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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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