|"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
I see all possible futures as I perceive the present moment.
The more clearly I perceive the moment the more intensely I experience it, and vice versa.
I imagine the future I desire and choose it from all possible futures.
The other movers also choose their movements.
In every moment I must harmonize my movement, my choices, my desire, with theirs.
Now 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
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.
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 that force.
The Emotional Response to Being Hit
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 getting100%
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 was then.
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
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 the 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.
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.
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 an explanation.
Metaphor and Mindset
taught us that the art is 90% mental. Around the time I got my 3rd
degree 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 us.
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 physical
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
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.
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.
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
Who comes from Edom with soiled garments?.. Why is your clothing red, like one who trod in
the wine press?
the wine press, 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)
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
the perfect harmony of movers.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 principals 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.
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 Dave, and
from the other students who are
senior to me. I write this meditation
out of love for our tribe.
Humbly, Gratefully, Joyfully,
*Email from John to 25 students, including Masters Ridenhour, Watson, and Martarano, on 5/22/2015.
**This unsavory image comes from a true story John told in class in Elmsford NY on Saturday 11/7/2015.
***Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part II, “On Redemption.”