09 September 2010

Such a Wonderfully Large Subject

Y'know I've been doing research so I can respond to Mr. Gutschow's comments in the previous post and I had been unaware of how much there really is to do in order to put out a good article on that. Let me explain:

When it comes to this conversation on Islam there's a great deal of rhetoric on both sides and unfortunately the people who're ruled by their passions are usually in control of the conversations. I'm making sure all the i's are dotted and all the t's crossed when I release my response. *sigh* Life would be much easier were I to just call 'em big bad meany heads.

22 August 2010

On Islam, The Religion of Peace and a conversation with Nick Gutschow

Well I've been percolating this post for a couple of weeks. This post is going to be the first of a series (I know, that's been said before on this blog, but this time it's true). The meat of the matter is going to be some conversations on Islam. Specifically dealing with the clashes between the Mid-East (and various elements therein) and the West. I don't expect that this series will cover every minute detail of a clash that has been going on for many generations. I do expect that the series will try to communicate points concisely and as comprehensively as possible for this author working in this media.

So, a few weeks ago I put up a message on my Face Book page that went something like this:

For those who think your enemy does not train? This gentleman's name is Ustaz Hussein and a few minutes spent plugging that name along with Silat Sharaf into google might prove enlightening. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYcIAHeY3lc

Now, this was meant more to go out to my brothers from Warrior Talk and a few other places. People who are interested in subjects like this, the clashes between East and West and the elements of Islam willing to utilize violence over there principles (which is not necessarily a bad thing, I will expand on it in my later posts). So you can imagine my surprise when I received a communication from Emir (Group Leader) Nick Gutschow of Silat Sharaf. The communication(s) are as follows:

Nick Gutschow August 5 at 4:51pm
Before posting something claiming anyone as an "enemy" you may want to take a few minutes to really learn a few things about the individual. You might be surprised what you find. The battle is not always an external one. The true enemy is our own ignorance. Assumptions have led to so much darkness in this world.

My name is Nick Gutschow and I am an Emir in Silat Sharaf (as well as a student of Sean Stark's PSP; I just recently started with him). I trained with Ustaz Hussein closely for 6 years in Taiwan. He is my teacher and my friend. If you ever care to truly learn something about the art or the man I am very open to a conversation on the matter. They are both pretty spectacular in my opinion.


I am in the process of composing my reply which may take several days due to some things that are taking precedence in my personal life. In the interest of bringing this discussion into an open forum so that others may benefit as well, would you be open to moving it to my blog?

With Respect,

Nick Gutschow August 5 at 8:54pm
Sure. Keep me posted.

Aaron August 10 at 10:49pm
Okay, I'm hoping to have the initial questions up by friday. Would you be open to an interview style format (at least initially)?

Nick Gutschow August 11 at 7:58am
Sure I guess, if that's how ya want to run it.

For clarity you should begin with the initial post you made that caused me to contact you. That way anyone joining in will know our starting point and I can speak to that. If I had come across someone criticizing or question Ustaz I probably wouldn't have said anything, but such a flat declaration warranted a response.

Again, keep me posted.

Aaron August 13 at 4:41pm
Okay, couple things real quick:

1. in the interest of fairness I formed most of my opinions about Ustaz Hussein after reading some of the relevant threads over at Warriortalk.com where he commented. The main thread link (a discussion in which he participated, and impressed me with both his candor and logic) is (http://www.warriortalk.com/showthread.php?p=1004509&posted=1#post1004509)

2. To start with can you speak to the link between Islam and Silat Sharaf? In the WarriorTalk thread Mr. Hussein mentions Muslim Chivalry and the Feydai/Fedaykin (help with terms would be appreciated as I want to make sure I'm getting them correct), as I don't want to repost that discussion on the blog (and I'm unsure of the etiquette about doing so) can you also speak a bit to the differences between Feydai/Fedaykin and the terrorists that most westerners associate with the phrase "muslim warrior"?

Looking forward to hearing back. For the sake of ease of editing can you respond to my email address connor.odonnell@gmail.com?
Warrior Talk Forums is the new leader in tactical forums with discussion of weapons of all types, combatives, tactics and current events.

Nick Gutschow August 13 at 4:59pm
You want me to do this here or on a forum/blog discussion somewhere?

Aaron August 13 at 5:06pm
If you could write a response to the initial questions and then send it to me at my email account I will add my own comments (perhaps with minimal editing for formats sake) and then send it back to you for your approval before repost to my blog. I want to make sure that nothing is misunderstood or taken out of context. Really, I'm looking forward to a fascinating discussion. Thanks for giving me this oppurtunity.

Mr. Gutschow has been extremely timely with his responses so the lag between this initial exchange and my posting this is entirely my fault. The response that he emailed me is below:
The questions:

“Can you speak to the link between Islam and Silat Sharaf?” “Can you also speak a bit to the differences between Feydai/Fedaykin and the terrorists that most westerners associate with the phrase "muslim warrior"?” First, I will cover some basic review. Please note that I am no scholar, but rather just a hobbyist of sorts in the study of religious history and development. Islam is one of the major monotheistic religions of the world. It formed in the 7^th century with the coming of its primary prophet, Muhammad. In the 1000+ years that followed it became one of the central pillars of an entire civilization, just as various forms of Christianity and Judaism came to be inexorably associated with the developing civilizations of Western Europe and later the European settled Americas. During its golden age this Islamic civilization was the keeper of much of the science and culture of the ancient world, and at that time it spread far and wide (including as far as South East Asia, which is relevant to this conversation). It was also during this time of expansion and the centuries that followed that the powers of the western and mid-eastern worlds began and continued to butt heads, leading to more than a millennium of an adversarial relationship, at least on some levels. This is an extremely simplified account of course, but I just wanted to make sure we were all talking about the same thing. Now, to understand Silat Sharaf’s connection to Islam, we have to understand where it came from. Silat Sharaf is the ever evolving creation of Ustaz Udom Hussein. It is the synthesis of his own training from a diverse background including other more traditional Silat, other East and Southeast Asian martial arts, as well as martial practices of the Ottoman empire (the last unified remnant of the once great Islamic civilization that began so long ago). In this sense then it is a collection of martial practices which mostly developed in nations primarily made up of Muslims (followers of Islam), or perhaps better said a collection of martial practices developed in the military arms of civilizations the identity of which are in part based upon Islam. Lastly, Silat Sharaf IS Ustaz. If what I gave you just now is the list of ingredients, Ustaz and his own outlook and experiences are the oven. The end result of all of this then is a martial art that uses the vocabulary of somewhat mystic Islam. Just as in my early days of Kung Fu study I ran into concepts here and there framed in the terminology of Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, so too here we sometimes talk about things with Muslim words. For me as an agnostic then I always have to consider things in slightly different terms (and in my years with Ustaz most of our students were non-muslim), but the ideas are the same at their root. So I think with that I answered your first question, but I am going to continue in my line of thinking in this last paragraph as it leads to the answer to your second question. As human beings, we are abstract animals. We like to capture whole ideas in very much simplified collections of symbols. Let’s look at the English language for instance. The word “justice” say is in some raw existential sense nothing more than a string of squiggly bits that indicate a combination of phonetic sounds, and these sounds tag a word in our language, and this word is one of great complexity and difficulty. Get 10 modern Americans in a room debating the true meaning of justice and you are in for a long night. It is no different with any symbol. Let’s take the swastika for instance. Holy god does that conjure such horrible things in the mind of any post WWII westerner. But you see it everywhere on the streets and in the supermarkets in Taiwan. Why? Because it means, “this food is ok for vegetarians to eat.” To modern secular Chinese, that’s pretty much all it means. And you might ask how the hell it came to mean this. Well, that’s simple. Buddhists don’t eat meat and the symbol originally (and still) is a marking of luck and good will in Sanskrit origin religions. So the Buddhists who spread the faith to East Asia used it often. In fact, my primary kung fu teacher in my early years in Taiwan had a massive swastika on the back of his training uniform because of this meaning. Ok, blah blah blah, what the hell am I talking about? Essentially, I am talking about equivocations. The bitch about symbols is that they are very easy to hijack and use in ways for which they were never intended. It then becomes all too easy for human beings to make assumptions based upon the use of them. Again, a HUGE swastika on the back of his training uniform, in the style of the Nazis no less as he liked the stark red look of it (and coming from a culture that never felt the full weight of the events of WWII he never really understood what all the fuss was about), but no one ever accused him of anti-Semitic leanings. So let’s look at your second question now. Let’s work it backwards. So a “Muslim” is a practicer of Islam and a “warrior” can mean a lot of things, but here let’s say it means a solider or a career fighter in some sense (at least for a period of time). In that sense then modern terrorists present a tiny sliver of all of what the term “Muslim warrior” can mean. Just looking at present times, the allied local forces in the middle east are made up of Muslim warriors, or all the Islamic members of the US military are Muslim warriors as well. And if we expand back in time, all the fighters of all the Islamic civilizations since the beginning, or any fighter for any civilization who as individuals happen to be Muslims, they are Muslim warriors as well. So then to associate only terrorists with the term “muslim warriors” indicates a very severe case of tunnel vision and a pretty gross equivocation. And to assume others who use the term use it in the same sense is to assume also that these individuals suffer from this same tunnel vision epidemic of modern times where Islamic culture is concerned. Ok, so then what DOES Ustaz Hussien mean by Fedayeen? Now bear in mind I didn’t participate in the exchange that you are referring to in this case, so I am not exactly sure what he said there, but I can speak to the way I always understood the term to be used with him in our 5 years of very regular contact. In the Silat Sharaf sense, a fedayeen is a warrior following the path of Futawa, or classical Islamic chivalry. This is basically a set of rules of conduct based around the ideas of respect, duty, upholding the good and opposing oppression, cultivating an acceptance of your circumstances, and so on. He is a volunteer who walks this path out of personal choice and doesn’t hesitate to act when to make the world a better place. He is a humble and capable warrior seeking right action in all he does. Just because the Nazi’s stole the swastika doesn’t mean Zhang Sifu can’t use it on his jacket in its original meaning, and just because some fringe modern Islamic fundamentalists use fedayeen and “muslim warrior” to mean terrorists doesn’t mean Ustaz is not totally justified using it in the way he does. And really if we freak out about either of these things, it just represents a lack of understanding on our part. The first time I heard the ice cream truck song in Taiwan and ran outside in glee to find it was actually the garbage truck going by, I was a little put off. But the next time I knew what to expect.

First of all, I'd like to thank Nick for what is a timely and excellent response. I'm going to let this post be out in the ether for probably a week or so (maybe longer, as I believed is mentioned above I have some things going on in my personal life that are extremely disruptive) and then I will do a point by point response. If you comment, please keep it civil. Any personal attacks or behavior that could be defined as trolling will met with deletion of comment.

22 January 2010

Hey Cool!

I just got my first spammer! That screaming sound you hear? S'what I did with 'em.

20 August 2009

A bit of a Morbid Post

Everyone Dies.

It seems that most people spend a great deal of time trying to escape what is, essentially, an inescapable fact. You will eventually snuff it. A time will come, and it will be soon when stacked against the scale of this world, where the shell which you have been inhabiting will fail catastrophically....on that day You Will Die. This phenomenon will be far from unique to you, almost every member of the human race has gone through this before you. Barring some monumental medical breakthroughs every member of the human race after you will also die.

People die every day:

They die in cradles and on deathbeds.

They die during exercise and in corpulent states on couches.

They die charging for freedom and cowering in basements.

They die having realized their dreams and having done nothing with their lives.

People Die.

It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that some people will go to preserve something (life) that they will ultimately lose. When you are born you are afforded very few guarantees but one of those is most certainly death.

It took me almost twenty-two years to figure this out. Once I reached this realization it's pretty freeing actually.

20 February 2009

Keluarga Aftermath

My full writeup on Keluarga South will be coming tomorrow. This week has been a little packed with a new module starting at my school. I still can't believe that some sick fiend would put me in Pathology AND Oriental Modalities during the same module. These are two of the hardest classes in the entire program. I still think I can pull an A out of both of them though.

07 February 2009


What a wonderful start to doing something that they said they wouldn't do while campaigning:

06 February 2009

Keluarga, WooHoo!

So this year I'll be going to Keluarga for the first time in.....a while....

Keluarga is an annual gathering of practitioners of the silat style Pencak Silat Pertempuran where we celebrate training, family, and the oppurtunity to beat the crap out of each other. To be honest I can't wait. The event will be held next weekend (instead of wasting my time on some sort of valentine's day pursuits), hopefully I'll be able to get some bloggings done while I'm there.