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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lessons With The Masters

First blog post in a while.

I'd like to clear up a misconception regarding this blog: I'm the one who just had a baby. Matt Kovsky's the one who just had shoulder surgery. I've had several people congratulate me on the birth of my daughter, and in the same breath, ask how my shoulder's doing. My shoulder's fine! Matt's is messed up and slowly healing. So any posts on this blog regarding shoulders are from Matt. The others are from me. Capishe?

With that out of the way, the past few weeks have been very interesting Guided Chaos-wise (and in other ways too, but let's stick to the GC).

Here's an idea I've been mulling over the last few days and experimenting with on fellow students who have come by my place to train:

Do NOT confuse the exercise of Contact Flow with the application to real combat of the benefits you get from it. I believe many people do this, and thereby hinder their progress. Contact Flow is NOT simulated combat. Combat is combat, period, and cannot be exactly simulated. However, the benefits you get from Contact Flow can serve you very well in combat.

Beyond the often-discussed Guided Chaos principles of balance, looseness, body unity, sensitivity, freedom of action and subconsciously-driven spontaneous movement, perhaps THE major benefit of Contact Flow is INCREASED INTUITIVE/SUBCONSCIOUS UNDERSTANDING OF THE HUMAN BODY. Contact Flow, trained in the right mindset, "downloads" knowledge about human body structure and movement (your own and others') to your subconscious mind faster than any other method I know of.

Tim once said to me something along the lines of: "This really comes down to understanding people--understanding yourself, understanding others. If everyone fully understood each other, things would probably be a lot better, don't you think?" At the time, I didn't really get what he was talking about, but I believe it may have had something to do with what I'm talking about now.

The PURPOSE of filling the subconscious mind with intuitive information about the human body and how it moves is to be able to do what John does. John has the uncanny ability to move his whole body to precisely the best place for himself and the worst place for his enemies, moment by moment, based on his perception of the enemies' movement and the rest of the environment. 30+ years of Contact Flow with all sorts of people, and 20+ years of Contact Flow's predecessors before that, have provided his subconscious mind with a wealth of data about how human beings move and what that movement feels like. This is what enables John to instantly, intuitively understand exactly what a person is going to do and how his body will move based on what it's currently doing, usually far better than that person himself understands it!

So, if the purpose of Contact Flow is to gather subconscious information about how people and their movement feel, with an eye towards using that information to intuitively adapt to people's movement in combat, how should we approach Contact Flow? What attitude should we have towards the contact?

I believe some people mess up their training by having incorrect attitudes toward the contact in Contact Flow. If in a person's mind Contact Flow is some sort of competitive activity or simulation of combat, then the person will have a judgemental attitude towards the contact (e.g. my palm contacting your chin is good, whereas your fist contacting my rib is bad). This will cause that person to miss all the subtle information available from each point and moment of contact. Often (not always), the people in class whose everyday lives are relatively sedate and safe, and for whom class is the biggest "adrenaline rush" of the week because it's about VIOLENCE and whatnot, have this problem. Some (not all) folks who deal with real violence and danger in their daily lives (e.g. cops, psych ward handlers, bouncers, construction workers and other experienced people), by contrast, view class as the most RELAXING part of the week, where they get to hang out and learn about themselves and others in a fun, relaxing, meditative environment (at least the Contact Flow part of class). These people often make faster progress because of their different attitude towards Contact Flow.

Think of it this way: If you wanted to gather maximum information about how e.g. a piece of fabric feels, how would you approach touching it? I actually did this experiment with a couple of students. Pointing to a folded blanket (this took place in the guest bedroom of my house, which I use for training), I said to the students, "Tell me how that feels. Describe it in as much detail as possible." Each student walked over to the blanket and casually ran his fingers lightly over the surface. I made the blanket move by running my hands back and forth underneath it, while asking each student to feel it again and describe everything about it--the texture, the wrinkles, how it moved, etc. Their answers weren't important. What mattered is how they touched the blanket in order to gain maximum information about it. They did not push it hard, use any particular "form," grab it, strike it or try to control it (even when it was moving). They did not stick stubbornly to any one point on it. Doing any of these things would have reduced the amount of information they could glean from the contact. Just for kicks, I told them to use their arms, shoulders and chests in the same way as their hands to feel how the blanket felt. Made them look pretty silly! However, the implications for Contact Flow were obvious.

If the goal is to get maximum information from the contact, why approach the contact in Contact Flow any differently?

Watch some of the scenes in the Attackproof Companion Video Part 3, where John is flowing at moderate speed with some of the more advanced students (e.g. Al), and observe whether his attitude varies greatly from how he'd approach feeling a fine hanging curtain for example. (Note that instructors don't always look like this when training with students, as often the instructors intentionally feed the students obvious pushes, strikes and other disruptions to deal with so that the students can develop. What I'm describing here is not ALL THERE IS to Contact Flow, but simply an important piece of it.)

Adopting this attitude of simply exploring how my training partner feels seems to be working well for me so far. I've received feedback that I feel more like Lt. Col. Al, more ghostly and unreadable and surprising, when I adopt this attitude.

We'll see where this goes. The journey continues. . . .

A tip from a recent lesson with Al (which focused more on application than on Contact Flow itself):

--If I drop to stop his motion, I must not stop my own motion with my own drop! When I drop against his arm or body, my body must continue to move in, taking immediate advantage of the space and time I created for myself via the drop. This is how I can get ahead of him. If we both stop at the moment of the drop, I give him time to recover and nail me. There is NO need to stop my whole body when dropping. It can move in behind my strikes and pulses just as the body can move in behind light contact or equal pressure in slower Contact Flow. Continuous contact and pulsing pressure in slower Contact Flow can become strikes and tool destructions in full-speed application, allowing the same levels of mobility and sensitivity--so long as the requisite looseness remains.

And a different way of thinking about looseness that has helped me in my recent quest to "use my looseness as a weapon" (per Al) and also to get some students to cut down their excess motion:

--Looseness is about FREEDOM IN ALL YOUR JOINTS. It's not about flexibility, contortion or "softness." If you're loose, each joint in your body is free to move however it must at any time, rather than being locked into a certain position or reduced range of motion. It is free to move whether the impetus to move comes from within the body or from outside the body.