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, December 3, 2016

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Coward of the County

My dad loved Kenny Rogers' music. As such, it played a huge role in the soundtrack of my youth. As a kid, I didn't care for it, but it grew on me as I matured.

One song, though, always resonated with me, "Coward of the County." A song about a guy, Tommy, who put up with bullies throughout his youth, who got pushed too far when the bullying turned dangerous and hurt a loved one. I dealt with a lot of bullies growing up, and it still pushes my buttons.

While I did fight my share of bullies growing up, I empathize with Tommy. I always considered fighting my last resort, mostly because of the way my dad raised me. The town where I grew up had legends about my dad and his fighting prowess, but I saw him avoid far more fights than he fought, and it made a strong impression.

In the second verse, we learn Tommy's father died in prison. We find out about Tommy's reason for not fighting in the refrain of the song:

Promise me, son, not to do the things I've done
Walk away from trouble if you can
It won't mean you're weak if you turn the other cheek
I hope you're old enough to understand
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man

As a kid, I had the same understanding of this promise Tommy did. As a man, I realize Tommy and I misunderstood the last line. In our heads, we added, "If you do fight, you aren't a man." Or, at least, you cheapen yourself. This flawed understanding, his fear of letting the memory of his father down, or a fear of ending up like his father in prison, or any number of other possibilities led Tommy to avoid fights at all costs, even when justified.

The first verse of the song tells us about the results of Tommy's misunderstanding:

Everyone considered him the coward of the county
He'd never stood one single time to prove the county wrong
His mama named him Tommy, but folks just called him yellow
Something always told me they were reading Tommy wrong

Even now, the climax of the song brings tears to my eyes and a cheer to my throat:

The Gatlin boys just laughed at him when he walked into the barroom
One of them got up and met him halfway 'cross the floor
When Tommy turned around they said, "Hey look, old yeller's leaving!"
But you could've heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door

In the song, the final straw for Tommy happened after the Gatlin brothers attack Tommy's love, Becky. In the movie, their attack is glossed over because the movie was made for TV. The "torn dress" from the song is a wedding dress on a dummy, and they show Becky thrown to the bed and restrained before the scene fades. What, precisely, happened is left to the viewer's level of understanding. In the song, though, the attack is still left vague, but the implications are more precise and very dark.

One day while he was working, the Gatlin boys came calling
They took turns at Becky, n'there was three of them

As an adult who has listened to the stories of friends who have suffered rape, comforted them as they cried on my shoulder, these two lines give me rage-fueled chills.

The final verse of the song shows Tommy finally coming to grips with fighting in spite of the promise:

I promised you, Dad, not to do the things you've done
I walk away from trouble when I can
Now please don't think I'm weak, I didn't turn the other cheek
And papa, I sure hope you understand
Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man

I know part of the power this song has for me stems from how close it hits home in so many ways, but I believe it's a powerful song in general.

If you haven't heard the song or haven't listened to it in a while, I recommend you do so now. If you have never seen the movie, it's worth watching.

The Wandering Guru

"A flock of crows can take an eagle down. Don't make the eagle any less." — Matthew Spencer (Kenny Rogers), Coward of the County

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Foundation for a Successful Relationship

This topic has come up in conversation a couple of times recently, and it has been discussed on some TV shows I've been watching. Inspired by these synchronistic occurrences, I decided to write this post about the topic.

The topic is relationships.

For a relationship to exist, everyone involved must trust everyone else. Even among enemies, trust is required for the relationship to exist. Think about your worst enemy, or the closest thing you have to an enemy. I bet you can predict, with fair reliability, how that person would respond to a given stimulus, at least within the context of your relationship with that person. If you said or did X, you can predict that person will respond with Y. You trust him/her to do so.

In cooperative relationships, such as friendships or romantic relationships, the trust goes beyond the reactive level where antagonistic relationships tend to stay. I trust my friends to have my best interests in heart in interactions which directly or indirectly affect me. Obviously, there are many levels of trust, and they don't always look the same.

Rick And Margaret

Here's an example of a trust level a lot of people can't relate to. My friend Rick, my brother in every sense of the word except by shared parentage, hit on my wife, Margaret, the entire time we dated, and even for a while after we married. Many people, in my position or my wife's position, would feel Rick was violating a trust and betraying me. He wasn't, though. In his mind, he was protecting me. If Margaret had ever accepted Rick's offer, she would have proven she wasn't good enough for me. Rick would have called and said, "Dump her, man. She's no good." I trusted him to have my back. Period. Even if his methods were unorthodox, I knew he acted in my best interest. Yes, I know it's nuts. Yes, I know his perspective was wildly skewed. I also know he did it because he loved me, and it's the only way he felt he could protect me.

Rick And Kristyn

Here's another story involving Rick. About twenty-five years ago, I dated a young woman named Kristyn. Kristyn had attended college in Texas, and her abusive ex-boyfriend, David, still had some of her stuff in his dorm room, and she wanted to get it back. She didn't want me to go with her for fear I might hurt David or something and get in trouble. Rick had recently gotten out of the Air Force and had to go to Texas, too, to handle some things with his ex-wife there. Rick and Kristyn drove to Texas together, retrieved the stuff from David's dorm room without incident, Rick handled the situation with his ex-wife—and there was an incident, but that's a story for another time—and they returned.

While they were gone, the manager of the yogurt shop where Kristyn and I both worked, asked me, "Aren't you afraid something will happen between Rick and Kristyn?"

I said, "Something will happen. It will go like this. Rick will make a pass, because he's Rick, and Kristyn will turn him down."

"What if she doesn't?"

"She will."

"You don't know that."

"You're right. Here's what I do know. First, if she takes him up on it, Rick will tell me. Second, as soon as she decides to take him up on it, my relationship with her ends. At that point, she's free to do what she wants with Rick or anyone else, and it's none of my business."

The manager was flabbergasted. "You're telling me you wouldn't be upset?"

"Not at all. I'd be mad as hell, and I'd let her know it, but the choice is hers. If she prefers Rick to me, that's up to her. It would hurt like hell, and I'd express that, but I'm not going to worry about it."

Meat And Potatoes

Here's the thing, once trust is violated, the relationship ends. Period. As soon as the trust is violated.

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "What if Kristyn had slept with Rick, but Rick never told you, and you never found out?"

I'll reiterate: once trust is violated, the relationship ends. Period. I may not know the relationship has ended, but it will become apparent, one way or another, over time. In the situation you're wondering about, if Kristyn had slept with Rick, it would have affected both of them. They would have behaved differently around me and around each other. I may never have figured out what happened, but the relationships would degrade and, eventually, the break would be obvious to me and everyone else. It may have take a while, and I may never have known the specific reason, but the bottom line is, the relationship would have ended the moment she made that decision.

That relationship ends when the trust is violated. That doesn't necessarily mean you walk away and never look back. You might decide to start a new relationship with a new level of trust.

As far as I know, Kristyn and Rick did not sleep together on that trip, but Kristyn did break up with me several months later. Kristyn didn't violate my trust, but the relationship ended. We started a new relationship in its place. Kristyn and I are still very close. She's a dear friend, and we talk and visit regularly. She and my wife are friends, too. When Rick died, Kristyn and I held each other as we cried.

My wife's ex-husband, Lon, did violate her trust. Since they had a son together, she decided to start a new relationship with Lon when the first one ended. They became friends with a common interest in the welfare of their son. Margaret and Lon are now good friends. They love each other as friends, and the level of trust they have works for them, and has done so for decades.


I split jealousy into two categories. One category, I'll call envy. You might be envious of the time someone else spends with your spouse or friend. You might wish you could spend more time with that person. These things fall into the category I'm referring to as envy in this context.

Jealousy, though, refers to a lack of trust. If, for instance, my wife suspected me of having an affair and said, "I don't want you spending time with Kristyn." That would be jealousy. It's rooted in distrust.

While this can apply to friendships as readily as spouses, I'll use a spousal relationship because people can more readily identify with it in this context. If you feel yourself feeling jealousy, the relationship is over. Period. If your spouse exhibits such doubts or behavior, the relationship is already over. Even if there is no affair happening. As soon as the trust degrades, whether by action or supposition, the relationship ends. A new relationship might take its place, but that relationship ends.


Now we come to the next huge aspect of a successful relationship. Lack of communication often breeds mistrust. If trust degrades, communication is the only way to define the new relationship, if there's to be one.

If trust is the stones which make up the foundation of a relationship, then communication is the mortar holding those stones together. When a new relationship gets defined, communication is the mortar used to develop the foundational trust in the first place, or to develop a new foundation after mistrust has broken the old relationship.

The communication might literally be a discussion about the relationship and the trust and boundaries. More commonly, it takes more subtle forms, but the communication is vital.

The Wandering Guru

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Silat Primer

First, a note on pronunciation and spelling. In this article, I'll use the modern spellings. In the modern spelling, the pronunciation looks like this in English:
  • "c" = "ch"
  • "a" = "ah"
  • "u" = "oo"
  • "e" = "ay" as in "today"
  • "au" = "oh"
  • "k" at the end of the word is usually softened a bit, pronounced more like a guttural "h"
This modern spelling was instituted after Indonesia gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1945. During the Dutch colonial period, the word jurus, which describes a type of form in Pencak Silat, would have been spelled "djoeroes." To a native English speaker, the modern spelling, jurus, makes much more sense. However, the switch in the spellings, and the speed it happened, means you often find people mixing and matching. So, I have seen the word jurus spelled as "djurus" and "joeroes" where the old and new mingle. I suspect such hybrid spellings will fade with time.

The word Silat is used to varying degrees throughout Southeast Asia, but it is most prominent in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern Philippines. In Indonesia, they add the prefix "pencak," so if you hear someone talking about Pencak Silat, they are talking about a system from, or with roots in, Indonesia.

The term "Silat" doesn't refer to a single system of martial arts. Rather, like the terms Karate and Kung Fu, it refers to a large family of martial arts systems. Each system has its own specialties. Any martial arts specialty you can imagine likely has one or more Silat systems which specialize in it.

To give you an idea of numbers, Pak Herman Suwanda, a highly respected Pencak Silat instructor, once explained there are over three hundred officially recognized systems of Pencak Silat on Java. This doesn't count systems who didn't officially register, nor does it count systems from any of the other six thousand or so inhabited islands in Indonesia, nor does it count any of the systems from outside Indonesia. From this one can infer the likelihood of over five hundred, if not over a thousand, systems of Silat.

For scope, let's look at a handful of Silat systems and their specialties. These are systems to which I have had some personal exposure:
  • Cimande: specializes in striking, conditions forearms and shins to use as striking tools
  • Sabetan: a blade system based on Cimande
  • Harimau: a ground fighting system from Sumatra
  • Cipecut: flexible weapons, traditionally trained with sarong
  • Serak: uses strikes to disrupt balance and set up sweeps and takedowns
  • Rikesan: specializes in joint locking and breaking
This list gives a taste of the breadth of Silat, and all these listed are from Indonesia, mostly from Java. As you can see, you can look at ten different Silat practitioners and see vastly different things.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Blame Game

Assigning blame is futile.

Determining what went wrong, which might include acknowledgement of someone's mistake, is useful for learning, for preventing similar problems in the future. Beyond that, though, blame serves zero purpose.

In fact, I'd say assigning blame is counterproductive in most situations. As an example of this, let's say something goes wrong and I blame John. I fail to learn anything of value about preventing future problems. The only possible lesson from blame is, "Don't let John near it in the future," but that's of very limited use because without identifying the problem itself, we don't know if it was an "oops" on John's part, or if it's a systemic issue that anyone might do in John's place. Assigning blame to John might end up being nothing more than a band-aid.

Focus on what went wrong and how to prevent it. Everything else is, in most instances, inconsequential and might be counterproductive.

The Wandering Guru

Blaming provides a scapegoat and feels good
because it feels like you've accomplished something but,
most likely, you've only applied a band-aid to a much larger problem.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

On Time

I don't have an exact count for how many times I have been late to class during nearly forty years of martial arts training, but I know the number can be counted on one hand.

First, let me define "late to class."

If I knew beforehand, I am going to be late or have to miss a class, then I called my instructor, or the people I was teaching, and let them know my situation. This scenario does not constitute "being late" or "missing" a class, because when I call and inform them, I am setting a new expectation.

"Being late" or "missing" means not holding up my end of an arrangement.

In general, as an instructor, if a student shows up before I do, I'm late. Period. Doesn't matter if the class time has started yet or not. A student who, for some reason, arrives more than thirty minutes before class and waits might be an exception to this.

As a student, I disrespect my instructor if I show up late.

As an instructor, plan to arrive at least fifteen minutes before class starts, preferably give yourself half an hour. If you plan to arrive at the beginning of class, you leave no room for "Murphy factor." Murphy, of the famous Murphy's Law, lurks constantly with a bag full of monkey wrenches, and waits to throw a wrench into your plans when it will be most inconvenient for you, or when you get overconfident and negligent. Planning to arrive early gives you leeway if Murphy throws you a curve ball. Arriving early gives you time to handle whatever setup you might require for class, whether it's doing some paperwork, setting your round timer, hanging a heavy bag, dragging BOB away from the wall, setting up a camera because you want to record, whatever.

As a student, plan to arrive at least 10 minutes before class starts, ideally plan to have fifteen minutes before class. Again, this gives you margins for dealing with Murphy factors, and if you arrive early, you have time to change into your uniform, warm up, ask the instructor a question, etc.

When class time arrives, everyone should be ready to go.

I knew one instructor who locked the door at the beginning of class. If you arrived late, you didn't knock or interrupt class in any way. You stood so the instructor could see you in the door's window and, when she had a moment, on a water break or whatever, she would open the door and let you in. She never scolded people for being late or punished them beyond the inconvenience and (self-imposed) embarrassment of standing outside the door. She also never asked why you were late, because it didn't matter. Everyone in class knew the rules, the instructor had explained them when students signed up.

While I used teacher/student in this post, it also applies to coach/client, therapist/client, doctor/patient, whatever.

Being on time (early) is a sign of professionalism on the part of the teacher and a sign of respect and commitment on the part of the student.

The Wandering Guru

"Early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable." — Unknown

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Road House Lessons

Road House, starring Patrick Swayze and a host of well-known names and recognizable faces, is lauded as the best bad movie in history. It's considered the epitome of "So bad it's good."

Such statements make sense, and hold a lot of truth. Amidst the over-the-top dialog and acting, though, the movie contains some gems of wisdom, even if they are delivered in glib, unrealistic ways. Here are some of the ones I find most notable.
  • Lesson 1: It's nothing personal.
Dalton: "If somebody gets in your face and calls you a cocksucker, I want you to be nice. Ask him to walk. Be nice. If he won't walk, walk him. But be nice. If you can't walk him, one of the others will help you, and you'll both be nice. I want you to remember that it's a job. It's nothing personal."

Steve: "Being called a cocksucker isn't personal?"

Dalton: "No. It's two nouns combined to elicit a prescribed response."

Steve: "What if somebody calls my mama a whore?"

Dalton: "Is she?"

Two aspects to this lesson. First, words are words. If someone insults you, they intend to "elicit a prescribed response."

Don't give it to them. If you give it to them, you let them drive. You give control to them. I once had a man tell me, "When someone slaps me in the face, I see red, and I attack." In that statement, he told me how to beat him, should it ever be necessary. I know if I slap him in the face, he'll lose control. He'll attack immediately, and since I expect it, I will dominate him. Don't give people that control.

The second aspect, related to the "Is she?" question, ties to the first part. By insulting my mother, the person seeks control in the same way a direct insult would. This digs right to the root of this lesson. An insult only hurts because (1) it's true, or (2) it's not true, but you think it might be true, or you think other people will believe it's true.

(1) If it's not true, why take offense? Clearly the person doesn't know you, or your mother, so who cares what they think or say.

(2) If it is true, why take offense? It's true. Own it and move on. If it's not true, then why fear other people believing it. If they know you, they'll know it's not true and won't believe it anyway. It they believe it, they don't know you, so why does their opinion matter.

The best way to handle an insult is to ignore it. You do not have join every fight to which you're invited.

  • Lesson 2: Be nice. Until it's time to not be nice.
A variation on this is a quote from Major General James Mattis: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."

Being an asshole, at best, accomplishes nothing. At worst, it escalates the situation. For the record, it rarely works out to your advantage, and even if it does, being nice probably would have worked better in the same situation.

But, be aware and prepared, there may come a time when nice ceases to be an option. When it becomes time to "not be nice," act without hesitation.

  • Lesson 3: Dalton: "Pain don't hurt."
It's easy to blow this statement off as flippantly macho, but there's value here. Pain does hurt, of course, but being able to find this mindset can make the difference between living and dying in some situations.

In a life threatening situation, your best chance to survive comes from keeping a level head, looking for solutions, and not giving up. If you allow the pain to take over, allow the pain to hurt, it can force you to give up.

  • Lesson 4: Remember the rules.
Dalton: "All you have to do is follow three simple rules. One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it's absolutely necessary. And three, be nice."

Dalton explains these as well as I can, so reread his quote.

  • Lesson 5: Knees matter.
Dalton: "Take the biggest guy in the world, shatter his knee and he'll drop like a stone."

Pretty self-explanatory, but it alludes to a broader spectrum of potential. Shattering a guy's knee isn't always your best option, especially in the case of low-level threats like "drunk Uncle Bob."

What this points toward is attacking mobility. If you can disrupt someone's mobility, you take away and minimize a lot of the tools they will fight you with. Shattering a knee is a great way to disrupt mobility, but it's also an extreme way.

If a situation doesn't require such an extreme response, then consider balance. Mobility requires balance. Disrupt the person's balance, and you disrupt their mobility. This is why I personally made balance disruption one of my specialties, and why I stress it so much in my AGPS curriculum.

  • Lesson 6: Dalton: "Nobody ever wins a fight."
I learned this particular lesson from my dad. At six or seven years old, not long after I started training in martial arts, dad noticed some minor abrasions, evidence of a scuffle, on my hands and face. He said, "It's important to remember, there's no such thing as a winner in a fight. The closest you get to winning is to have the lowest hospital bill."

That stuck with me. Took me years before I fully understood it. I had to get in a couple of serious fights to fully appreciate the significance: there's always a price. If the altercation goes physical, you've already lost in the bigger scheme of things. No matter how well you do in the physical fight, you could have done better. You're not the "winner," you just lost the least.

  • Lesson 8: Opinions ... everyone's welcome to theirs.
Morgan: "You know, I heard you had balls big enough to come in a dump truck, but you don't look like much to me."

Dalton: "Opinions vary."

This ties into the previously mentioned items about reacting to insults. People's opinions can, intentionally or unintentionally, serve as insults. I once had a fellow martial artist tell me his training was "head and shoulders" above mine.

I could have chosen to take offense, to let the monkey in the back of my head come to the front and fling some poo, to react emotionally. Instead, I remained calm and said, "That's one opinion."

I don't know if he had intended to rile me, but my unruffled response confused him and left me in control of the conversation.

In Sayoc Kali, they use the words "feeder" and "receiver" to describe the fundamental roles in an interaction. A feeder understands and exerts control over him/herself in the situation. A receiver reacts to the situation, giving control over to people around him/her, or to the situation itself.

If you react to an insult or, in this case, to someone stating their opinion, you give up control over the one thing in the universe you have any control over, which is yourself. You let the other person, or the situation, dictate your actions. They say "jump," and you jump as high as you think they expect.

Remain calm. Don't take things personally. Don't allow you emotional reactions to control you. Don't give other people, or the situation, levers with which to control you.

The Wandering Guru

Monday, June 27, 2016

Magic Pills and Faerie Tales: Talent, Schmalent

Talent (noun) - natural aptitude or skill

I have begun to despise the word talent, at least as people commonly use it when talking about art, whether writing, painting, music, sculpting, martial, or otherwise.

Talent may be present. It may be part of the initial spark. "Hey, I have a knack for this." Talent, though, doesn't produce masterpieces, or exceptional work at any level beyond raw beginner.

Talent might give someone a leg up in the first stage of development. After that, it's down to the same amount of grit, work, sweat, blood, and determination that everyone has to put into becoming exceptional at anything.

I'm sure people could point to exceptions to this, but focusing on outliers is counterproductive in this context.

When someone looks at me teaching/training martial arts and says, "Wow! You have a lot of talent." I take it as a compliment because I know that's how they mean it, but it feels like an insult. It feels like they're trivializing the ~22,000 hours I have thus far put into my training and development as a martial artist.

The "talent" concept is the flip-side of the magic pill.

People want a magic pill to fight like Bruce Lee, paint like Van Gogh, write like Shakespeare, and play music like Mozart. When they find out it takes a lot of hard work to achieve "Wow, that's awesome!" never mind the heights of Shakespeare and Mozart, they often flip the magic pill around, label it talent, and use it as an excuse not to do the work. "Well, sure, you got good at it, but you have talent. I don't have talent. I could never do that."

What they're really saying is, "I don't have enough interest or motivation to put in the work." They won't phrase it this way, though, because they don't want to sound lazy.

Personally, I'd much rather hear someone say, "I'm not interested in learning/doing that." than anything related to "I don't have talent." or "I don't have time." or any of the other bazillion excuses I have heard so many times over the years.

By removing the idea of talent from the discussion, we accomplish a couple of huge things.
  1. We recognize it takes a lot of hard work to reach that place. This leads to a deeper appreciation of the end results. It didn't take an hour for the artist to produce that piece, it took ten years of development to reach a place where s/he could produce such quality in an hour.

  2. We realize we can accomplish anything. We can paint like Van Gogh, write like Shakespeare, play music like Mozart, and fight like Bruce Lee. In fact, we can transcend their accomplishments. With enough dedication, devotion, and hard work, it's possible.

The Wandering Guru

This guy gets it

Friday, June 17, 2016

"Temporary PTSD"

Recently, a journalist fired an AR-15. He claimed it caused him "temporary PTSD." He said, "For at least an hour after firing the gun just a few times, I was anxious and irritable."

I don't want to belittle his experience, but this statement angers me because it belittles PTSD and the people affected by PTSD.

Anxious and irritable, for an hour or so? Really? That's not "temporary PTSD", that's "I missed lunch and now I'm hangry."

I wonder if you realize, or are capable of recognizing, that your trauma wasn't caused by the gun, but rather by your expectations and emotions and beliefs and prejudices about the gun, all of which happened before you ever arrived at the range. Your own anxiety about firing a big-bad-scary-killer AR-15 caused whatever trauma you experienced, not the gun or firing it.

There's nothing "temporary" about PTSD. Can it be overcome? Yes. To one extent or another, but even then it leaves scars.

In my personal experience with it, I was never diagnosed, but suffered all but the most extreme symptoms after my uncle's suicide when I was 15. It took me seven years to begin to get past it. Hell, let me rephrase that. It took me seven years to recognize the problem for what it was, understand it would kill me, one way or another, if I didn't resolve it, and start developing tools to cope and overcome it. It took me 20+ years to get past knee-jerk emotional reactions to the word suicide.

For decades, when someone said anything about suicide, a thick hardened barrier would drop around my emotions. I couldn't consider the idea of suicide, especially of someone I cared about. Allowing my emotions into the mix would have been catastrophic for me, for my mental and emotional welfare, so I shut down. When my aunt killed herself in my 20s, I felt numb because my defenses wouldn't let me feel anything else. When friends said they were considering suicide, I would shut down, though a bit of anger often squeezed through before the shut down and led me to say some hurtful things on occasion.

So ... to the journalist, I hope like hell your statement about "temporary PTSD" was a poor choice of words based on a brief emotional reaction, because I wouldn't wish true PTSD, even in its mildest form, on anyone.

If your use of the term, though, was deliberate and calculated to generate emotional reactions in readers, congratulations and f#@$ you. Especially since June is PTSD Awareness Month. F$#@ you hard, multiple times, in many uncomfortable positions.

The Wandering Guru

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Development and Evolution of Martial Arts

One of my instructors, Prof. Joe Lansdale, stood in front of a room of people, mostly comprised of Aikidoka, and said, "I'm a better Aikidoka than Ueshiba."

You could have heard a mouse sneeze in the following quiet. All the Aikidoka glanced nervously at each other, silently hoping someone would speak up and challenge the statement.

After a long moment, Prof. Lansdale continued, "Now ... I don't know if I'm really better than Ueshiba or not. I never met the man. By all accounts, he was amazing, but whether or not I'm better than him isn't the point. The point is, someone today should be better than him. If no one is better than him, then the art has, at best, stagnated and, at worst, degraded."

He continued, "Like Newton said, 'If I see farther than others, it's because I'm standing on the shoulders of giants.' Each generation should build on what previous generations accomplished. If they don't build on it and improve, they're failing their predecessors."

As I said in my book, A Pondering of Principles, the object of art (whether writing, drawing, painting, music, or martial) is self-expression. If you're not expressing yourself, you're mimicking someone else. Everyone starts with mimicry. Eventually, though, you start expressing yourself through the art.

This doesn't necessarily mean you're creating anything new. For example, if I run the first Kata I learned in Goju, Gekkasai-Dai-Ichi, I may run it exactly as I learned it, but when I learned it, I was taught it consisted of a block, then a punch, then a block. As I run it now, I may change the intention so I'm doing strike/grab, lock, throw. The motions remain the same. Anyone familiar with that kata would recognize those motions. The change in intention, though, changes my expression in subtle ways, and it becomes self-expression through the exact same medium and set of motions.

Many moons ago, I saw Elton John and Billy Joel in concert together. At the end of the show, Billy Joel played "Yellow Brick Road" and Elton John played "Piano Man." Both played excellently, of course. Neither changed the song he played, but there were distinct differences in how, for instance, Elton played "Piano Man" and the way Joel plays it.

"There's nothing new under the sun."

Creativity isn't about creating from whole cloth. It's about doing something interesting (and possibly unique) with things that already exist.

As Prof. Lansdale (who is also an award-winning professional author) once told me, "There's nothing wrong with writing a story about a boy and his dog. Doesn't matter that there are literally hundreds of stories about a boy and his dog. The trick is, if you're going to write a story about a boy and his dog, it needs to be something only you can write. Doesn't matter how many other people have done it before you if you have something distinct to contribute."

The Wandering Guru

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Champ's Indomitable Spirit

I was four when the Thrilla in Manila took place. Eight when the champ retired from boxing.

My dad followed pro wrestling, but not boxing. He watched a fight from time to time, but it wasn't something he sought out. I never followed sports at all, still don't.

While I grew up with an awareness of Ali, I was an adult before I took the time to watch any of his fights.

I can't say he had a significant impact on me or my life in any direct way, but once I saw a few of his fights, I became more alert about info regarding him. I watched several of the movies made about him, read articles about him. With the advent of YouTube, I watched every one of his fights I could find.

There are a lot of reasons people still call him "The Champ" and "The Greatest." It's obvious when you see him in action.

I didn't care for all the trash talking and bragging, but I respect him for always backing it up.

Watching him fight might be compared to watching Astaire, Rogers, or Baryshnikov dance. A master of the medium performing with artistry and grace.

Here's to The Champ.

Saint Peter cocked his head, the corner of his lip lifted in a bemused expression, as he watched the large black man approach.

The man danced around, shuffling his feet and firing punches in the air. He stopped in front of Peter, bouncing from foot to foot.

"Mr. Ali. I didn't expect to see you here. This is, after all, the Christian heaven. You'll find Jannah down the road."

"You got Lewis, Dempsey, Johnson, and the rest in here, right?"

"Some of them, yes. Not all made the cut."

"Then I guess hell is my next stop, because I want to spar with each of them. Now I got my body back, I want to show them and everyone else I am the greatest who ever lived."

"I'm sorry, Ali, I can't let you—"

Peter never saw Ali's fist coming, and he never finished that sentence. The Champ danced through the pearly gates and started calling folks out.

"I will beat every heavyweight that ever lived before me. Line up to get knocked down. Once I'm through here, I'll head down south to show the rest of them up. Then to Jannah where Allah will present me with the title and belt for eternity."

RIP, Muhammad Ali. You were one of a kind. You inspired countless people, and had a profound impact on the world, even outside of boxing. Your physical body has quit, but your spirit, as always, is indomitable. You achieved immortality. You will always be The Champ.

The Wandering Guru

Aliens Among Us : Am I One?

From a goodreads blog post:

Many classic horror icons and other disturbing creatures share common characteristics. Pale skin, dark, sunken eyes, elongated faces, sharp teeth, and the like. These images inspire horror and revulsion in many, and with good reason. The characteristics shared by these faces are imprinted in the human mind.

Many things frighten humans instinctively. The fear is natural, and does not need to be reinforced in order to terrify. The fears are species-wide, stemming from dark times in the past when lightning could mean the burning of your tree home, predators could be hiding in the dark, heights could make poor footing lethal, and a spider or snake bite could mean certain death.

The question you have to ask yourself is this:

What happened, deep in the hidden eras before history began, that could effect the entire human race so evenly as to give the entire species a deep, instinctual, and lasting fear of pale beings with dark, sunken eyes, razor sharp teeth, and elongated faces?

I think a lot of people would be tempted to say, "At some point, some creature like that must have existed and terrorized all our ancestors."

While I suppose that's possible, it seems unlikely to me. My explanation requires nothing supernatural or extraterrestrial. I'm looking for horses not zebras. Doesn't mean zebras don't exist, I just don't see the point in blaming them for things that don't happen anywhere near their African domains.

While it is a thought provoking question, I think the answer is pretty simple. No race of humans looks like that. Period. Therefore, every human, no matter their ethnic or cultural background, finds such a visage "alien." It automatically triggers a "them" designation.

But, what I think people find terrifying in it is that it is a recognizably humanoid face. So while it is alien and other, without doubt, it also implies it might be human.

I think it terrifies people in the same way a homosexual terrifies most homophobes. What they fear isn't the "other." They fear they, themselves, might, in fact, be "other."

This same reasoning might explain fear of clowns. Humanoid faces depicting something not human. Even knowing the face behind a clown's face paint belongs to a human, the face paint still depicts something alien or other, an outcast.

I'm sure, for some people, the fear is simply, "What if it's not just a mask or face paint? What if the face behind it is not human?" In this case, it's a fear of the unknown.

Dolls with human faces may trigger this, too. They look human but aren't.

The Wandering Guru

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Quiet Courage

Quiet Courage

A boy, nineteen, fights in the desert.
A twenty year old man, Purple Heart in hand,
Returns home with scars, physical and mental.

He lost friends in the sand.
He loses more at home.
He understands their choice.

The smell of oil, taste of metal,
Click of barrel against teeth.
He removes the pistol. Again.

Down his cheeks, tears flow.
Why didn't he pull the trigger, he doesn't know.
Whether from strength or weakness, he can't say.

The road ahead looms,
Bristling with enemies who hold no guns.
These ghosts ambush him when his attention drops.

On constant alert,
His body consumes itself,
His mind fatigues.

Everyone has words for him.
They offer platitudes and advice.
Except those who've been where he is.

These are his heroes.
Folks who still breathe in spite of their own demons.
They keep making the choice to live one more day.

These fellow demon-fighters offer no words.
They merely nod and offer to keep his guns for him.


A woman, drugged and raped,
Carries scars, both physical and mental.

The bottle of pills calls to her.
Peace. Sleep. No more pain.

She turns away and looks
Into the eyes of her daughter.
Moves into the arms of her daughter.

People offer platitudes and advice.
Except those who have been where she is.

They offer hope, because they kept going.
Maybe she can to.

These people nod and offer
A shoulder to lean on.


A fifteen year old boy, world shattered
By the suicide of a loved one.
Self-destructive behaviors are his route.

His family, traumatized by the same loss,
Offer little help, too caught up in their own pain.

Some people offer platitudes and advice.
Empty words from uncomprehending minds.

Friends, true friends, offer distractions.
Offer to walk with him wherever he leads.
Take the lead when he wants to follow.


Some who suffer, find ways to cope.
Some find ways to thrive in spite.
Some ...

These are the faces of shock.
The reasons vary, but the experiences resonate.
They recognize each other through the similarities.
Some of the strongest people in the world
Seem weak because all their strength is spent
Fighting internal enemies.

The Wandering Guru

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bends in the River

In this photo (left), I had suffered only one significant trauma. Within a year of this picture, I decided I wanted to be involved in martial arts my whole life, though I never could have guessed where it would lead over the next ~35 years.

By the time of the second photo (right), no more than ten years later, I had endured three more, far greater traumas, including Uncle David's suicide and a horrible car accident, which had a profound effect on the rest of my mom's life and, in turn, our family. I had held a gun in anger, with the intention to kill (not a human, but kill nonetheless). I had lost my virginity with a girl I loved, even if it wasn't LOVE, and with whom I am still friends. I had developed strong friendships which have lasted decades, and I had walked away from several "friends" who took advantage of me. I was still a long way from who I am today, but the bulk of the foundation had been laid.

These two pictures bookend an amazing set of years.

Bends in the River

Time flies on wings ethereal.
Her kisses flutter ephemeral.
The scars she leaves, eternal.

Scars define my life's river banks and
Remind me of challenges met and answered.
They represent not failure, but strength.

The Wandering Guru

"Old School"

In 2005, I attended my first Tai Chi Alchemy event in Sedona, AZ. At the beginning of the event, on Friday evening, we did the "opening circle." We sat in a large circle, I think about sixty people attended that year, and went around the circle introducing ourselves, telling a bit about our martial arts background, and whatnot. Rick Barrett and Don Miller, the founders of the event, introduced themselves to get the ball rolling.

The attendees came from all over the world, mostly the U.S., but there was a woman from Japan and, I think, one from Mexico, though that might have been a different year. While Tai Chi Ch'uan was the predominant art trained among them, quite a few trained other things.

When my turn came, I realized something. With nearly 30 years of training and experience in martial arts, I was one of the most senior people in the room. Rick and Don had more, and a couple of other folks had as much or more, but I was definitely in the top 5 people in the room as far as time in the martial arts. That had never happened before. In the usual circles in which I ran, I was usually in the middle of whatever time range represented.

That moment of realization remains strong in my memory. It felt surreal and, in a way, confused me.

Last month, I attended another martial arts event in Las Vegas, NV, and met a man named Richard Lamoureaux. Sifu Lamoureaux is from the generation ahead of mine, a peer of my primary instructor, Ken Pannell. They both began training in the mid-to-late 60s, started training with Dan Inosanto around the same time, and have very similar backgrounds. Rich asked me about my background, and I told him. We had a great discussion about various people we knew in common.

Then a guy came up and greeted Rich. Obviously, they had known each other some time. The man asked, "Is this one of your students?" indicating me.

Rich said, "Oh no. This guy is old school." He went on to explain what he meant by that, how I had nearly 40 years of training, with over 20 in Silat and Kali, and had trained with some big names before they died.

I had another moment like at Tai Chi Alchemy, except this time it wasn't related to my overall training in martial arts. It was directly related to my time in Southeast Asian martial arts.

Amazing what one can accomplish by simply putting one foot in front of the other, over and over again. Keep doing something long enough, and you become one of the "old school" members.

The Wandering Guru

Okay, so not that old.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

An Artist's Job

Not long ago, I saw an video clip from an interview with Marilyn Manson where he compared himself to a journalist.

He said, "They [his parents] wanted me to be a writer. I started out as a journalist. I still feel that I am a journalist, in a way, because I see things, and I report them back to people in my own fashion, in songs, or in interviews."

At the end of the clip, Manson said, "I think it's my job, as an artist, to be out there, pushing people's buttons, and making people question everything."

I think this sums up art in general. Whether it's music, novels, poetry, whatever.

I think artists feel obliged to speak out, to report the problems they see in the world, and they do so in the medium they feel comfortable with, or the one they think they can best express themselves through. I know this is true in my own writing.

I don't set out to teach a lesson or preach a moral. As Manson says, I report what I see, or have seen. I fictionalize it. Maybe, as in Harry Potter or Jessica Jones, I twist the idea of rape away from the conventional, paint it in a different light, but the goal is to shed light on it. The goal isn't to encourage it. The goal isn't to propagate it. The goal is to point it out. Show the damage it can do. Provide examples, even if they're fictionalized, of people overcoming the damage and continuing with their life.

It's not about endorsing the problems or reveling in the muck. It's about highlighting and rejoicing in the fact that the muck can be transcended. We can rise from it, turn scars into stories to help other people find a way from the muck in their own life.

The Wandering Guru

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Value of Forms in Martial Arts

When I began training martial arts, I learned forms. At six years old, it never occurred to me to question their value.

Throughout my training in Tae Kwon Do and Okinawan Goju-Ryu, I trained forms, and I competed. Both were part of the training, and it never occurred to me to question the value or necessity of either.

I didn't personally like competition. I've never had a particularly competitive nature. As a kid, I never did well in the kumite (sparring) aspect of competition because I feared I would hurt someone.

However, I thrived in the kata (forms) division of competition for two reasons. First, I could give it 100% without worrying about hurting anyone. Second, I never felt like I competed against other people. I did my form to the best of my ability, so my only real competition was myself. I intuitively understood this, though I couldn't have put it into words until decades later. I often placed in the kata division, and earned several first place trophies over the years.

From ~'86 - ~'93, I trained informally with various friends, and I learned some people and arts/systems/instructors didn't do forms. In fact, some frowned on them.

The thing I found most interesting, even people who frowned on forms, tended to use them. They didn't call them forms, of course, or kata, or any similar term. They called their forms things like exercises, drills, flows, whatever but, at least from my perspective, they were forms.

I have encountered one system that, as far as I can tell, actually doesn't use forms. One exception among literally dozens of systems with which I am familiar, and I'm not 100% sure they don't use forms of some type.

I consider a form to be any type of pre-arranged set of motions intended to develop attributes in the practitioner. All the Filipino arts I've trained use forms. At the very least, they have a set of angles and counters to those angles. These, in my estimation, are forms. Often, they have double stick patterns, commonly called siniwali. All the systems I've trained do some type of counter-for-counter drills such as sumbrada or hubad. I know some people who don't consider these to be forms, but I do.

Most boxing and kickboxing coaches I know use some sort of pre-arranged sequences when working focus mitts, where a #1 might be a jab, #2 might be jab/cross, #3 might be jab/cross/hook, and #4 might be jab/kick. When I trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we did positional exercises such as passing guard to mount, or flowing from submission to submission. Lock flows, etc. All these things, in my opinion, are forms.

I'm not sure how you teach something physical without forms of some sort.

For years, this formed the boundary of my thoughts on forms. Then things started changing.

About five years ago, I realized I don't teach martial arts, or self-defense. Not really. What I really do is teach people about their bodies, how to move in healthier ways, how to use their bodies more efficiently, and ways to maximize the connections between body and mind.

Within the past year, this understanding shed a new light on my perspective about forms. If the training is primarily focused on learning about my body, and how to best use it in a variety of situations, including a fight, then the key is self-development. When I'm training with another person, even in sparring, I'm still focused on self-development. Forms are a huge tool for self-development.

I used to consider forms a useful but largely unnecessary aspect of training. Now I see them as vital to training. I think they have as much importance in development as any other aspect of training.

Indonesian martial arts are called Pencak Silat. I was taught that "pencak" refers to solo training and "silat" refers to applied training, working with another person. There's a saying, "Without pencak, there is no silat. Without silat, there is no pencak." I used to equate this with the idea, "Without the martial, you're a dancer. Without the art, you're a brawler. To be a 'martial artist' transcends both of these." I think this aspect is in the Indonesian saying, but I now think it goes beyond this. To be complete, you need "pencak" and "silat." You need the forms and the application. Not because of some ideal about rising above being "just" a brawler or "just" a dancer, but because having both leads to balance, and balance is healthier and more productive in the long run than imbalance.

The Wandering Guru

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Context Matters

This video clip shows me throwing a guy to the ground, but there's no context. If I posted this on Facebook or YouTube, as is, I guarantee a slew of comments about how it's fake. How he's just falling for me. How he's not resisting, and this would never work in a fight. Those comments would be half right. My uke wasn't resisting, and this would never work in a fight. It's not, however, fake, and Tony didn't fall for me, but that's not my point. My point is context.

When I teach balance disruption, I start with an explanation of the underlying principles. Why does it work. I then teach some basic exercises to illustrate these principles in action. These exercises are not techniques. They do not represent anything related to an actual fight. My training partner isn't resisting or even trying to hit me. S/he stands in a position and lets me do the work, then roles reverse, and I stand while s/he does the work on me.

Within that context, it makes perfect sense. The video shows a snapshot, taken out of context, of me illustrating one of the principles. It's not intended to work in a fight. It's intended to teach a principle. The principle can be employed a million different ways that do work in a fight.

I see so many videos posted online with people making disparaging comments. Nearly all the videos are taken out of context.

When I see such a video out of context, I reserve judgment. For some such videos, I figure they are garbage, but I don't comment because I don't know. Given context, they may make perfect sense.

I urge my fellow internet users to utilize the same discretion. Whether the video is about martial arts, police brutality, politics, religion, whatever, look for context. If, for instance, you see what appears to be a defenseless man being beaten by police, ignore the caption on the video claiming "defenseless man brutalized by police." Look at the video. If there is no context, then you should reserve judgment. Something may have happened before the video clip started that justifies the actions you see in the video. One I saw recently had a woman attacking another woman. The caption said, "Woman bullied by vicious attacker." But there's no context in the video. For all we know the woman getting attacked in the video started the altercation before the filming started.

And, as in my video above, editing can change everything. The entire video, from which I took the clip to make the above video, has context. I explain everything, and it makes sense. The context was removed by editing.

Without context, you can't make an accurate assessment. Period.

Yes, I have failed to do this sometimes. I have jumped to conclusions without context. I have also, on many occasions, had to eat crow for doing so. Nobody's perfect. We'll all fail from time to time. But at least make an effort to apply critical thinking when watching videos on the internet. Don't jump on the bandwagon with other people in the comments. Look for context. If there's no context, then either don't comment at all or, at least, realize you're doing so with zero foundation.

The Wandering Guru

Context Matters

Saturday, April 30, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 30 (A Snapshot of Spring)

A Snapshot of Spring

Various groups merge
For an event of mutual interest

Old friends gather,
New friends meet

Common interests found,
Small-world connections made

Today friends will share common interests,
And a ceremony will happen

Two people, two souls, will come together
And unite with vows and a shared vision of the future

This is life, this is living
I feel blessed to share it with such amazing people

The Wandering Guru

Friday, April 29, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 29 (Short Sentences)

Small Sentences

Rick, my unofficially adopted brother, said, "I'm a dad."
Susan, my sister said, "You're going to be an uncle."
Lives start in short sentences with lengthy silences.

I said, "I love you."
Margaret said, "Was that a proposal?"
We said, "I do."
We said, "Best friends forever."
Love comes in short sentences with lengthy silences. 
David, my favorite uncle said, "My wife is dead."
Dad said, "David's dead."
Margaret said, "Rick's dead."
Susan said, "Mom's dead."
Susan said, "Dad's dead."
Death comes in short sentences with lengthy silences.

Living and dying look so similar on paper.
Living and dying look nothing alike in person.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, April 28, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 28 (This Stick Was Made For Walkin')

This Stick Was Made For Walkin'

In the end, Artemis won his case, and began working in a hospital, helping people walk.
This caused quite a stir since no legal precedents existed.
It chose the name Artemis, and applied for an ID.
The cane abandoned its insane maker.
Its knowledge blossomed, self-awareness fountained.
Like a child, the cane asked about nature and how the world works.
He used magic to design an intelligent cane.
The brainstorm of a madman.
It started with an idea.

Today's prompt called for a story, written backward in the form of a poem. Read it backwards to get the original story, but it's interesting because it makes some twisted sense as-is.

The Wandering Guru

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 27 (Leaves in the Wind)

Leaves In The Wind

We embarked on a new path, same as the old one, with a twist.
Now each of us discovers new hurdles to overcome.
Like performers on a continental stage, we dance.
Coming together, moving apart, synchronized, beautiful.

The prompt today asked for a poem with long lines. The example used fourteen syllable lines. I didn't hit fourteen exactly, but got in the ballpark.

This summarizes the life my wife and I live, traveling the country, each in our own RV, moving together and apart in a dance.

The Wandering Guru

Margaret's "new" home, my old one

Margaret's old home

My new home

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 26 (That Mouthy Merc)

That Mouthy Merc

Blood in the air, and bullets flying everywhere
Bullets flying everywhere

At the gooey chaotic center, the Merc with a Mouth
Merc with a Mouth

The irreverent anti-hero spewing witty remarks and lead
Lead-filled remarks

Soaking up as much damage as he dishes, healing lickety-split
Healing lick-a-da-what?

Crazy as a loon, breaking the fourth wall
What fourth wall?

A tragic figure who knows he's an imaginary figment
Imaginary figment

Love him or hate him, no middle ground
No middle ground


Today's prompt asked for a call and response. Since I'm currently rewatching *Deadpool*, I decided to use it as the theme.

I pre-ordered the *Deadpool* movie. It released yesterday, and I downloaded it last night. Now I'm rewatching this amazing movie. If you haven't seen it, do so, but do some research first. It ain't your daddy's superhero movie. If you expect something like *Avengers*, you'll end up in a rubber room and straight jacket trying to figure out what's going on.

The movie is ultra-violent and completely irreverent. Even the most jaded viewer might, at various points in the movie, consider being offended. This isn't a movie I'd recommend for kids under 30 ... only half-kidding.

What it is, though, is one of the best comic book adaptations I've ever seen. As such, if you're not familiar with Deadpool, go read some of his comics or, at least, skim a couple in the bookstore. Do some googling to learn about Deadpool's character in the comics. If what you see in the comics intrigues you, *then* go see the movie.

The Wandering Guru

Deadpool Approved

Monday, April 25, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 25 (Out of the Looking Glass)

Out of the Looking Glass

Youth wasted by the young,
Wasted according to whom?

Children expected to act as adults,
While adults behave like naughty kids.

How can we teach youth the value of honesty,
When they are surrounded by role models who
Get rewarded for lying and cheating.

The whole world has taken a seat
At the Hatter's table.

Poor Alice watches in confusion
As the March Hare awaits tea time,
Knowing full-well time has stopped for tea.

In the world of my dreams,
We emerge from the looking glass,
And learn to value love, compassion, honesty.

The Wandering Guru

Sunday, April 24, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 24 (Winding Down)

Winding Down

Sitting at the table,
No pantaloons in sight.
Country music plays.
Pickers and singers,
Bring euphony to the night

My eyelids assume ponderous weight.
Vision blurs, fades.
Slumber lumbers toward me.
One more serving of toast,
One more game with cascading gems,
Before sleep claims me.

The Wandering Guru

Saturday, April 23, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 23 (Out of Context)

Out of Context

Adrift in an ocean of sand and scrub,
Far from its intended home,
The bones of a small boat rot in the desert sun.

I approach, wary of rattlesnakes and other irritable fauna.
Crouched by its bow, I ask how it found itself here.
The boat offers no answer, confused as I am by its plight.

Dust devils dance across the plane to my right,
Small rodents scurry across the trail to my left,
Across the way, a desert hare raises its nose and twitches its long ears.

A plane flies overhead, low but too distant to offer a comment.
A car passes on the road, the road I just left.
I wonder if the driver noticed my truck, the boat, or me.

The Wandering Guru

Friday, April 22, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 22 (Dove's Tears)

Dove's Tears

Your music has played such a large role in the soundtrack of my life.
You told me about a Little Red Corvette when I was young enough to believe it was about a car.
I had a crush on raspberry woman before I ever slept with a real woman.
I'm still not sure if Batdance was parody or homage, but it sure was a catchy tune.
A song you wrote seventeen years before helped us ring in the new century.
My uncle, who died too young and left such a huge mark on my life, loved Purple Rain.
Today that rain falls like the tears of doves, and I cry with them.

Thank you for every smile, every tear. Thank you for being there for so much of my life.
Rest in peace, and know your music will continue to inspire and amaze for generations to come.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, April 21, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 21 ( New Digs)

New Digs

Six hundred miles driven, with a difference.
Towing a trailer, a new experience.

Excited to have my new digs,
Even as I learn about hauling a rig,
Small though it is.

Looking forward to the end of the drive,
When at my friend's house, I arrive

Friends to visit, people to train.
An upcoming wedding, memories to be made.

My new trailer needs sorted
But, for now, the bed's most important.

It beckons with whispers of rest.
I shall heed its request.

Good night, road.
I'll see you tomorrow.

The Wandering Guru

2007 Dutchmen Zoom 718QB
My new home
Photo taken in Wittmann, AZ, where I stopped for dinner after picking up the trailer

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 20 (Electronic Leash)

Electronic Leash

In my youth, cell phones equaled science fiction.
Now children have them, in constant communication with each other.

In my youth, few people had answering machines.
We had no caller id or call waiting.

When we went out to run errands,
We missed calls.

When we had an answering machine,
We called back if they left a message.

When we had caller id,
We called back when we saw the missed call.

Missed calls were a fact of life.
Being away from the phone, a routine occurrence.

Now, people have their phone with them 24/7.
Ringer on so they never miss a call.

Spouses get upset if their partner.
Does not answer a call.

People complain about their electronic leash,
And their ringtone disturbs everyone around them

I have a secret.
Your cell phone is inanimate.

If you feel like it controls you,
Find the off switch, or the Do Not Disturb setting.

My phone is for my convenience,
No one else's.

If I expect an important call,
I turn off Do Not Disturb.

No one hears my ringtone.
If my phone rings at all, it vibrates

People argue,
What about emergencies?

I think back to my youth.
Emergencies happened then, and we got by just fine.

Unless you're a parent away from your kids,
Or a medical professional whose timely response could save lives,
Few emergencies can't wait until you notice the missed call.

The Wandering Guru

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 19 (Short Time)

Short Time

The time approaches
For me to leave
To continue my journeys
My wandering

Tomorrow, a day for cleaning
And organization
A day to pack ten pounds
into an eight pound bag

Thursday, I pick up my new home
Learn about hooking up and towing
Transfer ten pounds into
Twelve pound bag

Dive in feet first
Drive toward NorCal
New trailer in tow
Back on the road I go

Say goodbye to some friends
Hello to others
Teaching to do
Weddings to attend

Life moves on
I move with it
Living, laughing, loving

The Wandering Guru

Live Moves, Moment by Moment
One Now Leads to Another

Monday, April 18, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 18 (Listen, Listen, Listen Louder)

Listen, Listen, Listen Louder

Listen, listen, listen louder.
The cat's a pissin', pissin' powder.

Where'd he go? Down the road
With a rail on his back.

You can't be lollygagging until
You jump the broomstick.

Don't go down the holler,
The rain's got the crick a-floodin'.

Who forgot to flush the commode?
Smell's like a polecat's ass in there.

You broke his arm? You don't look
Big enough to break anyone's arm.

Today's prompt suggested a poem about things you grew up hearing, things you don't hear much any more.

My paternal grandmother, Clytie Burdette, was born in 1909 in the house her father built in a small town called Sissonville, north of Charleston, West Virginia.

Clytie's father thought books were for men, and women should focus on domestic knowledge. He pulled Clytie out of school after the third grade. She learned to cook, sew, do all the chores around the house. What she lacked in education, she made up for through wit, intelligence, and observation skills. She was sharp as a tack, feisty as hell, and always entertaining.

She gave birth to six children, lost two of them. She raised the other four in the same house in which she herself was born. For years, she had several boarders living in her small house. Having spent most of her life in a houseful of people, she didn't know how to cook small meals. When she went into the kitchen, and no one was allowed in the room while she cooked, she cooked for ten people.

Because of my dad's work schedule, when we visited grandma, we arrived around 2 AM on Saturday morning. She always seemed to be awake when we arrived. We would visit for a bit, then go to bed. At 6 AM, grandma would wake us. Breakfast would already be served. Eggs, bacon, toast, biscuits (ye gods! those biscuits!). Enough to feed a small army. I don't recall seeing grandma sleep. Ever. 

The Wandering Guru

Rest in Peace, Grandma

Sunday, April 17, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 17 (Pesilat)


Jurus develop upper body
Langkah teach lower
Run jurus on langkah
To bind upper and lower

Bunga gives
Rise to buah

Whether dalam or luar
I attack my opponent's structure
With pukul, sapu, and kenjit

This is my Silat
This is my life

Today's prompt challenged us to incorporate 10 words from a specialized dictionary. As a teacher and student of Indonesian martial arts, Pencak Silat, I chose 10 words from the lexicon of Pencak Silat.

The Wandering Guru

Saturday, April 16, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 16 ( Stranger Companions)

Stranger Companions

A six hour drive
New friends at the end of the road
Old acquaintances await

Shared interests give
Strangers common ground
As companions we train

The Wandering Guru

Friday, April 15, 2016

NaPoWriMo: Day 15 (Two Hearts, One Beat)

Two Hearts, One Beat

Two RVs
Two directions

A thousand miles between us,
Yet we're as close as ever

People think we're crazy
People shake their heads

We live our lives
In love and loving

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Finger Pointing at the Moon

If you look at the curriculum posted on the AGPS website—http://trainagps.com/curriculum—you will see the tag line under the page header. The tag line reads, "A Finger Pointing at the Moon."

I first heard this phrase said by Bruce Lee's character in Enter the Dragon. He says, "It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory."

Bruce likely got this idea from the Zen parable:

Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon's location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?

A paraphrase of it sits at the top of my curriculum because the curriculum is the finger. Nothing more, nothing less. The jurus, langkah, techniques, and drills point toward underlying principles, which make the material functional. If you focus on the elements of the curriculum, you will become a capable practitioner. You will move well and may even be functional with the material in whatever context you seek functionality. If that's all you get, though, you're just mimicking me, going through motions.

This also relates to one of my standard sayings: "Why, not how."

By focusing on the curriculum and learning the motions, you learn how. By focusing on the underlying principles, you learn why.

The goal is not, for instance, to memorize the Foundation Langkah and be able to execute it perfectly. The goal is to understand why the Foundation Langkah is structured as it is. What does it teach? What do the motions used on the langkah teach you about your body and how to use it?

Now for a tangent. A lot of people dislike Bruce Lee. When someone quotes him, they groan. "Great! Another Bruce Lee quote." They say things like, "Lee was just an actor." or "Nothing Lee said was original, he stole it all from other people and repackaged it." There are plenty of other things Lee haters say.

I understand why they say things like that. It's their reaction to the other side of the spectrum where people worship Lee as some sort of martial arts deity or, at least, demi-god. These people take everything the man said or wrote as gospel. They consider him not just the pinnacle of acting, but the best fighter the world has ever seen.

I say baloney to both sides.

Bruce was a man. Plain and simple. By definition, that means he had strengths and weaknesses. I don't know if he was a good fighter or not, I never met him in person. I have heard from quite a few people who did know him that he was spectacular. I don't consider him a great actor, but he wasn't bad.

He did a lot to break stereotypes regarding Asians, especially in movies. Some of his innovations in the martial arts, especially regarding the use of training tools such as kicking shields and focus mitts, are still used today and, in fact, are common. Was he the first to do any of this stuff? I don't know, but probably not. He was the first to popularize it, though. Was he the only one who could have effected the changes he did? Probably not. If not him, someone else might have done it, but that's irrelevant, because he is the one who did it. He had a significant impact on the martial arts world, not to mention movies and TV.

If you have trained in martial arts in the last 50+ years, I almost guarantee Bruce Lee had an impact on you. Maybe not a direct impact, but I bet at least one person you admire, one person who has taught you a lot, whether it was an instructor or a training partner, was inspired by Bruce Lee at some point. If not that, then maybe one of your students, a person you love like family, began training with you because one of Bruce Lee's movies inspired them. If you've ever used a kicking shield or hit focus mitts, you likely have Lee to thank for their presence in your training. As I understand it, the kicking shield started as a tool used in football for working tackles. Dan Inosanto coached football, showed the shield to Bruce, and Bruce saw their potential for martial arts training. Focus mitts were used in boxing long before Lee hit the scene, but he recognized their facility in the broader spectrum of martial arts.

As far as I know, Bruce never claimed any of his philosophical statements were original, yet people often point out his use of things like "the finger pointing at the moon" as being derivative (in the negative sense of the word). As if it lessens his impact because he took the philosophy he studied in college and applied it to his martial arts. While I don't know that he ever denied having "stolen" them, I also don't think he ever took credit. He took his experiences and knowledge from other sources and applied them to his martial arts and teaching. Every martial artist I know worth his/her salt does the same, but Lee catches flak for it?

When haters point these out to me, I roll my eyes. When the fanatics make the opposite arguments, I roll my eyes. Blah, blah, blah.

Bruce Lee had a significant and positive impact on me and my training. Therefore, I will continue to quote him when I feel it's appropriate. If you have a problem with that, that's your problem. If you think less of me because I acknowledge Lee as an inspiration in my life and training, so be it. I honestly don't care, and I don't need to be "enlightened" about the man's strengths or failings. I'm aware of them, but they don't matter. They might matter if there was a chance I would meet him, hang out with him, train with him. Then I might care. As it stands, he was what he was, and the influence he had on me, directly and indirectly, has been positive, so I cherish it and honor it.

The Wandering Guru