Combating chaos

Photos by Carrie Eidson

From taekwondo to krav maga, if there is one thing that all martial artists can agree on, it's that practitioners must be prepared to deal with chaos. At least that's what Sean and Nesta Kennedy, co-owners of Kasumi Mountain Martial Arts, were counting on when they decided to bring seven of Asheville's martial arts instructors together — all representing different traditions — to present at their upcoming seminar, Chaos From All Angles.

The event takes place Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7-8, and will offer perspectives from taekwondo, budo taijutsu, dan zan ryu, tang soo do, krav maga and systema.

It's not every day that collaboration happens across traditions in the martial arts world. But as the instructors have met and discussed their different approaches, they have found some common ground. “To me, the ultimate lesson of any great martial art is to adapt and flow toward a greater purpose: deeper self-exploration, collaboration with others and building community,” says Sean, who is also the head instructor at Kasumi Mountain Martial Arts. “That was the impetus for this Chaos Seminar. It has been really rewarding to pull this together, and there are already plans in the works to make sure this is the first of many collaborations to come.”

The seminar is also a memorial event in honor of Sarah Kosub, a beloved local martial artist and teacher who passed away in 2008. 

Kasumi Mountain Martial Arts is located at 640 Merrimon Ave. To learn more about the Chaos From All Angles seminar and to register, visit

We asked a sampling of the instructors this question: “What does chaos mean to you, and how does your particular martial art tradition teach us how to deal with the unexpected?” Here are their responses:

Stephen Opper, owner and operator at Manual Medicine:

Chaos invokes an image of complete disorder and confusion. However, in the original Greek meaning, chaos refers to the formless void, the state preceding the creation of the universe. It is at once both completely empty and infinitely full of possibility. This is analogous to the Daoist concept of wuji, the primordial state of the universe before the forces of yin and yang separated, and then recombined to form everything in existence.

At the root of the Chinese internal martial and alchemical arts is the practice of returning to wuji — the original state of the cosmos — as well as the original state of our own consciousness. I love the fact that the meaning of chaos contains both of these seemingly opposing concepts. It brings to mind a hurricane, whose destructive power lies not only in its sheer force but in its constantly changing vectors. But at the center of a hurricane is its eye — a place of calm and tranquility.

Combat is chaotic. It is disordered and confusing. If we focus on the mayhem, we are likely to get swept up in it and overwhelmed by it. But if we focus on maintaining a place of tranquility in our own center then we can respond naturally and spontaneously. We train to deal with the unexpected by going with the flow.

Sean Kennedy, head instructor of Kasumi Mountain Martial Arts:

Budo taijutsu, which brings together nine different arts from the ninja and samurai, was born to handle the unexpected. The ninja people were always at a disadvantage, so their martial art became the art of being ready for anything. We train empty-handed and with weapons. We train for standing combat, ground combat and cornered-by-a-wall combat. There’s even an entire school that trained for the uncertain and slippery floors of sea ships. We learn to get creative and improvise, to keep a light heart under pressure and to use weaknesses to our advantage. 

I've been studying martial arts since age 5, exploring several different disciplines over the past 38 years. Some were more based in striking, some more grappling and some more real-world self-defense. What I have found at the root of each art is the lesson of learning to go with the flow and adapt for each moment, to come out on top. But beyond that, I've learned that coming out on top is not the ultimate lesson in martial arts training.

Steve Ledford, head instructor of Asheville Integrative Combatives:

For us, chaos refers to two things. One is the natural order of combatives — meaning that anything can happen, and to expect a fight to go “A,B,C” is a sure way to lose. Though we have to learn ideas/concepts within that technique, the ultimate goal is to become a critical thinker under stress and be able to adapt. The second idea of chaos for us is to overwhelm the attacker. As defenders, we become the "attacker" and do so from multiple angles in order to instill a confusion in the situation and to gain the advantage/momentum in the fight.

Chaos to me, describes a set of circumstances that includes qualities that are perceived as a combination of disorder, stressed capacity and emotional overload. These qualities relate to each other in the following way: Disorder is experienced in the absence of discernible patterns. Humans, wired to recognize patterns, exhaust their capacity as they endlessly search for order where none appears to exist. The emotional response to this sequence is “overload,” which is typically expressed as either some form of paralysis or some form of submission. In a self-defense scenario, either of those expressions create enormous vulnerability and often lead to great harm or even death.

Tony Morris, head instructor at Asheville Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do:

Traditional taekwondo is my art of training and expertise. I have practiced from the age of 10, since 1972. It is a very well-rounded art and tradition, which anticipates and informs all domains of health — mind, body and spirit. Through this practice, students achieve heightened awareness, harmony building, energy redirection, conflict resolution, internal and external strength and resolve and — when necessary — highly effective self-defense. 

Taekwondo teaches its students to be grounded and decisive, rooted in foundation and principle and to be able to reconnect to this state in an instant. Over time, with practice, a state of elevated focus is taught and cultivated. When a practitioner connects to this focus, it creates a great clarity. From a state of grounded foundation and clarity, one may use resources appropriate to the circumstances in order to handle the situation at hand, regardless of how chaotic it may get. Practitioners of this art become very resourceful and effective martial artists — both literally and metaphorically.

Thabiti Sabahiv, head instructor of Honu Martial Arts Academy:

Chaos is the unexpected, the unplanned, the unforeseen. In dan zan ryu, we train to deal with that by training a fundamental principle of softness and yielding. To "go with" is the fundamental principle of jujitsu. Just as when river-rafting or kayaking, you do not try to fight against the direction of the river's flow, but rather you go with the current, so that you can then guide your way to safety. So too, we go with the energy and intent given to us. As H.S. Okazaki, founder of dan zan ryu jujitsu, says, "Only by cultivating a receptive state of mind, without preconceived ideas or thoughts, can one master the secret art of reacting spontaneously and naturally without hesitation and without purposeless resistance." Breathe and go with. That's jujitsu. Thabiti Sabahiv was not available for a photo.

About Lea McLellan
Lea McLellan is a freelance writer who likes to write stories about music, art, food, wellness and interesting locals doing interesting things.

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