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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Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Most Valuable Technique

Many years ago, I sat at a table eating lunch with some fellow martial artists. There were four of us at the table and the youngest of us had twenty years of training. One guy was a retired cop, one was currently working as a cop, me and the other guy were or had bouncers. All of us had seen our share of fights over the years.

One of us, I don't remember which it was, asked, "Of everything you've learned in martial arts over the years, what do you consider the most valuable?"

We paused and considered. We glanced at each other, then we all answered together. Each of us used different phrasing, but we all said the same thing. The answer: how to fall without injury.

I'm going to expand that answer to include good balance that prevents falls.

I've been in a dozen or so fights in my life. Maybe as many as twenty. At forty-three years of age, that's less than one fight every two years. I don't know how many times I've fallen, or stumbled but kept my balance. I guarantee it's at least once a year. I'd estimate that I stumble at least once a month. If it weren't for my training and understanding of balance, I would fall a lot more than I do. I don't remember the last time I got injured—beyond a minor abrasion—from a fall I did take.

Case in point, and what prompted this post, happened yesterday. I stopped at a gas station on the north side of Cincinnati. As I approached the convenience store, I slipped. I'm not sure of the details. Maybe I stepped on a rock that slipped, maybe I hit a hole and my foot rolled. I don't know. However it happened, my foot rolled, and my ankle twisted.

I tried to regain my balance, but it was too late so I took the dive. I hit the asphalt, rolled over, and came to a seated position. I said, to no one in particular, "Well, that was fun."

A guy at the Red Box machine came rushing over. "Oh my God! Are you okay?"

"Right now, yeah. I won't know for sure, though, until I put some weight on my ankle." I stood and, with slow precision, shifted weight to my right foot. Yow! I said, "I'll be fine."

He said, "That was a mighty graceful fall."

"Thanks. I've had a lot of practice."

The expression on his face told me he thought that was a strange response, but he didn't press the issue. I hobbled into the convenience store. My ankle was tender but had full range of motion so I knew it was just sprained. I got to my friend Jeremy's school in Dayton, and he made an ice compress for it. I had a blast doing a bit of drumming and watching Guru Jeremy and others spar.

This morning, my ankle is still tender. In fact, it hurts worse today than it did last night, but the swelling is far less. I'm a bit gimpy, but it could have been far, far worse.

Understanding the fundamentals of balance, falling, and dispersing the energy from a fall kept me from serious injury. I sustained no injury at all from the actual fall, in fact. I might have abraded something if I hadn't been wearing a jacket, but as it stands, I took no dings from the fall. I didn't even roll through a puddle and get wet.

When fighting is necessary, my training is awesome but, by far, the most valuable technique I've learned is how to (a) not fall and (b) safely take a fall when it happens.

The Wandering Guru

"Fall seven times; stand up eight." — Japanese Proverb

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Double Exposure Phenomenon

I find it interesting, if somewhat disconcerting at times, to see myself through someone else’s eye. The disconcertion arises from the overlay of their perception and my self-perception. It leads to a sort of double exposure in my mind. I’m not talking about anything positive or negative here. It doesn’t matter if what the person wrote is favorable or insulting. Just the fact that I’m seeing through their eyes while also remembering my own perception leads to this strange phenomena.

It has happened many times in my life. Sometimes it happens when a friend tells a story about a shared experience, but his/her memory differs from mine in various ways. Sometimes it happens when someone writes something about me.

The case which prompted this post is a review of a seminar I taught this past weekend. It’s an accurate review, but the difference in perspective is shifted just enough to cause that double exposure effect in my mind.

By the way, in no way am I saying this double exposure phenomenon is an unpleasant experience for me. I always enjoy reading reviews by people. Whether it’s about something I’ve written, a video, or a seminar someone attended.

Having said that, I’m going to bail and direct you to the blog post in question. My friend Guro Jerome Teague of Applied Eskrima wrote this review of the Stealing Bases workshop I taught in Louisville, KY last weekend. Enjoy :D

The Wandering Guru

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What if he has a bazooka?

I haven't had this specific conversation in person in quite a while, but I still see examples of it pop up online. The conversation goes something like this:

“You train in martial arts, right?"
"Why? A kid with a gun can negate your years of training in an instant. What's the point?"

The first time I encountered this argument, I got frustrated and responded with something like, "I just enjoy the training, and that's enough for me."

And that answer was valid. It was good enough. But it felt like a cop out. I had avoided the actual question. Later, when I had time and no emotional involvement, I realized the question itself was ridiculous. It's akin to this:

"I wear an apron so I don't get grease spatter on my clothes."
"What if someone throws hot grease at your face, it's not covered. Why bother with the apron if you're gonna leave your face uncovered?"

After that, when the topic arose, and someone said, "Why train? Won't help against a gun." I would reply, "What are you going to do if a bus hits your car while you're driving down the road? We can’t prepare for every possibility, so we train for what we can realistically deal with."

Ultimately, we train to deal with threats we can deal with. Granted, there are some scenarios where an empty handed person can deal with a gun wielding assailant, but they're pretty rare scenarios. Generally, if someone's pointing a gun at you, your training won't help. At least, the physical part of your training won't help. Keeping a level head and not escalating the situation might help a lot, though, and training can help in that regard.

The bottom line is, we train for situations we can deal with. If we encounter a situation outside of that then we're on equal footing with people who are untrained. That's no reason not to train though.

A more solid answer to the why bother training question comes from the FBI crime statistics. Look at the statistics for aggravated assault—attacks where real damage was intended. It breaks the assaults into four categories: firearms, knives or cutting instruments, other weapons (tire irons, ball bats, bottles, etc.), and personal (body) weapons [fists, elbows, knees, etc.].

The most recent statistics I found were from 2011. Obviously, the numbers vary some from state to state, but the national averages look like this:

All martial arts training I'm familiar with deals with personal weapons. Most deal with impact weapons such as a tire iron, baseball bat, etc. and most deal with edged weapons. Granted, some focus more on external weapons than others, and arguably, some have better material for dealing with these weapons, but most systems address them to some extent.

According to the statistics, that means nearly all martial arts training is geared toward that 24% Personal Weapons category. It means most people training in martial arts, depending on their level, have some training to deal with Other Weapons and Edged Weapons. That covers 84% of the attacks reported in 2011.

Why train in martial arts? Because you are five times more likely to face an attack you have trained for, something you might be able to handle, than you are to face a firearm.

Tangential to this, if your training doesn't involve external weapons, you might want to seek supplemental training to round out your skill set. And if your training does deal with impact and edged weapons but only as an after thought, you might want to seek supplemental training with someone who specializes in these areas. Obviously, I'm biased toward the Filipino martial arts for weapons training. My bias aside, the FMA are recognized and respected throughout much of the martial arts world for their weapons training for a reason.

At the end of the day, though, my original answer is the best answer, but now it comes from a position of strength instead of a defensive position of weakness. The best answer for why train at all is because I enjoy it.

As my friend Stephen Watson once said at a seminar, “Most of us agree that the goal of our training is not to fight. So if I train my whole life to fight and I live a long life then I will have wasted decades of time training for something that never happened. If, however, I train because I enjoy it, and because I meet great people and get to share information with them and have a lot of fun, then not a single second of my training is wasted.”

The Wandering Guru

"An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition." — Monty Python, The Argument Sketch

Friday, January 2, 2015

Martial arts videos. Oh my.

I often see comments about videos posted on YouTube or Facebook and shake my head in flabbergasted amazement.

People watch a video that shows an instructor teaching something, explaining as he's moving, and they comment, "That might work against a slow-motion attack." Am I to assume, when these commenters teach or their instructors teach, they only teach at high speed with no explanation. Seems unlikely.

People make comments about unrealistic attacks. Think about it, all attacks in training are, in some way, unrealistic. Even if the attack comes at full speed with full intention, it's still being launched in an unrealistic setting and the attacker expects to be countered.

Making comments like these about videos—especially videos where the instructor is talking while moving—is like accusing an actor of pulling punches and not hitting fellow actors and stuntmen. In fact, it's worse. Because, unlike actors and stuntmen, the instructor is intentionally attempting to show all the aspects and angles of the motion instead of only offering a "Hollywood angle" where the attack looks realistic but isn't.

This brings me to another point. Instruction, whether in person or on video, is almost always inaccurate when compared to live execution. The instructor exaggerates motions, leaves large holes in structures, and sometimes screws up his or her own structure in order for the students and/or camera to actually see what's happening. Don't judge someone's ability to do by what you see when they're teaching.

Further, when it comes to videos, some people are simply uncomfortable on camera. Their discomfort leads to poor performance. In my younger years, I saw videos of people and thought they weren't very good, based on the video. Then I trained with them in person and found out they were exceptional. The video just didn't reflect it.

On the flip side, I've seen some videos where the presentation is amazing. Then I trained with the instructor in person and realized they're only mediocre and that they likely required dozens, if not hundreds, of takes to get the video to look as good as it does.

Like the saying goes, "Never judge a book by its cover." Tangentially, don't judge an instructor by a video. And don't judge a whole system by one practitioner.

The Wandering Guru

"When we are judging everything, we are learning nothing." — Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free