What is a Langkah?

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

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

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

All my friends ...

Learning is an interesting thing. Last night I was hanging out with my good friend and martial brother, Professor Coy Harry. Professor Joe Lansdale, founder of Shen Chuan, passed the reins of the system to Coy a few years ago.

Coy is an amazing guy and we have a pretty awesome relationship. We both have curious minds which lead us to keep researching and exploring and discovering new things within our respective training. When we get together we discuss what we've been working on and we compare notes. Sometimes we share cool stuff with each other but more often we inspire each other. One of us will say or do something which leads the other down a path of inquiry which, in turn, leads to something neither of us had considered before.

Last night, Coy was sharing what he's been working on lately. It's amazing. It's magical. It hurts. A lot. A whole lot. It induces pain in a way I haven't really felt before in training and, in fact, have only felt a few times outside of training - usually in the midst of some horrible incident in which everything has gone completely wrong. To find something like this in training is a fascinating experience because it's in a controlled environment. Of course, when you start playing with things which induce so much pain you're always pushing the envelope and even a minor mistake can lead to injury. For this reason, we are very careful who we bring it out with. If the person overreacts or tenses up then they can easily end up injured.

Coy put me in a wrist lock with this new methodology and I let out a sound which I have never made before. Coy describes it as completely primal. Something a monkey might make as a tiger's claws sink into its back. We had a great laugh about it.

The thing is, I can't explain what he did. Not yet. I get it. I was able to reproduce it on him - though without the accompanying primal noises. I can't explain it, though. If I tried to explain it some people would think I was nuts, some would think I was making it up, and some would shake their heads thinking they understand but, most likely, they wouldn't really understand unless they've felt it. I'm sure Coy isn't the first person to find this. There's nothing new under the sun. I haven't personally experienced anything like it, though, from any of my various teachers or people I've trained with over the years.

Back to the actual subject of learning, though.

I have noticed, over the past few years, my learning method. At least how I learn things in martial arts at this point in my development. I rarely learn new techniques. At my current level of development, new techniques are rare. I see a lot of variations on techniques I know but rarely a new technique. What catches my attention, though, is something like what Coy shared. Something which adds a whole new dimension to things. In this case, he illustrated it with a joint lock but then we discussed how it applies to striking, balance disruption, disarming, etc.

However, I didn't really *learn* it. I was exposed to it. If I'd learned it then I could do it reliably and explain what I'm doing. What I got was an idea. It points me in a new direction of exploration. Once I've explored it and played with it for a while then I'll begin to actually learn it. I'll begin to actually understand it. I'll begin to actually know it. Then I'll be able to share it and teach it and explain it.

So I have a new idea to explore. I expect it will take me to some very interesting places in my development. When I next visit Coy, I'll share my findings with him and he'll share his with me and, likely, both of us will be inspired in new directions. This is all very cool. Even cooler, though, is having a friend like Coy who I can share this stuff with. A friend who inspires me and who is inspired by me. A friend whose curiosity rivals my own and who revels in the exploration - painful as it sometimes is - and the challenges. Even cooler than that, though, is the fact that I have *many* such friends in a variety of areas of interest.

To all my friends who inspire me, who are inspired by me, who, at times, walk the various paths of our lives with me, thank you. Our respective destinations are trivial. The journey is vital but walking parts of it with you folks is what makes the journey awesome.

The Wandering Guru

"When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen." ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Non-Attachment in Relationships


I don't practice Buddhism as a religion but I have found a lot of personal truth in Buddhist philosophy and it is a major influence in my life and how I perceive the world and interact with it.

The idea of "non-attachment" in Buddhist philosophy is a difficult one for many people when they first come to it and it certainly was for me. The word "attachment" is used so commonly in English for a variety of things. Not all of these things are relevant to the idea of "non-attachment." I think a better English interpretation of the concept commonly translated as "attachment" would be "clinging."

Many people read "non-attachment" and think it's nihilistic. They think it means "detachment." It doesn't. In fact, it's almost a polar opposite. A detached person doesn't engage with their emotions at all. The idea behind non-attachment, though, is to fully engage with the present, whatever the present is. Fully engage with it, experience it, experience all the emotions which arise from it, then let them go. Experience them completely and fully, then let them go. The non-attachment aspect is in the letting go.

This stems from impermanence. Everything changes. Everything, in fact, is in a constant state of change. Some changes, like grass growing or decaying flesh, are so slow we can't perceive them except in hindsight. Some changes, as when a heart stops beating, are very abrupt and quickly recognizable as change. Everything changes, though. Each moment of life is a moment of change. This is true of our physical being and our mental and emotional states. Nothing is fixed.

If we treat any aspect of ourselves or the world around us as fixed then we are doing a disservice to ourselves. When we realize those things we saw as fixed have, in fact, changed we might be surprised, disappointed, hurt, etc. This can be a huge source of suffering. And when we treat other people in our lives as fixed elements then it can be truly devastating when they die.


My wife and I have been together for 19 years and married for 17. Our relationship hasn't always been easy but it has always been strong. Even when things were rough. Even when we discussed its possible dissolution, it was a strong relationship. One of the reasons for this, a big reason, is we never took it for granted.

We don't look at our relationship as a fixed thing. We don't always live in the moment - though we're both reasonably adept at doing so - but we frequently look at our relationship with fresh eyes. We let go of preconceived notions like, "It was good yesterday, it must still be good today." We are, for the most part, attentive to each other and to the relationship. We communicate well and frequently. Because of all this, we tend to recognize problems pretty early and when we see them we lay them out on the table and discuss them. We resolve them and move on.

Neither of us is perfect and neither of us expects the other to be perfect. We love each other wholly, foibles, flaws, and all. We both understand the necessity for and respect each other's "me time." Physical separation doesn't mean emotional separation or a rift in the relationship. It means one or both of us are taking "me time." When we come back together, we come back stronger and more engaged in each other.

Because we don't take our love for granted it remains fresh, vibrant, and wholesome. We don't have a perfect relationship but we have a very, very strong relationship built on common core beliefs. These shared core beliefs mean we rarely argue. The only things which are really worth arguing about are core beliefs. Our core beliefs aren't always the same but they are in sync. Consequently, we don't disagree on core beliefs and, in turn, any disagreements we have aren't worth arguing about. If we disagree, we have a discussion. It may be a passionate discussion but there is none of the animosity which arises in an argument. Sometimes one or both of us changes our mind and we find common ground, sometimes we don't and we agree to disagree. The only arguments we have had arose simply from the fact that both of us were in an argumentative mood at the same time.

The Wandering Guru

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person. -- Mignon McLaughlin

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Thursday, I was a guest instructor at Inayan School of Eskrima in Knoxville, TN run by Tagaturo Steven Klement.

I have "known" Tagaturo Klement for years through online discussion forums but on Thursday we finally got to meet in person. In our online interactions he has come across as a good man, a passionate and knowledgable martial artist, an instructor with a keen, insightful mind, and a fun guy to hang out and work out with. Meeting him in person was an honor and I was not disappointed. He was the man and martial artist I expected.

Last night was the 9th anniversary of the passing of Katalungan Guro Paul Sanders. I learned a bit about Paul as the night progressed. Paul was Steve's cousin and, as Steve explained, a pillar of the school. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, they have a memorial class. It was touching and powerful, even more than it might otherwise have been for me because the anniversary of the death of my friend and brother, Rick Rumler, was just a couple of weeks ago and was still fresh in my mind. They lit a candle at the front of the class in honor of Guro Paul and left it burning throughout the training as a symbolic reminder of his presence in spirit in the school and in the training.

Tagaturo Klement started the class off with about 15 minutes of silent training. I joined in, working counters from Cacoy Doce Pares against the angles they fed me, then I returned the feed and they countered with Serrada. The only sound was the clacking of sticks and, occasionally, some laughter. It was a great experience. I joined Lahong Guro Earles and Gerry Agana for some round robin training. Tagaturo Klement worked out with us for a bit then began floating, working with others. Guro Earles and Gerry were a pleasure to work with. Great energy and good, precise techniques.

Then Steve turned the class over to me. I used Gerry as my uke and started with an explanation of the primary points for balance disruption then brought out several techniques which use those points to disrupt the opponent's balance. I then moved into Cacoy Doce Pares. I brought out a couple of locks then brought out a basic counter-for-counter flow drill (sumbrada) and had them work the locks from within the flow drill.

The whole class, about 12 people from all levels of experience, was enthusiastic and a lot of fun to work with. It was a pleasure and honor to have been able to share some with them and I look forward to working with Tagaturo Steven and his guys in the future.

The Wandering Guru

"In vain have you acquired knowledge if you have not imparted it to others." - Deuteronomy Rabbah

Friday, April 25, 2014

My PTSD Story

According to Randy J. Hartman, Ph.D. there are twelve steps of PTSD. I was never formally diagnosed with PTSD but I suffered through ten of the twelve steps and it all began at the tender age of 15 when my Uncle David killed himself.

The 12 steps and some of my experiences with them:
1) Activating Event - Uncle David committed suicide
2) Pain - I idolized Uncle David. Put him on a high pedestal. Then he did a swan dive off that pedestal and left me and everyone who loved him writhing in a world of pain.
3) Confusion - Why did he do it? What was he thinking? Was his life really so bad?
4) Guilt - Could I have done anything to prevent it? Did something I say add to his pain?
5) Shame - How can I tell people my uncle killed himself? Will they think I have suicidal tendencies? Will they think there's something wrong with me? Guilt by association?
6) Self-Worth Dissipating - Uncle David was strong. He was a big, powerful man. Far stronger and more powerful than I am, than I will ever be. If the world was too much for him, what chance do I have?
7) Anxiety - Other people I love are going to die. What if other people I love also commit suicide?
8) Fear - How will I cope with losing other loved ones? Especially if they suicide? How will I cope with the world in general? It's a big, bad, ugly terrifying place and it killed my uncle. I'm doomed.
9) Anger - How dare he kill himself! What a selfish bastard! All he had to do was ask for help. How stupid was he, to think he was all alone! Screw you, David! I'm glad you're gone! (cycles back to pain, confusion, guilt, shame, self-worth dissipation, anxiety, and fear)
10) Resentment - How can I get close to anyone else? I need to put up walls and keep people away. I can't trust anyone. They may kill themselves or die at any moment.

The last two were, for whatever reason, never steps I took.
11) Depression
12) Acute Anxiety

As far as coping with this hell which has been labeled PTSD, I don't have any answers. I can only relate the method I used. It worked for me. I developed my own method over seven years of hell of dealing with the cycle outlined above and dealing with the resentment and trust issues.

I eventually realized it was killing me. Literally. I realized I was haunting myself with my uncle’s memory and if I didn’t let it go it was going to kill me. I didn’t know how but I became utterly convinced if I didn’t find a way to deal with it, to let go of the pain and grief, it was going to kill me sooner rather than later.

During this time I found writing. Writing was a major catharsis for me. Writing about my pain. Writing about my uncle and his suicide. Writing about my thoughts and fears. It all helped me process what I was going through and helped me deal with it.

I wish I could say I had kept those writings and could offer them to you and others. They may have been of some use. But part of my process was to burn what I wrote. It was a symbolic gesture of letting go.

I made a ritual of it. When something - fear, anxiety, anger, etc. - would arise in me, I would write about it. I would get as much of it as I could out of my head and heart and onto the page. Then I’d burn it. Watching those words - and the emotions attached to them - burn up and drift away as so many ashes on the wind was an incredibly powerful healing tool for me.

It culminated for me in one long, frantic night of writing where I wrote a story about my uncle. About what he was feeling and why he felt he had to kill himself. It was based on the suicide note he left combined with my own memory of him and things he’d told me. I wrote the story of his last night, then continued it with the story of the pain it caused me and my family. It was a long, long story and spanned the 7 years it took me to get through it. Then I took that stack of pages and a big pyrex mixing bowl out to his grave and burned the whole lot, feeding it in a few pages at a time. It took hours but I haven’t had any recurring pangs of the PTSD symptoms since that day 20+ years ago.

I don’t know if the same thing can help others but I know it won’t hurt (unless you inadvertently start  wild fire or something).

Whether writing works for you or not, my recommendation is to find something similar. Find something you can latch onto and use as a ritualistic release. A tool which works for you.

I think the hardest part of the whole process for me was realizing true healing could only come from a place of love. I had to forgive Uncle David for hurting me and my family so much, for abandoning us, for being so selfish. I never forgot it but I had to forgive him for it. It’s incredibly, incredibly difficult to forgive someone who has hurt you so terribly but I think it’s necessary.

"When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free." - Katherine Ponder

"As long as you don't forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind." - Isabelle Holland

Don't let the people who've hurt you keep hurting you. Don't let them occupy space in your mind and heart.

"Only the brave know how to forgive. ... A coward never forgave; it is not in his nature." - Laurence Sterne

"Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on." - Alice Duer Miller

True forgiveness isn't a sign of weakness or of passivity. It must come from a place of strength and courage.

"Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself." - Harriet Nelson

Heal yourself. It's not easy. It requires strength and courage. It's the only way to truly move past the trauma, let it go, and move on with a healthy life.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Silat in Nashville, TN

On Saturday, March 19, 2014 I walked into Roger Killen's Tae Kwon Do in Nashville, TN. As the attendees for the event began to filter in I greeted familiar friends and acquaintances and met some new people. The turnout was good, better than expected for Easter weekend and it was shaping up to be a very good event. I'm going to discuss my section of the event. The other section was presented by Guro Jerome Teague. He brought out some very good exercises for stick and knife, focusing on non-lethal defenses which disable the opponent's ability to attack. I expect he'll write up something about his section too. If so then I'll share it in a follow up.

Stealing Spaces

I started the event with a focus on "stealing spaces." This is a significant principle in what I teach. I was presenting it mostly from the Silat expression but touched briefly on its importance in the Filipino method too.

I started with the first and most prominent space, the gap between long or medium range and short range. As I see it, there are really only two ways to handle a violent confrontation. Either get completely gone or finish the fight as quickly as possible. Finishing as quickly as possible means getting into a range where my tools are effective and, for me, getting into a range where I can employ my most destructive tools. Generally, this means close range with whatever tool I have and the specific ranges are dictated by the tool I'm using. The end of a stick is effective and can do some damage but the close range part of the stick, the butt, is usually far more damaging. With empty hands, the same is true. A fist can do some damage but the close range end of the tool, the elbow, tends to be far more destructive. Same with kicks and their close range counterpart, knees. Consequently, if I have to fight I generally want to get into close range.

So the first space I started with was "the gap." I discussed some of the methods for "bridging the gap" which I employ in AGPS, specifically, a brief overview of the principle taught by the Bridging Langkah. At the core of this method is a weight shift. Prior to engagement (e.g.: before the fight actually starts happening) I shift all my weight to one leg and slide the other foot forward a few inches. This looks innocuous. In fact, if I do it particularly well, it looks to my opponent and to witnesses like I give up a little space. In reality, though, I've gained a few inches toward my opponent, like leading off the base in baseball.

When I decide to move, I shift my weight to my lead foot. This accomplishes two things. First, it moves me laterally off the line of his attack. Second, it moves my torso and my primary tools closer to my targets. If my opponent is closing hard and fast then this little weight shift is usually all I need. If he's being more cautious then I may pick up my lead foot as I shift my weight and turn it into a step which closes even more distance but the weight shift is still the key because it gets me off line of his attack. This method enables me to very quickly and efficiently close the gap and get into the close range where I want to be.

From there I discussed the principle of empty/full. I learned this principle from Guru Ken in the Filipino aspects of Sikal. It is a major tool when dealing with blades. For a basic illustration of empty/full, have your training partner put up their left hand and prevent your right hand from touching their head. Then have them punch you with their right hand, still not letting you touch their head. What you'll find is, the more energy they put into their punch with their right hand, the weaker their left hand will get and the easier you'll be able to get through it to touch their head. This is a physical expression of empty/full which relates to the basic body mechanics involved in power generation.

Empty/full also happens at the mental level. If, for instance, I am trying to get a wrist lock on a guy and he's resisting, his resistance requires mental focus on the resistance. If I do something unexpected, maybe kick him in the shin or blow him a kiss, then his concentration leaves his wrist and his resistance to the wrist lock falters.

I then discussed some basic principles of balance disruption from my "stealing bases" material and explained the importance of taking away spaces within the structure between me and my opponent. The less space, the easier it is to affect my opponent's structure. To illustrate this I brought out Biset Luar (outside foot drag) and Kenjit Siko (elbow compression) from the AGPS curriculum.

The group of attendees was top notch. Very attentive and hungry for reps on the material. We covered a fair bit of ground over the three hours and I'm sure everyone got something useful which they were able to retain and take back to incorporate into their own training. The feedback after the session was amazing. I look forward to doing more events with Guro Jerome in the future. He and I have very compatible mindsets and training methodologies. We'll likely do more events in Nashville and I look forward to seeing some of the same faces from this event.

The Wandering Guru

"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." - Bruce Lee

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Court Appearance

Last month I was driving at night, talking to a friend, and distracted. I didn't notice the speed limit drop so I got busted running 70 MPH in a 55 zone. Not really a big deal normally but there were complications beyond my control which prevented me from paying the ticket early. So this morning I had a court appearance. I drove nearly four hours last night to get to the town where the court was. I checked into a hotel so I'd have ready access to a shower and be close to the court for the 8:30 docket.

I got to the courthouse at 8 AM, hoping to be able to pay and leave. No dice. File was already up in the court on the docket. It's what I expected but the slim possibility of being able to pay and walk was worth the extra half hour.

This is only the second time I've been to court, both times for traffic related violations. The last time was 18 years ago. Both times I've been amazed at the other people. The majority of them are repeat offenders, often DUI, and, in fact, are known to the court. One guy this morning was in a neck brace and had a brace on his arm.

I'll call the guy John but I don't actually know his name. His story - assuming it was true - goes like this. He hit a tree on a back road at about 100 MPH on his motorcycle. He woke up in the middle of a field with a stranger holding his hand. The stranger said he'd called 9-1-1 and advised John not to move until the ambulance arrived. The ambulance took him to the hospital. He claims he had a bottle of liquor tucked into his belt, it smashed in the accident and he smelled like a brewery but had not actually drank any alcohol. The police asked him to take a breathalyzer. He didn't refuse but said he wanted to talk to his attorney first. His attorney couldn't be reached. No breathalyzer. He was cited with DUI. He told me and a couple of attorneys this story as we waited for the court to open.

He went on to explain that the hospital had released him, claiming he had only minor injuries and should take some ibuprofen. He was in dire pain and couldn't take a full breath. The pain continued, worsened even, and he went back to the hospital. Turned out he had a broken sternum, broken neck, and badly sprained wrist. All in all, pretty good for hitting a tree at 100 MPH on a motorcycle.

Then he asked if Judge Dutton was presiding today. One of the attorneys said, "Yes. This is her day."

John said, "Great. Just my luck. She has it in for me."

Now, I started thinking. This guy is obviously a repeat offender, he's apparently on a first name basis with the judge. He didn't specifically refuse a breathalyzer but he did ask for his attorney. To me, this implies he didn't want to take the test and, most likely, had at least some alcohol in his system. On top of which, I can only conclude he's missing a few vital brain cells in the common sense part of his brain which might otherwise have cautioned him against running his motorcycle at 100 MPH on a back road.

I don't know, maybe I've just always been too goody two shoes. I can't even fathom doing something like that. Even when I was young. Sure, I've been known to speed - obviously, that's why I was in court this morning - but never 100 MPH on back roads, even in a car, much less on a motorcycle. However, his lack of common sense isn't really my point here.

My point is, how many times do you need to mess up to end up with a judge who "has it in for you?"

It turned out Judge Dutton wasn't, in fact, sitting the bench today.

Nearly everyone who preceded me - I'd guess about 24 of the roughly 30 people who preceded me - were repeat offenders.

Technically, I'm a repeat offender too but my offenses were 18 years apart, in 2 different states. The first offense was more than enough for me. Since then I have been very cautious. I never intentionally speed. Sometimes, as happened last month, I miss a change in the speed limit. Usually I catch it but this time a cop caught it first.

But to be on a first name basis with the judge? To have multiple offenses within a year? Especially big ones like DUI or driving with a suspended license or similar. Those kind of numbers imply something much deeper than an occasional failure in the awareness department.

Ah well. I'm just glad I'm a relatively straight arrow and don't have to deal with the court system regularly, much less frequently. I spent 2 hours in court, bored out of my skull, trying to stay awake after only 3 hours of sleep. Never mind the 8 hour round trip drive to get to the court from Knoxville, TN where I was doing some teaching.

The Wandering Guru

"When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane." - Unknown

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spirituality and Religion

Just had a great conversation with a friend. She was struggling with the dawning realization that her beliefs didn't really jibe with her religion. Not in any big way but in small ways which were accumulating.

I expect this post might upset some people. It deals with one of the forbidden topics. The old adage says, "Never discuss politics or religion." Well, if you find yourself upset by this, consider two things.

First, it's purely my opinion and belief. I could be totally wrong but this is all rooted in my personal experience and using it as my guide, I have led a happy and productive life and been a very positive influence in the lives of many, many people over the past decade.

Second, if you find yourself upset by this. If reading it generates strong emotional reactions within you, then I recommend you stop, breathe, and take a close look at your reactions. Why are you reacting that way? Is it because it causes you to question your own beliefs? If so, then maybe they need to be questioned. Is it because you fear for my eternal soul? Kindly worry about your own and let me worry about mine :D Look deeply into yourself and determine why it stirs up those emotions. Whatever you find, if you're honest with yourself, I guarantee you'll learn something valuable from the introspection.


I personally define spirituality as a personal connection to the divine essence. For simplicity, I'll refer to the divine essence as "God" because it's a common label. Besides, it's easier to type than "the divine essence." It's important to remember, though, that it is just a label. It's a man-made word. It doesn't begin to explain or encapsulate the thing it labels. It can't. Nothing can. The Tao Te Ching sums this face up nicely in its opening, "The Tao which can be described is not the true, eternal Tao." If you prefer something else (Jehovah, Allah, Odin, Ra, whatever then feel free to substitute as you read).

We, as humans, like labels. We like to assign labels to things so they're easier to describe and discuss but it's important to remember the label is not the thing. This is true whether we're discussing a table, a person, or God.

I believe we each have a personal connection to God. I think most people would agree with this regardless of their religion or which label they use (God, Jehovah, Allah, etc.).

If I have a personal connection then why should I rely on another person's labels and interpretations? No reason for it. Doesn't mean I shouldn't go to church or temple or listen to what other people say about their beliefs. I can learn from anyone. Something someone else says can help me gain a deeper understanding of my own beliefs. It might help me better define my own beliefs and strengthen my own personal connection to God but I don't need any external input. It's all there in my personal connection if I allow myself to find it.


I define religion as man's effort to explain his personal connection. When enough people's explanation jibe with each other they form an organized religion. Ultimately, though, each individual's connection is unique. Consequently, no matter how closely they jibe, there will be differences from person to person.


In the end, regardless of which religion we associate with, we must each find our own truth. One which resonates with our personal experience and our distinct beliefs. It is possible - and an easy trap to fall into - to let our ego run the show. If we're careful, though, our personal connection to God can guide us. The answers are there if we can get out of our own way long enough to learn them.

Cognitive Dissonance

I think a lot of people, like my friend, reach a point where their personal beliefs, the lessons they've learned from their personal connection to God, don't jibe with the organized religion to which they ascribe. Often, the religion people claim wasn't a choice for them. They grew up in the religion because their parents were involved in it. The religion was chosen for them by their parents and/or the culture in which they were raised.

For me, this happened when I was about 15. My Uncle Dave killed himself a few months before my 15th birthday. Dave was the only person I ever put on a pedestal. I idolized him. His suicide crushed me. Made me question all sorts of things. The most prevalent question I remember was, "He was so strong and smart. He had stood against and overcome horrible odds many times in his life. He was so much more than I can ever hope to be. If the world was too much for him, what chance to I have?" Of course, looking back on it now, I realize Uncle Dave was pretty immature and his strength was mostly a facade. It was rigid, brittle, fragile and, in the end, he broke. I know I am now a far, far stronger person than Uncle Dave ever was but I was 15. Dave was like the Lone Ranger, Batman, and Superman all rolled into one for me.

When I heard one of the minister at our church say, "Suicide is a sin. It's one of the worst sins because there's no chance for redemption." I don't remember the specific circumstances. I don't know if he said that to my parents, directly to me, or just within my hearing. Or maybe it was part of a sermon. All I know is, when I heard it I was done with Christianity.

I spent the next ten years or so actively avoiding anything Christian. If someone told me they were a Christian I had an immediate low-level dislike for them. It wasn't strong enough to impair my life. I had friends who were Christians. My sister and many other relatives were and are devout Christians. The whole idea sickened me, though, because I had been so deeply wounded by that minister's statement and I was floundering in my own beliefs too much to realize one person in the religion doesn't define the whole religion.

I was familiar with other religions - mostly as they related to martial arts. I had learned a bit about Zen Buddhism and Shintoism in my research of Japanese and Okinawan martial arts. I had learned a bit about Islam in my research of Indonesian martial arts. These religions are very deeply ingrained in the cultures in which the martial arts developed so, inevitably, they influence those martial arts to one degree or another and in my effort to learn more about the arts I tangentially learned some about the religions. None of those religions, though, had really caught my attention. They were religions. They didn't trigger my internal defenses as strongly as Christianity did at the time but I avoided any depth.

My Truth

My primary instructor, Guru Ken Pannell, has a keen mind and when he gets interested in something he delves deeply into it. I don't recall him actively directing me toward Buddhist philosophy but he was the reason I began to look into it. I was about 30 at the time. My antipathy toward Christianity had mellowed quite a bit and my aversion to religion in general was very, very mild.

I began researching Buddhist philosophy. Note, I don't say Buddhism. Personally, I use the term Buddhism to denote the religious practice which has evolved from the philosophy. Early in my research I read a story about the Buddha and it gave me something concrete to connect to in the philosophy.

The Story

A merchant went to the Buddha and said, "I am familiar with your teachings and am intrigued but before I commit my time and energy to studying with you I'd like to ask you, what do you believe about the universe and the afterlife? How do they differ from the Hindu beliefs?"

The Buddha sat for a moment then replied, "You have been shot with a poisoned arrow. I can remove the arrow and flush the toxin from your system and save your life right now. Before I do so, you want me find out who shot you and what kind of bow they used. Does it matter?"

My Reaction

I read that story and realized it was exactly how I viewed things. Questions of Heaven and Hell and the afterlife have always seemed misplaced to me but, until I read this story, I couldn't have explained why. This story helped me define my own intuitive understanding.

I don't know the answer. I can't know the answer. No one can. Whatever there is to know about those questions is discovered after we die. I might believe something. I might have faith in something but faith and belief are not knowledge. Knowledge stems from personal experience.

The bottom line is, the only time any of us have is now. Period. The only things we can know are those things which are in this moment or things we have experienced first hand. Even then, our knowledge is skewed and distorted by our perceptual filters but that's a different discussion entirely.

I have found a lot of personal truth in Buddhist philosophy. It resonates strongly with me. The Buddha also taught people to trust their own experience. If something doesn't jibe with experience then it should, at least, be set aside for future consideration or possibly discarded completely.

Over time I came back to look at Christianity with new eyes. I found it teaches the same core lessons as Buddhist philosophy. In fact, all the major religions teach the same core philosophy. They express it differently because they evolved in different cultures and time periods.

Now I have no problem at all with people of any religion or with atheists.

My Journey

These various epiphanies have helped me define my personal path. I am present, here and now, as much as possible. I am mindful of those around me. I take responsibility for my choices, good and bad. I help people when and where I can. I lead by example and don't judge other people's choices. I love myself. I love everyone around me, even the ones I don’t like..

Sometimes I stray from my path. It happens. If it were easy, it wouldn't be life. When I stray, I do what I can to repair any damage done to myself and others and I find my way back to my path.

I believe these things are the essence of being a good person. I refuse to believe in a God who would punish me for making an honest effort to follow this path. I especially refuse to believe in a God who would punish me for using the wrong labels. If I am to be judged I believe it will be based on my actions not on the labels I choose to use.

The Wandering Guru

"What have I always believed?
That on the whole, and by and large, if a man lived properly, not according to what any priests said, but according to what seemed decent and honest inside, then it would, at the end, more or less, turn out all right." - Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Tai Chi and Silat Connection

Years ago, I was training at a seminar with Guro Dan Inosanto. He said he trained in Tai Chi for years before he started training in Silat and the Silat really helped him understand the Tai Chi better. I had only just begun training in Silat and had had no real exposure to Tai Chi so I didn't have a solid reference point to understand what he meant. I'm going to use the term "Silat" very generically here but, really, what I'm referring to is the primary Silat influences in my own background. There are literally hundreds of systems of Silat and while I'm sure this is relevant to all of them the connections to Tai Chi I'm going to highlight may be more or less prevalent and obvious from system to system.

My Experience

I came to Silat first then Tai Chi and my formal training in Tai Chi has been very limited. I have, however, had a fair bit of informal exposure to Tai Chi over the years. My experience was similar, though from the opposite direction, to Guro Dan's and I now have a much better understanding of what he meant. My exposure to Tai Chi has deepened my understanding of the Silat I do quite a bit. At first blush the Silat I've trained and Tai Chi seem very different. Their respective expressions are certainly very different from each other. At their core, though, they have a lot in common.

Structure and Balance

Both Tai Chi and Silat focus on structure and balance - both my balance and the opponent's. Both also focus on self-development. They're less concerned with overcoming an opponent and more concerned with learning about the self. Tai Chi's focus on the self is usually very focused on development of health and energy. Silat's focus on the self is usually a more external focus on structural alignment and angles of movement intended to disrupt another person. Silat does, however, have a strong internal aspect to the training and Tai Chi also has more external expressions such as push hands. While the expressions of the principles makes the two practices seem vastly different the underlying principles are actually the same.

Common Themes

A common theme in both Tai Chi and Silat is, as I phrase it, "set up a structure then move the structure." So, for instance, when you step you move your whole body, not just your leg. The same is true when I enter into position for a biset. Motions which only use the appendages can be useful for feints or to draw the opponent into a mistake but they lack power. To move with power, set up the structure, whatever structure you're using, and move the structure. Watch a good boxer and you'll see, for instance, his hooks and uppercuts do this. He sets the structure then moves his entire body into the strike, the arm barely moves at all.

Further, to generate power you have to have a solid base. If your base is weak then the rest of your motion is weak whether it's a lock, choke, disarm, sweep, punch, kick, etc. Without a solid base you can't generate much power. You may flail and it may, in fact, do some damage - especially if it hits a soft target like an eye. Generation of power, though, requires a solid base. The biggest difference between my Silat training and my exposure to Tai Chi is the expression of the base. This difference is difficult to explain. The way I'd describe it - and I'm not sure it's a good explanation - is: In Silat the base is rooted in the structure; in Tai Chi the structure is rooted in the base. I know that probably sounds like a Zen koan but it's the best summation I can think of. I'll try to elaborate.

One of Many Crossover Lessons I've Learned

In much of the Silat I've trained structure is considered crucial. In the Tai Chi I've been exposed to it's also considered crucial ... at the beginning. My primary influence for my understanding of Tai Chi is Rick Barrett. He's a pretty amazing guy all the way around and he's an excellent teacher. The whole story is longer than I want to commit toa blog post but one day Rick explained to me, "When you have central equilibrium the specific structure becomes irrelevant."

"Central equilibrium" is the term Rick uses for structural integrity. It is an extension of the "root" which runs through the structure - whatever the structure - and ties everything together and allows "energetic coherence." I won't bother trying to explain energetic coherence here. If you've been training very long then the concept, if not the precise meaning, is probably self-explanatory.

My Silat brain locked up. I tilted my head and looked at him like a dog trying to understand sanskrit. Then I said, "Show me."

Rick stood on one leg and leaned his upper body backward with his head canted at an odd angle. It was the most precarious, unbalanced posture I've ever seen short of someone actually falling over. Rick said, "I have central equilibrium. Push me, pull me, try to move me."

I did. I tried. It was like pushing a wall. Like pulling a tree. No budge. Then Rick extended his arm where my hands were connected to it and I went stumbling.

It was an awesome and humbling experience. I have managed to replicate it a couple of times but I can't do it on demand like Rick did. When I find it, it's incredible. I'm relaxed. The energy they give me, no matter which direction it goes, just runs through me like electricity through a lightning rod and it grounds out in my base, my root.

From this, I realized structure is just a training tool. The basic stance we use in AGPS Silat is a training tool to teach our bodies about central equilibrium. Tai Chi uses different structures to teach it but the end result is the same. When I realized this, my Silat got better. I realized I didn't need the "specific" structure I've trained and teach. It's where I usually end up because I've spent thousands of hours there but it's not necessary. If I can find central equilibrium, in spite of my structure, then I have a base and can generate power.

I know this blog post doesn't do the concept justice at all. Only hands on experience can really do that. Hopefully it's given some food for thought, though, and maybe it can help you see the connection between these two arts and how experience in one can improve understanding in the other. Also, this is universally true. Motion is motion. Training motion in one expression will help you understand motion in another expression. Don't get caught up in the different expressions. Doesn't matter if your drill says Dewalt or Hitachi. They both work on the same underlying principles and will get the job done. The rest is just labels and personal preference. One or the other might be better under certain circumstances but, at that point, you're going to use the one you have regardless.

The Wandering Guru

"There are no facts, only interpretations." - Friedrich Nietzche