By Ari Kandel, GC 4th degree

Why Do So Many Martial Artists Only Pay Lip Service To The Concept Of Adaptability While Proceeding With Training That Actually Makes Them LESS Capable Of Dealing With Unpredictable Situations?

The ability to adapt to any and all critical survival situations has been an elusive goal of martial artists since the dawn of time. Bruce Lee shined a spotlight on it in his philosophical musings, perhaps most famously in the following quote:


"Be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup it becomes the cup. If you put it into the bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a tea cup it becomes the tea cup. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."
---Bruce Lee


Being a martial artist calls on one to be fully prepared to deal with any situation at any moment, without hesitation.

Most martial artists train to perfect their performance of techniques. "Technique" can mean anything from a pre-planned sequence of movements intended to counter specified movements of enemies to an officially prescribed way to practice and execute a discrete movement (strike, block, throw, etc.). No matter how complex or simple a given technique is, the fact that a technique is being practiced necessarily limits a martial artist's potential to achieve a high level of adaptability.

This is because the formalization of any technique presupposes a precise situation for which the technique is optimally suited. Clearly, a pre-planned sequence of movements will work only if the enemy moves and reacts in the manner anticipated. Even something as simple as the technique of a perfect right cross presupposes the precise angle, distance and height of its target. Should any of these factors change during the delivery of the cross, the technique will fail to achieve its desired effect. Therefore, in essence, techniques represent optimized solutions to specific situations.

The 5 Biggest Problems You'll Face Practicing Martial Arts Techniques


Some martial artists assume that the more techniques they know and practice, the more situations they can resolve effectively. "Cross-trainers" and "mixed martial artists" learn techniques from multiple systems with this in mind. While this sounds logical on the surface, several problems arise:

1) With too many techniques . . .

How many different techniques can one ever learn? Enough to handle ANY situation? In how many different ways can one be harmed? No matter how many techniques one knows, one's effectiveness depends on whether s/he is presented with a situation that precisely matches one of the practiced techniques. This brings us to the second problem:

2) . . . chasing too many brain cells . . .

Will one be able to recognize amidst the stress, chaos and suddenness of real violence exactly what the enemy is doing so as to apply the correct technique? The answer is usually "no." A third problem is also related to human performance under stress:

3)  . . . “enough” is too much!
Even if one is able to identify the exact nature of an enemy's attack (and assuming the enemy does not change what he's doing mid-way, action usually trumping conscious reaction), will one be able to sift through a library of practiced techniques in order to select the right one for the given situation . . . in the split-second (at most) available to make it effective? The answer again is usually "no."

4) And how much training time can one person have anyway?

Training time is finite. How many times must one practice a given technique until it's "good enough" (assuming any technique could ever be "good enough" to bet your life on)? How much time does that leave to learn other techniques, and practice them to a high level of performance?

5) And what if your attacker doesn't follow your script?

Finally, the act of training techniques that ideally fit specific situations leads a martial artist into the trap of pattern recognition. The martial artist grows accustomed to the specific situations that are presented to him/her in training, which are presented specifically in order to allow him/her to practice the matching techniques. The martial artist learns to quickly recognize and react to those situations or patterns, to the exclusion of anything else. These patterns can be as exact as the motions of a cooperative uke (technique receiver), or as dynamic as the movements of a boxer's sparring partner (still a very limited paradigm). When presented with situations that deviate significantly from the accustomed patterns, the martial artist will often hesitate and fail to generate an effective response. This problem is one cause of the frequently cited "black belt beaten up by a brawler" scenario. The brawler moves in a way that does not fit the patterns the black belt is used to seeing in the dojo, and hence the black belt cannot generate an effective response in time. Also see the first few Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), where strict "strikers" unfamiliar with grappling succumbed to fighters familiar with both striking and grappling, but specialized in grappling, which they used to present the strikers with unfamiliar patterns.


Some martial artists, particularly those in the "reality-based" camp, seem to recognize some of these limitations and attempt to figure out ways around them. For example, by using the pre-emptive strike in a self-defense situation, one can theoretically negate problems #1-4, because one's pre-emptive action results in having to recognize and deal with only one situation: attacking an unprepared enemy. Very few techniques must be learned in order to deal with only one situation, maximizing training time for each technique and reducing the mental logjam involved in selecting a technique. However, in the real world, pre-emption is not always possible. Also, if one's pre-emptive attack is not executed perfectly, or if Murphy's Law intervenes (as it usually does), we're again faced with having to deal with an unpredictably changing situation. A related workaround is to attack with a barrage of a few relatively economical techniques (e.g. simple strikes, executed quickly and with forward drive), acknowledging that most will fail to achieve their desired end, but hoping that even those that fail will keep the enemy busy, perhaps creating the ideal situation for one of the techniques to work decisively through luck and probability. Again, though, we're counting on the assumption that the enemy will be unable to move in a manner that is threatening to us while we are attacking. This is not an assumption one should bet one's life on, given the many variables involved--including the introduction of weapons, environmental obstacles and multiple assailants. These two methods (pre-emptive attack and barrage attack) attempt to eliminate the need for adaptability by dominating the situation and bending it to one's will. This is not always possible.


This is why in anything approaching real violence (including sport fighting), we witness plentiful discrete techniques executed ineffectively, from the untrained brawler's winging away with ineffective haymakers as his victim refuses to position himself properly to receive the punches, to the trained submission artist's attempting submission after submission in an effort to make one “stick.” The dynamic is that the fighter, rather than truly adapting to the given situation moment by moment, is attempting to apply the techniques he knows best to situations that more or less resemble the ones ideally suited to the application of such techniques, as quickly as the fighter can recognize the familiar patterns (usually too slowly to effect a successful outcome). This dynamic exists even for well trained fighters whose uncooperative training gives them certain critical advantages which we will discuss later. Often the physically superior fighter (speed, strength, size) is able to bend the situation to his will as described above, basically forcing the inferior fighter through sheer overwhelming ferocity into a position where the superior fighter's techniques can work. True adaptability is notably absent.

Is There Actually A Way To Learn Self-Defense
Without Using Patterned Techniques?


An often repeated promise of long-term martial arts training is that eventually the master will be able to transcend discrete techniques and simply do what is necessary in the moment, regardless of the situation. In other words, somehow, through endless training of patterned techniques, the master will break free from the patterns and achieve adaptability.

There is actually a way to achieve adaptability from the very beginning, and intrinsic to this concept is the absence of patterned techniques.

This method of training, invented by John Perkins, is called Guided Chaos. The innovations and specifics of this concept are spelled out extensively in his book, Attack Proof.

The Guided Chaos concept acknowledges that real, extreme violence is chaotic and unpredictable. No one can predict exactly how a delusional psychopath, drug-crazed prison-hardened monster, sadistic rapist-murderer or a group thereof will attempt to harm you. Additionally, in the sudden extreme stress of a fast-moving life-threatening situation, anyone would be hard pressed to consciously observe, classify and organize an optimal response to the exact movements of assailants. John Perkins’ many brutal experiences as a police officer responding to violent felonies in progress were the basis for the development of Guided Chaos.

Guided Chaos training involves the cultivation of key attributes that in concert yield adaptability, rather than the training of techniques that hinder it. These attributes are balance, sensitivity, body unity, and looseness. These are all attributes that can be built up to very high levels in most normal people, not just in extremely gifted athletes. While other martial arts training systems address these attributes to certain degrees, only Guided Chaos training takes them to their logical extremes in a manner that cultivates true spontaneity and adaptability.

The two major training elements in Guided Chaos are:

1) Unique solo exercises and drills that quickly improve the four basic attributes of the practitioner, and

2) spontaneous, uncooperative, free-form partner and group training that teaches the practitioner how to apply the attributes to combat subconsciously.

The attributes, one by one:

Balance: Any martial artist or athlete knows the importance of balance. Without balance, on your feet and on the ground in any conceivable position, any other skills or attributes become worthless, because you have no base to work from. Why, then, do virtually all martial arts training systems train balance only indirectly, for example through forms training and shadow boxing? Guided Chaos training prescribes several solo exercises specifically designed to develop extremely solid yet mobile balance on two legs, on one leg, and on the ground. The exercises bear less similarity to conventional martial arts training than they do to modern Western physical therapy exercises, developed to their logical conclusion with increased intensity. The exercises are progressive so that the practitioner can continue to challenge and improve his/her balance to ever-increasing levels. Tools such as wobble boards and cables or exercise bands are used to further enhance the balance training, which can and should be done every day. No stances or set positions are used. The emphasis is on extreme balance in any and all positions so that the practitioner may generate what s/he needs from any position, at any angle, to adapt to any situation. Wherever the practitioner may step, shift or land, s/he will be solidly balanced so that s/he can effectively execute whatever the situation calls for.

Sensitivity: As we discussed above, conscious visual pattern recognition is insufficient to guide our bodies in an adaptive manner through the chaos of real violence. This is especially true at close quarters, within arms' reach, where the most brutal and decisive violence occurs, and where things change unpredictably far faster than the eye and conscious mind can process. Therefore, we need a different means of guiding our movement. This is sensitivity.

"Sensitivity" in Guided Chaos refers to subconscious tactile sensitivity as well as preconscious subcortical vision (figuratively, "feeling" by sight). Action that is too fast for visual cortex processing to follow is no problem for tactile sensitivity because of the different way tactile reactions are "wired" in the nervous system. For example, if you unknowingly touch a scalding hot surface with your fingers, the reaction to pull away from the surface occurs without any conscious thought or delay, and does not take any specific form or direction (besides AWAY from the hot surface).

Through various solo and partner exercises emphasizing freedom of action, Guided Chaos training trains your nervous system to react similarly subconsciously to the sorts of pressures and feelings inherent in combat. You literally don't "know" how you will react once contact is made. Your trained body takes care of things before your brain has a chance to catch up.

Another often overlooked element of sensitivity is proprioception, an attribute trained in several Guided Chaos solo drills. According to The American Heritage/Stedman's Medical Dictionary, proprioception is


The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.

Proprioception is the ability to accurately feel the exact position and tension state of all parts of your own body ("body awareness"). Put simply, those with more highly developed proprioception are more coordinated, balanced and graceful, and better able to utilize their tactile sensitivity to quickly adapt to the movements of others.


Subcortical visual sensitivity is an advanced attribute applicable only after a high level of tactile sensitivity has been achieved, as it involves training to associate preconscious visual cues with tactile responsiveness. A movement, before you're consciously aware of "seeing" it (i.e. before it is processed in the visual cortex of the brain), can be detected by the eyes and seemingly treated as a tactile stimulus in terms of subconscious reaction. If this sounds weird, don't worry--it is! However, it becomes clearer when one moves with a Guided Chaos practitioner who can utilize this attribute, because s/he seems to "feel" your motion and adapt instantly to it even before physical contact is established. Even then, this attribute is typically used primarily to safely guide the practitioner into a position where physical contact can be established, allowing the most reliable tactile sensitivity to take over.

Body Unity: All martial artists and combat athletes know about the idea of getting the whole body behind a strike. However, because they generally train this idea only in the context of prescribed techniques, applying it in combat can become problematic. A typical martial artist requires that an enemy be in just the right place at just the right moment to allow full (or even partial) body power to be delivered in the prescribed, practiced manner. Guided Chaos exercises, in contrast, train the body to ALWAYS move in unison during combat, getting full body power behind even the most subtle movements. Wherever trained sensitivity prompts the body to move, it moves in a united fashion, utilizing its full momentum to strike, break or unbalance the enemy.

Looseness: Looseness, or alternately pliability, refers to the maximization of efficiency in muscle use. Typically when we try to apply muscular strength to movement, the muscles on both sides of the involved joints contract to stabilize the joints. It is easy to see how this could be detrimental to speed and power, as it's like hitting both the gas and the brakes at the same time in your car. Additionally, excess muscle contraction saps energy levels and wears us out quickly. The most efficient way to use muscles is minimally, contracting only those necessary to create the given movement while all others remain relaxed, ready to fire explosively if needed in order to change movements and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

Guided Chaos exercises train the practitioner to relax so that s/he may avoid putting the brakes on his/her own movement, and so that s/he can change movements instantly in order to adapt. Pliability also makes the practitioner safer. A relaxed body can yield to and roll with impacts and falls far better than a stiff, rigid body can, which is why the rigid body is more easily broken. Is it easier to break a pine board or a sofa cushion with a punch? If you examine police reports on car accidents, you will find that severely inebriated people tend to survive bad accidents more frequently than sober people do, and with fewer injuries. This is because the sober folks tend to stiffen up and "brace" themselves the moment before impact, while the drunks remain relatively loose and pliable. (Of course, it's far better to be sober and not get into an accident in the first place!) Any boxer knows the value of "rolling with punches" as opposed to tightening up and taking the full impact.

Finally, looseness increases tactile sensitivity. A tense limb is far less sensitive than a relaxed one, and is also much easier for an enemy to feel. Think of it as a "signal-to-noise ratio," with muscle tension representing noise. You attempt to "listen" to the enemy with your sensitivity. However, if your arm that is in contact with him is making too much "noise," it won't be able to "hear" as well. Additionally, your enemy, even if untrained in sensitivity, will be better able to "hear" you the louder your noise is.


It should be pointed out that it is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to get "loose as a goose" under the stress of a violent situation. However, training looseness to its logical conclusion, as in Guided Chaos training, can give one the edge in being just a little more pliable in combat than the enemy.

You will notice that the development of any one of these attributes is not unique to Guided Chaos. Grappling training actually develops a relatively high level of full-body sensitivity, which is one of the key advantages a grappler often has over non-grapplers. Grapplers also typically have good balance, especially on the ground.  If you watch high-level kickboxing, you will notice that the fighters with the most devastating kicks are the ones who don't have to fight for their own balance while delivering kicks, because the balance and proprioception are already there. Most high-level combat athletes will be more relaxed and loose under stress than the average person, and will use their muscles more efficiently. However, the focus of all these other training methodologies is the learning and perfection of techniques, followed by their attempted application in uncooperative partner training drills. That technical focus is what holds back the development of adaptability. Guided Chaos, on the other hand, focuses directly on the development of the four critical attributes, and their synergistic application in free-form non-choreographed partner and group drilling.

How To Combine Balance, Sensitivity, Body Unity, And Looseness with A Practical Way To Learn Self-Defense Quickly


Make no mistake, dynamic uncooperative partner and group training is an essential ingredient in developing adaptability. A training system that makes use of it offers the trainee a better chance of developing some level of adaptability than does a training system that does not utilize it. In other words, a training system that trains techniques in a dynamic, uncooperative manner will teach adaptability better than a system that trains techniques only through choreographed patterns and cooperative exercises. However, even better is to train in an uncooperative and spontaneous manner without the dead weight of prescribed techniques. This is, in fact, the most realistic and beneficial way to train.

Note that "Full power, all the time!" is not an ingredient of such training. Many people misunderstand this. How hard you struggle, how fast you move or how brutally you punish your training partner does not determine how effective or adaptive your training is. Professional fighters actually go full-power in partner training very seldom, if at all, because it would leave them battered, broken and unprepared for the actual match. They save the all-out training efforts for e.g. heavy bag training and conditioning, working the uncooperative partner training primarily at lower speed. "Slow Rolling" has actually become popular recently among grapplers (not to say that some have not been doing it for millennia) as a way to fine-tune their sensitivity and learn subtleties of movement.

The amount of restrictions placed on the freedom of movement of the trainees is what DOES determine how dynamic and beneficial a given partner training method is. The fewer restrictions there are, the more realistic and adaptive the method. Examples of restrictions that seriously reduce the realism and spontaneity of various popular forms of uncooperative partner training include: no striking (in grappling rolling), no grappling (in kickboxing sparring), no striking to certain targets (virtually all forms of uncooperative training that include striking), and no “dirty fighting" (e.g. eye gouges, biting, ripping, etc.). Contact Flow, the primary partner and group training method used in Guided Chaos training, has no such restrictions

In Contact Flow, the trainees endeavor to apply their basic attributes to completely free (non-patterned, non-prescribed) movement intended to destroy the enemy while preserving the self. Through this training, the body subconsciously learns to trust its sensitivity to guide it in adapting to the situation at hand moment by moment in order to save itself and stop the enemy. Any kind of movement is fair game in Contact Flow, as maximum subconscious learning is achieved by exposing the nervous system to any possible combative stimuli from as many different opposing bodies as possible.

The one restriction imposed in Contact Flow in the early stages of training is that all participants (Contact Flow can be practiced by two or more people at once, up to as large a crowd as will fit in the training space) must move at equally reduced speed in order to ensure safety. As the trainees gain experience and control over time, speed may be gradually increased to almost full adrenaline speed (i.e. the maximum speed at which a human body can move). Still, as in all uncooperative partner training, most of the time various reduced speeds (from medium-fast down to excruciatingly slow) are used both to ensure safety and to access the many benefits of slow training (as in Slow Rolling). The general rule is that while high-speed partner training certainly has its benefits, the slower the movement is, the more detail and subtlety the subconscious is able to pick up from the training (so long as all training partners are maintaining roughly the same consistent speed--no "cheating" by suddenly increasing speed to "score").


What Does This Mean For Your Own Training?


The good news is, if you practice any martial art or sport, elements of Guided Chaos training can easily be adapted to improve your performance, even if you choose for now to stick with your trained techniques. What boxer, judoka, karateka, etc. would not benefit from quickly increasing his or her balance in all positions, so that s/he may better punch, kick, disrupt or get the takedown NOW, rather than fighting for a more optimal position to make the prescribed technique work? Guided chaos balance exercises will help.

Likewise, developing greater looseness and more efficient muscle use through other Guided Chaos exercises will increase combative endurance and accelerate the execution of any techniques, so long as the requisite tendon strength is gained to allow the body to maintain its integrity at higher speeds without tensing up--and yes, Guided Chaos offers effective exercises for tendon strength as well. True sensitivity and body unity are a bit harder to apply to the execution of prescribed techniques, as often the structure and prearranged nature of the techniques actually hinder the realization of these attributes. However, even for the technique-trained fighter, some time spent working exclusively on these attributes could certainly help.

Many fighters who chose not to immerse themselves in pure, unpatterned Guided Chaos training have come to John Perkins for training specifically because of the improved performance the Guided Chaos exercises can offer any martial artist or combat athlete, or even any athlete in general. A notable example is NABO boxing champion Doug Gray. You can learn how to do many of the Guided Chaos solo exercises from the book Attack Proof and from the Attackproof Companion Videos, available from

If you're ready to throw patterned technique training to the wind and begin the journey towards true martial adaptability, the place for you is a Guided Chaos class. The Guided Chaos trainee learns to adapt to and dominate any situation through natural, spontaneous movement, as well as to "bring the Chaos" to the enemy in a proactive manner. Besides the core Guided Chaos training, the classes also include training in World War II-era Close Combat (intended as a self-defense stop-gap measure to protect the trainee while his/her adaptability is still in development) and Native American groundfighting and wrestling principles that John Perkins learned from his part-Cherokee father and uncles, and which actually fit quite nicely with the Guided Chaos concept. Also taught is how Guided Chaos applies to weapons use, including walking cane, knife, sword, firearm and any other hand-held object. If you do not have access to an official Guided Chaos class or instructor, informal training groups exist all over the world. These groups very successfully train the Guided Chaos concept based on the information available in the aforementioned book and videos, combined with supportive correspondence with Guided Chaos masters and occasional trips to classes and visits from instructors.

We hope you have enjoyed this article, and that it has perhaps opened your mind to a higher level of potential in the martial arts. It is natural and healthy to be skeptical (indeed, John Perkins' father always taught him to regard all teachers with a "respectful disrespect"), so if the ideas discussed in this article aren't completely clear, we suggest you avail yourself of the resources available on the website, and if possible, make it to a class to observe and experience Guided Chaos in spontaneous action firsthand. After all, reading may be discovering, and seeing may be believing . . . but feeling is knowing.


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Croton NY, 10520

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