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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!!!

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