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Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Lessons With The Masters

I recently (finally!) began to take private lessons with David Randel (see his website,, a 4th Degree Black Belt in Guided Chaos and one of the most active instructors in John Perkins' organization. Very glad that I did!

What stands out most about Dave is his surprising gentleness and patience as a teacher, given his initially intimidating presence and rough background. He's a big guy, and he's had lots of brutal fighting experience in the Bronx (where he grew up), overseas, and in his bouncing and security career in some rather unsavory places. When he teaches, however, he explains things very clearly and patiently, and keeps the violence all around your body, rather than inside it. There can be no doubt about the power he can generate as you see and feel him move (extremely fluidly), but he doesn't do any more to you than is necessary to give you the impression of how you can do it too. I get the feeling when taking a lesson from Dave that he really enjoys sharing the art he loves with people who appreciate it.

Here are just a few tips from the first two lessons:

--My shoulders and hips are not in synch. I allow my shoulders to move and yield without adjusting my hips to maintain alignment and balance. Key to this is moving the feet to the right place to allow the hips to maintain their alignment with the shoulders.

--This bad habit may have been brought on by allowing myself to get lazy while working with less experienced students who may not always force me to move properly. In such cases, my superior sensitivity and looseness, combined with their inability to feel and attack my center, allow me to "get away with" not moving the entire body in synch at all times. When Dave moves in on me, however, I have to either move everything together properly or get jammed up and lose balance. Solution: When working with less experienced students, even at slow speeds, try to move as if they are blasting in very powerfully. Keep the reality of violence in mind (i.e. sudden, powerful forces) so that contact flow doesn't degenerate into a game with the more experienced person "playing with" the less experienced in ways that would not be applicable if the less experienced student were more skillful and/or truly violent.

--Cool drill to "wake up" the feet: Stay on your tip-toes while doing contact flow, while your partner stands and moves normally. This forces you to adjust your feet to avoid giving any resistance that might jeopardize your own balance, rather than thinking you can stand your ground and resist something with your oak tree root. Far better to have a Root No One Can Find! Note that this is just a remedial drill to allow you to feel more precisely where and why you need to move your feet. Don't overdo it, or you may get into the bad habit of rising up as you move, which may leave you worse off than you were initially.

--A big part of Guided Chaos is simply GETTING OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY to allow yourself to continuously move in and attack. You can't always control what the enemy does--but you can control what you do and stay out of the way of your own attacks regardless of what he does.

--Use long stepping to "stand where he's standing" by stepping through his legs, thus effortlessly breaking his balance (and sometimes his legs) while retaining your balance and hitting.

--Hip strikes should be more downward with a drop to break things and secure your balance, rather than pushing the hip outward, which is just a push that does no real damage and jeopardizes your balance.

--USE WHAT YOU'VE GOT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE at all times. For example, if your elbow happens to be in contact with a non-lethal area, rather than simply moving to get it to a better target, why not use the contact to disrupt his balance on the way to moving to good targets? This can apply to practically any contact. Feel how you can get to his center through any contact.

--Don't make grabbing too much of a habit in contact flow, such that you start to depend on it as a crutch. At full speed, grabs can be tough to get unless you have the high skill to set them up--and if you have such skill, why bother grabbing much? Most grabs in slower speed contact flow between less skilled students are unrealistic increases in energy (speed and/or pressure), which would be impossible to pull off at full speed. However, some of the positive effects of grabbing can be realized simply through friction and angular hitting, without overcommitting or doing anything unrealistic. Very cool stuff.

Dave recently went full-time with his Guided Chaos teaching career. He teaches a Thursday evening class in Manhattan, a Sunday morning class in New Jersey, and private lessons by appointment. He's also working on some Web and other projects to promote the art (see, and will be traveling a lot to teach seminars in the near future. I highly recommend you hook up with him for some training before the demand exceeds the supply! I'm glad I have!