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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Without fail every martial art class I ever attended over the past 30 years or so had one thing in common - I was put into a particular stance or set of stances and instructed to move around in a certain way. For the most part these movements were quite new and alien to me, so progression in the art meant hours of daily practice in order to make these movements “natural”. Current research states that to some extent natural movement can be overlayed with stylised or “learned” movement patterns following thousand upon thousand of repetitions. When you consider the amount of time this takes for one particular movement response, then multiply that by the number of desired responses to an attack you begin to see why you get “ten year” figures for proficiency in many martial art styles.
No-one ever really offered an alternative to this method, except perhaps Western sports fighting arts which to some extent worked from a much more straight-forward movement base. This, it seemed, was the only and accepted way to learn “martial arts”
On first seeing Vladimir and his people what struck me most was the fluidity and “naturalness” of the movement, surely they must have spent years perfecting complicated routines to develop such skill? As we all know, this is far from the case. Systema is one of the few arts with no formalised movement. Instead Ryabko / Vasiliev Systema people cite the Four Pillars (FP) in training - breathing, movement, relaxation, form.
The FP are usually described as guidelines, but some people have interpreted them as strict rules and get disappointed when they “don’t work”. In my view this approach represent a fundamental misunderstanding of Systema training. My feeling is that the FP are not rules to be followed, they are “you”. People who approach the FP in a “martial arts” way look to map the FP onto their movement in a “technique” fashion. The spine becomes a rigid pole, they move constantly (and uneccesarily), they make a loud panting noise (to show they are breathing) and are either like rag dolls or excessively tense. The latter is more likely because as we know tension is usually the result when we try too hard to do something. With so many things to think about it’s no wonder that adding in a partner brings the whole thing to a confusing halt.
So while it’s possible to think of the FP as some type of Systema kata, much more productive perhaps to put yourself in the work and go from there. This gives you a tremendous amount of freedom in training to explore virtually any type of situation at any level of intensity. That brings its own challenges, particularly to the Instructor who needs to maintain a fine balance between focus and encouraging creativity, letting people discover things for themselves and spoon-feeding information
I have found that this approach encourages students to ask (and answer!) questions, present different points of view, share personal experiences and also share skills sets for the benefit of the group as a whole. This way students discover how the FP gives them an operating system rather than a program. Technical knowledge (program) from a reliable source can easily be laid on top of the FP operating system to round out skills, be they specific combat skills (restraint, ground work, etc), technical (woodcraft, driving, etc), activity (climbing, etc) or social (body language, communication, etc). This takes away the bother of trying to tie different styles and methods together as the underlying principles of whatever you do remain constant.
At the heart of this “operating system” is the fact that Systema encourages natural movement. This is something Ed Phillips and I go into greater detail in on our latest DVD release, but in brief this is what we mean by natural movement
1. Movement free of excess tension or stress
2. Movements that is everday, ordinary, unexceptional
3. Movement that corresponds to the natural range of motion and movement patterns of the human body
4. Movement that does not create undue psychological or emotional strain
The strength of this approach is that our work adapts to the world around us rather than the other way round. It means we work from our natural response to a stimulus rather than from a contrived position.
clips showing guys moving around an urban environment asked “what has this got to do with martial arts?” My answer would be - precisely nothing, if by “martial arts” you mean learning a set of stylised movements in a training hall type environment. It has a whole lot more to do with real life, as this is the environment 99% of us operate in on a daily basis. Why would you expect movement patterns formulated in another time, another set of circumstances and perhaps for very specific reasons to serve you in your current situation? There may be some things that are universal but doesn’t it make more sense to put your everyday movements and environment into training use rather than try and force a round peg into a square hole?
The truth of this was reinforced last month when two of our regular guys recounted recent events - one was involved in a nasty confrontation with a group of thugs while out with his family, the other just finished a summer stint working the doors of local pubs. Both independently said the same thing - when things kicked off “it was just like training”. When I mentioned this to Gareth he laughed and told me of another five or six incidents some of his guys had been involved in, ranging from an attempted mugging to the usual Saturday night town centre gauntlet. The most serious damage received was a large bump on the head and everyone got home safely and in one piece.
Anecdotal evidence I’m sure some will say, but real life experiences, all of which will be fed back into the training - it’s a two way flow life - training - life. So far I’ve found Systema’s natural training method to be nothing but positive, not only in dealing with violence and its aftermath but in so many other situations. It is all “just like training”