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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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Annie Get Your Gun

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about my dad posing for a picture with Raquel Welch. She was, at that time, working on the film Bandolero! The image I found for the blog post ad Ms. Welch posing in western apparel with a pistol. This picture, in turn, got me thinking about Annie Oakley.

Last year, I wrote an alternate history novella about Annie Oakley. Hoping to get it published in the near future. Did a fair bit of research on her while writing the story. She was a fascinating woman.

Very Early Years

She was born Phoebe Ann Moses on August 13, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio. She loved to go out hunting with her dad and watch him shoot. She yearned to shoot his rifle herself some day.

After he died in 1866, her mother had to sell the family farm and what little livestock they had to pay the medical and funeral bills. The family was going hungry. At eight years old, Annie took up her father's rifle and began hunting. She was very successful but while she was a great help in keeping the family fed, there were just too many mouths and not enough money.

1870: 9 year old Annie and one of her sisters were admitted to the Darke County Infirmary, a poorhouse. The superintendent's wife taught Annie to sew and decorate. Later that year, Annie was "bound out" to a couple. They claimed they were middle income and would see to Annie's education. They lied. Annie spent nearly two years living in near-slave like conditions. They mentally and physically abused her. One time when Annie, fatigued beyond measure by the demanding physical labor she'd been forced to do, fell asleep over some darning, the woman locked Annie out of the house, without shoes, in the middle of a freezing, snowy Ohio winter. Annie nearly froze to death. Annie never referred to the abusive couple by name. Even in her personal memoirs and autobiography she only called them "the wolves."

1872: Annie ran away and found her way back to her mom, who had remarried. Annie resumed her hunting and trapping activities to help put food on the table. She was successful enough, in fact, she was able to sell excess game for money to locals and even to restaurants and hotels in Dayton and Cincinnati. By the time she was 15, she had earned enough money to pay off the mortgage on her mother's farm. Her successes as a hunter and trapper earned her quite a bit of local fame.

1875: The Baughman and Butler shooting act performed in Cincinnati. Frank Butler set a side wager with a Cincinnati hotel owner named Jack Frost. Butler bet $100, matched by Frost, he could beat any local shooter. Frost arranged a competition between Frank and young Annie. Frank was astonished when he met his opponent. Annie, 15, was barely five feet tall. Butler lost the match and the bet. Soon after, he began courting Annie and they were married on August 23, 1876.

Frank Butler

Frank Butler was a man ahead of his time. He and Annie began performing together and Frank quickly realized she was the star of the show. Not only was she a better shot than him she just had more crowd appeal and her showmanship instincts nearly rivaled her shooting ability. Frank urged her to take a stage name, arguing they should keep their marriage quiet for the show. He knew it would add another layer of attraction to her performance. He gradually took a backseat to her and became her manager and assistant.

Sitting Bull

In 1884, Oakley met the famous Hunkpapa Lakota Sitting Bull and he believed her shooting ability was supernatural, a gift from the Creator. He adopted her as a spiritual daughter and named her "Little Sure Shot" in his tongue. She continued to use that nickname throughout her professional career.

International Celebrity

They joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West in 1885. When the show went to Europe, Annie gained international celebrity status. She was a favorite of Queen Victoria and many of the other European royals. She was, in her day, a superstar. A celebrity on par with any you might think of today, such as Sandra Bullock or Angelina Jolie. And this was before the advent of movies or other widely distributed mass media.


At the beginning of World War I, Annie offered to raise and train a regiment of female sharpshooters. She was turned down but throuhgout the war she did what she could to help the war effort. She gave shooting demonstrations for soldiers and claimed the reception she received by soldiers was greater than any she'd ever received, even at the height of her time with Buffalo Bill's Wild West. After the war she continued to give shooting exhibitions to raise money for various charities.

Firearms for Women

She believed every woman should be proficient with firearms. She appeared in a Cincinnati newspaper showing how a woman might hide a pistol in her umbrella and deploy it to protect herself. It's estimated she taught nearly 15,000 women to shoot over the years. She claimed she wasn't a feminist but, at least in this regard, she was very strongly of the opinion that women should stand their ground, learn to shoot, learn to protect themselves, and help provide for their family through hunting.

A Woman in a Man’s World

For all her strength, though, she was a proper and demure woman throughout her life. She made her own costumes for performances and they were all very modest. She was attractive and she knew it. She knew it was part of the reason she was such a celebrity but she never flaunted it. She allowed it to be part of her image but kept it very subtle. She was a strong, independent, and powerful woman who thrived in a world and occupation dominated by men and she did it by being completely true to herself.

Role Model

She is a fantastic role model. Especially for women but, really, for anyone. She overcame some major challenges in her life. She didn't accept the lot society would have given her. Instead, she found her passion, played to her strengths, and carved a very admirable niche for herself in the world and in history.

And More …

This little tribute barely scratches the surface. There was so much more this woman did, a lot of amazing stories. She was a legend in her lifetime and the legend has continued to grow since her death in 1926. If this has sparked even the most passing of interest about her, I would highly recommend you seek out resources to learn more about her. You won’t be disappointed.

The Wandering Guru

"I would like to see every woman know how to handle firearms as naturally as they know how to handle babies." - Annie Oakley

Monday, May 26, 2014

Monkey at the Keyboard

Woo hoo! I just got an email from a publisher. I submitted a short story to her for an upcoming Erotic Horror anthology and she likes it. It’s not confirmed yet. She’s going to send me her edits and, assuming I agree with them, then we’ll move on to the contract but the story is, at least, on the right track :D

It’s a pretty awesome feeling. I’ve had some non-fiction martial arts stuff published and I know my writing is strong technically. This is, really, my first foray into fiction, though, and it’s looking good.

I actually have 4 short stories out for consideration right now and a query letter for a novella being considered. I’ve just completed another short story (Science Fiction) and will start looking for a place to submit it today.

I want to especially thank Joe Lansdale. He has given me some direct pointers - most notably, back in 2001 after he’d read some short stories I’d written then, “Your character development sucks. I don’t care if they live or die.” He also directed me to some writers, including himself, he felt were particularly good at character development. That conversation - which seems minor, almost trivial, in the bigger scheme of things - was huge for me. Taking his advice and reading some of those authors and specific stories he recommended helped a lot - even if it took 13+ years. I never claimed I was a fast study, just a stubborn one :D

Further, comments he’s made over the years about writing in general - whether they were directly aimed at teaching me or not - have helped a lot too. And, last but far from least, his posts here on FB about his personal writing method have given been very inspirational for me.

Of course, the bottom line is, as he’s told me many times, “Put ass in chair and write.” Doesn’t much matter *what* you write. Over the past few months - since March 5 when Margaret and I became total nomads - I have been putting that into practice. As Joe recommends, I have written 3 - 5 pages nearly every day. A lot of it was here in my blog but quite a bit of it was also in the form of short stories - hence the 4 stories I have submitted and the 5th I'm about to submit.

Writing every day - whether it was a blog entry or working on a story - has helped make writing a habit and there's a real, tangible benefit in the habit. To paraphrase something Joe has told me many times, in a variety of ways, over the years. Don't wait for inspiration. There is no magical fairy with magic muse dust. Sit down and write. Some of it will be crap. Some of it will be gold. The more you write the more gold you'll unearth. Get stuck on a story? Start a new story. Or write about what you had for breakfast. Often just the act of writing will jog something loose and you'll find what you need to continue on the original story.

A friend of mine said, "I hear authors say all the time, 'writers write.' For me, though, the writing is the easy part. The research and development is the hard part." I can relate. However, I can also say, from my personal experience with my novella about Annie Oakley, it's possible - even easy - to get lost in the research and never actually get around to the writing.

The most important lesson I've learned from Joe - and from other sources like Stephen King's "On Writing" - is the writing has to become a habit. If it's not a habit then life will get in the way. There's always something to distract you from writing. Sit down and write. Make it a habit. Do your research, sure. But make writing a habit.

Don't wait for inspiration. Inspiration can be found anywhere. It can be found in the hum of a fan, the color of a car, the taste of a fruit. It can be found in random soundbytes or in your own belly button. Write and let yourself be open to inspiration whenever and wherever you find it. When I started writing this very blog post it was just going to be a simple status on Facebook about, "Hey, I'm on the verge of probably getting published!" Now look at it. I got inspired by my own little blurb and this is turning into a 1,200 word blog post.

Another thing Joe says, kind of an adjunct to "writers write," is "Writers read." Read. Read for fun. Read stories which engage you. Learn from those stories.

Something else to consider is short stories versus longer works. Everyone wants to write a novel. I understand that. However, telling a good story, with engaging characters in less than ~8,000 words (about 30 typewritten pages) is challenging. Growth requires challenge. Someteimes you fail but that's part of the growth and development. When you're able to develop engaging characters and tell a good story in less than 8,000 words then, when you have 40,000+ words (novel length) it's like being given a huge gift.

In my early 20s, I played a lot of billiards. Mostly 9-ball. I got pretty decent but not great. Then a friend taught me to play snooker. Snooker, played on a larger table with smaller balls and smaller pockets, was much more challenging. I got decent at snooker then I went back to 9-ball and my 9-ball game had improved dramatically.

Short stories are like snooker. They're inherently more challenging because of the limitations on space. This makes them an incredible tool for honing the craft of storytelling.

Something else to consider about short stories. I once wrote a novel. The story is still in my head though the actual writing is long vanished. I may, at some point, write the story again. It was a good story. However, I gave the novel to an acquaintence who had been an editor and publisher for 10+ years. He tore it to pieces. His critique was good and useful but in order to fix the novel I would have had to start basically from scratch. When you're looking at 200+ pages of work, starting from scratch is a rather daunting prospect. That novel died right there.

If I write a garbage short story and decide to rewrite from scratch, it's much less daunting. The short stories I have submitted currently are, for instance, all less than 3,500 words - less than 20 pages. If one of them doesn't get published and I decide to fix it - even if it means a complete rewrite - I'm only looking at a few hours, maybe spanning a couple of days, of work instead of dozens or hundreds of hours spanning weeks or even months.

The Wandering Guru

"Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts." - Larry L. King

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Raquel Welch and my dad

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. I normally don't pay much attention to holidays but today my Facebook newsfeed was filled with people posting messages related to Memorial Day. I expect tomorrow will have even more. It got me thinking. It got me thinking about the people I've known who served in the military and who have died.

Mostly, though, it got me thinking about my dad who died in February. One of dad's many stories from his Air Force days which I always thought was pretty funny came to mind so I'll share it.

Somewhere there is a picture of my dad posing with Raquel Welch. It was October 1967 and dad was stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, TX. He was Air Police and, as I understand it, his primary job was to guard jets. He said he was shooting pool somewhere on base. I assume it was an enlisted club on base but I'm not positive. He only told me the story a few times, the most recent was probably twenty years ago, and my memory of it is fuzzy.

Anyway, he was shooting pool and about 30 miles away, in Brackettville, TX, the western movie, "Bandolero!" was being filmed. Raquel Welch, one of the stars of the movie, visited the base. She came into the place where dad was shooting pool. Someone with her, I assume it was a PR person, asked dad if he'd pose with Ms. Welch. He, of course, readily agreed. She was one of the best known movie stars and sex symbols of the time.

She took the pool cue from him and leaned over the table as if lining up a shot. He put his arm around her and pointed down the cue as if teaching her how to shoot. Flashes went off, photos were taken, and then Ms. Welch stood, thanked him, and offered the pool cue back to him.

He smiled. "If you'd actuall like to learn how to shoot, I'll happily teach you some tricks."

She grinned and winked at him, then turned back to the table saying, "Three rails, six ball, corner pocket." Her stroke was smooth, almost professional.

Dad watched in amazement as the cue ball caromed off three rails, tapped the six ball, and dropped it neatly into the corner pocket.

She then handed the cue stick back to him and said, "Keep practicing."

I wonder what ever happened to that picture.

The Wandering Guru

"What i like about photographs is that they capture a moment that's gone forever, impossible to reproduce." - Karl Lagerfeld

Monday, May 19, 2014

Teaching, training, cigars, and steak

Yesterday was awesome. I couldn't have planned a better day if I'd tried.

Went to the monthly share hosted by Guro Mike Butz in Phoenix, AZ. Every month a group of martial arts gathers at Margaret T. Hance park to train. The format Mike is using now is very interesting. There is no instructor. He calls it a "mingle." Everyone pairs up and shares. Each person spends some time teaching their partner. Even beginners are encouraged to teach something - even if it's what they just learned in their first class ever. It generates a nice, laid back atmosphere conducive to exchange and since teaching is the highest form of learning, everyone learns something - either from their teaching or from something they're taught.

From there I went over to Scottsdale where my friend Guro Harley Elmore was teaching a Sayoc Kali seminar. I got there while everyone was on lunch. I hung out talking to a couple of guys until everyone came back and training resumed. As always, watching Guro Harley teach was a pleasure. His knowledge and passion are obvious and contagious and he always makes the training fun. I jumped into the training a couple of times when there was an odd man situation but mostly I was an observer. It was great to see Guro Harley - as always - and great to visit with some of the folks from his organization. Not to mention the great job done by Guro Dave DaRe who hosted the event.

Then a group from the seminar went to a cigar shop and sat around smoking cigars and shooting the bull. I'm not really a cigar smoker but from time to time I indulge - usually when I'm hanging with Guro Harley, funny how that works. Then we went to Fogo de Chao for an incredible dinner, Brazilian gaucho style.

Now I'm settled into my van about to go to sleep. Tomorrow will be a new adventure and I'm ready.

Technical Stuff

In case you're curious, I wound up teaching quite a bit about the basic mechanics and principles behind striking hard - specifically punching effectively and hitting hard without putting a lot of stress on already injured shoulders. Shift the weight, put the whole mass behind the strike, the arm barely moves, step into it with elevator down (or marriage of gravity as the Parker Kenpo guys refer to it).

Guro Harley focused on multiples. Multiple partners in a fight and multiple opponents. For multiple partners he discussed some strategies for neutralizing a guy and for keeping out of each other's line of fire so you don't punch your own partner in the mix. For multiple attackers he brought out the principle of stacking your opponents, using one opponent as a barrier to prevent the others from getting to you easily. While this is a common strategy, the way he taught it, which he attributed primarily to Atienza Kali, was a very nice approach. He also emphasized the importance of staying mobile and not fixating on one opponent.

Really, I've just scratched the surface of all the stuff I taught or saw from other people. There was a lot of ground covered.

The Wandering Guru

"Confidence comes from discipline and training." - Robert Kiyosaki

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Thing?

Last week I got an earwig. One of those songs which gets in your head and you can't seem to get rid of it. For me, since I've never really made a habit of memorizing entire songs, this almost always means I'm stuck with just the refrain of the song. Over and over and over again. It's rather annoying. Fortunately, I've found if I go listen to the whole song it will usually clear out the earwig. Or, at the very least, I'll get the whole song going through my head for a bit.

So last week I got a song going through my head I hadn't heard in a long time. At least ten years, probably closer to twenty years. The song is titled Church of Logic, Sin, and Love and was released on the 1992 self-titled album by The Men. The band was the epitome of a one hit wonder and Church of Logic, Sin, and Love was that hit.

It was pretty popular in its time and I liked it. I bought the CD and liked the whole thing overall but that one song really was the highlight. Anyway, last week it started going through my head. At first it was just the music in my head. Took me a day or two to remember any of the lyrics then I was able to google it and find a link to the whole song. More importantly to this story, I found a youtube link to the video produced for the song.

I brought it up and started playing it. It was a major blast from the past. Suddenly I was 21 years old again, watching the video on MTV or Friday Night Videos or some similar show.

The video sort of tells a story in a loose, haphazard way, interspersed with scenes of the band playing. At about 56 seconds into the song they hit the refrain, "Then they came upon The Thing." In the video it shows a yellow billboard with the words, The Thing? in bold blue letters. When I first saw the video, I was far less traveled than I now am and assumed the billboard was made for the video.

Last week, as I watched the video again I realized I had seen the billboard in real life. I couldn't remember where but I knew it was real. Today, I was driving west on I-10 and started seeing the billboards. Now they have a Dairy Queen logo in the corner of the billboard but it's the same billboard. Same blue lettering, same font, same yellow background. Below the headline it mentions a museum and souvenirs. It's located in Dragoon, AZ at exit 322 on I-10.

I went in, handed the cashier a dollar. "I'm gonna check out 'The Thing.'"

She smiled. "Excellent. By yourself?"


"You're a brave man. Head through the door, follow the yellow footprints. There are three buildings. 'The Thing' is the first exhibit in the third building. Enjoy."

If you've never stopped at one of these old school roadside attractions I highly recommend it. They're cheap and entertaining, no matter how corny they sometimes are.

Most of the three buildings, corrugated tin sheds, really, are filled with odds and ends from antiquity. A matchlock rifle made in the 1600s, allegedly the last one in the world. A 1937 Rolls Royce which was allegedly used by Adolf Hitler. A carriage used to carry Lincoln around on part of his first inaugural tour. Other things just as obscure and, for the most part, interesting to some degree.

What is 'The Thing' you ask? It's the mummified remains of a mother and child in a glass topped coffin. It's a bit macabre but interesting in its way. It got me curious so, of course, I googled.

Turns out no one knows the actual origin of the mummies. The wife of the original creator of the roadside attraction was interviewed. She said, "[A] man came through here about six years ago. He had three of them he got somewhere. He was selling them for $50."
So, now you know. Sort of.

The Point of This Post

I find it interesting that I got this earwig last week, just before embarking on a drive which would take me right past the billboard from the video of the song. I could write it off as synchronicity and, technically, that’s what it is. But it’s also illustrative of a deeper phenomenon.

While I didn’t consciously remember where I’d seen that billboard or, for that matter, that it was in the video of that song, my subconscious did remember both of those facts. It connected them and the song came into my mind.

The mind is a fascinating thing and its capabilities are amazing.

The Wandering Guru

(Then they came upon The Thing)
This is real - this is now,
This is a freak show baby, anyhow
Oh, the church of logic, sin and love
Heals the curious magic soul
Big top drama from head to toe
Cactus, venom, rodeo
Oh, the church of logic, sin and love
— “Church of Logic, Sin, and Love” by The Men

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Chasing Rabbits

There is an old adage about chasing rabbits. If you chase two rabbits you will catch neither. There is a lot of truth to this. It's comonly used in martial arts to discourage people who want to cross train. I think it's a flawed argument, though. Like comparing apples and oranges to prove watermelons don't work.

One of the best counters for this I've personally heard came from Guro Dan Inosanto. He said, "People say if you train in X, Y, and Z then you'll get confused. Yet school children do it every day. They train in math, language, and science and never get confused."

Some people argue, "But math, language, and science aren't at all alike, it's much harder to confuse them than it is to confuse arts X and Y."

I say, people study multiple languages and rarely get confused about what they're speaking at any given time (though I did hear one humorous story from a Spec Ops friend where, after spending several weeks in Germany, went to South America and he was so wrung out from stress and fatigue he tried to order his breakfast in a garble of German, English, and Spanish ... but this is a pretty extreme case).

Another example Guro Dan gave in this vein, "I have at least half a dozen words in my vocabulary which I could use to describe a particular piece of furniture in my house. I might call it a couch, a sofa, a divan, a sectional, or a seat and people would know what I meant. I don't ever point at that piece of furniture and say, 'Have a ...' and get confused about which word to use. It never happens."

Cross Training

Here is my take on cross training. A core is vital. You might train in your core for quite a while then seek supplemental training. Nothing wrong with this model and for some people it's the best option.

However, it's also possible to train two or more systems simultaneously. The trick is to choose a core. One system which seems to suit you better than the others you're training. You might spend a few months with an "undeclared major" and feel them out for which suits you best but then choose one as core. Use the other training to supplement the core.

You're not actually training in the supplemental systems - though, over time, you may retain curriculum and earn rank in them. Your primary objective, though, is to use what you learn in the supplemental training to enhance your understanding of your core.

Motion is motion and principles are universal. What you learn in one system can help you in another system. It's just a matter of looking at the underlying principles and using the different perspective to better understand the principle, then use the deeper understanding of the principle to enhance your understanding in your core training.

If you "chase two rabbits" - e.g.: you try to have two cores, two primary focal points - then, yeah, you'll probably spend a lot of time spinning your wheels. Find your core and let the experience in the supplemental training enhance your core.

To extend the rabbit analogy, don't chase any rabbits. Learn a reliable snare and how to find good places to set up the snare. Once you have a reliable snare and know where to put it then you won't go hungry. You have your core methodology. Then you can experiment with other snares and other methods. Learn from them and enhance your core method so you get better and better at catching rabbits. In the end, you're still learning to catch rabbits, doesn't matter how many methods you explore to do so as long as you have a method which will prevent you from starving.

The Wandering Guru

"The truth of the matter is that there's nothing you can't accomplish if: (1) You clearly decide what it is that you're absolutely committed to achieving, (2) You're willing to take massive action, (3) You notice what's working or not, and (4) You continue to change your approach until you achieve what you want, using whatever life gives you along the way." - Anthony Robbins quotes  

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How long to black belt?

Had a discussion recently on Facebook about the question, "How long until I get my black belt?"

It's not an uncommon question in martial arts. I've heard it several times over the years myself. I'm pretty sure I never asked it - of course, if I did, I was only 6 or 7 years old so I might not remember.

If you understand anything about martial arts, though, it's a ridiculous question. I often compare martial arts training to attending school. A black belt is roughly equivalent to getting your high school diploma. I can give you a broad ballpark estimate based on how long it took other people but each person is different. Most people take 12 years (not counting kindergarten) to get their high school diploma. Some, though, graduate early and it only takes them 11 years. Some graduate very early and it takes less than 11 years. On the other hand, some flunk a few times and spend 13+ years getting their diploma.

Martial arts is similar but on a much more fluid time scale. It can differ drastically from system to system. I know some systems where you can get certified to teach the basics within a year. You're essentially a black belt though they don't use the common belt ranking system. Systems like this have a very small curriculum. Only a handful of things to learn, then a bunch of reps. Other systems can take many years to get to black belt level because their curriculums cover a lot more ground. Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses.

In the end, though, it really doesn't matter. A black belt is still just scratching the surface. If you really want to get good then the black belt - or equivalent - is just the beginning. Doesn't matter if it took you a year or five years or ten years to get the black belt. It's just the beginning.

If you're serious about your development then you'll spend years - after getting your black belt - improving. In fact, many people spend their whole lives improving. I'll use a famous sports personage to illustrate my point since a lot of the big names in martial arts are only big names within the martial arts. Most people, though, have heard of Michael Jordan. If you want to be a Michael Jordan in the martial arts world, it won't happen when you're a black belt. It'll happen long after you get your black belt, after you've spent countless hours of development after getting your black belt. After you've honed and refined your skills as a practitioner and as a teacher.

My Answer

My standard response to the question, "How long until I get my black belt?"
“As long as it takes.”

If they press then I go to the Zen story about a student who asks the teacher, “How long until I reach enlightenment?”
“Ten years.”
“What if I really apply myself and try very hard?”
“Twenty years.”
“What? How can that be? OK. What if I work harder than any pupil you’ve ever seen? I spend 20 hours a day in meditation and follow all the strictures?”
“Thirty years.”

I have literally had that conversation at least once. “How long to black belt?”
“As long as it takes.”
“No, really?”
“Ten years.”
“I’ve got a good background and pick things up quick. I can probably half that time.”
“Nope. It’ll take you twenty years.”
“You don’t know how hard I’ll try. I’m really hungry for it.”
“You’ll only get better at trying and you’ll get so hungry you’ll eat yourself right out of training.”

He didn’t like that very much. I don’t know how long it took him to get a black belt because I never saw him again. I’m guessing he found a nice belt factory, bought his way to black belt, and was perfectly content with his bit of cloth.

The pitfall

A lot of people focus on the black belt. They fixate on it. It ceases to be a benchmark, a stepping stone, and it becomes the goal. Then, when they get their black belt they leave. They're never heard from in the martial arts again. They accomplished their goal. They move on to something else.

The most common times for people to quit training are very early - still a white belt. They get frustrated or realize it's not really for them. They leave.

Next is in the middle ranks. About halfway to black belt. Most people experience significant plateaus around that period of their development. A lot of people get discouraged and feel like they're never going to improve again. They leave. This is unfortunate because they've put a fair bit of time into the training, the instructor has put a fair bit of time into them, and they leave. It can be frustrating but it happens commonly.

Last is the fresh black belt. No one is hungrier and more of a go-getter than a senior brown belt. As soon as they get that black belt, though, they often just stop. Even if they continue training, they've lost that hunger for learning. Some part of them thinks, "I've arrived. Now it's all ice cream and lollipops."

The people who become really good, who have a chance at being the Michael Jordans of the martial arts world, they stay hungry. They stay inquisitive. They continue to develop.

One of my role models is SGM Cacoy Canete. Cacoy told me once, when he was 88 years old with 80+ years of training and experience, "I earned my 'Master' rank in my late twenties but I didn't feel I had actually 'mastered' anything until I'd been training for forty years. And, still, I learn something new every day." Talk about a humbling experience. I had about thirty years of training when he told me that. I knew I was still hungry, still learning. But to hear him say that was like a splash of cold water. To think it was possible to still learn something new every day after 80 years of training and experience, for a living legend like him, that was a wake up call.

How long? As long as it takes. What then? Stay hungry, the fun has just begun.

The Wandering Guru

"Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water." - Zen proverb

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ambushed by a story

Months ago I finished writing a novella, Annie Oakley and the Beast of Chicago. It's a good story. Alternate history and crime. Everyone who helped me proofread it liked it. Unfortunately, for a new author, a 24,500 word novella isn't particularly easy to find a potential market for. A couple of days ago I found one, though. A small press called Dreadful Cafe. I submitted it to them.

Yesterday, I had a story run over me. Really, totally ambushed by it. Normally, I write 750 - 1,000 words / day, usually in my blog. Yesterday I wrote a blog entry about my brownies and I wrote a 2,800 word short story.

I sat down to write ~750 words. I wasn't even sure what I was going to write about. Then I had an idea. It was a small little thing. I started writing about it. I had no intention of actually writing a story. I thought I was writing an idea, maybe a scene, maybe the start of a story. Really, though, I thought I was just jotting some notes, making a brain dump.

Then I kept writing. The whole story came out. It felt like a good story. I read through it, doing some proofreading and editing. Then I read it from start to finish just to read it. It was good. Then I put it to the litmus and asked my wife to read it.

Most of my fiction writing has, thus far, achieved a meh response from Margaret. The really frustrating part is she can't pin down why. It's just meh. It's feedback but it's of very limited use.

The first fiction I got published, though, was a little story about the development of a fictitious martial arts system. It was titled One Ting I Know and was published in an online magazine. When Margaret read it, she didn't give me meh. She liked it. In fact, she predicted it would get published.

She also liked my Annie Oakley novella. And she liked the short story I wrote yesterday. Yay! I'll take it as a good omen for both works.

I just submitted the story, It's a Lulu, to tor.com

It's a very cool feeling. I've had some non-fiction published, even got paid reasonably well for a cover article for Tae Kwon Do Times back in '08. Tor, though, is a big name in fiction. Submitting to them just feels good. They're also one of the highest paying markets for speculative fiction so if they publish my story I'll get well paid for it. Beyond that, though, it's just a cool feeling to have done something worth submission to a publisher like Tor. I honestly think the story is strong enough to have a good chance at getting picked up by them.

It took me a long time to really commit myself to writing fiction - nearly 20 years, in fact. During that time, I've written quite a bit of stuff. Going back and rereading some of it, I now realize I wasn't writing stories. I was writing story synopses. Basically, I was outlining stories in prose.

My biggest problem, identified by Joe Lansdale back in '01, was character development. Joe, after reading some of what I'd written said, in pure Joe fashion, "The writing is good. I have nothing to say about the technical side of it. Your character develop sucks, though. I didn't give a shit if they lived or died." Joe gave me some pointers and made some recommendations about authors, including his ownself, who he felt did character development particularly well. I took his advice and it helped.

Then I spent quite a bit of time reading with a little note-taker running in the back of my head all the time. He'd sit back there and analyze how stories were put together, how characters were developed, how settings were brought to life. Sometimes he made such a racket it was hard to actually enjoy what I was reading but I kept at it and let him do his thing. Apparently he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed because it took him a long time to compile his findings and start putting them to work influencing my own writing. It's happening now, though.

I know I need some more work. Likely always will. But I feel I've gone from "complete newbie" to "strong author in development." It really is a great feeling. I wonder what I'll write today - aside from this blog post.

The Wandering Guru

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia." - E.L. Doctorow

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Guru Brownies … just because

A few of you may have had the privilege of having my brownies. If so then you know they're good. In fact, you know they're amazing. You know most other brownies pale in comparison and you know why I scoff at box brownies. Don't get me wrong, if someone makes brownies I'll have some, boxed or not. Given the choice, though, I'll take brownies from scratch every time and I'll take my brownies over any other brownie I've ever had. I've had a few which were close but none as good.

The first thing to realize about my brownies is, they defy common beliefs about brownies. They are made with, gasp, cocoa powder. Most really good brownies are made with baking chocolate. In fact, some people claim really good brownies can't be made with cocoa powder. I strongly disagree.

This recipe originated in a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook circa 1940 which my mom got from her grandmother. By the time I saw the book the pages were yellowed and there were all sorts of modifications made to the recipe itself and notes in the margin. When I was a kid, mom and I made these brownies. Mom would add extra flour to the dough, roll it into balls, then refrigerate it and send the "brownie balls" to school with me in my lunch. By the time I was in high school I was the primary maker of these brownies and, often as not, they didn't get baked. We just at the dough raw. Put it in the fridge and it becomes like spoon fudge. Obviously, the raw eggs in the mix made this a risky proposition but no one ever got sick.

As I got older I made my own revisions to the recipe. There was a time in my late twenties where I spent a couple of months baking brownies and tweaking and revising. I've made versions of this which were healthier in various ways - reduced calories or gluten free or diabetic friendly. Some of them were actually quite tasty. For a while I made frosting for the brownies. It was good frosting and a fine compliment to the brownies. It also made them even moister because I would poke holes into the brownies after getting them out of the oven then pour the fresh frosting over the top. It seeped through the brownies making them very moist and they'd retain the moistness for a while - at least as long as the batch of brownies ever lasted.

These days I don't do the frosting anymore because I've reverted to just eating the dough more often than not. However, I do still bake them from time to time.

These brownies are rich, fudgy, and decadent. They make no pretense at being healthy. They settle for being awesome. One of the nice things about this recipe is its flexibility. It's very forgiving. You can use more or less of most of the ingredients without destroying the end result so there's a lot of room for experimentation without having to throw the results out. Even if they're not as good as the original recipe, they're not bad either.

[ The Recipe ]
1 stick of butter
6 tbsp of cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour

Melt the butter. Stir in the cocoa until it's smooth. Add eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and stir until smooth. Add sugar. Stir. Add flour. Stir.

Bake in 8x8 pan at 350 for 25 - 30 minutes.

Test them with a fork or a toothpick. You want it to come out a little gooey, not clean. If it comes out clean you've overbaked the brownies. They may still be good and maybe you prefer them that way but I like them a little gooey.

[ Variations ]
You can substitute 1 1/2 cup of coconut sugar for the white sugar. I actually prefer the taste of these and it adds some nutrients which white sugar doesn't have. Arguably it makes them more diabetic friendly too.

If you like the idea of eating the brownie dough but don't want to risk eating raw eggs you can substitute chia seeds. 2 tbsp of ground chia seeds + 1 tbsp of water, refrigerate for ~15 minutes and you've got an egg substitute. It will serve as a binding agent to get the consistency right. I haven't tried baking this version. I'm not sure what role the eggs play in the baked version. The chia seeds don't adversely affect the flavor and they add quite a bit of nutrients - they are a "superfood" after all.

The Wandering Guru

"Let's get decadent!" - JFK (played by Ossie Davis) in Bubba Ho-Tep

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Not-So-Social Media?


Saw this video posted on Facebook recently. It's an interesting video and I'm sure it rings true for quite a few people but not at all for me. Here's why.

I have 885 "friends" on Facebook. Of those, there are about 100 I haven't met in person. Most of those are friends of friends I do know in person and will very likely meet some day. Not of all of my FB friends are close friends. Some are just acquaintences. Some I've only met once.

I have friends from all over the world, literally. I have a good friend who lives in Japan. I have several good friends in the Philippines and various European countries. These aren't just FB friends. I know them personally and have spent a fair amount of time with them. Even with in the U.S., I have good, close friends in nearly every single state. Even as mobile as I am, sometimes I go a couple of years between visits with some of them. It's been possible to keep in contact with people long distance since the Pony Express and telegraph. Then the postal service and phone. Facebook and other technologies - cell phones, text, email, etc. - are an evolution from those technologies. The biggest difference is they allow us to keep in contact with our friends - no matter how distant - in very near real time. Sometimes this isn't a particularly good thing but usually it is.

I keep up with my friends via FB and other mediums but we also visit in person and when we're together we're present with each other. Maybe it's a generational thing. Maybe because I grew up in a time when keeping in touch with someone was much more difficult and much less immediate. Maybe it's because I remember a time before computers, microwaves, VCRs, and even answering machines were considered pretty new-fangled when I was a kid. Maybe all those factors mean we - I and people from my generation and before - don't take the technology for granted. Maybe, even though many of us use it daily, we aren't as hardwired into it as the younger generations. I don't know.

I have also heard plenty of people say, "Everyone's turning into zombies." In fact, I've had similar sentiments myself. I get it. There's some truth there.

From my perspective, the media is amazing. It's an amazing tool which enables me to not only know what my friends in the Philippines had for breakfast this morning but also to make plans for my visit later this year. It enabled my friends and relatives to reach me last year in the Philippines when my brother died. It means I get to watch my nieces and nephews (either by blood or by friendship) grow up in something approaching real time even when I'm not there in person.

The video says, "I have 422 friends yet I'm lonely. I speak to them every day yet none of them really know me." I think a lot of people try to replace a true social network with social media. Either because they're socially awkward in person or because it's so easy for them they take it for granted and it doesn't even dawn on them they're doing it.

Social media can't replace a social network (e.g.: person to person interaction). It can, however, be a magnificent supplement to it. People who completely eschew the technology are, I believe, missing the boat. I can't really fault them. I can certainly sympathize with the sentiment. Still, though, I think it's like keeping a record player and albums, never buying CDs because they're "just a fad and, besides, the pops and hisses are an essential part of the music." They're just afraid to leave their comfort zone. Nothing wrong with keeping the record player and albums but claiming it's "better" than new technology is playing the ostrich with his head in the sand.

To be fair, the note on the video does say it's directed at the "online" generation and I do believe there's a lot of value in it for them. The message I get from the video is one of moderation. I think complete aversion to the technology is as much a problem, in a very different way, than over dependence. Use the tools as tools. Network, keep in touch, make plans but don't get so absorbed in it you exile yourself from person to person interaction.

It is a good video and I don't disagree with it, even if this post kind of sound that way. It's a valuable message. It sparked these thoughts and I wanted to share them because, well, it's what I do :D

The Wandering Guru

"Look up from your phone. Shut down the display. Stop reading this blog [for now]. Live life the real way." - Paraphrased from the video

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Too Old For Salsa?

If you haven't seen this video yet, you should. If you have seen it, it's worth watching again.

Paddy Jones, in the video, is 79 years old. She was a professional dancer in her youth but stopped dancing when she got married and had kids. After her husband died, she was lonely. She was living in Spain and her family, children and grandchildren, lived in Britain. She decided to return to the passion of her youth and started taking Salsa classes.

The instructor, Nico, dances with her in the video. It's obvious he's a very good dancer and instructor. It's also obvious she's an amazing woman. At one point, one of the judges says, "You're an amazing example to older people because you've shown that, however old you are, you can still be spectacular and beautiful and do something amazing."

Nico responds, "She can. Old people can't. If you want, you can."

Old people can't. But age has nothing to do with being old. I'd say the key is passion. Find your passion and follow it. Doesn't matter how long you've been breathing. Time passes, everyone ages. What matters is passion. Passion brings living into life. I would guess Paddy found just as much passion in her marriage and in being a mom. Then, after her roles there were satisfied, she returned to the passion of her younger years. Her passion is what makes her outstanding.

People look at a 79 year old woman with dense wrinkles, snow white hair, standing 4'11" and weighing 98 pounds and they automatically assume she's frail, she's done living. They assume she's "old." Then they see her doing what she's passionate about and she no longer seems "old." Our bodies do degrade with age. It's a fact. As amazing as she is at 79, I can only imagine how amazing she was performing as a professional ballerina in her teens. However, aging isn't dead. It doesn't have to mean "old."

I've had several examples of this in my personal life. The first is SGM Cacoy Canete. He'll be 95 in August. He is a frail old man with asthma, bad hips and knees. I haven't seen him stand up unassisted in over 5 years. Put a stick in his hand, though, and he lights up. It's his passion. He soundly thrashes anyone he spars with. When I've sparred with him I felt like I'm a child playing with an adult. I wasn't not challenging him, I was entertaining him. He cackled with glee when I did something he didn't expect me to do. Not because it wsa something he hadn't seen before but because he didn't expect me to do it. I weigh nearly three times as much as him but if he has a stick and I'm in his range I might as well be a child with a nerf bat.

The second example is Bapak Willem "Uncle Bill" de Thouars. Uncle told me on many occasions, "If you want to stay young, play with children and play like children." He does. The last time I saw him in person he was 70 years old but he had the energy of a child. From what I hear from people who have seen him more recently, he hasn't slowed down at all and now he's 78.

Another example is Guro Dan Inosanto. I attended a seminar with him a few weeks ago. At 77, he's still so smooth and fluid it's amazing.

Are these guys without aches and pains? Of course not. The difference between them and "old" people is the passion. They have something they're passionate about - in fact, they have many things they're passionate about, martial arts is just one of them. I know SGM Cacoy is also passionate about music. Uncle Bill is also passionate about drawing and painting. I don't know Guro Dan well enough to know what else he's passionate about but I guarantee he's got other passions. I'm sure they're all passionate about their families as well.

Passion keeps us young at heart no matter what our chronological age. If we don't have something in our lives we're passionate about - and, more importantly, if we don't pursue our passion - then we age so much quicker. I have known people in their 50s who were "old." In fact, I've known a few in their 40s.

Find your passion. No matter what it is. Don't let your age - and society's expectations - get in your way. Pursue your passion. You'll be happier and healthier and your quality of life will improve exponentially because you'll start living instead of just moving through life waiting for the end.

I would love to say I figured this all out when I was young and it led me to find and pursue my passion in martial arts. Alas, that would be a lie. I didn't figure this out until just a few years ago. In spite of how many times other people, like Uncle Bill, explained it to me. I'm a slow learner. I'm just glad I stumbled onto this truth and started living it, albeit unwittingly, when I was young.

The Wandering Guru

"It's not how old you are, it's how you are old." - Jules Renard