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, December 20, 2017

Worlds of Fiction -- Addendum

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled Worlds of Fiction. In it, I discussed the fact that fictitious worlds are not our world, even if they seem like it. As such, if an author writes something like, "he released the safety on his Glock," you can assume that, in the world of the story, Glocks do have manual safeties.

While this is entirely true and a valuable thing to remember, it doesn't give authors carte blanche with such things. A cardinal sin in fiction is for the narrative to kick the reader out, and things like this can easily force the reader out of the story.

Even in worlds that are distinctly not our regular world, such as high fantasy or sci-fi on another planet or another dimension, there's no such thing as carte blanche in the long run. When the author develops the world, rules get established. Rules about the science, magic, societies, geography, etc. take shape. If the author writes something that violates an existing rule, that will kick the reader out of the narrative too.

Readers, cut authors a little slack by remembering, no matter what the world on the page looks or feels like, it is not your world.

Authors, keep the rules you develop in mind and, if your world bears any resemblance to our world, keep it as consistent with our world as possible to avoid such errors.

I know, it's impossible to get every detail accurate to our world and, sometimes, you don't want to, but we must do our best.

A note for readers on "you don't want to:"

This is especially true when it comes to military, crime, and science-based (fortunately, I don't work for the CDC 🤣 ) fiction. A true-life example I have for this is the SEAL Team 666 novels by Weston Ochse. While writing these novels, Weston is very careful to have his SEALs use only declassified weapons and tactics. If you happen to be a SEAL who reads these books, you might think, "Well, that's not how we really do it" ... but realize it's intentional on the part of the author because you don't want people to have any idea about how you really do it.

In crime fiction, there are many areas where authors might, as a conscious decision, decide to fudge things. For instance, a quick Google search will reveal that quicklime doesn't actually get rid of bodies. In fact, it mummifies them and leaves quite a bit of evidence. Yet quicklime was a staple of crime fiction for many decades. I don't know if various authors who used it knew it was bogus or not, but they may have known. Also, various tools and methods depicted may not exist or, if they do, they don't often yield results as quickly or precisely as they do in fiction. The last thing we want to do is give a schematic for the perfect murder in the real world, though in our fictitious world, it may, in fact, be perfect.

Again, we're back to the fact that worlds of fiction, no matter how closely they resemble our own world, are not our world.

These are just some thoughts I have on the subject. I suppose, having been an avid reader as long as I can remember, I'm something of an expert on being a reader, but that's the end of my expertise in this area. I've written quite a bit, and had a few things published but, as an author, I'm still very young. These ramblings are as much a discussion in my own head as they are with you, the person reading this.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Beautiful Symmetry

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post titled "Comics for Grownups." http://trainagps.blogspot.com/2015/02/comics-for-grown-ups.html

In it, I discussed how comics are often considered just for kids and, as such, adults tend to ignore them. I explained that comics are written by adults and, often, the stories are adult-themed. They may have things for the kids, subplots children can latch onto, but there's often a very mature perspective being presented somewhere. Here is another example of this idea.

Today, an acquaintance of mine, a fellow author who I met at a convention recently, posted a series of images from the Comicbook Squad's Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=135333847165414&id=133361257362673

They posted a sequence of panels featuring Batman with Catwoman and Superman with Lois Lane. The scene shifted from couple to couple and showed Bats and Supes talking to their respective companions. They talked about each other, and the way they perceive each other is touching. It gives serious insight into how they view each other, themselves, and, to some extent, the world in which they live.

Since I can't link directly to the series of images, I'll briefly describe the panels and give the dialogue here. [Edit: I have figured out which comic/writer gets credited for this]

Batman #36:
  • December 6, 2017
  • Written by Tom King
  • Art & Cover by Clay Mann
Tom King, this segment is inspired. I hope you don't mind if I share it here in the hopes people will buy the comic and, maybe, get hooked into the series. I know this particular issue is on my shopping list this weekend.

Batman & Catwoman on a rooftop.

  • Batman: You don't have to come. You're not my sidekick.
  • Catwoman: No, I'm your partner.

Superman & Lois hovering next to the Daily Planet globe.

  • Superman: I'll stay outside the door, and I'll--
  • Lois: You don't need to be there.
  • Superman: Lois, that radiation whatever that attacked me, he's connected to this. Let me protect you.

As Catwoman leaps from the roof and Batman fires a grapnel into the sky.

  • Batman: I don't need a partner.
  • Catwoman: I know.
  • Lois: I don't need protection.
  • Superman: I know.

Superman & Lois flying.

  • Superman: His parents died when he was so young. Shot. Killed right in front of him.

Batman & Catwoman swinging through sky.

  • Batman: His whole planet was destroyed. He's the last of a holocaust.

Superman carrying Lois in a descent.

  • Superman: He was raised alone. A kid in a huge mansion. With his memories of his mother and father.

Batman & Catwoman dropping from sky.

  • Batman: He grew up in the dirt. Finding out slowly how different he was. A stranger discovering every day how strange he was.

Superman and Lois zipping toward a building.

  • Superman: He had love, and they took it from him. He should be a killer. He should want to tear the world apart for what it did.

Batman & Catwoman dropping toward a rooftop.

  • Batman: He has the power to tear the world apart. And he could. With a pinkie. It's not his world. We're not his people. We should be ants to him.

Superman alighting outside a building with Lois in his arms.

  • Superman: And yet he took that pain. That shock of death. And he turned it into hope.

Batman & Catwoman silhouetted on a rooftop.

  • Batman: Imagine that. Always being on the outside. The pain that would come from always being on the outside. And yet, he took that pain and became a symbol of hope.

Batman removing the screws from a ventilation grate.

  • Batman: I'm just a rich kid from the city. I knew my parents, I knew who I was, what I had to be.

Closeup of Superman and Lois holding hands.

  • Superman: I had the love of parents, I had Ma and Pa. The whole way. I had a childhood full of laughing and learning.

Batman & Catwoman peering into ventilation shaft.

  • Batman: I didn't have any choice but to be who I am. He had every choice--and he became who he is.

Superman & Lois in building lobby.

  • Superman: I have powers. I had to do this. All he has are his wits and his will. And he chooses to do this.

Batman & Catwoman descending an elevator shaft.

  • Batman: Every kid is inspired by him.

Superman & Lois waiting for an elevator.

  • Superman: Everyone wants to be him.

Batman rappelling down elevator shaft, Catwoman climbing down the service ladder.

  • Batman: He's a better man than I am.

Superman & Lois in elevator.

  • Superman: he's just a better man than I am.

Superman & Lois in elevator, focus on Lois.

  • Superman: He got engaged. He didn't call me. Okay. that's his way of telling me ... we're not friends. Not really.

Catwoman watching Batman pry open the doors from the elevator shaft onto a floor of the building.

  • Batman: You can't be friends with him. Not when you're ... he doesn't need to congratulate me. Look at me. Who am I compared to him?

Superman and Lois exiting elevator.

  • Superman: He is who he is. He doesn't need a friend. He doesn't need ... he isn't like me.

View from outside elevator doors with Batman's fingers visible between them as he forces them open.

  • Batman: He's Superman.

Superman & Lois emerge from elevator into hall. From the elevator doors to their right, Batman & Catwoman emerge.

  • Superman: How ... How didn't I see you?
  • Batman: You ... took the elevator?
  • Batman: You're not supposed to see me.
  • Superman: If I flew here ... I'd ... to get in this floor ... I'd have to break a window.

The four stare at each other in silence.

Lois & Catwoman extend hands toward each other.

  • Lois: Oh hi, I'm Lois. You must be Catwoman.
  • Superman: So ... you all want to get a bite to eat?

The Wandering Guru

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Shifting Passions and Priorities

A few years ago, I quit my job as a freelance computer programmer to focus on writing. At the time, I assumed I would continue to teach and train martial arts and write on the side, as I had done programming.

That assumption was based on the fact that for over twenty years, I have identified myself, first and foremost, as a "martial artist." Teaching and training martial arts were my passion. Everything else came second.

Since then, though, a subtle shift has occurred. So subtle, in fact, that it took me years to identify it and, when I did, I initially denied it. I didn't want to admit it to myself.

I'm still just as passionate about teaching martial arts, but my passion for writing now rivals what I feel for teaching. Training martial arts now comes a distant second.

I realized this shift and admitted it to myself yesterday. Today, I'm sharing it with others.

I spent the morning training at a seminar with Professor Jak Othman in Harimau Berantai Silat. I enjoy the training and the material, but I kept having to pull my focus back to the training because, in my head, I was working on a short story I'm writing. I realized I was doing both my training and my writing by half-measures.

I had difficulty remaining present in the training, but I wasn't writing either. Many of the thoughts I had about the story faded from my mind without getting jotted down for later. I was neither really training nor writing.

As such, for the foreseeable future, my priorities will look like this:

  • 1a: teaching 
  • 1b: writing 
  • 2: training

What this means is that I will choose to write instead of attending martial arts events where I am not teaching.

About fifteen years ago, one of my instructors told me of a similar decision they had made. At the time, I couldn't imagine something rivaling my passion for training, much less my passion for teaching. Now, I find myself in the same situation they described.

To all my martial arts friends and family: I'm still here. I'm still available. Don't count me out. I will gladly come teach at an event or guest-teach a class. I will gladly sit and compare notes or answer questions in person and online. I will continue teaching students, but I will only attend events where I'm teaching.

The Wandering Guru

"Nobody's life is ever all balanced. It's a conscious decision to choose your priorities every day." —Elisabeth Hasselbeck

Friday, September 22, 2017

NCIS: Abby and McGee

In March, I wrote a blog post about how much I love the portrayal of the relationship between Penelope Garcia and Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds.

Criminal Minds: Morgan and Garcia

Now I want to write about another great relationship on TV. This time, it's Abby Sciuto and Tim McGee. What I love about them is that they did date (or something like it) in season 1. From there, they had some rough spots in their relationship but, in the long run, they became best friends.

That kind of friendship is amazing. I enjoy something similar with two of my three ex-girlfriends. Judith, my first girlfriend, and I are, at this point, pen pals. She lives in the Netherlands and, well, I live a lot of places but not there. We don't talk frequently, but we have a strong relationship.

Kristyn and I, though, are the closest example to Abby and McGee. Kristyn and I dated for about six months. She broke up with me not long after my twenty-first birthday. We remained friends, though it was a little uncertain at first.

Now, we are close friends. We don't talk frequently outside of Facebook but I visit her two or three times a year, and I consider her a dear friend.

People like Abby and McGee, and like me and Kristyn, share an interesting bond. For me and Kristyn, we dated during a pivotal time in each of our lives. We helped each other through some rough patches.

When I think back on it, I think, "Six months? How could so much have happened in six month?" But it did. I think that's the nature of youth.

I lost my virginity at seventeen and settled into a completely monogamous relationship with Margaret at twenty-three, and we married when I was twenty-five.

In the six, nearly seven, years between seventeen and twenty-three, so much happened. When I look back on it, I wonder how I packed so many crucial moments into such a short time span. Of course, at twenty-three, seven years represented nearly a third of my life, and now it's less than a sixth. Time's a funny thing, huh?

About a month before she broke up with me, Kristyn and I discussed marriage. Not in the "let's consider this" way but, rather, in the vein of "we might consider this some day, so let's make sure there's some feasibility to it." Had my relationship with Margaret gone sideways, I would likely have wound up back with Kristyn.

In fact, not long after Margaret and I started dating, Kristyn and I discussed the possibility of getting back together. I told her, "Well, you know, I just started dating Margaret, and it seems good. If it runs off the rails, though, we'll revisit this conversation." Obviously, Margaret and I never ran off the rails.

The point I'm approaching, though, is this: when people date, even for a short time, and they love each other, they share so much of themselves it becomes impossible to completely extricate from each other. Yes, you may never talk again but, from time to time, you'll still wonder how that person's doing.

The bond remains whether a relationship persists or not. I think, though, it's beautiful when the romantic relationship bridges the gap to friendship. Continuing to have that person, who you shared those intimacies with, in your life is powerful and, in the case of healthy relationships all the way around, I think it strengthens future relationships with other people.

Kristyn and I attended each other's weddings, and we talked about her problems after her divorce. She and my brother had been friends and, in fact, had dated briefly. After his death, we worked as a sort of emotional three-legged racing team where we supported each other at various points.

Seeing a relationship like that portrayed on TV is great. Showing people it is possible to remain friends and, in fact, grow together after the romantic relationship is powerful.

The Wandering Guru

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Life Raft

"It's funny. The day you lose someone isn't the worst, at least you've got something to do. It's all the days they stay dead." -- The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), *Dr. Who*, S09E11, "Heaven Sent"

Ain't that the truth!

When I heard my brother, Rick, had died, I went numb and immediately started making plans to get from the Philippines to Indiana.

Planning kept me distracted.

Once the plan was made, I had most of a day remaining until my flight left. *Then* the hell started. I had to start dealing with the fact of his death. I had to contemplate life without talking to him, without seeing him, without exchanging banter or rolling my eyes at his ineptitude with sarcasm. I realized I would never again make fun of his narcissism or be able to call him when I needed backup for some scrape I'd gotten into. I'd never again have to haul his ass out of some fire he'd found himself in. I'd never hit him or be hit by him in training again. I'd never get to see him play with his kids again. I'd never ... 

Damn. That sucked, and the pain overwhelmed me like a tidal wave. When it did recede, it was only to build strength so it could knock me flat again.

Over time, of course, I learned to ride the waves. I built a raft of emotional scar tissue and moved on with my life because life moved on. I learned to navigate it without my dearest compadre.

Of course, sometimes the tides rise too high for my raft, and I get washed under again. It happens less frequently as the years pass because, with each sorrow-bath, I improve my raft and my navigation skills, but the ocean is always there.

The Wandering Guru

Rick and I, ready for Ren Festivities

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

One Ting I Know

I wrote this short story back in 2002, and an online martial arts magazine, part of the Martial Arts Planet discussion forums, published it. It's a quirky little story about the development of a fictional martial arts system. It's pure satire and contains quite a few word plays, so keep an eye out for them.

One Ting I Know

By Mike Casto

Ting Gar is an ancient form of Kung Fu from the Kung Pao province of China. Its founder was Lew Ting. Some legends paint him as a Chinese Robin Hood … but this is inaccurate. Lew Ting was a thief and a brigand...

One day, Lew Ting stopped a carriage expecting to find passengers with money aboard. When he opened the door of the carriage, though, he found three monks from a nearby temple. Lew Ting was outraged.

He had spent a lot of time cutting down a tree and dragging it into the road so the carriage would have to stop. In his anger he threw his bow to the ground and cursed his luck. The carriage driver pulled his sword and would have killed Lew Ting but the eldest of the monks stopped him.

To Lew Ting the monk said, "If I had money I would give it to you. You obviously need money more than I ... or you would not be willing to go to all this trouble and hard work to get it. But, alas, I have no money.

"I will give you, instead, something far more valuable. These are my most prized possessions … but, like the money, I sense that you have far greater need for these than I do." The monk handed Lew Ting a binder containing several parchments.

Lew Ting's confusion over the monk's actions began to turn to anger. No matter what they were worth to the priests, the writings were worthless to the illiterate Lew Ting. Something about the monk's manner, though, defused Lew Ting's rising anger.

He humbly accepted the bound parchments and bowed low to the monk. The monk blessed Lew Ting then climbed back into the carriage. The driver, having dragged the tree from the road while the monk and Lew Ting talked, flicked the reins and the carriage continued down the road.

Over the next few months Lew Ting tried to sell the parchments but could find no buyers. He considered taking them to the local monastery but how would he explain his possession of them. Finally he hid them in his home and tried to forget about them.

They remained hidden for several years. Lew Ting, though, found that he could not stop thinking about them. He wondered what was written on them that could be so valuable to the monk … for he had believed the monk's sincerity that the documents were prized possessions. He decided to find out what they said and why they had been so precious to the monk.

Lew Ting needed to know but he did not trust anyone to read it to him. He managed to steal enough money to hire a tutor to teach him how to read. For months he worked diligently until he could read the monk's parchments.

The first was a treatise on Buddhism. Lew Ting was not interested in Buddhism but he continued reading just for the sheer pleasure of reading. As he continued, he found that all of them dealt with the teachings of Buddha. He figured they probably were important to the monk … but to Lew Ting they were worthless. No wonder he had not been able to find someone to buy them.

Lew Ting tossed the documents into his campfire. A handful of pages fell from the bottom of the stack and did not make it to the fire. Lew Ting scooped them up and was about to add them to the fire when the writings on the pages caught his attention.

These documents concerned martial arts. Specifically the definition, manifestations and development of the internal power known as Chi. Much of it was beyond Lew Ting's comprehension … but he struggled through the words and tried to make sense of them. He tried to do the exercises described in the texts but felt like a three legged ox trying to climb a tree.

Then he had a dream. The monk who had given him the parchments was talking to him. "Well, my son, I see the parchments have been valuable. You have learned to read. You have learned of Buddha and, even though you reject his teachings, knowledge of his teachings is the first step to true awakening. Now you seek to develop your Chi.

You have done well … not as well as I had hoped, but better than I honestly expected. I will help you." He explained the writings and led Lew Ting through the exercises. Lew Ting woke in the morning and felt enlightened.

He took what he had learned from the dream and began developing his own exercises. He moved through motions and felt the Chi growing within him. He wanted to test his newfound ability.

He went to a nearby kwoon, a martial arts school, and challenged the head instructor, Master Fo Lee. The master refused to fight. Lew Ting attacked the master with one of the techniques he had developed. The master easily countered Lew Ting's attack and knocked Lew Ting to the ground.

Lew Ting got up and attacked again. Again the master countered and Lew Ting's face slammed into the cobbles of the kwoon's courtyard. Lew Ting crawled from the kwoon and returned home.

When his humiliation subsided, Lew Ting found himself angry. He was angry at himself, angry at the old monk, angry at the master of the school. In short, he was angry at the world. He swore that he would never be beaten again.

He began training rigorously and developing a fighting method that would be unbeatable. He called the art Ting Gar Chi Gung (translation: Ting style of Chi development) and named himself the master. When he felt he was ready, he returned to the kwoon.

The master greeted him and welcomed him. He remembered Lew Ting and hoped that he had come to his senses and returned, in humility, to seek training and proper instruction. Lew Ting attacked him with a technique he called "Blinding Wind." As the master brushed the sand from his eyes Lew Ting hit him with a wine jug. The master was knocked unconscious.

The students rushed out to see what had happened. The senior student of the kwoon, Tra Tor, took one look at his unconscious master and fell to his knees begging Lew Ting to teach him. Tra Tor became Lew Ting's first student. Many more would follow as the legend of Ting Gar grew.

Now, Ting Gar Chi Gung has come to the west and been renamed to suit the simplistic western tongue. It is now known simply as "Chi Ting" and is still considered one of the preeminent forms of combative martial arts.

© Mike Casto, 2002

The Wandering Guru

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Worlds of Fiction

I recently read Dr. Sleep by Stephen King. First, I loved the book. A great sequel to The Shining, and it was nice to catch up with Danny Torrance as an adult.

In one scene, though, there's this line: "He turned the basket so one end faced the newly arrived RV and flicked off the Glock's safety with his thumb."

Now, I do not claim expertise in firearms as one of my skills, but I grew up around them, and I shot a lot over the years. I certainly know enough about Glocks to know they do not have a manual safety. The primary safety on a Glock is a small tab inset into the trigger. If that tab is not depressed, the gun won't fire. As such, you don't "flick off" the safety on a Glock with your thumb or any other digit. You simply squeeze the trigger. Your trigger finger releases the safety as it pulls the trigger.

After I read that line, I thought, "What the hell? Glocks don't have safeties like that. Come on, Stephen!" That's what I thought. I see now the phrasing of it looks like I know Mr. King personally, but I don't. I've never met him, though we do have at least one friend in common. Misplaced familiarity aside, though, I figured someone of King's stature would have done the homework or someone in his circle of readers would have caught the error and pointed out before it made it to print.

Then I thought, "Wait. Glocks in my world don't have thumb-released safeties. This story isn't set in my world. Apparently Glocks in this world do have manual safeties."

This led me to a realization about fiction. I was aware of it on some level, but I had set up a false barrier for its effects.

Here's the thing. Fiction never happens in our world. Even if, like Dr. Sleep, 90+% of it looks like our world, it's not. Even if 100% of it looks like our world, it's not. Granted, there are exceptions to this. Alternate History comes to mind as a genre, but even then it's not our world.

As an example, in my own alternate history novella, Annie Oakley and the Beast of Chicago, Dr. H. H. Holmes owns a large building in Chicago two miles away from where the Wild West show has set up outside the fairgrounds for the 1893 World's Fair. The ground floor of the building contained Holmse's pharmacy and several other businesses. That much jibes with real world Chicago in 1893. In my research, though, I decided I wanted different businesses neighboring the pharmacy than those that did in the real world. So, in my world, Holmes's pharmacy sits between a jewelry and a candy shop. I forget what business really occupied those spaces, but in the world I created in the story, those are the stores.

Another example is in SEAL Team 666 by Weston Ochse, he has his SEALs using equipment and tactics that are fifteen years out-of-date because he doesn't want to compromise the safety of real SEALs by sharing the equipment and tactics they use now. So, while his SEALs are functioning in the current time, in their world, they use weapons and tactics the operators in our world consider outmoded.

Next time you're reading a novel, even if it has no supernatural elements and seems set 100% in our regular, day-to-day world, don't forget it is not our world. The author may have chosen to make the changes you spot to support the story, as I did in Annie Oakley, or to prevent bad guys from getting useful information, as Weston did in SEAL Team 666. I don't know, but I assume various other novels, TV shows, and movies intentionally change things about, for instance, forensics or police procedure for the same reasons Wes's SEALs don't use modern tools and methods. Sure, sometimes, it's because the author didn't know better and do proper research but, in the end, it doesn't really matter.

A story sets up its own world with its own rules, even if they closely mimic those of the world we live in. If a story violates the rules of its own world, that's bad. Bad author, no bourbon. However, if it does not violate its internal logic, even if it seems wrong in our world, let it slide. For all my gun-familiar friends who read, bear this in mind if you read Dr. Sleep, but also bear in mind that, maybe, the standard capacity of a 1911 pistol is 8+1 or 6+1 instead of the 7+1 in our world. For anyone reading this who's unfamiliar with those numbers, the first number is how many rounds the magazine can hold, and "+1" designates an additional chambered round. As long as every standard 1911 in the story has that capacity, it's not really an error. It's just the way that world works.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Who Knew?

The Goldbergs, in so many ways, parallel's my experiences in the 80s. In S01E23, Adam explains how his dad was a simple man with simple interests and a simple, direct, approach to parenting. He said, "He wasn't a complicated or, frankly, that interesting but, every once in a while, he would accidentally reveal something about himself that would make you feel like you didn't know him at all."

Now, my dad was far from uninteresting but, for the most part, he wasn't very complicated. As Adam Goldberg said of his father, "Yep, some people glorify the past, but not my dad. To him, it's like it never even happened." That's an exaggeration, but I can see where he gets it. In the episode, Mr. Goldberg says, quite casually, "I was in a plane crash once." Then he says, "Nap time." and heads for his favorite chair. His daughter, looking at photos, says, "Dad, is this you with Lou Reed?"

He replies, "Yeah. We waited tables together."

When his daughter asks for more info, he just says, "Eh, it was a whole thing." and walks away.

I had some experiences with my dad to rival those.

When I was in my early 20s, I trained Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate. I heard a funny story about a man named Bill Wallace. Bill "Superfoot" Wallace is a Karate legend. I told my dad this humorous story, and dad replied, "Yeah. Bill was like that."

I said, "'Bill was like that.' What does that mean? You act like you knew him."

Dad said, "I did. We hung out at the same bar for a while. He was a drinking buddy."

"You and Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace were drinking buddies?"


"Dad, I've been training in martial arts for most of my life. Why have you never mentioned this before?"

"You never asked."

I sat in stunned silence for a moment, then asked, "Did you know Bruce Lee?"

"Nope. Never met him, but I was friends with Leonard Pickle."

I said, "Leonard Pickle? You mean my instructor's instructor?"

"Yeah. Good guy. Sparred him once, in fact."

"What? Wait? You 'sparred' him?"


"I never knew you trained. What do you mean you sparred with Mr. Pickle?"

"I didn't train. Not really. I was friends with the close-quarters combatives instructor in the Air Force, and I worked out with him in his back yard for a couple of years, but it wasn't formal. I mentioned that to Leonard one night while we were talking, and he invited me back to his place to spar."

Another time, I showed dad the video of a friend of mine teaching how to build a debris hut. Dad said, "Sure. I've made a lot of those."

I said, "What? You have?"

"Sure. There were a bunch of those in the hills around your grandma's house. Everyone who hunted those hills built them, and we all maintained them. That way, if you got caught out in a storm, you could crawl into a shelter and stay warm and relatively dry. If I wanted an early start, I'd go sleep in one near my tree stand."

As an adult, I heard many stories from my dad or about my dad that surprised me. I realized he was chock full of skills and experiences I had never guessed he possessed.

The Wandering Guru

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Freaks and Geeks

A friend recommended I watch Freaks and Geeks. It stars Linda Cardellini (Mad Men), John Francis Daley (Bones), James Franco and Seth Rogen (The Interview), Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), Samm Levine and Martin Starr, who are somewhat lesser known than the rest, but still familiar faces.

It's set in 1980 and focuses on the lives and attendant dramas of a group of high school kids. I didn't hit high school until '85, so a lot of the details are different from my experience, but it still rings a lot of bells.

All the kids wanting to be like the cool kids, but none of the kids really know what "cool" is, even the cool kids. They're all stumbling through, doing the best they can, trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in the world around them.

What I find interesting, though, is how much things like "girl" and "woman" are used as insults. It's certainly true to the time. I remember being called those things, feeling insulted, and being terrified of being perceived as such.

What a strange world that was. Even stranger to think some people still live in that mindset.

What I find most bizarre, in retrospect, is the fact that my first martial arts instructor was a woman. I started training with Melinda Baer in 1978, and she was something of a badass.

I also grew up watching my dad and various uncles treat women with respect. Looking back on it, I wonder how I ever considered it an insult to be called a "girl."

Peer pressure was an amazing thing to experience.

I'm only at the third episode, but it's obvious it's not going to be all fun and games. This show has humorous moments and, overall, it's a comedy, but it's already touched on some heavy topics. I don't know if it will address any of them head-on or not since it only lasted one season, but it's definitely a good show with a lot of potential to go beyond "good."

The Wandering Guru

"All my new friends think I'm some goody-two-shoes and all my old friends think I'm throwing my life away. What the hell am I supposed to do?" -- Lindsay (Linda Cardellini),Freaks and Geeks, S01E02

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We can't sweep this under a rug

"Nothing good ever happens when people care more about our differences than the things we share in common." — Capheus, S02E10, Sense8

What a powerful statement, rooted in a profound ideal.

Some people say, "We focus too much on racism. If we truly want it to go away, we should ignore it."

They think this approach espouses the ideal of this statement, but it doesn't. In fact, it exacerbates the problem.

If we focus on what we have in common, racism vanishes. This is true. If I look at my friend Linda Addison, for instance, and I see nothing more than a fellow human being who enjoys many of the same things I enjoy, the difference in our skin color becomes less than meaningless.

However, if someone else chooses to focus on the differences, and they say something negative about her because of the color of her skin, it is racist. If I ignore it and figure, "If I don't focus on it, it will go away." then I fall prey to the pitfall Edmund Burke warned of when he said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Pointing out racism when it sprouts its ugly head is not "bringing attention to it and prolonging it."

Racism and xenophobia are as old as humanity. Ignoring them won't make them go away. They're not a passing fad. The only way to diminish them is to address them.

Things have certainly improved in my lifetime. When I was a kid, no one thought twice about telling a joke about a n!@@#r or a Polack or a Jew. Few people would even do a double take at such a joke. Now, fortunately, things have improved, but they're a long way from resolved and, I suspect, our country as a whole has backslid a bit recently, and that's acceptable. Progress never happens without some friction and backsliding. There's a reason for the adage, "two steps forward and one back."

But the only way to keep progressing is to point it out when we see it.

In order to minimize your own prejudice, focus on what you have in common with those around you, even if you initially don't like someone. For that matter, find commonalities especially with those people you initially don't like. It may not help you like them, but it might, at least, prevent you from hating them.

When you see someone else focusing on the differences, point it out. Call them on it.

The world is a long way from perfect, but the only way to approach perfection is to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the general direction we want to go as humans.

And, for the record, while I'm specifically talking about racism here because that's the context of the original quote, this also applies to misogyny and prejudice against people who live "alternative lifestyles" we don't understand or agree with.

The Wandering Guru

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." — Mark Twain

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Science Guy

I've seen a lot of hoopla on social media lately about how Bill Nye is not a scientist. As if this is news. Really?

You know, Nye never claimed to be a scientific expert. He's the "science guy." That very label implies he's a guy who's interested in science.

He does have a BS in mechanical engineering, and that does involve physical sciences to some degree. He has received honorary doctorates of science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, John Hopkins University, Willamette University, Rutgers University, and Simon Fraser University. Lehigh University awarded him an honorary doctor of pedagogy degree.

Sure, those are honorary, but do you think those places give honorary degrees out like candy? I don't know, maybe they do. I doubt it. I assume they awarded him with those degrees as recognition for his work in promoting science, teaching people about it, and getting generations of people interested in the topic.

But, I agree, Nye is not a scientist in the way most people think of the term. However, if we look at the dictionary definition for scientist, we find:

(noun) a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.

Within the context of this definition, Bill Nye is a scientist. Specifically, "a person who is studying" the "natural or physical sciences."

You know what, though, it doesn't matter whether he's a "scientist" or not. He has, to my knowledge, never claimed to be a scientist. He's the Science Guy. That's an appellation used by a fan of the subject, a title he definitely qualifies for.

He is a presenter, a spokesperson, a liaison of sorts between the scientific and lay communities. He researches a topic and presents it to viewers. To claim the info he presents is flawed because he isn't a scientist is like saying, "Don't trust Adam Schefter [ESPN's football analyst] because he never played pro ball." Ludicrous.

If you disagree with what Nye presents, fine. That's your prerogative but don't try to belittle him and what he does by saying, "He's not a scientist." It's the epitome of a straw man argument. You want to argue against something he presents? Fine. Do so. But do it with information about the topic, not by setting up a straw man you can knock down without trying. Especially one so absolutely frickin' irrelevant.

The Wandering Guru

"The more you find out about the world, the more opportunities there are to laugh at it." — Bill Nye

Monday, April 24, 2017

Respond, don't react.

At the corner of Indian Trail and Poplar Level, there sits a Rite-Aid pharmacy, and the intersection has a light. As I approached in the right lane, a small car pulled out of Rite-Aid, crossed in front of me, and whipped into the next lane over, then stopped at the red light.

In the left lane, just ahead of me, a guy rode a Harley. Harley had to slam on his brakes to avoid the small car as it swung into the lane in front of him. Harley then whipped over into my lane and pulled up next to the passenger window of the car to give the driver a piece of his mind.

While I understand why he was upset, his road rage nearly got him injured or killed when he cut me off to go yell at the driver of the other car.

If I had been paying a little less attention, I wouldn't have been able to stop when he whipped into my lane then stopped ~5 feet in front of me, well short of the line where he would stop for the light.

When you let your emotions blind you to your surroundings, you become part of the problem.

"Distracted driving" is the number one cause of traffic accidents in the U.S. Usually this means things like eating, grooming, texting, talking on the phone or to a passenger. However, it also means things like ignoring your surroundings because you're upset.

Wanna stay safe on the road? Keep your attention on the road and your surroundings. I know, it's easier said than done. Everyone gets distracted sometimes. But when you drive distracted, only luck prevents you from becoming a statistic. As such, save your luck for when something beyond your control distracts you.

The driver cutting the Harley rider off was beyond the Harley rider's control. Reacting to his anger and allowing it to distract him, though, was completely controllable if he had reined in his reaction for half a second to assess his surroundings before acting.

The Wandering Guru

"It's not the situation, but whether we react negative or respond positive to the situation that is important." -- Ellen Glasgow

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Son's Testimonial

In 1980, our family had a terrible car accident. Many of the EMS, fire, and police on the scene agreed they had never seen a wreck as bad as ours without at least one fatality.

We got T-boned by a guy who wasn't paying attention. We think, but couldn't prove, his pager went off, and he looked down at it, then pulled out without checking for traffic. Dad tried to avoid but failed.

Our car slid sideways until it hit the drop off at the edge of the shoulder, then it rolled three times into a cornfield. None of us wore seatbelts that day, but ours was the statistical anomaly where the lack of belts saved lives. The momentum threw mom from the car on the first roll.

The rolling threw me and my sister around in the back seat like rag dolls in a dryer. The car stopped, luckily, on its wheels. The passenger side of the roof had collapsed to the point where, had Mom or I worn seat belts, we would have been crushed.

The imploding windows lacerated Dad's right hand quite a bit. Susan and I had bruised kidneys from crashing around in the back seat. Mom suffered three fractured ribs, a broken femur, and a head injury. The head injury severely pinched a nerve, which caused her to have migraines nearly every day for the next 32 years, until she died in 2012.

As you might guess, the wreck devastated our family. Mom spent over a week in the hospital, much of that in intensive care. She had to quit her job as a teacher at Ivy Tech. Dad worked 16-hour shifts every day for weeks at a time and often worked holiday hours because he needed the overtime pay to make ends meet.

When Uncle David, Mom's kid brother, killed himself 6.5 years later, Mom's problems increased exponentially as she struggled to deal with his death. Our family dynamic shifted even more out of balance.

Through it all, Mom did the best she could. I admire her strength because the circumstances would have broken many people. She struggled, but she always took care of me and Susan. She raised two children who now serve their respective communities as successful and respected leaders and role models.

While Dad wasn't around physically as much as any of us might have liked, his presence was always there. He served as the bedrock foundation on which Mom raised us. I have little doubt that, without his steadfast, reliable nature, things would have spun out of control, and our lives would have been far less comfortable or fruitful, and that assumes they wouldn't have imploded completely.

One of the most amazing facts about Dad, though, was how he handled interactions with Mom. Mom was often difficult to deal with. Given the situation, no one could blame her, but a weaker man might have done so regardless. Dad never did. No matter how bad their disagreements got, and some of them were bad indeed, Dad never let it affect his love for Mom.

Sometimes, when she wasn't aware of it, I saw him look at her with a look of such loving devotion ... tears are running down my cheeks right now as I remember that look.

Dad stood by Mom through all the good times, all the bad times, and all the world-shattering horrible times. After Mom's death, Dad faded. Each time I visited, he was a little less present, though he always wore a brave smile.

Mom died on August 11, 2012. Dad died on February 11, 2014, 18 months to the day after Mom.

The Wandering Guru

"Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you." — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Leo Casto, Jr.
Mary Diane Casto

Monday, March 20, 2017

Criminal Minds: Morgan and Garcia

Before I started watching Criminal Minds, I saw people on Facebook referencing the relationship between Derek Morgan, played by Shemar Moore, and Penelope Garcia, played by Kirsten Vangsness. They said how strong the relationship was, and how it served as a role model and goal. I assumed it was a romantic relationship.

Now, I'm watching season 6. I have some minor problems with the show overall, because NCIS has spoiled me for shows like this. However, it is a decent show.

What surprised me, though, was the relationship between Morgan and Garcia. It isn't a romantic relationship. It is a great relationship, though.

It might, at some point, become a romantic relationship, but I doubt it. In fact, I hope not. I know that contradicts what a lot of people hope for them.

I think good, solid platonic relationships between hetero men and women are too rare on TV and in movies. The couple with good chemistry always ends up together. It has been a trope for a long time, and there's some truth behind it, that's why it works. There are plenty of familial platonic relationships on TV, such as Gibbs and Abby on NCIS, where he considers her a daughter, or DiNozzo considering Abby a sister. But there are few portrayals of platonic relationships between hetero men and women where there is chemistry between the characters that might become romantic. Where they recognize it, even flirt in a friendly way, but they also recognize they're not compatible in a romantic way.

Also, "best friends" is a great foundation on which to build a solid romantic relationship. My wife and I have done it for 22 years and counting. But the reason our relationship works is because we have a lot of common interests and our core values align.

Honestly, much as I love the characters of Morgan and Garcia, and they are my favorite part of the show, I don't think they would make a good romantic couple. They don't have enough common interests, and their basic approach to some core subjects differs drastically.

I love Kevin, Garcia's beau. Partially because I've loved Nicholas Brendan since his days as Xander on Buffy, but mostly because I think he is a good romantic match on every level for Garcia. They have a lot in common. They seem very compatible.

I am humbled to have several relationships in my life similar to the one between Morgan and Garcia. I have several female friends with whom I share a strong bond, and we can and have talked about some very intimate topics. We know we can rely on each other's discretion and, when necessary, support. We know the relationship is just friends, and we revel in it. These aren't unrequited romantic relationships, and only one of them has ever been romantic, and that was several years before I met my wife. I share the deepest sort of friendship with these women, and I cherish each and every one of those relationships and love the women as deeply as anyone can love another human.

The Wandering Guru

"Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full acceptance, even celebration of another's personhood." — Karen Casey

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Value of Historical and Cultural Context In Training

When training martial arts, especially those from another culture, one should study and gain some understanding of the history and culture in which the system evolved. Without the context provided by the historical and cultural background, the training is little more than rudimentary motions. Knowledge of a system's roots leads to an understanding of why the system does things in a particular way or favors a certain range or focuses on a specific aspect of martial arts.

An instructor with a strong background in Wing Chun once said, "I trained in Wing Chun for years, but I didn't understand why it put so much emphasis on the close range until I visited China and Hong Kong and saw how crowded they were." While the specific history of Wing Chun is uncertain and shrouded in legend, its best-known proponent, Ip Man, lived in Hong Kong and was the first person to teach Wing Chun publicly. Wing Chun, with its focus on infighting and close-range striking, would be incredibly functional if one needed to fight in such a populous place.

A man, while researching various martial arts, visited a small village in Indonesia where they practiced an obscure system of Pencak Silat. When he arrived, the students performed an exhibition. This man, a seasoned martial artist, was puzzled. The punches and kicks he saw in the demonstration lacked power, and the targets they struck seemed ineffectual. He was disappointed, but the apparent discrepancy between what he saw and what he had heard about this system intrigued him. He stayed in the village several weeks, lived among the villagers, helped with the daily chores when he could, watched the training sessions, and befriended the instructor. Before he left, the instructor told him they would perform another presentation for him. This time, because the instructor now trusted him, he allowed the researcher to see the missing element that made the system so effective.

The senior student came out alone and placed specially designed blades between his toes and held blades in his hands while he performed the motions used in training. The rest of the demonstration was the same as the first, but now the researcher visualized the blades in the toes and hands as the students struck. He realized those "weak" strikes with "poor" targeting were, in fact, precision stabs and cuts to vital areas.

Students who ignore the historical and cultural aspects of their training miss out on a vital facet of that training. They may learn the movements and become proficient with them, but without some knowledge of the context in which the system originated, they will never have any understanding of why they train they way they train. Awareness of the history and culture help the student to understand the context in which the training was designed to be effective.

An instructor in Japan says there are two dojos. First Dojo happens on the training floor, and it's where the student learns the technical aspects of the art. Second Dojo happens after training, often over dinner with the instructor, where the student learns about the lineage, history, and origins of the art. Second Dojo is at least as important as First.

The Wandering Guru

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

My wife and I don't pay much attention to holidays, including Valentine's day.

Early in our relationship, we decided to ignore them. If I see something I think she'll like or something she needs, I buy it and give it as a gift, regardless of time of year. She does the same.

If we decide to go out for dinner, we do so. If it happens to be on a holiday, we'll probably eat in to avoid the crowds :D

We usually do something special for our birthdays and anniversary, but what we consider "special" may or may not fall under that heading for anyone else. For me, doing something special might mean I go teach or attend a seminar. For her, it might mean a hike or run on a nice trail. We may or may not do these things together.

We have had "date nights" while separated by hundreds of miles. We watched the same movie at roughly the same time then discussed it on the phone or via text or FaceTime.

Letting a holiday and its socioeconomic attachments dictate what we do on holidays seems pointless to me and my wife. We would rather do what we want, when we want, and how we want. For us, this forms a significant part of our 22-years-and-counting relationship.

The Wandering Guru

"What a lover’s heart knows let no man’s brain dispute." — Aberjhani, Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Goodbye Haven

Since the show ended in 2014, I assume I'm not giving away any spoilers, but I just finished watching the final episode of Haven (inspired by Stephen King's The Colorado Kid)

It bogged down for a while. Somewhere in season 3 or 4, I forget exactly, it got tedious for me. The story hit a major plateau, and it felt like it had stalled. It never jumped the shark, but it felt like it might have swallowed its own tail. What progress the storyline made seemed hesitant and unlikely to go anywhere.

I stuck with it because (a) it hadn't jumped the shark, and (b) I'm an optimist.

The crew did get past the plateau, though, and they did so with apparent aplomb.

The 5th season started out interesting and kept it up. Then they ramped it up. William Shatner's performance topped it off like a dollop of whipped cream on a scrumptious slice of pumpkin pie. Then they wrapped it up nicely.

Very satisfying.

If you haven't seen Haven, I recommend it. If you gave up on it at some point, as I nearly did, I'd recommend going back, and slogging through the slow parts. In the end, I felt it was worth it.

The Wandering Guru

"You know, if you had told me a few years ago that my bar was going to get thrashed by a Trouble that creates sea monsters, I ... now it just sounds like Tuesday." — Duke Crocker (Eric Balfour), s05e23, "Blind Spot", Haven

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Language of AGPS

An acquaintance recently mentioned the importance, in his estimation, of using martial arts terms from the linguistic background of the art.

While AGPS's silat roots are the most obvious influence, the system also draws heavily from Filipino martial arts, a system called Shen Chuan, and some Tai Chi Chuan. Just as I am an American with Welsh, German, Dutch, Irish, and Scottish ancestry, AGPS is an American system with Indonesian, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean ancestry (in order of influence, strongest to weakest).

While I believe knowledge of the ancestral cultures of the martial art is valuable, I don't currently require it for rank. My students do tend to pick up some of the terminology because I use it out of long habit.

I agree with my friend about the importance of the cultural/historical elements in training, but I also recognize the distinct difference between our backgrounds. He has trained almost exclusively in one Japanese system, and the other systems he has trained in were also Japanese. For him, with his background, it's simple. For me, and many I know, it's not as clean-cut.

As an example, I have three different terms for "stick." A common term in the FMA is "baston," but in my Cacoy Doce Pares background, we use the term "olisi." From my Silat background, I have the word "tongkat."

For knife, I have "daga" from FMA and "pisau" from Silat.

Since my system is most heavily influenced by my Silat background, I could choose to focus on the Indonesian words, but about a third of my system draws heavily from my FMA background, and when I'm teaching those aspects, I use the Filipino words.

Since AGPS is an American system with Asian roots, I opted to keep the bulk of the curriculum in English. There are a few exceptions, words I kept in their original language because their English translations don't convey much meaning, so learning a new word for them helps the students remember the meaning behind it.

Overall, though, I don't care if a student refers to a blade as knife, pisau, or daga.

The Wandering Guru

"As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody's individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us." — Yo-Yo Ma