A Deep Analysis of Guided Chaos Movement by a Renowned Cognitive Scientist Working in the Field of Elite Performance
Dr. Joseph Riggio
By Dr. Joseph Riggio, Ph.D

[Bolded emphasis below added by Matt Kovsky

The Search

"About two years ago I began working with Guided Chaos 7th Degree Master, Lt. Col. Al Ridenhour.

I had been looking for a martial art that satisfied two critical criteria for me:

1) it was 'real' in the sense that it would be combat 'street' effective, not based on sport, exercise or moving meditation,

2) it would allow me to progress beyond my skills as a competitive boxer and the martial arts training I had begun at the age of 11, over 40 years before.

I'd add in one more thing: it had to be "doable" by a 53 year old man, and not dependent upon incredible, world-class natural talent, gymnastic athleticism, super-human strength or take five years before I could expect enough proficiency to use it should the time come.

With this criteria in mind I began searching every claim to "combat-ready martial arts training" and the closest thing I found before coming across Guided Chaos was close quarters combat training that I had come across before when training with the U.S. Army Rangers. It was effective, but it isn't beautiful or elegant ... more about that in a moment.

The other thing that attracted me was Wing Chun Kung Fu, and especially their "trapping hands" techniques, and their ability to fight with the entire body in seemingly artistically creative ways. I had begun "playing" with some of the Tai Chi stuff a few years before, working with a master who specialized in the martial aspects of Tai Chi and it was impressive, but would require at least a couple of decades to achieve the proficiency that I intended. Then I met an advanced Wing Chun stylist and he was even more impressive, flowing with just about anything I could come up with, and believe me I tried to come up with some wild stuff! I threw everything at him, hard straight attacks, hand and feet ... deceptive circular feints and strange angular approaches ... grappling moves ... but, he handled them all. If I saw a flaw in his technique it was that after a few times I could begin to anticipate what he was likely to do, feint enough to provoke a response and then counter before he could recover, but in all honesty that was rare. However, I thought that with more time I would become proficient in adopting more of his skill and maybe even getting around it with all the other training I had.

So I found a local Wing Chun instructor who specialized in the Ving Tsun style. I worked with him for a couple of months in individual one-to-one training and there was some interesting stuff there for sure. His hand skills were impressive, he had great timing and distancing skill as well, and he was open to modifying anything in favor of what worked. The only drawback I had was that everything started with choreography like virtually every other martial art I'd encountered up to that point. So a very large portion of the training was based on drills using specifically arranged movements with specified counter movements to use in response. These were both beautiful and elegant drills however. They minimized movement, they were efficient, they flowed with the natural organization of the body and in response the nature of the attack being presented. There was a poetry in the stylization in this training and it was aesthetically appealing in that it satisfied my innate desire to move in a particular way that just made sense in terms of how to respond to the attacks that were presented and my body was learning rapidly. But, the very stylization of the training raised some flags for me. I already knew from life on the streets and time as a doorman in clubs around the U.S. that fights are anything but stylized.

Freedom of Movement = Freedom of Mind

Then as I continued to search I came across Guided Chaos and reached out to Master Al Ridenhour to arrange some private training with him as offered. From the first session it was clear that something different was going on there. Instead of ritualized drills of movement, or striking and blocking, Master Al moved my body to increase it's range of movement and responsiveness. I mean he literally molded and kneaded my body in ways that felt unusual but at the same time very natural. I could tell he was trying to simultaneously increase my responsiveness, flexibility and what I'd call circularity, the natural way that the human body moves around it's joints. After a few minutes of encouraging me to move while remaining in the same spot by applying a light but directive touch to my shoulders, hips, waist, chest, arms ... he began moving more so I had to extend my body forward, backward or side to side to remain in contact with what he was doing. Again, after a few more minutes of doing this he moved physically out of range so I had to step to adjust and keep up. He corrected my movement emphasizing two things, minimizing my movement to only what was necessary and no more. And, secondarily, keeping my body organized in relation to both itself and to what he was doing, with an emphasis on using my body in the most structurally well-formed way possible, e.g.: not crossing my feet or legs and thereby minimizing my stability. I later learned there were drills for improving all these natural ways of moving and using the body in the Guided Chaos system, but I had never before had someone so elegantly or quickly improve my body movement as a martial artist.

When I began sparring with Al it was another radical approach I had not encountered, but was in some ways reminiscent of both what I experienced in doing Tai Chi push hands and Wing Chun trapping drills, and yet somehow marvelously different in it's freedom ... and yes, beauty and elegance. One of the things I've learned as a specialist in somatic training, i.e.: the use of the body and movement, is that perfect human body use and movement is beautiful and elegant. The more effectively we move the more efficient the movement is, and the more natural to the way the body is designed by nature. This is also true in martial arts, or for that matter any athletic endeavor or physical action.

Elegant, Effective, Efficient

Minimizing or eliminating random or unnecessary movement always improves performance. The best coaches and trainers in the world seek to create the most efficient, effective and elegant movements in their charges, and ultimately when movement is performed at the highest levels it becomes beautiful in an aesthetic sense. In the martial arts, regardless of whether we're looking at a world class pro boxer or a world champion MMA fighter, their movements have a sense of poetry to them. At the extreme we may find ourselves catching our breath and wondering how it could be possible that someone could move so elegantly in such a brutal and potentially dangerous encounter, while simultaneously realizing it is that very elegance that makes them so effective. Every well choreographed fight scene in a film takes this into account, and the best fight choreographers use the inherent nature of human movement to make their scenes both believable and beautiful. In fact the more beautiful the scene the more believable it will often be, because our innate sense of how movement happens is tracking for the logic in the action, and we look for elegance in the form of efficiency and effectiveness at a pre-conscious level in determining if what we're seeing is true to form.

What was happening in my first session with Al was a 're-shaping' of how I was thinking about using my body in a martial way. We moved from the initial movements designed to prepare my body for what would come next to what Al referred to as "combat flow." This is a unique Guided Chaos practice where the practitioners begin moving while remaining in contact with one another, similar from the outside looking in like Tai Chi push hands. It often begins with arms extended, making initial contact and then 'flows' into whatever patterns happen, with each participant seeking to find an opening to strike, while simultaneously avoiding being struck. I learned from Al that one of the major tenets of Guided Chaos is "becoming unavoidable while being unavailable." The folks in Guided Chaos take this literally and to an extreme. As I've learned over and over in training with Al, some of the other Guided Chaos masters and high ranking belts, and later on from Grandmaster John Perkins, that they are quite literally unavoidable - hitting me at will, when, where and how they like, while remaining unavailable themselves. Regardless of what I try to do to strike them they are most often just not there, or they are there in a way to absorb whatever I do in such a way that it draws me further into their striking pattern ... making things much worse for me.

Unavailable, Unavoidable

It's the quality of movement that most attracted me and kept me in the world of Guided Chaos. These folks, especially Master Al, Matt or Michael (other Guided Chaos Masters I've worked with so far) and Grandmaster John Perkins simply move as no one else I've ever encountered does.
They exemplify their maxim, "Being unavailable and unavoidable” to an incredibly refined degree. One of the first and foremost things I recognized as a somatics expert is that their movement is incredibly economical, i.e.: they actually move very little or at least as little as possible to accomplish what they set out to do. This economy of movement is a serious sign of elite performance, so right there I was hooked. One example is that they never "chamber" their strikes, thereby eliminating any telegraphing of signaling that the strike is about to happen. The other advantage of not chambering the strike is that it can, and often does, literally come from any direction and from any position they find themselves in when they chose to strike. Yet, one of the most impressive things about the movement of Guided Chaos Masters is the way they retain virtually perfect body orientation to themselves and their attackers at all times, so the strikes they use are structurally well-formed, meaning they are powerful and effective.

Working with Grandmaster Perkins it's impossible not to be impressed to the point of being overwhelmed at how powerful his strikes are regardless of the specific strike, the position from which it is thrown, or the distance the strike travels. In working with him he's thrown a short strike traveling no more than an inch or so, from what looked like an impossible position where he's simultaneously thrusting his left hip and shoulder forward while keeping his weight more to his rear right foot, rolling his right arm around and over his shoulder and doing what looks like dropping his hand an inch to the left side of my chest. The impact is serious and impressive! Fortunately for me one of the skills in Guided Chaos is learning to become loose, or what Master Al often prefers to refer to as 'pliable', meaning to absorb the strike by moving the body with it in the direction of it's force, and thereby minimizing the force of impact. The Masters often implore students to "get loose”— meaning they want us to flow with the strike and recover quickly without experiencing the damage the strike would otherwise cause. Imagine as Grandmaster Perkins threw the strike I described into my left chest muscle, I rotated my left shoulder forward in time with the strike creating a pocket in my chest that increased the depth and distance from the surface from where it had been a moment before. This would prevent me from taking the entire force of the blow and minimize the impact and potential damage the strike was intended to create. Even using this impressive skill trained into me in hours and hours of working with the Masters and practicing on my own, I could still feel the force of Grandmaster Perkins strike, and yet it was not disabling as it could have been had I not flowed and pocketed with it. Of course I also knew that part of Grandmaster Perkins' incredible skill was to hold the blow so that in fact it did not do the damage it could inflict had he intended to disable me. For what it's worth, there is no doubt in my mind having "flowed" with John many times now that regardless of my level of skill in the art of Guided Chaos, if he chooses to he could have broken bones in my shoulder and chest without any ability on my part to prevent it. That is the impressive part of this art to me, both the skill of being able to conjure that much damage at will, and yet the elegance required to time the movement perfectly to make the point in training me and yet leave me completely undamaged after the fact.

"No One Moves Like these Folks Do"

Whether I'm working with Grandmaster Perkins, Master Al or one of the other Masters or high ranking students the experience is the same. No one moves like these folks do. I've spent more than two decades of my life studying and applying the art of cognitive science with the art of movement, i.e.: somatics, to the improvement of performance ... both cognitive and physical performance, and especially the place where they intersect. The clients I work with in my practice need to be able to act and react instantaneously to achieve the levels of performance they intend when they engage me. This level of elite performance is only possible by honing the integration of the mind and body at extreme levels of refinement. It requires a level of body self-awareness I've mostly seen only in world-class athletes and elite performers who depend on their ability to know where they body is in space and how they are using it like the best actors and actresses, as well as the best craftsmen and artisans. In addition there is the integration of mind to be able to modulate your emotional state such as moving to and remaining calm despite chaos in the situation, context or environment. I've seen this ability in performance in some of the elite military operatives I've worked with, in surgeons in the operating theater, in some firefighters and law enforcement professionals in action and in some executives in high stress decision-making scenarios. From my work as a cognitive scientist specializing in decision-making in high-stress, uncertain and chaotic contexts I know that elite performance in these scenarios requires an integration of mind and body very few every achieve, and even fewer still can access beyond the scenarios where they are trained to access this kind of response. For example a professional athlete might be able to keep their cool and perform at almost superhuman levels in the ring, on the course, or on the field, but will lose it when their table isn't available at the restaurant when they show up for their reservation, or when their spouse or child makes an impromptu demand of them at home.

What very few people, beyond the folks who specialize in training elite performers recognize is that the body-mind is one system, a singularity. You can never train one without training the other. In fact the most current research points to the fact that much of what we refer to as 'emotion' especially 'emotional management' or the ability to choose one's state and responses on an emotional level is driven somatically, or through the use of one's body. The freedom you have to choose what you can do with your body shows up in the freedom you have to choose how you're running the rest of you too, including your mind and emotions. Everything begins with what you are able to perceive, notice and pay attention to situationally, or what we can call situational awareness. Your ability to connect your intentions and your actions is grounded in your ability to choose what you notice and pay attention to and how you do that, what you make of what you notice or pay attention to, what decisions you make about what to do in relation to what's happening or what you want to happen, and the ability to take action based on those decisions. The more accurately you can access what's happening, make sense of it, make decisions in relation to it, and take action that creates the outcomes you intend, the better your performance will be ... it's just that simple or not, and in fact that is the essence of all elite performance.

Real Training for the Unpredictability of Real Violence

The art of Guided Chaos is based in linking the chain from situational awareness through to intentional action.
The challenge is that in combat or street fighting the action is non-linear in that one thing does not neatly follow another in some prescribed order. The reality of the street is that what is most predictable is that the action will be unpredictable. The ability to respond to uncertainty and chaos comes with practicing in uncertain and chaotic ways, or in what are non-linear systems. Of course this requires a non-linear form of teaching or training as well, one that is based in perturbations, or unexpected changes to the flow in the system. There is no one who does this more effectively than the Masters I've trained with in the Guided Chaos system. In fact I'd say that they are experts in non-linear movement leading to intentional action in combat. The ultimate effect of this way of moving is that they seem to be able to anticipate the flow of the chaos of combat to 'appear' at the future point where the combat arrives to where they are waiting. I now know there are at least two components to this seeming magic. First they are able to read the flow in the limits of human movement as there are absolutes in what the human body can do physically, e.g.; we can rotate our shoulders forward and back, and to a very limited amount extend them out to the side, but we can hyper-extend our elbows or knees without permanent damage. Secondly, they are able to feed into the system very subtle signals that force a response to set up flow of movement to where they intend to direct it, and then stepping ahead of where it's going be there when the natural movement suggested arrives. All of this is based on a unique combination of sensitivity, body looseness or pliability, balance and structural alignment in combination with a clarity of mind that both anticipates what is possible without becoming fixed on things happening in a particular predetermined manner. In fact, an essential quality of Guided Chaos is the ability to set aside preconceptions of movement to allow an emergent form to arise based on what's actually happening to the extreme limits of what is possible. It's this last quality, allowing a form to arise from the extreme limits of what's possible, that makes Guided Chaos so unique and potent. When you least expect it a Master will do something that seems impossible just before they demonstrate it, making the impossible possible in the trail of evidence left behind in the wake of their actions. However, in working with Grandmaster Perkins I have to admit I am often baffled at what seems to be both elementary to him to perform, and yet inexplicable to me regardless of the effort I put in to dissecting what he's just done before my very eyes. Simply put, no one I've ever seen or worked with moves like these guys do ... and yet after just a couple of years I find myself moving in ways I'd never thought about, let alone imagining I'd be doing as easily and naturally as raising a fork to my mouth to feed myself."

--Dr. Joseph Riggio, Ph.D is a cognitive scientist working in the field of elite performance and decision making, renowned as an expert in neurocognition and somatics.