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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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