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.

Search This Blog

Monday, November 30, 2015

What is a Kimono Grab, and why should I care?

Kimono Grab was the technique I heard given a name. My friend Rick, back in the early 90s, started training in American Kenpo. I was training Okinawan Goju-Ryu at the time. We had names for motions--Gedan Uke for low block, Mawashi Geri for roundhouse kick, etc.--but this Kimono Grab was something different. It involved several strikes instead of one motion. The idea intrigued me, but my training didn't involve such things, so I didn't give it much thought.

Years later, when I started training in Shen Chuan, I once again encountered named techniques. Shen Chuan, with roots in American Kenpo, adopted some of its methodology for laying out the curriculum, and one of the things it adopted was naming techniques.

While I am still strongly affiliated with Shen Chuan and have a fourth degree black belt in the system, I haven't trained the curriculum in years--in fact, the Shen Chuan curriculum has undergone some serious revisions and evolutions, and the curriculum I trained lies deep in the foundation of the current curriculum like the leavings of an ancient civilization on which a new and improved structure has been built. In spite of my time away from the curriculum, I still remember several techniques because of the names.

Names like "Three Hammers and a Piston" and "Fanning the Horn" still evoke specific motion sets in my mind and, if I choose, in my body. I believe this is the strength of named techniques.

Tai Chi uses the same method within its forms. Names like "Single Whip" and "White Crane Spreads Wings" describe motion sets. These sets could be viewed as mini forms unto themselves.

Humans love labels. We label everything, and we do it reflexively. Rarely, do we look at something and see it as it is. Our tendency is to look at something, then tell ourselves a story about it--and in the process, we assign labels to tell the story. The serene experience of sun rise, within nanoseconds of the lightening of the sky, becomes, "Oh my! That is the most beautiful sun rise I have ever seen. It takes my breath away." There's a story, and we're no longer experiencing the sun rise, we're connected to the story and the labels, we're still in the past, trying to hold on to what was.

That microscopic moment before labeling and story, that moment is what people mean by "enlightenment." That moment of absolute immersion in the experience, experiencing without labeling, without attaching to a specific moment.

But I digress.

We're talking about martial arts and techniques and using the human fascination for labels to enhance the learning process. At this point, I have given a name to each of the applications (buah if you're interested in the common Silat term) for three of my seven jurus in AGPS. Granted, the names for the applications in Entry Juru are rather uninspired, but they work. I plan to name all the applications over time.

You may be asking, "Why the delay?" Well ... naming the buggers is trickier than I expected, and probably trickier than you would guess unless you've done something similar.

My intention--as you can probably surmise if you've read this far--is to make the applications easier to remember for students and, honestly, for me. If you think the naming of the techniques is strange, this explains why I'm doing it and from where I drew the inspiration.

The Wandering Guru

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Counter for Counters

I do not make a habit of teaching counters. Specific techniques should be taught to *illustrate* principles and guide students to an understanding of principles. Understanding *why* a technique works is far more valuable than learning the technique.

In martial arts training, it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming a "technique collector." Focusing on techniques, though, limits understanding. Performing a technique exactly as you learned it, while admirable, is less important than understanding why the technique works and being able to explain it--at least to yourself. When you understand the principle involved, you can develop new techniques based on the principle and adapt to new situations.

Further, and going back to the point of this post, if you understand why a technique works, you also understand its weaknesses. This knowledge leads to the ability to find counters without learning them from an instructor.

I do not make a habit of teaching counters. I prefer to teach people how to *find* counters. I got this, of course, from my primary instructor, Guru Ken Pannell in Sikal, but GM Richard Bustillo fleshed out the idea at a seminar I attended and his presentation had a significant impact on how I approach the topic now.

I will use a standard wrist lock when I need a specific example, but *any* technique--strikes, sweeps, locks, disarms, chokes, throws--can be countered.

The first thing to understand, counters are timing dependent. You can't counter a technique after it's completed. You must finish your counter before the technique is complete, and the earlier you begin the counter, the more likely you are to counter.

Taking our wrist lock example, the "completion" of a wrist lock is defined by the person's intention. If their intention is to *break* your wrist then the break is the completion. If they intend to submit you, it completes when you submit (this means you have a lot more time to counter since *you* choose when to submit). If someone intends to disrupt your balance/structure with the wrist lock, then they complete when you stumble or your structure is compromised.

Remember, the earlier you begin your counter, the better your odds of pulling it off. So, in training, start by going back in time. Find a counter in the moment before the technique is complete. Then the moment before that. Continue until you counter before your opponent has a chance to *start* the technique.

When looking for counters at each moment in the timing breakdown, look for these things:
1. What is threatened?
2. How is it threatened?
3. What is threatening it?

If you neutralize any one of those things, you neutralize the technique. Bear in mind, neutralization is *not* countering, but it is a vital step to finding a counter. A counter means you neutralize the attack *and* launch a counter attack.

Looking at our basic wrist lock for example, and we'll look at it from just before completion:
1. What is threatened? My wrist and, ultimately, my structure and balance.
If I can remove my wrist from the situation, it cannot be threatened. At this timing, it is too late to remove the wrist--at least in this example.
2. How is it threatened? He is applying torque toward me and off to the side.
If I can prevent him from applying torque, I neutralize the lock. I might press against the palm of my threatened hand with my other hand. By doing so, I can neutralize his torque and the lock. If, instead, I *strike* my palm with my other hand, I explode against his structure and may find my own counter--maybe a finger lock presents itself in the explosion.
3. What is threatening it? In a classic wrist lock, both of his hands are on my hand to apply the torque. 
If I remove one of his hands, he often cannot complete the lock with a single hand. I know this sounds too simple, but it can work. Reach out with your non-threatened hand and lift one of his hands--the one closest to your non-threatened hand is the easiest. You might also strike it to release it.
What else threatens? His mind. In order for him to complete the technique, his mind must be present and controlling his hands. Put his mind elsewhere--give him something to think about. Pain is good for this, so kick him in the shin. The lock tends to melt once his mind leaves the equation.

These are dead simple examples. Do not take these as gospel. Do not collect these techniques. Take any technique your training partner knows. Apply this method. Find your own counters based on your understanding of the technique. Then train what you find. Develop it, then test it. Take it into resistance training, sparring, scenarios, etc.

The Wandering Guru