Monday, May 19, 2008

Daily Practice - Recovery, Discipline & Goal Setting

Way back in 1989 I was still an avid surfer and made time several days a week to hit the waves at any of the local surf spots around Santa Cruz. At the time I was riding a custom-built Pearson-Arrow gun; 7'6" long, tri-fin, egg rails and a custom paint job. It was delightfully maneuverable for such a long board and despite coming to the sport late, I was able to carve it up with best of them. Actually, to be honest, I stayed out of the way of the best, but I was a local and had the right to say 'my beach, my waves' like any self-righteous local does.

One fateful day I heard the pounding of the surf from my house, loaded up the equipment and headed to Steamer's Lane to see what the noise was all about. What I found was a heavy north swell lifting waves at the Indicators to double-overhead in height. That is about 16' to 24' faces. If you stand on the peak of your one-story house with a skateboard and drop off then you get a feeling for the size of the waves. That high. It was, how do they say, epic. So I put on my wetsuit, waxed my board and swam out. After an hour and a half of ripping it up, paddling back out and ripping it up again I was caught 'inside'. Meaning the wave shifted and closed out on me leaving me fighting the churning surf. The difficult part was that all I had in front of me was a sheer cliff wall, the Indicators, with the stairs a quarter of a mile paddle away. I could hear my father saying, 'never walk into a room without a clear exit strategy.' Since I had overlooked my exit I proceeded to swim for my life. A wave would hit me and push me under. I would fight my way back to the surface, get my surf board under me, face the incoming monster wave, rinse and repeat. For twenty minutes I did my best to keep myself above water and away from the cliff but it is hard to resist the pull of the ocean and I soon was close enough to the wall to touch. But Fortune smile upon me because I found that the fight eventually carried me near the erosion control boulders. I surrendered to a wave and it lifted me up and placed me on my feet on a boulder while my board was jammed between two rocks further up. I heard cheers and looked up to see a group of spectators hooting and clapping for my act of daring. I waved and asked for help and several came down to haul me up. The first guy down to help gave me a high-five and said, 'Dude! That was awesome! I thought you were dead for sure. I hope your board isn't broken.' I laughed. It hurt, but I laughed.

The upshot of this tale of hair-brained adventure is that I tore the labrum (cartilage) and rotator cuff in my right shoulder. In a fashion typical of many of the men I know I shrugged the shoulder, said 'Ow' and went right back to my Silat training. Cimande, Rikhisan, Harimau in particular are very fun to practice when your arm is threatening to rip out of the socket of its own accord. But I did the old 'cowboy up, everything is fine' routine until last year when the pain began to overwhelm my ability for rational thought. And that being in such slim supply we decided that the time was ripe for repair. So at the end of November '07 I went under the knife.

The recovery was six weeks of immobilization when I wasn't doing physical therapy three times per day plus lots and lots of pain killers. Shoulder surgery hurts very badly. Something to do with jamming two flexible metal snakes into the joint I would guess. One of the snakes is a camera, the other is the scalpel. The repair was successful and within ten weeks I was able to leave off taking the pain killers and could tell that the pain I had lived with for over 18 years was gone. Hallelujah! That took me from the 'hard' part of the recovery to the 'long' part. I was warned that it would probably take at least a year to regain my mobility and full use of the arm. But I measure full use by being able to lift Leo and being able to punch my students. With the six-month anniversary of my surgery coming next Tuesday 27th of May I am happy to report that I can do both fairly well. I am still hesitant to put much strain on the joint as there is residual stiffness but as I rebuild my daily practice I am sure that it too will fade into memory.

Daily practice is something I can be fairly good at as long as I know why I am doing it. Early in my Silat practice I was able to be disciplined about training on a daily basis because I had youthful enthusiasm. Luckily I have been endowed with an abundance of youthful enthusiasm throughout my life and that has carried me a fair distance. But something that my experience, martial, personal, spiritual and business, has taught me is that discipline can get you to the gym but having a clear set of goals is essential to maintaining the long-term effort necessary to get a payoff.

Goal Setting
It can be difficult to remember your goals when you have stabbing pains in your shoulder, your arm is strapped to your body at an odd angle and your best friends are a steady stream of ice packs and Vicodin. The big one, being a good model for Leo and a good partner to my wife are not in question. But so much of my persona is built around practicing Silat that the months of immobilization became maddening. Despite the assurances of my capable surgeon I let doubts fill my mind of ever being able to perform at my previous level. And since I am right handed and was unable to write either, I took the opportunity to sit with myself and think about my goals. I also watched a few movies and read a few books that I had been meaning to get to, but for the most part I spent time goal setting. I am going to spoil the punch line by not revealing what those goals are, but I will divulge this; they are very clear, tangible goals and they include writing every day and punching my students.

Now you will have to excuse me. Since I have finished my writing assignments for today I have to see to my training. Jurus only improve when attended to on a daily basis.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Keys, Memory, and the Student/Teacher Relationship

Pendekar Herman Suwanda was tragically killed in an automobile incident on March 21st, 2000. I mention this not just because it is the eighth anniversary of what the Sufis call his Wedding with the Divine. I say this as a reminder to myself; it has been eight years since his passing and it was three years before that since we had spoken in person. Eleven years since we have spoken and yet I find that I have to remind myself on a regular basis, not just once a year on the anniversary or on his birthday, that he is no longer in this world. I attribute the reason for this to the fact that his teaching, his life, and his laughter are very much still alive for me.

Rarely a class happens that I do not give some bit of anecdotal knowledge prefaced with, "My teacher said...". Unless I am specific there is the chance I could be referring to my father Budd Saunders or my Beloved Shaykh Taner Ansari. But more often than not I am quoting Pak Herman. It is not just the mis-function of an overfull memory bank or the slow slide toward decrepitude that brings me such a feeling of closeness with my teacher. Nor is it some esoteric communication with his consciousness, although I am not one to discount such possibilities as I have experienced many stranger things. It is the keys, kunci in Bahasa Indonesia, that lie at the core of the Pencak Silat teaching methodology. Class time is spent learning a movement, let us say for example the outside parry kelid. Pak Herman would lead us through numerous examples on the proper execution and application of this simple but important movement. He would admonish us to practice it on our own since he could only teach us once per week. Then he would leave us to our devices, trusting that our zeal would lead us to discover hidden meaning through repetitive practice. And sure enough it did. But the real secrets come out only in the giving, and therein lies the kicker.

The Kicker
There is this funny feeling that many people get while engaging in Silat practice. I have had it and it goes like this; the teacher shows the class a movement, say kelid for example. Once they seem to be getting it the teacher appoints one student to continue the lesson while he has a seat. The thought bubbles up unbidden and certainly disrespectful, "Why that lazy so-and-so. I'm paying him good money and he is taking a break!" What this pale piece of pig's ear does not realize is that the teacher gives out keys, but he does not unlock the door. This door may lead somewhere mundane or it may lead to lands exotic and unknown. Either way, the destination is only meaningful if the student opens the door and walks through himself. At which point he can take back his ill thoughts and realize how brilliant his teacher and the material he is teaching really is.

Student/Teacher Relationships
What made Pak Herman such an exceptional teacher is that he was an exceptional student. He knew how to ask other teachers for keys; from Pak Uyuh, Ibu Mimi, Pak Suherman or the dozens of others he studied with he was always looking for the keys. And he knew how to train until a movement made sense and then he would teach it until he found the key.
So I was lucky enough to train with someone who had a janitor-sized keyring that he willingly shared with hundreds of lucky students. I know I only ended up with a few of them, but I cherish them dearly and am always looking for more. On any given class day I might sit down to watch a student lead an exercise and maybe, just maybe they turn to me with an expression of understanding written on their face to which I will say in my best Pak Herman imitation, "Hey, Dude. You make that look easy!"

It is the discovering and sharing of these keys that keeps Pak Herman so alive and fresh in my memory. The sting of his Cimande training is still with me, but it is his laughter that is still fresh in my heart. If you are one of my brothers and sisters lucky enough to have trained with him then I think you know of what I speak. If you were not, then we are lucky that Maha Guru Rita, Pak Dadang, Pak Bambang and Ibu Ikeu all have lots of keys to share also. I hope you get the chance to train with them.
Guru Rennie

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'm back! - Catching up

Greetings and Peace,
It has been a year and a day since my last blog post, but merely a week since I last thought of sitting down to do this update. There comes a point in the not-doing of something when it becomes an overwhelming task. In the case of this blog, which I have every intention of making a weekly posting, so many amazing changes have filled the year that I hardly know which to relate first.

So let's start with some highlights:
The most important, and one of the reasons I have trouble sitting down at the keyboard, is that Leo has grown from being a vibrant 1-year old into an adventurous, talkative, exploratory 2-year old. This is more fun on a daily basis than should be allowed. His favorite statement: "Ada, come play with me." Work can wait, neh?

I am in deep in the writing of a science fiction novel. At this moment I am perhaps 2/3 of the way through the first draft and it is a wonderful experience. I hope you read it when it is published. :)

I have turned over the Santa Cruz Gerakan Suci class to Guru Muda Steffan Thimmes. After two years of driving back to Santa Cruz from San Francisco on a weekly basis, I felt it time to let Steffan have a turn. I miss the group immensely, but have it on the schedule to visit once per month to teach mini-seminars.

The other reason I decided to make this change is the decision, reached with the wonderful help and support of my wife, to finally have my right shoulder surgically repaired. The doctor placed three anchors in the upper humerus to tie my labrum (shoulder cartilage) down and cleaned up the supraspinatus at the juncture of the bicep tendon. The great news is that it was successful and the pain is gone. I am rapidly recovering from the effects of the surgical intrusion also and should be back to full fighting form by the end of summer.

I completed the outline of Gerakan Suci 2.0 and quickly came to the realization that I wanted to test it for a year before I finalized the text. This is also a chance for me to see if Guru Muda Steffan can implement it successfully, or if it is too arcane in explanation. More on this as we progress.

I completed two students in Levels 1 & 2 of the Silat Kuntau Tekpi. Now I REALLY like this system. Having had a chance to go all the way through it with students who are proficient martial artists but without extensive Silat experience showed me it's depth contained within it's simplicity. I plan on teaching a group here in the San Francisco Bay Area as soon as my shoulder allows me to place people on the floor repeatedly. We can hopefully get started by this Fall.
Other than those busy makers I have spent the rest of my time integrating myself into the San Francisco tech/art/writing scene. There is a lot happening here and I am looking to get involved with a studio that produces animation and/or comics and/or games. As Leo says: "Ada, let's play."

Monday, April 30, 2007

Inaugural class in San Francisco

The Yoga Loft
April 28th marked the beginning of a new era for Pencak Silat Gerakan Suci with our inaugural class at the Yoga Loft. After a year of holding classes in my basement amidst unpacked boxes, baby toys and strollers we are opening up classes to more participants. We had a nice turnout to kick things off; Nelson, Jordan and Paul who have been studying with me here in my San Francisco basement; Steffan, Alice and Patrick came up from Santa Cruz and who also were kind enough to bring the tumbling mats. We were also joined by Guru Karen who teaches White Crane Silat at the Yoga Loft also. She is running an intro series at the same time as our class and fortunately for us at least no students showed up for her class so we benefited from her presence in our class. I am hoping though that students show up for her class starting next week!
There were many reasons I chose to hold classes at the Yoga Loft. It is centrally located with easy access from all parts of the City. There is reasonably good parking in the area. The space itself is large and spacious with two wood-floored studios. The yoga practice is centered on Iyengar, which I have been practicing for the last ten years and hope to continue my practice here. The energy in the space is what you'd expect from a studio that has had movement and dance in it's hallowed space for all of it's history. And of course the fact that they have another Silat class as well as Tai Chi and Chi Kung. Those that know me understand my commitment to knowing and working with other martial and dance styles. So with all of these positives it should be no surprise that I followed the clues to this lovely space.

This coincides nicely with the release of Gerakan Suci syllabus v2.0. I have finished dividing the physical curriculum into series order and am now dividing the other information into the series levels. This includes the conditioning, self defense, training guidelines, and internal practices such as breathwork and meditations. I have set myself the goal of having the first draft ready for editing by May 9th. In the meantime I have been moving the entire student body through Series One with a tentative test date of the first week of July. It is now compact enough that I expect students to be able to complete Series One in 4-5 months. For the Santa Cruz class this is review of previously learned material in a new order, while the San Francisco class is just getting fully into the material. This will give me a good idea of how the syllabus works with both experienced and beginner students.

White Crane Silat
I had the good luck to visit PGB in Bogor, West Java in 1992 after the Jakarta World Championships. It happened that there were several Americans training in Java when the Championships occured and they were invited by IPSI to join the American team. We were all invited to spend time training at PGB and so most of the pesilat that had traveled with me joined them in Bogor. It is a beautiful training hall set within traditional Chinese walls with a round gate opening.
I had heard of the art before but it was my first real exposure. White Crane is an example of 'hybrid vigor' in action. White Crane is a style of Kung Fu brought to Indonesia with the Chinese immigrants and over the years has absorbed many aspects of Pencak Silat. A simplistic way of describing the art would be to say that it has the training mindset and forms of Kung Fu with the infighting and movement paradigm of Pencak Silat.

Cikalong is not a crane
As an aside to this story, I studied White Crane Kung Fu for a year before I found Pencak Silat with Pak Herman. It is too far in my martial arts past to know how close it is to the Indonesian version, but there is still a soft spot in my heart for the art. This is the root of my saying that Cikalong had crane attributes. This was interpreted by Pak Herman as my calling it a crane style for which misunderstanding I take full responsibility. This has lead to even more misunderstandings. So let me chime in: Cikalong is not a crane style and it is not a bat style. It is not an animal style at all in the Kung Fu sense of the term. Cimande is not a water buffalo style either for that matter. They have may have the attributes of those animals, but the similarities end there. I used this imagery to help people learn to move and found it successful, but to avoid further confusion have dropped this from the current syllabus.
On the other hand Pak Monyet IS a monkey style and Pak Macan IS a tiger style. :)
Guru Rennie

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gerakan Suci 2.0

Salaam web traveler,
Welcome to Sifat Kilat, the attribute of lightning. My desire in this forum is to share my thoughts and experiences in the martial arts and perhaps stir up thoughtful discussion without stirring up too much controversy.
The title of the blog refers to the moment of understanding that comes when you have been working through a problem or challenge which usually strikes when you least expect it. My personal process of understanding includes working on different aspects of a challenge, whether a physical exercise or a mental conundrum, and then letting it rest and percolate. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes that stroke of lightning that illuminates the darkness for just an instant. But that instant is often long enough to see an answer. This will more often than not lead to more study and investigation and deeper understandings.

There are many things happening in my martial arts life that I hope you will find interesting. After living in Santa Cruz, California for 25 years, I moved to San Francisco a year ago. The main impetus for that move was getting married and having a child. The hardest part of having that child I left to my lovely wife Eleanor, but I did what I was able and we have been rewarded with the presence of an amazing young fellow by the name of Leo. (He will get his own blog soon, I will try not to wax on too much here.)
So, here I am in San Francisco, ready to share my love of Indo-Malay martial arts with the denizens of this fair city. I have three students of Gerakan Suci already and in a move to make classes more regular have contracted with the Yoga Loft to hold Saturday afternoon classes in their studios. This will also give us more exposure through their students and marketing efforts. I still have a great group working very hard in Santa Cruz and I am working equally hard to make sure they continue getting the direction they need to complete the training despite my having moved an hour away.
In an effort to bring greater understanding to my art I recently attended a teacher training workshop in Silat Kuntau Tekpi with Omar Hakim in Ausin, Texas. Omar had been telling me for several years what a great system of martial arts this was and I finally had the time and energy available to devote to learning it. I'm glad I did! Not only is it a a simple and elegant system in itself, it has provided me with wonderful insight into my own system. This is having immediate effects in that I have embarked on the process of reworking my own syllabus to make it more modular with more clearly defined goals.
Having worked with and refined the Gerakan Suci curriculum in its present state for the last 10 years I have been able to define it's strengths and weaknesses. I would say that it's greatest strength is that it is a complete art in so far as providing a good mix of self defense, artistry, fitness and spiritual practices. The major weakness is that even with clearly defined levels, getting students to a finished place has been difficult. Part of that is inherent to Pencak Silat in that it is based upon facility more than memorization; but another part is that because Gerakan Suci is a subset of Mande Muda, there is a huge amount of information to impart to the student. When I originally embarked upon the systemization of Gerakan Suci in early 1998 I was faced with a mountain of information that I had been bequeathed by Pak Herman Suwanda and his family. I went through a lengthy process of looking realistically at what I know well and what I knew only in passing. Of the information I felt strong about, I went through a further process of deciding what I felt I personally could apply to self defense, self improvement or artistic expression. What was left was what became the Gerakan Suci curriculum.
Now I feel that the only thing still missing from the art is an endpoint that is clearly defined and attainable within a reasonable amount of time.
This is something I have always respected in most of the Filipino arts I have come in contact with, particularly Bahala Na Eskrima which I had the honor of studying for a few years. A concise but complete amount of information that can be completed in two to three years with a defined process that allows one to explore and improve within the art for the rest of your life.
This is also precisely what I found in Silat Kuntau Tekpi and I am looking forward to learning and teaching more of this concise system.
This led has led me to rework my own syllabus into Gerakan Suci 2.0. The self defense, fighting and philosophical foundations of the art remain nearly the same, but I have found a way to shuffle the contents so that the system is more modular with clearly defined goals.
Also, one of the things I have found in my 20 years of teaching is that many people can grasp a technique only superficially unless you take the time to place it in context of the way the people who developed the art move. And any guru will tell you that Pencak Silat all comes down to good footwork. So my reordering of the curriculum has allowed me to include many of the exercises that are geared toward teaching this 'movement intelligence'.
In the spirit of solidarity.
Guru Rennie