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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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ketchum If You Can

Jack Ketchum is a pretty big name in horror fiction but, when I first met him, I didn't realize who he was.

I met him in '05 at the World Horror Convention in New York City. I attended the convention because my friend & mentor, Joe R. Lansdale, was there. That's also the event where I met Linda Addison, who has become one of my dearest friends.

I wound up hanging out quite a bit with a guy named Lee, an author and volunteer for the con. Lee was very cool, and I wish I could remember his last name. Nonetheless, at one point, I was chatting with Lee when a guy walked up.

Lee introduced the man as Dallas. They talked a little, then Dallas asked if Lee and I had dinner plans. We did not, so Dallas recommended we go get some food. He needed to get something from his room, so Lee and I tagged along to his room.

In the room, Dallas poured a shot of vodka for Lee and himself and asked if I wanted one. I explained I wasn't partial to vodka. Dallas said, "I have some absinthe. Wanna hit of it?"

I had never tried absinthe, so I said, "Sure." I quickly learned why the liquor has such a reputation. I had about a finger of absinthe cut with water, and it was still something of a gut punch and head rush. After our drinks, we left the room. I don't remember what came up, but something separated me from them.

Later, I saw Dallas, and we chatted a bit before he went on about his business. A young man walked up to me with a starstruck expression and said, "You know Jack Ketchum?"
That's how I met Jack Ketchum. I chatted with him a few other times at other events, but I can't claim to have known him well. A passing acquaintance. I have, however, read some of his work, and there's a reason he's well-known and respected.

In my limited experience, he seemed like a genuinely nice guy and, from what I've heard from others who knew him better, he was generous with his time and helpful to those around him without asking anything in return.

I didn't know him well, but the news of his death hit me pretty solidly. While I don't have any liquor, much less absinthe, on hand, I do have a cup of water, so I'll pretend it has some absinthe in it and raise a toast to a good man, good author, and someone I'm honored to have known to even such a small extent.

Salud and RIP.

The Wandering Guru

Jack Ketchum, RIP

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Sensitive Topic

I don't know the age demographics for people reading my blog, but I want to discuss something I wish someone had explained to me when I was a kid or teen. The subject is "being gay."

I try to keep my posts PG but this one's going to get a tad risque. Probably spiking into NC-17 but definitely up into the territory of R.

Now, the reason I use that specific word will become apparent but, what I'm really referring to is understanding sexuality, whether it's hetero, homo, bi, or pan.

I grew up in a largely blue-collar community in central Indiana in the 70s and 80s. Calling a guy gay was always considered an insult. Friends might get away with it in jibes, but it was an insult. If we considered a product inferior, we labeled it gay.

From my current vantage, it was rather appalling, though I'm sure there are still places where this mindset prevails. In fact, in the region where I grew up, it's probably still the default attitude. I honestly don't know. I don't spend much time in that area and, when I do, I don't usually discuss such things with the people I talk to there.

I don't recall any openly homosexual students in my school. I know some were labeled as such simply because they matched the stereotypes and, at least one of them, did come out sometime after high school, but I don't remember knowing anyone in my school was homosexual.

Here's the thing: no one ever explained what "gay" was. I might have looked it up in the dictionary but, even then, I don't think I grokked it. Scratch that. I know I didn't because that didn't happen until a few years ago.

Thinking back on it, I would guess many of my friends would agree. We didn't know what homosexuality was but, to paraphrase Judge Potter Stewart, "we knew it when we saw it." The idea of homosexuality was, in my understanding, defined by actions coupled with a sort of communal consensus.

Assuming you're a guy:

  1. Did you look at a guy in the shower? You might be gay.
  2. Did you touch yourself while looking at him? You're probably gay.
  3. Did you fantasize about licking his balls? You're definitely gay.
Those were the kind of metrics we used in discussions about it, and they were both situational and black-and-white. So, if you licked or sucked a penis, you're gay. You were in prison at the time? Doesn't matter. You're gay. You were forced? Take your pick because either you're gay or a wimp who didn't fight back hard enough.

When I saw Shawshank Redemption, my personal understanding on that shifted because I'd been in some fights and knew if that many guys cornered me, I'd fight like hell, but they'd probably be able to overpower me.

Now, here's what I wish someone had explained to me way earlier in my life.

Sexuality isn't defined purely by actions. I know a woman who is bisexual but has never had sex with another woman. A much younger version of me would have considered that impossible. Now, though, I understand it's defined by "attraction."

If you are sexually attracted people of the same sex, you are homosexual. If you are sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex, you are heterosexual. Both, you're bi. Doesn't matter if you've ever had sex with anyone.

I remember hearing someone, I don't remember the context, say, "I sucked a guy's dick in prison, but I'm not gay." At the time, that made no sense. I was, I think, still in high school, and I remember looking at my friends, and someone said, "Nope. He's gay."

Now, I understand how this might happen. A guy might have sex in prison with another guy but not be gay. If he doesn't consider guys sexually attractive, he's not homosexual. Period.

It seems strange that it took me ~40 years to grasp this concept, but that's how deeply ingrained the cultural bias was.

The Wandering Guru

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Uber Stories

Uber Story #1: Poor Planning on Your Part Does Not Constitute an Emergency on My Part

I got a ride request at 5:48 AM. I arrived to pick the young woman up at 5:59 AM. She got into the car and said, "Man, I'm running late."

"Going to work?"

"No. It's a federal halfway house. I just got out of prison."

"Oh. Oops."

"Yeah. I'm supposed to be there by 6:00 AM, but I have a fifteen-minute window."

"So," I think, "you planned to get there at 6:15. You left yourself zero room for Murphy factors. Now, Murphy has tripped you up."

"GPS estimates 25 minutes."

"What? It should only take 15 minutes."

"There's something happening on the freeway. I don't know what it is, but I saw a bunch of emergency vehicles in the southbound lane when I came to pick you up." We had to head south to get her to her location.

"Damn. I'll throw in ten dollars, cash, if you get me there before 6:15."

I laughed. "That won't even put a dent in the speeding ticket if I get pulled over. Never mind that I could lose my job."

"A Lyft driver told me you guys, Lyft, Uber, taxi, and bus drivers, can't get pulled over. The cops ignore you."

More laughter from me. "I don't know if he was misinformed, joking, or lying, but ... no."

I dropped her off at 6:24 AM.

Uber Story #2: Good Guys Finish Fine

I got a ride request from a woman I'll call GG. GG has osteoporosis and, last night, while walking her dog, her dog took off after a squirrel, caught GG off guard, and caused her to fall. She shattered her elbow on the sidewalk.

With her husband in Denver for work, GG was stranded because she couldn't drive due to the broken elbow and the pain it caused. She needed to go to the doctor, get a prescription for pain meds, and get back home. She called Uber, and I got the request.

I picked her up and drove her to her doctor, which was a 30-minute drive to a town called Black Canyon City. I waited 1.5 hours while she was in the doctor's office and went to pick up her prescription. When she requested an Uber ride, I accepted.

She was surprised she got me again. I explained, "There are no Uber drivers in Black Canyon City, so I waited for you because I knew you needed a ride back home."

She asked if we could hit a drive-thru on the way so she could get some food to take her pain meds with. We did.

When I dropped her off, she called her daughter (who had actually requested the Uber drive for her) and asked the daughter to add a large tip. I didn't overhear the conversation, so I didn't know how much of a tip she requested. Then GG came to the car and said, "My daughter can't afford the tip I want to give you on her card. Can I write you a check?"

I said, "Sure."

I hoped for $50. I would have been satisfied with $20. Hell, I would have been satisfied with whatever she gave me. Her situation sucked, and I was glad I could help. When she gave me the check ... I won't say how much it was for, but it was more than $50. In fact, $50 had to go hide in a corner out of embarrassment.

Honestly, I wouldn't have been upset if she'd decided not to tip me, but I'm not complaining about the extra money. It's nice when "above and beyond" gets recognized and compensated.

In the end, it pays to be a decent human being. In this case, it paid financially but, even when there's no financial compensation, it's worth the time and effort.

The Wandering Guru

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Worlds of Fiction -- Addendum

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled Worlds of Fiction. In it, I discussed the fact that fictitious worlds are not our world, even if they seem like it. As such, if an author writes something like, "he released the safety on his Glock," you can assume that, in the world of the story, Glocks do have manual safeties.

While this is entirely true and a valuable thing to remember, it doesn't give authors carte blanche with such things. A cardinal sin in fiction is for the narrative to kick the reader out, and things like this can easily force the reader out of the story.

Even in worlds that are distinctly not our regular world, such as high fantasy or sci-fi on another planet or another dimension, there's no such thing as carte blanche in the long run. When the author develops the world, rules get established. Rules about the science, magic, societies, geography, etc. take shape. If the author writes something that violates an existing rule, that will kick the reader out of the narrative too.

Readers, cut authors a little slack by remembering, no matter what the world on the page looks or feels like, it is not your world.

Authors, keep the rules you develop in mind and, if your world bears any resemblance to our world, keep it as consistent with our world as possible to avoid such errors.

I know, it's impossible to get every detail accurate to our world and, sometimes, you don't want to, but we must do our best.

A note for readers on "you don't want to:"

This is especially true when it comes to military, crime, and science-based (fortunately, I don't work for the CDC 🤣 ) fiction. A true-life example I have for this is the SEAL Team 666 novels by Weston Ochse. While writing these novels, Weston is very careful to have his SEALs use only declassified weapons and tactics. If you happen to be a SEAL who reads these books, you might think, "Well, that's not how we really do it" ... but realize it's intentional on the part of the author because you don't want people to have any idea about how you really do it.

In crime fiction, there are many areas where authors might, as a conscious decision, decide to fudge things. For instance, a quick Google search will reveal that quicklime doesn't actually get rid of bodies. In fact, it mummifies them and leaves quite a bit of evidence. Yet quicklime was a staple of crime fiction for many decades. I don't know if various authors who used it knew it was bogus or not, but they may have known. Also, various tools and methods depicted may not exist or, if they do, they don't often yield results as quickly or precisely as they do in fiction. The last thing we want to do is give a schematic for the perfect murder in the real world, though in our fictitious world, it may, in fact, be perfect.

Again, we're back to the fact that worlds of fiction, no matter how closely they resemble our own world, are not our world.

These are just some thoughts I have on the subject. I suppose, having been an avid reader as long as I can remember, I'm something of an expert on being a reader, but that's the end of my expertise in this area. I've written quite a bit, and had a few things published but, as an author, I'm still very young. These ramblings are as much a discussion in my own head as they are with you, the person reading this.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Beautiful Symmetry

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post titled "Comics for Grownups." http://trainagps.blogspot.com/2015/02/comics-for-grown-ups.html

In it, I discussed how comics are often considered just for kids and, as such, adults tend to ignore them. I explained that comics are written by adults and, often, the stories are adult-themed. They may have things for the kids, subplots children can latch onto, but there's often a very mature perspective being presented somewhere. Here is another example of this idea.

Today, an acquaintance of mine, a fellow author who I met at a convention recently, posted a series of images from the Comicbook Squad's Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=135333847165414&id=133361257362673

They posted a sequence of panels featuring Batman with Catwoman and Superman with Lois Lane. The scene shifted from couple to couple and showed Bats and Supes talking to their respective companions. They talked about each other, and the way they perceive each other is touching. It gives serious insight into how they view each other, themselves, and, to some extent, the world in which they live.

Since I can't link directly to the series of images, I'll briefly describe the panels and give the dialogue here. [Edit: I have figured out which comic/writer gets credited for this]

Batman #36:
  • December 6, 2017
  • Written by Tom King
  • Art & Cover by Clay Mann
Tom King, this segment is inspired. I hope you don't mind if I share it here in the hopes people will buy the comic and, maybe, get hooked into the series. I know this particular issue is on my shopping list this weekend.

Batman & Catwoman on a rooftop.

  • Batman: You don't have to come. You're not my sidekick.
  • Catwoman: No, I'm your partner.

Superman & Lois hovering next to the Daily Planet globe.

  • Superman: I'll stay outside the door, and I'll--
  • Lois: You don't need to be there.
  • Superman: Lois, that radiation whatever that attacked me, he's connected to this. Let me protect you.

As Catwoman leaps from the roof and Batman fires a grapnel into the sky.

  • Batman: I don't need a partner.
  • Catwoman: I know.
  • Lois: I don't need protection.
  • Superman: I know.

Superman & Lois flying.

  • Superman: His parents died when he was so young. Shot. Killed right in front of him.

Batman & Catwoman swinging through sky.

  • Batman: His whole planet was destroyed. He's the last of a holocaust.

Superman carrying Lois in a descent.

  • Superman: He was raised alone. A kid in a huge mansion. With his memories of his mother and father.

Batman & Catwoman dropping from sky.

  • Batman: He grew up in the dirt. Finding out slowly how different he was. A stranger discovering every day how strange he was.

Superman and Lois zipping toward a building.

  • Superman: He had love, and they took it from him. He should be a killer. He should want to tear the world apart for what it did.

Batman & Catwoman dropping toward a rooftop.

  • Batman: He has the power to tear the world apart. And he could. With a pinkie. It's not his world. We're not his people. We should be ants to him.

Superman alighting outside a building with Lois in his arms.

  • Superman: And yet he took that pain. That shock of death. And he turned it into hope.

Batman & Catwoman silhouetted on a rooftop.

  • Batman: Imagine that. Always being on the outside. The pain that would come from always being on the outside. And yet, he took that pain and became a symbol of hope.

Batman removing the screws from a ventilation grate.

  • Batman: I'm just a rich kid from the city. I knew my parents, I knew who I was, what I had to be.

Closeup of Superman and Lois holding hands.

  • Superman: I had the love of parents, I had Ma and Pa. The whole way. I had a childhood full of laughing and learning.

Batman & Catwoman peering into ventilation shaft.

  • Batman: I didn't have any choice but to be who I am. He had every choice--and he became who he is.

Superman & Lois in building lobby.

  • Superman: I have powers. I had to do this. All he has are his wits and his will. And he chooses to do this.

Batman & Catwoman descending an elevator shaft.

  • Batman: Every kid is inspired by him.

Superman & Lois waiting for an elevator.

  • Superman: Everyone wants to be him.

Batman rappelling down elevator shaft, Catwoman climbing down the service ladder.

  • Batman: He's a better man than I am.

Superman & Lois in elevator.

  • Superman: he's just a better man than I am.

Superman & Lois in elevator, focus on Lois.

  • Superman: He got engaged. He didn't call me. Okay. that's his way of telling me ... we're not friends. Not really.

Catwoman watching Batman pry open the doors from the elevator shaft onto a floor of the building.

  • Batman: You can't be friends with him. Not when you're ... he doesn't need to congratulate me. Look at me. Who am I compared to him?

Superman and Lois exiting elevator.

  • Superman: He is who he is. He doesn't need a friend. He doesn't need ... he isn't like me.

View from outside elevator doors with Batman's fingers visible between them as he forces them open.

  • Batman: He's Superman.

Superman & Lois emerge from elevator into hall. From the elevator doors to their right, Batman & Catwoman emerge.

  • Superman: How ... How didn't I see you?
  • Batman: You ... took the elevator?
  • Batman: You're not supposed to see me.
  • Superman: If I flew here ... I'd ... to get in this floor ... I'd have to break a window.

The four stare at each other in silence.

Lois & Catwoman extend hands toward each other.

  • Lois: Oh hi, I'm Lois. You must be Catwoman.
  • Superman: So ... you all want to get a bite to eat?

The Wandering Guru

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Shifting Passions and Priorities

A few years ago, I quit my job as a freelance computer programmer to focus on writing. At the time, I assumed I would continue to teach and train martial arts and write on the side, as I had done programming.

That assumption was based on the fact that for over twenty years, I have identified myself, first and foremost, as a "martial artist." Teaching and training martial arts were my passion. Everything else came second.

Since then, though, a subtle shift has occurred. So subtle, in fact, that it took me years to identify it and, when I did, I initially denied it. I didn't want to admit it to myself.

I'm still just as passionate about teaching martial arts, but my passion for writing now rivals what I feel for teaching. Training martial arts now comes a distant second.

I realized this shift and admitted it to myself yesterday. Today, I'm sharing it with others.

I spent the morning training at a seminar with Professor Jak Othman in Harimau Berantai Silat. I enjoy the training and the material, but I kept having to pull my focus back to the training because, in my head, I was working on a short story I'm writing. I realized I was doing both my training and my writing by half-measures.

I had difficulty remaining present in the training, but I wasn't writing either. Many of the thoughts I had about the story faded from my mind without getting jotted down for later. I was neither really training nor writing.

As such, for the foreseeable future, my priorities will look like this:

  • 1a: teaching 
  • 1b: writing 
  • 2: training

What this means is that I will choose to write instead of attending martial arts events where I am not teaching.

About fifteen years ago, one of my instructors told me of a similar decision they had made. At the time, I couldn't imagine something rivaling my passion for training, much less my passion for teaching. Now, I find myself in the same situation they described.

To all my martial arts friends and family: I'm still here. I'm still available. Don't count me out. I will gladly come teach at an event or guest-teach a class. I will gladly sit and compare notes or answer questions in person and online. I will continue teaching students, but I will only attend events where I'm teaching.

The Wandering Guru

"Nobody's life is ever all balanced. It's a conscious decision to choose your priorities every day." —Elisabeth Hasselbeck

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, 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