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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Sunday, August 24, 2014


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

The Fighters

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

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

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

The Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aftermath

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

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

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

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

My Take

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

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

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

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

The Wandering Guru

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sheepdogs On Point; Sleep, Interrupted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said, "You need to calm down."

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

"Calm down."

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

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

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

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

"Can I help you?"

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

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

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

"He's there now?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wandering Guru

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fear and Comfort

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

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

The Different Aspects

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

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

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

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

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

Stress And Heart Rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stress Inoculation From Training

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

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

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

Stress Inoculation Example

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

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

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

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

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

The Magic Happens Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

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

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

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

The Wandering Guru

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Progressive Arnis Summer Camp 2014

What a great weekend!

Guro Chad Bailey, founder of Progressive Arnis, comes to Santa Fe, NM, usually twice a year, for annual camps. One in the summer, one in the winter.

I believe I first met Guro Chad in 1998 at the Kuntao Silat de Thouars Family Gathering in Estes Park, CO. I know we were both at that event. However, my first memory of actually meeting him happened the next year at the 1999 Kuntao Silat de Thouars Family Gathering.

We then connected on Facebook and kept in touch to one degree or another over the next ten years. In 2009, when I moved to Arizona, he invited me to be a guest instructor at the Winter Camp that year. I drove to Santa Fe, reconnected with Guro Chad in person, and found a very kindred spirit.

A few weeks after that event, I found out that, in the ten years the event had been happening, I was the first guest instructor to ever be invited to teach there. I felt deeply honored.

I have taught at most of the subsequent Progressive Arnis camps in Santa Fe and, on occasion, Tucson, AZ.

Progressive Arnis (PA)

While Guro Chad is based in Miami, FL, he attended acupuncture school in Santa Fe and taught while he lived there, so he has a good sized group of practitioners in the Santa Fe area. The primary purpose of the camps is to keep the Santa Fe practitioners up-to-date with any changes in the curriculum and for Guro Chad to monitor their development.

The brown belt level of the PA curriculum is where the students learn the Silat Guro Chad put into the curriculum. Since Guro Chad and I have very similar Silat backgrounds, I come in as a guest instructor and focus on Silat. It's not precisely the same expression Guro Chad uses but it's very, very closely related so my teaching exposes his students to material that's in line with their curriculum, but from a slightly different perspective.

Sometimes, a different perspective is a very powerful training tool. Even if what's being taught is exactly the same, looking at it from a different angle can provide whole new insights into it.

Everyone I've met from the PA group, from Guro Chad to the most junior student, has been good people. As I mentioned, Guro Chad and I are very much kindred spirits. We have very similar outlooks on the martial arts and on life in general.

Each year, I see a little more of the PA curriculum and I am more and more impressed with it. Guro Chad has spent a lot of time and effort developing a very solid and robust curriculum. It covers a lot of ground and the progression is very clean and well organized.

If you're anywhere near the Miami or Santa Fe area, and you have any interest in the Filipino martial arts, I would highly recommend seeking out the Progressive Arnis group in those areas. You will find a welcoming group of people who enjoy training and sharing.

Systema with Martin Wheeler

The past few camps have also had Martin Wheeler as a guest instructor. While I know some other people who do Systema, Martin is the first in-person exposure to Systema I've had and it's impressive. Martin is a great guy, very down to earth, a great teacher, and a great practitioner. His passion for Systema is obvious, as is his dedication to its practice and his own development.

While I've participated a little bit in his sessions, I usually just watch. Partially because I already have a lot on my plate with nursing AGPS through its growing pains, and partially because Martin's sessions are pretty physically demanding and I simply can't keep up.

I do like what he teaches, though. Hearing him explain the reasoning behind the training has been very enlightening. I'd seen videos of Systema but without the accompanying explanation of why they're doing what they're doing, the videos don't provide any real insight into the system.

As I commonly say, it's not about how something's done, it's about why it's done that way. Without the why, it's easy to misinterpret and misunderstand what's being shown. While I don't expect to actively train in Systema any time soon, I do like it and I really like Martin.

If you have the chance to attend a training session with him, either at a seminar, or at his school in Beverly Hills, CA, I would highly recommend it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

What was taught

Guro Chad covered various aspects of the PA curriculum. Some stick work, including some siniwali, sumbrada, laban laro drills. Some espada y daga work, and some empty hands, including lock flow.

I explained the foundation of Stealing Bases, brought out some sweeps from the Hubad structure, walked everyone through the AGPS lock flow, and introduced the idea of menyambut (the term I learned for counter-for-counter training with the Silat technical essences).

Martin introduced the group to Systema stick work. As usual, it wasn't a presentation of how you do particular techniques, but, rather, an illustration of how a stick can be incorporated into the Systema methodology.

Martin also explained that, at least in his lineage of Systema, it's not really about fighting. It just happens to provide a set of tools that are very useful for fighting. It's really about healing.

We ended the training on Saturday with Guro Chad leading us through some basic Tui Na massage. A great way to end an active day.


Several students tested for various ranks at the camp. Congratulations to all of them. Great job, well earned:

Promoted to Black Belt:
  • Michael Stavely
  • Fernando Spitaliere
  • Zayon Bailey
Promoted to Brown 1:
  • Carmen Bailey
  • Ben Thomson
Promoted to Orange Belt:
  • Bienaime Louis
Promoted to Kids Blue Belt:
  • Jared Bailey

The Wandering Guru

"This life is for loving, sharing, learning, smiling, caring, forgiving, laughing, hugging, helping, dancing, wondering, healing, and even more loving. I choose to live life this way. I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, 'aw shit, he's up!" -- Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflection on Life and the Human Experience

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stealing Bases - An AGPS Specialty

Balance Disruption DVD Excerpt
An excerpt from my Balance Disruption DVD.

This post was originally written at the request of Matt Thomas for his blog

I decided to share it here, too, because it's good information and covers a lot of ground for anyone interested in AGPS.

Some Background

Before I discuss the mechanics of balance disruption, I want to give a little bit of background about myself and my sources.


In 1995, my adopted brother, Rick, introduced me to Filipino and Indonesian martial arts and I felt like I'd come home after about 17 years of foster care--training in Tae Kwon Do as a kid, Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate as an older kid and as an adult, dabbling in a bunch of other stuff along the way. While the weapons work of the Filipino martial arts intrigued me, the Indonesian Pencak Silat really drew me in.

Pencak Silat is pronounced pen-chah-k see-lah-t.

My instructor, Guru Ken Pannell, taught his own blend of Filipino and Indonesian arts called Sikal. It drew from several sources which, by and large, don't have a lot of relevance to this specific post. One of its influences, though, stemmed from a system of Silat called Serak.

When I met Guru Ken, he hadn't directly studied Serak but much of his expression came from a "child" system of Serak called Bukti Negara that he'd trained in for about eight years.

What immediately drew me to the Silat, specifically to the Serak expression, was the balance disruption aspects, though, at that time, I didn't have a name for it.

Guru Ken, at 5'8" and about 130 pounds, was throwing large guys around like ragdolls. At the time, I was 5'8" and about 230 pounds. Guru Ken a couple of the guys he threw around like ragdolls made me look small. My initial reaction was, "No way! They're falling for him." Then he did it to me. I did not fall for him. But, like those other guys, I slammed to the mat time and time again and Guru Ken didn't even break a sweat.

Now, I'd seen effortless throws before from good Judo and Aikido players but I'd never seen anything like Guru Ken. What he did surpassed effortless. His expression was almost contemptuous. It seemed to say, "I don't have time for this. Get out of my way. You're boring me." He walked through people. There were no big motions, no large reaps. He just walked. Later, I would learn that, at least as he learned it, Silat is just walking.

When I got in front of him, he said, "Attack me."

I said, "How?"

"I don't care."

That really caught my attention. In all my previous experience, instructors told me how to attack them so they could show a specific technique. Guru Ken didn't care. I attacked. I hit the floor. I attacked. I hit the floor. Didn't matter how I attacked or what I attacked with. I even landed a couple of shots during the process but they weren't solid and ... I hit the floor.

I decided, I don't know how he's doing that, but I want it.

For a year, I drove 2.5 hours each Friday night after working my second shift job. I'd get a few hours of sleep, then go to class on Saturday morning. Train about four hours on Saturday in class. Train with Rick on Sunday and, once a month, take a private lesson with Guru Ken in an effort to keep up with the rest of the students who lived nearby and could train several days a week with him. Then I'd spend 5 - 10 hours at home training on my own.

After a year, I quit my job and moved in with my girlfriend, who lived near Guru Ken. I'm very happy to say she's now my wife of 17+ years. I got a new job, working 40 hours a week, and I trained 20 - 30 hours per week. After a few years, I managed to break out of the corporate world and become self-employed. I still worked about 40 hours a week but my schedule was more flexible so it became even easier to train 20 - 30 hours per week.

I trained 20 - 30 hours per week, every week, for 3.5 years. Earned my instructorship and became a guru in Sikal. Continued training/teaching 20 - 30 hours per week for another year before cutting back to 15 - 20 hours per week when I moved to Texas.

Sayoc Sama Sama 2003 Silat Demo with Gurus Ken Pannell, Mike Casto, and Steve Hacht
A rough and tumble Silat Demo with Guru Ken Pannell, Guru Steve Hacht, and me.

Shen Chuan

In 1998, I wound up spending a week in Nacogdoches, Texas for work. When I traveled for work, I always found places to train. If I didn't get my 20 - 30 hours per week, my body started rebelling. I preferred to find Filipino or Indonesian martial artists to train with but they're somewhat rare. So, failing that, I looked for systems I'd never been exposed to previously. Failing that, I'd go anywhere, even something as far removed from my normal training as Tae Kwon Do, just to get a workout.

In Nacogdoches, a little town two hours north of Houston, I found a school called Lansdale's Self-Defense. The head instructor, Professor Joe Lansdale, taught his own blend of martial arts called Shen Chuan.

While Shen Chuan wasn't Silat, it was very impressive. Prof. Lansdale, much as Guru Ken had done several years before, threw people around in a way I couldn't immediately grasp. I stood mystified, mouth slightly open, thinking, "This is either magic or BS." Then he did it to me. It wasn't BS. That left magic.

Then I started to see the underlying principles Prof. Lansdale was using and I realized they were the same principles I knew from my Silat training. The expression was very different but the principles were the same.

In January of 2001, I moved to Nacogdoches. I spent the next 21 months teaching Sikal at Lansdale's Self-Defense, and training in Shen Chuan.

I currently hold a fourth degree black belt in Shen Chuan.

Shen Chuan with Professor Joe Lansdale and Sensei Adam Coats
Shen Chuan with Professor Joe Lansdale and Sensei Adam Coats


Silat, specifically the Serak lineage of Silat, takes some time to learn and develop. I trained it every day for three years before I thought I might be able to pull some aspect of it off under stress.

Shen Chuan is much more immediately gratifying but it employs the same principles for balance disruption.

In my system of AGPS, I wanted to teach the Silat expression I loved so much but have the accessibility, the shallower learning curve, of Shen Chuan.

So, the way I teach balance disruption, leading to sweeps and takedowns, in AGPS starts with the Shen Chuan expression, to build an understanding of the underlying principles. Once that understanding is developed, then I start bringing out more of the Silat (Serak-based) expression I personally love.

Over the past few years, this approach has become known in AGPS as Stealing Bases.

AGPS Training Montage with Guru Mike and various AGPS students
AGPS Training Montage with Me and Various Students

Bases? Stealing? Sounds a bit shady.

What the heck are bases?

Base is, as you've probably learned in your primary training, your foundation. If you're standing on your feet then it's, at least at the basic level, your feet. If you're sitting in someone's guard, then your knees are your primary base. If you're mounted and they try to buck you off, you may extend a hand to the mat and it, then, becomes part of your base, along with your knees. Your base, especially on the ground, may be on them as in knee-in-belly.

Pretty simple. For now. We'll revisit this concept in a bit and it'll get a little more complicated.

Why are we stealing them?

Think about your base. You use your base for balance. Balance is essential for movement--to evade strikes, to get position, etc.

Base is also essential for power generation, whether you're punching, kicking, sweeping, whatever. Without base, you're flailing. You may actually do some damage with a flail but it's not likely to end the fight. If you're flailing, you're relying on luck.

While I'll take any good luck that comes my way, I don't ever want to rely on it. It's too fickle.

So, if I can steal my opponent's base, get him off balance, even for a moment, then, at least for that moment, I have seriously put a crimp in their ability to fight effectively.

Obviously, while stealing my opponent's base is good, I also need to maintain my own base.

Bases get a little more complicated.

In my Silat training, we actually consider two bases, the upper and lower. The upper base is defined by the shoulders and torso, the lower by the legs. These two bases are connected by the hips. These bases, working together properly, provide balance and generate power.

Basic Mechanics

Time for some nitty gritty. This is just an intro and, as you might guess, a text-based explanation is far from ideal. A video is a little better but still doesn't compare to hands-on training. I do, actually, have a video that illustrates some of these principles and it can be purchased here.

This DVD was shot at an event. I plan to do an actual instructional video on Stealing Bases in the future.

This expression of balance disruption uses points on the ground as teaching tools.

Primary Points

Primary Points

The first two points I'll discuss are what I call the primary points. These points are used in every system of martial arts I've been exposed to that does anything with sweeps and takedowns. They may not isolate the points, they may use some other method for teaching the principle, but they use these points.

To find these points, draw a line from the center of your training partner's right foot to the center of his left foot. Imagine that line forms the base of an equilateral triangle (all three legs of the triangle are the same length). If his feet are on two of those points, then the third point is a primary point of balance disruption. There's one in front of him and one behind.

If you drive any part of his structure toward either of these points, you'll disrupt his balance. He may or may not fall down. Personally, I don't really care. If he's off balance then he's less mobile and doesn't have a solid base to generate power from, he's less of a threat and, often, he's more worried about regaining his balance than he is about fighting me.

That's really all there is to it. It's simple. It leads to a lot of things, though.

When I strike, I drive toward a balance disruption point. So, for instance, if I punch into my opponent's gut, I drive back and down toward that point on the floor behind him. Whether the punch really hurts him or not is irrelevant if it gets him stumbling for half a second and allows me to set up a really strong follow up strike or get a takedown. Or, in the context of self-defense, to improve my situation by finding an exit, buying a second to deal with another threat, whatever.

When I catch a joint lock, I drive the lock toward a balance disruption point. If I'm doing a standing armbar on a guy and something goes wrong, his arm bends, and I don't get the armbar. If, however, I'm driving his elbow toward a point of balance disruption, usually his front primary point, then I may lose the armbar but still disrupt his balance. If I get both the armbar and the balance, then, usually, his shoulder and face race each other to the ground in a pretty dramatic way.

Secondary Points

Secondary Points

Now, if you take that line between your training partner's feet and you extend it straight out past their feet, you'll have a reference for what I call secondary points. These points are used less frequently than the primary points but are still pretty common. The secondary points tend to throw the opponent away from me, and since I prefer to keep my friends close and my enemies closer, I don't often use the secondary points. However, sometimes throwing my opponent away from me, creating some space, or throwing them into their buddies can be useful.

Again, drive part of their body toward one of these points and their balance can be disrupted.

Steer Them

It's important to remember, you're steering them. If you drive toward one of these points on a horizontal plane, you'll probably make them stumble but the balance disruption will be minimal. This method is useful if you're, for instance, bouncing and want to move someone toward the door but not make them fall.

If, however, you want them to really lose their balance and increase the chance they'll hit the ground, then steer them toward the ground. Drive your energy, whether it's a strike or a lock or a choke, down toward the points on the ground.

They don't have to fall

As I said before, I don't really care if they fall down. If they're off balance, even for a brief moment, then it creates an opportunity for me, a vulnerability I can take advantage of.

It is magic

Arthur C. Clarke, a famous Science Fiction author, said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic."

When you do this well, your training partner or opponent ends up on the ground wondering how he got there, and you're wondering why he fell down.

It really is magic because, at least at first, it's a sufficiently advanced technology. The more you work with it, the more you understand it, the more it becomes technology and the less it seems like magic.

This works based on anatomy and leverage. It doesn't require muscular effort. It requires motion and mass ... and not much of either when done really well.

If this all strikes you as strange and mystical, especially watching the video of, for instance, Professor Lansdale, and you think, "That dude is falling for him. He's not doing anything to make that happen." I'm here to tell you, you're mistaken.

He's just not working very hard to accomplish it because he understands it very, very well.

It must be felt

Obviously, when you step into the ring, or get into a fight, you can't mark out these points on the ground. If you try to take the time to find them visually when you strike or lock or go for a throw, you'll never make it work. You'll get your clock cleaned before you even have a chance to figure out where the points are.

By training with it, though, using the points on the ground as a reference tool, and developing them to the point that you feel them. As soon as you touch the person, you feel where their balance is vulnerable, then you'll be able to incorporate these ideas into something beyond rudimentary training.

Principles are universal

These principles are universal. They will work whether your opponent is standing or on the ground. These same principles are used, for instance, to effect guard sweeps in BJJ.

When you get on the ground, though, you have to remember you're dealing with more points of contact for their base. So, for instance, if you apply these principles to a guard sweep without accounting for your opponent's hands, then they'll reach out and find a base with their hand and you'll accomplish very little.

If, however, you trap one of their hands, then dump them toward the point on that side, it will work. If you watch basic guard sweeps, they use these principles.

While I understand these principles and can teach them, even on the ground, the ground is not my forte so I'm going to reference a youtube video from Carnage BJJ to illustrate an example of this in a guard sweep.

Daily BJJ: Flower Sweep from Guard - Carnage BJJ with Jaime Jara
Daily BJJ: Flower Sweep from Guard - Carnage BJJ with Jaime Jara

To tie this to the principle of balance points, look at the uke's structure at the beginning of the video. His knees are on the floor. That's his primary base. However, he has a secondary base formed by his arms. It's not an active base but if Jaime tried to sweep without trapping the uke's right arm, the sweep wouldn't work.

To find the balance point being used for this sweep, you'd draw a line from the uke's right knee to his right elbow and use that as the base of your equilateral triangle to look for a primary point. That point is where you drive the uke's head.

You may notice, unlike the standing expression, Jaime goes up first. With the wider base (uke's shins/feet form a much more stable base than if he were standing on his two feet) a drastic "uprooting" is required to initiate the balance disruption.

While the expression changes to deal with the different structure, the underlying principles remain the same.

If you use the concept of the balance points to analyze the sweeps and takedowns you already know, whether standing or on the ground, you will likely be able to improve your own understanding of the motion or, at the very least, find a new way to explain it that some students may find easier to learn.


I know there's a lot here. And, honestly, this still only scratches the surface of the topic. There are blended points and structural disruptions and the discussion can be extended to address weapons and ... well, it's a rabbit hole leading into a warren of principles, methods, expressions, and techniques.

Also, as I said at the outset, text is a long way from the ideal medium to discuss this. Hopefully, though, this has provided you with some tools you can incorporate in your own training, some food for thought.

Remember: the principles are universal. They can be expressed many different ways, applied to many different aspects of the martial arts. Let this intro serve as a foundation from which you can explore various expressions and techniques and ideas which stem from it.

Guru Mike Casto - The Wandering Guru

"My enemy tells me how he wants to die and hands the weapon to kill him with." -- Old Silat Proverb

Sunday, August 3, 2014

K-Fest 2014

A long, long time ago, a discussion group existed on about.com. I forget the actual name of it—I'm sure someone will remind me soon—but I remember calling it, simply, The Ranch.

Over the span of a couple of years, a core group developed in the discussions there. This group consisted of people from all over the U.S. who enjoyed sharing and discussing the martial arts, a topic each of them obviously held dear.

I don't remember how many people formed that core but I'd guess around twelve. By the time I became part of the group, they had already met a couple of times. If memory serves, their first gathering took place in Cleveland, Ohio. Their second in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Knoxville became, for a variety of reasons, the sort of de facto home of an annual event and, over time, it became known as Knoxville Fest, or K-Fest for short. I once hosted it in Louisville, Kentucky but, for the most part, it remained in Knoxville.

Each year, a man named Eric Turner would open up his house and whatever training space he had at the time, and this nutty group would gather. Over time, we became a pretty close group.

In the early years, the format of the event looked something like this. We'd converge on Eric's house where he and his wife, Hannah, would welcome us in and treat us like family. Their daughter, Elys, was, in my first memories of her, an infant and, by the following year, a toddler.

I don't remember how many years I attended. It became a standard part of my schedule, though, an event I looked forward to each year. Then, one thing led to another. The Ranch, for a variety of reasons, died. The group, having lost its clubhouse, sort of drifted apart.

A few years later, Facebook became the standard. I reconnected with a couple of people from the old K-Fest gang but, like me, they'd lost touch with most of the others.

Earlier this year, though, I found myself heading for Knoxville, for completely unrelated reasons, and I found my thoughts drifting back to Eric. I hadn't talked to him in several years. I found him on Facebook and reached out.

In typical Eric fashion, he said, "Heck yeah, homie! Here's my address. It'll be great to see you again!"

I found out that Eric and Hannah had divorced and Eric had a new wife, Taylor. I visited, caught up with Eric, had a lovely time getting to know Taylor and their infant son, Beckett.

Elys, now grown into a beautifully vivacious girl, came to visit and I met Eric's other son, Soren, who hadn't been born the last time I saw Eric. Or, if he had, I don't remember him.

When I'd last seen Eric, he had a few students training with him in his garage. Now ...

Eric now runs Knoxville Martial Arts, one of the top MMA gyms in the area, and has a fighter, Ovince St. Preux, currently competing in the UFC. Another of his guys should be debuting in the UFC in the near future.

I asked him whatever happened to K-Fest. He said, "I still host it. Every year. Last year we had about forty people."

K-Fest 2014

We just wrapped up K-Fest 2014. Approximately sixty people attended. There were several highly accomplished martial arts instructors present, including Eric, me, and the ever humble Aaron McGinnis, another old-school K-Fest alum who had finally returned, this time he brought his awesome wife, Gina.

The event hummed with good energy. Everywhere you looked around the large gym, people were working heavy bags, or sparring, or grappling, or a small group had gathered around someone as they shared their expression of some technique or principle.

I, being the only weapons-based guy in the room, got a fair bit of attention. I explained and illustrated some pointers related to blades. I tossed quite a few people around and found a group of people very interested in the principles of balance disruption. I know a couple of people said I'd revolutionized their understanding of takedowns and they felt sure their MMA skills, and competition records, would be vastly improved once they worked the principles and incorporated them into their routine.

Ovince and a couple of other celebrities from the MMA scene made appearances, did some sparring, did some note comparison.

K-Fest has, in many ways, changed since I last attended but, at its core, it's still the same event. A great time of sharing and community among people with a common interest, reveling in and learning from the differences they find on common ground.

The Wandering Guru

"The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden." -- John Wolfgang van Geothe