Guided Chaos – A New Paradigm

Guided Chaos grew out of the many experiences of John Perkins. John was born into a fighting family, replete with WWII combat veterans and infamous neighborhood fighters.

Motivated to fit in with his tough relatives despite his lack of natural ability, he sought out martial arts training from masters who could really fight. As a street cop, he found hundreds of opportunities to test his combative prowess. Later, as a forensic crime scene specialist, he had the opportunity to study and reconstruct thousands of cases to determine how people really fought and died.

All of this real experience and study of real lethal violence, informed the development of Guided Chaos. From an early age, John realized that real violence was too chaotic, fast and unpredictable to deal with “by the numbers” using formal martial arts techniques. From the European and Native American fighting traditions taught to him by his family, to hapkido, kenpo, kung fu, tai chi and other traditions taught to him by local masters and others whom he sought out, John noticed that what made the great fighters great were NOT the particular techniques and movements they performed, but how they moved. Regardless of size or strength, the keys proved to be the principles of balance, looseness, body unity, sensitivity and freedom of action, unbound by conscious preoccupation with particular techniques and movements.

​Combining these insights with his extensive experience and study of real violence, John created a training methodology to develop in its practitioners combative principles (balance, looseness, body unity, sensitivity) and subconsciously driven, adaptive application free from the mental logjam of pre-planned techniques. This system was officially founded in 1978.

Your system has no forms. How does it differ from other formless arts such as Boxing or Muay Thai?

First of all, Boxing and Muay Thai are primarily sports, designed to prepare a practitioner to compete in a particular kind of sparring with specific equipment within precisely codified rules. Guided Chaos prepares practitioners to deal with the unlimited, unpredictable, unregulated chaos of real violence. So the focus is very different.

Guided Chaos is distinct not only in utilizing no kata/poomse/formal choreographed exercises but also in prescribing no formal techniques or sequences. Boxing teaches a few basic punches and evasive movements, each with an “idea” form and method of application. Muay Thai adds a few kicks, knee strikes and elbow strikes with a different clinch and overall movement strategy. Guided Chaos teaches no such ideal striking or evasive movements. There are the natural impact ridges of your own body and an efficient overall way of moving (with balance, looseness, body unity and sensitivity) that enables you to be unavailable yet unavoidable to other bodies moment by moment, keeping your body out of the way of others’ force while applying damage and control to them.

There are no rules beyond gravity and human anatomy. Any movement in line with the principles that is adaptive to the situation is fair game.

Your “Contact Flow” drill has many similarities to Wing Chun’s Chi Sao drill. What do you think Wing Chun practitioners can learn from “Contact Flow”?

Greater sensitivity and creativity; greater balance, looseness and body unity; greater freedom.

Do you make use of the concept of “sticking” to your opponent like Wing Chun does?

Yes, although the idea of sticking in Guided Chaos is more free. 

We do not just stick to an opponent’s arms and legs with our arms and legs. Any contact, anywhere, is plenty to guide the practitioner’s whole body movement. We strive for ever lighter and more subtle degrees of contact, with no default pressure, so as to be less available and less readable. At higher levels of sensitivity, you learn to “stick” to the intent of one or more opponents, guided by subcortical visual as well as tactile sensitivity, moving seemingly like a ghost whereas your opponents feel nothing except your attacks and cannot get a bearing on you. 

You mention in your website that during “Contact Flow” your touch must be “light”. Similar ideas are expressed in Wing Chun and Tai Chi and yet, we often see players using a lot of brute force. How does one stay light when the opponent is using a lot of force?

You need to train in the right way. You can achieve a light, unperceivable touch regardless of the applied strength and force of a training partner or opponent by developing the requisite balance, looseness, body unity and sensitivity to allow yourself to become unavailable to his force without backing away.

Guided Chaos solo exercises can be practiced daily to hasten the development of these principles. Contact Flow must be practiced in the right way: fairly slowly most of the time (sometimes fast and sometimes ultra-slow), at constant speed with no acceleration nor deceleration, with no ego (no competitive spirit and no emotional reaction to “hitting” or “getting hit”, just impersonal movement), and no conscious interference (no “looking for openings” or “deciding what to do,” just subconsciously driven flow).

After a while, you’ll develop the application of body unity that, combined with the other principles, will enable you to make your center of gravity unavailable to a forceful partner’s movement at the very first sign of impending force, obviating the need for you to apply force to stop or disrupt it, while making your body unavoidable to your partner, denying him the opportunity to recover or change. 

Can you please explain “dropping energy” and how it can be used to increase the power of strikes?

At a basic level, dropping is simply letting your full body weight fall slightly, and then catching it. If you can imagine that you’re a marionette held up by strings, suddenly your strings are cut and you begin to fall straight down, only to catch yourself within a few inches of descent. The sensation of the strings being cut is one of total relaxation. Your body begins to accelerate downwards. The moment you catch yourself, you’re taking advantage of a basic reflex within your body to prevent falling. Your bones align and your musculature fires with a plyometric effect in a way that makes you extremely explosive and grounded for the briefest of moments, before you go back to being neutral and pliable.

Dropping enables you to accelerate your body instantly in any direction with much more weight than usual (try dropping on an analog bathroom scale to see this effect), enabling the generation of power in a very short distance at any angle. Dropping also enables you to instantly catch your balance when you’re in danger of losing it, and to quickly overcome inertia as you’re briefly weightless. Eventually you learn to internalize the physical effect of dropping such that you can do all these things without visible motion, although both the internal and the external are useful in combat depending on the situation.

Do you target pressure points in your system? Why/why not?

Our “pressure points” are simply the common weak spots of human anatomy: eyes, throat, groin, mastoid process, etc. Esoteric nerve points or pressure points or death points, even assuming they exist as they are frequently marketed (which is certainly not a safe assumption per medical science and general experience) are too precise and variable to purposefully attack during the chaos of real violence. While obviously we’d prefer to attack the most easily damaged areas of the body if given the chance, the fact is that in real combat, you take what you can get by adapting to the situation moment by moment. Rarely can you pick and choose exactly where you want to hit a guy.

What should the footwork be like during “contact flow” or sparing? Do you have special exercises to work on footwork (like shadow boxing)?

All footwork must be natural, nothing contrived. We concentrate on the development of balance in any position, even on one foot. No matter where you are or what is being done to you, so long as you have at least one foot on the ground, you can do what needs to be done. You move your feet as efficiently as possible, using the minimum movement necessary to move your body to where it needs to go, whether that requires stepping, shifting weight, or merely pushing against the ground in a slightly different way.

All movement should emanate from the pressure of your feet against the ground, pushing against the ground in infinite ways through the infinite points on the bottoms of your feet. (Note that the same thing applies to your whole body during groundfighting.) Because you always want a solid connection with the ground (even if the location of that connection constantly changes), you should generally not be skipping around or hopping on your toes. Footwork is more subtle and grounded, with movement more cat-like, with short steps and minimal “air time”.

The basic balance exercises develop your balance on one leg and while shifting between legs at all angles. Additional footwork exercises train you to apply that balance to ever more challenging situations, from taking short steps in all directions to changing direction instantly to spinning and reversing, eliminating inefficient habits like crossing your legs, twisting or dragging your feet on the ground, or moving more than you need to. 

There appear to be some “internal” concepts in your system. Do you make use of the concept of “grounding” (the stance)? If so how do you train it?

“Balance” is how we refer to “rooting” or “grounding”. Your “root” is simply where you are balanced on the ground. In order to achieve the freedom of action necessary to deal with the chaos of real violence, your root cannot depend on any particular stance. That is why we emphasize being able to balance and operate efficiently in any position, even on one foot. Our basic principles of balance, looseness, body unity and sensitivity are all things that are talked about in the traditional internal martial art systems.

In Guided Chaos, they are not obscured by secrecy or flowery language, or trained only indirectly through forms and prearranged partner drills. We train to develop them and apply them constantly and spontaneously through simple exercises and free-flowing, unchoreographed partner training. The “dropping” that we use extensively for power generation, balance catching and instant acceleration is similar in effect to the “cold power” described in some Tai Chi texts.

In my opinion, in the martial arts, “external” simply means you can see what’s going on, while “internal” simply means the movement is so subtle you can’t easily see how the effects are being generated. In order to get good at the internal, you need to have high levels of balance, looseness, body unity and sensitivity. There’s simply no other way to develop the subtle control over your body necessary to achieve internally generated effects. 

You employ many crippling techniques (such as eye gouging) in your system. How do you pressure test these techniques under realistic conditions?

First of all, no matter how extreme the method, never count on any particular strike/gouge/rip/break to have any particular effect on an adversary. Combat is simply too chaotic and the human body simply too variable and resilient to count on any one thing to work all the time. Heck, even bullets don’t always work, even when placed well! Furthermore, using extreme methods does not obviate the need to move well in order to deliver and evade them.

“Oh, I’ll just eye gouge him!” is absolutely meaningless if the other guy moves so much better than you that you can never get into position to do that and survive! Because we practice contact flow mostly at reduced speeds, we are able to fully deliver attacks to almost all targets with realistic penetration and movement. Of course, we can’t truly gouge into the eyes in training. We can, however, get very close and experience the overall movement involved to get to the eye gouge and prevent it from being done to us. When we contact flow at higher speeds, more caution is needed.

At the same time, the looser and more sensitive we get, the more realistically we can train at higher speeds, as we can trust each others’ bodies to protect themselves and get out of the way of our attacks before too much penetration is achieved. Finally, we have instructors and students who have used such methods (often in professional capacities) and share their experiences.

​Eye gouges (not mere flicks or pokes) used in real combat have caused instant convulsions (likely by affecting major nerves from inside the eye sockets), major distraction, complete mindset change, extreme movement to stop the gouge, etc. Again, never count on any particular reaction. Train to keep going no matter what.

What role do improvised weapons (pens, pencil, umbrellas etc…) play in self defence?

Anything you can do to tilt the odds in your favor is a good thing. Guided Chaos places a lot of emphasis on getting your hand on a weapon—any weapon, purpose-built or improvised—before the attack initiates. Failing that you need to be able to fight your way to your weapon, as a bad guy will rarely just give you the opportunity to draw mid-fight. If you can legally carry a gun with which you are well trained, and you are aware enough to get your hand on it before an assault begins, and you know how to retain, access and use it effectively in close quarters, that’s probably your best weapon for most life threatening situations.

However, most of us cannot carry a gun everywhere at all hours (e.g. on planes or in other secure areas), so it is good to be skilled with a range of weapons and to generally know how to “weaponize” everyday objects and your environment.

Sturdy canes and pens are some of the best weapons because you can bring them anywhere and you can hold them in your hand, ready to use, without being guilty of brandishing or giving away your intention. A cane especially offers extended range and great damaging power when used simply and properly. You can get almost any kind of shoe in steel-toed or composite-toed versions, which turn your feet into more effective weapons than they normally are. Other useful items include bright, sturdy flashlights and perhaps a solid briefcase or laptop bag. Chairs, tables, bricks, construction tools and other items you may find in any given environment can easily be used to your advantage. Knives of course can be extremely effective weapons, but again, mindset and training are key.

At the end of the day you cannot guarantee that you’ll have your hand on a weapon at the moment you get attacked, so no matter what you’re carrying and no matter what is available to you in your environment, you simply must know how to fight effectively bare-handed to end the assault or at least to gain the opportunity to bring a weapon into play.

On the street, do you recommend punches, elbows or palm strikes? Why?

For beginners, we generally advise against closed-fist punches, due to the conditioning needed to make the fist a durable weapon and the sensitivity and accuracy needed to avoid punching hard structures like the upper skull and elbow amidst the chaos of real violence. For beginners, palms are more appropriate for strikes to the head. Open-handed blows were favored over conventional punching in the combat proven WWII-era close combat syllabi of Fairbairn, Applegate and others.

​These methods inspired the critical beginner program in Guided Chaos, intended to drastically increase a student’s self-defense ability within just a few classes. Elbows are great and we teach their use in a variety of unconventional ways. As your sensitivity and conditioning advance, we would not presume to place limits on what you should do. If you can make punches work, use them! Through contact flow and other training you will learn intuitively what works best for your body. You want to be able to use all the natural striking ridges of your body from all angles and positions to effect damage and control of the enemy via efficient whole body motion. Fingers, palms, chops, wrists, all sides of the forearms, elbows, shoulders, head, chest, back, hips, knees, shins, calves, all durable surfaces of the shoe or bare foot—anything and everything goes!

What strategy do you recommend against a knife attack, if running away is not possible?

Our primary strategy against any attack is simple: don’t be there in the first place! Many people think this is a cop-out answer and fail to see the true wisdom of it. What brought you to the place (physical location and the place in your life) where you were attacked by someone wielding a knife? Did this person materialize out of nowhere or were you aware enough to sense danger approaching? Did you trust your subconscious awareness when it attempted to warn you that danger was imminent? Could that warning have given you the split second to get your hand on your gun, ready your cane, etc.?

It is the rare knife-armed bad guy who will press forward with an attack once s/he sees your hand go to a weapon. After all this, what does the knifer want? If it’s just the money on you, give it up and leave! If s/he wants something you’re unwilling to part with or s/he tries to move you to a different location (crime scene #2, to which you should never go), or if s/he is simply trying to kill you right then and there, it’s time to fight for your life with everything you’ve got.

This is where we have to be brutally realistic: Anyone with a cutting or stabbing weapon and the will to use it has a great advantage over someone who is unarmed (or who doesn’t yet have a weapon in hand). There is no secret technique or physical strategy that can guarantee success for the disadvantaged person. Just think about it: In a fight between two clones of yourself, whom would you bet on, the one with the knife or the one without???

​You never know whom you’re dealing with and you should never underestimate what people are capable of. Having well developed balance, looseness, sensitivity, body unity, freedom of action and ruthless intention will of course help you. So will having trained against an endless variety of knife threat and attacking methods (not just the simple ones used in most martial arts schools). The knife defense methods suggested (not necessarily “recommended,” as again, nothing is fool-proof) in Guided Chaos training stem from John Perkins’ personal experiences as well as his forensic analysis of thousands of homicides and assaults, many including knives and similar weapons.

They take into account what the human body typically wants to do instinctively when under assault by a person wielding a knife. For the basics, see

Your Ground-fighting methodology seems to be completely different from what is commonly seen in MMA. What is the reasoning behind it?

GC ground-fighting, unlike grappling, emphasizes DISENGAGEMENT, rather than ENGAGEMENT with the enemy. “Engagement” here means the merging of two bodies into a single system of forces for more than a split second’s duration. Put more simply, conventional grappling methods emphasize engagement with the adversary in that the practitioner seeks to “tie up with” the adversary in order to apply his techniques. The grounded grappler on the offensive seeks to minimize the distance between his body and his opponent’s, hence gaining maximum control over and awareness of all of the opponent’s movements, maximizing opportunities to apply attached joint locking/breaking and choking/strangling techniques. 

GC ground-fighting, on the other hand, implores us to remain as disengaged as possible. Rather than tying up with the enemy, a GC practitioner strives to maintain his/her own freedom of movement, rather than committing his/her body to merging with the movements of a single adversary. Contact with the enemy, rather than being tight and constant as in conventional grappling, is fleeting and minimal, consisting primarily of kicks, strikes, slams, gouges, rips and quick wrenches. The principle of disengagement allows the GC practitioner to utilize an element relatively unavailable to the conventional grappler: MOBILITY.

Most modern grappling methods are designed for a SPORT paradigm, while GC ground-fighting is intended for REAL COMBAT. Because of the always present possibility of multiple attackers in real combat, purposefully engaging with a single adversary on the ground, thereby sacrificing mobility, is an extremely risky strategy. Better to remain MOBILE and disengaged in order to prevent the attackers from targeting you for effective strikes and grapples while lashing out with powerful, accurate, full-body attacks against the closest attackers, while attempting to create a window to escape the crowd.

What advice would you give the average Martial Arts School in order to make their system more effective against violent street attacks?

We recommend that the instructors become certified to teach Guided Chaos Combatives, which is the introductory self-defense program taught in Guided Chaos schools. The goal of Guided Chaos Combatives is to exponentially increase a student’s awareness and preparedness within a few classes, before the student enters into the longer term training of Guided Chaos. For more information about this, see:  

About the interviewee:

Ari Kandel has trained in and taught a variety of martial arts for 20 years. He was an active certified Wing Tsun instructor for seven years. Since 2005 he has taught Guided Chaos exclusively. His school website is

More information about Guided Chaos may be found at


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