What is a Langkah?

Langkah (Indonesian) - noun: literally step, move, pace, action, measure, stride, leap, foot, footstep, gesture, tread, footpace

In Indonesian martial arts, Pencak Silat, it commonly refers to geometric patterns on the floor used to train footwork and develop an understanding of the role of the lower body in maintaining balance and a base from which to generate power.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

NCIS: Abby and McGee

In March, I wrote a blog post about how much I love the portrayal of the relationship between Penelope Garcia and Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds.

Criminal Minds: Morgan and Garcia

Now I want to write about another great relationship on TV. This time, it's Abby Sciuto and Tim McGee. What I love about them is that they did date (or something like it) in season 1. From there, they had some rough spots in their relationship but, in the long run, they became best friends.

That kind of friendship is amazing. I enjoy something similar with two of my three ex-girlfriends. Judith, my first girlfriend, and I are, at this point, pen pals. She lives in the Netherlands and, well, I live a lot of places but not there. We don't talk frequently, but we have a strong relationship.

Kristyn and I, though, are the closest example to Abby and McGee. Kristyn and I dated for about six months. She broke up with me not long after my twenty-first birthday. We remained friends, though it was a little uncertain at first.

Now, we are close friends. We don't talk frequently outside of Facebook but I visit her two or three times a year, and I consider her a dear friend.

People like Abby and McGee, and like me and Kristyn, share an interesting bond. For me and Kristyn, we dated during a pivotal time in each of our lives. We helped each other through some rough patches.

When I think back on it, I think, "Six months? How could so much have happened in six month?" But it did. I think that's the nature of youth.

I lost my virginity at seventeen and settled into a completely monogamous relationship with Margaret at twenty-three, and we married when I was twenty-five.

In the six, nearly seven, years between seventeen and twenty-three, so much happened. When I look back on it, it I wonder how I packed so many crucial moments into such a short time span. Of course, at twenty-three, seven years represented nearly a third of my life, and now it's less than a sixth. Time's a funny thing, huh?

About a month before she broke up with me, Kristyn and I discussed marriage. Not in the "let's consider this" way but, rather, in the vein of "we might consider this some day, so let's make sure there's some feasibility to it." Had my relationship with Margaret gone sideways, I would likely have wound up back with Kristyn.

In fact, not long after Margaret and I started dating, Kristyn and I discussed the possibility of getting back together. I told her, "Well, you know, I just started dating Margaret, and it seems good. If it runs off the rails, though, we'll revisit this conversation." Obviously, Margaret and I never ran off the rails.

The point I'm approaching, though, is this: when people date, even for a short time, and they love each other, they share so much of themselves it becomes impossible to completely extricate from each other. Yes, you may never talk again but, from time to time, you'll still wonder how that person's doing.

The bond remains whether a relationship persists or not. I think, though, it's beautiful when the romantic relationship bridges the gap to friendship. Continuing to have that person, who you shared those intimacies with, in your life is powerful and, in the case of healthy relationships all the way around, I think it strengthens future relationships with other people.

Kristyn and I attended each other's weddings, and we talked about her problems after her divorce. She and my brother had been friends and, in fact, had dated briefly. After his death, we worked as a sort of emotional three-legged racing team where we supported each other at various points.

Seeing a relationship like that portrayed on TV is great. Showing people it is possible to remain friends and, in fact, grow together after the romantic relationship is powerful.


The Wandering Guru



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Life Raft

"It's funny. The day you lose someone isn't the worst, at least you've got something to do. It's all the days they stay dead." -- The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), *Dr. Who*, S09E11, "Heaven Sent"


Ain't that the truth!


When I heard my brother, Rick, had died, I went numb and immediately started making plans to get from the Philippines to Indiana.


Planning kept me distracted.


Once the plan was made, I had most of a day remaining until my flight left. *Then* the hell started. I had to start dealing with the fact of his death. I had to contemplate life without talking to him, without seeing him, without exchanging banter or rolling my eyes at his ineptitude with sarcasm. I realized I would never again make fun of his narcissism or be able to call him when I needed backup for some scrape I'd gotten into. I'd never again have to haul his ass out of some fire he'd found himself in. I'd never hit him or be hit by him in training again. I'd never get to see him play with his kids again. I'd never ... 


Damn. That sucked, and the pain overwhelmed me like a tidal wave. When it did recede, it was only to build strength so it could knock me flat again.


Over time, of course, I learned to ride the waves. I built a raft of emotional scar tissue and moved on with my life because life moved on. I learned to navigate it without my dearest compadre.


Of course, sometimes the tides rise too high for my raft, and I get washed under again. It happens less frequently as the years pass because, with each sorrow-bath, I improve my raft and my navigation skills, but the ocean is always there.




The Wandering Guru

Rick and I, ready for Ren Festivities

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

One Ting I Know

I wrote this short story back in 2002, and an online martial arts magazine, part of the Martial Arts Planet discussion forums, published it. It's a quirky little story about the development of a fictional martial arts system. It's pure satire and contains quite a few word plays, so keep an eye out for them.


One Ting I Know

By Mike Casto


Ting Gar is an ancient form of Kung Fu from the Kung Pao province of China. Its founder was Lew Ting. Some legends paint him as a Chinese Robin Hood … but this is inaccurate. Lew Ting was a thief and a brigand...


One day, Lew Ting stopped a carriage expecting to find passengers with money aboard. When he opened the door of the carriage, though, he found three monks from a nearby temple. Lew Ting was outraged.


He had spent a lot of time cutting down a tree and dragging it into the road so the carriage would have to stop. In his anger he threw his bow to the ground and cursed his luck. The carriage driver pulled his sword and would have killed Lew Ting but the eldest of the monks stopped him.


To Lew Ting the monk said, "If I had money I would give it to you. You obviously need money more than I ... or you would not be willing to go to all this trouble and hard work to get it. But, alas, I have no money.


"I will give you, instead, something far more valuable. These are my most prized possessions … but, like the money, I sense that you have far greater need for these than I do." The monk handed Lew Ting a binder containing several parchments.


Lew Ting's confusion over the monk's actions began to turn to anger. No matter what they were worth to the priests, the writings were worthless to the illiterate Lew Ting. Something about the monk's manner, though, defused Lew Ting's rising anger.


He humbly accepted the bound parchments and bowed low to the monk. The monk blessed Lew Ting then climbed back into the carriage. The driver, having dragged the tree from the road while the monk and Lew Ting talked, flicked the reins and the carriage continued down the road.


Over the next few months Lew Ting tried to sell the parchments but could find no buyers. He considered taking them to the local monastery but how would he explain his possession of them. Finally he hid them in his home and tried to forget about them.


They remained hidden for several years. Lew Ting, though, found that he could not stop thinking about them. He wondered what was written on them that could be so valuable to the monk … for he had believed the monk's sincerity that the documents were prized possessions. He decided to find out what they said and why they had been so precious to the monk.


Lew Ting needed to know but he did not trust anyone to read it to him. He managed to steal enough money to hire a tutor to teach him how to read. For months he worked diligently until he could read the monk's parchments.


The first was a treatise on Buddhism. Lew Ting was not interested in Buddhism but he continued reading just for the sheer pleasure of reading. As he continued, he found that all of them dealt with the teachings of Buddha. He figured they probably were important to the monk … but to Lew Ting they were worthless. No wonder he had not been able to find someone to buy them.


Lew Ting tossed the documents into his campfire. A handful of pages fell from the bottom of the stack and did not make it to the fire. Lew Ting scooped them up and was about to add them to the fire when the writings on the pages caught his attention.


These documents concerned martial arts. Specifically the definition, manifestations and development of the internal power known as Chi. Much of it was beyond Lew Ting's comprehension … but he struggled through the words and tried to make sense of them. He tried to do the exercises described in the texts but felt like a three legged ox trying to climb a tree.


Then he had a dream. The monk who had given him the parchments was talking to him. "Well, my son, I see the parchments have been valuable. You have learned to read. You have learned of Buddha and, even though you reject his teachings, knowledge of his teachings is the first step to true awakening. Now you seek to develop your Chi.


You have done well … not as well as I had hoped, but better than I honestly expected. I will help you." He explained the writings and led Lew Ting through the exercises. Lew Ting woke in the morning and felt enlightened.


He took what he had learned from the dream and began developing his own exercises. He moved through motions and felt the Chi growing within him. He wanted to test his newfound ability.


He went to a nearby kwoon, a martial arts school, and challenged the head instructor, Master Fo Lee. The master refused to fight. Lew Ting attacked the master with one of the techniques he had developed. The master easily countered Lew Ting's attack and knocked Lew Ting to the ground.


Lew Ting got up and attacked again. Again the master countered and Lew Ting's face slammed into the cobbles of the kwoon's courtyard. Lew Ting crawled from the kwoon and returned home.


When his humiliation subsided, Lew Ting found himself angry. He was angry at himself, angry at the old monk, angry at the master of the school. In short, he was angry at the world. He swore that he would never be beaten again.


He began training rigorously and developing a fighting method that would be unbeatable. He called the art Ting Gar Chi Gung (translation: Ting style of Chi development) and named himself the master. When he felt he was ready, he returned to the kwoon.


The master greeted him and welcomed him. He remembered Lew Ting and hoped that he had come to his senses and returned, in humility, to seek training and proper instruction. Lew Ting attacked him with a technique he called "Blinding Wind." As the master brushed the sand from his eyes Lew Ting hit him with a wine jug. The master was knocked unconscious.


The students rushed out to see what had happened. The senior student of the kwoon, Tra Tor, took one look at his unconscious master and fell to his knees begging Lew Ting to teach him. Tra Tor became Lew Ting's first student. Many more would follow as the legend of Ting Gar grew.


Now, Ting Gar Chi Gung has come to the west and been renamed to suit the simplistic western tongue. It is now known simply as "Chi Ting" and is still considered one of the preeminent forms of combative martial arts.


© Mike Casto, 2002




The Wandering Guru

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Worlds of Fiction

I recently read Dr. Sleep by Stephen King. First, I loved the book. A great sequel to The Shining, and it was nice to catch up with Danny Torrance as an adult.

In one scene, though, there's this line: "He turned the basket so one end faced the newly arrived RV and flicked off the Glock's safety with his thumb."

Now, I do not claim expertise in firearms as one of my skills, but I grew up around them, and I shot a lot over the years. I certainly know enough about Glocks to know they do not have a manual safety. The primary safety on a Glock is a small tab inset into the trigger. If that tab is not depressed, the gun won't fire. As such, you don't "flick off" the safety on a Glock with your thumb or any other digit. You simply squeeze the trigger. Your trigger finger releases the safety as it pulls the trigger.

After I read that line, I thought, "What the hell? Glocks don't have safeties like that. Come on, Stephen!" That's what I thought. I see now the phrasing of it looks like I know Mr. King personally, but I don't. I've never met him, though we do have at least one friend in common. Misplaced familiarity aside, though, I figured someone of King's stature would have done the homework or someone in his circle of readers would have caught the error and pointed out before it made it to print.

Then I thought, "Wait. Glocks in my world don't have thumb-released safeties. This story isn't set in my world. Apparently Glocks in this world do have manual safeties."

This led me to a realization about fiction. I was aware of it on some level, but I had set up a false barrier for its effects.

Here's the thing. Fiction never happens in our world. Even if, like Dr. Sleep, 90+% of it looks like our world, it's not. Even if 100% of it looks like our world, it's not. Granted, there are exceptions to this. Alternate History comes to mind as a genre, but even then it's not our world.

As an example, in my own alternate history novella, Annie Oakley and the Beast of Chicago, Dr. H. H. Holmes owns a large building in Chicago two miles away from where the Wild West show has set up outside the fairgrounds for the 1893 World's Fair. The ground floor of the building contained Holmse's pharmacy and several other businesses. That much jibes with real world Chicago in 1893. In my research, though, I decided I wanted different businesses neighboring the pharmacy than those that did in the real world. So, in my world, Holmes's pharmacy sits between a jewelry and a candy shop. I forget what business really occupied those spaces, but in the world I created in the story, those are the stores.

Another example is in SEAL Team 666 by Weston Ochse, he has his SEALs using equipment and tactics that are fifteen years out-of-date because he doesn't want to compromise the safety of real SEALs by sharing the equipment and tactics they use now. So, while his SEALs are functioning in the current time, in their world, they use weapons and tactics the operators in our world consider outmoded.

Next time you're reading a novel, even if it has no supernatural elements and seems set 100% in our regular, day-to-day world, don't forget it is not our world. The author may have chosen to make the changes you spot to support the story, as I did in Annie Oakley, or to prevent bad guys from getting useful information, as Weston did in SEAL Team 666. I don't know, but I assume various other novels, TV shows, and movies intentionally change things about, for instance, forensics or police procedure for the same reasons Wes's SEALs don't use modern tools and methods. Sure, sometimes, it's because the author didn't know better and do proper research but, in the end, it doesn't really matter.

A story sets up its own world with its own rules, even if they closely mimic those of the world we live in. If a story violates the rules of its own world, that's bad. Bad author, no bourbon. However, if it does not violate its internal logic, even if it seems wrong in our world, let it slide. For all my gun-familiar friends who read, bear this in mind if you read Dr. Sleep, but also bear in mind that, maybe, the standard capacity of a 1911 pistol is 8+1 or 6+1 instead of the 7+1 in our world. For anyone reading this who's unfamiliar with those numbers, the first number is how many rounds the magazine can hold, and "+1" designates an additional chambered round. As long as every standard 1911 in the story has that capacity, it's not really an error. It's just the way that world works.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Who Knew?

The Goldbergs, in so many ways, parallel's my experiences in the 80s. In S01E23, Adam explains how his dad was a simple man with simple interests and a simple, direct, approach to parenting. He said, "He wasn't a complicated or, frankly, that interesting but, every once in a while, he would accidentally reveal something about himself that would make you feel like you didn't know him at all."

Now, my dad was far from uninteresting but, for the most part, he wasn't very complicated. As Adam Goldberg said of his father, "Yep, some people glorify the past, but not my dad. To him, it's like it never even happened." That's an exaggeration, but I can see where he gets it. In the episode, Mr. Goldberg says, quite casually, "I was in a plane crash once." Then he says, "Nap time." and heads for his favorite chair. His daughter, looking at photos, says, "Dad, is this you with Lou Reed?"

He replies, "Yeah. We waited tables together."

When his daughter asks for more info, he just says, "Eh, it was a whole thing." and walks away.

I had some experiences with my dad to rival those.

When I was in my early 20s, I trained Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate. I heard a funny story about a man named Bill Wallace. Bill "Superfoot" Wallace is a Karate legend. I told my dad this humorous story, and dad replied, "Yeah. Bill was like that."

I said, "'Bill was like that.' What does that mean? You act like you knew him."

Dad said, "I did. We hung out at the same bar for a while. He was a drinking buddy."

"You and Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace were drinking buddies?"

"Yup."

"Dad, I've been training in martial arts for most of my life. Why have you never mentioned this before?"

"You never asked."

I sat in stunned silence for a moment, then asked, "Did you know Bruce Lee?"

"Nope. Never met him, but I was friends with Leonard Pickle."

I said, "Leonard Pickle? You mean my instructor's instructor?"

"Yeah. Good guy. Sparred him once, in fact."

"What? Wait? You 'sparred' him?"

"Yeah."

"I never knew you trained. What do you mean you sparred with Mr. Pickle?"

"I didn't train. Not really. I was friends with the close-quarters combatives instructor in the Air Force, and I worked out with him in his back yard for a couple of years, but it wasn't formal. I mentioned that to Leonard one night while we were talking, and he invited me back to his place to spar."

Another time, I showed dad the video of a friend of mine teaching how to build a debris hut. Dad said, "Sure. I've made a lot of those."

I said, "What? You have?"

"Sure. There were a bunch of those in the hills around your grandma's house. Everyone who hunted those hills built them, and we all maintained them. That way, if you got caught out in a storm, you could crawl into a shelter and stay warm and relatively dry. If I wanted an early start, I'd go sleep in one near my tree stand."

As an adult, I heard many stories from my dad or about my dad that surprised me. I realized he was chock full of skills and experiences I had never guessed he possessed.


The Wandering Guru

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Freaks and Geeks

A friend recommended I watch Freaks and Geeks. It stars Linda Cardellini (Mad Men), John Francis Daley (Bones), James Franco and Seth Rogen (The Interview), Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), Samm Levine and Martin Starr, who are somewhat lesser known than the rest, but still familiar faces.

It's set in 1980 and focuses on the lives and attendant dramas of a group of high school kids. I didn't hit high school until '85, so a lot of the details are different from my experience, but it still rings a lot of bells.

All the kids wanting to be like the cool kids, but none of the kids really know what "cool" is, even the cool kids. They're all stumbling through, doing the best they can, trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in the world around them.

What I find interesting, though, is how much things like "girl" and "woman" are used as insults. It's certainly true to the time. I remember being called those things, feeling insulted, and being terrified of being perceived as such.

What a strange world that was. Even stranger to think some people still live in that mindset.

What I find most bizarre, in retrospect, is the fact that my first martial arts instructor was a woman. I started training with Melinda Baer in 1978, and she was something of a badass.

I also grew up watching my dad and various uncles treat women with respect. Looking back on it, I wonder how I ever considered it an insult to be called a "girl."

Peer pressure was an amazing thing to experience.

I'm only at the third episode, but it's obvious it's not going to be all fun and games. This show has humorous moments and, overall, it's a comedy, but it's already touched on some heavy topics. I don't know if it will address any of them head-on or not since it only lasted one season, but it's definitely a good show with a lot of potential to go beyond "good."


The Wandering Guru

"All my new friends think I'm some goody-two-shoes and all my old friends think I'm throwing my life away. What the hell am I supposed to do?" -- Lindsay (Linda Cardellini),Freaks and Geeks, S01E02



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We can't sweep this under a rug

"Nothing good ever happens when people care more about our differences than the things we share in common." — Capheus, S02E10, Sense8

What a powerful statement, rooted in a profound ideal.

Some people say, "We focus too much on racism. If we truly want it to go away, we should ignore it."

They think this approach espouses the ideal of this statement, but it doesn't. In fact, it exacerbates the problem.

If we focus on what we have in common, racism vanishes. This is true. If I look at my friend Linda Addison, for instance, and I see nothing more than a fellow human being who enjoys many of the same things I enjoy, the difference in our skin color becomes less than meaningless.

However, if someone else chooses to focus on the differences, and they say something negative about her because of the color of her skin, it is racist. If I ignore it and figure, "If I don't focus on it, it will go away." then I fall prey to the pitfall Edmund Burke warned of when he said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Pointing out racism when it sprouts its ugly head is not "bringing attention to it and prolonging it."

Racism and xenophobia are as old as humanity. Ignoring them won't make them go away. They're not a passing fad. The only way to diminish them is to address them.

Things have certainly improved in my lifetime. When I was a kid, no one thought twice about telling a joke about a n!@@#r or a Polack or a Jew. Few people would even do a double take at such a joke. Now, fortunately, things have improved, but they're a long way from resolved and, I suspect, our country as a whole has backslid a bit recently, and that's acceptable. Progress never happens without some friction and backsliding. There's a reason for the adage, "two steps forward and one back."

But the only way to keep progressing is to point it out when we see it.

In order to minimize your own prejudice, focus on what you have in common with those around you, even if you initially don't like someone. For that matter, find commonalities especially with those people you initially don't like. It may not help you like them, but it might, at least, prevent you from hating them.

When you see someone else focusing on the differences, point it out. Call them on it.

The world is a long way from perfect, but the only way to approach perfection is to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the general direction we want to go as humans.

And, for the record, while I'm specifically talking about racism here because that's the context of the original quote, this also applies to misogyny and prejudice against people who live "alternative lifestyles" we don't understand or agree with.


The Wandering Guru

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." — Mark Twain