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 13, 2016

Foisted Valor

Stolen Valor is the term used when someone falsely claims to have served in the military. It has been a hot topic for years. People who do this are, in my estimation, despicable, but I think most people agree with that. I'm not going to discuss Stolen Valor in this blog post. I'm going to discuss what I'll call "foisted valor."

I'm using this term for when someone else falsely claims a person served in the military, or lies about someone's service record.

This came to mind when, once again, I saw a post on Facebook about actor Lee Marvin allegedly serving with Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) and Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) on Iwo Jima. This story is urban legend. Period.

Marvin did serve in the Marines, but did not fight in Iwo Jima. In fact, he was in a Naval hospital recovering from wounds in the Battle of Saipan, eight months before the Battle of Iwo Jima. He did not receive a Navy Cross, though he did receive many other honors.

Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo) enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, but was still in the U.S. when Japan surrendered and WWII ended.

Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) never served in any branch of the military.

The urban legend that the three fought together at the Battle of Iwo Jima may seem trivial, but the more I think about it, the less trivial I think it is.

I think people propagating this myth does a disservice to everyone involved. I think it's an insult to the military, in this case the Marines, to give these people credit for things they didn't do and, in the case of Mr. Rogers, I think it's an insult to the Marines to claim he served when he did not.

I also feel it's an insult to the actors. Marvin and Keeshan's service records should be allowed to stand on their own merits. They did serve, Marvin won the Purple Heart and is buried at Arlington. Keeshan did serve, but saw no combat.

Keeshan and Rogers provided generations of children with positive role models. Marvin entertained generations of people in a variety of roles and left an indelible mark in cinema history and in the hearts and minds of countless fans. I think "foisting valor" on these men belittles the accomplishments they earned. It's like saying, "These accomplishments aren't good enough, so let's claim they were war heroes, too."

And, for Pete's sake, people, verify things before posting them to Facebook as fact.

The Wandering Guru

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Protection from Love

Watching Mr. Holmes, the 2015 movie starring Ian McKellen as a 93 year old Sherlock Holmes who tends bees in his retirement while struggling to retain his memory and motor skills long enough to write the story of a thirty year old case.

At about 35 minutes into it, the inspiration for this blog post struck me.

Holmes has befriended the young son of the housekeeper who looks after Holmes. The boy, Roger, has a keen mind and a sharp interest in Holmes and the story Holmes works to finish. Holmes takes the boy under his wing, teaches him about caring for bees, encourages the youth's own penchant for logic and noticing details.

Roger's mother, Ms. Munro, attempts to discourage Roger from growing too attached to Holmes. Not because she believes Holmes to be a bad person or a bad influence, but because she fears the pain her son will suffer when Holmes inevitably dies. Her concerns are reasonable given the loss of her husband during WWII, and Roger's lack of tangible memories about the man.

I sympathize with Ms. Munro's urges to shelter her son from grief, but I disagree with it. At the core of my disagreement sits the old adage, "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

I think back to my Uncle David, who killed himself when I was fifteen. David's death shattered my world. I had idolized him, put him on a pedestal, and when he took a swan dive from that pedestal, it shook me to my core. If I had a child, I know I, too, would have a knee-jerk urge to protect him or her from such trauma.

BUT I wouldn't trade a minute of my time with David, or the most trivial of my memories of him, to spare myself an ounce of the grief his death caused me. His presence in my life, including his tragic end, served as a major catalyst in my development. I believe my life would have been good if he hadn't killed himself, but I don't know. What I do know is, his presence in my life, and his death, had a major impact on the life I have lived, and my life has been amazing.

I cherish each moment I spent with Uncle David. His memory and lessons he taught me still influence me. My struggles after his death are part of the impact he had on me, and I wouldn't change any of it even if I could.

I would never wish such trauma on anyone, even my worst enemy, but from my distinct vantage point, I don't think I could deny my own child the chance to learn from and love someone because, while I know the pain that love can lead to, I also know the positive effects the love can have in the long run.

The Wandering Guru

I want to post a picture here of my Uncle David, but I just realized I have none. I plan to rectify that, but it will take several months.

The Moment of Transaction

Last night, I had an encounter with a beggar.

He asked for money.

I said, "Sorry." and headed for my car.

He said, "Well, thank god! No wonder you're fat. You keep it all for yourself."

A younger me would have ... probably ended up in jail for beating the crap out of him. "Fat" was a trigger word for me during a certain portion of my life. Last night, I found it humorous—especially since the beggar carried more than a few extra pounds himself.

I laughed to myself but kept listening to him because his voice would have told me if he decided to come after me physically. He did not. He continued insulting me from afar until I could no longer make out his words.

The situation, though, reminded me of a couple of things:

First, the trouble I used to have with beggars. If I had money and didn't give them any, I sometimes felt bad. And, if I gave them money, I worried they might spend it on drugs or alcohol.

Second, it reminded me of a bit of advice I picked up along the way that helped me deal with both sides of my problem.

I don't remember where I heard or read this advice. I assume it came from one of the various Buddhist sources I studied. I share it here, or at least my version of it, because I know I'm not the only one with those concerns about dealing with beggars.

I have money. I earned that money. I can do whatever I choose with it. Period. If I choose to not give it to a beggar, or donate to a charity, or whatever, I shouldn't feel bad. It's my money.

If I choose to give the money to a beggar, at the moment of transaction, the money becomes theirs. Period. They can do whatever they want with it. I have no more say in the matter. If they buy drugs or alcohol, that choice is on them.

I often do give money to beggars, if I have it. Last night, I did not have any cash. If I had money last night, I wouldn't have given any to the beggar, though, because he set off my internal alarms even before he asked for money.

The Wandering Guru

Friday, February 5, 2016

Another Legend Lost

2016 has been a rough year for celebrities. I have lost count of how many have died, and we're barely out of January.

I just found out another has left us. This one strikes close to home, though. Cacoy Cañete isn't a household name, but he's a celebrity. He has been featured in TV series and documentaries. He has hundreds, maybe thousands, of followers around the world. He has inspired, and continues to inspire, generations of martial arts practitioners.

In Cebuano, the word "lolo" means grandfather. When I refer to Cacoy, I often call him Lolo Cacoy because, from the moment I met him in '98, he treated me as family. He taught me many amazing things about stick fighting, and he taught me quite a few life lessons along the way, too.

The speed of his wit rivaled that of his stick. Lolo always had a joke or ten to share. He wears a grin in every memory I have of him, and I still hear his infections laughter in my head. It didn't matter if he was telling a joke, sparring with someone, or watching people spar, he laughed.

His love for life, and his passion for training and teaching stand as a constant inspiration for me.

One of my favorite memories happened at one of my early seminars with Cacoy. He stood in front of the group of attendees, a man who went undefeated in over a hundred stick fighting duels—challenge matches with few or no rules where injuries were common and death loomed as a distinct possibility, a combat veteran who fought the Japanese in WWII, a man of great accomplishments and superior skill with, at the time, nearly 80 years of training and experience in Eskrima and other martial arts. This man stood before us and said, "I earned my master's rank in my twenties, but I didn't feel I had truly mastered any aspect of Eskrima until I had been training for forty years. I train every day, and every day [even after eighty years] I learn something new."

For me, this statement illustrates a huge facet of Lolo Cacoy's personality.

Another story that, for me, exemplifies the life Lolo lived, happened in 2010 while I visited Cebu to train at the Cacoy Doce Pares HQ. One night, after dinner, a pedicab driver hailed me as I walked back toward my lodgings—a room rented from one of Cacoy's neighbors.

At first, I waved him off. I wanted to walk.

Then he yelled, "Doce Pares!"

I stopped and looked at him. "Pardon?"

"You Doce Pares, right?"

"Yeah." It didn't surprise me he knew this. In that part of Cebu, most foreigners are there to visit Cacoy, and most people in the area know Cacoy either in person or by reputation.

"Hop in, I give you ride."

"I'd rather walk. Thanks."

"I give you ride, for free."

"Okay." I slid into the steel-framed contraption behind his bike.

The driver patted the awning over my head, designed to keep rain off passengers. I glanced up and noticed the awning had Cacoy's face on it. It was, in fact, a poster from the Hall of Fame ceremony and featured Cacoy prominently. The driver said, "Cacoy sponsors my cab. My sister paid her way through college working at a restaurant Cacoy used to own. I love Cacoy and his family. They have done so much for my family and the community. Cacoy is a great man."

We arrived at the entrance to the alley leading to my lodgings and to Cacoy's house, and the driver parked under the Cacoy Doce Pares sign, which hangs over the alley. I paid him for the ride in spite of his offer, and I watched as he pedaled away to find more fares.

This story shows how much Cacoy did for his community in general. He treated all of his students like family, and I have never seen a man who loved his family more than Lolo Cacoy.

My condolences to the Cañete family. I will continue to represent the system and carry on his memory to the best of my ability, and I'm sure the whole CDP family of practitioners agrees with that sentiment.

With heavy heart, I will now pick up a stick and train in memory of one of my teachers, one of my mentors, my Lolo Cacoy.

The Wandering Guru

Paying my respects to Lolo Cacoy
Notice his everpresent smile

R.I.P. Ciriaco "Cacoy" Cañete
1919 - 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Butterfly Speaks To Caterpillar

Butterfly and Caterpillar sit together. They reminisce about old times, the time before Butterfly's change.

Caterpillar avoids discussing the change. He doesn't wish to embarrass his friend. Their conversation drifts hither and yon with many detours and much laughter.

Then Butterfly says, "I love flying. The wind beneath my wings as I soar from flower to flower. And the nectar, sweet bliss I never knew before."

Caterpillar rolls his eyes. Caterpillar sighs. "You and your crazy talk. Flying and nectar. Words without meaning. Your imagination runs away with you. Clip your wings and rejoin your friends."

I saw a post on Facebook this morning that posed this question: "Ever done some deep research and realize if you talk about it people will think you are crazy?"

This phenomenon is what my primary instructor, Guru Ken, refers to as "butterfly language," and that's what inspired the short story at the start of this post.

At certain points in your development as a martial artist, or in any endeavor, you have epiphanies, and they change you. They change the way you perceive things. Your entire understanding shifts to a new level. If you try to discuss it with people who haven't put in their dirt time, people who aren't at a similar place or beyond in their own development, they can't understand you. Like Caterpillar, they have no point of reference.

At best, they get the idea at an intellectual level. Often, though, they return a blank stare. Sometimes they think you're crazy.

This type of situation presents itself in countless ways over years of martial arts training. Often, your instructor tells you something, or shows you something, over and over, but you don't get it. At first, you can't even wrap your mind around it. Then you get it intellectually. Then, one day, usually during a tangential discussion, or when another instructor says/shows the same thing, BLAM! the connection happens, the circuit completes, and you grok the thing. You look at your fellow students and realize they haven't yet arrived. You try to explain it to them. It's so simple, how could anyone have missed it. Now you get the blank looks, and your instructor smiles and nods.

The Wandering Guru