Let me start by saying I thought I'd seen all that the world of ‘reality-based self-defence' had to offer, so for the easily bored out there, I'll cut to the chase. What I witnessed on the weekend of 26 and 27 March is the closest thing I've come across that resembles a modern-day, reality-based martial art and not just another ‘combatives system'. Does it work? Hell, yeah! I got my arse well and truly kicked and at times felt like I was in the middle of a Jason Bourne fight scene.
The first day began with the instructors, Lt Colonel Al Ridenhour and Michael Watson, taking time to explain the realities of conflict, and the simple point that a street fight isn't about winning or losing, but surviving. As a Gulf War and Afghanistan veteran, Al has had a lot of exposure to the horror of combat and the emotional and physiological effects it has on the human body. Al and Michael were extremely polite instructors and told the attendees to challenge anything they said. In Al's words, "If it's not the truth, then I want to know about it".
The initial warm-up was something I'd not witnessed before and consisted of rapid horizontal strikes, a drill intended to "build up neuromuscular coordination".
The first exercise was a basic combative counter from a non-threatening stance. At this point I was thinking to myself, "There's nothing new on the planet", as this is a very common stance used throughout the security industry and it's popular for a reason - because it works. From a simple hand on the chin and arm crossing the body, Al exploded out with a ‘traditional' throat-chop, palm-strike and knee-strike combination while protecting his own chin.
After getting the class to practise this a few times, he then introduced a new concept to everyone, me included. He calls them ‘drop' exercises. Simply put, it's a drill to put your body into the strike, something very difficult to describe in words that really needs to be experienced. I must admit I would have been a little self-conscious doing the drill myself, but over the period of about 15 minutes I noticed a massive change in the ability of the attendees to deliver a wide variety of combative-style strikes.
Once the attendees had grasped the principal of ‘dropping power', Al and Michael then put them through their paces in a simulated two-on-one assault with the use of kick-shields. The ‘victim' would stand with eyes closed and await the first shove, after which he would first drop and cover as a defence and then fight back against either kick-shield.
No complex techniques were taught because in the words of Al, "Truth is simple, lies are complex, do not underestimate the simple techniques, the more complex the technique, the less chance it will work."
Guided Chaos consists of four fundamental concepts.
The first three are:
1. Balance - without it you cannot be loose
2. Looseness - with it you have the ability to change the direction of your attack, while relaxed antagonistic muscles allow for faster striking
3. Sensitivity - both kinaesthetic (tactile, feeling your opponent's intention) and subcortical vision (being spatially aware of your opponent).
When these three all come together it's known as ‘body unity'.
The fourth concept and most interesting for me was that ‘anything goes'. What Al means by this is that as long as it's within the laws of human physiology and physics then it can be used in Guided Chaos. He gave the analogy of a parent play-fighting with their child and how an untrained child always manages to catch you with something unexpected.
The focus on the first three principles is what differentiates Guided Chaos from everything else I have seen and practised. As Al states, "All martial arts have a practical use, but the elements of balance and fluidity are not taken to their logical conclusion."
What followed were a number of carefully developed balance drills, which were very difficult and tiring. Feeling is believing and believe me they were tricky. The two that were practised were nicknamed ‘the ninja walk' and ‘the vacuum walk'. These involved slow, purposeful picking up of the feet and performing controlled movement while balancing on one foot. Seeing is also believing, and to see Al at 6' 2" and an athletic 90kg move as he does is a credit to these exercises. These are the exercises that allow him to dodge and weave your strikes while simultaneously taking out your knee cap with a low kick, while also striking you in two different places with both hands. Guided Chaos teaches the development and use of balance beyond anything I've seen outside of gymnastics. This is why I believe it is an art and not just another ‘combative system'. You simply cannot deliver effective strikes without effective balance and in the chaos of conflict there is every chance you will be on the back foot and off balance.
Next, ‘looseness' drills were practised. These to me looked very similar to tai chi movements, but I'm no expert; all I know is you wouldn't be doing them after a weights session. Other drills included simple, relaxed hip and arm swings and partner arm-lift drills, which emphasised the awareness of tension. I did take the opportunity to challenge Al on the theory of being loose in conflict, as fight or flight responses do make the body stiffen up. Al's response was simple: "If I can be slightly less tense than my opponent, I will be faster and if I am loose, I can absorb a strike better than he can."
Tactile sensitivity is a concept used in other RBSD systems and also important to grapplers - it's fundamental to Guided Chaos. Contact flow drills were then demonstrated, which at first looked like Wing Chun ‘sticky hands', but then developed more into ‘anything goes sticky hands'. It was while experiencing one of these drills at the hands, feet, knees and elbows of Al that I realised that Al was indeed one very effective fighter. I just could not get the upper hand and was always reacting and flinching from his simultaneous multiple strikes.
Al then proceeded to demonstrate his multiple striking, balance and movement on large swinging kick bags, which the attendees then tried. Al doesn't block incoming strikes; he said, "my strikes are my blocks" as his "ruthless intention" is to chop through any incoming strike. Guided Chaos is all about being able to effectively strike your opponent in a chaotic situation, and if you miss, being able to then recover quickly through superior balance and fluidity. Al demonstrated this on the bags in what appeared to be a very non-traditional way.
Ground-fighting was the next topic that was touched upon, however this was only a very brief introduction as it was late into the second day. Al commenced by explaining the pitfalls of going to the ground and then went on to demonstrate some basic principles, which included solid advice about protecting your head and keeping awareness on multiple attackers.
Guided Chaos Flow-drills
Looks odd, but has purpose: here, Ridenhour and Watson demonstrate one of Guided Chaos’ random contact flow-drills designed to train contact-reflexes, movement sensitivity, balance and awareness of openings in attack and defence.
Rather than offering the usual tactical get-up drills that we see in so many other systems, Al went on to demonstrate a variety of functional floor exercises that improve ground mobility. The drills essentially develop a fuller range of hip rotation that allows improved ground agility.
Al continued with a demonstration of his amazing ground agility in a simulated attack, the main emphasis being to use your legs in a continuous cycling counter-attack while protecting your head and looking for the opportunity to get back on your feet.
Interestingly, despite all the advice about not going to the ground, Michael demonstrated how at an opportune time - when cornered against a single attacker carrying a blunt instrument - he could create distance with his legs and use superior ground mobility to get to his feet once he had damaged his opponent with his leg-kicks. Summing up, it was an interesting two days. I have absolutely no doubt that if someone were to mix it up with Al or Michael, they would later regret that they hadn't backed off when given the chance. Guided Chaos teaches its students ‘purposeful habits' intended to avoid conflict at all costs, to spot a problem and disengage and to put up as many non-verbal barriers as possible; however, it also teaches to use maximum force in the belief that if the attacker has ignored all the barriers, then he is demonstrating clear intent to harm you. If that's the case, then Guided Chaos students are capable of ‘Ruthless Intention' - that is, the intention to stop an attacker.
I know by writing this that there is a risk it could be misinterpreted, so I need to clarify. Guided Chaos believes that the way they train allows the student to wind down the response. Not every attacker deserves a neck-breaking crank, but these guys do know how to do it very effectively and in a live, dynamic situation. Much of what they learn is appropriate for close-quarter control and restraint situations, such as in nightclubs. As for the instructors, Al and Michael are great guys; humble, respectful, intelligent, polite and helpful - but they would certainly give Jason Bourne a run for his money.