What is a Langkah?

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

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

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Monday, July 21, 2014

I’m hot.

I'm hot. Sweaty. Bearing it.

I bought my van in March. In late April, as temperatures started to rise, I discovered I had no air conditioning.

A Toyota dealership in Nashville ran diagnostics and told me the van needed a new compressor. If they did the work, they'd charge me ~$1200 and they could have it done the next day.

I declined, got in the van, and drove to Nacogdoches, TX. A guy in Nacogdoches, named Jason, replaced the compressor for me for $650. Yay. I had air conditioning.

For three months.

A couple of weeks ago, driving into Wichita, I noticed my air didn't seem very cold. After spending another $100 for diagnostics, it seems the compressor has gone belly up again.

The compressor should still be under warranty. But according to the mechanic in Wichita, a deeper problem ails my van. He suspects the root problem lies in something called an "extension hose" and if it doesn't get replaced then a new compressor won't help. It'll last about 3 months then go bad too. He could have done the work ... for just over $1000.

So, I'm hot. Sweaty. Bearing it. $1000 is currently beyond my means.


The good news


A friend/student in Wichita, Jerrod, put together a "redneck air conditioner" for me. It consists of an igloo cooler, an aquarium pump, copper tubing, a fan, and some vinyl tubing. The pump pushes water up into the copper tubes. As it moves through the tubes, it draws warmth from the air around it, and the fan pushes the cooled air out. The warmed water is then cycled back into the cooler.

It keeps me cool enough to sleep in anything up to about 80 degrees. I won't claim it's comfortable but it is bearable.

If I dump a bag of ice into the cooler then it works a bit better and will make it bearable up to about 85 degrees.

At some point I plan to put some dry ice into the water and see what that does. I'll leave the ice in a bag so the van doesn't fill with fog but it should cool the water down a lot and keep it cool for quite a while.

Ice, though, works well enough and isn't that expensive.


The Wandering Guru

"What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance." -- Jane Austen

My “better than nothing” air conditioner.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Eavesdropping and Afterlife

Sitting at Starbucks, working on my novella, Parker's Perdition. I'll tell you guys a bit more about the story in a minute, in case it interests you.

First, I want to talk about a conversation I overheard at the adjacent table.

A woman looked to be in her forties, blond hair, black framed glasses, pale complexion, wearing a white blouse and blue shorts, sat talking to her friend. The friend looked a bit older, in her late fifties or early sixties.

The blond, voice a little loud, with a hint of shrillness, spoke passionately about this website she'd visited. The website, a blog, had videos of, in this woman's words, "dark skinned women." Gave makeup tips and other advice, apparently aimed at a particular demographic.

Blond said, "I skimmed through the page and didn't find a single post or video about white women. I sent the guy a message explaining that he was a racist. By excluding our part of society and focusing on theirs, he's just enhancing the separation, adding to the problem."

She continued in this vein for a while, at least until they got up and left, about five minutes after I sat down.

The whole time, I listened to her, she kept using the theme of "us" and "them."

I sat, trying to write a story about a guy's personal vision of hell, and all the thoughts in my head ran like this:

My god, woman. Do you even hear yourself? Your own language is so divisive, it's not even funny. I don't know what website you're talking about, maybe the author is racist, but I think it's safe to say that you definitely are.

The moment we classify another human as them we step into the territory of prejudice. Viewing another human as different is where the problem starts.

Another person may have differences. In fact, it's a guarantee. Even identical twins have differences in their personalities and, over life, they'll accumulate different idiosyncrasies of movement and different scars, physical and emotional.

Being unique and different is part of being human. Being aware of differences in other people can be useful for dealing with them. Being aware, for instance, that someone from a particular culture may find a mannerism of yours offensive can help you communicate with that person better. You can make a conscious effort to minimize or neutralize that mannerism.

Even if that person, being aware of your culture and mannerisms, lets it slide and chooses not to take offense, the less you do that thing, the smoother your interactions with that person will be.

This is part of healthy interactions.

Thinking of a person as being different, though, leads to a split. Leads to an us and them mindset. It's easy, almost instinctual, to objectify them. Objectification leads to trivialization and it's then easy to see that person (or, really, anyone from whatever group you've assigned as them) as inferior to your us.

This is the root of prejudice and discrimination of any type. Whether it's misogyny or misandry, racism, religious intolerance, whatever.

When we're able to see other people as part of us, discrimination becomes much more difficult, maybe impossible.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ass in Chair

I've just had a realization ... and it kinda knocked me for a loop.

Using Joe R. Lansdale's methodology (proof/edit the previous day's work, and write 3 - 5 pages per day), I've been very prolific over the past few of months. I've finished & submitted 10 short stories, and started several others which petered out and are in limbo while I work on other projects. I've finished several chapters in a novel.

All told, I've written somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 words in the past 2 months, not counting proofing/editing/rewrites. So, probably more like 150,000 - 200,000.

For those of you who don't work with word counts, this is somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 pages.

Okay. Had to take a breather. That number caught even me off guard.

The thing is, that volume of output has only taken, on average, 1.5 hours / day.

Like Joe says, "Ass in chair." It boils down to that cold, hard truth.

It doesn't have to be 8 hours / day. Like I said, I've averaged about 1.5 hours / day. Oh ... and that's 1.5 hours a day on writing fiction. I'm not even counting my blog entries or posts on FB or articles for my martial arts website.

Needed another breather. It seems I've become something of a writing fiend.

The more I write, the less time it takes me to put together a "finished" product (of course, it's never "finished" but at some point it has to be "good enough" or it will never get published). Over time, that same 1.5 hours / day will generate even more output.

To people who say, "I want to write but … [insert excuse].”

I say, "Ass in chair."

If you really want it, you'll find a way. Otherwise, you'll find an excuse.

Like everything else in life, it boils down to priorities. There's nothing wrong with not doing it. As such, there's no reason to make excuses for not doing it.

As Joe also points out, you write 3 - 5 pages / day. In a week or so, you'll have a short story. In a month, a novella. In three months, a novel. In six months, an epic to rival Fellowship of the Ring--at least in size, if not in quality.

This is the precise method he uses to finish, on average, 2 novels & several short stories (and the odd movie or TV script) each year and he’s done that for many years.

3 - 5 pages / day--depending on your typing speed--equals, even at a relatively moderate typing speed of 40 words per minute, less than 30 minutes of actual typing. Factor in time for choosing the right word/phrase, and corrections, and you are probably up around an hour, maybe 1.5 hours.

If, like me, your typing speed is closer to 100 words per minute then you can crank out those pages, with consideration and corrections, in less than an hour.

So, add in ~30 minutes to proof/edit the previous day's work and you're looking at, likely, less than 2 hours of work per day to write a book roughly the length of The Fellowship of the Rings, or 20+ short stories, within 6 months.

Even if you put in half that much work, only doing 1.5 - 2.5 pages / day (roughly an hour or less of work), or only working 3 - 4 days / week on it, you'll output that much volume in a year or less.

If you want to do it, then 1 - 2 hours of work / day flies by. If you don't want to do it, then it drags.

If you find it dragging, then stop. You can think of better ways to spend your time.

The Wandering Guru

"Fiction is the truth inside the lie."--Stephen King


Monday, July 14, 2014

Flowers and Fruits

I just posted a new article to the website. I’ll copy it here, too, since some people read the blog but don’t usually visit the website.


I don't require a lot of Indonesian or Filipino terminology in the AGPS curriculum. I decided to keep the curriculum mostly in English because I wanted more focus to be put on the material, the development of an understanding of the underlying principles, and how to make the material work.

However, I do consider the terminology useful and, in some ways, important. The terminology can give some insight into the culture from which the methodology originated. AGPS is an American system, developed by an American, in America. It draws heavily from Indonesian and Filipino influences, and several other influences, for that matter. I chose to call the system a Pencak Silat system because the overall structure of the curriculum - using jurus and langkah as the foundation, and building from there - comes from my background in various systems of Pencak Silat.

In this article, I'm going to discuss some terminology and concepts from the Indonesian culture which I consider useful to the training. They point toward a deeper understanding. Some of the phrases I routinely use, such as "motion is motion" or "move and seek empties" come from my understanding of these words I learned in Pencak Silat.


Pencak and Silat

The term Silat is used throughout Southeast Asia to refer to martial arts. It's an umbrella term like Karate or Gung Fu and a lot of specific systems fall under that umbrella.

Pencak is, as far as I know, specific to Indonesian Silat.

So if someone says they train in "Silat," they could be referring to a system from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, or the southern Philippines. Possibly other places from the region as well. If someone says they are training in "Pencak Silat," they are almost certainly talking about Indonesian Silat.

It's also important to understand the size of this umbrella. Within Indonesia alone, there are hundreds of systems of Silat. In fact, according to Pak Herman Suwanda - a well known and highly respected Silat instructor from Java - in the late 90s, there were over three hundred officially recognized systems of Silat on Java alone. That number doesn't include any systems which chose not to register with the government to become "official." Nor does it include any systems from any of the other 900+ inhabited islands in Indonesia.

In a culture where each island often had its own system and, commonly, various villages on an island would have their own specific system and, sometimes, different families in the same village had their own system, there almost certainly over thousand individual systems of Silat practiced in Indonesia. And we still haven't mentioned any of the Silat practiced throughout the rest of the region.

I think it's safe to say there are at least a thousand, probably multiple thousands of Silat systems in that region. And some, like AGPS, were developed outside of that region.

Obviously, a lot of systems will be similar to each other. However, under the umbrella of the term Silat you can find literally any type of martial art specialty. Some systems specialize in blade, some in stick, some in striking, some in locking, etc.

As I understand it, the term Pencak refers to solo training. The term Silat refers to applied training with a partner. I've heard a quote from Indonesian Silat practitioners, "Without Pencak, there is now Silat. Without Silat, there is no Pencak." I interpret this to mean, without both aspects of training, you're missing out. Both aspects are important, vital, to strong development.

If I only have Pencak, then I'm a dancer. If I only have Silat, then I'm a fighter. Being a capable dancer is fine. Being a capable fighter is fine. But to be a martial artist, I have to have both sides of the coin.


Bunga and Buah

In the same vein, the words bunga and buah are similarly used. I think they're more widely used throughout the region and not specifically Indonesian.

Bunga translates from Indonesian as flower. Buah translates as fruit. So, your solo training is Bunga. Your applied training is Buah. When you work solo, you're motion is large, expressive, flowery. In application, it may also be large and expressive but, more commonly, it is tighter, more dynamic. Still the same motion, though.

The word kembangan uses a variation of the bunga root word. Kembangan has been translated for me as flower dance. However, if you look the word up in the Google translator, it translates to English as development and I think that's appropriate.

The fruit, buah, is what you use when you fight. The flower, though, comes from the same stem and is, in my estimation, vital to a deeper understanding of why the material works.

Not how, why

One of my common sayings is, "Not how, why." When you look at someone teaching, don't focus on how the instructor does the technique. He or she may be doing something you don't have the attributes to do. How they do it may or may not work for you at all. Focus on why it works. What underlying principles make it functional? Under what parameters is it functional? Does it work best at a particular range? Against a particular type of attack? Against a particular body type? These are all questions related to why and it should be your primary focus.

The value of bunga

The value of bunga, the flower, the solo training, lies in its open-endedness. Since it doesn't have a specific goal to achieve, you're just moving, then literally anything you can do, any technique you can perform, can be found within the motion. So, by exploring the motion, the flower, you can find your way to other fruits which stem from the same flower. Other applications rooted in the same motion, rooted in the same why.

Forms in martial arts are all bunga. Whether it's a Tai Chi Chuan form, a Goju Ryu kata, a Tae Kwon Do Poomse, it's bunga. So, all the other benefits from running forms are there, too. Solo training, a lot of reps on the motion, you can simulate maiming and lethal motions without risking injury to a training partner, it's a catalog of motions, etc.

But, "Without Pencak, there is no Silat. Without Silat, there is no Pencak." You've got to have both sides of the coin, both aspects of the training. You can become a proficient dancer or a proficient fighter but unless you have both aspects you won't even be in the running for becoming great.

The Wandering Guru

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” - Matsuo Basho


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Technical Breakdown Monograph

Overview

Each technique can be broken down into three components. Entry, transition, and technical essence. The technical essence is something like a Sapu Luar or a Biset Dalam or Putar Kepala. You can also consider joint locks or disarms or a specific strike as a technical essence. It is, simply, the end goal of the technique.

In my training with Guru Ken we enumerated our entries and technical essences. Our transitions were never enumerated, though. Taking, for instance, four entries and four technical essences, there are a huge number of possible transitions from each entry to each technical essence. The specific transition used in training usually reflects a common scenario based on the opponent's likely structure or resistance or reaction. In the dynamic chaos of an actual situation, or, for that matter, even in sparring, the transition used must also be completely dynamic. And, of course, we never have a set plan in reality.

"Plans are useless but planning is indispensable." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Our training is our planning. It's necessary. Any plans we make, though, will go right out the window in a real situation. "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." - Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

The act of planning, though, is vital. It helps us prepare our tools and our minds to be flexible and effective. To think a situation is going to go exactly according to plan, though, is naive. Playing with transitions in training helps us to develop the flexibility we need to make our tools effective. The more transitions I've worked with, the more likely my body is to recognize an opportunity to use a tool under stress.

AGPS Entries

  • Over the Bridge
  • Split Entry
  • Slap & Hit
  • Spearing Elbow
  • Dive
These aren't all of the entries. These are just the ones I use most commonly.

AGPS Technical Essences

My default list is:
  • Sapu
  • Biset
  • Kenjit
  • Putar Kepala
  • Kunci
However, this is a very generalized list. It's usually broken down into smaller chunks:
  • Sapu Dalam
  • Sapu Luar
  • Biset Dalam
  • Biset Luar
  • Kenjit Siko
  • Kenjit Kaki
  • Putar Kepala
  • Reverse Putar Kepala
  • Kunci
And it can be broken down even farther with different variations.

"Kunci" are locks. This section breaks down, in AGPS, like this:
  • Finger locks (hyper-extension, compression, side)
  • Wrist lock (standard, reverse, vertical)
  • Z-lock
  • F-lock
  • Arm bar (outside, inside)
  • Figure 4 (outside, inside)
  • Shoulder lock (outside, inside, wrapping, prayer)
  • Bent elbow lock
  • Goose neck (standard, reverse)
That's the basic list of the most standard locks. Each of these locks has variations. This list is also all arm related. Many of these locks have equivalents that can be done on the legs, such as toe locks, knee bars, etc.

There are also several layers to the locking principles:
  • Dimensional
  • Breathing
  • Consecutive
  • Basing for breaks

Using the Concepts

Any technique you know or learn can be broken down into entry, transition, and technical essence. Breaking them down this way can help you isolate certain aspects and develop them further. It can help you tie seemingly disparate elements together. It can be used to take a seemingly difficult technique and break it down into workable chunks.
Once you've broken things down you can mix and match. Any entry can get to any technical essence, it's just a matter of determining the transition necessary to do so. Once you develop your entries and technical essences then you can start focusing on your transitions to make them more and more efficient.

This concept can be used in any training - regardless of system, and even outside of the martial arts. It provides a model for exploration of the technique and can help you dig deeper and deeper into your own understanding.



The Wandering Guru

“Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws. She hums the old well-known air through innumerable variations.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Foundation Langkah Monograph

Overview
The Foundation Langkah grew out of the Langkah Tiga - specifically from Pentjak Silat Serak but found in many varieties in many Silat systems. It reinforces the understanding of the basic structure and maintaining that structure while moving but it adds more layers to the movement. You start adding sweeps and stepping that take you from the relatively two-dimensional forward and back of the Walking Langkah and get you thinking about three-dimensions and the space that you can readily move through and affect around your body.
At the basic level it is only a footwork pattern. Later, the jurus get run on the langkah and it becomes a powerful tool for the foundational understanding of how to apply the motions from the jurus and langkah. This langkah is where the meat of your understanding is developed. The Walking Langkah and Bridging Langkah help you get into the space and range you want while maintaining your structure and balance. The Mapping Langkah and Combat Langkah are expansions on the understanding of the Foundation Langkah but the Foundation Langkah is the lynchpin.
Layout and Naming Conventions
The langkah consists of four equilateral triangles, two feet per side, arranged as two adjacent diamonds with a central line running through them. For this text I'll use the following naming conventions for the seven points of the langkah:
C = Central Point
RC = Right Central Point
LC = Left Central Point
TL = Top Left Point
TR = Top Right Point
BL = Bottom Left Point
BR = Bottom Right Point
I will describe lines like so: C-TR = the line from C to TR, LC-BL = the line from LC to BL.

Stepping Pattern
Throughout this pattern your structure will, with a couple of exceptions, be that which is discussed in the Structure section of the Walking Langkah explanation. Start with the heel of your left foot on C and its toes pointing toward TR. The center of your right foot is on the C-RC line and your toes are pointed toward RC while your right heel rests lightly against your left foot, just below your left ankle. This is similar to, though tighter than most, a "cat stance" from various Karate systems and is known as Kuda Mati (dead horse) in Silat.
Step out with your right foot to RC and settle into your basic structure with the center of your right foot on RC and your foot parallel to the C-RC line. This is Position 1.
Pivot 180º to Position 2. The pivots are done on the center of your feet. This is a difficult maneuver and takes practice. Depending on the surface and your footwear there may be too much friction but pivoting on the center of your feet is the ideal because it provides more stability and balance through the motion than if you pivot on your toes or heels.
Sapu with your right leg and step so the center of your right foot is on TR with your right foot parallel to the C-TR line. This is Position 3 and your structure should now be lined up over the C-TR line. This means your center line should be over C-TR and your hips/shoulders should be perpendicular to C-TR and you should be leaning so there's a straight line from the crown of your head to the heel of your back foot.
Sempok so your right foot passes behind your left leg and steps to BL. At this point you should be in a Siloh posture. Your right knee should be past your left knee and you should be sunk into the stance with your hips/shoulders parallel to the C-TR line.
Pivot 270º so you're facing BL and your structure is aligned with C-BL. As you rotate through this motion, sink so you end up kneeling with your left knee on the ground and your right knee up. This is Position 4.
Rise into your basic structure then pivot 180º. Biset with your left foot from C to LC along the C-LC line. You should now be in your basic structure facing BL along the LC-BL line. This is Position 5.
Pivot 180º to Position 6 (facing LC along the LC-BL line).
Sapu with your right foot and step to C so you're facing C and aligned with the C-LC line. This is Position 7.
Pivot 180º and draw your left foot to your right foot into Kuda Mati.
Now you are ready to step out with your left foot to Position 1 and repeat the pattern going the other direction. Where your right foot previously did Sapus and stepped through the Sempok, now your left foot will do those motions and your right will now do the Biset.
This is the basic stepping pattern for the Foundation Langkah. The next evolution is to add basic hand work to accompany your Sapu, Biset, Pivot, and Sempok motions.
Basic Hand Work for Motions
Sapu
Assuming a Sapu with the right foot, you start in a left lead. Your left hand will come to the right side of your face in a parrying/covering motion and end with the back of your left fingers touching your right cheek. Meanwhile, your right hand will drop so it ends up at about hip level, palm down, a few inches out from your body.
As you sweep, your hands will describe a circle so your left ends up at hip level with palm up and your right ends up just in front of your left cheek with palm down. Just after setting your sweeping foot down you fire a sangsot (extended uppercut) with your left hand punching and your right hand slapping the inside of your left forearm.

Biset

Assuming a Biset with the right foot, you start in a right lead. As you pivot your upper base, fire a right elbow. As you begin your sweep, unfold your right arm, describing half a circle so it ends up at about eye level to the left of your face but about eight inches in front of your left cheek. As you finish your sweep, fire a left vertical elbow that forms a shearing motion with your right descending hand.

Pivot

Assuming you're in a right lead, drop your left hand down in a hammer fist just behind your left hip while your right hand moves in a crossing parry to your the left side of your face. The pivot is driven by your hips. Begin your pivot by rotating your upper base toward your left. Let your lower base pivot be pulled by the motion of your hips. This is the key to pivoting on the center of your feet instead of the heels or toes. As you move through the pivot your hands will describe a circle so your left ends up in front of your face with palm down and your right ends up just above your right hip with a palm up fist. As you complete your pivot, fire a right sangsot while slapping the inside of your right forearm with your left hand.

Sempok

Sempok refers to a motion where you step behind your standing leg and sink into a Siloh position. 
If you have a right lead, pick up your right foot and step behind your left leg so your right knee crosses the center line of your left leg. As you set your right foot down you sink. Your shoulders and hips should be facing 90 degrees from the line they started on or, looked at another way, they should be parallel to the line between your feet. 

Siloh

The Siloh position can be high, where your right knee just passes behind the center line of your left leg. Or it can be low where you are sitting in the Siloh position. Or it can be anywhere between those two extremes. The default height when running the Foundation Langkah is a mid-level height.

Depok, Spiral, and Twisted Horse

You can also get to the Siloh position by stepping in front of your base leg, called a Depok, or by rotating your hips and letting your legs fold so you spiral down into the position. In Sikal we referred to the spiral down as Siloh as well but I've seen it commonly used to refer to the position as well as the motion. In some of the other systems I've trained in, this position was referred to as a "twisted horse stance."
Jurus on Langkah
The next evolution of the Foundation Langkah incorporates the Jurus. You run the Jurus as you move through the footwork pattern of the Langkah.
The order of the Jurus is:
  1. Entry Juru
  2. Controlling Juru
  3. Mass in Motion Juru
  4. Level Change Juru
  5. Framing Juru
  6. Striking Juru
  7. Sweeping Juru

The numbers in the list above correspond to the positions in the Langkah as I described in the Stepping Pattern section.