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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Monday, December 29, 2014

A New Ride

My van, which does triple duty as my transportation, bedroom, and office, has issues. The biggest issue is its lack of air conditioning.

I bought the van, a 2004 Toyota Sienna, in April and it runs fine. With nearly 200,000 miles on it, it no serious mechanical issues. Of course, it's a Toyota so that's not particularly surprising.

At the end of May, though, the temperatures rose, and I realized the air conditioning didn't work. I had a couple of people work on it. The prognosis was bad. They checked all the most common problems to no avail. In the end, they called it a no-go. It wouldn't be worth the time and money to find the problem, much less fix it.

Summer dragged by in a sweaty haze for me. The only time I could manage to sleep in the van was when I'd pushed myself so hard that fatigue dragged me down. Even then, I could only manage short naps. That circumstance led to me splurging on hotel rooms far more frequently than my budget could handle.

I have decided I need to replace my van. I want to upgrade to something newer. I'll stick with a used Toyota Sienna, but I'll shoot for an '06 or '08 and make sure the air conditioner works before I ever buy it.

The end result of all this build up is a fundraiser. My target is $10,000 but every penny will help. I've set it up on GoFundMe and, if you're able to chip in, you'll have my undying gratitude. And maybe something more tangible if you donate $50+.


The Wandering Guru

"No one has ever become poor by giving." —Anne Frank


Friday, December 19, 2014

Misunderstood

"Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own." — Bruce Lee

This quote is often bandied about as a reason for people to disregard certain aspects of their training or to skip from system to system, never attaining more than a mid-level rank, and then try to develop their own system.

I believe this quote is one of the most misunderstood quotes in martial arts. I believe part of the reason it's misunderstood is that people forget the first part of it. The actual quote didn't start with "absorb what is useful." The actual quote, in its entirety, reads, "Because of styles people are separated. Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own."

Some people focus on the last part of it because it seems to agree with what they already want to do. It seems to justify a shortcut they think is there.

"Research your own experience" is a vital prefix, though, and changes everything. You have to have experience to begin that process.

Without your own experience to research, you have no foundation for knowing what is useful or useless, and you haven't reached a point where you can define something essentially your own to add to the mix.

Start with experience.

Now look at the first sentence, "because of styles people are separated." Don't let styles define you or your boundaries. Find a core and stick with it until you develop a solid foundation—at least instructor level—but don't judge other people by what style they train. If you're exposed to something you like, and it suits you, don't worry about what style it comes from. Adopt it. Or, to stick with the original wording, absorb it.

Don't reject anything until you have developed a solid foundational understanding that transcends systems and stylistic differences.

Motion is motion. Principles are universal. Develop your foundation to the point you can see the principles and how they connect, in spite of stylistic differences in expression.

Then you can see what is "useless." But remember, what's useless for you may be very useful for someone else because of differences in physical attributes.

In the end, it's about reduction. It's about whittling away to the essentials. I like the analogy of a sculptor working with clay.

The sculptor sees something in the clay. That something is uniquely his own. Someone else, looking at the same clay, may see something entirely different or see nothing at all.

The sculptor then begins carving chunks of clay away and forming the remainder into the shape he sees.

But, it must be remembered, that the process must start with the collection of the raw clay.

And if you only collect a little bit of clay, then your options for shaping it are severely limited.

Further, it is only by exposing yourself to a wide variety of things that you can determine what is essentially your own and not a mimicry of someone else. The survey of other things must be done from a solid foundation, though, or you won't really understand what you're looking at.

Another Bruce Lee quote that addresses all of this and, in my opinion, should be taken in tandem with the more famous quote I started this with. This quote is, "Do not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there."

If you deny something without understanding it and analyzing it, then all you really do is create another pattern to trap yourself in. People are so afraid of getting caught in "the classical mess" that they follow their uninformed reaction and simply create their own classical mess. And, very often, the people who do this are the most vocal about other people's choices. They're quick to look at someone training in a more traditional approach and scream, "You're a classical mess." Never realizing that they, too, are in a mess.


The Wandering Guru

"Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them." — Bruce Lee


Monday, November 24, 2014

Don’t let people control you

Emotional Marionettes

I have met many people who are what I call emotional marionettes.

When an emotion arises, they react. Bam!

Instead of realizing that their emotions are a part of them and created internally, they allow their emotions to control them. What they fail to recognize is that this also hands a bunch of control to the people around them.

Everyone has triggers, of course. These triggers will generate a strong and abrupt rise of a particular emotion. If we react immediately to those triggers then we allow the emotions and the people who triggered them to control us.

One of my triggers is bullying. When I see someone acting like a bully, I immediately feel anger rise within me. If I reacted immediately to this then I guarantee I would overreact 99% of the time. The anger would drive me and instead of saying something, I would do something. In most instances, given what I'm capable of, that would be an overreaction. If I let my anger drive then I wouldn't be in control and the consequences, for everyone involved, could be pretty horrible. Someone might end up in the hospital and I might end up in jail.

A great quote from Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan Karate, that's relevant here: "When anger rises, lower your fists. When you raise your fists, lower your anger."

Ideally, we should never let our emotions control us. When an emotion arises, we should acknowledge it, experience it fully, and then let it go fully. Only after doing this should we respond. Reaction is never controlled. Reaction is a club used by immature people. It's a temper tantrum. It's overreaction.

Response, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. Response is controlled.

I have used my opponent's emotional reactions to control an him or her in sparring and in fights.

Make an effort to find your triggers. Deal with them. When you feel the emotions arise, don't react immediately. Breathe. Count to ten. There's a reason this method is recommended by so many people. That ten count, even if it only takes a second for you to fly through the numbers, gives you a chance to process the emotion so you can respond to the situation instead of reacting to your emotions.

And that last sentence is the key. When you react to your emotions, you're not dealing with the situation at hand. You're focusing on the footprint left by the problem instead of the problem itself.

A story from my personal life. My mom tried not to be manipulative, but it was her default setting because of her own upbringing. When I met my wife, I was 23 years old. I had only been living on my own, away from my mom's daily influence, for a few years. Mom still knew where all of my buttons were.

One day, Margaret (my wife-to-be) heard me talking to my mom on the phone. I blew up. I yelled and ranted and I wouldn't be at all surprised if spittle flew with the vehemence of my words. An old adage advises women, "Watch how a man treats his mother, because that's how he'll treat you." Margaret thought of this adage and wondered if she really wanted to be with me after hearing me yell at my mom.

Thing was, though, my mom knew all my buttons and intentionally—if not consciously—pushed them. She wanted to get a reaction. She knew if I was yelling at her that she was in control. Her ability to rile me gave her a sense of power.

By the time I was 30, though, my mom couldn't rile me. Most of the buttons she tried to use had nothing to do with who I was at 30. They no longer triggered any sort of emotional response. There were still a handful that caused emotions to arise, but I'd learned to deal with those. I'd learned to breathe and count to ten (sometimes literally). I'd learned to experience the emotion without reacting to it. I didn't yell anymore. I responded to her statement. My responses depended on the exact situation. Sometimes it was a humorous response intended to disarm and defuse. Sometimes it was a pointed remark intended to let her know that she'd crossed a line into territory she didn't want to know too much about. Usually, though, I responded with a level-headed and logical point that deflated whatever argument she was trying to initiate.

The more often you're able to respond instead of react, the easier it gets and the more control you have over yourself. The less control you give to other people.

I think most people are familiar with the emotional marionette. Some of you may even be thinking, "This sounds like me." If so, pay attention even more closely to what I'm about to say.

Eggshells

It's bad enough to think, "Oh my god. I'm giving control of myself over to people."

What's worse, though, is when you are dealing with people who do not want to control you.

People who don't want to control you end up walking on eggshells around you. They don't want to kick off your emotional reactions so they tiptoe around you. Often, you notice this, and it makes you question why they're doing it.

It's a really bad situation. It's a breeding ground for stress and mistrust all the way around.

Life Happens

Sometimes, life happens. Of course it does. Sometimes, you've suffered a recent trauma and it has amped everything up. You become hypersensitive and all your guards are down. That's okay. It's natural. It's normal. The people around, if they're aware of the situation, will likely cut you some slack.

If they don't cut you slack then maybe it's because they're suffering, too.

In On Combat David Grossman discusses something related to this. I'll paraphrase him.

If you're a police officer or in the military and you have a bad day at work, when you get home you probably don't want to be harassed by questions. You probably don't want to be fawned over or pestered. But there's your significant other and maybe your kids and they're demanding your attention. It's easy to blow up.

The thing you, as the warrior, must remember is that your family had a bad day, too. Maybe your spouse saw the news about the shootout or the car chase and has spent the rest of the day worried about you. As the trained professional, it's actually your job to recognize this and make sure your loved ones are taken care of first. Then you can take care of yourself. It's part of your job. Unfortunately, this aspect of warriorship is rarely, if ever, discussed, much less taught.

The most important thing, though, when you're going through hell, is to cut yourself some slack. When you react emotionally, recognize the reaction and the loss of control then move on. Over time, you should regain that control and reach a point where you respond instead of react.


The Wandering Guru

"How you react emotionally is a choice in any situation." — Judith Orloff

And I think a second quote is merited for this one.

"t's so important to realize that every time you get upset, it drains your emotional energy. Losing your cool makes you tired. Getting angry a lot messes with your health." — Joyce Meyer



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NaNoWriMo No More

I made a valiant effort at NaNo. Then life happened. Unexpected side trips that cost me more time than I estimated. Various emergencies that took priority over the writing. And focusing on one project sort of dragged me down.

However, I did get some good work. I kept on track the first week and a half. The last week, though, has put a major crimp into my progress. We're 60% of the way through the month and I'm only 30% of the way toward the goal.

Even with the major hurdles, I managed 3+ pages per day of writing. Not enough to meet the NaNo goal, but nothing to sneeze at either.

Most importantly, though, I need a break from Demons & Ninjas. For me, and I assume other authors, spending time with characters is like spending time with people in general. While I like the characters in Demons & Ninjas, I've spent every day of the past 2.5 weeks with them. I need a break. I want to meet some new people, explore other adventures.

I'm going to take a break from D&N and write a short story. Start kicking chapters of D&N into the editing process and polish things up a bit. After taking a short break, I'll go back to writing the rough draft.

For Patty, Masato, Hesther, Dylan, Lee, Jack, Scott, and Yoshifumi, the primary cast of D&N, I say, "It's not you. It's me. I just need a little time. A little space. I'll be back."


The Wandering Guru

"I'm an elephant today. I will need to have lots of room and also a bowl of water on the floor." — Jesse Ball, The Curfew


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Another Customer Service Gripe

I didn't expect to write any blog entries this month, but I need to get this off my chest.

Listen

If you work in customer service, learn to listen. An example of not listening.

Me: "I'll have a number two—“
Cashier: "Is this for here or to go?”
Me: "Uhh ... for here.”
Cashier: "Okay. What did you want?”
Me: "A number two with—“
Cashier: "Do you want that as a meal or just the sandwich?"

This went on for a bit. The cashier kept interrupting me to stick to his script and, apparently, his memory was so poor he couldn't remember anything unless he'd punched into the register.

Here's how the conversation should have gone in my opinion:

Me: "I'll have a number two meal with a plain sandwich and the bacon extra crispy.”
Cashier: "For here or to go?”
Me: "Here.”
Cashier: "Okay. Number two meal, plain, bacon extra crispy. What would you like to drink?"

Much more efficient and less frustrating.

Even worse, though, is the cashier who tries to predict what I want.

Me: "I'll have a—“
Cashier: "Would you like to try our new super-duper-special-thing?”
Me: "No."

I can read the menu. I can see what's on special. If I've stepped up to order then I already know exactly what I want. I'm not interested in suggestions or what you think I might want.

Now, I understand that some people don't know what they want when they step up. Fine. Let them ask. Don't interrupt.

Don't interrupt. Period. Use the squishy gray stuff between your ears to remember things that are told to you, in case they don't order exactly according to your script. Interpret what they tell you so it matches your script. Then repeat it back to make sure you got it.

Listen to what they say. Don't try to predict it. Don't try to answer questions they haven't asked.

It's really pretty simple. But, time and time and time again, I encounter customer service people who don't do this.

I understand it probably has more to do with how their trained than with them personally.

If you're reading this and you're a cashier, try to implement it. If you catch flak from a manager for not sticking directly to your script, then let them read this. I'm not the only one harboring this pet peeve. I've heard plenty of other people mention it, too.


The Wandering Guru

"When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen." — Ernest Hemingway


Thursday, October 30, 2014

See you in December ...

NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month. Each November there's a contest of sorts called NaNoWriMo. The objective is to write 50,000 words from November 1 - November 30.

50,000 words, for those who don't think in terms of word count, equals approximately 200 pages. If you "win" the contest, you get some graphical badges you can use on websites or whatever and you get a couple of free copies, published through CreateSpace, of the novel you wrote. Basically, a pat on the back.

Really, as I see it, it's a sort of inspirational tool to put words on paper. Get some momentum going and run with it.

I'm Doing It

I've decided to enter it and work on my Demons & Ninjas: Revelation novel. I've written a prologue & first chapter already. Of course, that work doesn't count toward the 50k target word count. Only what I write from November 1 - November 30 will count toward that.

Averaging seven pages per day is going to be rough but not excessively so. I've consistently averaged about five pages per day for more than six months now. The trick next month will be maintaining my focus on one project and cranking out seven pages per day for it.

Impact

In case you haven't done the math yet, this means I won't be writing blog entries or working on my Stealing Bases manual for AGPS or working on short stories until after November. For November, I'll be focused on cranking out the first draft of Demons & Ninjas: Revelation. After that, I'll focus on editing it while I resume writing other things.


The Wandering Guru

"Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on." — Louis L'Amour


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shuttle Bus Philosophy

I discussed this in a previous post back in April. Earlier today, I came across a quote in a book I'm reading that reminded me of this, so I decided to address the subject again. You can read the actual quote that sparked this post at the end.

The Shuttle Ride Discussion


Several years ago, I took a two hour shuttle ride from Camp Verde to the Phoenix airport. I shared the ride with several women and, as the shuttle headed south on I-17, conversation somehow turned to religion and spirituality. I listened with interest but didn't say anything until one of the women specifically asked me.

"Are you religious?"

I said, "Not really. Very spiritual, but not religious. I've found a lot of personal truth in Buddhist philosophy so, if I have to claim a religion, it's Buddhism, but I don't practice it as a religion."

"Buddhism has always seemed rather nihilistic to me."

"It seems that way to most people at first because of unfortunate translations."

"What do you mean?"

"The term 'attachment' is often used and avoidance of attachment is recommended. More specifically, 'non-attachment' is a primary goal."

"Right. If you're not attached to things, though, then how can you, for instance, love."

"That's the unfortunate translation issue. In English, people often interpret 'non-attachment' as 'detachment.'"

She nodded.

"Detachment is nihilistic. It means non-engagement. It means being disconnected. Non-attachment is the opposite. Non-attachment means experiencing things fully, engaging fully with the current moment, then letting go completely. Instead of 'attachment' try the word 'clinging.'"

She thought about it for a moment and slowly nodded. "I guess I see."

I continued. "As humans, we tend to label things. By labeling them, we take a snapshot of them and we assume they aren't going to change. We cling to the idea of what it was instead of experiencing it as it is."

"Are you married?"

"Yes. Very happily for fifteen years."

"Are you attached to your wife?"

"From moment to moment."

She shook her head, confused. "What?"

"Each day I fall in love with my wife again. Attachment, in Buddhist philosophy, would mean that I take her, and our love, for granted. It was there when we got married, it'll always be there. But that's not necessarily true. Each day, I change. Each day, my wife changes. Each day, the world around us changes. Honestly, who I am now would have little interest in the woman I married fifteen years ago. And, I assume, she would say the same about me.

"Each day, I look at my wife and I realize I love her. Not who she was fifteen years ago, not who she was yesterday. I love who she is. More specifically, this current version of me loves who she is. I experience that emotion completely and let it go completely so I can fall in love with her again the next day. This doesn't literally happen each day. Ideally, it happens continuously. Each moment is a renewal, an experience, and a release. Ideally, it's a constant process. The human mind really loves labels and conceptualizations and dealing with those instead of dealing with the present reality, but as frequently as I can, I pull myself back into the present and fall in love with her again."

By this point, all the women on the shuttle, and the guy driving the shuttle, had fallen silent and sat listening to me. Into the quiet, one of the women whispered, "My God. That's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard."


The Wandering Guru

"I used to think that when people fell in love, they just landed where they landed. And they had no choice in the matter afterward. And maybe that's true of beginnings, but it's not true of this. Now. I fell in love with him. But I don't just stay with him by default as if there's no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me." — Tris Pryor, Allegiant by Veronica Roth


Monday, October 27, 2014

The House of Delusion



Fight Video

In this video, the narrator would have us believe this is a good representation of self-defense. Of using ranged tools to overcome a bladed weapon.

Responses to this video included people saying, “Perfect.” and “Respect.”



My Response


Uh. No. Horrible.

First, did the guy have a knife? Don't know. Video is too bad. I certainly never saw a knife.

Second, and more importantly, the shirtless guy wasn't protecting himself. Throughout the video, shirtless appears to be the instigator.

He approaches the guy in black first. Then the guy starts coming after him, slowly. The guy in black isn't running. Shirtless is moving away, but only far enough to maintain distance. He's not running away. If he were running away, he would just be gone. The guy in black isn't trying to catch up to him, he's just stalking after. Looks to me more like the guy in black is just trying to get the shirtless guy to leave the area.

Shirtless guy keeps turning back and reengaging. He wants to fight, but he's scared. Finally, he gets a tool that's big enough to make him feel comfortable and he beats the guy down.

There is zero ground for any sort of "self-defense" claim for the shirtless guy. He assaulted the guy in black, time and again. Now, the guy in black doesn't have much ground for "self-defense" claims either.

But, in my estimation, I see nothing in this video to respect and there's nothing I see to label "Knife Wielding Assailant Stopped By Creative Defender.”




The Wandering Guru

“The house of delusions is cheap to build but drafty to live in.” — A. E. Housman




Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Bad Day

Video Discussion

Nexus BJJ Instructional #289

I think this video is probably staged. However, I'm going to proceed as if it's not.

First, the apparent instructor says, "Okay, guys. I'm gonna run you through a beautiful Judo throw today. Got anyone I can try it out with?"

This, to me, implies that the guy isn't a usual instructor in the school. Maybe he's visiting or something. He seems to be wearing a blue belt and the guys he's addressing are wearing purple belts. Assuming they're all BJJ, as their gis and the title of the video imply, then purple outranks blue. Maybe the blue belt is a black belt in Judo and is showing throws? I don't know.

One of the purple belts then points off camera. "Try it on Keith, so we can see it."

Instructor: "Hey, mate, come here."

Purple belt: "His name's Keith."

Instructor: "Yeah. Whatever."

This already shows a lack of respect toward Keith and, to a lesser degree, toward the purple belts. And, personally, I infer some pre-existing tension in this interaction. Maybe something happened before the video started that already had everyone on edge.

Now Keith comes over wearing either a brown belt or black belt. I can't see it clearly enough to tell. Either way, he'd be senior to everyone else in the video.

Keith proceeds to be non-compliant as the instructor attempts to show the throw.

The instructor gets more and more upset and sort of push-slaps Keith. The purple belts jump in. The instructor apologizes, accepts the blame for overreacting, and explains he's having a bad day. Something of an understatement, really.

From there, things rapidly devolve into the apparent start of a fight before the video ends.

My Thoughts

Keith

Keith wears either a brown or black belt in, I assume, BJJ. That means he's likely trained for at least 8 - 10 years, assuming his BJJ progression resembled that of most people I know in BJJ. No way could he have trained that long and achieved that level without learning to be a decent uke. That means Keith was being an intentional jackass.

When an instructor is teaching, they're not using real force, and they're not softening up with strikes or other tenderizers. They're illustrating a technique and explaining the methodology and mechanics. At this stage of training, an uke offering resistance or trying to counter is ridiculous. No one will learn anything.

Did The Instructor Handle It Well?

No. He could have handled it better. But he's not the only one to blame.

How Could The Instructor Have Handled It Better?

Ian Fleming wrote in Goldfinger, "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action."

The first time Keith fought the grip, it could have been a misunderstanding, an accident. By the third time, though, it's "enemy action" and that guy is not going to allow the technique. The simplest answer is to switch to a new uke.

An Exception

Having said that, I have been in similar situations a few times and I have chosen a road similar to the instructor in this video on at least one occasion. The difference between what I did and the instructor in this video lay in the emotion.

This instructor reacted emotionally. He got frustrated, his ego kicked in, and he lashed out.

When it happened to me, there were extenuating circumstances and a history. I decided the guy needed to be taught a specific lesson. Was my ego involved? Yes. But I wasn't reacting emotionally. My response was planned and precise.

I was teaching some Silat. The uke, who I'll call Randy, kept trying to counter me as I taught. The first time, I responded, "I'm trying to illustrate and explain. Your response is counterproductive. Are you here to learn or to prove something?"

The second time, I explained, "It's easy to counter when you know what's coming and haven't been softened up."

The third time, I flowed countered his counter by flowing to something else and sent him stumbling across the room. I then repeated, "It's easy to counter when you know what's coming. Since you weren't expecting my response to your counter, you didn't have a ready answer." I turned it into a new kind of lesson.

The fourth time, as he began his counter, I patted his cheek. Not hard enough to call it a "slap" but hard enough to get his attention, and to bring his attention up to his face. Then I did the technique I was teaching. I said, "It's easy to counter when you haven't been softened up. Now imagine if I'd landed several hard shots instead of patting your cheek?" Another lesson built around his attempts to counter.

The Difference

The instructor in the video reacted emotionally and started a fight. I turned the problem into a springboard to teach Randy and everyone else in class some useful lessons.

How I Ended Up Handling Randy

Randy continued his jackass ways toward me and the other students. Eventually, I told him, "Leave. You've got some sort of chip on your shoulder and you're disrupting my class. You're not welcome here anymore. If you step through my door again, I'll knock you flat out. I won’t talk, I won’t explain, I’ll just lay you out. Period. Then I'll call the police and have you arrested for trespassing."

Sometimes, as instructors, we have to do what's right for the class overall. A student who is frequently and continually disruptive is a detriment to the rest of the class. Keeping in mind that the third time indicates enemy action, I give two warnings. I may give more than that, as I did with Randy, if I'm able to use the situation as a teaching tool but, once I've given two warnings, I'm ready to cut my losses, get rid of the problem, and move on.

Teaching Adults

Bear in mind, I only teach adults. Working with children is a whole different beast. The same principles apply, but there are a lot of mitigating factors to be considered with children.

With adults, I only have to deal with the person in front of me. He or she is making all their own choices about how they behave and they should be mature enough to correct their behavior or deal with the consequences.


The Wandering Guru

"As if on a conveyer belt, there will be a never ending supply of idiots and jerks that come and go in your life. Whether you stop the belt to dance with any one of them is up to you." — Dan Pearce, Single Dad Laughing


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Buggy Breakfast

Cottonwood, Arizona currently has a grasshopper problem. Many businesses have multitudes of grasshoppers clustered on every exterior wall. And these grasshoppers ain't of the small and cute variety. They run about four inches long with gray-green bodies. Of course, sometimes they decide to enter the buildings, too.

This morning, as I regularly do here in Cottonwood, I had breakfast at Carl's, Jr. I really like their breakfasts. Their biscuits are excellent and their hash rounds are mighty, mighty tasty. And, as I usually do, after breakfast, I pulled out my laptop and began writing.

While I wrote, a couple took a seat across from me and ate their own breakfast. A few minutes later, a grasshopper landed on my right collarbone. Startled, before my conscious mind could even perceive what had actually happened, my left hand shot up quickly, snatched the insect, and flung it across the room.

I looked over at the woman sitting across from me. Her husband, with his back to me, had missed the whole thing. Her eyes, though, shot wide and she jumped in her own seat. She and I looked at each other a moment and then burst into laughter.

Her husband looked back and forth between us curiously until she'd regained her composure enough to explain.

She hadn't actually seen the grasshopper land on me. She only saw my startled reaction, the abrupt motion, and the grasshopper flying across the room. The sudden activity had, in turn, startled her.


The Wandering Guru

"The secret to humor is surprise." — Aristotle


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Customer Service Soapbox

I pulled into a parking space at Sonic and pressed the red button. I ordered a bacon CroisSonic and a medium Coke, with the bacon crispy..

This Sonic had a screen that displayed the order information. The screen displayed, "Bacon Breakfast Toaster."

I said, "No, I want the CroisSonic."

"Right. You want the breakfast toaster."

"No. CroisSonic. Number seventeen, but I only want the sandwich and the drink."

The order on the screen changed to "Bacon CroisSonic" with tater tots and a drink. A number seventeen. Complete.

I said, "I don't want the tots."

"You said number seventeen."

At this point, I began entertaining thoughts of walking into the restaurant and making my own freakin' sandwich and charging them for my trouble.

"I. Want. A bacon CroisSonic. And a medium coke. That's it."

The screen blanked and flickered several times and, finally, the proper order came on the screen. And the young woman hung up on me.

Thankfully, when my order arrived, it actually was a CroisSonic with crispy bacon."

Conclusion

As I sat thinking about the hurdle I'd just overcome, my default blame fell on the young woman taking the order. Makes sense, right? And, yeah, I think she should own some of the responsibility. But not all of it.

I thought back to my first job as a cashier at Jimmy's Dairy Bar in Pendleton, Indiana. At that time, the register had no special buttons. It was nothing more than a large calculator with some extra features to control the door and the receipt tape.

I was seventeen years old. After my interview, the manager handed me a folder. He said, "I want to hire you, but you've got one last hoop to jump through. Take this home, memorize it. Come back Monday night after school and we'll see how it goes."

I took the folder home. It contained the entire menu, with all options, and the prices for everything. I spent the weekend studying it and memorizing everything. My mom quizzed me on it.

Monday night, after school, I returned to the restaurant. The manager quizzed me on the menu and prices. He didn't test me on everything, but it was a pretty rigorous process.

I passed. Then the manager, who may also have been an owner, I don't remember, trained me. The training was pretty extensive, too.

The first time I stood behind the register and talked to an employee, I felt like a veteran. Since I knew the whole menu, I didn't get confused about the order. I never had to check the menu for prices or to see if we actually carried what the customer had ordered.

I made mistakes, sure. And, at that point, those mistakes were purely my own.

The last time I worked in the food business, though, about ten years ago, the register had all the snazzy buttons with all the menu items and options labeled on it. When a new employee came in, management threw them behind the register with no training on the menu or prices.

When customers called or came in, the cashier routinely had to check the menu to verify the options and the prices. Never mind the fact that the cashier didn't seem capable of adding $3.82 and $2.46 in his head, that's a problem with the larger system, not the management.

The management, though, should spend more time training employees, especially front line employees, about the menu. Maybe memorizing the whole menu is overkill these days, but there should be more than, "Here's the register, just read the buttons and punch them."

Granted, I'm exaggerating the lack of training a bit. But the point is valid.

Yes, some of the responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the employee. But the training methods should also be improved.

And I think this problem goes beyond the world of food service. I think so many people have become overly reliant on push-button technology that they've forgotten all about the human factor in customer service.

And, for crying out loud, when you make a mistake, own up to it and make it right. Even if you're sure you didn't make a mistake, just fix it to the customer's satisfaction. Don't accuse the customer. Don't argue with them. Just fix it. And, after fixing it, don't hang up on them, or get snarky in other ways or whatever.


The Wandering Guru

"Make a customer, not a sale." — Katherine Barchetti


Saturday, October 11, 2014

AGPS Curriculum Update

A few months ago I spent some time in Wichita, KS, working with my guys there. Most of them tested into Level 2 of the AGPS curriculum and they tested well. They did a good job.

There were issues, though. The issues weren't the responsibility of the students. I realized the flaw lay in the Level 1 curriculum and, more specifically, in the way I presented it.

Previously, I viewed each level of the curriculum as a bucket. The buckets had an progressive order, building on each other, as they should. The testing served as a sort of stress test for the curriculum. I realized the curriculum needed more structure in each level to emphasize both the progression of development and the elements I consider key components.

I've just updated the Level 1 curriculum.

Check out the new layout at http://trainagps.com/curriculum/level%201

The level is now laid out with its own progression. Entry elements in Section A lay the foundation for striking elements in Section B. Section C focuses on attributes that don't actively come into play until later in the curriculum, but I want to start developing them early so the foundation is already laid when the student reaches that part of the curriculum.


The Wandering Guru

"What is the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don't change, you die. It's that simple. It's that scary." — Leonard Sweet


Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Man Of Value

I arrived at Warrior's Way in Wichita Falls, TX at 12:30 PM. The school is owned and operated by Guro Harley Elmore and his wife, Krystal. This weekend, they're having their annual "Family Gathering" event.

When I arrived, Krystal greeted me and told me everyone else was out at lunch. I'd expected as much given the timing of my arrival.

When they returned, I greeted Guro Harley and all his tribe who I know. There were a couple of surprises when I spotted Larry Laurich and Richard Hartstein, who are Shen Chuan brothers of mine. Of course, Ryan Dewitt, also a Shen Chuan brother and a student of Guro Harley, is the connection but seeing Larry and Richard still took me a bit by surprise.

Training resumed and, as with every event of Guro Harley's that I've been involved with, it was excellent. He'd put a lot thought into the structure of the event and, between sessions, he explained the theme to me.

The theme was self-defense. Not really surprising for a martial arts event, but, in true Elmore style, he'd expanded it to places a lot of people miss. Each instructor presented something related to self-defense, but not always martial arts. Guros Chuck and Kara Giangreco gave a presentation on good security habits when using social media. Guro Chad, a long-time IT professional, discussed some basic security measures for home networks and being online in general.

Tomorrow, the formal event will continue and, I'm sure, it will be just as fantastic as today was.

I'm not here to talk about the event, though. I'm here to talk about Guro Harley and Warrior's Way in general.

What I Really Want To Say

I met Guro Harley in 2001 when he hosted a Sayoc Kali seminar with Tuhon Chris Sayoc. I had previously met Tuhon Chris, very briefly, at the Kuntao Silat de Thouars Family Gathering in 1998 and he and his presentation had impressed me a lot.

I don't think Guro Harley had ever heard of me prior to me walking into his school for the seminar. I honestly don't remember our friendship developing. It just was. I don't remember introducing myself to him or the first time I met him. I just know it was that year at that event. All my memories with Guro Harley are memories of kinship. We share a lot of history in our martial backgrounds, what we've trained and who we've trained with, but it goes much deeper than that.

We share very similar mindsets about training. Our approaches differ, but run very parallel, and tend to be very complimentary.

I know Guro Harley is a full instructor under Dan Inosanto in at least a couple of different disciplines, and I know he's a full instructor in Sayoc Kali. I know he's closely affiliated with Bahala Na. Basically, I know he's got a wall full of paper but, as is common in our circles, paper alone means little. While I'm aware of his paper credentials, what I know about him is what I've seen and felt.

Guro Harley is, first and foremost, an exceptional person. A man of integrity, generosity, caring, and compassion. As a martial artist, he excels. His understanding of weapons, especially blades, is top notch. No one who steps onto the mat where he's teaching, or crosses arms with him, has any doubt about his skills and abilities as both a practitioner and a teacher.

I feel honored to know him, to call him a friend, and to consider him part of my tribe. When I visit, Guro Harley and his people always welcome me with open arms. What Guro Harley has done here in Wichita Falls, and beyond, with his Warrior's Way organization is truly impressive. It's a strong organization with a lot of high quality people involved and, of course, with that foundation, it tends to attract other high quality people.

If you're near Wichita Falls, TX, or passing through, and have any interest in martial arts, you should check out Warrior's Way. If you have the chance to train with Guro Harley—maybe at a seminar he's teaching in your area—I would highly recommend it.

Mabuhay and Selamat, Guro Harley. Keep up the good work.

http://warriorswaytx.com


The Wandering Guru

"Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value." — Albert Einstein


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cool Author Moment

A few days ago I wrote, “a hush fell over the room” in a story.

My editing/critiquing partner, Sean, said, "Major cliche. What else ya got?"

I considered it, hit Google, and, from there, Wikipedia, and found that the Greeks, in Ptolemic Alexandria, developed a mythos around a god named Harpocrates. The god of silence evolved, erroneously, from the Egyptian child god Horus.

Apparently, a statue of Horus depicted a child holding a finger to his lips. In Egyptian, this symbolized childhood. The Greeks mistakenly assumed it meant silence. So, when they adopted the god, they made him a god of silence and bastardized his name as Harpocrates based on the Egyptian, “Har-pa-khered” (meaning “Horus the Child”).

I rewrote the line as "Harpocrates stole into the room and even the crickets outside grew quiet." A much better way of saying the room got quiet. Hurray for the internet.

Today, as I drove up Oak Creek Canyon, heading from Sedona to Flagstaff, I had an epiphany. A major epiphany. And a very humorous one.

My mind wandered back to the name, Harpocrates. It played with it a bit and hit on the Harpo portion of it. I immediately thought of Harpo Marx, the silent brother of the well-known comedy troop. I realized the connection and laughed out loud as I drove down the road. I pulled over at the next available spot and texted Sean to let him in on the joke.

Now I'm sitting at Chick-Fil-A. I just finished eating and am writing this blog post. I did a bit of research and it turns out that Harpo, in fact, took his name from the fact that he played a harp. However, the brothers were aware of the coincidence and Groucho once joked about an intentional connection. From there, the connection became a bit of urban legend that some people believe.

Coincidence or not, I find the connection incredibly humorous and I love the fact that my writing led me to find it, and led me to learn a bit more about both Ptolemic Alexandria and about the Marx Brothers (who I've always enjoyed).

To find out more about Harpo Marx, the character and the man, visit the website maintained by his son: http://www.harposplace.com/


The Wandering Guru

"" — Harpocrates


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tai Chi Alchemy 2014 - Review

Every year, for the past twenty, an amazing group of people have converged on Sedona, Arizona for an event called Tai Chi Alchemy. I began attending in 2005 so this marked my tenth year of attendance, and what an incredible year.

I could enumerate the training sessions that happened or, at least, the ones I attended. It would mean nothing to you, though, unless you attended. And if you attended, then you need no explanation. I will say, though, that the theme of the event was, "Get out of your head and into the game."

Our Stories

Stories rule our lives most of the time. We tell ourselves stories about how good we are, or how bad. We relive the stories handed down to us from our parents. These stories influence our decisions, actions, and every aspect of our lives. Some of the stories are helpful sometimes. Ultimately, though, the stories remove us from the present. Instead of engaging with the world and people around us, we objectify and tell ourselves stories about the world and those people.

While, in our day-to-day life, these stories rarely cause us problems, the path to a healthier life must be sought outside the stories, in the moment. These stories take place completely in our heads. The theme, then, really dealt with getting out of our stories and into the present.

All the people who presented a session addressed this topic in one way or another and presented tools for accomplishing the goal of getting beyond our stories and into the moment.

The Result

Words can't do justice to the experience shared by the group, the Alchemists, at the event. Alchemy, at its root, is about transformation. The Alchemists who gather among the red rocks of Sedona each year focus on transforming ourselves, becoming increasingly better versions of ourselves, so, in turn, we can carry that transformation out into the world and help others. Our real goal, is the transform the world.

We realize the loftiness of that goal, but we still shoot for it. Each person who attends experiences transformation of some sort. Every year. It's not a fluke. We repeat the results every year. The details of the results vary from year to year, but each year, without fail, most of the people in attendance experience some sort of powerful transformation. The most common word used to describe it is "miraculous."

When we leave, we carry that change with us. It influences how we interact with the world and the people around us. While only a few dozen people attend the event most years, the ripple effects touch hundreds, if not thousands.

The Call

The more people who attend, the more impact we, as a group, have on the world. The more impact, the closer we get to achieving our goal of changing the world, of making it a more loving place overall. We want more people at the event.

It doesn't matter if you train in Tai Chi or martial arts at all. Plenty of people have attended the event over the years starting at ground zero and have come away with their own miracles.

If you are an open-minded person who genuinely cares about your fellow humans and wants to learn about engaging more deeply with your world and those around you, this event is for you.

If you yearn to find a place where perfect strangers become family and the most common greeting is a sincere hug, this event is for you.

And, yes, if you're interested in Tai Chi or martial arts in general, you'll find plenty of people willing to discuss and share in these areas, too.

The words Stephen Watson used to convince me back in 2005 were, "It'll change your life." He was right. It did. Each and every year, it has changed my life for the better.

Everyone I've talked to about the event says it has, each year, changed their life for the better, too.

Come join us. It'll change your life.

To find out more about the event, its past, its future, and other related things, visit http://taichialchemy.com


The Wandering Guru

"This is why alchemy exists," the boy said. "So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold. That's what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too." — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tai Chi Alchemy 2014

Yesterday, Tai Chi Alchemy, for me, had its informal kick off. The alchemists began converging in Sedona, the ingredients of the transformative process began to come together, to mix and mingle, to reunite and start to fizz in the wonderful way TCA always does. More people will arrive today, more tomorrow, and the official event will begin tomorrow evening with the opening circle.

If you haven't attended TCA, you should. Doesn't matter if you practice Tai Chi or not. While some Tai Chi definitely happens during TCA, the event, really, at least from my perspective, is about the alchemy. The group of people who gather each year, whether veteran alchemists or new arrivals, is amazing. Other words which might be used to describe them and the event include awesome, fantastic, inspiring, loving, miraculous ... well, you get the idea.

My Story

In 2004, I met Stephen Watson at an event in Miami, Florida. We immediately struck up a friendship. Over the next seven or so months, we talked regularly either on the phone or via email. We also saw each other about once a month, and usually because of serendipity. For instance, I once called him and, in passing, mentioned I was in Denver. He said, "So am I! Let's get together."

That sort of thing happened routinely for us that year. When we got together, he'd share some Tai Chi with me, and we'd compare notes about all sorts of things. But I've sort of strayed from the primary topic.

Every time we talked, whether in person or otherwise, Stephe would tell me, "You've gotta go to TCA. You've gotta go to Sedona." Every time.

And, every time, I responded, "Why? I don't do Tai Chi. The event costs several hundred dollars, plus travel and expenses. Why on earth would I want to go to this event?"

"You gotta go. It'll change your life."

I don't know how many times we had that conversation. Finally, mostly to shut him up, I paid my money and attended the event in September of 2005.

The experience blew me away. I can't do it justice with any sort of description or explanation. Whole new vistas, ripe for exploration, opened in my understanding of martial arts and, specifically, in my understanding of my Silat. I learned a bit about Tai Chi principles and how much they have in common with my Silat. I shared some of my own material with the group.

And, Stephe was right. It changed my life. No exaggeration.

That year, I only spent three days in Sedona, Friday through Sunday of the actual event. The first thing I realized when I left was that I needed more time after the event to decompress. I loved Sedona, but I thought it was mostly the event coloring my perception of the place.

In 2006, I spent week in Sedona, a couple of days before and after the event. I had more incredible experiences, and I realized I loved Sedona. The event played a major role, but I loved Sedona for itself both before and after the event.

In 2007, my wife, Margaret, came to Sedona with me. We rented a house in Sedona for 2 weeks. She didn't attend the event, but she hung around the fringes, meeting people, and hanging out. After two days, she asked me, "So, when are we moving here?"

In 2008, we rented a house in Sedona for a month and Margaret got more involved with the alchemists, but still didn't attend the actual event.

In 2009, we moved to Sedona. Margaret, who isn't even a martial artist, began attending the actual event.

We've been every year since. The group of people who meet here are part of our family. The lessons learned, whether about Tai Chi, healing, or life in general, have been profound on so many levels, I can't even begin to enumerate or explain them.

Come To Sedona. Come To TCA. It Will Change Your Life.

http://taichialchemy.com


The Wandering Guru

“God made the Grand Canyon, but lives in Sedona.” — Anonymous


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Thoughts on Cross Training

I just posted this as an article on the main website but want to share it directly here, too.
  1. Pure martial arts systems do not exist. Every system has drawn influence from other systems, either directly or indirectly. When fighters fight, they inevitably influence each other. Since martial arts wouldn't exist without confrontation, all the martial arts systems have been influenced by other systems. Where they didn't directly "steal" from each other, they developed things specifically to counter each other.

  2. Cross training isn't a new concept. The Shaolin and the Samurai both cross trained. And while those examples are the best known, others cross trained, too. Cross training has existed for a long time—probably as long as martial arts. In this day and age, though, we have a larger variety of options available for cross training.

  3. There are some universal pros and cons to cross training. But, on top of these, each person will have his/her own personal pros and cons when it comes to cross training. Some people are simply wired in such a way they would be spinning their wheels if they tried to cross train. Others are wired such that they'd get bored and quit if they couldn't change gears every so often.

Foundation

Cross training can be very valuable—if done properly. A foundation is vital. The foundation gives a student a certain baseline understanding and something with which to anchor future learning. The foundation can be developed alongside supplemental training, but the training must be perceived as such (e.g.: a foundation and supplements).

Once the student has a solid foundation and understands the basic principles, then s/he can spot those principles in other training. Principles are universal. Every martial art draws from the same large pool of concepts and principles. The emphasis a system places on various aspects, and the approach it takes in applying the various concepts and principles make the system unique.

Once the basic principles are understood, it's useful to see how other arts, systems, styles, or instructors approach those same principles. Where an art overlaps one's foundation, one gains depth. Where it doesn't overlap, one gains breadth.

Without the foundation, though, you're digging a bunch of shallow holes and will likely never hit water.

Dig until you hit water, then you can look for other flavors of water.

Technique Collection Vs Understanding Principles (Why Not How)

Don't worry about how an instructor does something. Focus on why it works. An instructor may be able to do something a particular way because of specific attributes that you don't have. By focusing on why it works, though, you can figure out how to make it work for yourself.

I think it is possible for a person to develop a core while simultaneously training in supplemental material. But, for most, I don't think this is the most efficient approach to training. Until the student has a foundation, they're really just collecting techniques. The foundation, an understanding of the underlying concepts and principles, is what ties all the various techniques together. Technique collection is one of the universal pitfalls of cross training. Like any pitfall, though, if one is aware of it, it can be avoided.

It doesn't matter which system forms the foundation. What matters is that the student develops an understanding of the underlying principles, and an eye for spotting them. The student should reach a point where s/he understands the underlying principles and can answer the question, "Why does this technique work?" Once that understanding is developed, the student should have the mindset of seeking the principles and a foundation for recognizing/comprehending them.

Each student starts as a mimic. S/he mimics the instructor to learn the basic movements. Later, the student mimics the instructor's explanation of the movements. At some point, though, the student should start understanding the movements. The explanation may or may not change, but the understanding should change. The student should reach a point where s/he can explain the same movement in a variety of ways that branch from that understanding. Without the understanding, the student can never do more than parrot the instructor's words and actions.

If a student seeks only to learn how to fight, then cross training isn't necessary, though it may still be helpful. Look at MMA's usage of Muay Thai, BJJ, and other systems as an example. I think martial artists, though, should seek out other perspectives in order to deepen their own understanding. A martial artist should always be in pursuit of developing a better answer to the question, "Why does this work?"

Students must learn to seek the underlying principles instead of techniques. If you learn one technique, then all you have is one technique. If you learn the underlying principle behind that technique, then you have a thousand techniques. This is analogous to, "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime." If a student never digs deeper than the techniques, then the s/he will become a technique collector. S/he will have a bunch of pretty techniques but no real understanding of why they work or how they might be tied together. To return to the fishing analogy, this would be like collecting a bunch of fish instead of learning to fish. That collection of fish, no matter how large, will only feed the person for a few days before the fish start to rot.

Here's a specific martial arts example (from my own experience) of this concept:

In AGPS, we had a specific joint lock called Outside Shoulder Lock. One variation of this lock is identical to Aikido's shiho nage. AGPS and Aikido get to the lock/throw in different ways. If I just learn these two techniques then all I'll have is a couple of ways of getting to the same lock/throw.

But, because of my solid foundation in Silat, I understand that the principle of that lock is used in several other locks. Since I understood this, when I learned shiho nage, I automatically had literally dozens of "techniques" based on that shared principle and I deepened my understanding of the foundational elements.

Since they are based on valid principles, each of these dozens of techniques is also valid. Though the practicality of each, for me, will depend on my testing of each. But I know that each one is valid because it is firmly rooted in a valid principle.

So, a technique collector would come away with two techniques. A martial artist comes away with dozens.

Refinement Is The Key

Cross training shouldn't be about learning how to fight. It should be about refining the understanding of the principles. Technique collectors aren't refining, they're loading up. Eventually, they'll overload. Proper cross training should be about refinement. It should be about finding options within what you already know, not about adding new techniques to the pile.

A potential problem with trying to cross train too early is that all of the student's classes will be beginner's classes. If one studies 5 arts for 1 year, s/hd will only have one year of training. The student will still only be a novice in each of those arts and in his/her overall development. If the student then starts switching and studying other arts, s/he will never be taught anything past the rudimentary basics. Some people can train in several things simultaneously and, intuitively, find the underlying connections between the arts. For most, though, this approach is the long way around.

Generally, the most efficient route to building a foundation is to train in one system until the foundation is built. Once the foundation is built, then cross training can be useful for shoring up weak areas in the foundation, and in building a house on that foundation.

Jack Of Many Master Of None

A common argument against cross training is the "jack of many, master of none" pitfall. It is a valid concern and an easy pit to fall into. It's also possible to avoid it.

During the bulk of my training, I trained in Sikal. I attended seminars and classes on a wide variety of other systems while training in Sikal. The key, though, I wasn't training in those other systems.

As an example, in 20007 and 2008, I was teaching Sikal. One of my private students was a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Pedro Sauer. So, after teaching him Sikal, we would go into his BJJ class and I would train there. I wasn't training in BJJ, though. I was still training in Sikal.

Sikal has some ground fighting from Harimau Silat but BJJ specializes in ground fighting. Training in BJJ strengthened my foundational understanding of ground fighting and, in turn, enhanced my understanding of the Harimau Silat aspects of Sikal.

These days, AGPS is my core. When I, for instance, attend a workshop on Tai Chi, I'm really still studying my Silat. Through my exposure to Tai Chi, I learn more about structure and balance. I learn more about the internal aspects of central equilibrium and energetic coherence. These principles, in turn, influence my Silat and the AGPS curriculum.

A Fine Line

It's a fine line to walk. Cross training is easy. Proper cross training is difficult. But if one can walk that line, they are likely, though not guaranteed, to be better martial artists because of it.

On the flip-side, cross training isn't necessary. It's possible to be a good martial artist and to develop a solid foundation and understanding of the underlying principles without cross training. For people who can't walk that fine line and find proper cross training, though, they're better off not cross training at all.

Summary

Cross training isn't the right option for everyone. However, it shouldn't be discarded out-of-hand simply because it's not right for someone else. Explore it, it might be right for you.

Remember, two of the most famous groups of martial artists in history, Samurai and Shaolin, both cross trained. They considered cross training important and vital. For example, it was common for a Samurai to train Kenjutsu, Tantojutsu, and Jujutsu—not to mention calligraphy and poetry.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Words, words, words

Words have power. Maybe it's because I'm a writer. Maybe because I've studied some NLP. Whatever the reason, though, I have a deeply rooted awareness of the power of words.

We've all heard the adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." This is true ... but incomplete.

Words can hurt me. If I let them. Any words I internalize have a direct and profound effect on me, and on how I deal with the world. How I deal with the world, in turn, affects how the world reacts to me.

In general, humans don't deal with reality. We deal with an internal map of reality. We deal with labels and abstract concepts. We tend to take snapshots of reality, and deal with those snapshots.

These maps and snapshots are, for most of us, comprised heavily of words. Sure, we have some images, sounds, smells, and touch-memories mixed in but, mostly, words. We describe the world to ourselves.

Snapshot Example

An example of the snapshot idea might happen with a car. You buy a beautiful new car. It's your favorite color, and everything about it is perfect. Six months later, though, there are minor scuff marks on the driver side door handle from holding your keys while you open it. The dash is slightly faded from the sun, the driver's seat has a mild depression in it. When you think of your car, though, you still see the snapshot in your head of that perfect car you bought. It's no longer that car, though. And, eventually, you'll notice the discrepancies between your snapshot and reality and it might cause you pain because it's no longer perfect. The pain might be subtle. You might not even consciously notice it. You might just decide, "I'm over this car. Time to buy a new one." Whatever.

Map Example

A common example I use for mapping relates to the words push and pull in martial arts. These words, for most people, automatically include the idea of confrontation. The map most people develop from early in their life tells them that a challenge must be met with strength, and strength requires tension, and it should feel like work. All of these ideas originate with our internal map.

I have an exercise I sometimes share with people. I have them get with a partner. Partner A faces a wall and Partner B stands behind them, lightly resting their hands on the trapezius muscles Partner A's shoulders. Now I tell Partner A to push against the wall when I count to three.

I say, "One. Two." I pause. "Partner B, what do you feel in your partner's shoulders?"

Almost always, they report tension in their partner's shoulders. They haven't even pushed yet, but they've already tensed their shoulders in preparation to push. Their internal map tells them, "We need to push. That means we need to overcome a challenge. That means we have to tense up and be strong."

Anyone who has trained in martial arts—or, for that matter, various physical activities like sports or dancing—knows tension slows things down, kills acceleration, decreases power. The key to generating power lays in relaxation.

I have Partner A shake it out and consciously relax their shoulders. Then I have them set up again but now I ask Partner A to reach out and touch the wall. I count, "One. Two. Three." Partner A moves and touches the wall.

"Partner B, how much tension?"

"Almost none."

That's the standard response. Almost none. Or very little.

The motion didn't change. In fact, in the second model, they actually did something to the wall. The only factor that changed was the word. Changing the word changed the way Partner A acted, changed the way they interacted with the world.

What's the difference between reaching to touch a target and pushing it? The only differences are acceleration and intention. If you want to push something hard, don't think about pushing it. Think about reaching through it. You'll find less tension in your motion which, in turn, will increase your acceleration and increase the amount of energy you're transferring into the target.

Guess what? The word "punch" usually sets up the same tension in people as the word "push." Want to increase your punching power? Change the word in your head. Reach through at a high rate of acceleration and it becomes a very powerful strike with very little tension in your own body to reduce the acceleration.

Tension in your body also chews up your own energy. If you keep unnecessary tension in your body while sparring, you'll just wear yourself out that much quicker because you're fighting your own body and your opponent.

Sugar Coating

Earlier tonight, I had a conversation with a guy on the train. He asked what I did and I told him I teach martial arts. He asked if what I taught was more "offensive" or "defensive."

"Honestly, I don't use those words. I prefer the word 'protective.' The word 'defense' has connotations of passivity and 'offense' has aggressive connotations. Protection is active and assertive."

"So you sugar coat the words."

Nope. No sugar coating. I choose to use the words that accurate describe my intentions because those words shape my internal map and influence how I deal with reality. They influence how I respond to a threat.

Words have power. Be careful about using them, careful about which words you use, and careful about which words you internalize.


The Wandering Guru

"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." — George Orwell, 1984


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Little Things

On the inter-terminal bus at Hong Kong airport, an employee pushed a woman in a wheelchair aboard and wound up parking the chair just in front of me. She tried to lock the wheels but the locks didn't hold very well.

As the bus lurched and turned, the wheelchair tried to roll forward and back. The employee, a middle-aged woman wearing glasses, had trouble keeping the chair in place. With my free hand, I took hold of the handle of the wheelchair and helped to keep it in place.

I saw the employee's eyes lock onto my hand where it held the handle of the wheelchair. Her eyes first lit with a question, next an accusation, finally realization. She smiled at me, radiating gratitude, and mouthed, "Thank you."

I smiled back and said, "No worries."

That look of relieved gratitude turned a rather tedious bus ride into a pleasant experience.

In the main terminal, after clearing immigration and customs, I walked over to the money changing station and handed the woman my 350 Filipino Pesos and asked her to convert to U.S. dollars.

She explained, "I first have to convert to Hong Kong dollars, then to U.S. Dollars. After both fees, you'll only get seven dollars."

About what I expected. Financially, the conversion wasn't really worth it but, what the hell.

She pulled out a $5 bill and a $2 bill. I laughed.

"Is something wrong, sir?"

"No. I just got a kick out of the two dollar bill. They're pretty rare in the States."

She smiled politely and nodded. I don't think she really understood what I meant. Nonetheless, I was amused and that made the exchange completely worthwhile.


The Wandering Guru

"At the sight of what goes on in the world, the most misanthropic of men must end by being amused, and Heraclitus must die laughing." — Chamfort


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Respect

I want to share a story. It is fictitious, but based on a true event. I only heard about it from a witness but didn't see it myself. Because of some unfortunate aspects, I have fictionalized the entire story, including the names. I want to tell the story because it's a powerful example of taking a moral stand to help someone else.

The Fighters

Two young men, who have never previously met, face each other across an empty expanse of mat. The day of competition has dragged by and each competitor has fought several other opponents to reach this point. This match will decide first and second place for the division. One fighter will take a gold medal, the other will take silver.

The fighters, David and Mark, are very similar in many ways. Only a few years apart in age, both have spent the majority of their lives training in martial arts. Both have trained hard, with dedication. Both have progressed and become solid examples of the systems they represent.

The biggest difference between them, really, stems from the difference in their ages. David, 18, just graduated from high school while Mark, 23, just graduated from college. This difference, under most circumstances, would seem nearly insignificant. Here, though, in this moment, in this match, this minor difference holds a lot of significance.

The Fight

They square off, the ref comes brings their hands together and gives some last minute instructions. He steps back and calls for them to begin.

Moving around the ring, the two throw some experimental shots, gauging each other's responses. Close, crash, high intensity action, hands and feet blur, strikes land. The judges watch closely. The ref watches closer.

Again and again, the young men come together. In the first moments of the match, Mark seems a clear winner. While David is good, he's simply not as good as his opponent. In a tournament, though, things are rarely so cut and dried. Mark clearly wins the first round, though.

After a short water break, round two begins. This time, things are much closer. David fares much better and Mark seems to be running out of energy. He fights hard and well, but, when the buzzer sounds, three of the four judges write a winning score for David on their sheets.

The third round goes much like the second, but Mark's battery seems to have run even lower, not recovered as much during the break. This round is much more decisive and all four judges score David as the winner.

The judges confer, tally their scores, and give the results to the ref. The ref raises David's hand. The fighters hug, both wearing huge grins.

The Aftermath

After the fight, one of the judges, Carl, approaches Mark. He leans in conspiratorially and whispers, "You threw that fight."

Mark nods. "Yeah. But he got a scholarship."

Carl sits back, an awed expression coming to his face as he realizes the situation.

A local university, as a sponsor for the event, promised a scholarship to anyone who took a gold medal in the competition. Mark, who already has his Bachelor's degree, threw the fight so David could get the gold and a scholarship.

My Take

Some people were upset, in real-life, by the actions of the person I based Mark on. They think he shouldn't have thrown the fight. To them, the reputation of their system as great fighters is vital, paramount. One of Mark's instructors chastised him for his actions.

While I have a great deal of respect for the system and for that instructor, I disagree. I think Mark made a noble decision. I already knew, liked, and respected Mark but, after hearing this story, my respect for him jumped several large notches.

He knows his skill level. He doesn't need a medal to prove it. He also knows he made a good decision. The potential impact of his action on David's life is profound.

I want to keep Mark's true identity hidden because I don't want him to catch any more flak than he already has, but in my estimation, he did the right thing. The honorable thing. The noble thing. His choice didn't take anything away from him as a fighter but it did illustrate his mettle as a martial artist.


The Wandering Guru

"The mettle of a man is tested in adversities and he, who remains firm in his beliefs comes out shining." — Sam Veda


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sheepdogs On Point; Sleep, Interrupted

At 12:30 AM, I sat in the observation car on the train, going from Flagstaff, AZ toward Los Angeles, CA. I worked on my computer, writing, until the sandman snuck up behind me and smacked a handful of his dust into my face. My eyelids drooped like they had ten pound weights suspended from them. I packed my computer and returned to my seat in coach.

I had two seats to myself so I reclined both of them and put up the footrests and settled in to go to sleep. Just as I started to nod off, someone yelled, "Whoa!"

A man a few rows back had, apparently, woken from a dream and decided he didn't want to be the only one awake. Several people shushed him. He said some strange things, then got quiet.

Just before my eyes drifted closed again, I saw a young Korean woman walking down the aisle.

The guy piped up again. "What're you doing? What do you want with me? Get away from me!"

I popped up, halfway out of my seat, ready to engage. A couple of Korean guys, relatives of the woman, I assume, had already intervened. One of them, large for a Korean and muscular, said, "Sit down."

"I thought she was going to attack me, the way she walked toward me quick like that."

"She wasn't going to attack you. Sit down. Go to sleep."

"Y'all know there's terrorists on board, right? We're all gonna blow up."

Another passenger, blond guy, early twenties, spoke up. "Oh my God, dude. Don't even say that. You're delusional or something. Go to sleep."

The troublemaker, a lanky black man with glassy eyes, wearing a dark sweatshirt and a white ball cap, quieted again.

Great, I thought. Now, whatever sleep I get is going to be light because the sheepdog in me won't rest easy with this guy nearby.

I think I managed a few minutes of sleep before the guy spoke up again. This time he stood up and said, "You! Stop!" He pointed toward the front of the car where ... no one stood. His expression screamed paranoia and the delusional aspect reminded me of the schizophrenic episodes I'd seen in my step-son.

Rising, I stepped in front of the guy. His finger hung in the air a couple of inches from my nose and now he pointed at me. The Korean guys returned, behind me.

I said, "You need to calm down."

"Nah, man. We're already dead. I'm tryin' to warn y'all."

"Calm down."

His eyes flashed with confusion, his expression muddied, his arm wavered.

The large Korean guy said, "Hey. You need to keep it down in here. People are trying to sleep. Why don't you go to the observation car? It's pretty much empty and no one's really trying to sleep there." This wasn't exactly true, several people had camped out in the observation car, but the point had merit. The lighted observation car had far less people.

I stepped out of the aisle and the troublemaker passed me, moving toward the observation car. With the Korean guys in the lead and me taking the rear, we herded the guy through three cars of sleeping people and into the observation car.

The guy sat in one of the seats and I continued on into the dining car where the conductors usually hang out in the wee hours while most of the passengers sleep. I found a conductor, a large man with a shaved head.

"Can I help you?"

"There's a guy out here causing a disturbance. He's delusional. Claimed someone shot at someone else, terrorists, someone tried to attack him. All sorts of things, none of it true. He's caused a lot of people to lose sleep."

The conductor stood, put on his cap. "Where is he?"

"A group of us herded him into the observation car."

"He's there now?"

"Yeah. About halfway down, sitting on the right." I described the troublemaker to him as I followed him through the observation car.

As the conductor talked to the troublemaker, I returned to my seat. I just wanted to sleep.

Settled in as comfortably as possible, I closed my eyes. And my brain wouldn't shut off. I'd had an adrenaline dump. Not a big one, not enough to give me the shakes, but enough to prevent sleep.

So, here I sit, writing this blog entry in the observation car.

When I first arrived in the observation car, the troublemaker still sat where I'd last seen him. Through the window in the doors between the cars, I could see the conductor's elbow poking off of a table in the dining car.

Troublemaker stood and made his way back toward where I sat. He asked another guy if he had any cigarettes. The guy said he didn't smoke.

I said, “You’re not allowed to smoke on the train anyway." My voice carried an authoritative tone, hard and unyielding. I hadn't intended to speak in that tone but my patience for Troublemaker had worn thin.

He turned away and mumbled, "Just thought I'd ask ..." The rest of his response drifted into silence.

About two minutes later, the train pulled into Kingman. Faint red and blue flashes pulsed in the observation car windows. The conductor entered the observation car, walked past me to Troublemaker. They talked briefly, then Troublemaker stood and the conductor escorted him out of the car, off the train, and into the custody of the police.

1:55 AM, and still, I'm awake. Time to do some editing on Annie Oakley and the Beast of Chicago and wait for the post-adrenaline crash to knock me out. Hopefully not facedown on my laptop.


The Wandering Guru

"Am I sleeping? Have I slept at all? This is insomnia." — Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club


Friday, August 15, 2014

Fear and Comfort

Over the past decade or so, I've given a lot of thought to fear and done some research into it.

The conclusion I've come to—at least for myself—is that when people say "fear" they're usually lumping two distinct things together into one concept.

The Different Aspects

One is the physiological survival mechanism hardwired into us. This survival trait is very useful. It's tied into instincts like sensing someone staring at you, or that someone has bad intentions toward you. It's commonly referred to as fight or flight, though I think that's an oversimplification, I'll call this FOF for the remainder of this post.

The other is a psychological reaction. I'll call it anxiety but, again, anxiety doesn't really cover the whole thing. This is what causes unhealthy reactions to danger, like panic.

FOF takes place in the present, and, in fact, helps bring the rest of our focus to the present. It sharpens our reactions, our vision, and our instincts.

Anxiety takes place in the future. It takes the form of worrying about the outcome. Worrying about getting hurt or killed, or hurting or killing someone else. Anxiety about legal problems or social ramifications of your actions. All of these things, important as they may be, only distract us from the immediate danger.

I think people lump these two things together as fear and believe they're inseparable simply because they often go hand in hand.

Stress And Heart Rate

They're both caused by stress. They both affect the heart rate.

FOF, though, puts you into your optimal range of effectiveness. This happens in the ~115 - ~145 heart beat range.

Anxiety will then push this farther, pushing your heart up into the ~145 - ~175 bpm range, if not higher. In this range, tunnel vision, loss of fine and complex motor control, etc. happens. Over ~175 bpm is the territory of pure panic.

While these heart rates have been recorded and are readily available I haven't read anything which explicitly indicates this split between the physiological (FOF) and psychological (Anxiety). For me, this comes from analysis of my personal experience and reading various accounts written by other people.

When I've been present—even when my life was threatened—I've always found myself in the zone. Everything became very clear, I experienced time dilation. Everything seemed in slo-mo ... except me. I felt like I had tons of time to make decisions and take actions.

When anxiety has crept in and I've been worried about the outcome, then I've panicked or, at least, come much closer to panicking. I've experienced tunnel vision and diminishing motor control.

Fortunately for me, most of my life, I've been able to remain present during the crisis and the anxiety only came after the emergency had passed. So, for instance, when I was 17 and got in my first car accident, everything slowed down, I examined my options, saw no way out that wasn't worse than what was about to happen, made a conscious decision to keep going straight, goosing the gas hoping I might clear the intersection and avoid the oncoming collision.

Only after the wreck did I feel anxiety. "Oh my god! My parents are going to kill me! Crap! Are the people in the other car OK?" Etc.

I honestly don't remember experiencing the anxiety side of this coin at all for the majority of my adulthood.

Stress Inoculation From Training

This, in my estimation, is one of the major benefits of training in relation to preparing for threat neutralization. Training provides, as David Grossman calls it, stress inoculation.

Through stress inoculation, we overcome the tendency toward anxiety, at least during the situation. The FOF still works to our advantage, but anxiety doesn't push us over the top.

This, anyway, is my personal conclusion on the topic after many, many, many hours and hours and hours of contemplation on it.

Stress Inoculation Example

I like to use a driving analogy to explain stress inoculation. If you've been driving a vehicle for a while, then this will make sense. If not, you can probably find something comparable in your own life.

Think back to when you'd been driving for only a few weeks, maybe a month, maybe your driving test for your driver's license. If, during that time, you'd hit a patch of mud, gravel, ice, or whatever, and gone into a skid, most likely, you would have panicked. You'd have considered it a very high stress situation. Anxiety about the outcome would have piled on top of the FOF reaction and you'd likely either have frozen up or badly overreacted.

Now, you've been driving for ten years. You've experienced quite a few skids in that time for one reason or another. You hit a skid, the exact skid you imagined in the previous paragraph, but now, with ten years of experience, it's a mild (if not low) stress situation. FOF kicks in but there's no real anxiety. You know what to do. You've been through things like this before. You do what you can. Maybe you crash, maybe you don't, but there's no panic.

If this kind of inoculation didn't work, then the world couldn't function as it does. For instance, if stress always pushed you above the FOF region of optimal performance, then soldiers around the world would, as soon as they got into a firefight, would lose access to their fine and complex motor skills. No more peripheral vision, no more trigger control, no more reloading their weapons. Many would freeze up or run.

Obviously, these things can happen but for every instance of it happening, there are thousands of instances of combatants performing all these actions and more, sometimes performing amazing physical feats requiring incredibly fine motor skills.

The Magic Happens Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

Unfortunately, the only way to acquire stress inoculation is through stress. Challenges are stressful but when we've come through them, we find a stronger version of us waiting on the other side. This always happens outside of your comfort zone.

Your comfort zone is a good place to catch your breath. If you want to improve, though, at anything, you must challenge yourself. You must step outside of your comfort zone. Don't push yourself to the breaking point, that's counterproductive. But challenger yourself.

When you challenge yourself, you will fail. Don't fear failure. Failure is part of the process.


The Wandering Guru

"Comfort ... was the key ingredient to making the prisoner crave the prison." — Ashim Shanker, Only the Deplorable