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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ari's Posts #28: Teaching the Blind...

Recently, a blind man came to class to learn Guided Chaos.

During his first visit, John gave him an introduction to what Guided Chaos is.

For his second class, after some warm-up exercises, John had me work with him on Contact Flow. While I've introduced plenty of beginners to the Contact Flow exercise, working with a blind person was a new experience for me.

His degree of sightlessness precluded me from demonstrating anything at all visually. He said that the most he could see was "shadows" of fast movement. He knew "something" was there if I stood in front of him and flailed my arms. However, he could not make out any details. Therefore, he would have to learn Guided Chaos exclusively by feel and verbal instruction.

One of the first hurdles for me was getting over my initial aversion to hitting a blind person. Let's face it--that's not something "nice" people typically do! However, he insisted that he could take whatever anyone else could (which he certainly could--he's a very sturdy guy) and he really wanted to learn, whatever it took. So soon I was whacking him around as I would any other beginner--in a non-injurious, educational manner.

As I would expect of a blind person, he started out with a decidedly higher level of tactile sensitivity than a typical beginner possesses. He also exhibited relatively good balance, likely a result of depending upon his proprioception for his balance and movement through the world, as opposed to the normal combination of proprioception and visual cues. (More on this later.) Afterall, Guided Chaos students often practice Contact Flow with eyes closed to enhance development of tactile sensitivity, and also do the solo exercises with eyes closed to further challenge and develop balance and proprioception. New to him, as to most people, were the ideas of looseness and relaxed body unity. The fact that he's a very well conditioned, strong athlete means that there's a lot of muscle to rid of tension before he can start feeling and moving to his full potential.

I took him through my "usual" introduction to contact flow, with some important variations. First of all, it was of course unnecessary to demonstrate to him the advantages subconscious tactile sensitivity has over conscious visual perception, as the latter was not an option for him anyway! Second, when introducing students to the great range of full-body motion a relaxed, rooted L-stance can give them, I usually "show" them how to stand and shift their weight. This, of course, would not work here. Through a combination of verbal instructions and my tightening my muscles to allow him to more easily feel the weight transfers of my body, he quickly picked up on the penetrative and evasive capabilities of full-body movement and weight transfer in an L-stance. In fact, he picked this up quicker than most, and despite his relative tightness, was soon evading my attacks and returning to take my balance.

I went on to flow with him in various "ways," giving him tastes of the effects of different levels of sensitivity and looseness and the possibilities of human movement. I did feel some pangs of conscience when demonstrating to him the effects of higher-level sensitivity and looseness--very light contact, approaching "ghostliness"--because I thought that for him, unable at his current level to perceive much besides the hits, it would seem like mere noneducational punishment. Most people experience ghostliness for the first time as something amazing and "fun," as they can SEE the Guided Chaos instructor moving yet can't feel where he's going or prevent the hits. However, I thought to myself that if he couldn't see me moving, and hence couldn't realize the paradox going on, the experience for him would basically be getting hit by surprise from different directions and not being able to do anything about it! He insisted, however, on experiencing and learning about everything, even it if was unpleasant. For most of the session, I made my sticking contact heavier so that he could feel most of what was going on, even as he was still too stiff to move with all of it.

He seemed to have a mental block going on as well: It was like pulling teeth to get him to hit towards my vital areas, even while moving slowly! He kept hitting my chest and shoulders. At times, I was physically pulling his arms into my throat and head, emphasizing that if someone were to try to take him out, he'd have to shut the attacker down as quickly as possible. He understood the idea, but I think he'll need to get some of his niceness drilled out of him to get him in the habit of moving to end it.

One thing I emphasized was that especially given his lack of sight, it was imperative that he close distance and prevent an attacker from regaining distance, lest he lose the tactile connection and with it most of his ability to perceive what's going on. So we drilled a lot of turning and yielding to pushes so as to retain balance and move in, as well as moving the feet well so as to maintain contact and chase down someone trying to gain distance to kick or draw a weapon. We worked this idea by flowing at higher speed (without strikes to vital areas), to the point where I was backpedaling, sidestepping and generally jinking around very quickly in attempts to get away.

Now, to set the scene: It was a nice day, so the class was being held outside the American Legion Hall in Hastings-On-Hudson. We were on the side of the hall where there is a descending gravel-covered hill. Between the gravel itself, the uneven ground and the patches of rocks and weeds, this is a difficult surface to balance and move on. We had spent most of the class training on the flat patch of concrete at the top of the hill, but as we started moving faster and I began to challenge his ability to stick with me as I tried to open distance, we ended up ranging all over the hill.

This is when everyone, including John, felt compelled to watch what was going on and how well he was doing.

Remember how I said before that he had good balance and proprioception? Well, this part of the session proved that! Not only did he not allow me to get away, but he was moving over the challenging terrain with extreme grace and athleticism, adapting to the ground better than most people who can actually see where they're going! And, whenever the gravel under his feet started to slide (which happened very frequently) . . . he was automatically dropping to instantly regain balance! Note that how to drop was NOT something I had taught him yet.

After a few minutes of this, he started to get a little winded because of his tension. However, John, I and everyone else there were VERY impressed by how he moved and handled himself. I stopped and pointed out how well he was naturally dropping and balancing. John came over and congratulated him, and he very graciously thanked me in front of John for teaching him. John pointed out quite correctly that with training, he will quickly become a force to be reckoned with, sightlessness be damned!

John also mentioned to me later that he was happy to see that my trained "empathetic sensitivity" enabled me to bring out such good work from the student. I realized upon thinking about this that he's right (as usual): Had I not been able to "feel what he was feeling," so to speak, and adapt appropriately during the training session, the training could have easily devolved into an exercise in frustration for both of us. John's statement also underscored an often-overlooked aspect of Guided Chaos sensitivity: You must feel your own body, you must feel the other guy, AND you must be aware of ("feel") what you're allowing HIM to feel. Frequently in class I'll find that a student will do the first two things well--feel where he is, feel where I am going, and begin to move appropriately--but will immediately give it all away by allowing me to feel exactly what he's doing, thereby allowing me to cut it off, rather than remaining subtle, preventing me from adapting until it's too late. Being "empathetically sensitive" must be a prerequisite to effectively utilizing concepts such as pulsing, equal pressure, etc.

The blind student's training from here, I believe, should focus primarily on looseness, aggression and using his limited visual perception combined with his acute hearing and "feeling" of the environment to immediately close distance and establish contact when necessary, enabling him to end things before someone can get the drop on him. I cannot think of any other self-defense training methodology that could even begin to give him the capability of escaping a violent confrontation intact that Guided Chaos will.

In other news, did I mention I got a sneak preview of the long-anticipated Attackproof Companion Video Part 3, "In the Eye of the Storm"??? Review coming soon. Stay tuned!!!

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