Archived Thoughts

Being the Light

Posted On: Jul 07, 2012

In Pencak Silat an instructor's title is "guru." This word is also used in India, where it originated, and variations of it are used in other parts of Southeast Asian. I've heard/read a few theories on the origins of the word but the one that resonates most with me is as follows and these are my thoughts about the title and what it means to me personally.

The word guru is a composite word from old Sanskrit. "Gu" means darkness. "Ru" means light. So the title carries many implications.

Enlightened: doesn't mean "better than", it means "have seen the light" or "am in the light." It might be the light of spirituality or the light of understanding or the light of compassion.

"Bearer of light": a guru is one who sheds light on things for other people and guides people through the darkness and leads them from darkness into light - helps them to become enlightened. Again the "light" can be related to spirit, knowledge, compassion, etc.

As a Silat instructor I feel it's my responsibility to guide people from the darkness of ignorance into the light of understanding with the technical/physical understanding. I also feel it's my responsibility to lead by example when it comes to spirituality and compassion. I don't "teach" spirituality because spirituality is a personal experience and path. I strive to embody my own spirituality and help guide others to do the same by example.

"Passer of light": through teaching and example I guide other people to find their own light and encourage them to share it with others - to become a guru in their own right.

I believe the title of "guru" goes *way* beyond "teacher" - though "teacher" is by no means a trivial title. As a guru I am teacher, guide, mentor, role model, healer, protector, student.

The "student" aspect is as, if not more, important than the other aspects. If I don't keep an open mind and continue to learn then I will stagnate and my light will begin to dim from lack of maintenance. I learn from everyone and every experience. Some of my greatest teachers over the years have been my own students.

To any of my students who read this: thank you. Without students I would be like the old hermit guru living in a cave - my light would be confined to the cave, not helping anyone else, not bringing light into the world; it would be unmaintained and, ultimately, wouldn't be a light at all. If a light is hidden in a cave and helps no one then is there really a light at all? Effectively, no.

"Do or do not. There is no try"

Posted On: Jul 13, 2012

A famous line from "Empire Strikes Back" said by, of course, Yoda.

I realized several years ago that when you "try" to do something you only get better at trying.

People think that if I start an action and get knocked down that I "tried and failed." But I didn't. I started "to do" and got knocked down. There was no "try" involved. Nor was there a failure. The only failure is if I don't get back up and do it again.

Tangentially, there's a difference between "quitting" and "walking away". While the action might be the same, the motivation is completely different. One is reactive; you're making a fear based decision when you "quit." The other is active; you're making a choice to move toward a more preferable outcome. It may seem like semantics but there is some real meat there.

Back to trying. When you set out to do something, you must have no thought of "trying." The mindset of "trying" is very prone to hesitation and indecision. Hesitation and indecision almost always lead to failure.

Whatever you do, consider it as fully as possible before engaging, then engage and commit fully with the intention to "do" - the intention to complete. If you get knocked down or knocked off line simply pick yourself up or reorient and resume the doing.

When faced with a situation you have a certain amount of data available to you and a certain amount of time in which to make the decision. If you give as much consideration as possible to the data at hand in the time you have then you should never second-guess your decision later.

After the fact you will have more data available. If you'd had that data at the time your decision might have been different but that's irrelevant. You didn't have that data at the time. If you made the best choice you could with the data and time you had then there's nothing to regret.

What if your actions had unforeseen negative consequences? So be it. That's life. Make amends to those you hurt and move on but don't regret your decision. The only things worthy of regret at all are those times when you had the time to consider data but acted without consideration; this type of action is regrettable even if the outcome was positive.

Still doesn't mean you should regret it because done is done. Learn from it and let it go.

Lessons should be remembered and acted upon. Let go of everything but the lesson.

I want you to think

Posted On: Aug 10, 2012

A conversation with a Guru Eddie prompted this post. He thanked me for something I do when I'm teaching and I realized that it is something that people might misunderstand.

Sometimes when I'm teaching I might ask you why something doesn't work or how it could be improved. Sometimes I'll answer a question you ask with a similar question.

Guru Ken, my primary instructor, did the same thing to me. I can certainly understand how it might be frustrating but there's a method to my (our) madness. I promise.

If I spoon feed answers then, to use an old idiom, I'm giving you a fish. If I encourage you to find your own answers then I'm teaching you to fish.

Further, it helps get you used to thinking on your own and thinking outside the box. When I ask your opinion I actually don't want you to parrot my own words back to me. If you do, that's fine but ultimately I want you to find your own expression. When you find your own expression you are also finding deeper understanding of the material.

I love it when I ask a student's opinion on something and their answer is something I've not considered before. It makes me think and analyze the principles involved. I may agree with it or disagree but that's secondary to the act of thinking. Thinking about things, improving our understanding, that's why we're training and it's a two-way street.

A good teacher should routinely learn as much or more from his/her students than the students do in the exchange.

I don't care if your answer is right or wrong as long as you considered it and can give me reasons for your answer. Especially if they're reasons I haven't previously given you.

Thoughts on Teaching

Posted On: Sep 14, 2012

When I first started teaching, I was assisting my instructor. I was nervous as heck. Mostly because I was teaching in front of my instructor. I gradually got used to it but it took some time and I'd still get butterflies every time I got up to teach.

Then I was asked to teach a class at a school I was visiting. It was my first visit to the school and I'd barely met the instructor. Even now, I barely have any idea why he asked me to teach a class. I wasn't even a full instructor yet under my own instructor (I tested ~6 months later).

I called my instructor and explained the situation. His advice? "Blow them away."

I didn't know if I *could* blow them away. I had attended one of their classes where I was asked to share some drills with the assistant instructor (drills that I had and that the teacher was interested in but had never learned). While I was in the back of the class working with the assistant instructor, the head instructor was teaching. He had a bum knee (got surgery on it a week later, in fact). He could barely walk and couldn't stand on it for any time at all so he taught from a chair. I barely saw anything he taught because I was too busy working with the assistant instructor. I had no idea how good the instructor was or the level of his students. The only clue I had was that the assistant instructor was excellent and he was one of those guys who could pick up anything after only a few repetitions.

So, I went in to teach the class. The instructor wasn't there because of his knee. The owner/head instructor of the school was there, though.

I went into the class and I asked the assistant instructor what they usually did for warm ups. He named a drill they often used. I decided to start there but modify it slightly from the way they normally did it - just adding a little spice to it from my own background. The modification was, in my mind, trivial. The assistant instructor picked it up quickly, of course. The rest of the class was completely lost by this modification. I had very nearly blown them away without even trying. I thought, "Holy cow! I can bring out *anything*!"

The rest of the class went smoothly. In fact, it was one of those rare nights where I couldn't have screwed anything up if I had tried. Everything clicked & flowed as if it had been choreographed & rehearsed for hundreds of hours (which, in a way, it had but it's still a rare situation - I think I've had one other training session like that in the ~15 years since this event happened).

The head instructor watched most of my class. Afterward, he told me, "That was great stuff and you're an excellent teacher." I thanked him but explained that part of it was just the night; that it just happened to be a night when everything worked for me.

That experience was sort of the final puzzle piece in an epiphany that my unconscious mind had been putting together for me. I realized a few things:

1) If I'm teaching - unless I'm just explaining something to a training partner - then someone has asked me to teach. That means that, at the very least, they think I have something worthwhile.

2) When I'm teaching I'm not teaching the material. The material is just the vehicle I'm using to explain my understanding of the underlying principles. What I'm *really* teaching is my understanding of that material. Since no one else in history has lived my specific life and since my understanding is based on my life experiences inside & outside of training, no one else *ever* has had (nor ever will have) my specific understanding of the material.

From these two realizations came confidence. When I get up to teach, no matter what I'm teaching, it's completely unique. No one else can teach it the way I do. Consequently, *anyone* can learn from it. Even if it's my instructor or his instructor. Even if someone watching knows the material a thousand times better than I ever will, they might still learn something valuable from my expression of it.

This is the inverse of something else I've known for a while - not everyone has something to *teach* me but I can learn something from *anyone*.

Since then, I've had zero problems teaching. No matter who was watching.

Since then many, many other people - including some world class martial artists & instructors who are legends in their own system and well-respected outside of their own system - have complimented me on my understanding and teaching.

From all this, my advice:

1) When you start teaching, you will have years of training and hundreds (probably thousands) of hours of "dirt time." If you've been asked to teach then someone has faith in your ability to do so. If you keep a level head you will live up to or exceed expectations.

2) Be yourself. Remember that you're teaching your own understanding. No one else in the world, or in history, can do that.

3) There are no mistakes; there are only opportunities for exploration and growth. Remember that this maxim also applies to your students and their work.

4) Remember that you're still a student. Be open to learning - even from the lowest ranked person in the room; even from a spectator on the sidelines who has no training or experience in martial arts, you might still learn something from them and their questions/observations.

5) Be patient. First, be patient with yourself. Frustration at yourself can bleed over to how you treat students. Breathe. Relax. Move on. Second, be patient with your students. Remember, your instructor's patience is part of the reason you've made it this far. Third, be patient with everyone. You never know what kind of day they had before you dealt with them or what kind of life they have in general. For good or ill martial artists and, especially, instructors are looked to as role models and often held to a higher standard. We may sometimes fall short of those standards but we should always strive to set as good an example as we can.

There are certainly other things I could say but I think those five items give a very good, solid foundation on which you can build a very strong foundation for doing right by your students and properly representing the training you have been through and the spirit of the art you're teaching.

Another thing to remember is something I got from my old Goju-Ryu instructor.

One day he asked the class, "What is Karate?"

After a long, uncomfortable pause we each came up with an answer. He said, "Good. All of those are reasonable answers but they're all wrong. Karate is what I tell you it is."

Now, this statement may seem a bit overbearing or arrogant. I certainly thought so in the second after I heard it and before Shihan continued to explain that we, as students, don't really know what Karate is until he, or another instructor, tells us. His point was that, as instructors, we have a pretty huge responsibility. Our students don't know any better - though in this info rich age they are generally better informed than when my instructor was explaining this to us.

We must always do our best to do right by our students. To guide them along the path to the best of our ability and help them understand what martial arts is. We must always be true to ourselves, our teachers, and our training. It's certainly possible to misuse or abuse the position; to mislead or manipulate students out of some egotistical impulse. The students won't know any better (again, in this info rich age, they may figure it out at some point but the premise is still valid).

Going back to my previous comment about being role models. I don't know if it's a good thing or bad thing that we are often put in that position. Sometimes it causes people putting us on pedestals - which pretty much guarantees we'll stumble & fall off of them at some point, we're each just as human as the next person. However, since martial arts is, in a very literal way, "what we tell them it is" we have a responsibility to do our best to represent the endeavor well and help others find the same passion and benefits that we ourselves have found in our own training.

That is, exactly, why I teach.

Basically, everything in my life that I label as "positive" (with very few exceptions) I can attribute either directly or indirectly to my life in the martial arts. Martial arts have been *very* rewarding for me and have greatly enriched my life. I teach because I love sharing that with other people and I want to help them find similar benefits/enrichment in their own lives. In fact, on top of my sheer love of teaching, I feel a current of obligation to do so; to use my training to "pay it forward." If I can have a positive impact on just one life then it's like a pebble thrown into a pond; the ripples can influence many fish and if the influence is positive then the resulting ripples will likely be positive and, in this way, that one person I directly helped might help a dozen others (or more). It's a powerful and, for me, motivational thing to realize. It keeps me humble and makes me proud; I don't believe humility and pride are at all exclusive. It keeps me excited about what I do and excitement is one of the keys, if not *the* key to longevity both as a martial artist and in life.

In a *major* nutshell, I would sum up what I believe teaching to be in these five words: live, laugh, love, grow, share. Do those things and everything else should fall into place.

AGPS has a new physical HQ

Posted On: Oct 29, 2012

I've just rented a space in Prescott Valley, AZ (PV). It's about an hour south of where I currently live but my wife & I are moving to PV next month and the training space will be about 2 miles from our apartment so that'll be very convenient.

I don't plan to use it as a school, per se, though I will teach there on a semi-regular basis when I'm in town.

My primary goal for the space, though, is to use it to teach workshops and to host events.

It's not huge - only about 1,000 feet of training area and not a lot of parking - but should be able to fit 10 - 15 people pretty comfortably and maybe more, depending on what we're training.

Respect is a two way street

Posted On: Oct 31, 2012

An online discussion I was involved in recently reminded of a situation I saw. I'll explain it & post my thoughts on it. I think it's a valuable lesson and an important one that often gets lost in the mix of personal feelings.

So, here's the story. I'm going to change the names and make this "based on a true story" because the details of who/what/when/where aren't at all pertinent to the moral of the story and I don't want to ruffle any feathers for dragging private matters into a public forum.

I have a good friend who I'll call Brett. Brett is an excellent martial artist and instructor and runs a successful school with several instructors under him running their own schools around the nation.

I had the honor of watching a group of people go through their testing to become full instructors. Several of the other instructors in the organization came in to help administer the test. One of these other instructors, also a friend of mine, I'll call Terry.

Terry has his own school in a different state but Terry trained with Brett for years and has been an instructor under him for years. They are good friends and have been very close for years.

So, that's the back story and brief character intro.

Before the test, Terry went to Brett and expressed some concerns about a couple of the people being tested. Terry, who is a regular visitor to Brett's school, didn't feel that they were ready for the test.

Brett explained that, in his estimation, based on seeing them several times per week, he felt they were ready.

Between them, that was the end of the discussion.

Brett's wife, who I'll call Shannon, got very protective when she heard about this. She told Terry that it wasn't his place to question Brett's decision. Brett was the head of the system and they were Brett's students. Terry should have trusted Brett and not questioned his decision.

Things got a bit heated and I asked if I could say something.

I set my boundaries by saying that, while not part of their organization, I had seen and been involved in similar situations over the years and wanted to offer a more objective opinion that I wished someone had offerend in my own situations. Then I offered these thoughts:

Respect has to be a two way street. For Terry to question Brett's decision isn't necessarily a sign of distrust or disrespect. In fact, it seems to me to be just the opposite.

Terry saw what he considered a problem. He thouht his friend and mentor might be making a mistake. Out of concern for Brett and the organization, Terry voiced his reservations. Brett, in turn, stated his position. There's nothing disrespectful in that dynamic.

in fact, *because* of the mutual trust and respect Brett should *rely* on Terry for that kind of reality check. Terry should feel obligated by his respect for Brett to voice his concerns like that; it should be a duty.

On the other side, Brett's respect and trust for Terry should prevent him from dismissing the concern out of hand. He should stop and give serious consideration to it; pausing to avoid a knee jerk reaction.

In our government this type of thing is referred to as checks and balances. In this case, it's what helps Brett keep his feet on the ground and prevents him from following any tendency he might have toward becoming a tyrant. It also, in my estimation, forms a stronger bond when Terry and others see that they can voice their concerns and not get smacked down; that they are respected and considered important to the organization.

Obviously, it's Brett's system, his school, and his students so he has final say but he should be open to hearing and giving real weight to the concerns of those people he trusts and respects.

He promoted Terry to instructor so he should treat Terry as an instructor and as a respected peer.

------- End of Story ---------

Unfortunately, I have seen similar situations several times over the years and I have seen people hurt and organizations flounder because of things like this.

I think people often overlook this dynamic and I think it's an important thin to keep in mind.

In the business world, there are a lot of "micro-managers." They don't trust the people who work for them and they always check up on them or demand that every decision goes throug them.

Unfortunately, I see this same dynamic in martial arts pretty regularly.

Micro-management is not a good methodology in either realm. If I promote someone to a position of responsibility then it's because I feel their competent and able to handle that responsibility. if I don't allow them to manage those responsibilities as they see fit, including questioning my decisions, then I completely undermine their authority and they become a figure head and/or puppet who has a hard time earning anyone's respect.

When I promote someone to instructor level (at this point there's only been one) I consider him a peer. We're no longer teacher/student. We're both instructors. I'm kinda like an older brother, and he still looks to me for advice but he's got his own ship to run. he and I talk to make sure we're heading in the same direction but if he has a suggestion about that direction I expect him to voice it and I'll give it serious consideration and we'll discuss it as peers and determine if it's really the way we want to go. If he questions a decision I make, then the same process happens.

Wichita Group

Posted On: Nov 05, 2012

I'm currently in Wichita, KS. The group here has grown by two new members: Dan and Jarrod.

Both seem to be good additions to the group. They both seem hungry and eager to delve into the training.

I think they'll make good training partners for John, Martin, and Mike. It's good to see a group grow and I look forward to watching the group and individuals continue to grow as we move forward.

I arrived Thursday night and we began training on Friday. I've taught at least 2 hours each day, much of that was with the all five guys in the group and I taught a couple of workshops for John's Kenpo students.

It has been a fun and productive visit so far and I expect it will continue to be so. I fly back to AZ on Saturday and Margaret & I will start gearing up for our move from Sedona to Prescott Valley. Busy, busy, but all awesome.


Posted On: Dec 09, 2012

Met with one of the training coordinators for the Prescott Valley SWAT team last night. He's going to put me into the rotation. He's not sure when it will happen but at some point in the next few months I should have an appointment to work with the local SWAT team and help them develop some close quarters training methods.

It's always a pleasure to work with LEO, military, fire, and rescue personnel. Not only does it give me a chance to help those who serve, it also helps me expand my understanding of what is practical in areas where I don't have personal experience.

Guru Eddie Wells

Posted On: Mar 15, 2013

I formally certified Guru Eddie Wells a few days ago. it was witnessed by Guro Matt Campbell of Sayoc Kali.

Guru Eddie has been working with some officers here in Louisville and a couple of them came over the other night. Mark is a corrections officer and Olivia is a Louisville Metro police officer. They really enjoyed the training and Mark is working on getting Guru Eddie in to work with the Louisville corrections community. It looks very promising.

Strengthened Through Stress

Posted On: Mar 27, 2013

I can not stress enough the importance of keeping a level head in a stressful situation, even more important in a crisis. Panicking is always counter-productive.

Back in May of 2012, I was scheduled to depart on a train at 4:41 AM. I stopped at Walgreen's at 3:30 AM to get some last minute provisions for my trip. I opened my trunk and put the bag into my luggage then closed my trunk. Then I realized I had just locked my keys in my trunk.

My wife was an hour away so even if I could have gotten hold of her it wouldn't have done much good unless she could run out the door right then and even then it would be tight.

I called AAA. They said it might be an hour or more but they'd do their best. I was about a mile from the train station so I started walking. I figured that, in a worst case scenario, I had my ID & wallet so I could get on the train and get to Indianapolis then hit a store & buy toiletries and some clothes and make due for the next week. It would have been uncomfortable but not undoable. While I was walking to the train station AAA called and said someone would be at my car in 40 - 60 minutes.

I got to the train station, checked in, got my ticket, and a parking pass. The train was running late and they weren't expecting it to arrive until 5:10 AM. That gave me a little more breathing room. I called a cab and headed back to Walgreen's. I met the AAA guy there and about 15 minutes later he got my car unlocked.

I grabbed my keys & drove back to the train station. I got to the train station at 4:35 AM. Since the train was late I actually had plenty of time to spare but it had been an adventure. Especially on just a few hours of sleep.

The point is that if I had panicked and wasted any time I probably wouldn't have made it to the train. Life will always throw you curve balls and present you with stressful situations. If you keep a level head you're able to remain more objective. From a more objective standpoint you're usually able to make better decisions. You might not end up with your ideal results but if you keep your head you will almost certainly make progress and, more importantly, learn something useful along the way.

If you panic you waste time with unnecessary elements and, more often than not, you make snap decisions that are based on fear rather than logic. You make decisions to avoid the fear rather than progressing toward your goal.\nTraining in martial arts is, among other things, a very good way for developing the ability to keep a level head under stress. Even if the stress isn't exactly the same type you think you're preparing for in your training.\nThe more level headed you're able to stay the more likely you are to be strengthened by the experience. If you panic you will almost certainly not be strengthened by the experience and, in fact, you will often be weakened by it.\nChoose strength. When stress starts to build, breathe.

Years ago there was a popular meme: "What would Jesus do?" People walked around wearing bracelets that said "WWJD" and it was on bumper stickers and shirts. It was everywhere. The implications are probably pretty obvious. Around that time I read a book titled "What Would Buddha Do?"

It presented situations from our modern world, like getting cut off in traffic. Citing Buddhist scripture it theorized how Buddha might have handled the situation. That was interesting but the most insightful part of the book, in my estimation, was in the foreword. The author said that, of course, the book had been inspired by the WWJD concept but he explained that what Jesus or Buddha might have done really isn't the point. The point is that when you stop and ask yourself, "What would so-and-so do?" you pretty much have to give your self some time and take a more objective view of the situation. What Jesus or Buddha would literally do is less important than giving yourself time and objectivity to figure out what *you* are going to do.

This time and objectivity can also help you rein in your stress and lower your anxiety and turn a stressful situation into an opportunity for growth.

Burying My Brother

Posted On: Apr 03, 2013

This is the eulogy I wrote for my brother. Unfortunately, he's not the first person I've lost who was close to me and I have always found that writing about the person is cathartic for me. I share this here as a tribute to him and, hopefully, so other people can share in the life he lived and understand some more things about the forces in my life that have formed me - and being Rick's friend and brother certainly played a major role in who I am today.

Some of you might find some of the things I'm about to say irreverent. Bear in mind that I'm talking about Rick and Rick was often irreverent which makes these things fitting. They are the kinds of things I said to him in our relationship.

Blood is thicker than water. That's the saying. People interpret this to mean that blood relatives should be more important than other people. And maybe they *should* but that's not really how the world works.

People are people. Doesn't matter if they're blood relatives or not. I know plenty of people who have been completely screwed over by blood relatives.

Ultimately, the people we *choose* to have in our lives are our true family. They may or may not be related to us by blood. That doesn't matter. What matters is that they're the people we reach out to when we're in pain or need help and they're always there for us. That's what determines true "family" in my understanding of the world.

Rick Rumler and I met in the spring of 1978 when we started training in Tae Kwon Do together. We have been friends ever since. There were times I wanted to throttle him and I'm sure he could have said the same about me but disagreements are part of life; part of relationships. Dealing with them and moving on is what defines a healthy relationship.

After 10 or 15 years of friendship Rick and I sort of unofficially adopted each other as brothers. And we meant that in the purest sense of the word. We were as close as any blood relatives ever could be. He always had my back. I always had his. There was no question about it. Brothers. Period.

We stood together in quite a few fights, usually instigated by something Rick had done, but we stood together against all odds. And sometimes those odds were pretty hairy. We were roommates for a time. He bailed me out of jail. We got in a lot of trouble together and pulled each other out of a lot of it.

Rick also introduced me to Guru Ken Pannell and the Filipino & Indonesian martial arts that have been at the center of my life for nearly 20 years. And the connection to the Filipino & Indonesian martial arts communities have led me to a wealth of other friends who I call family.

I can't begin to express how glad, how honored, I am to have been Rick's "mijo."

He will be sorely missed by me and many, many others. He touched so many lives. Not always in a pleasant way but he touched them nonetheless.

A great quote I got from a man I hold in high regard, Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman: "Pain shared is pain divided. Joy shared is joy multiplied." The profundity of this quote is mind boggling. Think about it for a moment: "Pain shared is pain divided. Joy shared is joy multiplied."

As we enter this next chapter of our lives without Rick things will be tough. There will be a lot of pain. Share it with others who knew him. It divides it. Don't be ashamed of it. Don't try to bottle it up. It's healthy and natural.

But always remember that behind the pain lies joy. The joy of the influence Rick had on our lives. The joy that he brought to his interactions with so many people. That joy is part of the mix. Don't overlook it. Don't be ashamed of it either. We're not happy he's gone; we're happy that he was part of our lives. He wouldn't want us to wallow in our grief. Deal with it. Move through it. It'll be hard but keep moving. Find the joy that lies beneath the surface of that pain. And share it with others who knew him. It will multiply.

In this way we can continue to allow Rick to influence our lives. There's a little bit of Rick in each of us who knew him - and I don't mean that in the way Rick might have meant it. Find the joy. Use those best parts of Rick to help other people and to touch their lives in a positive way. Rick sometimes failed in this but that was always his goal even if no one else could see it.

Processing Grief

Posted On: Apr 19, 2013

I, along with many people I know, am grieving the loss of Rick Rumler. The pain of the loss of a loved one is indescribable. It's hard to process and hard to work through the grief.

The loss leaves a large void in our hearts and our lives. We keep expecting him to walk through the door or call us on the phone. That void sucks us into darkness and we begin to see everything through a filter of pain and grief.

This is natural but incredibly painful. Stumbling around in that darkness, looking for a way out is difficult. Ultimately, we must pull ourselves out of that void and move on with our lives. When you're at the bottom of the pit, though, the top is often beyond our sight and our reach. Progress out of the pit is slow and tenuous and, as often as not, it's measured in millimeters, not inches or feet and backsliding is common. When each inch gained is a major triumph, backslides, especially when we find ourselves back at the bottom, are incredibly traumatic.

All of this, too, is natural. That doesn't make it any easier, of course, but it is natural. It's easy to feel lost and alone but others have and are feeling similar things; especially others who are mourning the same loss. Each of us experiences it in a different way and each of us must find our own way out but the process is essentially the same at the core, no matter how we perceive it or explain it to ourselves.

A lot of people can't understand the concept behind the first loved one I lost. It was August 1980. I was 9 years old. My family had a terrible car accident. Everyone survived but my mom was thrown from the car and sustained injuries that plagued her for the rest of her life. That wreck and the aftermath changed her so drastically that my young mind and emotions couldn't process it. The only way I could begin to understand it was by concluding that my mom had died in that accident and had been replaced by a different woman, a step-mom of sorts, who inhabited the same body. Very quietly and secretly, I grieved the loss of my mom. My memories from that time are fuzzy. I don't remember making a conscious decision to keep it a secret. I don't even remember a conscious thought process about the perception that she'd died and been replaced. It's only when I look back on it that I can see that that's how I handled it.

The next big loss was my Uncle Dave. Dave was my mom's younger brother. We were very close and he was more like a big brother than an uncle. He taught me how to throw knives and tomahawks; he taught me the basics of using a whip and a lasso. He often took me out to shoot firearms. He trusted me with some of his secrets and I trusted him with some of mine. He was the only person in my life that I ever idolized. When I was 15 he killed himself; taking a swan dive off of that pedestal I'd erected for him. I was devastated. I thought, "If the world is too hard for him, what chance do I have?" It took me seven years to process his death to the point where I could talk about him and his death without breaking down. I still have to make a conscious effort not to erect emotional walls when someone mentions suicide; those walls make it hard for me to help people and they aren't productive.

The next deaths I had to deal with were my paternal grandmother and maternal great-grandmother. I was close to both of them in the way that adults are often close to grandparents. Their deaths were easier, though, because they were elderly and in declining health for a while before they died.

My mom's sister, Aunt Becky, also killed herself. I hadn't yet learned how to prevent my emotional walls from coming up so her suicide didn't hit me hard for a while. Really, her suicide is what led me to the realization that those walls were counterproductive and I started working on keeping them down so I could process things better and be more helpful to those around me.

In 2005, I lost a very dear friend named Bryan Whorton. He was 38 and died in his sleep after a massive heart attack. His death was incredibly difficult.

In 2012, my mom died. Now my friend and brother, Rick, has died.

There are actually a few other deaths I've had to deal with over the years but these are certainly the big ones.

I don't know if that many deaths is common for a forty year old or not. What I do know is that dealing with all these deaths has given me some tools that help me process death quicker and more efficiently than a lot of people around me are able to do.

I'm still struggling with Rick's death but it's only been three weeks. When Bryan died it took me a few months to process so I expect this will take that long, maybe a little longer because I was even closer to Rick than I was to Bryan.

The thing is that a lot of people I know who were close to Rick are struggling too but they don't have the same tools I have for dealing with it. So I want to share some of the lessons I've learned.

Since each person's grieving is unique, some of my tools won't be applicable for some people. I think, though, that some people will find some of them useful and, hopefully, other people will find them useful in their own grieving now or in the future.

First, I'd recommend downloading and listening to this:

That audio is very relevant to a lot of what I'm about to say; in fact, that audio gave me some of the phrasing and framework to explain these things.

Emotions exist to be experienced. That's their only reason for existence. Emotions are neutral. We label them positive or negative based on the context of the experience but the emotions themselves are neutral. An example comes from my Uncle Dave's suicide. At the time, I certainly labeled the emotions I experienced as being negative. However, that experience was a huge catalyst in my development; it had more impact on who I am today than any other single experience. Since I'm very happy with who I am today I can't call that experience negative. It was incredibly painful and I wouldn't wish it on anyone else but I wouldn't change it even if I could.

In order to move on and climb out of the pit we have to deal with the emotions that arise. As far as I know, the *only* way to deal with those emotions is to (1) go into the emotion, (2) experience the emotion completely, and (3) let go of the emotion completely. The stronger the emotion the more likely it is to resurface but each time we enter, experience, and release that emotion it loses power. The first time we experience it it's huge and can knock us flat, leave us gasping for breath. If we fully experience it and let it go, then the next time it arises it's less powerful. It still hurts like hell but maybe it only takes us to our knees instead of knocking us flat. Each time we deal with it we take some power from it. It ceases to be a huge, ravening beast tearing us apart and we're able to recognize that it's a part of us and, over time, we're able to make peace with it. It's not easy but it is possible; it's necessary if we want to move past the grief in a healthy way.

One of the most important things to remember is that "moving on" does not mean "moving away" from the person we've lost. It means moving on with them still in our hearts and memories. The influence they had on us will always be with us, part of us, and, in this way, they will walk with us as we move on. We don't leave them behind, we just learn to live with them in a different way.

Personally, I've always been one for facing things pretty directly. So, for instance, spending a few weeks in Rick's house was helpful for me. I kept expecting him to come through the door or to hear him grumbling over some project in another room. Every time my expectation arose, I had to face the fact that he wasn't there; I gained a little more closure and it hurt a little less. Each time, the reality of his death sank in a little deeper.

Pain is temporary ... unless we hold onto it and let it fester. Enter, experience, let go. Move on. Each of us must find our own methods for accomplishing this but that's the bottom line.

Processing Grief - Part 2

Posted On: May 24, 2013

Watching "Warehouse 13" and there was a great quote about grief that inspired me to write and expand on the quote. It's similar to something I've posted before but that's OK. It's my blog :p

"Real, gut wrenching grief is not something you can power through or ignore. There's no detours, no shortcuts. You look it in the eye and you do battle and you keep doing battle until you are finished with it and it is finished with you. And if you're not willing to accept that, then it will eat you alive." -- Abigail Cho (played by Kelly Hu) in Warehouse 13, S04E14

This jibes completely with my personal experiences with grief.

When I was in my early twenties, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. When I was fifteen my Uncle Dave, my idol, killed himself. Seven years later I still had not finished grieving. I had been avoiding the grief and pain. I was literally haunting myself with the memory of my uncle. Each memory brought fresh pain and something else to avoid.

I realized, though, that the avoidance wasn't productive. That, one way or another, it would kill me.

The pain must be faced, entered, experienced fully, and released. Until we do that, it will keep resurfacing. It will keep haunting us.

It isn't easy. It's incredibly painful. The battle analogy is good. And it's a process. Along the way, the same battles must often be fought multiple times before we're able to fully work through them. The thing is that each time a battle resurfaces we must face it head on. Each time we do we process a little more of the pain. If we keep facing it, it becomes less painful and, eventually, we're able to face that memory without pain. We're able to remember the good without reliving the pain of the loss.

I've seen many people who either avoid it completely (as I did for quite a while) or they're unwilling to face each battle fully. This makes the process take much, much longer. There is no set or average duration for the process. I've heard some people claim things like five years or other such numbers but I think these are all arbitrary numbers. I think there are so many factors that can go into it that it varies from person to person and, even for the same person, from loss to loss.

Ultimately, the only time we have is now. The present. That's it. That's the only time we can truly accomplish anything. We mustn't concern ourselves with how long it takes us, or others, to process grief. We must deal with the present. When the pain arises, face it. Enter it, experience it fully, and move on. Every time the pain returns, repeat the process.

Wichita Visit

Posted On: May 31, 2013

Just spent a week with the group in Wichita. Covered quite a bit of ground. John, Martin, and Mike are now starting to dig into the Level 2 material. Dan and Jarrod are making good progress on Level 1.

It's a really good group and I have a feeling it's going to gradually expand over time.

Kerambit Seminar in Greenfield, IN

Posted On: Jun 01, 2013

Taught a kerambit seminar in Greenfield, IN today at Kingdom Martial Arts. Hosted by Steve Guinn. It was only two hours but we had a good turnout and covered some good ground on kerambit usage.

Afterward, Steve and I spent some time going over more advanced concepts and wound up talking and training for nearly four more hours. Pretty common situation when I get on a roll. It was good, though. Steve is a great guy and a seasoned martial artist and always fun to visit and work with.

AGPS Weekend Intensive just around the corner

Posted On: Nov 14, 2013

In six short days people will begin arriving for the AGPS Weekend Intensive and we'll kick off the training at 2 PM on Friday, November 22.

I plan to cover a lot of ground over the weekend with 20+ hours of training.

Friday will focus on foundational Silat material, some of the nuts and bolts of AGPS.

Saturday will expand on that foundational material and take a look at some of the conceptual underpinnings for developing functionality in the material.

Sunday will cover the foundations of blade usage and defense employed by the AGPS methodology.

Saturday and Sunday will both be "high speed, low drag" days with a lot of time for reps and "dirt time."

The schedule is pretty ambitious but I guarantee everyone will come away with valuable material, a better understanding of AGPS and, by extension, martial arts in general, and I'm sure it will be a blast.

I plan to make this an annual event. Right now I'm planning to start it on the 2nd Friday of October each year so in 2014, it will run from Oct 10 - Oct 12.

Hopefully this event will grow each year and we can develop a strong AGPS community.

Non-AGPS practitioners are always welcome too. There's something for everyone.

I'm excited about this!

Success! AGPS Weekend Intensive 2013

Posted On: Nov 28, 2013

The first annual AGPS Weekend Intensive was a success. We had a small turn out but covered a lot of ground and put in ~20 hours of training over the three days.\nGuru Eddie Wells was in attendance but, due to a recent car accident, was on limited activity. He floated around helping me teach and giving pointers. His presence was very appreciated by all, though. His years of training and his ability to teach were very helpful to everyone.\nTom Keenan came all the way from Cincinnati, OH. He's only recently gotten back into martial arts training after a long hiatus and he was surprised at what came out of his body. He and I have been friends for a long time and I'm honored that he has chosen to train in AGPS.\nTony Lyle, my most consistent local student, was in attendance. His time with me over the past few years has been focused largely on aspects tangential to the main AGPS curriculum. We have spent a lot of time exploring what he already knows and deepening his understanding of areas he felt were lacking. After this weekend, though, he's really interested in directly exploring the AGPS curriculum.\nCurt Jablin has been training with me for a few weeks, focusing on Cacoy Doce Pares Eskrima. This was his first real exposure to AGPS or, for that matter, Silat in general. He was excited by it. He said it ties together a lot of (seemingly) disparate things he's learned over the years. It was a major paradigm shift for him but he stuck with it and his enthusiasm for training was infectious. He asked some really good questions that helped everyone's understanding.\nThis event will be annual. The current plan is to kick it off the first Friday of October each year. The location might change from year to year - in fact, it might change drastically. My wife and I are feeling the wanderlust pretty strongly and are planning to become full-time RVers. We'll always consider Sedona, AZ our home and we'll return to it regularly to recharge our batteries, so to speak, but the RVs will enable us to be much more mobile. Each year I will determine the venue by the end of March and I will post it on my website at and I will create a FaceBook event for it and post it on my timeline.\nThe more I work with people the more I realize that I have developed something powerful and special with AGPS. The training methodology and the mindset behind the training appeals to a lot of people. The AGPS curriculum will continue to evolve and the organization will continue to grow. Each new member brings new experiences and information into the organization and helps shape the evolution of the curriculum. I'm excited by the prospects I see on the horizon and I thank everyone who is part of it, helping it grow and develop. And I thank everyone who will become part of it. The whole already exceeds the sum of its parts but I expect the difference between the two will continue to grow as the system continues to evolve.\nHere are some images from the event.\n[|Gallery:AGPS_Weekend_Intensive_2013|]

Memorization and Repetition

Posted On: Dec 02, 2013

Recently, on FaceBook, an acquaintenace asked which is more important in martial arts, memorization or repetition.\nA friend of mine, Mike Butz, responded with this:\n"Hmmm...depends on the goal. If one wants to learn a 'system', then memorization is more important. If one wants to develop the skills that a system it's designed to develop, then repetition is more important."\nI totally agree with this and would have posted something very similar if Mike hadn't posted it first. So I posted a sort of extension/expansion and I think both Mike's and mine are worth posting here so, here's my extension/expansion on that.

Memorization (mimicry) is important early on. It's a stage that, as far as I know, everyone must pass through. Consequently, it's vital to training in martial arts. Repetition is vital to memorization.\nBut ultimately we're talking about martial *arts*. The key to true "art" - regardless of medium - is self-expression. The only way to reach a level of self-expression is through internalization of the methodology. \nMy primary instructor, Guru Ken Pannell, told me once, many, many moons ago, "At a certain point you cease to 'do' a thing and you *become* that thing."\nHe was talking about this internalization. When it's internalized you "become" (in this case) a "martial artist" as opposed to someone who "does martial arts."\nWhen you're at the memorization (mimicry) stage, you're "doing" martial arts. But you're not a "martial artist" yet because there's no self-expression.\nRepetition is the key to internalization. So repetition is the key to becoming a "martial artist."\nFrom this perspective, then, memorization is mandatory. Everyone does it. Repetition is mandatory in order to memorize. But to *become*, the repetition must be taken to a whole different level so it's internalized. At this point it's a choice. It's no longer mandatory.\nAnyone can train in martial arts. Relatively few *become* martial artists.\nSo, to train in martial arts, memorization and repetition are mandatory. To become a martial artist, repetition and, really, *forgetting* what you memorized is paramount.