We all like a bit of comfort in our lives, whether it’s an extra 10 minutes in bed or just the knowledge of being "safe" in our regular routine. But comfort is not necessarily a good thing in our martial arts training. Too much comfort can lead to laziness, not to mention a false sense of skill, with very damaging consequences should the skill ever be called upon.
Vladimir Vasiliev has said many times that in Systema "you must learn to be uncomfortable". In fact you must almost grow to enjoy it!
Of course Vladimir comes from a special forces background, with many years active service in Spetsnaz. You would expect the training of these elite troops to be extremely hard and brutal - and it is. But that brutality of training has a specific purpose - to allow the operative to work efficiently and effectively under extreme conditions. The training breeds not only a physical toughness but also a mental toughness and adaptability, crucial elements for professionals of any army or nationality.
Now we are not special forces soldiers, for the most part martial artists have regular jobs and lifestyles. So a lot of that training would not be appropriate or practical. But there are many elements within Systema that can help jog us out of that comfort "groove" and into a place where we maybe have to dig a little deeper and, in the process, get a little stronger.
Broadly speaking, martial art classes use very similar warm up and stretching routines. Systema takes those same exercises and puts a different slant on them. IF we take just one example, push-ups, Systema has several variations, here’s a few ideas:
move the hands into different positions, wide, narrow, one hand out to the side etc
use different parts of the hand or arm - the wrist, the fist, edges of the hand, elbows
rotate the hands in different angles, 90 degrees out, 90 degrees in, fingers facing back
do the press-up very slowly - to a count of 20 (what has become known as the Inch Press-up)
try 10 press-ups breathing in / out as you go up/down, then 10 breathing out / in, then 10 not breathing at all
These are just a few examples, we haven’t even got on to press ups with a partner yet. Of course the same is then applied to leg raises, sit ups, squats, stretching drills, youget the idea.
The same is applied to conditioning methods, again whether being punched, kicked or hit with a stick or chain, or any other type of training. Take your usual exercise that you are comfortable with, and change it. Try practicing your kata blindfolded. Work out in heavy street clothes. Practice in the freezing cold. For full effect adpat this to your daily life too - every now and then try something completey different in your routine. Challenge your view of the world with seomthing new and fresh.
SPARRING AND APPLICATION
If we go back to our Spetsnaz soldier, let’s imagine he has been parachuted into enemy territory, tabbed 10 miles in full kit, maybe been wounded, and finds himself in close quarter battle with the enemy. In that situation he needs something that will work but that does not rely upon using strength and lots of energy. Now scale that example down to the average person. In a class you have the luxury of arriving in plenty of time, knowing exactly the format of the class, having a warm up session, wearing appropriate clothing, having a nicely lit, matted area, and away you go.
The problem comes when you get mugged coming home half -cut one night in a dark alley, wearing your tight Calvin’s in the snow and ice. Bouncing back into a stance is not going to work and there’s certainly no time to limber up or get your pads on.
So quite often in Systema you will see sparring going on where one guy has an arm behind his back. Or is blindfolded. Or rolling exercises where you have to keep a leg out straight, as though it is broken. Every now and then all the lights go out, and half the class have training knives. We recently ran a seminar in a clubhouse, which involved almost 40 guys "fighting" amidst the tables and chairs.
At other times the class will be put through a hard exercise session then thrown in "every man for himself" - the idea being you are so tired you have to learn how to move the body efficiently and effectively otherwise you keep getting hit. Remember, the emphasis with all this stuff is not to fight and win, but to fight and survive.
Of course this training is done at differing levels of intensity. There has to be a strong understanding amongst everyone taking part of what the boundaries are - in that way any training method will always full short of the real thing because no-one wants to seriously injure a training partner. However it is surprising how far you can "push it" given the right group of people. It is also an exhilarating experience and can help overcome a lot of fears and anxieties.
Mass fist fighting is something of a tradition in many parts of Russia. I’ve seen film footage of two opposing villages (about 50 guys on each side), lining up then going for it in a mass all out scrum. No-one was taking any prisoners, yet the whole thing had a strangely festive air about it - people were laughing as they hit and were being hit (in fact that is not uncommon in Systema classes either, which may lead casual observer to wonder if we are not a little crazy!).
Comfort also has to do with questioning ourselves and our place in the scheme of things. Martial arts can sometimes be a way for the individual to "puff himself up". Big titles, grades, lots of students, there is nothing wrong with these things per se, but they can sometimes be the mountain atop which our almost god-like figure stands. Of course you will rarely find such an individual "mucking in" with the lads, it may burst the bubble.
The other problem with ego is that it hands your opponent another weapon to use against you (and of course this is something that should be studied along with your physical techniques). If you are never tested you get used to everything going right. But this is not real life! To quote the old saying "no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy". If it does go wrong suddenly you are left without a plan, wondering what the hell to do. And of course, speed being of the essence, you find yourself overwhelmed. So it is very important in training to put the ego aside, don’t worry about winning or how good you look, or pulling off a "perfect" technique. Instead learn to accept and work with what you are given.
I’m sure 99% of other instructor’s will have been in this position - you are demonstrating a technique. It works on all the students expect one, who seems to be anatomically different from the rest of the human race and punches or grabs you in a way totally beyond all previous experience. While the ego takes a knock, in reality that student is doing you a big favour, because - GUESS WHAT - in the street no-one is going to punch or grab you like most of your students.
That’s why in Systema we sometimes start from a position of "muck up". Things have gone wrong - the knife is touching you, the guy has got a lock on, you are sitting down - then see what you can do to work out of it. Again we can work at various levels of intensity.
Pain is nature’s way of telling you something is wrong. However there are two types of pain, good pain and bad pain. Bad pain is when something is being damaged - a finger broken or ligaments tearing. Good pain is the sign that you are working but are not actually being damaged. Learn to deal with pain. There are breathing methods, beyond the scope of this article, that can substantially increase a person’s pain threshold in a very short space of time. Relaxation is another key component to this work.
One method of working pain control is to have partners apply locks to you. They slowly build up the pressure, all you have to do is relax and breathe! The "full monty" on this exercises involves six people. One lays down, two grab arms, two grab legs and lock and twist, while the sixth hits any tense areas of the body. The first time we tried this people were literally screaming. The interesting thing was though, on their second go (yes, everyone had a second go, I told you we were crazy!), there was not a sound. People had started to learn how to control the pain. Now of course no-one was going to break a joint, there was an element of control. But in a real life situation, with speed being of the essence, that extra half second of non-compliance on your part may make all the difference.
I think it’s important to mention that the reason for doing this training, or for writing about, is not to make us out to be "tough guys". We aren’t, we are just normal people interested in training. Some of our people are professionals in the field of law enforcement or similar, but regardless of that this sort of work can have a profound influence in many areas of your life. You learn to stop wishing for what you don’t have and instead focus more positively on what you do have. You learn not to take so much for granted (lets face it compared to 80% of the population on this planet we have a very easy time of it) and, probably the most important - you learn to deal with adversity in all its shapes and forms with a quiet confidence born of knowing just what your limits are
COPYRIGHT@ 2005 R POYTON