|"Dear Guided Chaos students,|
are some thoughts on the mental aspects of the art. They are taken
directly from, based on, or inspired by what John, Al, Matt, and many
other advanced students have generously taught me. If you have comments,
or if you would like to train near Suffern NY / Mahwah NJ, feel free to
email me at JoeSusskind[at]gmail[dot]com."
[If interest is great enough Yosef will establish a Tuesday night group class in the area. --MattK]
A Fourth Degree Meditation on Contact Flow
see all possible futures as I perceive the present moment.
more clearly I perceive the moment the more intensely I experience it, and vice
imagine the future I desire and choose it from all possible futures.
other movers also choose their movements.
every moment I must harmonize my movement, my choices, my desire, with theirs.
my will and theirs are one, and drive our movement to a common end.
Contact Flow and Combat Flow
Contact flow is a drill.
It is not sparring; it is not a simulation of a fight. It is a drill for developing attributes. The drill can be practiced differently to
focus on different attributes. In order
to cultivate the subtle touch, I practice without increases in speed or
force. When speed and strength are taken
out of the equation, the drill becomes a game of movement—of timing and body
positioning. Unable to call on my
strength or speed, I am forced to find the perfect movement, the perfect
timing, the perfect body position. I
call them “perfect” precisely because they do not rely on superior speed or
strength, but on the five principles of balance, looseness, sensitivity, body
unity, and freedom of action. Movements
which rely on speed and strength can be overcome by a faster, stronger
enemy. When I challenge stronger, faster
enemies with my own strength and speed, I die.
When I make my movement more perfect than those enemies', they die.
Practicing contact flow with increases in speed and force is called
combat flow. In the same way that soft
contact flow allows me to focus on refining my movement, combat flow refines my
use of force. I learn to feel my body's
mass and to use it efficiently to generate force, and to do so at the right
time, at the right angle, and to the right effect. I also get to feel the other mover doing the
same to me.
In any given position, there can be more than one right
answer. One answer might be efficient,
ghosting movement, another might be efficient use of force. Using power the right way at the right time
might be called perfect, however, for the purposes of training, it is imperfect
in one sense: For any technique which
requires force, there is an enemy with sufficient strength or mass to overcome
The Emotional Response to Being Hit
Contact flow is a feeling drill. Regardless of whether I am hitting or being
hit, if I am feeling 100% of what is going on in my body and 100% of what is
going on in the other mover's body, then I am getting 100% benefit of the
drill. Recognizing this, I forget the
negative emotional response I used to produce when getting hit during the
drill. As a novice, I practiced contact
flow at the level of a lab rat or a hungry pigeon, driven by little rewards and
punishments. Each strike I landed was a
little, ego-affirming reward; each blow I ate was a little punishment telling
me that I had been judged and found wanting.
If I had stayed in this mindset, I would be every bit as skilled as I
The negative emotional response associated with being hit
during contact flow confounds the learning process and defeats the purpose of
the drill. Instead of feeling what's
happening in the flow, all I can feel is my frustration, and I learn
nothing. If in order to compensate for
my inferior position I speed-up or muscle-up beyond the agreed upon level, I
compromise the integrity of the drill, and delude myself. Imagine a game of
chess. Each player moves to gain
advantage, and must constantly adapt to the other's movements, often with each
bobbing in and out of check until the moment of checkmate. At that moment, the kingless player would
want to perceive every position of every piece on the board, bearing in mind
how they got there and how each piece can move—not only their simple movement,
but also how they can move in relation to the board and the other pieces. The more the player can perceive, the faster
they approach mastery. Or they can freak
out and knock over all the pieces.
When I get hit during contact flow, rather than responding
negatively, I take in all the information I can feel, and I take it in
hungrily. This information is priceless:
more code for the computer. Only by
feeling the angle of the strike can I learn to yield to it perfectly. Only by feeling the strike with all of its
nuances can I learn to recognize it and avoid it in the future.
When I am being hit and I cannot intuit how to yield, I do
not frantically try to figure out the correct angle. If my body cannot feel the correct yielding
movement, my intellect will not be able calculate it on-the-fly. This is because I can feel much faster than I
can think. If I try to outsmart the
strike, I lose. Instead, I feel the
strike and let it move me; I let it teach me the perfect angle.
Whenever I don't know what to do in contact flow—how to
yield, where to step, etc.—it is because I can't intuit how to apply the
principles in that moment and in that position.
Sometimes I will feel stuck, deadlocked with the other mover. If I am stuck, and can't feel my way to an
answer, I have no choice but to slow down and resort to intellect. To this end, I stop focusing on the
particulars and return to the abstract principles: Is my body tense? If so I need to relax the tension. Is there pressure? If so I must yield to alleviate it. Am I off-balance? If so I must drop to a new root. Am I moving efficiently? If not, I must move my entire body with
singular purpose. Am I feeling the
other mover's intention and harmonizing with their movement, or am I stubbornly
trying to impose my will? Am I owning my
freedom of movement? Clearly not, or I
wouldn't be stuck. I tell myself that I
am a Master Killer: I can execute any movement as easily as I can imagine it.
I tell myself that I am a Master Killer: I can execute any
movement as easily as I can imagine it.
This sounds more like a delusion than a martial arts tip. At this point, we have moved from the
theoretical to the fictional. This begs
Metaphor and Mindset
John taught us that the art is 90% mental. Around the time I got my 3rd belt
I asked myself what in the world that meant.
The purpose of this meditation is to share the progress I have made in
my understanding of the mental aspects of contact flow. Believe that this understanding, albeit
incomplete, was hard-won, and in sharing it I am sharing one of the dearest
gifts that I could possibly give—just as John shares his dearest gifts with
When I was a kid in Hebrew School, I saw a video by a pro
ballplayer on how to hit a baseball.
Unsurprisingly, he couldn't explain his athleticism to me such that it
would become mine. How do you explain
excellence in movement? How do you
explain the laws of physics and human physiology such that someone with
no athletic training can apply them masterfully in the field? There are two general ways. One is physical. One is imaginary.
The first way to teach the art is with drills. By “drills,” I mean any exercise which forces
the student to move a certain way, so that they can experience what the proper
movement feels like. The second
way is through metaphor. A new student
has no idea what looseness is. They
can't feel if they are loose or tight.
We tell them, “imagine your arms are hanging on strings, so that you use
just enough muscle to hold them up.”
Taken literally, this is a nonsense statement, but as a metaphor, “arms
hanging on strings” opens a door in our imagination that can result in a
When it comes to the mental aspects of the art, metaphor is
the primary tool. I create little
fictions for myself in order to cultivate the proper mindset. I cultivate this mindset for its real-world
effects. It is the mindset that allows
me to develop in the art. It is the
mindset that will sustain me in combat and see me through the moment of truth.
The Master Killer
I tell myself that I am a Master Killer: I can execute any
movement as easily as I can imagine it.
At every moment I must have
complete trust in my ability. If I doubt
my ability and what I am feeling during contact flow, I retard my
learning. If I doubt my ability and
what I am feeling during the moment of truth, I am already dead.
While I accept that my limbs cannot block a crushing blow, I trust
them to be my antennae, and to tell my body how to yield and move to protect
itself. Trusting my body to protect
itself frees my arms to release and hit and kill my enemies. If instead of trusting, moving, and hitting,
I fixate on my enemy's arms and try to control them, I take away my ability to
release and hit. Any attempt to control
my enemy's arms can distract me from what I actually need to do to survive.
The idea of the Master Killer frees my imagination to perform
at peak creativity. The Master Killer
will pull off large, elaborate movements if and only if the situation calls for
it, but large movements are not the sign of a master. The Master Killer kills effortlessly. He creates the smallest movements, the most
subtle angles. Taking the path of least
resistance, he moves as little as he needs.
He makes it look so easy that the uninitiated mistake him for a
novice. In contact flow, I tell myself
that the game really is as easy and simple as placing my hand on the other
mover. Their limbs cannot stop me or
contain me; I simply move where they are not, like water slipping through the
cracks, taking the path of least resistance.
John once wrote: “Courage is not only ignoring fear. It is trust in God.” I do not believe that he was making a
theological claim. He was teaching us
something about how to stay alive. This
is a metaphor to cultivate a mindset. In
every moment, I must have unwavering faith in the outcome of the battle. The enemy will make every effort to set the
conditions for my failure. If he
succeeds in undermining my faith, I am already dead. If I am small, my enemy will be large. If I am large, my enemy will be larger. If I am alone, my enemy will come in
numbers. If I am unarmed (shame on me),
my enemy will be armed. If I am prepared,
he will use surprise, deception, and treachery. If I am distracted, he will stab me in the
perineum before I realize I’m in a fight. If I allow the formidability of my enemies,
the disadvantage of my position, or the brutality of injuries sustained, to
make me lose faith, I am already dead.
Who comes from Edom with soiled
garments?.. Why is your clothing red,
like one who trod in the winepress?
In the winepress, I trod alone. From the nations, none were with me. I trod them in my wrath, and trampled them in
my fury. The wine of their vitality
sprayed on my garments, and all my clothing was soiled. For a day of vengeance was in my heart; the
year of my reckoning had arrived.
I looked, and there were none to
save me. In disbelief, I saw none to
uphold me. My arm saved me, and my fury
upheld me. I trod the nations with my
wrath, and intoxicated them with my fury, and spilled their vitality to the
earth. (Isaiah 63:2-6)
If I allow the formidability of my enemies, the disadvantage
of my position, or the brutality of injuries sustained, to make me lose faith,
I am already dead. I tell myself that I
am the righteous firstborn of Mars, and that my movement will be so perfect and
so effortless that it will seem divinely inspired.
In contact flow, when the other mover is formidable, when
they put me in a disadvantageous position, when they strike me, I do not lose
faith. Each of these moments is a
unique, invaluable opportunity for creativity and growth. Only by feeling these positions in contact
flow can I learn to adapt to them and survive.
When I am overwhelmed or “killed” in contact flow, I do not
give up and reset. I recognize that I am
being hit by blows that might kill me at full force, but as I am still
conscious, I continue to move and recover, and put myself back in the
fight. I train to fight on from the
brink of death. Just as I must train to
fight on, the other mover must train to finish the kill.
Love of Fate
Nietzsche taught unconditional love of existence as amor
fati, love of fate. By loving
existence, and my place in it, unconditionally, I love all the vicissitudes of
fate. By loving fate, I “recreate every so
it was into thus I willed it.” In contact flow, when the other mover commits
to a movement, I tell myself “I wanted them to do that.” I make the necessary adjustment, and
together, we move to their demise.
Love of fate frees me from fear and wanting. I never want anything in contact flow. When I feel an opening for a strike, if I
become attached to that fixed movement, I lose my ability to adapt
mid-strike. My mind becomes fixated on a
snapshot of the future, and is blinded to what is going on in the present. My strike becomes a “dumb” weapon. In order to remain in the present, I let
myself savor every moment, every change, every millimeter of every
position. I savor each moment, not only
when hitting, but also when I am being hit.
This prevents me from panicking and increasing my speed and force, and
maximizes what I feel in the present. I
allow myself to feel the perfect timing, the perfect change, the perfect
harmony of movers.
Fear is the most detrimental emotion in contact flow. Fear blinds me to all possibilities except
for those possibilities that I fear. It
hijacks my creativity, and in doing so, drives me toward the very end I am
dreading. When I tense-up during contact
flow, it is a symptom of fear. The
tension cuts off my sensitivity, blinding me to any saving path. When I feel the other mover moving to strike,
and I say “No!”, and try to stop their movement, this is my fear. Saying “no” alienates me from the present;
instead of feeling what is going on in the present and adapting to it, all I
can feel is my panic and indignation.
Instead, I say “yes” to the mover's movement; I make the necessary
adjustment, and let our movement work to my advantage.
Even the most subtle tension is a manifestation of fear,
which will cut off my sensitivity and blind me to a world of
possibilities. Resisting the
temptation to push is also a state of fear.
When I forget my fear, I open myself to the present and free my
creative, martial spirit to do what it needs to save me.
Fear protects the ego.
When I dissolve my ego, I dissolve my fear. In contact flow, I imagine that I am a
third-party-observer. I pretend that I
am the god of war, and that the “combat” is all for my entertainment. Whether I am hitting or being hit, if the
movement is glorious, I gratefully applaud.
It is essential that I cultivate the warrior state of
mind. Some call this state
blood-lust. Al calls it moral
clarity. If I put my ego aside, and
withdraw mentally to the position of a third party, how can I cultivate the
combative mindset and proper emotional content?
The proper emotional content during contact flow is that of a child at
play. The child takes their game
seriously, without forgetting that it is a game. Within the game of contact flow, I
mean to kill the other mover. When I
deliver a strike, even without force, I line up my body like I mean to
kill. At the same time, it is just a
game. It is a consequence-free
environment in which I am free to experiment.
I allow myself to be entertained.
When I am not training or fighting for my life, I must never
entirely forget my fear. Fear roots me
in reality and keeps me from deluding myself.
Healthy fear and rootedness in reality are common traits of GC students.
While these traits may have brought us to the art, fear is not the
emotion under which we practice. The
proper emotions to attach to our training are humility, gratitude, and joy—for
being initiated into an art that has happened only once in the universe.
Steel Sharpens Steel
We are all sharpened on the skill of the people we train
with. The more skilled my fellow students
become, the more my training environment is enriched. As peers, students, and teachers practice the
principles at higher levels, the game becomes exponentially more nuanced. If my fellow students—those at my level,
above and below me—are not getting better, then the more I progress, the more
my training environment is impoverished.
Pushing others to develop in the art enables my own qualitative
growth. The more they grow, the more
they benefit me. The more I grow, the
more I benefit them.
This art is not a commodity.
It is not a training program. It
is a gift we receive from John. It is a
gift we give each other. It is entirely
personal. When we train together, we
take tacit responsibility for each other's very lives. I receive this gift from John and Al and Matt, and from the other students who are senior to me. I write this meditation out of love for our
Humbly, Gratefully, Joyfully,
Copyright 4/5/2016 www.copyrighted.com/copyrights/view/iqed-jxdh-fu44-4gfz