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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Groundfighting Seminar Review #25

This past Saturday was the Groundfighting Seminar Part 2. For a variety of reasons, this may have been the best Guided Chaos seminar I've attended yet.

The plan was for Lt. Col. Al to do most of the teaching and demonstrating, as John had a bad back triggered recently by (of all things) bending to pick up his little dog. However, John still managed to get in some extremely enlightening and dynamic demonstrations and explanations. I don't think anyone in the audience could have perceived that John was injured, based on how he moved!

The seminar was, in my opinion, a perfect balance of review of material from the Groundfighting 1 seminar and material that hadn't been covered in the first seminar. This balance was critical, as there was a large number of students present who hadn't managed to attend Groundfighting 1 last year (including some out-of-state students and some experiencing Guided Chaos for the first time).

The seminar began with a short introduction by John, explaining the origins of what we'd be learning. Al then gave a short introduction, in which he emphasized that because no one could expect to completely master in a single day any of the ideas presented in the seminar, the goal was to give everyone the knowledge and drills necessary to go back home and continue to improve on what they had learned. He and John also made clear the distinction between the all-out survival groundfighting and ground avoidance we would be learning and the sportive grappling most people are familiar with. The two methods have completely different goals: demonstrably taking down and dominating the opponent for an extended period while unarmed and barefoot without causing serious injury in modern sportive grappling, vs. doing whatever is necessary while wearing shoes/boots and accessing weapons to avoid going to the ground and, if there, doing whatever is necessary to escape a lethal boot party in survival groundfighting.

I then took everyone through a warm-up consisting of some dynamic stretching and the basic Guided Chaos groundfighting exercises. These can be seen on the Guided Chaos Groundfighting DVD. We then reviewed the rolling and kicking drills from the first groundfighting seminar, where the student learns to spot and kick focus mitts while rolling across the ground. These skills would prove essential in the more dynamic drills to follow.

Al then taught a series of drills emphasizing the importance of dropping and drop-hitting in stopping any takedown attempt. We were very fortunate to have Steve, a relatively new Guided Chaos student and very talented and well-built wrestler (and a very nice guy), available to assist Al and John with the demonstrations. The distinction between the right way and the wrong way to execute the Guided Chaos methods was made very clear by the fact that every time Al demonstrated the "right" way, Steve was stopped cold, and every time Al showed the "wrong" way, Steve without hesitation slammed him to the ground or lifted him way up in the air with no discernible effort! It's a good thing for Al that the "wrong way" demonstrations took place on mats (and he still whispered to me later that he "hurt all over" from those "wrong way" demos).

Al showed the folly of the standard wrestling sprawl for real survival fighting, as it's easily countered by the wrestler who knows what he's doing (like Steve--it was scary how quickly and easily he could switch around Al's sprawl to slam him down from a different angle) and completely gives up your balance and striking and moving abilities. Assuming we were not able to attack and stop the shoot before it began, Al taught us to move forward and stuff the takedown attempt with a heavy, well-timed drop-strike. We drilled variations against a training partner using drop-strikes against the back of the head and neck, to the front and side of the head (leading into possible neck breaks), and while box-stepping offline in a single drop to gain a more advantageous position. John gave several dynamic and insightful demonstrations illustrating the importance of timing, alignment and body unity in making these ideas work. He also showed the importance of striking to penetrate and damage the attacker, as opposed to playing the grappler's game by merely pushing him away or grappling back. The key to everything John and Al were showing was not the actual strikes and kicks themselves (which by themselves have failed countless times against grappling attacks, e.g. in the first few Ultimate Fighting Championships), but the extreme balance, alignment and dropping energy behind them. This was reinforced to me as I was going around helping the less experienced students "get it" while they drilled with each other. To show Steve (the dangerous wrestler in the demonstrations) the difference that dropping and rooting makes, I hit his shoulders lightly as he moved in, first with the dropping and rooting, then without. He stated that moving into even my light drop-strike was like "running into a concrete wall," while my attempt to stop him without dropping didn't even slow him down (but did knock me off balance!). Fortunately, he didn't do to me what he did to Al when I showed him the "wrong" way!

Al then presented a series of drills using a heavy bag resting on the ground to improve full-power drop-striking ability. These were very useful drills I had not seen before. The drills with the bag resting upright on the floor improved the basic drop to stuff a takedown, the straight drop-knee and drop-kick, and the drop-knee and drop-kick while moving offline. The bag was then laid on its side on the ground to allow drilling of the knee drop to a recumbent adversary or to stop a very low shoot, and nasty dropping elbow strikes. The emphasis in these drills was on maintaining your own balance while delivering the full energy into the target, as opposed to simply falling on the target, which could get you into big trouble.

After much practice on the heavy bags by the students, Al called a 10-minute break. During the break, Matt Kovsky asked John and Brian (an extremely tall 2nd Degree Black Belt Guided Chaos student and law enforcement officer) to do a quick demonstration on video for the soon-to-be-released Attackproof Companion Video Part 3. The demonstration involved John explaining how to get in close against an adversary with a far superior reach without getting pulverized on the way in. One aspect of this demonstration captured the attention of several of the seminar students watching the filming: John's admonition NOT to key off of or wait for the adversary's punch or technique, but to simply move (forward and offline) at the initiation of any movement whatsoever. This was hard to grasp for several of the students, who were used to the conventional martial arts mindset of seeing and countering a specific technique, such as a jab. John demonstrated that if he waited for the jab to actually be launched, even when he knew it was coming, he had little chance, especially against the quick and far taller Brian. However, when John began to move immediately, not waiting for any specific attack to be launched, it was relatively simple for him to get offline and prevent Brian from landing anything before John took his balance and finished him off. This is referred to in the book I believe as "reaching out with your sensitivity" or "making contact with the opponent's intention." It involves the use of subcortical visual sensitivity or subconscious visual perception to drive your motion even before physical contact is established. It requires not only some level of sensitivity, developed during contact flow, but also a mindset shift away from consciously "defending against techniques" to subconsciously "dealing with movement." I explored these ideas further with a couple of seminars students, including how this relates to all the Guided Chaos principles. More on that in a near future blog post. . . .

After the break, we moved on to aggressive methods of going to the ground, both with and without a weapon. Al had the students practice several variations of rolling or falling to the ground while kicking and/or striking with a cane or other object against a standing heavy bag. Interestingly, a couple of students new to Guided Chaos but with extensive previous martial arts experience were immediately able to execute fast, picture-perfect rolls into kicks--but were at first unable to get them even close to the target! By contrast, some more experienced Guided Chaos students may not have looked as good in the roll, but were able to precisely and deeply fold the bag every time. With some practice, the new students will doubtless be doing the same very soon. Al and I pointed out the importance of falling loosely and adaptably to the ground rather than having some sort of braced or stiff position or fixed breakfall technique. Rather than treating the method as some sort of gymnastics routine that you must "set up" or concentrate on the appearance of, it's important to simply drop loosely to the ground while allowing the momentum to naturally power the strikes and kicks wherever they're needed.

Then next block of instruction focused on ideas that had been briefly demonstrated at the previous seminar and in the Groundfighting DVD, but not practiced extensively by the students. Al explained how to deal with an attacker who has gotten past your legs and is trying to hold you down in order to ground-and-pound, apply a submission hold, or keep you still for a stomping from his buddies. Al emphasized the danger in attempting to grapple back or do anything that similarly keeps you in one place for any amount of time. Because of the always present danger of multiple stomping attackers, it's essential for you to do something that gets you free and moving as quickly as possible. To that end, you must "bring the chaos" on the ground just like you would on your feet, going for vital targets (primarily the eyes, throat and groin) with looseness, sensitivity and body unity while moving to bring your feet back into the fight to finish him off. Al pointed out a couple examples of pocketing on the ground: pocketing the abdomen to create space to get to the groin of a mounted attacker, and expanding and pocketing the upper torso in order to slip out from under the pressure of an attacker trying to pin you. Al reiterated that we shouldn't be trying to grab and control the enemy, but we should move like ticked-off bobcats to damage the enemy as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. Also, Al and John pointed out that although we were practicing such things as getting out from under an attacker who has mounted us, a LOT must have already gone wrong in order for us to get into that situation in the first place.

While the students were drilling these ideas, I noticed that some were still so attached to conventional grappling methods that they were missing many opportunities to ensure their survival. For example, when working against an attacker mounted on them, many of the students resorted to reaching stiffly for the eyes, bumping with the hips and pushing on the attacker's torso in a futile attempt to throw him off. I even saw some attempts to grab the attacker's arm in order to create leverage to roll him off. I asked them why they would try such things against a bigger and heavier attacker. Rather than trying to heave his mass off of you, let him jump off himself when you crush his testicles! It's imperative that you continue to move quickly, loosely, sensitively, chaotically and ruthlessly with your whole body when on the ground, rather than getting locked into making a particular strength move work.

We then moved on to the part of the seminar that many were surely anticipating with excitement and maybe a little fear. Hung up on one side of the room was a tight triangle of "Paulies"--90-pound man-shaped striking dummies wearing boxing gloves and duct tape cervical collars (to keep the heads from being ripped off--a frequent problem with this crowd). After setting up mats underneath the triangle and assigning three big guys to aggressively manipulate the Paulies, Al explained that each student would have to fight like hell from a standing start in the middle of the triangle to keep the Paulies away as they tried to crush and punch him. After a few seconds, Al would call "DROP!" and the student would fall to the ground, kicking on the way down. He would then immediately kick out and move to avoid getting stomped and find a way to roll out of the triangle. This drill truly drilled home the importance of remaining disengaged, mobile and aggressive when on the ground in a real shitstorm--and it gave the students some not so subtle reminders to protect their heads while on the ground. For the second round, John added a crash mat underfoot and flashing lights to further challenge the students' balance and add to the disorientation.

Finally, after everyone was thoroughly tenderized by the Paulie drills, we got a taste of doing contact flow on the ground, with the legs as initial contact points. Here, all the same ideas apply as when you do contact flow on your feet with the arms as initial contact points. It was a new experience for some of the students to be fully sensitive and loose with the legs while keeping the speed constant, rooting through the hips, shoulders, back and other areas, and moving the whole body together so as to keep it behind all movements of the legs.
Some closing remarks, and the seminar was over. Everyone who made it through the whole thing (some came in late, and some sat out some drills) was satisfyingly exhausted.

I'm sure there's plenty I'm missing here--it was a seminar jam-packed with useful information. Check out the Attackproof forum for other people's responses and reviews.

Of course, Matt Kovsky was there, video taping the entire seminar for a possible future DVD release. I'm not sure whether it was Matt's idea of a joke or if he really needed additional shots, but he made Al repeat five or six times his demonstration of exactly how best to grab an attacker's balls. By the third or fourth take, Al's demonstration partner was beginning to insist that Al buy him a drink before he'd be allowed to go that way with him yet again!

An extra bonus for me and many others was having Bob Miller at the seminar. He's a corrections officer and Guided Chaos instructor from out west. Bob continues to train hard on his own and with his crew, and his efforts were evident in his great improvement since his last visit to NYC last year. It's always a pleasure to hang out and train with Bob.

For that matter, it's always a pleasure to see all the long-distance Guided Chaos students who come in for the seminars and other periodic visits. There were several first-timers at the seminar, and they certainly seemed satisfied and thrilled to finally experience Guided Chaos first-hand. I strongly encourage anyone interested to make it to NYC for one of the upcoming seminars, or even for any weekend class. If you're on the fence about it, don't worry. I can't imagine a more open and welcoming group.

Lucky for us, the next seminar is only a little more than a month away: The Five-Second Fight, June 30. I'm not sure exactly what it's going to be about, but if past experience is any indicator, these seminars just keep getting better and better. . . .

. . . See you there!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"MY LESSONS WITH THE MASTERS..." Ari Kandel's personal training blog. #24

Guided Chaos Close In
Sorry I haven't posted anything in a month. Been very busy--not much time for private lessons. However, I've still managed to make it to some regular classes, and as always, the learning continues. . . .

Here are some ideas I've been grappling (or Keeching) with lately:

John has mentioned in the past that one unique aspect of Guided Chaos is effective grappling-range striking, made possible by dropping, body unity and the ability to create space to strike in extremely close quarters via pocketing. A skilled Guided Chaos practitioner can be so close to an enemy that the enemy can't generate effective power, yet the Guided Chaos practitioner can destroy him. This is frequently illustrated to me when a) Matt Kovsky closes in and pulses to the point where I start tensing up and pushing to get space, giving him energy to work off of to smack me silly; b) Lt. Col. Al subtly moves in and drop-strikes with his torso, freezing and off-balancing me to allow his weapons to go to work; and c) John ghosts his entire body into the perfect close-range position to effortlessly take my balance and/or strike with finality.

Even when a Guided Chaos master is not actually at very close range (e.g. when I work with Tim, who rarely allows things to get very close), his body is usually still moving towards that position, however subtly. This is what allows him to take away space and cut off angles while bringing massive fully-body power to bear on the enemy. Even when Tim hits me from long range, toward the end of his reach and far from his body, his body is still moving as if to penetrate to close quarters. All the power of this body movement is condensed into his strike, the impact of which makes any further advance unnecessary.

Of course, one has to be able to do this while not getting impaled or stopped by the attacks of the enemy. This is where pocketing, turning, moving offline and subtle changes in the body come into play. The practitioner moves as little as s/he needs to in order to avoid obstacles to his/her body's forward-moving penetration. You cannot be stopped from closing in on the enemy if you give the enemy nothing solid to push or hit against to keep you away.

Your ability to feel the relative positions of your and your enemy's center of gravity also comes into play here. I was shown how subtle and powerful this can be when I got the opportunity to do ULTRA-slow contact flow with Lt. Col. Al, then watch Al do it with John. This is contact flow done so slowly that you can literally hardly see any movement at all. We started with the hands touching, then began slowly moving. The scary thing is, within very little time (maybe 10-15 seconds) and with very little overt movement (again, hardly observable), someone has already "won." "Winning" here means that one person, through subtle shifts in balance and alignment, has moved into a position whereby he can penetrate and take the other's balance before the other can readjust to survive without speeding up. Much of the movement could be considered "internal," in that it cannot be easily seen because it involves extremely small shifts in weight and the alignment of the joints in relation to the training partner. This has to be felt intuitively--it's too subtle and minute and involves too many variables for the conscious mind to completely control. John said that if in several minutes of this kind of practice, you're able to achieve even ten seconds of pure "mushin" or no-mindedness, you're off to a good start.

Beyond a basic level, so much of Guided Chaos really is mental. The key to functional looseness, for example, is not just the ability to free up your joints and move through your full range of motion without excess tension, but REACTIVE looseness: the ability to maintain your full freedom of movement in response to whatever other people are doing to you. I can be "loose as a goose" on my own, but when Matt pulses me, I suddenly feel hard as a rock. I need to jump that mental hurdle to allow myself to go with whatever comes, regardless of what it is--indeed, not to consciously attach to it and judge it to be anything in particular. There's nothing physically preventing me from getting reactively loose. It's just a mental block.

Likewise, you can never truly be "stopped" or hindered except by your own tension or attachment to whatever's "hindering" you. If you're blocked in your forward motion, it's because you're pushing against whatever's in your path, rather than going around it. Again, a mental thing: there's nothing physically forcing you to push against or remain attached to whatever's hindering you.

Anyway, enough ramblings for now. Hopefully I'll be able to do more private lessons soon. . . .

Stay tuned!