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, February 21, 2015

Comics for Grown Ups

No, I'm not talking about "Adult Comics." Get your mind out of the gutter. I'm talking about comics. The regular comics we all grew up with. Marvel and DC are the giants, but there are plenty of other publishers. Adults often ignore comics because they're for kids.

Tangential to this, adults often overlook anything for kids—be it comics, young adult fiction, children's fiction, animated movies, etc.

The fact people overlook is these stories are written by adults. The conflicts are as valid as those in any other fiction. Some aspects—language, violence, and sexuality—are toned down for obvious reasons, but the underlying truth of the story remains.

And fiction is truth. It's not factual, but it is truth. It's as true as any non-fiction. In fiction, the truth puts on makeup and costumes and works on a stage, but the trappings don't make it any less true.

Here I'm going to talk about a comic book. Specifically, The Amazing Spider-Man #537 (Published in March 2007).

When I was a kid, Spidey was one of my favorite heroes. One of the few titles I collected. As I got older, I stopped collecting. In part, my decision was financial. I lived alone, worked several jobs to make ends meet and to afford things I wanted to do. Comics became a very low priority. And, yes, I admit, part of the decision stemmed from my own belief that comics were for kids.

My brother, Rick, kept his interest in comics. It waned a bit for financial reasons, but he always kept his hand in. I lost count of the number of times I helped him move his large comic collection.

Back in 2006, Rick mentioned the Civil War storyline to me. In it, a group of children are killed when a super-powered villain named Nitro explodes near a school. The public outrage prompts the government to require superheroes to register. This causes a rift in the superhero community.

Iron Man and Reed Richards register. For them, it's simple. Their identities are already known. For others, like Spider-Man, who have gone to extreme lengths to keep their identities hidden for very good reasons, the decision is less clear cut.

Captain America, whose identity is public, decides not to register. He believes it runs counter to the ideals America was founded on, the ideals he vowed to uphold and protect.

After a lengthy discussion, Iron Man convinces Spidey to go public. After doing so, Spidey realizes it was a mistake when he finds out about the prison where the unregistered heroes are detained. He publicly argues against the registration and the treatment of the heroes in the prison and joins Cap.

The government tasks Iron Man, Reed Richards, and the rest of the registered heroes with hunting down and capturing the non-registered heroes who are now considered outlaws.

Stop and think about this storyline so far. It's not really about superheroes. It's about a knee jerk reaction on the part of the public prompting the government to have a knee jerk of their own. The government institutes a law to try to fix the problem, never even considering other options. The law is discriminatory and restricts the freedom of a specific segment of the population. Take out the superheroes and we could be talking about anything from the start of the American Civil War, WWII, or gun control. Fiction is truth.

Oh, and as I understand it, Captain America 3 (movie) will be based on this storyline, too. Yay!

Ahem. I have strayed down a tangential path. Please follow me back to my original train of thought.

Comics are just for kids. Bah. I never understood the fallacy of that statement as profoundly as when I read a discussion between Spidey and Cap just after Spidey publicly argued against the registration act. After a discussion about how the media spun Spidey's presentation to turn attention away from the prison and focus on Spidey as a traitor, Spidey says to Cap, "They've got you pegged as a Benedict Arnold and a traitor to the American cause."

Spidey then asks, "When the whole country is against you ... when it's all bearing down on you like some kind of ten-ton weight, and you don't know your own heart anymore sometimes—." He breaks off, removing his mask. "How does someone like you deal with it? I mean, you practically are the country. How does the man who is the country react when the country goes a different way?"

Cap tells Spidey, "I was just a kid ... a million years ago, it seems sometimes. Maybe twelve. I was reading Mark Twain. And he wrote something that struck me right down to my core ... something so powerful, so true, that it changed my life. I memorized it so I could repeat it to myself, over and over across the years. He wrote—"

In a republic, who is 'the country?'
Is it the government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why? the government is merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey the orders, not originate them.
Who, then, is 'the country?' Is it the newspaper? Is it the pulpit? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command, they have only their little share in the command.
In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic, it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak.
It is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of the pulpit, press, government, or the empty catchphrases of politicians.
Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man.
To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country. Let men label you as they may.
If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country. Hold up your head. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Cap ends this recitation of his memories and concludes with his own summary.

Doesn't matter what the press says. Doesn't matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn't matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right.
This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences.
When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world
— "No. You move."

I won't lie. When I read this passage, looking at the panels of Captain America delivering this lecture, I was moved. A few tears found their way from my eyes. Even now, writing this, my vision is a bit blurred.

Now, obviously, there's a flaw in this mix. Just because you have conviction doesn't mean your beliefs are right. Within the context of the comic's storyline, the right and wrong were defined like the facets of a well-cut diamond. It's rare in our daily lives that things are so cut-and-dry.

This doesn't negate the essential truth of this passage. It just means we need to be apply critical thinking to all of our convictions and beliefs.

Before I go, I'll take a sojourn down another tangent. When I first read this lecture by Cap, and again as I'm writing this, it reminds me of a story from WWII.

I heard this from Lt. Col. David Grossman during his Bulletproof Mind lecture. Americans were retreating in terror through a forest, pursued by Nazi SS. Reserves and paratroopers were called in to stop the Nazi advance under very difficult conditions.

Grossman: And this is a true story. There was a photographer there, and a reporter there, and what happened was this. There's one American tank, 30 tons of death, fleeing down the road, and this one lonely paratrooper walks out in the middle of the road. And he's got hollow, sunken eyes, three days growth of beard, an M1 dangling from his hand and a bazooka on his shoulder. He walks up and stops the tank and looks at the tank commander.
He says, "Buddy, are you looking for a safe place?"
The tank commander says, "Yes."
The paratrooper says, "Then get behind me because I'm the 82nd Airborne Division and this is as far as the bastards are going to get."


The Wandering Guru

"No. You move." — Captain America, The Amazing Spider-Man #537


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