Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Silat Seminar '08 Redux

Top to bottom: 1) The Northwest attendees -- lacking a few who
were probably sleeping off hangovers -- more pictures of them later.
2) The women of silat. 3) Guru Mike Roberto

Okay, the caveats first: In my experience, a short and intensive martial arts seminar is less about conveying the how-to techniques of an art and more about the overall experience of crossing hands with artists with whom you might not be familiar. The learning comes from playing with people who do things differently than you do.

In the case of teachers in the same style -- they put their spins on it, but the similarities are usually greater than the differences. Other times, the arts are only vaguely related. Kali, for instance, and silat, are both Southeast Asian things, but in one you grip the machette here, and in the other, you hold it thus, and each has its own rationale for why their way is more effective. When you attend such a gathering, you are supposed to leave your sense of any-way-but-my-way-is-wrong at the door, and go with the flow. (This is passing difficult, since, if you've been doing it your way for ten or fifteen years and somebody shows you a method that seems to go against the principles you think you understand, the thought will come up: Hey, that's just wrong. Try it that way? Sheeit, it'll get you killed ... The sense of how well what you do stacks up against what somebody else does is gonna be there. Nature of the beast.)

But you try to keep an open mind and do what the teacher tells you the way he wants it done.

I seldom come away from these things with new tricks. If I can remember a couple of things out of two full days of training that I didn't already know when I got there, for me, that's about as good as it gets. Most of the teachers at this particular gathering had a grounding in my art, so it was less about big stuff than small stuff.

For me, this particular seminar was not about learning tricks, but about the meet-and-greet aspects. Many of the folks who showed up I didn't know at all. Some, I had met briefly. And some, I've known on-line for years, but never had a real-time encounter, and putting a face to the name was a big part of the deal.

The nuts and bolts aspect of it weren't complicated. Guru Mike Roberto found a good and reasonably-priced venue in N. Las Vegas, far enough away from the strip so that it wasn't crowded. Kudos to him for putting it together. The rooms were clean, the food good, and the meeting area big enough so that we weren't crowded except when we needed room to do big sweeps and swing sticks at the same time.

It was fun to see various of the security staff drift by to watch. Some of these guys were ex-military or police, and you could see they had some idea of what they were watching. Plus we were carrying sticks and such. Todd came in carrying a shield, spear, and a bag full of sharp and pointed things, and casino security notices these things.

The trainees were divided into two groups, each attended by a different guru. After forty-five minutes to an hour, the teachers would swap groups, to teach a second round.

They all took turns in the barrel, and at the end of the day, each of the students had been given a chance to train under each of the gurus at least a couple of times.

We did empty-hand drills, knife vs knife, knife vs empty hand, short sword against short sword (using sticks), ground work, high and low sweeps and foot-drags, takedowns, some basic pressure point stuff. There were several varieties of silat, mostly Sera; there was kali, some stand-up ju-jitsu, and assorted odds and ends. Some of these teachers have multiple rankings and they'd show techniques from other arts. And most of the older ones have used their stuff in the real world enough times to know it works there. Guru Cliff told a very funny story about when he was Mr. T's bodyguard that nailed the essence of self defense pretty well.

We all tried to work with different partners, and as many as we could outside our own local schools. When one of my teachers was doing stuff, I got to show people from other groups how to do it. When one of theirs taught, one of their students would show me.

It was remarkable on a lot of levels, not the least of which was how well-behaved most of the players were most of the time. Nobody got on his high horse when a student from another school stepped in and offered corrections, and that was particularly enjoyable for me. No shame in ignorance -- Hey, never done this before, show me?

There were fun moments. One of my favorites was, when you are looking for somebody to attack you with a knife for a demo, be very careful about picking the guy who brought twelve training blades with him ...

(I've addressed this before, but it bears repeating: Against an expert knifer, bare hands are simply a bad idea. If you really know what you are doing and you have a kick-ass attitude, you might knock a guy who doesn't know anything about blades seven ways from Sunday, but if he is an expert who loves knives? Trust me, you don't want play that game barehanded.)

As a special note, Maha Guru Stevan Plinck awarded certificates to several folks, giving them official guru status. We're not big on wallpaper, but it was great to see him do this, and hear what he had to say about things that, once given, cannot be taken away. Some of the new gurus were just that; some had been around a long time and had been badly treated by other teachers, and I thought it was a wonderful gesture on Guru's part to recognize these men in front of what was as deep a congregation of Silat Sera players as likely to be found in this country.

I had a blast, and I was most pleased to meet friends, old and new.


Dan Gambiera said...

I was amazed. We had two long, hard days of training. Everyone's butt was dragging. The room was barely big enough for the crowd. Some of the people had history with each other that hadn't always been friendly.

But everyone got along. Nobody lost his temper. And nobody got hurt.

Steve Perry said...

Well, mostly. I did see one bit of anger flare during a session, but it cooled off before anybody did any damage.

Given all that could have happend, we dodged some bullets ...