Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

When did it all become a contest?

Recent events have reminded me of an essay I wrote about five years ago.

I penned this shortly after having a run-in with a member of "The Pointy Turban Club(tm)", my name for the kind of people who try to promote themselves, their teacher and their "fan club" over all others by trying to tear down whatever isn't them.

I find my thoughts about this subject to be equally applicable to martial arts and a host of other areas of human endeavor as well.

This unfortunate behavior is one of the things that is killing us, we really should find a way to fix it.

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When Did Tasawwuf Become A Contest?

One day a seeker came to Haji Bektash Wali and asked; "Why do the Tariqas differ so much?" Haji Bektash replied " To shoot an arrow into a target you must have several things, an arrow, a bow, a bow string and thumb ring, and a man to pull the bow and aim the arrow. These are the elements that make up the act of shooting. They are called a path (tariqa)."

"But if the aim is to hit one object with another, then there are ten thousand way of doing so. Only the superficial would think that shooting an arrow is the only way of hitting one thing with another. This is called The inner Path (Mar'ifa)."

"All you have to do to find your answer is to realize this"

"But" The seeker persisted, "How are we to tell which is the correct way for us?"

Haji Bektash replied, "The people who pretend that you will be able to know the most suitable path for yourself are the same ones who pretend that what you like is what you need. Undeveloped man does not have the capacity to find the way for himself. He needs someone to arrange the circumstances, such as aligning two things in such a way that they collide, as in the analogy of the arrow and the target."

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My Shaykh has said over and over "we may only accept those who belong to us". This is why when someone comes to our meetings and asks for initiation he may be refused, though he is often allowed to stay with us if he wishes, until he finds his place.

There has been an unfortunate tendency in the spirituality of the West to forget this simple truth; that different people will need different circumstances in order to grow toward Allah.

It sometimes seems that there is some kind of contest going on. How many murids can we get? How much money can we get? How many books can we get our names on? How much like a Sufi can we look, without ever wondering about how much like a Sufi we can act?

In times past it was said "Sufism is Adab" (good manners). While lip service is still paid to this idea, one wonders if anyone can describe the actions of Adab anymore. Make no mistake about
this, Adab is action. It does one no good at all to know all the "rules" if one does not implement them. The clothes of a Darvish will not help if one has the manners of a donkey. To think about good conduct, to dream about it, to judge it in others is meaningless if one does not act on what they think they know.

In today's milieu of events and seminars we often see the murids of one Shaykh whispering slander about another Shaykh. We see murids putting forth their teacher as the only real possessor of knowledge available with the intimation that all others are frauds.

What is even sadder is that we see one Shaykh snubbing another in public, or speaking ill of another to their students. We the students learn by following the example of our teacher.

Perhaps it is time that we look to the teachings of Futawwah (spiritual chivalry).

The Prophet (SAW) said:
From Sahih al Boukhari Volume 4, Book 56, Number 759

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Amr:
The Prophet never used bad language neither a "Fahish nor a Mutafahish. He used to say "The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character."

Spiritual chivalry is the path of good behavior and good character. It has always been part of the Sufi way in that Ali ibn abu Talib was the first among the Chivalrous and passed futawwah to us
as part of Tariqa.

It is possible that the path of spiritual chivalry found within the Tariqas is the cure for the disease of wanting to be seen as the "highest" or "only" or "best". It could be the antidote for wanting more money than Allah thinks you need, or feeling that the only way that the worth of a Shaykh can be seen is to belittle all others.

Does any Tariqa really need to compete for followers? Is there any shortage of souls longing for Allah? It seems to me that the need to be seen as the "best" or "highest" misses the point. Is not Allah the Best and Highest? Should we not be focusing on Him rather than jockeying for some illusory position in some meaningless hierarchy? What will we say when we stand before Allah and he says "This person, who I wanted for one of My lovers was turned away from Me when he heard you backbiting one of my Khalifas?"

Personally, this is a conversation I would not want to have.

What is it really saying about us when we find ourselves comparing our silsila to that of another Tariqa and finding theirs lacking?

These are questions that are perhaps important to answer if we are going to keep Tasawwuf on the straight path here in the west.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

This seems to be a week for unfortunate events

There has been a lot of traffic on this blog from a couple of different forums this last couple of days from people interested in what I have written about South African knife fighting.

While this is a good thing it did give me a bit of a reminder as to the world situation.

I am always interested in what people are saying about my writings, and often to see the various comments I am required to register for a forum.

Until yesterday this has not been a problem.

Yesterday I registered for one of the forums that has been coming here in pretty good numbers, within just a few minutes my account stopped working and all I would get was a "you are not allowed to view this page" message.

This seemed a bit odd so I zapped off a message to the moderator, I received no reply back. I sent another inquiry, again without results.

Later that evening I was chatting with a friend and mentioned the problem I was having with this forum (he is a member) and asked if there were technical problems.

He replied,

"Did you use your real name when you signed up?"

"Sure" I said.

"There's your problem" he tells me. "Most of the people who run that forum are hard core right wing Christians, they have a real hate going for Muslims".

"Oh" I said, "I hadn't thought of that".

He tells me "I bet one of them saw your name and turned your account off because they think you will steal all their secrets and give them to Muslim terrorists".

"Really?"

"yeah, some of them are real mean hearted".

"Bummer, so you think I am not going to be well received there even though I am a really nice guy and am quite witty and personable?"

"Nope, I suspect they will just call you names and rat pack you if you were to post there."

I wonder why so many of them are visiting my blog then, do you think they are trying to steal all my secret techniques and give them to Christian terrorists?"

"Could be."

"Well I guess it's lucky I don't have any secret stuff then."

I don't know if the moderators have really bumped my account because I have a Muslim name, I hope not. These days though it would not surprise me much if it were the case.

Sometimes I really dispair of the fate of humanity. If Christians actually followed the instructions of Jesus (as) and Muslims really followed the instructions of the Prophet (saws) we would not be in the mess we are today. I guess it is just too hard for most people to do this though, I know I have a difficult enough time with it.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

I seem to have forgotten

I did write a little about the South African Knife

here.

It may be worth reading.

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South African Knife Fighting

Seems to be a popular subject this week.

I have just finished checking my stats for this blog and there seems to be a pretty good discussion on some of the martial arts forums regarding South African knife and "Piper".

This is a nice coincidence as I have just given my first public presentation on what (little) I know of this material at our Fall Gathering of the Tribes.

Since there is some interest, I thought it would be a good time to post something on the subject.

As some of you know, I have returned a little while ago to the States after living for the better part of a year in Africa, where I worked teaching English, computer graphics and Pencak Silat.

I also had the chance to learn a few things as well, the two that apply here are learning a little something about the fighting methods and weapons of the Maasai tribe, one of the very few peoples to have preserved their traditional culture in East Africa, and something of the knife fighting methods used among the "underclasses" in and around Cape Town South Africa.

I have written a little about what I learned from my Maasai friends elsewhere on this blog, but I haven't really addressed the material from South Africa.

I should state first though, that I am not an "expert" on Piper or any other form of African combat. I am just a student and observer without even half the skills of someone who has grown up developing these skills because they were needed to survive. The best I can hope to offer is that I am a trained observer with a background that allows me to understand what I experienced, and a good enough teacher that I can pass on what little I know.

I had the opportunity to learn about South African knife work because I made the acquaintance of two brothers from Cape Town, South Africa who had immigrated to Arusha, Tanzania in hopes of finding a better life. They were willing to teach me something of what they had learned running the streets of Cape Town for two reasons, The first being that I had a good recommendation (one of my students was the girl friend of the older brother) and because I was willing to pay them for their knowledge, and money is an important motivator in Africa. All told I spent no more than six months working with them to develop what skills I have.

That being said, let me tell you what I do know about "Piper" and knife Use from South Africa. (The guys I trained with never called it Piper or any other name BTW, they just called it knife fighting)

First, it is neither a martial art or self defense. It is a set of skills developed for use in the commission of a crime or to wage war on rival gangs or individuals.

It is no better than high level knife fighting found in other cultures and no worse. It is however different, and those differences give it a real advantage if one has not trained to deal with them, or have never experienced them before.

The story goes that Piper was developed from Zulu spear fighting. I suspect that there is some truth to this. I think that much of the way Piper is done also comes from the type of weapons it uses, which are often home made and/or of poor quality. It takes a good piece of steel and some time and skill to make a cutting weapon that will hold an edge and not break. It is however possible to make a stabbing weapon that will work well and last, out of much poorer quality metal and in a much shorter time. You can't get a good edge on rebar, and it would take hours of work to grind it down by hand, but you can put a killing point that will hold up just fine on the same piece of rebar in less than a half hour of work.

So it is likely that some of the focus on stabbing motions comes from the traditional use of the short Zulu thrusting spear, and some of the focus comes from expedient use of materials at hand.

Most people have heard the saying that "there are only so many ways a human body can move". This is completely true as far as it goes, but misses something important. Every culture has a unique way of moving that is found in the timing and rhythm of the movement and in how the different portions of a person's body are united (or not) in a movement.

For example, (please bear in mind that I am generalizing here so there will be plenty of exceptions to be found) Americans tend to keep their pelvic girdles locked to their torsos, whereas many African cultures will allow the pelvic girdle to "gimble" freely during movement. This will give two significantly different methods of power generation.

The other major thing that makes us all move differently is the "rhythm" of a culture. It is somewhat difficult to describe this intellectually, but it is quite easy to see (and feel) it experientially. The single best way I know of to experience the "rhythm" of a culture is to listen to its music and watch/learn its dance. These two things, culturally defined limits to movement and cultural rhythms give an almost infinite variation to the ways a person can move the standard two arms, two legs, torso and head.

South African knife moves with a very different rhythm than will be found in either the East or West, and the looseness of the body generates speed and energy very effectively but very much in its own way.

Another thing that makes African knife use so dangerous is attitude.

For instance, one of the first things I learned about the Maasai is that they are considered very dangerous because they will not hesitate to kill someone who crosses them. If you step over the line with a traditional Maasai he will not "woof" or threaten, he just attacks, ant there is no holding back on the attack, the intent is to kill.

In Africa, frankly life is cheap, and there is not the instilled fear of "authority" or consequences that tends to inhibit Westerners from being quite so decisive.

So one thing that makes South African knife so dangerous is a complete willingness to kill one's opponent and the committed intent to do so.

What I have done is to take what I was taught and extract a set of higher order principles from it that will make the learning of these skills both more effective and more efficient. The biggest weakness to the South African knife as I learned it is that the information is not organized at all and the skills are acquired by "hit or miss" (no pun intended).

So that is the basic information on South African knife fighting as I understand it. As always I will be delighted if there are any questions.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An Open Letter To Shaykh Guru Bapak Waleed (AKA Leanardo)

Life is strange.

Mostly I do my best to avoid politics in both the martial arts and Sufism, though there is plenty to be found in both. Sometimes it seems to come looking for me though.

When it does, I have to decide what to do, what kind of response will be both effective and honorable. Usually it will involve ignoring whoever thinks that there might be some advantage to choosing me off.

Sometimes though someone will do something so reprehensible that a more active response is warranted.

Yesterday I discovered such a case.

If you read the comments sections to my entries, you may have noticed that Bobbe Edmonds was trying to get hold of me, as it turned out he had quite a story to tell.

It seems that some fellow tried to become his student under false pretenses in order to attempt to "convert" him to Islam, talk him into joining a branch of the Haqqani-Naqshbandi Sufi order and become the Student of a Silat teacher in Michigan who styles himself Shaykh Bapak Waleed. (Elder-Mister-Waleed).

This in itself would be strange enough but the way this fellow chose to try to convince Bobbe how valuable what he was offering was by denigrating me.

Now this is rather odd because Bobbe is not now nor has he ever been my student, but the person in question seemed to focus on my many failings as a Muslim, a Sufi and a Pesilat as the way to convince Bobbe that he should put himself under Waleed's care.

Is this starting to sound bizarre to you? It sure does to me.

So Waleed, by sending his minion to slander me to Bobbe, attacked a personal relationship and an important one, because the healthiest relationships are found in one's peer group, because the communication will be "horizontal" rather than the vertical communication found in the teacher/student relationship.

I mention this because it is possible that Waleed does not have any "horizontal" relationships. If you examine his website it is apparent that his identity is tied to being seen as a "teacher" and a "Spiritual guide". The focus of the site is very much on him rather than his art. This can be indicative of a particular kind of damaged personality that is not capable of tolerating any relationship that is not in a hierarchy (preferably with them at the top). This pathology prevents any real connection with other people and allows the individual to justify all manner of unethical behavior. The whole "God is on our side" mentality often comes out of sort of situation. This is also how cults develop.

So what we have is two people, neither of whom know me, neither of whom have spent any significant time with me (I met Waleed twice several years ago for a total of maybe a couple of hours in social situations. This Gerpinski fellow claims to have had meaningful contact with me at a seminar I attended back in 03, but I do not remember him at all, and the events he describes are fabricated).

So what does one do in a case like this? As I mentioned, I usually just ignore them. In this case though, not only was I attacked but these people felt the need to drag my Teacher's name into this and attempt to drag him down as well. I find this to be something a bit more deserving of action. He does not know these people and does not deserve to be dragged into their need to seek out students through false pretenses.

What I did was send him this letter, which I include unedited.

(with comments to follow)

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Salaam Alaykum Waleed,

While it has been several years since we have met, and then only for a few hours, it seems that you and I have a problem.

A man claiming to be a senior student of yours by the name of Bill Gerpinski (sp?), has recently visited a friend of mine, Guru Bobbe Edmonds, and for reasons best known to you and him, I seem to have been a major topic of conversation.

This in itself would have been strange enough as I do not know this person, and you and I have spent no more than a couple hours in each other's company, but it is even more troubling as your student seems to have done nothing more than engage in slander and backbiting about me and others while aggrandizing you and your teacher at the expense of everyone else.

Your student has claimed that I am not a true Muslim, not a true Sufi, that my Shaykh is not a true Shaykh, and that your student had to school me in how to make wudhu at a seminar I attended with another teacher as well as a whole slew of other pathetic slander. The purpose of this seems to have been to convince Bobbe that he should become a Muslim, join the Haqqani-Naqqshbandi and become your student, so that he could receive all manner of "special" teachings.

I have to say that I am rather appalled at your student's idea of Dawa.

Usually I would have dismissed the rather bizarre actions of your student as nothing more than the sort of deranged behavior that has always been found in the underbelly of the martial arts and not something having anything to do with you, but frankly, Shaykh Nazim's students have had a longstanding and well deserved reputation for bad-mouthing the Shaykhs of other orders behind their backs in an attempt to convince their students to leave their teachers and become the murids of Shaykh Nazim or Shaykh Hisham. So I can only assume, in light of history that your student did these reprehensible things with your knowledge and at your request.

This sort of slander does not represent Islam, Sufism, or Silat well, and the need to go fishing for students is frankly a pathological behavior, one found more often with cultists rather than those who claim to follow the Sufi path.

The oddest thing about this though is that Bobbe has never been my student, or the student of my Shaykh, though I am happy to consider him a good friend, so slandering me to him would seem rather pointless.

I have pondered on what to do about this, usually when people speak ill of me behind my back I just ignore it as it only shows the character of the speaker. In this case though, since your student has chosen to attack not only me, but my Shaykh and my art I feel that a more positive action needs to be taken.

So what I am going to do is make all of this very public. I am going to make sure that every possible person involved in Sufism, Islam and Silat knows what your student did and why. Then anyone who cares can judge between you and I in the light of day rather than the shadows.

It is because of actions like those of your student that the Prophet (saws) said "Backbiting is worse than adultery" and why we are instructed in the Quran to "Take refuge in Allah from the whisperer who whispers in the dark".

So it is out in the open and it is up to you how to deal with the bad behavior of your student, I have hopes that the world will be watching.

As to the slanders themselves, Allah is the judge.

Wassalaam,

Mushtaq Ali al Ansari
Senior Instructor Silat Zulfikari
by the grace of Shaykh Taner Ansari
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I suspected that I would have gotten one of two responses from a letter like this. Either a "Gee I didn't know about this and you can expect a public apology from my student" or a "Fuck you". But I was wrong.

The reply I got back is rather random and defiantly affected.

I guess he may have been trying to pull the old "I am spiritual and mysterious" card, not realizing that I am much too old and cynical to buy into that bit of cow droppings.

It does tell me however that there is a definite lack of ethics here as well as an inability to operate at the most basic effective levels of human communication.

I include his reply here in red as well as the response I sent back to him

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Salaam Alaykum Waleed,

Bapak Waleed wrote:

786
Assalamu Alaikum wr. wb.

Ramadan Muhbarak Mushtaq Ali

May the blessings of Ramadan be upon you and Allah S. A. forgive us all...

Likewise.

It is wise not to look at a student and judge the shaykh for you will fall into heavy burdens and troubles that are beyond your control and carry a heavy penalty... yet look better at the Shaykh and not the murid, the teacher and not the student ...for we all are unperfect and cannot even walk in the shadows of our Shaykhs...

According to Whom?

For myself I have always found that the behavior of a student is a reflection of the teacher. If This fellow is your student and he speaks for you as he claims (and as I notice that you do not deny that he speaks for you I take it to be the case). Then by the adab that you claim to follow you are indeed responsible for his words and actions in his name, just as Shaykh Nazim is responsible for yours. That is the old Silat way that you say you follow.

I have noticed though that when the Haqqani Naqshbandis have been confronted by the bad behavior of their students this "don't hold the teacher responsible for what they tell their students to do" attitude is always what is given as an excuse. I'm sorry but that just doesn't work for me.

Being as you are the one who seems to have fostered this bad adab I would suggest you worry about your own "heavy penalty".


As you indicated we haven't had any such exchange and this isn't about students. it's about one who you've been in contact with which is the one person in question as a student.


I know it is possible for you to construct a straight forward sentence, I've heard you do it before, so I guess you are attempting to be obscure here. Let me speak plainly since you do not choose to.

Your student claims to have been speaking for you and acting as your representative. You do not deny this. Your student has indulged in slander and backbiting. As your representative I hold you accountable for the actions he has done in your name.

Even your friend and I haven't had any such conversations...

No one has claimed that you did, we are speaking of your representative here.


Allah knows the Truth and is the Judge ....So now who becomes the Judge and is to back bite, that is the question...

No it is not the question. You have chosen to slander me through a khalifa, I have confronted you directly on the matter, you have chosen to act in secret, I have brought this matter out into the open so that anyone who cares can judge what kind of people we are. So indeed, let Allah judge.


May the Baraka of Allah and our Great Prophet serve as an example and the guidance of our Shaykh be understood with the proper spiritual understanding of their guidance/teachings...

And may you find the courage to speak the truth, and the wisdom to act from the guidance of the prophet (saws) rather than the appetite's of your ego.

You and I could have gone our whole lives without a bad word between us and you would have been no worse for it. The need to raise your self by attempting to denigrate others is a sign of immaturity, you may want to consider this.

As I said in my last note to you, the best way I know of to deal with someone who slanders me behind my back is to shine a very bright light on the situation. Backbiting, like something slimy found under a rock, tends to die in the light of day, so you will find me writing about this on my blog and making sure that a great many people know what has happened. I have always found it a bit strange that I have a voice in the martial arts community being as I do not think of myself as anyone special and do not claim to have any "secret teachings", just hard work to become a good martial artist and good person. But as it happens, I do, so check http://tracelesswarrior.blogspot.com in a couple of hours for my first installment.

Wassalamu Alaikum wr. wb.

Bapak Waleed

Wassalaam,

Mushtaq Ali al Ansari
Senior Instructor Silat Zulfikari
by the grace of Shaykh Taner Ansari


PS

The constant use of the passive voice is a sign of poor writing skills and tends to make people think you are weak, insecure and avoiding the issue.
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At this point I have gotten no reply, and I don't really expect one since he did not over-awe me with the profound spiritual state from which he operates.

So what am I going to do? I am going to make sure that everyone I know in both the martial arts and Sufi communities (and I have been around for a very long time and know a whole lot of people) Know what waleed and his student have done. I don't really care what conclusions people draw from this as long as everything is out in the open.

I especially want people who are looking for a Silat teacher or who are thinking about attending a seminar to know what kind of people they are dealing with. There are cults that are based in the martial arts and cults that are based in Sufism, and in this one case perhaps a cult based in both that promises hidden teachings but attempts to draw people to it through tactics that would embarrass Carl Rove.

Buyer Beware!

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Monday, October 24, 2005

The History and Origins of Kalam-i-Batini

Here is a bit more on the Hidden Conversation.

Early Islamic philosophy/theology (for about the first 200 years) was called Kalam, which means “speech” or “conversation”. It was a sort of Socratic method, which used questions and answers to arrive at “truth” This was a “rationalist” philosophy and was the domain of the theologians.

About two hundred years after the Hijira, Greek Neo-Platonic thought began to heavily influence Islamic philosophy. This led to the formation of a group of philosophers called the “Mutazilites” (separatists). Some of the greatest thinkers of the age were members of this school of thought, including Ibn Sina, Al Farabi, and Ibn Rushd.

The greatest Challenge to the Mutazilite school came from the “Asharites” A school of theology founded by the theologian Al-Ashari. The Asharite School also had as its adherents some of the greatest minds of the time, including Muhammad al Ghazzali, and Fhkaruddin Razi.

The clash of ideas between these two schools became known as the debate between the philosophers and the theologians. It culminated in Al Ghazzali’s monumental work “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” and Ibn Rushd’s reply, “The Incoherence of the Incoherence”.

I would hazard to say that the friction between these two schools of thought, to a great extent, produced the energy that lead to the Islamic “golden age” of science, philosophy, art, and literature.

There was a third group during this period (which interestingly, included Muhammad al Ghazzali’s younger brother Ahmad al Ghazzali) who observed that Greek pagan philosophy had infected both of the former groups. While the argument was around the pros and cons of Neo-Platonic thought, both sides tended to use the logic of Aristotle to make their case.

It can be argued that this dichotomy still holds sway in the Islamic world, with the “left wing” of Islamic thought leaning toward the Neo-Platonic (as with some Sufi Groups) and the “right wing” being locked into Aristotelian dualities (as with Imam Khomeini and the “Islamic Revolution”).

This third group, feeling that the “Kalam Theologians” were originally on the right track, but had “dropped the ball” by adopting an Aristotelian approach, began developing what they called “Kalam-i-Batini” (to use the Persian spelling).

The devolopers of Kalam-i-Batini (who were known as the Ahl-i-Saffa, the people of alignment, when they were known as anything at all) were interested in producing “Yaqin”, or certainty through their practices, while avoiding the pitfalls of ignorant belief.

They defined “certainty” (Yaqin) as a three level process. The first level was “Ilm al Yaqin” (the certainty found through study). The second was “Ayn al Yaqin” (the certainty found through direct observation and experience). And the third was “Haqq al Yaqin” (certainty through direct inspiration).

The Ahl-i-Saffa were the first pioneers of Information theory. A study that they were convinced was necessary to approach Yaqin. One of the great writers in this field was Ibn Khaldun, who in his Muqadimmah outlines the problem of accurate passing of information as having seven possibilities for error. He says:


  • All information, by its very nature, is liable to error.
  • The first of these errors is partisanship towards a creed or opinion.
  • The second error is over‑confidence in one's sources.
  • The third error is the failure to understand what is intended by to originator of the information.
  • The fourth error is a mistaken presupposition about the truth.
  • The fifth error is the inability to place information in its real context.
  • The sixth error is the common desire to gain favor of those of high ranks, by distorting information so as to please them.
  • The seventh, and the most important error, is the ignorance of the laws governing the transformations of human society.

BTW this group should not be confused with the "Ikhwan al Saffa" or brotherhood of purity.


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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Gurdjieff on Movements

Here is a bit of food for thought.

Gurdjieff on Movements

First Talk in Berlin
November 24, 1921

You ask about the aim of the movements. To each position of the body corresponds a certain inner state and, on the other hand, to each inner state corresponds a certain posture. A man, in his life, has a certain number of habitual postures and he passes from one to another without stopping at those between.

Taking new, unaccustomed postures enables you to observe yourself inside differently from the way you usually do in ordinary conditions. This becomes especially clear when on the command “Stop!” you have to freeze at once. At this command you have to freeze not only externally but also to stop all your inner movements. Muscles that were tense must remain in the same state of tension, and the muscles that were relaxed must remain relaxed. You must make the effort to keep thoughts and feelings as they were, and at the same time to observe yourself.

For instance, you wish to become an actress. Your habitual postures are suited to acting a certain part—for instance, a maid—yet you have to act the part of a countess. A countess has quite different postures. In a good dramatic school you would be taught, say, two hundred postures. For a countess the characteristic postures are, say, postures number 14, 68, 101 and 142. If you know this, when you are on the stage you have simply to pass from one posture to another, and then however badly you may act you will be a countess all the time. But if you don’t know these postures, then even a person who has quite an untrained eye will feel that you are not a countess but a maid.

It is necessary to observe yourself differently than you do in ordinary life. It is necessary to have a different attitude, not the attitude you had till now. You know where your habitual attitudes have led you till now. There is no sense in going on as before, either for you or for me, for I have no desire to work with you if you remain as you are. You want knowledge, but what you have had until today was not knowledge. It was only mechanical collecting of information. It is knowledge not in you but outside you. It has no value. What concern is it of yours that what you know was created at one time by somebody else? You have not created it, therefore it is of small value. You say, for instance, that you know how to set type for newspapers, and you value this in yourself. But now a machine can do that. Combining is not creating.

Everyone has a limited repertoire of habitual postures, and of inner states. She is a painter and you will say, perhaps, that she has her own style. But it is not style, it is limitation. Whatever her pictures may represent, they will always be the same, whether she paints a picture of European life or of the East. I will at once recognize that she, and nobody else, has painted it. An actor who is the same in all his roles—just himself—what kind of an actor is he? Only by accident can he have a role that entirely corresponds to what he is in life.

In general, until today all knowledge has been mechanical as everything else has been mechanical. For example, I look at her with kindliness; she at once becomes kindly. If I look at her angrily, she is at once displeased—and not only with me but with her neighbor, and this neighbor with someone else, and so it goes on. She is angry because I have looked at her crossly. She is angry mechanically. But to become angry of her own free will, she cannot. She is a slave to the attitudes of others. And it would not be so bad if all these others were always living beings, but she is also a slave to all things. Any object is stronger than she. It is continuous slavery. Your functions are not yours, but you yourself are the function of what goes on in you.

To new things one must learn to have new attitudes. You see, now everybody is listening in his own way, but a way corresponding to his inner posture. For example, “Starosta” listens with his mind, and you with your feeling; and if all of you were asked to repeat, everyone would repeat in his own way in accordance with his inner state of the moment. One hour passes, someone tells something unpleasant to “Starosta,” while you are given a mathematical problem to solve. “Starosta” will repeat what he heard here colored by his feeling, and you will do it in a logical form.

And all this is because only one center is working—for instance, either mind or feeling. Yet you must learn to listen in a new way. The knowledge you have had up to today is the knowledge of one center—knowledge without understanding. Are there many things you know and at the same time understand? For instance, you know what electricity is, but do you understand it as clearly as you understand that twice two makes four? The latter you understand so clearly that no one can prove to you the contrary; but with electricity it is different. Today it is explained to you in one way—you believe it. Tomorrow you will be given a different explanation—you will also believe that. But understanding is perception not by one but by not less than two centers. There exists a more complete perception, but for the moment it is enough if you make one center control the other. If one center perceives and the other approves the perception, agrees with it or rejects it, this is understanding. If an argument between centers fails to produce a definite result, it will be half-understanding. Half-understanding is also no good. It is necessary that everything you listen to here, everything you talk about among yourselves elsewhere, should be said or listened to not with one center but with two. Otherwise there will be no right result either for me or for you. For you it will be as before, a mere accumulation of new information.


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Friday, October 21, 2005

Thinking outside the box

Yesterday I was talking with a friend about how he could organize his understanding of martial arts.

There is a rather good book called "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card.

There is one pivotal moment in the story where Ender (the protagonist) makes a qualitative change in his world view that is very to the point for martial artists.

Ender is attending a military school where the students play a sort of "capture the flag" game in freefall. Each team has a gate opposite the other and they boil out of their respective gates to do mock combat.

At one point in the story Ender has the realization that all the teams unconsciously orient themselves along the "horizontal wall" which is the one between the gates, but that this is an entirely arbitrary choice, because in zero G there is no horizontal or vertical.

So Ender makes a cognitive leap and discovers that he can orient himself to his opponents in any way he chooses. He gathers his team together and tells them "The enemy's gate is down".

With this one perceptual shift he completely changes the game and his team becomes the ongoing winner of the matches.

I suggested to my friend that he needed to make an equivalent shift in his understanding of his art.

Much of what I have seen in the martial arts over a lifetime of study is the moral equivalent of choosing an artificial horizon, orienting one's self to it and the forgetting that the horizon only exists because of agreement.

We have seen this when the Gracie family showed up in the US and showed us that "the Emperor was in fact naked". The thing I find really amusing about that is by forcing everyone to examine their preconceptions, they opened themselves up to having the Gracie preconceptions examined as well, thereby removing themselves from a position of dominance.

So how do you learn to think outside the box?

Start by discovering and questioning your preconceived notions about your art. This can be very uncomfortable because it will mean questioning your teacher's views as well.

One way to do this is to find a martial art that is very different than the one you practice, even one that your group thinks badly of, and explore its world views. This will help in learning where the walls of your "box" are, and it just may open your eyes to some value that has been hidden from you.

For example, in recent years it has become popular among some groups of martial artists to speak disparagingly of Tae kwan Do. We hear terms such as "MacDojo" applied to TKD schools and the suggestion that TKD training is "unrealistic" because of its focus on "Sport" sparring.

This, in my opinion, should be considered a form of religious dogma rather than an observation of fact, and the only thing such an attitude will accomplish is to raise to probability of getting your arse handed to you by underestimating an opponent.

This is indicative of a greater dogma (artificial horizon) found in the two main camps of the martial arts, The "combat" camp and the "sport" camp.

Each claims the other is in some way "wrong" because of their respective focus. If you want to begin thinking outside the box, a good thing to do is discover the value (and there is one) in both camps.

Another way to teach yourself to "think outside the box" is to study the work of people who have made great QUALITATIVE leaps in our understanding. You might want to check out people like R. Buckminster Fuller, Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, F. Matthias Alexander, Scott Sonnon, Milton H. Erickson MD and Harry Partch. (To name a few).

Each of these people has made the equivalent perceptual shift to "the enemy's gate is down" and can provide a model of how to "think outside the box".

One model for learning to think outside the box is that of "quantitative versus qualitative change" (with thanks to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

Much martial arts instruction involves learning technique. A strike is thrown and a set response is executed, this is practiced until it becomes "reflexive". One then adds more and more of these techniques until the student has a skill set that will cover most confrontations. This method can produce good fighters (see my many comments on heuristic learning in martial arts) and is "quantitative" learning. Many of you reading this have no doubt had the experience of going to a martial arts seminar and learning one technique after another until one's brain is ready to explode, only to find a week later that most have been forgotten.

Qualitative learning on the other hand allows the student to formulate principles rather than rote technique. A principle based martial art has a higher level of flexibility when confronted by the unknown than does a technique based art. As one's understanding of the principles behind human movement deepens the quality on one's movement becomes more sophisticated, rather than one's library of specific technique becoming greater. This allows solutions to problems of attack to be created "on the fly" rather than taking the time to access a technique that may be appropriate to the attack presented.

I will leave you with a thought to ponder, it is called "the rule of requisite variety".

"The element within a system that is most flexible controls the system"

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Seven things

Well since I got tagged by both Ruth Todd and Tiel on this one I figure I had better get to it.

Seven Things I will do before I die. (Inshallah)

  1. Train two successors (at least), one man, one woman, to take over teaching my art when I retire. (I haven't found them yet, so I am still taking applications)
  2. Finish translating, and publish my translation and commentary of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
  3. build a home deep in the mountains, reachable only by foot or horse.
  4. Spend a lot more time in Africa.
  5. Go to many places I haven't been yet and live with the people I find there
  6. Build a network of Silat schools around the world in such a way that they are a valued part of their community for reasons other than self defense.
  7. Become a better person.

Seven things I can do.
  1. Walk into the desert or mountains with just the clothes on my back and live quite comfortably for as long as I like.
  2. Build things I need from elemental components such as wood, bone, stone, and hide, including the tools to make more complex things.
  3. Cook quite well
  4. Tell stories.
  5. Find the things inside a person that hurt and help them heal.
  6. transcend limitations.
  7. Do serious damage to my fellow human beings.
Seven things I can't do.
(I don't actually believe that there is anything that I can't do, so this is a list of what I can't do yet).
  1. Fly an airplane.
  2. Put up with fools well.
  3. Communicate as well as I would like.
  4. Make everyone happy.
  5. Live in a country with an honest government.
  6. Understand God.
  7. Bear the thought of having another dog.
Seven things I say most often
  1. Keep your elbows down!
  2. The only real difference between fighting and dancing is the impacts.
  3. You move like a pregnant Yak.
  4. Inshallah.
  5. Breathe!!
  6. I'll believe in you for both of us until you figure it out for yourself.
  7. If you learn anything from me it's your own damn fault!

Seven people I would like to pass this on to
(Some of you don't have a blog, so maybe this will encourge you to start one, or feel free to put your answers in my comments).

  1. Jenny Burns (redjb)
  2. Bobbe Edmons
  3. Terry
  4. Jennifer St. Clair
  5. Brian
  6. Don
  7. Jeff S
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Gathering of the Tribes

For those of you that have been wondering why I have been so quiet lately, it is because of being taken up with the Fall gathering that happened this last weekend.

This year's Fall Gathering was an outstanding success.

The group This year

We had a great turnout for the event, with people coming from as far away as Portland, OR. We were especially happy to have as our guests instructors and students of Maharlika Kuntaw this year.

As is our tradition, the gathering was hosted in Grand Rapids, MI by Sensei Chuck Pippin of Innovative Martial Arts.


Sensei Chuck

The Seminar started Friday evening with the usual informal "meet and greet" hosted by Jeanne Pippin. We sat around Chuck and Jeanne's living room and got to know each other over tea and coffee. As usually happens, we got a good "show and tell" going around knives, swords, and other interesting tools of the trade that people had brought with them (or that just happened to be laying around).

It turned out that one of our guests, Bill Bednarick, was a fellow knife smith so we had a very pleasant time discussing that craft.

After getting to know everyone I was sure it was going to be a great weekend (and I was right). I think a bunch of us were up until two in the morning hanging out.

Saturday morning was the start of the formal program. The first session began with Tagaturo Steve Van Harn of Arnis Sikaran Jornales System Sandatahan.

Tagaturo Steve

Steve, who is a world class competitor on the WEKAF circuit, shared with us some of the training methods he uses to take the traditional drills of Arnis and bring them into the combat arena.


People really took to Steve's instruction and soon the smell of burning rattan was in the air.

The next session was lead by Professor Phil Lewis with the able assistance of his daughter Cynthia.

Professor Phil Lewis of Shinsei Ryu Kenpo

Professor Phil introduced us to various two person training drills of his art.


We all enjoyed the way Professor Phil blended techniques and concepts from Kenpo, Arnis and Wing Chun to develop good fighting skills.

We took a break for lunch, and then it was my turn to present.

Guru Mushtaq Ali demonstrating a neck thrust with Sensei Don Young

I used my time to introduce the attendees to the basics of South African style knife work. Everyone seemed to enjoy the material though it is a bit different than the South East Asian methods of using a blade.

We had a lot of lively movement going on in a very short time. The gathering was also the first introduction of the knives of Tribal Arts Bladeworks to the public. I mention this here because our premiere offering is the "Zulu", a knife I designed specifically for the South African style of knife use.

The Zulu

The Zulu is made with a high carbon tool steel blade and a epoxy soaked hemp cord wrapped grip.

The Zulu Trainer

We also created a training knife to complement the Zulu.


Another blade we introduced this weekend is the "Ugly Knife". It is a very useful utility knife made from 1095 steel at a very affordable price. Our company motto was coined for this knife "Even poor folk deserve a custom knife".

Roach Belly

The last knife I will show you is one of our early American knives, the Roach Belly. It was very popular with trappers because it is a very efficient skinning knife. But enough self promotion.

This was the first time I have presented this material publicly, and I was a little concerned about how it would be received, but everyone seemed to like it.

The last session of the day was devoted to San Yun Do and was lead by Sensei Chuck Pippin with the able assistance of Sensei Sterling Heibeck and Sensei Don Young.


Sensei Sterling Heibeck

The first part of this session dealt with guns, but rather than going over the usual gun disarms, Stirling focused on proper movement with a pistol and weapon retention.

The second part of the session covered the sophisticated kicking methods of San Yun Do and their applications to real world combat.

Then came the part of the day everyone was looking forward to, the feast.

One of the traditions of the gathering is the Saturday night pot-luck dinner, and as always this was a wonderful meal with both good food and good fellowship.

Sunday started with another presentation by myself on active recovery for martial artists. We concentrated on breath work for this session.

Then we has one of the real treats of the seminar. After getting to know the Maharlika Kuntaw people we all realized beside being really good folk, they had an interesting approach to martial arts, so we prevailed on them to take the last time slot of the day and teach us a little of their art.


(From L to R) Guru Bill Anderson, Guru Bill Bednarick, and Guru Buzz Smith

We were particularly fortunate because the art is not well known, and two slightly different streams of the art were represented by Guru Bill and Guru Buzz.

My impression? Maharlika Kuntaw is an extremely sophisticated, high level martial art.

It is principle based rather than technique based which makes it very adaptable to whatever situation one might find themselves in. It is both effective and efficient, so you are getting the most amount of work done with the least energy expenditure. And it is a "reality based" art.

If you ever get a chance to check this art out you should, it was a rare treat.

That ended the formal part of the gathering, though people hung out for a while after and socialized some more.

I found it to be a great weekend and am already looking forward to the next one

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Good and Evil

Go Figure

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