Training For The CHAOS of the Fight

Most people who teach martial arts don’t give a second thought to how they teach. Most instructors teach a bunch of techniques and leave it up to the individual to find a way to best perform what they had been taught. To be fare, when I started teaching, I thought and taught the exact same way. The truth is, teaching someone to be able to perform in the chaos of a fight is a difficult thing to accomplish. It’s not only that you have to prepare them for a fight physically, but you equally have to help them overcome inner obstacles, such as fear and self doubt.

Typically, most instructors default to teaching someone in a step-by-step, prescribed fashion. It’s not that this is the best method of teaching, but rather the most simple. It’s also a method where, as the instructor you get to look good, be seen to know your stuff — while at the same time, appease the human brain’s desire for structure and order. Sadly, this is how martial arts is taught in most schools. It’s great for the business end, but not for the reality of fighting.

The truth is, what you will be confronted with on the street, or in the ring, is often a far cry from how you were trained for that event. The reality of physical combat is unpredictable, unrehearsed, and on the street — chaotic. While you may feel you have prepared adequately, you can never know with certainty if you will be able to win. As many great Generals have realized in battle — the Fog of War where uncertainty in situational awareness is experienced by participants in battle — is ever present.

As Carl von Clausewitz in On War, notes;

“War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.”

Unless then, you are training in a way that prepares you for the Fog of Fighting, then following Clausewitz line of inquiry, you are three quarters less likely to achieve victory against a skilled adversary. In fact, I would suggest, the more your training resembles neat packages of attack and defense, where messing up is minimal, where everything is neatly laid out in a sequence, you are 75% more likely to lose a real fight.

This is one of the reasons why I developed the CHAOS Coaching Model in Crazy Monkey Defense. I wanted to find the best way to coach someone systematically through ever increasing pressure against a resisting opponent in training. But at the same time, I also wanted to ensure that my students were able to engage in fight training that prepared them, dare I even say made them comfortable with the chaos and uncertainty of a fight.


“It’s much more effective to allow solutions to problems to emerge from the people close to the problem rather than to impose them from higher up.”
Roger Lewin PhD

As I noted earlier it is very difficult to predict the outcome of a fight. Even if you are the one actually involved in it. In fact you may have noticed that the more you attempt to predict or project an outcome in an intense sparring match you may have had, the more you found yourself moving away from that prediction. You have probably felt frustrated and despondent after such an experience.


Firstly we need to understand that no matter how neatly we package our techniques and there respective counters— it will never truly equate to the real, unpredictable, very subjective response of the person we are intending to use it against in self-preservation or sparring. Simply people rarely play by the rules you have set out, unless it’s in competition — and even then things can and will go wrong.

For years MANY forms of martial arts, both old and new — have wrestled with the knowledge that a fight will be highly unpredictable regardless of how hard they trained or attempted to understand all the techniques involved. In an attempt to come to grips with this reality, they developed many predictable, reductionistic methods of training. There was a feeling that if you broke a technique or sequence of techniques down into it smallest components one would better understand the function and hopefully have a better command of that technique when applying it for real.

Sadly this is rarely the case. The reason one would think is obvious.
A human being is not a machine and cannot be programmed as one. A person will always react in a unique way, based on their own experiences, personality, temperament etc. For example one can try and break down all the possible punch attacks and counterattacks and so forth to the most fundamental level — yet no one can prepare you for your opponent deciding in favor of picking up a brick instead of throwing a punch.

It is my view that all the prearranged forms and one and three step sparring patterns, as well as the over reliance on allowing techniques to work within there chosen context (think training partner with arm stretched out after punching while the other person does their blitz attack = most of what’s on YouTube) — grew out of a real frustration of the creators of those styles/systems who found themselves wrestling with the reality of chaos in a fight. Simply there is a need for prediction in martial arts to imbue a sense of confidence in both teacher and student, and it is taught widely.

The problem is that the more you attempt to predict an outcome in a complex system such as two people fighting, the further you move away from that which is being predicted. This reality stood out for me in my early years in Karate. Ever since my first few Karate lessons as a youngster, I asked myself how will this really work in reality? What made me ask this question was something we all did, play fight with our friends. I noticed that every time I was play fighting, which was unstructured and unpredictable — and then tried using the Karate I was taught — it never worked out the way it was drilled in class. This really bothered me and continued to do so right into adulthood.


Think of most martial art styles as being based on Newtonian laws of physics which are completely deterministic: they assume that, at least theoretically, precise measurements are possible, and that more precise measurement of any condition will yield more precise predictions about past or future conditions. Martial art curriculum’s of learning one technique to counter another in a prescribed fashion are very good examples of trying to predict. The assumption is that in theory at least — it was possible to make nearly perfect predictions about the behavior of any physical system—which in this case is the human body in a fight. This thinking extends further, that if measurements could be made precise enough — and the more accurate the initial measurements were – the more precise would be the resulting predictions. For example one-and-three step sparring as taught in many traditional martial art schools is an excellent example of determinism and an attempt to measure and predict possible outcomes in a fight (so if opponent A punches like this, I block with a specific movement like this—if he does this next then I do that next).


I have always taken an opposite approach. My teaching philosophy has always been one of openness and exchange of ideas, which is better suited to creativity than forcing singular ideas from one source. The essence of my teaching approach is chaos and experiential learning. Chaos is the mother of all invention. Not chaos in that everyone is running around and doing what they want, but chaos in terms of that there is no firm structure in which ideas feel like they have to fit within.

Chaos creates a fantastic learning energy that just does not exist in a sterile, clean and linear environment. Most importantly linear environments can neither deal with, nor accommodate the unpredictability of a complex system such as a human being. In a scientific context, the word chaos has a slightly different meaning than it does in its general usage as a state of confusion and lacking any order. Chaos, with reference to chaos theory, refers to an apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws or rules or what I prefer to call principles, drivers and frameworks. For example if you don’t protect your head and you sustain a heavy blow you will likely get knocked out—this is a given. There are however a few dozen ways to effectively knock someone out and an equal amount in defense. This is where chaos kicks in. Which one to choose and at which time?

The two main components of my CHAOS Teaching Model is that the entire human body as a system of movement — no matter how complex it may be — relies upon an underlying order, and that very simple or small changes to that human movement system and events relating to it in the beginning can cause very complex behaviors or events over time. The key is therefore not to know or even learn every eventuality, which would be impossible to predict, but rather to firstly understand what drives a functional fight game, and secondly what are the inherent patterns that make the human system work in a fight. My CHAOS Teaching Model is therefore an attempt to study the nonlinear phenomena of the human body in expressing itself in combat. The two highest examples of this would be in sparring or a real fight on the street.


Because we can never know all the initial conditions of a complex system in sufficient (i.e. perfect) detail, we cannot hope to predict the ultimate fate of a complex system. Even slight errors in measuring the state of a system will be amplified dramatically, rendering any prediction useless. Since it is then impossible to measure the effects of the entire possible counter moves to our own from the opponent and vice-versa, accurate long-range predictions will always remain nebulous in martial arts where someone is not pretending, but actually playing the game for real.

Therefore I chose to develop the Crazy Monkey Defense System from an experiential perspective, allowing for better chance of success, beyond merely attempting to predict (remember prediction is the linear approach). Therefore in practice, my CHAOS Teaching Model is an experientially driven model that enables my students to ‘experience’ the reality of the fight. Through my students own personal experiences and reflections — they are then able to adjust their future responses in a fight experience, based on similar encounters they have had, through first hand, felt sense experiences on the mat — instead of being based solely on predefined outcomes. In other words, my students learn to fight in embracing and engaging in chaos on the mat.



  • Enables me as the coach, the ability to show how to actually achieve a certain outcome and how to improve it — instead of just explaining how it should be done.
  • Helps my students understand that what they can do and apply in a performance environment (in chaos) is far more important than how much they know (accumulation of technique).
  • Teaches students to learn best from their own experience and the feedback from those experiences. They teach themselves.
  • The CHAOS Teaching Model enables my students to move beyond just knowledge but into actual skill by generating a learning experience. Simply the more experiences my students attain in chaos, the greater their skill level will be.
  • The CHAOS Teaching Model makes my students behavior and attitudes visible. It teaches them to be mindful of how action and experience merge.



  • The CHAOS Teaching Model encourages and cultivates the actualization that the attempt at doing something new or different is more significant than the result. It is about stretching each person’s comfort zones in a positive, supportive environment.
  • The CHAOS Teaching Model creates awareness that effective learning requires small controlled steps outside of comfort zones.
  • Most importantly the CHAOS Teaching Model provides opportunity to take on a challenge in an atmosphere of support and caring. This is regardless if the challenge is physical, emotional or mental.
  • The CHAOS Teaching Model is empowering for students as it respects their ideas and choices.
  • The CHAOS Teaching Model allows and encourages space and time to stand back and reflect when pressures or doubts become too strong.
  • The CHAOS Teaching Model gives a student the right to ‘confront’ difficult situations in training and sparring with the view to there solution.



What follows are the steps of the CHAOS Teaching Model. I use this model to not only increase the chance of success in my students reaching their performance goals, but also to break out of the linear system of teaching, which one can easily be sucked into because it is easy and a lazy way to coach. The following outline of the CHAOS Teaching Model also incorporates an example to better give you an idea of the model in action.

BEFORE I DO ANYTHING – Talk Objectives, Goals & Terminology.

For roughly 1 to 3 minutes or less I talk about the objectives and goals of today’s session. Here I discuss the terminology I will be using in that session or drill as well to ensure everyone is on the same page. I always ensure that the terminology and objectives be conceptual so that the student gets the underlying feeling of what I am trying to teach, but not so specific that I give all the answers up front. This takes a little practice.

For example my lesson today could be conceptually about balance (balance being the terminology) and acquiring that skill say out of executing boxing combinations could be the objective. The goal therefore is to be able to do effective boxing combinations out of balance.

The objective in the beginning when using the CHAOS Teaching Model is to give a broad overview, with little or no real instruction or detail. It does not matter that a student does not know before hand all the steps required to complete the task. The ultimate goal is to allow the student to uncover those steps as they move through the session. Here I manage my students frustrations. While I understand their desire to have the answers now, the answers are not the same as the actual experience. Bottom line, anything my students learn on their own, without my direct interference by giving the answer, are skills they will find very hard to forget. They embody that experience. Just like if you haven’t ridden a bicycle for a decade, you can quit easily get back on on and ride.


That experiences and the knowledge of how to ride a bike is unconscious and embodied. Someone could have given you all the instructions in the world how to ride a bike, but until you did it, until you fell a dozen times, you would have never learned how to ride.



Here I give my students a few minutes to ‘experiment’ and ‘play’ around with the ideas discussed in the opening talk of objectives, goals and terminology. Remember I am not really teaching anything right now. I don’t even give any advice or direction at this point. It’s simply about letting my students play, and to allow them to mess up.

Because for this example I chose using maintaining balance while executing boxing combinations for this CHAOS Teaching Model, it would obviously need to be done out of movement. Here I could get my students to first to do some combinations out of shadow boxing or combinations on focus mitts while asking them to focus on when they where in or out of balance. Take not what I did there, I never gave them any answers or even how to find and maintain balance while firing punches. I just gave them an anchor to focus on, “Take not of what places you in and out of balance?”.

Another way to reinforce the idea of balance while moving and punching, is to ask students on purpose to disrupt their balance. I may ask them to do combinations and then on purpose to force themselves out of balance by crossing their legs up, changing up their stance or to hyper extend their punches and throwing wild. At this stage, they don’t need to know why I am asking them to do this, it just needs to be fun. I keep pushing the point however that what they are trying to focus on is balance and the loss thereof. Throughout this first stage, I keep asking my students to take note of what is causing them to go in and out of balance. The whole point is to create different experiences that they can draw from for the Reflection stage next.


Step 2 & 3 – REFLECT & CONFIRM

Now I get everyone to stop what they are doing and ask them to discuss what was discovered.

  • What did they think?
  • What did they feel when they moved around and were striking?
  • What put them in or out of balance?

The purpose here is for me to guide my students with questions that allow them to reflect on the experience they just had and then for them to give me feedback. Here I try not to give them any of the answers. If they can’t come up with any reflections that I know matches the general outcome of the drill I just did, I will get them to do step 1 again until they do.

I have found having a white board for this section really helpful. For this exercise described above, I may divide the board into two columns. The first column displaying key words of what the students have said forced or placed them out of balance. The second column can have those key words that kept them in balance. This whole discussion on reflecting and getting feedback can be kept simple and under a couple of minutes.


Step 4 – LEARN

It is at this stage that I begin to teach (most people teach from the beginning, before the students experience anything).  Here I simply build on what the students feedback was in the reflection step. It is at this point that I give them some pointers on how to correct their techniques and so forth, but I always tie it into the overall concept I am trying to teach them (i.e balance out of movement, while striking).

For reference a concept is an abstract idea or a mental symbol, typically associated with a corresponding representation in language or symbology, that denotes all of the objects in a given category or class of entities, events, phenomena, or relationships between them. By using conceptualization in teaching, I avoid the pitfalls of linear teaching styles. In everything I try to achieve in teaching, there is an overall concept to describe that action. This allows the student to interpret my ideas openly and the freedom to discover the inner workings of techniques by themselves.

The idea in the learning step of the CHAOS Teaching Model is to encourage my students to think of and try alternatives and develop a new way to experience the movement previously done by fixing the things that were holding them back during the Experimentation step.


Step 5 – EXECUTE

Once we have decided what must be done in the learning step to fix the problems uncovered in the reflection step, I want my students to get back out there on the mat and try to apply what we have decided to do. Here I keep reflecting on the overall conceptual message of the lesson, which in this case was balance out of movement while punching. Here I shout out while they are drilling the points on avoiding things that knocked them previously out of balance while executing combinations (e.g., don’t cross your feet, don’t bring your feet to close together etc.)



Finally I reflect once again if there has been a shift based on the initial reflections in step 2. Does the student believe for example their balance is better while hitting and moving than when they started in the beginning? Here I am not so concerned about massive improvements. I just want the student to acknowledge that what we covered made sense and that they can see and most importantly ‘feel’ that improvements are possible with further training (If not, I repeat the CHAOS cycle again!)

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  1. This is a complete paradigm shift for me. The whole concept of “technique collecting” vs what you can actually apply makes sense ons such a deeper level now.