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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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