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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Friday, July 10, 2015

The Humble Stem

Time and again, I see or hear people disparage the "stem" training method with comments like:
  • "Try that against a resisting attacker."
  • "People don't just stick their arm out and let you respond."
These comments are true. But they are irrelevant.

Stem training isn't about realism. Stem training is essentially the same as using a heavy bag or a mook jong. At the most basic level, your training partner is providing you with a human-size and shaped target.

If your training never progresses past that level, you're not working realistically.

But stem training is the first step. The nice thing about stem training is, as you progress, your training partner progresses with you. Different training methodologies will employ different steps but here's an example. Once you develop the tools on the static dummy (e.g.: your training partner who is giving you the stem), your partner can add dynamic motion, then follow-up attacks, then active avoidance, then counters, then active resistance, then sparring. It's all necessary.

I have been training for nearly forty years, have trained in quite a few systems with quite a few instructors, and have been exposed to a whole slew of others. All of them use stem training. Period. In my experience, it's the universal first step in training. It's where you learn the foundational motions.

The motions done while your training partner stems aren't intended to be "fighting techniques." They're intended to help you develop an understanding of your body and how to move and, to some extent, how to move around a human-shaped/sized object—albeit a static one.

Another thing to remember, in training—not sparring—we almost always launch our counter-attack on the first or second motion of our training partner but we are not training to deal with the first or second attack launched. We are training to deal with the attack we catch. We may have been fighting for several seconds and exchanged a dozen glancing blows each before I catch the one I catch. Once I get that one then I can move into my material.

The goal isn't to learn prearranged series of motions. The goal is to learn flow. To familiarize our bodies with the tools and how they commonly fit together.

All of this is true regardless of what you're training. The most common critics of the stem method I see and hear are MMA practitioners. But watch them train. They're hitting a heavy bag—which is still stem work but with an inanimate object. They're striking focus mitts—at beginning stages this is stem work. They’re working single leg takedown on a partner who just stands there and lets it happen. They're working something like a guard pass to side mount to arm bar and they're partner isn't fighting them in their early stages.

Stem training is part of the progression. When you watch a video or watch someone teach, saying things like, "No one just sticks their arm out there." is, at best, a sign of ignorance—you just don't know any better. At worst, it's a sign of willful denial because you're denying that aspect of your own training and I can almost guarantee it is an aspect of your training even if you don't recognize it as such. Or you're just trying to find something wrong with the video/instruction so you can save face while ignoring the lesson.

An extension of this happens when someone trains somewhere for a brief time, only sees stem training, and decides the training is useless. They just didn't stick around to see the progression. If there is no progression then, at that point, I agree there’s a problem.

For the most part, teachers use stem method when teaching because it gives them time to illustrate and explain what's going on. Imagine a teacher trying to explain what's going on in the middle of a full-speed sparring match or a fight. By the time he names a technique, at least three more things have happened.

I also think some of the criticizing comes from technique-based perspective. If you watch someone using stem method—either because they're new or because it's an instructor teaching—and you think, "My god, the guy was [unconscious/incapacitated/dead/etc.] after the fourth [strike/cut/stab/etc.]." you're missing the point. You're looking at it from a technique-based perspective. In a situation like this, you're not looking at a technique. You're looking at motion, pure and simple. The practitioner is exploring motion, flow, options. S/he doesn't expect to do the whole series. Ever. They’re just training their body to move, to feel options and move. When resistance is added, this flow becomes even more important.

Next time you watch a video or see someone teaching or training and you think, "This is useless." Stop. Empty your cup. There's a reasonable chance you're missing out on a great learning opportunity.

The Wandering Guru

"All the world is my school and all humanity is my teacher." — George Whitman