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, 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.