I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity throughout the 1980’s and into the early to mid 1990’s to train with a number of some of the world’s most influential martial artists. I had an apprentice instructor-ship under Guru Dan Inosanto. Through Mr. Inosanto I had the opportunity to train with the likes of Chai Sirisute, Pendekar Paul de Thouars, Larry Hartsell, Terry Gibson and a few others. Three of these men are no longer with us but I remember many of the lessons I learned from them.
Some of these lessons were about physical technique or a specific martial art, some were more about how to teach or even run a school. Sometimes I even learned how not to do things. All of these men, like all of us, had their flaws too. As human beings we’re all terribly flawed and we make our mistakes. The key is to learn from them. I teach our young students that if we’re working hard and doing our best then mistakes are okay. If we make a mistake though, we have to admit it, fix it if we can, and then move on.
I’ve always been a note taker. Most of the classes I had with the men mentioned above were done in a seminar format. You might receive up to six months of instructional material in a sixteen hour weekend of classes. The only way to remember, and eventually put into practice the things you learned was through your notes and sometimes through the magic of video.
By the end of a second eight hour day in a weekend, or the fortieth hour of a full week, I’d be feeling mentally and physically exhausted. Even then, when other students might be scrambling to write down an explanation of the techniques covered, I’d often be writing something more philosophical that the instructor might have said. Today I have a notebook full of these ‘golden nuggets’ as I like to call them.
Pendekar Paul de Thouars was an especially good source of these nuggets. I had a unique opportunity one time to spend an entire afternoon and evening sitting with him in an airport waiting for a delayed outbound flight. What was great was that it wasn’t just another moment in the student/teacher relationship. It was an opportunity for an older, wiser man to share his thoughts on life. We of course talked about the martial arts a lot. We also talked about life, Faith, teaching, learning and people. He was an interesting man. He was a Dutch Indonesian, merchant marine, devout catholic, wonderfully gifted teacher of his art of Pentjak Silat and as mentioned before an admittedly flawed human being. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll share a few of my favorite sayings from the Pendekar.
My favorite one of these nuggets comes from the very first seminar of his that I attended. My training partner and I, Scot Metzger, were having trouble figuring out a particular technique. Silat is a very complex and scientific art. I doubt anyone gets it right away. Over all the years I had the opportunity to train with the Pendekar, and in the years that have followed, I realize that I still don’t really get it yet. His response to our question at the time was “Little feet, little feet”. It still makes me laugh, because he was not only trying to tell us to make smaller movements with our footwork but also to be patient and continue working on what we were doing. What he was trying to say was “Baby steps, baby steps”, but had he actually said that I doubt it would have stuck with me in the same way. When I get anxious about things or when I see myself being impatient with my own progress or the challenges that I might face as a teacher, business owner, or even as a parent or in any other of the many relationships and life experiences that occur, ‘Little feet’ reminds to be patient, stay the course, and remember that its the challenges that really help us grow – and that it sometimes takes a little time.
As a side note on the art of Pentjak Silat – It is said that it takes fifteen years to complete the system. I trained in Silat in this seminar format for about eight years – so I guess I know enough of the art to realize how little of it I really know. I think a lot of things in life are like that.