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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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