What is a Langkah?

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

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

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Friday, January 31, 2014

What is a guru?

The word "guru" has picked up some baggage over the years, at least in the United States. When people hear the word they usually picture one of several images:

  • An ascetic hermit who is more caught up in esoterica and the mysteries of life than in actually interacting with life and living.
  • A charlatan and/or cult leader who fleeces people for money, sex, or adulation.
  • A nerdy tech - a "computer guru" or an "engineering guru" or something similar.

While these images have some roots in reality, they are far, far away from the much more common realities of the word guru. The word is commonly used in India, Malaysia, and Indonesia for any type of teacher, be it a teacher of religion, math, science, or martial arts. Variants of the word are used in the Philippines and Thailand. It's likely used in other part of Southeast Asia I'm unaware of.

I've heard and read several explanations for the etymology of the word but the one I prefer is this: it's a hybrid of the sanskrit words "gu" meaning darkness and "ru" meaning light.

It implies enlightenment - another word rife with baggage. When you strip away the baggage, though, it's really pretty simple. My dictionary defines being enlightened like this:


  • having or showing a rational, modern, and well-informed outlook: the more enlightened employers offer better terms.
  • spiritually aware.

From this perspective, using the first definition, most people are "enlightened" about something; they exhibit a "rational, modern, and well-informed outlook" on the subject. For me, this definition applies to martial arts in general, Southeast Asian martial arts specifically, and various areas of computer programming. To a lesser extent it applies to writing, video editing, and other topics.

My personal interpretation of the word "guru" is much deeper than what is normally implied in words like "teacher" or "instructor" or "professor." Though people who use those titles may also be gurus by my standards but, generally, those words fall short of my interpretation of the word guru.

For me, a guru is a teacher, mentor, and guide. A guru doesn't preach, s/he leads by example. A guru is realistic about achievements within his/her chosen field. A guru neither brags nor downplays achievements. They are what they are. Proud of accomplishments but humbled by the responsibility s/he has chosen as a guru. And it is a responsibility. To be a teacher/mentor/guide means you've accepted responsibility for the development of others. It's a big deal.

A guru is a role model. It's OK to be human. If someone expects the guru to be perfect then they're the one making the mistake but the guru does, each day, each moment, strive to be the best person and guru s/he can be.

There is so much more to this subject but I think I've covered the essential foundational elements. Being a guru is a calling. It's a passion. It's not for everyone. Not everyone who trains with me aspires to be a guru. And I don't expect them to. It's my calling. It's my passion to share, help, lead wherever I can. I'm neither better nor worse than anyone else. I'm just a traveler who has explored certain trails pretty extensively and I offer my services as a guide on those trails.

I'm a student, just like everyone else. There are many, many things I don't know. Many things I will never know. But each day I learn something new. Each day I improve myself. This is part of being a guru; it's part of the leading by example aspect. Being a guru isn't just an external thing. We must also teach and guide ourselves. Be our own guru.

In my life, I have been blessed with many gurus in many areas. They taught, guided, mentored and helped me become a guru in my own right. They helped me understand what it means to be a guru, the responsibilities inherent in the role, and their own passion for the journey helped fuel my own.

The Wandering Guru

"One does not become a guru by accident." - James Fenton

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


I live a pretty minimalistic life. Especially for someone as connected to the internet as I am. Anyone who knows me personally will agree. I don't have a lot of stuff.

However, as I prepare to embark on life in an RV, specifically a converted minivan, minimization has taken on a whole new meaning. One of the imporant things to consider is functionality. If something doesn't have a specific purpose then it either has to take up virtually no space (e.g.: a poster on the wall or something) or I won't be keeping it. In fact, if something isn't multi-purpose then, unless it's single purpose is *very* important, I won't be keeping it.

The category which will take up the most space is merchandise but since it's a revenue stream, it serves a *very* important role. Even then, though, I'll only carry a handful of shirts, vids, and books. I could just take orders at events and I've tried that approach but it doesn't do as well. People are too hard wired for immediate gratification. They tend to want it now. If they have to wait for it then they often would rather not have it. I might also, at some point, consider shipping my merchandise ahead of me but for now I'm planning to keep some in the RV.

Then my training gear. Last year, I actually gave away and sold quite a bit of my training gear because I had so much of it. I had training knives and sticks which hadn't been used in a long time, some of them hadn't been touched in years. Even after that reduction, though, I've still got quite a bit. I'm going to reduce it even more now. I plan to only carry two personal sticks. I'll have a few others in the merchandise section so if (when) one of my personal sticks break I'll have a backup readily available. I'm only going to keep a handful of training blades. Maybe 4 knives and 2 swords. Probably keep my 2 focus mits. Then my 2 sarongs. The sarongs are easy because they take up little space and they can serve a second purpose as light blankets/jackets if necessary.

Yesterday I took two trash bags full of t-shirts to Goodwill. One bag was my t-shirts, one was Margaret's. I plan to only have about six shirts in my "dresser" and four will stay packed in my backpack for when I fly somewhere. I have a hard time finding pants which fit me comfortably so I'm actually going to have a few pairs of pants tailor made. They'll be convertible so can be long pants or shorts. Since I plan to visit Planet Fitness regularly for workouts and showers, I have to have tennis shoes - they don't allow sandals. So, to minimize, I'm going to start wearing tennis shoes full-time. That means I'll only need one pair of shoes. Though if I start teaching actively at Asymmetric Solutions then I'll also need tactical boots. And, of course, I have a set of dress clothes.

I plan to buy a small laptop and it'll be my only computer. For food, I plan to get a small toaster oven which can be plugged into the 12v DC outlet in the van (remember when the default usage for those was a cigarette lighter?). I might get a camp stove too but, really, most things I eat can be done in the toaster oven.

Of course, I'll have a bed and a toilet of some sort. I'll take showers at Planet Fitness after my workouts or at student's houses when I'm visiting them.

That pretty much sums up my RV plans. At least for now, in a vague, nebulous way. Once I actually get the minivan in March then I'll be able to nail down specifics.

In the meantime, though, I'll be getting rid of a bunch of clothes and other items I no longer need.

The Wandering Guru

"You sell off the kingdom piece by piece and trade it for a horse that will take you anywhere." - Colin Wright, My Exile Lifestyle

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Disarming - Part 2

Most disarms remove the weapon from the "seam" between the opponent's fingers and palm. The only thing preventing the weapon from coming out that seam is the thumb. The thumb is the key to almost all disarms. Our opposable thumbs are what make it possible to wield a weapon very effectively. Disrupt the thumb's function and you disrupt the opponent's ability to hold his/her weapon. They may still "pinch" the weapon between their fingers and palm but when they thumb is removed from the equation (sometimes literally) they effectively have no grip and a disarm becomes simple. Once the thumb's part of the grip is neutralized, the weapon can be stripped from their grip through the seam.

There are a few exceptions to this which use the holes in the grip, usually at the top of the grip, but even these can be considered to be method of neutralizing the thumb's functionality by employing a line on which the thumb has little or no effect.

Disarms and joint locks, especially wrist and finger locks, go hand-in-hand (pun intended). Nearly every disarm I'm familiar with uses a structure which is, effectively, a joint lock. Though the lock is often not taken when the focus is the disarm. This connection, though, is vital because when a disarm fails the locking structure is almost always sitting there ready to be exploited. Conversely, a failed joint lock may cause a disarm - this is part of the reason for the "incidental if not accidental" adage.

Of course, all this is *much* easier to show than to explain textually but hopefully this post at least gives some idea of how AGPS approaches the technicalities of disarming.

I teach disarms using the same framework I learned in Sikal. I categorize the disarms according to prevailing characteristics.

There are 7 categories:

  • Thumb Base
    • While nearly all disarms neutralize the thumb's effectiveness, thumb base are called "thumb base" because they directly attack the thumb to neutralize it. The most common version of this is where you grab the base of your opponent's thumb and squeeze. The more pressure you put on the base of the thumb, the less effective the thumb is and the weaker the grip gets. You can also manually peel the thumb off the weapon. As I said before, once the thumb is neutralized then the weapon can be removed through the seam in their grip.

  • Snake
    • The defining attribute of snake disarms is that you wrap your tool - whether it's your hand, arm, weapon, or potentially even a leg - around the opponent's weapon and hand/arm. The mechanics behind this type of disarm involve your tool immobilizing their weapon and put their hand/arm into a structure (a joint lock) which weakens their grip allowing the weapon to be removed. There are basically only two types of snake disarms, clockwise and counter-clockwise. However, there are a wide variety of ways to effect it based on which tool you use.
  • Vine
    • Vine disarms are very similar to snakes and some systems I'm familiar with swap the terms from the way I use them. In vine disarms, though, you wrap your opponent's weapon around something. It causes a similar immobilization of their weapon and locking structure to weaken their grip and effect the disarm.

  • Leverage
    • Leverage disarms require a fulcrum. Usually the punyo, or butt of the weapon, acts as the fulcrum. Lock the fulcrum against something, then use leverage to remove the weapon from of their grip.

  • Harness
    • We use the term "harness" to describe disarms where you cup (or harness) the opponent's wrist in such a way it restricts the motion of the stick and their ability to retain the grip as you remove the weapon.

  • Impact
    • Impact disarms use, as you might guess, an impact to effect the disarm. Sometimes the impact is in conjunction with one of the other categories and it forms a gray area where either category is appropriate but sometimes the disarm is attempted with a pure impact such as a hard strike to their forearm or wrist to disrupt their grip and eject the weapon. When dealing with edged weapons the "impact" disarm becomes an attack intended to sever the tendons which control the grip and cause the weapon to be disarmed or, with some blades, the intention is to sever the entire end of the arm holding the weapon.

  • Quick Strip
    • This category is a catch-all miscellaneous category for disarms which don't really fit cleanly into any of the other categories. This is also where we slot the disarms which use the openings in the grip.

The Wandering Guru

"I don't categorize things merely to simplify my understanding. I'd rather delve into the process of unlearning." - Nikhil Sharda

Monday, January 27, 2014


On February 1st, 2014 I will be teaching at an event at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix, AZ.

The other instructors will be Guros Mike Butz and Alessandro Ashanti. I met Guro Mike in ~2007 and Guro Alessandro in January 2013. Guro Mike's background is in DeCuerdas Eskrima and Guro Alessandro's background is in Serrada Eskrima. Both also have strong backgrounds outside of the Filipino martial arts. They are both excellent martial arts practitioners and teachers and over the course of our friendship the three of us have found a lot in common among our philosophies about martial arts and training.

Last year we decided to start doing seminars together in Phoenix several times a year. The first was in October 2013 and each of us presented our take on joint locks. We had a good turnout and everyone came away with something useful.

The seminar on Saturday will focus on disarming the opponent. Since I'm thinking about this event right now, I'm going to share my thoughts on disarming here. If you're able to attend the event then you'll hear much of this repeated there. If you can't attend then you'll be missing out on the illustration of this philosophy, not to mention the great material and teaching the other Guros will bring to the event.

The common adage is, "Disarms are incidental if not accidental." In my experience, there's a lot of truth to this. The only time I consciously think about taking a disarm is as it's happening and, often, I don't consciously realize the disarm is available until *after* I've done it or at least attempted it. And there's another point. People really don't like to let go of their weapons. Disarms fail. If you haven't experienced it, you'd be amazed at how flexible and slippery people can get while trying to retain their weapon.

So, to be at all effective, disarms have to be explosive. They have to succeed before the opponent has a chance to realize, even on a reflexive level, that the disarm is possible. This is difficult and, to have any real success, requires a lot of training. And, even with a lot of training, it's still incidental if not accidental.

Some people take this reality and say, "Why train them at all?" It's a valid question and I don't fault people for minimizing disarms in their training and teaching. I, however, teach disarms. I teach a lot of disarms, especially against sticks. In part, this is because the primary source for my stick work is Cacoy Doce Pares Eskrima and SGM Cacoy is known for his disarming ability and success, not to mention his striking, locking, throwing, and choking. But even before I got heavily involved in CDP I taught and trained a lot of disarms.

Here's my reasoning. Disarms are fun. They're satisfying on a variety of levels. Training them is fun. Pulling them off in sparring is a blast. The look on your opponent's face when his/her weapon is suddenly gone is priceless. Disarms, though, are just the dessert. They're not the main course. They're the decadent double fudge brownie sundae after the main course is finished. So, you're probably thinking, "What's the main course?"

In order to get a disarm you must first accomplish two things. First, you must deal with the attack. This almost always means getting off line. If you're still on the line of attack then (a) you're still in danger and, at best, delaying the inevitable and (b) it will be much more difficult to get control of your opponent's weapon and launch an effective counter-attack if you're still being threatened by their weapon.

Second, you get control of their weapon. Once you have control of their weapon - ideally you have as much or more control of it than they do - then options open up. You can attack them with their own weapon while they're still holding it ("return to sender"). You can keep the weapon out of your way while you attack with your own weapon(s). And you can disarm.

For me, those first two steps are the main course. When I'm training and teaching disarms, my actual focus is on those two aspects. Like I said before, the disarms are the dessert. A lot of people initially focus on the disarms, even when I tell them it's the dessert, and it's okay. They're still getting the training on how to deal with the attack and get control of the weapon. Over time they will realize where the real nutrition in the meal comes from.

The Wandering Guru

"Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." - Ernestine Ulmer


Sunday, January 26, 2014

When Jacuzzis Attack

Margaret got a jacuzzi tub in the room tonight. She was looking forward to it all day. Though, admittedly, she did delay getting into the tub until after we'd played a couple of games of Legendary.

Then she got into the tub and started filling it. It's in the room with our bed, like jacuzzi tubs sometimes are in hotel rooms. When she thought it was full enough she turned on the jets. It made a lot of noise and she got hit in the face with a powerful stream of water. She squealed, I kid you not, and put her left hand up to shield her face while her right fumbled with the controls to shut the jets off.

Then she decided to find out where the jets actually were so she turned it on again and, again, was hit in the face with water. She was laughing uncontrollably throughout this process. She put her hand up as a shield again and this time some of the deflected water actually hit our bed. Fortunately, from my perspective at least, it was on her side of the bed.

Once she'd figured out where the jets actually were she made the observation, "Those are jets! I thought those were the intakes. I'm going to have to fill the tub almost full before I can turn the jets on. What a stupid design."

Given the amusement factor involved, though, I'm not sure it was really such a bad design after all.

The Wandering Guru

"Humor is mankind's greatest blessing." - Mark Twain

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wichita Falls, TX

Visited Warrior's Way in Wichita Falls, TX this morning. Guro Harley Elmore and I met in '01 and have been friends since. He's a top notch practitioner - a full instructor under such luminaries as Terry Gibson, Dan Inosanto, Chris Sayoc, and possibly others I'm unaware of. He's an excellent instructor and a great guy. Every time I visit, we have a great time hanging out, comparing notes, shooting the breeze, and sharing with each other. And every time I think, "Man, why don't we do this more frequently?" He agrees. So when I get fully gypsified we're going to plan some time for me to spend a couple of weeks in the Wichita Falls area. The idea is exciting.

Today was his monthly training session for out-of-town students. People came in from Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa and there were a few locals too. It was a good group. They started out with work on Sayoc templates. It was mostly review for the group so Harley and I were able to talk. We're both incredibly busy so it's always nice when we have a chance to catch up some. Then we broke for lunch.

After lunch, Harley asked me to teach a couple of hours of Silat and I really like sharing with him and his group. They're very open and receptive. We had a great session. I touched on the importance of footwork and structure and gave some details on biset dalam, kengit siko, and sapu luar.

Most of the group was already familiar with the basics of the motions so we were able to focus on some of the finer nuances and I saw several people's eyes "pop" when things clicked. They'd been having trouble with something for a while and something in my presentation resonated with them and they were able to make a breakthrough. Always a great thing to see as a teacher.

The Wandering Guru

"We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best that we can find in our travels is an honest friend. " - Robert Louis Stephenson

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pak Herman, RIP

Visited my friend Guru Tim Lee's class in Garland tonight. He and I used to see each other pretty regularly at seminars with Pak Herman  Suwanda. We'd lost contact after Pak Herman died but we reconnected on Facebook a few years ago and have seen each other a couple of times since.

Tonight, Tim brought out material from the Jagabaya curriculum Pak Herman put together. I never formally trained in the Jagabaya curriculum but I saw a lot of it over the years at seminars with Pak Herman. It was good to revisit some of the material. We started with some material from Cikalong Silat. We went over some buah (applications) from several of the Cikalong jurus. Then we did some work from the Jawara jurus. We ended class with a couple of techniques from Minangkabau Harimau.

Working the Jagabaya material with a Mande Muda comrade was nice and brought back some good memories of training with Pak Herman.

Here's to Pak Herman Suwanda. To his generosity and his infectious good humor. To his incredible talent and the amazing repertoire of material he shared with so many people. Here's to Ibu Shannon who complimented Pak Herman so well. Her passion for training was inspirational. RIP, Pak and Ibu. We're still honoring your memory.

The Wandering Guru

"If something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach to immortality." - Norman Cousins

To Pak Herman who *definitely* made this approach to immortality.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What we do best

I'm listening to "Without Fail" by Lee Child. It's a Jack Reacher novel. Good stuff. I recommend the series in general. Though the first few books are sort of humorous because the author is British but he's writing about an American (albeit one who hasn't spent a lot of time in America) in America but, in those first few books, he still used quite a bit of British vernacular. It didn't affect the story but it did make for some interesting hiccups in the flow of reading for me.

Back to my main point, though. In "Without Fail" Reacher is working with the Secret Service to protect the Vice President Elect. Threats have been made and the kill team has proven their resolve and capabilities. Reacher, with 13 years in Military Police and a lot of hands on experience dealing with active threats, has just done something which he hopes will direct the kill team's attention toward him and away from the VP Elect.

A Secret Service agent, Froelich, accuses Reacher of charging headlong into trouble. After a lengthy discussion Reacher says, "Listen, I'm sick of justifying myself. It's ridiculous. You know your neighbors? You know the people who live around here? ... Maybe one of them is an old lady who knits sweaters. Are you going to walk up to her and say, 'Oh my God! What's with you? I can't believe you have the temerity to knit sweaters."

She says, "You're equating armed combat with knitting sweaters?"

"I'm saying we're all good at something. And that's what I'm good at. Maybe it's the only thing I'm good at. I'm not proud of it and I'm not ashamed of it either. It's just there."

The problem here is that Froelich is judging Reacher by her own standards. She's never really dealt with armed attackers and her training, which she has mentioned several times, is reactive, not proactive. As a Secret Service agent her job is to protect her principal, not hunt down bad guys. Her training has been about covering the principal and getting away. Not about investigation or attacking or neutralizing the threat. She keeps the principal alive. The way it's supposed to happen, other agencies - whether it's local law enforcement, FBI, etc. - handle the threat neutralization.

So Reacher's tactics seem reckless to her. And, because she cares about him, she's lashing out from a fear-based place and blaming him for being reckless.

It's understandable. But it's misplaced. Reacher's analogy about the woman knitting is appropriate. He's *really* good at investigation and dealing with active threats. He has a lot of experience with it. His actions aren't based on book learning. They're based on his training and experience. He *knows* he's good. He's proven it time and time again.

But Froelich isn't completely out of line, either. She's acting from the place she knows. They're both right and, they're both handling it poorly.

One of the things David Grossman talks about in "On Combat" (a book I *highly* recommend) is when a military or law enforcement operator or a firefighter gets home after a hairy incident, s/he is wired. Tightly wound, wrung out, and drained all at the same time. They've just gone through a majorly traumatic event. What has to be remembered, though, is their loved ones just went through a majorly traumatic event too. Maybe they saw something about the trouble on the news. Maybe they heard something on a grapevine. Maybe they just *know* like people sometimes do. While the operator was fighting for his/her life, the loved ones were terrified and stressed about the outcome too.

Grossman makes a very interesting observation: as the warrior, it's really the operator's duty to set aside his/her own stress and deal with the loved ones first. Get them calmed. Don't get upset. Don't lash out. If the loved ones are lashing out, accept it, comfort them. Be the strong one. It's what operators are (theoretically) trained to do. The problem, though, is that a lot of operators *aren't* trained for this aspect. They're trained to deal with the fire and the bullets and the blood and the life-or-death situation. They're not trained for the tears and the fear-based blame and the loved ones who don't, can't comprehend. They should be. It should be just as much a part of the job and the training as the other threats they face. A strong relationship at home can only help an operator. A home life that's suffering - especially if it suffers because of the job - is as likely to undermine the operator on the job as any other stress (injury, addiction, etc.).

Don't judge people based on your own standards. When you feel the urge to lash out, stop and take a breath. When someone lashes out at you, stop and take a breath. Don't immediately react because you'll almost certainly escalate an already bad situation. If you're the operator, take care of your loved ones and their fears first. Then you can deal with your own. If you're the loved one then do the same thing. Remember, whatever the job, they're doing it because they want to serve, protect, and help. It's already a hard job. There's nothing wrong with sharing your fears with them but don't blame them. Be supportive and expect him/her to be supportive of you. It has to be a two-way street if the relationship is going to remain strong.

The Wandering Guru

"No man fears to do that which he knows he does well." - Duke of Wellington

Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you.

Back in '98, I visited Lansdale's Self-Defense for the first time. I was asked to teach the stick class and I was very nervous. I wasn't even a full instructor yet. It was my first experience teaching outside of Guru Ken's school. My first time teaching people I didn't know in a setting where I was on my own. I didn't know what the students knew, what they may have been taught, where they were in their development. My biggest concern was that I would bore them.

I didn't. In fact, as it turned out, most of the class was pretty young in their development. I brought out something very basic and everyone but the assistant instructor struggled with it. It was an eye-opening experience for me on many levels.

It was also just "one of those nights." I couldn't have messed up if I'd tried. Even when I did something "wrong" it worked out.

Prof. Lansdale watched part of the class and, after, complimented me on my teaching. I told him it was, in part, due to it being a good night. He said, "Yup. We all get those from time to time. And we all get the shaft from time to time. Those times when nothing you do works out. I try to get people to understand this and realize fighting is the same way. Sometimes you get the bear. Sometimes the bear gets you. If you're having one of those bad days, you're going to take a beating, maybe worse. Since you never know what kind of day you're having until it's too late, it only makes sense to avoid fighting whenever possible."

Well, last night, in the same room I taught that first class back in '98, I had the opposite kind of night. I felt kinda off. My left ear felt all clogged up, I was having a lot of sinus problems, my balance was a little off. I was messing up things I've done thousands of times. It just wasn't my night. For the most part, no one in the class noticed. I've been doing my thing for a long time so even an off day looks pretty good from the outside but I was way off my usual game.

The thing about training and teaching is, you get days like this. The more experience you have the less anyone else will notice. It's important to notice them yourself, though, because situations like this keep us humble.

The Wandering Guru

"Life is a long lesson in humility." - James M. Barrie


Monday, January 20, 2014

The value of footwork

Visited the Shen Chuan HQ tonight. It was an open mat night and Prof. Coy was running the show. It was, as always, great to see him again and watch him in action. He's a great guy, great practitioner, and great teacher.

Coy was working with one of the guys, Keifer, helping him prepare for entering MMA competition.

Keifer is a relatively new black belt and he's decent, but he needs some work before stepping into a ring. He has a tendency to either stand in place or run away. Coy and I were working with him to help him realize the importance of footwork.

A friend of mine, Stephen Watson, once said at a seminar, "When I started studying Tai Chi, I watched the hands. I think everyone does. I watched the hands for nearly thirty years before I figured out all the magic was happening in the footwork."

In the Filipino martial arts, as I learned them, we are *very* mobile. The Filipino boxing I learned literally stepped with each punch. It helps with power generation but the primary reason is the blade based background from which the material evolved. When facing a blade-wielding opponent you *have* to be mobile. Your footwork is what keeps you alive.

A Silat instructor I know, Guru Stevan Plinck, once used a tank analogy at a seminar. A tank's treads are used to get the tank into position to fire its guns. Our feet should do the same job. Our primary guns are the upper body tools. Our hips act as the turret but our feet, our treads, get us into position to fire the guns. We run over an opponent (e.g.: stomp, low-line kick, knee) as we move but we don't try to attack with our lower body in other ways.

Footwork is paramount. If the footwork is good enough then there's no reason to block or parry with the hands. The footwork gets you off line and out of danger and puts your hands into position to attack.

To work this, Coy and I had Keifer put his hands in his pockets then someone would throw slow punches. Keifer's objective was to either get behind his opponent and/or disrupt his opponent's structure without using his hands. This forced him to find his feet and figure out how to use them. If he hesitated he got hit (lightly, of course). If he overextended himself, he got swept. If he didn't maintain his structure properly, he got hit or swept. By the end of it, though, he was doing much better.

Move your whole body (which starts with the feet), maintain your structure, relax, breathe. When you do this, things tend to happen to your opponent. It's really pretty incredible. One of the best examples I've seen of this principle is Bapak Willem "Uncle Bill" de Thouars. He's incredible. Another good illustration I've seen of this is from Martin Wheeler of Systema. The expressions differ but the principles are the same.

And always remember, it's not about *not* getting hit. If you get in a fight you're likely going to get hit. It's about not getting knocked out or killed. By moving you tend to either avoid or jam incoming strikes. When you add your own attacks to the mix it can quickly lead to situations where you're able to overwhelm your opponent. The quicker you can put your opponent down the less likely you are to take serious damage or, in the case of MMA, the less likely you are to lose.

And, footwork brings us back to the name of this blog. In the Silat systems I've trained and in AGPS Langkah are the tools used for training, working, and developing footwork and an understanding of how to use it.

The Wandering Guru

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." - Anonymous

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Successful Friends

I met Joe Lansdale in '98. Not only is he an amazing martial artist, he's also a top-notch, award-winning author.

In 2000, after one of his annual Camp Lansdale events, I met his daughter, Kasey. Kasey was a spunky and precocious teenager of 14 or 15. Over the years, I watched her grow and develop and mature. Saw her get married and divorced. Saw her go through some high times and low times. Now, thirteen years and some change since I met her, that spunky, precocious teenager has evolved into a vivacious, mature woman. She's taken a successful hand at fiction writing and editing but her passion is music. She's gradually making her mark in the Country music world.

Pretty early in her career she opened for the legendary Ray Price on the Texas leg of one of his tours. She's put out several CDs. They're all good but each one is, as it should be, better than the previous as she hones her craft.

Last night she played on a bill with some other notable up-and-comers in the business, including Raelyn Nelson, granddaughter of Willie Nelson, and John Carter Cash, son of Johnny Cash and June Carter. John Carter Cash produced her most recent CD, "Restless" - http://www.amazon.com/Restless-Kasey-Lansdale/dp/B00EO9QPPC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390143911&sr=8-1&keywords=kasey+lansdale - and it's an incredible album.

They played The Rutledge in Nashville, TN last night. http://therutledgelmv.com

Margaret and I didn't stay for the whole show, bars really aren't our scene. But we did, of course, watch Kasey and have some incredible quesadillas. I noticed Kasey had a little trouble with dry mouth and it distracted her just a little but I doubt many people noticed it. On her third song, she really hit her stride and she owned the stage and the venue for the rest of her performance. It was great to see.

Like I told Joe a few years ago, I'm not sure how to classify my relationship with him and his family but they are definitely part of my extended family. Kasey is kind of like a little sister, cousin, niece all rolled into one for me and seeing her shine on stage the way she did last night was awesome and I'm a very proud brother/cousin/uncle!

The Wandering Guru

A tribute to a brownie experience I shared with Kasey: "There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate." - Linda Grayson

Saturday, January 18, 2014

You get the one you get

In martial arts training we often train against a punch. It's easy to fall into a trap of perception where we think we're training to deal with the first punch.

This isn't the case at all, though. Really, we're training to deal with the one we get. In a real fight, or in sparring, we rarely get the first punch. Often we don't get the second or third. We parry, we evade, we absorb and dissipate. In the end, we get the one we get. That one, the one we get, is the one we're training to deal with.

By the same token, people fall into a pitfall where they think they're training to deal with a punch. This, also, isn't true. It *might* be a punch. It might be a shove or a grab or any other motion where the person's hand is coming toward us aggressively.

Our training should, in the end, teach us to deal with the one we get, whatever it is and whenever we get it.

The Wandering Guru

"It's not about the cards you're dealt, but how you play the hand." - Randy Pausch

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Stealing Bases

What a great night!

This event was one of my favorite topics. Balance disruption, sweeps, takedowns. It's at the heart of my personal philosophy. If I'm forced to fight then, from the moment I touch him to the moment I stop touching him, he should be in pain and off balance.

We had a decent turn out at the event with 10 people and we had a blast. I gave a very quick overview of primary and secondary balance disruption points and then we moved directly into applications. Did several upper body takedowns with the arm, then several with the head, then moved to some lower body sweeps and ended with some timing sweeps.

Everyone had a great time. A few people were very frustrated by the challenge presented by the material but they kept working it and everyone came away with something they could use which they hadn't known before.

On top of which, whatever ailment I've had for the past 10 or so days is finally easing up. There's still some residual stuff hanging on but I felt like I was running at about 85% today which is a vast improvement over the roughly 60% I've been running for the past 10+ days.

Between being sick, driving, and teaching on Sat, Sun, and tonight, I feel a bit like a tenderized steak so I expect I'll sleep quite well and for quite a while tonight and be back to 100% by the time we head for Nashville on Saturday.

The Wandering Guru

"Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling." - Margaret Lee Runbeck

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Curriculum Video

Met with Guru Eddie, Kea, Mark, and Adam tonight to do some filming for the AGPS curriculum vids. What we shot tonight, combined with what we shot at the weekend intensive last month covers most of Level 1 and all of Level 2. Tomorrow we'll shoot video for the remainder of Level 1. When I get back home I'll continue editing the video from the weekend intensive and, between that and the video shot here, I should be able to put together adequate DVDs for Level 1 and Level 2 of the curriuclum. They won't super high quality but they will be content rich quality.

Tomorrow is going to be a full day. Silat in the morning with Guru Eddie, Dave Randolph, Kea Grace, and possibly others. Then back to finish filming elements for Level 1. Then we'll do the Stealing Bases workshop. Ultimately, Stealing Bases will be a DVD - a follow up to the Balance Disruption Workshop video.

The Wandering Guru

"A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles." - Tim Cahill


Chuck and I went to Andy's last night. Andy was returning from Atlanta but Jeff met us at Andy's garage and we went in. Jeff and Chuck started training. They were running jurus and exercises. I watched from the couch because I'm still fighting off the last of whatever bug I've had. They trained for a while and we talked while they trained. Then Andy came in. He watched and critiqued some and joined the conversation. I didn't get to see Bobby, he's out of town for work.

It was great to see the guys again. It sucks that it took the tragedy of Rick's death to really bring us together but so goes life.

The camaraderie of Silat siblings (or any martial art) is hard to describe to outsiders. It's a cousin to the camaraderie people in law enforcement and military develop - especially those in operational units. It's similar to what team athletes develop. These are all different shades and, I think, intensities of camaraderie but experiencing one can certainly help you sympathize with people who experience another so maybe there are a lot of people who can understand what I'm talking about.

When Rick was alive I trained with these guys sometimes and they always welcomed me but I felt kind of like an in-law. I was welcome but I wasn't really part of the family. Or, at least, I felt like an in-law. Rick's death, though, really brought us all together. It was something I shared in as deeply as they did. I had known Rick a lot longer but their experience with him had been very intense. We all considered him a brother. Period. So losing him brought us together as family, supporting each other and helping each other deal with the pain and grief and loss.

I'm honored to call these guys brothers and I look forward to seeing them when I'm in Indy. I love training with them when I can and, while we all wish Rick was still here with us physically, his spirit is always with us. In fact, Andy has a wall with a variety of pictures on it. Pictures of Pendekar Paul and of Andy and his guys training and whatnot. There now hangs a framed picture of Rick, blood dripping over a big goofy grin after he got clocked in training one night. That picture has a great story behind it but, even more importantly, it captured his soul. That picture tells volumes about who Rick was and how he lived and how much he loved life.

The Wandering Guru

"Wherever you go, go with all your heart." - Confucius

Monday, January 13, 2014

Critical Thinking

Earlier tonight my friend Chuck and I were watching a video of Pak Herman Suwanda teaching some flexible weapons work using a sarung. Specifically from Cipecut Pencak Silat. Pak Herman showed a technique with the sarung which I've seen and worked thousands of times over the years.

Chuck, who is an accomplished martial artist but hasn't worked with flexible weapons much, said, "I don't like that technique."

I asked him why. Then I went and got an ikat - a very large bandana - since I didn't have an actual sarung. I did the technique on him and we began discussing and playing. Chuck's points about the technique were completely valid. As it was shown on the video it had some serious flaws but, at first, I disagreed with them. I was, in fact, blind to them.

After a while I realized the only reason I disagreed was due to a perceptive bias based on when I first learned the technique. When I first learned the technique I was still very new to Silat and to flexible weapons and still a relatively young martial artist in general. At that point in my development, most of my background had been of the "monkey see, monkey do" variety and I wasn't in the habit of applying critical thinking to the material I was learning.

The technique Pak Herman showed was and is valid but in the way it was illustrated on the video there are a lot of problems with it. Mostly they are related to range and timing. Issues which may well have had more to do with video presentation than with the technique. But the issues were there when I learned the technique firsthand, too. I think, looking at it now, with a critical eye, the technique is shown as it is because it's simple and basic and it isolates the movements well. I think the "variations" of the technique I was shown later were, ultimately, the more applicable expressions. They tightened up the weaknesses that Chuck had noticed.

The interesting thing, though, is that I've been doing Silat for about 12 years longer than Chuck but he caught this before I did because it was his first exposure to it and he's already at a place in his development where critical thinking comes automatically to his assessment. It does for me, too, but this technique slipped past my radar because it was "grandfathered" in.

So, a word of advice. Always look at what you do - whether it's martial arts or not - with a critical eye. Look at it like it's the first time you've seen it. Apply all the lessons you've learned to the assessment of it. Even if, maybe *especially* if, it's something you've known and done for a long time.

The Wandering Guru

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." - Martin Buber

Joint Locking & Blade Workshop

Awesome training yesterday in Muncie, Indiana. Hosted by Guro Cory Ballinger of Kailat Combatives.

We did 1.5 hours on joint locks with the oh-so-special-kind-of-pain from Shen Chuan. Then we did 1.5 hours on blade defense. My understanding of blades and blade defense comes from Sikal, as I learned it from Guru Ken Pannell. We kept it pretty basic but covered some good ground.

There were also some nice tangents taken about deeper principles of motion: covering sectors, centerline awareness, zoning, body mechanics, timing. We packed a lot into 3 hours. Again, it was a room full of quality practitioners. People more interested in understanding why things work than the specific labels put on the material. People who just want to learn and share and progress.

Old friends reconnected, new friends were made, many notes were shared. The feedback was great and I know I personally had a blast.

The Wandering Guru

Sunday, January 12, 2014

CDP Workshop

Taught a workshop on Cacoy Doce Pares Eskrima yesterday in Alexandria, Indiana.

We had a good turnout with people from all over central Indiana as well as some from Ohio and Kentucky. It was a great group of quality martial artists who, regardless of rank or background, were eager to learn and have a good time.

We did some double stick warmups then moved into technical material. We started with stick against stick and did single strike counters against the first three angles. Then we moved into some locks and throws with the stick against those angles. From there we moved to empty hand against stick and repeated all the locks and throws against the three angles. This kept the actual amount of material down to a manageable level for the less advanced folks and, for the folks who were primarily empty hand practitioners, it gave them a chance to see the correlation between the empty hands and sticks. 

Special mention for the hosts, Senseis Dan Stanley and Heather Maple-Smith. They are long-time students of, and black belts under, Shihan Larry Davenport, Sr. They have recently opened a new dojo in Alexandria, Indiana and they did a great job as hosts. From my perspective and, I believe, that of the attendees, everything was well organized and managed. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to organize and host an event and they did it very well.

Also, Shihan Larry Davenport, Sr., who I had the honor of training with in Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate in the early 90s came to watch the seminar. It was the first time he's seen me in a teaching role and it was awesome to have him there. He also took a lot of pictures which, when I get copies, I'll post. And he shared some sage advice with the group at the end of training and complimented me on my teaching. In the large picture, I've been training in martial arts for 35+ years and only a couple of those years were spent training with Shihan Daveport so his contribution to my development may seem small but the impact he had on me during that relatively brief time was significant. I don't know if I would have made it to where I am today without his influence and, even if I did, I'm sure it would have taken considerably longer for me to do so. Thank you, Shihan, for being you and doing what you do. Over the years, I've met and worked with and trained with a lot of instructors. All the ones I consider "gurus" (whether that's their formal rank or not) have been leaders first and foremost. They lead by example and the most important lessons they teach come from their actions, not their mouth. Shihan Davenport is definitely such a teacher.

And, last but far from least, I had a very pleasant surprise when Guru Clif Wallace showed up. He is a peer of mine in Sikal, a brother Sikal Guru. We hadn't seen each other in a few years and it was awesome to see him again, work out with him again, and catch up a little bit.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, January 9, 2014


This evening I had dinner with Guru Ken, my primary martial arts instructor, and his daughter Chelsea.

I started training with Guru Ken the same day I met Margaret. This was February 1995. Chelsea was just a lump in her mom's belly. Now she's 18, about to graduate from high school, and has developed into an incredible young woman. I hadn't seen Guru Ken or Chelsea in person in a couple of years and it was great to see them again.

They are family. I trained actively with Guru Ken for 15+ years. From '96 to '01 we spent 20+ hours / week together, every week. We traveled all over the US together, and abroad to China and the Philippines. We were inducted into the Doce Pares Eskrima World Hall of Fame together in '08. I watched Chelsea grow up. I was one of the guinea pigs for the development of the Sikal curriculum. Guru Ken was at my wedding. We've helped friends move, mourned the loss of 2 dear friends together, and been there for each other in a variety of ways over the years. Spending 10,000+ hours with someone forms a bond. When those hours are spent training, sweating, sometimes bleeding, sometimes crying the bond is even stronger. I can't put the bond into words beyond saying "we're family" but, given the state of most families, this description doesn't really do the relationship justice. Guru Ken was my martial arts instructor, my primary influence. But beyond that he was, and is, my *guru* and that word carries a lot of weight. There are many labels for what he has been in my life: teacher, mentor, uncle, brother, friend. It wasn't always easy but it was always fruitful and it continues to be. He and Chelsea are about to embark on their own new adventure after she graduates and it's awesome to see them in such a good place with such exciting things on the horizon.

We had dinner at Outback Steakhouse. Guru Ken was struggling with a migraine. Ultimately, he had to go home and I covered his class for him at Asian Fighting Arts. It was a good class. We did some Cacoy Doce Pares Eskrima and some Silat. I met a few of the newer students and saw a few familiar faces. It was a lot of fun.

Tomorrow I'm having breakfast with Guru Ken then I'm heading for Indiana.

The Wandering Guru

"Not all those who wander are lost." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Flexibility, Legendary, Friends, and Training

Because of our flexibility and willingness to go, we were able to leave Springfield, MO and head south before Springfield got really bad weather. We were able to skirt all the bad weather and arrived in Cincinnati without having had to deal with anything worse than a few inches of snow for a few hours.

Regarding our plans to become permanent RVers, my cousin asked, "What will you do if it gets really cold." I explained, "We'll be able to go wherever. If it's too cold where we are we can head south. If it's too warm we can head north." Leaving Springfield was a perfect example of that principle.

We had a great time in Cincinnati hanging out with our friends Tom and Chenoa.

I've known Tom for nearly 15 years. He used to train with Guru Ken. He left martial arts training for a while, about 10 years in fact, but he was still part of our group. He turned more toward healing, learned about Reiki, herbs, and other modalities. He recently returned to martial arts training and I'm proud to say he's studying AGPS.

I met Chenoa in '06. She was studying with Stephen Watson in Connecticut at the time and I went out there for a seminar to celebrate Uncle Bill de Thouars's 70th birthday. I met Chenoa again later in '06 at Tai Chi Alchemy and we became friends.

In '13, I finally (after 8 years of cajoling) convinced Tom to go to Tai Chi Alchemy. He and Chenoa met there and ... clicked. It's pretty amazing how the timing worked out. A couple of years ago they were both in very different places in their lives. If they'd met then, I doubt such a strong connection would have happened. Now, though, they are a great couple and it's great to see. They're both great people and it's awesome to see them so happy together.

We hung out with them and played a game of Legendary. If you're not familiar with this game, it's worth checking out. A simple description doesn't really do it justice but here goes nothing. Technically, it's a deck building game based on Marvel comic book characters. When I first heard that description, I immediately thought of deck building games like Magic. I had played Magic when it first came out and it very quickly lost its appeal. Margaret was even less interested. She didn't care for deck building games *and* had no interest in comic books and super heroes, Marvel or otherwise.

However, we have both fallen in love with this game. At home, we play, on average, 2 - 3 games per day. We brought it with us on our trip and have played it several times in hotel rooms.

Tom, Chenoa, and I wound up talking and doing some light training until nearly 4 AM. It was great.

Last night, I went to Guru Jeremiah Lovejoy's class in Dayton, OH. Guru Jeremy and I are both Gurus in Sikal under Guru Ken and we've known each other since '95 or '96. When I first met him he was a kid. I think he was about 19. I was only 23 but he seemed very young to me. Watching him grow and evolve over the years has been amazing. He was always physically talented but he has developed into an incredible teacher and has grown in some very interesting ways. Like many others over the years, it's awesome and humbling to realize that, to one degree or another, I had a hand in his development and that of many other people I know who are now doing really great things.

I'm hoping to meet up with Guru Ken today. We haven't seen each other in person in a while and it'll be good to catch up.

The Wandering Guru

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu

Monday, January 6, 2014

Isn't it strange ...

Last night and tonight our hotel rooms were *too* warm. We couldn't seem to get them cool enough. I think it's because the thermostat is right by the window. So outside it's frigid. In our hotel rooms it's all we can do to prevent ourselves from sweating while we try to sleep. Annoying in a very WTF kind of way :D

I did a bit more work on "Being A Guru" last night and am going to try to do some on it each day.

For those who don't know, "Being A Guru" is the title of a book I'm writing. The title might ultimately change but, for now, it's the working title at least.

It's sort of a follow up to my "Pondering of Principles" book.

Pondering of Principles was a non-fiction book about training in martial arts in general. http://www.lulu.com/shop/mike-casto/a-pondering-of-principles/paperback/product-123478.html

Being A Guru is a semi-autobiographical novel about teaching martial arts. Though it's applicable to teaching in general. It follows Gary Carter as he begins training, becomes a teacher (guru), and begins teaching. It highlights lessons he learns along the way. The first draft is coming along nicely but I think it's going to require *a lot* of polishing - even more than some of my other projects. I'm kind of keeping it under wraps so I don't wear out my readers/reviewers with different versions as I polish.

I think the first draft will be done within the next month, maybe two if this traveling keeps interfering with my writing schedule. If you're interested in reviewing it and offering feedback (preferably something more useful than "I love it" or "I hate it") let me know and I'll send you a copy for review.

The Wandering Guru

"Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are." - George Eliot

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Leaving Springfield

Margaret & I looked at the weather map and forecasts and whatnot and reached some conclusions.

First, if we stayed in Springfield it was likely going to get worse and we could easily have been stuck there until Tuesday, if not Wednesday.

Second, the weather map showed that we were very near the southern border of the bad weather and it was stretching out from Springfield to the northeast.

Third, if we dropped south we could avoid most of the bad weather and still get to Cincinnati by Tuesday - only a day later than we had originally intended.

So, this morning we piled our crap into the back seat of the truck and headed south. We just arrived in Little Rock, AR. Tomorrow we'll stay in Nashville, TN. Then we'll get to Cincinnati, OH on Tuesday.

This morning, Margaret came out of the guest bedroom at my cousin's house and found me holding a Nerf sword. She said, "What are you doing?"
I explained I was training. Working on some stick patterns for AGPS.
She said, "I think a lot of people don't do that. They don't just grab what's available and train whenever they have a spare moment. I think that's why a lot of people don't seem to progress in the same way you seem to."

Interesting observation. I had never really given it much thought. Most people I know, my peers and people I train with regularly, do, in fact, do that sort of thing routinely but I think she's right. I think a lot of people only train during class or when they have their official gear or whatever.

For me, it's martial arts but this concept is applicable to every endeavor. Wherever you are, whatever tools you have on hand, it's possible to train. Even if you've only got a few minutes while waiting for someone to finish packing.

The Wandering Guru

"It is better to travel well than to arrive." - Buddha

Saturday, January 4, 2014


At my cousin's house in Springfield, MO. Great to see Chris and his family again. Looks like we might get snowed in tomorrow and end up staying here a day longer than we intended. So goes life.

My writing project - "Being A Guru" - is currently on hiatus. Just not enough distraction free time while on the road to really focus on it. This blog is serving as a surrogate, though. At least I'm writing something. Getting some thoughts and observations put down somewhere.

Speaking of this blog, specifically the title, I got asked "What is a langkah?"

I have added a blurb in the page header to explain a little but I'll expound here for a moment on why I chose the name and what it means to me.

If you're reading this blog you probably already know I teach martial arts. You probably, in fact, already know I teach Indonesian & Filipino martial arts. The Indonesian martial arts, collectively, are known as "Pencak Silat." Despite looking like a misspelling of some sort of pancake, those words are actually pronounced "pen-cha-k" and "see-lot." The term "Silat" is also used in Malaysia and the southern Philippines, even sometimes used in Thailand.

The use of the word "pencak" is, as far as I know, specifically Indonesian. There are literally hundreds of systems of Pencak Silat in Indonesia and they run the gamut of specialties. I was first introduced to Silat in '95 and immediately fell in love with it. Specifically, the flavor I would later come to know as Serak and some offshoots of Serak. And, even more specifically, the arts put forth by the de Thouars brothers. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here but this flavor of Silat uses strikes to disrupt the opponent's balance and set him up for sweeps and takedowns. It shares a lot of principles with more common arts such as Judo and Aikido but the expression is very different from those arts.

The system I founded in 2010, AGPS, is very strongly influenced by the Serak and its offshoots I've been exposed to over the years. Langkah are geometric designs on the floor, usually taped out with duct tape, which are used to develop footwork and an understanding of the role of the lower body in having a solid base and generating power for strikes, locks, sweeps, etc.

Langkah are fundamental to a student's development in AGPS and its predecessors.

For me, the langkah inherently involve motion and balance. These are vital. As I move into this next phase of my life those, what this blog is really about, those concepts, motion and balance, are going to play a huge role. So the choice of the name, "Have Langkah. Will Travel." has a lot of layers of meaning for me.

The Wandering Guru

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tzu

The adventures begin ... unofficially

Currently I'm sitting in a hotel room in Oklahoma City. It's windy & chilly here but not bad weather compared to the situation in IN, OH, KY where they're dealing with Winter Storm Ion. By the time Margaret & I arrive in the area the worst of the storm should have passed.

I had dinner last night with my friend and mentor, Darrell Sarjeant. He gave me some things to consider and some good advice about keeping AGPS on track. I'm meeting him again this morning to sign a certificate of recognition for a fellow Silat practitioner we know.

Then Margaret heads to the gym and we'll head out of OKC by noon. Should get to Springfield, MO by ~5 PM. We'll visit my cousin, Chris, and his family and stay at their house tonight then continue our sojourn.

I plan to update this blog once a day but life may interfere with this goal from time to time. I will update frequently, though.

The Wandering Guru

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” ― G.K. Chesterton