and high levels of conditioning to activities other than martial arts practice. Even the internal, Eastern-standard health often associated with Tai Chi practice can be achieved more directly through the practice of Chi Gung, Yoga, etc. In fact, most Tai Chi practitioners today practice Tai Chi exclusively as Chi Gung, not as a martial art, just as many today practice kickboxing exclusively as aerobics training.

Real martial arts training is MARTIAL, i.e. having to do with war or combat (Mars being the Roman god of warfare). To discount or relegate to secondary the martial aspect of "martial art" is to turn it into something else, such as an inefficient method of exercise or a way to get kids to listen to authority figures.

Only by studying and practicing the martial arts with the martial aspect foremost in mind can the life benefits unique to the study and practice of the martial arts (as distinct from any other art form or physical activity) be realized. Further, these benefits are most easily accessed by focusing martial arts training on the life-and-death dynamic of real all-out combat and protection of the self and loved ones, as distinct from a competitive or arrest-and-control focus. Brutal honesty and realism are key.

This is how it works for me:

Training with an awareness of the reality of all-out human violence, with instructors who know of this first-hand, and with a focus on keeping myself and my loved ones alive in the worst circumstances, ingrains in me an intimate understanding of my own fragile mortality and the fragility of all life. When you study the dynamics of real violence honestly, you realize that no matter how hard you train and no matter how good you get, virtually anyone and anything can still take you out at almost any time. A little bad luck can go a long way, as can the tiniest mistake in awareness or movement. We train to maximize our chances, but there are no guarantees. Working with instructors highly skilled in lethal violence allows you to feel your own life's fragility in a uniquely clear way—and the more skilled you become, the more clearly you understand this.

With such awareness comes a certain clarity of what is most important in life, and a heightened appreciation for the true gift each additional hour of life represents. This may sound fatalistic to some, but in my view, it is realistic and healthy. I never travel far from my wife without first telling her that I love her. I understand that I may not get another chance. I make a huge effort never to part with someone I care about on bad terms. Even if not every argument can be resolved before going to sleep, a truce must at least be reached, along with acknowledgement of true feelings and apology for any inflicted hurt. Treat those you care about as if each time you see them may be the last—because you understand that it might be. Granted, you can't control other people's emotions and thoughts, but you can do your best to shape their impressions of you through your words and actions. I'm not saying that I live only for the moment and neglect any planning for the future, but I try to remember while planning for the future that if it arrives, it's a gift, and appreciation of the present should not be completely sacrificed for it. All that's guaranteed is where you are right now. How will you be remembered by those who matter if this moment were your last? Live well, and enjoy it.

It may seem dumb to quote a Hollywood movie in reference to such a heavy subject, but The Last Samurai actually has a good line that pertains to this:

Katsumoto ("The Last Samurai"), trying to explain to Captain Algren the ideals and mindset of the samurai, says, "Like these blossoms, we are all dying. To know life in every breath . . . every cup of tea . . . every life we take--the way of the warrior. . . . That is Bushido."

Now, there is certainly more to Bushido than this. However, this quote captures much of what I'm getting at—only the samurai's understanding of such things came from actual experience of life-and-death battle combined with a philosophical prism through which to view it.

For us civilians who do not regularly go in harm's way, honest, realistic training for life-and-death combat is the best means I know by which to understand life in this way. I don't think one can so easily get there by training only for competition, health or entertainment.

It's one of the most important gifts that Guided Chaos has given me.

Monday, February 19, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #17

If You Can do All This...
This post will be a training tips/notes bonanza--no narrative, just important stuff I've learned (or re-learned, or been reminded of) over the past couple months from Tim and Al. See if you can guess which tips came from whom--a prize for anyone who can get them all right! Enjoy!

--Never stop nor be stopped!

--No one can control you. He can control you only so far as you allow him to through your resistance.

--Be GHOSTLY with your torso so that your arms always have plenty of space to maneuver.

--Pocket your ribcage so that your elbows have space to slip by. He is able to pin your arms against you only if you give him the solid surface of your torso to pin against.

--Change your side-on L-stance to the outside while fading the upper body to the outside to create HUGE angles (for e.g. chops to the back of the neck) with little movement.

--Apply internal dropping to every contact. This involves subtle muscular control, requiring you to start with maximum Yin in order to apply maximum Yang at only the point of contact for only a split second. This freaking HURTS when done right, and you can't figure out why. Perhaps this is the beginning of that liquid/solid body John gets when he does "pure Keech.". . .

--"Balance on ankles"/"Put energy from upper body into feet" so that full range of motion with full body is available--this makes SUCH a difference!

--PURE KEECH--ridges, targets, what the other guy does, it just doesn't matter--everything comes from everywhere with internal dropping.

--Disrupt his legs with your steps to cut off angles and take balance.

--You can't try to deal with each individual punch, and you can't disconnect offense and defense or different parts of your body. When one thing moves or you feel one thing change, EVERYTHING changes! Deal with whole thing at once! Keep everything connected! (This is VERY powerful--must play with it more!)

--There's NOTHING WRONG with applying pressure or moving the other guy's limbs! Being loose means having complete freedom in all the joints, being unhindered by your own muscular contraction. It does NOT mean being wimpy!

--"Ghostliness" is the exact same thing as moving with contact, only at a far higher level of sensitivity.

--Box step: drop weight onto rear leg, keep hands up and forward, always keep head up (always).

--Beyond a certain point, advancing in Guided Chaos is all mental. You have to learn to "think differently."

Until next time . . . stay tuned!!!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #16

First Master Class...
Last Sunday morning, John taught the first of what will be a bimonthly series of "master classes," open to Guided Chaos 2nd degree black belts and above.

It gave all who attended the unique opportunity to work with a variety of people without ever having to fall back into "teaching mode." Everyone was able to work on what they had to work on for themselves with skilled training partners, never worrying about the possibility of bruised egos or what their training partners could handle.

John began with an introductory explanation and demonstration of the goal of the class: to get everyone on their way to being able to apply pure Guided Chaos like John does, having complete control over balance and generating colossal power with absolutely no stylization or preconceived motion. He then assigned us to practice a couple interesting variations on contact flow that necessitated the exploration of certain kinds of motion.

As we worked, John went around and gave each person important tips for improvement. He showed me how aspects of my training partner's build could put me at a disadvantage, and how I could negate that disadvantage by keeping my training partner consistently off-balance through deeper stepping. In turn, he showed my training partner how moving in a more "engulfing" manner could help him negate my natural advantages over him. Very insightful stuff!

Definitely looking forward to future sessions! All you 1st degree black belts out there: Kick yourself in the ass and get training so that you can someday soon attend these sessions!!!

Next time, more tips from Tim and Lt. Col. Al. . . . Stay tuned!!!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #15

Extreme Balance seminar...
Lt. Col. Al went over a bunch of different exercises that are not in the book, such as the Atomic Leg Crusher, the Indian Walk, the Hackey Sack, Puppeteering, Long Stepping, Advancing Kicks, and a heretofore unnamed drill that I'll take the liberty of dubbing the Relationship Of Body Movement And Rooting drill (ROBMAR). Also covered were advanced variations of the Ninja Walk, Vacuum Walk, Gorilla Walk, Rolling the Ball and Box Step using various forms of added weight (such as dumbbells, weighted bars and medicine balls), and various uses of the wobble board. Emphasis was placed on achieving what John calls "hydraulic legs," driving all motions of the body directly from the ground through a solid root.

But the seminar was definitely not just about solo drills. Al and John gave several high-impact demonstrations of the importance of balance and a mobile yet solid root in combat. We all got to experiment with doing contact flow on the flat sides of BOSUs, as well as a melee (free-for-all contact flow with everyone at once) on a field of round-side-up BOSUs with medicine balls being passed around. Then came a long session of "Long Keech," or contact flow emphasizing very long, low steps and big motions for the ultimate balance challenge. The seminar concluded with hands-on training in how to generate a powerful drop to either launch a person away or crush his insides, as well as how to use looseness and balance to prevent being launched.

As usual, the seminar was peppered with lots of personal insights and tips from John and the other instructors, as well as "side-lessons" by Lt. Col. Al about such subjects as moving against multiple attackers.

A great time was had by all, including a few new faces, one of whom came all the way from Texas just for the seminar and a private lesson with John!

As good as the Extreme Balance seminar was, I'm sure the one everybody is looking forward to most is the Combat Knife seminar coming up March 31. . . . THAT one promises to be awesome, with training in Guided Chaos knife use as well as dealing with a knife-armed attacker while unarmed, plus I'm sure plenty of other tidbits that always happen to pop up at Guided Chaos seminars. . . . Don't just "stay tuned," BE THERE!!!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #14

"Keechy" Close Combat Vs. Pure Guided Chaos...
Two Mondays ago right before the Hastings class began, John, perhaps responding to some of the questions that were coming up on the Attack Proof forum, presented a thorough explanation and demonstration of the difference in application between Guided Chaos Close Combat ("Keechy Close Combat") vs. pure Guided Chaos.

John explained that most of what you see in the current videos and demos is really Keechy Close Combat. He demonstrated that even when he gets very dynamic, gyrating and contorting to evade and land strikes from crazy angles, so long as the strikes he lands materialize as defined striking weapons hitting specific areas (e.g. a yielding motion leads to a chop that winds its way into the throat, or a palm strike targeting the jaw), it's still "Keechy Close Combat," not "Pure Guided Chaos."

He also showed that the dropping method he usually demonstrates, no matter how small he makes it, is still the "external" drop of Keechy Close Combat. This is the drop where you can see certain muscles tensing explosively for a split second, accelerating the striking weapon and bringing at least part of the body to an abrupt split-second stop before the flow continues.

As he demonstrated these ideas on me, I got the impression that everything he was doing that was "Keechy Close Combat" was in fact "evadable." I'm certainly not saying that I was good enough to actually evade his strikes, pulses and drops, but the pressures and impacts seemed linear and unidirectional, penetrating exactly where they hit. I felt that IF I were loose, sensitive and balanced enough to move in time, I could stay out of the way of the Keechy Close Combat movements and survive.

Pure Guided Chaos was a different feeling entirely!

I'd seen John briefly demonstrate "Pure Keech" before, but had never gotten the opportunity to observe and feel it for an extended period of time.

Quite frankly, it was pretty freaky!!!

John first showed that Pure Guided Chaos is non-specific and truly formless in weapons and targeting. When he moved on me (I can hardly say "attacked me" because it looked like he just slowly walked through me while raising his arm), his body and limbs did not assume any sort of form or position one would associate with striking, such as a fist or ax-hand. Nor did his limbs seek out any particular target. His whole body simply went forward loosely and made contact with whatever was there.

Here's where the really freaky part began. I remember in maybe sixth grade, in science class, we combined water and cornstarch to explore the simultaneous solid and liquid properties of magma. (Please don't take me to task here on the actual science involved--it was a while ago and I don't have time to do a lot of research! Suffice to say that the right mixture of water and cornstarch produces a "non-Newtonian" liquid that flows and pours like a typical viscous liquid but resists and breaks like a solid when and where agitated.) Seeing and feeling John move reminded me of this. John appeared to be moving completely freely and loosely, flowing like water with no strength or resistance. However, wherever I touched his arm or vice-versa, it felt solid and unyielding as a rock, even though he did not appear to be stopping or bracing against the contact at all! When he told me to try to evade his touch (which, again, LOOKED effortless and light as a feather but FELT extremely heavy, dense and irresistible), I found that I could not. Wherever and however I moved, the pressure from the contact followed with no delay and penetrated completely, immediately taking my balance.

When he hit me using Pure Keech, he did not go for any particular target with any particular striking surface. He just walked through me while raising his limbs. There was no sudden acceleration nor stopping as he hit. His limbs just seemed to penetrate right through me with no effort. The Keechy Close Combat strikes certainly hurt where they hit and felt like they could do real damage with additional depth, but the pure Guided Chaos hits (or more appropriately collisions--instances where John's relaxed limbs happened to intersect with my body) seemed to just cave in everything, collapsing my whole body and balance. Simple pocketing wouldn't help me, as I would still get penetrated. I felt like I had to move my whole body out of the way in order to survive--but this was impossible because my balance was completely thrown with the first contact, and the pulse followed my center perfectly through any point of contact no matter where I moved. The impacts came with absolutely no warning because they were all just part of John's loose movement through me. There was no detectable lining up nor acceleration as there is in Close Combat.

John showed how unimpressive pure Guided Chaos dropping looks when done without a target. His whole body just appeared to soften a bit and his hand went forward a few inches like a puff of air. There was no visible explosion, no sudden acceleration or stopping of the motion, no STOMP to shake the room. It became obvious why he normally demonstrates the more intimidating "external" drop, as the Guided Chaos internal drop really looks like nothing special. In fact, when you see its effect on a human target, the demonstration looks FAKE, because of the apparent lack of effort on John's part combined with the devastated reaction of the target person. All I can say is . . . FEEL it yourself before ye judge!

As John applied Pure Guided Chaos on me and on a few other people present, it looked impossibly simple. John simply walked toward me while lazily lifting his arms. Any punches, grabs or other arm attacks I tried were immediately slammed out of the way by his flaccid, slow-moving arms. With any speed added, I have no doubt my arms could have been broken, despite my moderate level of looseness. His limbs then continued to reach or fold in, his body following smoothly behind them, to slam any random part of my torso or head with knee-buckling shock. Often his arms would happen to slam, or unbalance and slam, my body in multiple directions simultaneously, calling the integrity of my neck and spine into question. He seemed to have no concern about the striking surface used, slamming with equal effectiveness with all sides of the shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist and open hand. Whenever I tried to lift my leg to kick outside of range of his arms, one of his legs would simply come forward in a slightly extended yet still perfectly balanced and controlled step, immediately throwing me way off-balance and into yet more effortless slams. As he advanced through me, his hips and knees created similarly devastating impacts.

When John demonstrated on one of the bigger and sturdier, albeit less experienced students, he commented that he actually had to hold back more when hitting the bigger student because he isn't as loose as I am and therefore couldn't safely absorb as much impact. This was clear as John rocked the student's whole body with what appeared to be little pats to his arms.

John pointed out that because it takes many years of proper training to produce and apply such devastating power, for self-defense purposes, he teaches his students to target particularly vulnerable areas of the body with the most suitable striking weapons, a la Keechy Close Combat.

The longer I study and practice this stuff, the more I realize how much further I have to go!

My next post will be on the recent Extreme Balance seminar. It was awesome!!!

Monday, February 05, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #13

More Tim and Al Tips...
This blog post (and probably all future ones) will be more concise. Less background and filler, more training info. Hope you like.

This past Saturday, I had another lesson with Tim.

During the physical portion, I was generally too tense. Tim also pointed out where my excess movement was opening me up to his shots. He showed me how changes of less than an inch could completely turn the tables. Talk about economy of movement!

His advice during the physical portion of the lesson was as follows:

--I have to be one with what's going on.

--I have to think differently, not so logically and literally. Being intellectually "smart" is not an advantage with this stuff.

--I have to do away with the concept of an "enemy." Tim demonstrated that when he treated me as a "friend," it was easy for him to beat me up. With a broad smile and an advance towards me that at first looked to be a pat on the back, he loosely and easily destroyed me. I felt nothing at all threatening until the loose barrage of shots landed. He then "attacked" me as if I were an "enemy," with a glare and clear determination. I was able to feel his intentions a mile away and avoid almost everything. Very interesting!

--Tim commented, "You have to lower your energy into your legs. It's not just an elevation thing, it's not just bending your knees. You need to get all that energy out of your upper body and put it in your legs." As I did this, my upper body seemed to get looser and freer, and my balance was thus no longer as challenged. Tim said, "Good! You had about four good seconds in there. Good job, lesson's over."

I experimented more with this on my own the following day, putting all the energy, movement and pressure in the lower legs while moving and hitting, rather than moving from the waist or the upper body. It offers greater range of motion and looseness in the whole body, along with better balance. I found I hit harder, and with less effort, when I concentrate on this feeling. DEFINITELY something to work on! It goes along with John's comments about having "hydraulic legs," Gary Abatelli's comments about "balancing on your ankles," and indeed the instructions given in the book "Attack Proof" for many of the drills. Having Tim say it the way he said it helped me finally understand it in a new way. Go figure.

Now, as promised, some tips from my last lesson with Al:

--Al usually grabs your wrist when it stops moving. So . . . don't stop! Conversely, Al practically "dares" you to grab him, as it just sets you up for punishment . . . because it doesn't matter whether he's grabbing you or you're grabbing him, it's a connection he can exploit. Stop him from grabbing by a) being sensitive and moving with the whole body away from grab attempts, b) KEEP MOVING, c) HIT immediately!

--Drill during contact flow: Penetrate center with uprooting. Application: that's how Al takes up slack (penetrating to center through the arms) to get MEAN positions.

Coming next time: An extremely educational lesson from John about the differences between "Keechy Close Combat" and pure Guided Chaos! This one blew away everyone who was present! Stay tuned. . . .

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #12

He Knows What You Need...
I wanted to post what it's like to train with John Perkins, the creator of the Guided Chaos concept and training method. One would think I've had more than enough exposure to write such a post, as I've taken at least a couple classes per week with John, as well as a few private and semi-private lessons, over more than two years. However, I've found it very difficult to put these experiences into writing.

First of all, it's impossible to say, "A class/lesson with John is like this or like that," because no two classes/lessons with John are ever the same. One semi-private lesson with John might consist of his silently observing the students' contact flow, then silently doing contact flow with each student himself. Another might involve doing endless footwork and kicking drills while John points out every little flaw. A class may consist of non-stop action in the form of close combat drills with dummies and striking pads or medium-speed contact flow, or most of the time may be spent standing and listening as John discusses a movement concept or explains the realities of violence through stories from his experience. (If you think the stories in the book are harrowing, you ain't heard nuthin' yet!) The course of events in a class depends largely on what's been on John's mind lately or what he feels are the greatest weaknesses of most of the students.

One thing that John is most certainly a master of (besides this fighting stuff, opera singing and general gregariousness) is intuitive teaching. While he can explain an idea as well as anyone (provided he doesn't get sidetracked by another interesting point), it is truly amazing how adeptly he can transfer information directly to students' subconscious minds, often without their even realizing they're learning! He does this visually (through modeling certain concepts of movement in various situations), aurally (through telling stories and repeating key points to inculcate proper mindset), and especially tactilely. During contact flow, he gives the student's body pressures and challenges that subtlely force correct reactions and build correct habits. He designs drills with equipment that force the student's body to learn to do things correctly in order to succeed in the drill. Examples of this include stopping a swinging heavy bag with strikes and kicks while standing on a wobble board, forcing the student to drop internally, and putting down thick crash mats for close combat scenario drills, forcing the student to stomp and lift the knees to maintain balance and mobility.

One of the most impressive examples of John's intuitive teaching ability I've seen was a private lesson he gave to a beginning student in which I and a couple other black belt students assisted. The private student had previously had only one private lesson, during which he learned self-defense strategy and tactics and a few basic close combat strikes. John intended in this second lesson to teach him some new skills, namely groundfighting and upright kicking, and to hone the skills he'd already learned. The student was reasonably athletic, but had no previous martial arts or fighting experience.

John had me take the student through the basic groundfighting exercises (as seen on the Guided Chaos Groundfighting DVD) as a warm-up. Then he had the student watch for a few minutes while I modeled (slowly at first, then faster) some groundfighting maneuvers against kicking shields and pads held at various positions and angles. No instruction was given as to "how" to perform the various kicks, rolls and other maneuvers. Then the student got down on the mat, John directed the pad holders where to go, and after just a little self-guided experimentation, the student was moving and hitting the targets like a pro! John suggested a couple things for the student to experiment with as he moved, prompting the student to get more creative and discover for himself faster and more efficient ways to move and hit the targets with maximum power as quickly as possible while keeping his head safe. It was by far the fastest I'd ever seen a student get proficient with anything combative.

John then presented the student with the scenario of being attacked by one or more knife-armed attackers in a confined space, such as an elevator. One useful tactic in such a scenario is to use the wall to enhance your balance and power to rapidly kick to damage the attackers and prevent them from getting close enough to use their knives to damage your vital organs. (An example of this tactic may be seen in one of the video clips on the Attackproof website.) John had me demonstrate for a few seconds. Holding one or both hands against the wall, I kicked out with rapid-fire front, side and back kicks to keep two other black belt students with kicking shields from closing the distance. Then, with no further instruction (not even pointing out the names of the different kicks or going into details about positioning or dropping), John had the private student give it a try, at first against only one attacker. After just a couple minutes and a couple simple tips from John, the student was successfully keeping away two pad holders with powerful, rapid-fire kicks. The student was then told to use just a light touch on John's arm for enhanced balance. He then progressed to stopping a charging shield holder with a kick from a free standing position. Again with little instruction, the student adapted quickly, dropping and adjusting his balance to compensate for the lack of external support.

The rest of the lesson consisted of improving the student's body mechanics for basic strikes and introducing him to contact flow. What was most impressive to me, however, was that John was able to make this individual with no previous martial arts or fighting experience fully functional with kicks from the ground and from his feet in less than an hour, with hardly any direct instruction. At first, I was actually flabbergasted at how little John explained to the student before making him try the drills! You couldn't argue with the results though. This is a testament to two things:

a) What John teaches is completely natural for the human body, thus enhanced under fight-or-flight stress rather than degraded.

b) No matter how natural the movements, John's intuitive teaching method is extremely effective.

The ease and speed with which he can coax a student to subconsciously teach himself or herself the best ways to move to deal with combat situations is uncanny. Unfortunately, this method cannot be simply laid out in a step-by-step syllabus for other instructors to use. It depends on John's vast experience, sensitivity and talent for reading people physically and psychologically and drawing out their strengths while compensating for their weaknesses. What John says and does and the situations he sets up to elicit responses vary greatly depending on the student. This is one reason why writing the "Attackproof" book was such a challenging undertaking. It was an effort to standardize, based on the root principles that do not change, a way of moving and a method of instruction that is in practice highly individualized. The success of distance learners who have made the effort to truly understand and internalize the basic principles of Guided Chaos as laid out in the book shows that the the authors did in fact accomplish their goal. A firm grounding in the basic principles of Guided Chaos combined with a bit of guidance and challenge from a master instructor (ideally in person, but even from a distance) can truly allow students to "teach themselves" subconsciously how to best utilize their own bodies to survive violence.

Thank you John!

Had an excellent private lesson with Lt. Col. Al this past weekend. Some great tips from that to come. . . .

Hopefully I'll have another private lesson with Tim within the next two weekends, so stay tuned!!!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #11

My Third Tim Tune-up, Part 2...
Tim started putting me in various awkward positions in contact flow, asking what I'd do. When I hit upon the most efficient and easy ways out, he'd say, "Okay, I'll buy that." Alternative solutions got me lightly struck, locked or off-balanced. Tim was critical of how quickly I moved my feet to get out of bad situations, so he had me stand against the wall so that I couldn't move back at all. As he started slowly attacking, I lost my balance a couple times, but finally got it right and managed to deflect his attack. At that point, he laughed and shook his head and said, "Good! Lesson's over, and I'll tell you why."

We pulled up chairs in the front office and proceeded to discuss a LOT. Here are some (not all--we covered a lot) highlights:

--Tim explained why he was amused by my final actions during the lesson. He said that I had ended up doing what he and John had been discussing the last time they worked out (a week or two previously). It had something to do with "bouncing" the energy Tim gave me. When he put me against the wall, I couldn't move back or out to dissipate the energy he was giving me, so my body channeled it in the only direction available: back into Tim. It has something to do with pulsing. I did not fully understand his explanation of what I had done--I must remember to ask him about it again next time. He pointed out that this phenomenon--a student's spontaneously doing something that John had discussed with Tim previously--happens often, for some reason. I suggested that there may be some weird chi floating around. . . .

--On the subject of chi, Tim showed me a small book about Cheng Man Ching (famous late Tai Chi master) that his wife had given him and that John had recently discussed with him. Tim admitted that such books usually turn him off within the first few pages, when they talk about chi and esoteric stuff to explain combative phenomena. According to Tim, it's all purely physical, having to do with subtleties of the nervous system. Then again, why name it a "nervous system"? Why is "red" red? Names are just labels people use to get on roughly the same page. "Nervous system" might as well be "chi."

--I pointed out that Tim was absolutely correct about my being distracted and preoccupied. The previous day, I'd had a business meeting and lunch with a client way out in Long Island (far from Manhattan, where I live and where my office is). The meeting and lunch went well . . . except that I got so involved in the conversation over lunch, I forgot my briefcase in the restaurant! I didn't realize I had forgotten it until I was already back in Manhattan, with no time to go get it before a dinner obligation with some of my wife's friends. Fortunately, when I called the restaurant, they said they had the briefcase and I could pick it up the next day. So, even during the lesson, in the back of my mind was the annoyance that right after the lesson, I'd have to drive out to the restaurant to pick up the briefcase. Were the directions I had accurate (I'd taken the train from Manhattan the previous day, never driven there from Yonkers)? Would I hit bad traffic? Would it take so long that it would kill the evening? How much gas and time was this costing me? Stupid--why did I even bring the briefcase into the restaurant in the first place?!? Tim pointed out that when you're troubled by something, you should 1) identify the problem, 2) identify the solution, 3) identify what you have to do, 4) identify what you're willing to do, and 5) LET IT GO. To dwell on problems and let them disrupt other areas of your life (like training!) is unhealthy and a waste of energy.

--I told him that I felt another thing that was messing me up during the first half of the lesson was that I was being too "controlled," trying too hard to do everything "right." I had been determined going into the lesson to try to "do" everything that Tim had told me to do previously (good L-stance, keeping safe arm positioning, moving body to evade and attack, shoulders low, not focus on single points, etc.). However, in TRYING to do all these things, I completely messed myself up. I was attempting to control my own movements (and therefore trying to control Tim's movements--good luck!) instead of simply allowing my body to react to whatever happened. This actually goes against the absolute basics of Guided Chaos theory, which I've written about--go figure, gotta remember my own advice! Certainly not the first time that has happened. The "control" thing was interesting though. The feeling I had midway through the lesson when Tim finally set me straight was one of "letting go" of any control over my body's motion. It felt like the weight of my arms and body, plus Tim's energy that moved them, were enough to accomplish everything, like a pendulum. I had to LET GO with the whole body, and just let the arms float and do what they will with the lightest of contact. Tim concurred with my observations about the dangers of "control." He pointed out that control was a frequent problem in training cops, which a lot of his students are. It is understandable that they have a tendency to be controlling, because of their occupation. However, it's their "control" that can get them killed!

--Work slowly, but train to cut time and distance in order to reduce the time it takes to accomplish things. Working with only one arm against your partner's two helps in this regard.

--When I mentioned that I find it difficult to keep things slow and trusting with some training partners, Tim pointed out that there's no such thing as a bad training partner. It's up to you to figure out what you can learn from each. He gave me examples of training situations from his experience that at first glance were bad or frustrating situations. However, he learned extremely important lessons from each of them by simply figuring out how to work around the problems. A couple of the skills he learned from these experiences are ones he is "infamous" for to this day. Always try to work a little slower than your training partner, to make you more efficient--accomplishing things faster at a slower speed by cutting time and distance. You may get hit more at first when you force yourself to remain slow, but the long-term benefits are worth it.

--Tim advised me to eliminate my habit of taking quick sidesteps to escape bad situations. He said there's nothing necessarily wrong with stepping, but that I tended to step with my feet faster than the pace the hands were setting. I must be sure to move my feet as slowly as my hands, lest they become uncoordinated and set up unrealistic situations in contact flow.

--Generally, most students' hands are not bad. They can use them with some skill. It's the body unity, the coordination between the hands and the feet and everything in between, that most students don't seem to get.

--Tim used a slightly off-color joke (that he learned from Bob Alexander) to make a point about learning. Sorry, can't repeat it here--the joke or the point!

It seemed like we might have gone on talking for hours had another student not come in for his lesson.

Immediately after the lesson, I felt a bit dismayed that I had "wasted" the first half of it being "not myself"--trying too hard and being too controlling. However, upon further reflection, the lesson I took away from that was very important, and I'll remember it well. I also have a LOT of new food for thought. So, great lesson!

And in case you were wondering. . . . I drove from Tim's place to the restaurant in Long Island, picked up the briefcase (contents intact), and got home without difficulty. The directions were good (Yahoo Maps--I think I like it better than MapQuest), traffic was on average reasonable, and I got home early enough to have an enjoyable evening. The day's travels, from Manhattan to Nanuet (10:15a - 1p Guided Chaos class) to Yonkers (Tim's studio) to Long Island and back to Manhattan, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., used up less than half a tank of gas. Go 2000 Camry!

Next post will be about . . . well, you'll just have to wait and see (i.e. I have no idea yet)! Stay tuned!!!

P.S. The new Guided Chaos Slam Bags are great! Even though I have and use one of the old steel shot-filled bags, I bought one of the new tan bags on the spot. It's much better for extended workouts. You can drop on this thing full-power until the cows come home and never have your hands go numb. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 02, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #10

My Third Tim Tune-up, Part 1...
A note about these lesson recaps:
My normal procedure after a lesson is to jot down some notes on the computer as soon as possible after I get home, before any important details leave my memory. (Of course, sometimes this must come after the execution of important husbandly duties, such a paying bills and making dinner plans.) I jot down the notes in the order in which I recall them, usually starting with the details of the lesson that made the greatest impression on me. The result is that once I'm done with the notes, most of the details have been captured, but the exact order of events has been lost and must be pieced back together. Therefore, please excuse any liberties taken with the order of events in these narratives. I'm doing the best that my memory allows.

I had my third lesson with Tim. While perhaps less action-packed than the first two, it was nonetheless extremely educational--and not just from a Guided Chaos perspective.

The lesson started out very relaxed and jovial. Tim vented good-naturedly about some of the tribulations of his photo business. In contact flow, he initially applied hardly any strikes at all, but continuously locked up my arms and chuckled at my misfortune as I cracked jokes about not wanting to get caught in a particular type of lock more than a dozen times this time. Not sure whether I was successful in this (lost count amidst several other types of locks), but I tried. After a few minutes of this cat-and-mouse fun, Tim started applying some light strikes to the body. I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to stay out of the way. I felt like all my movements were just a split-second too late. The jovial atmosphere continued until after I failed to get out of the way of several light shots in a row. Tim cut off my laughter by grabbing the back of my head and slamming a palm strike to my face (not injurious or painful--but it got my attention) as he said, "Just a reality check."

I took the hint, buckling down to get more serious about trying to stay out of the way. I asked Tim after a few minutes if I was stiffer than usual, as I felt . . . not right, like I was exerting lots of pressure against his arms even while trying not to. Tim said not to worry, to just do what I wanted. I continued to try to move properly, turning the body to stay out of the way while sticking with the arms in advantageous positions. He started giving occasional pushes and pulls to my arms and elbows, from my perspective coaxing me to react properly by letting the body turn loosely in response to his inputs and bring my weapons on line. However, it didn't feel right. My reactions felt jerky and uneven, and unconnected--like my arm would move in response to his push, then the body would try to catch up.

Tim commented that I wasn't myself today. I'd seemed pretty relaxed for the first two lessons, but today was different. He asked if I'd had a bad day, or a rough week, or if something was on my mind. He added that he didn't need to know what it was, but whatever it was, I had to separate it and leave it outside. He asked what I drank, and I told him mostly water and orange juice. He suggested I start drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and cigars! I mentioned that I'd eaten an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting earlier in the week, and he approved. He then related his philosophy on nutrition: "They say 'you are what you eat,' right? And you want to live a long time, right? Well, how long do fruits and vegetables last? What's their shelf life? A few days! Now, what's the shelf life of potato chips and processed foods? Maybe 25 years??? Which would YOU rather be???" Now THAT's a different take on things! He did concede that his doctor had a reasonable rebuttal to this theory.

In an effort to get me back to my usual self, Tim slowed things down, had me hang my arms loosely from his, then he held my arm against his while slowly moving to strike. I suddenly felt how truly "easy" it should be to get out of the way of strikes, and at that moment, my movement completely changed. Everything suddenly felt effortless and nonchalant. I had no idea where my arms were going, but I wasn't getting hit and my body did not feel separated from my arms. Tim said, "Ah, HERE we go!" A minute later he added with a smile, "Ah, and now you're hitting me!" This actually surprised me, and I looked to see my chops and elbows slowly and lazily floating past his chest and neck. Go figure.

Now that I was "back," we got back to business. Tim said, "Okay, now fix your feet." This I did, refining my L-stance. We continued to flow for only a few minutes before a customer came in with a photo restoration project. Tim said that I could hang out until he was done with the customer. He said he would suggest that I go out for a coffee break, but I don't drink it! I hung around and learned something about photo restoration. Interesting stuff. Tim must have a LOT of patience!

After the customer left, we got back to the lesson. To be continued...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #9

Mixing With Mike...
If you've never met Big Michael Watson personally, you can see him in action in a couple of the video clips on the Attack Proof website, demonstrating groundfighting. You might notice on one clip that a lot of his demonstration partners seem very hesitant to close in and attack him hard. If you ever have the chance to work with him, you'll understand why. You just don't want to run into any part of Mike.

It's not that Mike is mean or brutal. Quite the opposite--he's one of the nicest, most low-key guys you'll ever meet. He also has extremely good control. The standard John Perkins set for him to achieve his Guided Chaos fifth degree black belt was the ability to flow full-speed with students without injuring them. For a guy built like Mike, that's a tall order.

Returning to that suspicion of mine mentioned in a previous post, if Lt. Col. Al is a government-built combat machine, physically speaking, Big Mike is the next-generation model: taller, broader, heavier, bigger (yet perfectly coordinated) muscles, and a skeleton made of depleted uranium (John says it's titanium but I suspect he's wrong--Mike's bones are too hard and heavy to be mere titanium). Many who have trained with him can recall the experience of watching a bruise form where one of his fingers lightly tapped. No funky chi stuff going on here, just the effect of a big, hard, heavy and relaxed hand.

Mike can put those hands (and elbows, feet, knees, shoulders, etc.) wherever he wants. John sometimes tells the story about the first thing he taught Mike. Logically, because of his imposing stature, no one is going to attack Mike unless that attacker is a) VERY big, b) VERY insane, c) armed (heavily), or d) with very reliable friends, or some combination thereof. In other words, what Mike would face in an attack would be particularly bad, requiring a very devastating response. Therefore, taking advantage of Mike's very long reach, John trained him to be able to get eye gouges anytime, from any position, on anyone. No matter what you do, Mike's fingers will find your eyes, his body loosely twisting and contorting around your attacks to find the available angles. This precise sensitivity extends to everything Mike does with any part of his body. He can use his chest literally like a jackhammer as his arms pull you into a series of rapid-fire dropping slams that he can use to either move you across a room or simply rattle you silly. He can use his long legs like arms, sliding them carefully and precisely past any obstacles to tap your root leg or, if he feels like it, your throat. (Incidentally, Mike was very accomplished in Tae Kwon Do / Hapkido before he found Guided Chaos. Lt. Col. Al relates the story of the first time he and John met Mike. Mike's response to a question about his previous martial arts experience was to jump up and gently kick a light fixture.)

While I've never had a formal private lesson with him, training with Mike in class is always a good and challenging experience. He's a very caring and careful teacher, as long as you're not trying to get your willies by "beating" him. (Don't ask me why some people try this.) John often "uses" him to push people just slightly beyond their limits in terms of sensitivity, looseness, speed, endurance and scrappiness. Mike is an expert at quickly feeling where such limits lie for each individual and adjusting accordingly. It takes a lot of mental focus (not to mention physical prowess) just to stay in with Mike for more than a minute and do what you know you should do despite the constant barrage of light (for Mike--heavy for you!) dropping strikes raining down on your arms and torso and pulling just short of your head and neck. In order to get his own work in, Mike will often flow while standing on one leg, using only one arm. A humorous and slightly annoying phenomenon occurs when you work with Mike in class: other students in the class feel compelled to give you great advice to help you out of your pathetic predicament. "Get to his side! Don't stand in front of him! Stay loose! Don't challenge his strength!" Oh, okay! So if I just wise up and do those things, I'll be A-OK, right??? Sheesh. The point is, if you can even begin to pull off good stuff against Mike (and rest assured, unless you're also a Guided Chaos master, he's letting you do it), you're making good progress.

I recall an incident relatively early in my Guided Chaos journey that led to a great training experience with Mike. I didn't have access to a car, so I had to take a 45-minute bus ride to the Nanuet class. It was winter, and the weather that night was horrible--cold, windy, wet snowstorm. The bus was late and slow, so when it pulled up to the Nanuet stop a half-hour late at 7:10 (the class starts at 7), I was already ticked off. In order to get to the gym where the class is held from the bus stop, you have to walk several hundred yards across a mall parking lot. It was one of the worst walks of my life--I was whipped by strong winds (of course blowing right into my face) and stinging snow, and chilled to the bone. I slipped on ice several times, but luckily didn't fall (thank you Guided Chaos balance training!). When I finally arrived at the gym (7:20-something) and went to the studio where class is held, I found a sign on the door saying that class that evening was canceled. Fuming, I took off my soaked coat and paced around the empty studio. I called my then-fiancee on my cell phone just to vent. As I began to explain the situation to her, in walked Big Mike. Maybe this will be good. . . . I ended up getting an impromptu half-hour private lesson with Mike, during which he introduced me to the concept of dropping on everything. Eventually a few other people showed up and Mike ran a great class. Up until then, I had seen Mike only as a sort of Guided Chaos regulator, there to give the big brutes a real challenge and show them why they had to get loose and sensitive just like the smaller guys. I found out that night what a good and patient teacher Mike can be when given the chance.

And now, as a SPECIAL BONUS, a few recent tips from Lt. Col. Al:

--Use Stacking the Spears with full body rotation, skimming in very small space. Impact includes pull-back like whipping towel.

--Reach-under to clear hand pushing on elbow: pocket deeply to ghost reaching hand as far up and back as possible, tool-replacing further up offending arm, thereby ghosting your body in to where he has no escape.

--Equal pressure to tool replacement further up arm: tool is replaced as whole body arrives to kill.

--Use downward-angled elbow strike to get in and around stuff.

--"Answer the Phone" (see book Attack Proof). Keep horizontal--not too high, with body turning to chop back of neck.

--Pop-check elbow with mini-drop to enter.

--The patented Al Tie-Up: catch one arm, catch the other, turn hips, close distance, kill.

--Anticipate the VICTORY, as well as the GIVING SOMETHING UP.

Remember, none of these are "techniques," but merely ideas about movements to experiment with in contact flow if the opportunity arises. For further clarification, ask questions here or in the forum.

Hopefully I'll be able to arrange another lesson with Tim soon . . . so stay tuned!