In Defense of Chaos

I had a roommate in college who was a pathological liar. I don’t want to say his name and embarrass him, but it’s Cory. He used to lie about everything, even small matters of little consequence. He would make up stories about things that happened just for the thrill of it.

I, on the other hand, am a terrible liar. If my story is tested by anyone with half a brain cell, I collapse and spill the beans. “You just have to commit to it,” he would tell me. “If they don’t believe you, tell an even bigger lie.” And he would do this. His lies would snowball into epic proportions. One time, a teacher tried to file a police report on his behalf after his excuse for missing a project was so convincing. I would get worried and tell him to be careful. He would shrug, “As long as I stick to it, they’ll eventually give up.”

He was better than me because he knew in his gut that he was willing to take it to the bitter end. I didn’t have that resolve, I just wanted to do it quickly and easily and be done with the whole matter. So when I was tested, I wasn’t prepared for the next step. You could chase him down the rabbit hole of his lies, but then you were caught in his territory. And trust me, you don’t want to be there.

Marcelo Garcia is arguably one of the greatest practitioners of jiu jitsu in the history of the sport. He uploads most of his techniques and training videos online. When asked if he was worried about his opponents scouting him, he responded, “If someone studies my game they will be entering my game. And I know it better than they ever will.”


I have this argument with my friend Claudio all the time. He likes to know everything about an opponent before a competition. He watches all the videos out there and constructs a plan. I like to know just a few things, and I try not to put too much thought into them. I want to play my game, not his. If I obsess over what my opponent is going to do, then I become reactionary.

The US Air Force pilot John Boyd became a famous military strategist and pioneered the OODA loop, a notion that explains how individuals make decisions in combat scenarios. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act.

The idea is that you take in information, process it, and then act on it. And then you start all over again with new information as it unfolds. This becomes a continuous cycle, a feedback loop. Meanwhile, your opponent is also going through the same process. Boyd argues that the goal is to “get inside” of your opponent’s loop. You then are controlling the dynamic and playing on your terms, like Cory’s lies or Marcelo’s strategies.


I learned the fundamentals of wrestling at a young age. I remember my first year wrestling, when I was on bottom, I would reach back and try to pull my opponent off me. My coach told me, “Never reach back.” It was hammered in as a fundamental rule of wrestling.

That all changed when I met Kendall Cross, who was a gold medalist at the 1996 Olympics. He turned everything I knew about the sport upside down. He thought about things differently than everyone else.

kendall cross

When he was wrestling in practice, he would deliberately put himself in dangerous positions, then weasel his way out. The techniques he showed were not only different, but they were often times the exact opposite of what other coaches would show.

“Don’t reach back? Are you kidding me? I made a living with the reach-back-step-over,” he would say with a grin, “It’s highly technical.”

He had an amazing energy that shone through in his wrestling. He rarely ever got in stalemate positions, because when the action slowed down, he would do something wild and crazy.

kendall scramble

Instead of grinding out a takedown – a position he would probably win anyway – he would do a forward roll, or something. It was the opposite of what you expected. Maybe you would even wind up in a dominant position. But not for long, because before you could take advantage of it he would roll again. And so on, ad infinitum.

Instead of facing his odds in a stalemate, he drew you into his crazy game. Like Marcelo, he is better at his game than you are. And like Cory, he was fine putting himself in danger because he knew he would take it to the bitter end. He was like a gambler with an unlimited reserve, who kept doubling down on red and spinning the wheel. He would eventually get you.


The danger of thinking linearly is that you can’t adapt and change as problems arise. If you depend on a neat and tidy plan of action, then Kendall comes in and scrambles it up, you will be left adrift without a path.

Success Graph

I’ve always loved huge and sudden changes in a sort of perverse way. If your company is bought out, instead of worrying about your job security, why not welcome it and see how you can benefit? Chaos can be your friend, I think, but you have to embrace it. You have to be willing to go the distance, like Cory.

I rarely ever outline my blog posts. When I outline, I feel the need to jam my arguments in, in order to meet a larger aim, and it comes across as forced and fake. I often don’t even know what point I’m trying to make until I write the last sentence. I had no idea when I sat down this morning that I would be writing this sentence right now. I just had a vague idea that I would write something about the art of scrambling.

On Tuesday when I wrote Flu Ground, I sat down to write a recap of my struggles leading up to my fight. I was planning on ending with a description of my fight. But then I started vibing on Flu-Like Symptoms and I ran with it. As I sit here typing, I am debating what to title this post. Should it be: “The Art of Scrambling”, “In Defense of Chaos”, or “Spinning the Wheel”? I’ll decide at the last minute – I don’t want to get locked into any conclusion because I don’t know how I’m going to conclude this yet!Mike Tyson Plan

Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I’ve been punched in the mouth several times in recent memory, and let me tell you, it rattles you to the core. But I think Tyson is talking about something different, something deeper and more primal. When you lay down a plan and it doesn’t work, you lose twice as hard. You not only get rocked, but you become disheartened. A punch is an agent of chaos. When you get punched, you become reactive. Your opponent is inside your OODA loop. He is calling the shots.

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When I go into a fight, I like to play out the worst case scenario in my head beforehand. I imagine my opponent in full mount, raining down fists and elbows on my bloody face. I try to expect the worst. If I don’t do this, a punch in the mouth will be the end of me. This is going to be brutal, I think, but no matter what happens, I will take this thing to the bitter end.

When you throw away your rosy plan of action, a punch in the mouth is no longer earth shattering. You can see it for what it really is: just something that hurts.

Embrace the chaos.

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