A Description of Systema by Martin Wheeler

Martin Wheeler wrote this years ago when he first became acquainted with Systema. It was always one of my favorite posts from the forum so I asked his permission to reprint it unedited here. Martin is one of the top instructors in Systema. He is in LA and can be reached at wheelersystema@yahoo.com if you are lucky enough to live close enough to train with him.

          "I met a master of the art, Vladimir Vasiliev at a seminar
organized by Lee Wedlake and was further encouraged to study it by my friend Al
Mcluckie. After what I saw I started training under him in his school in
Toronto whenever I can. I would have to say I am blown away by the concept of
Systema which is an internal Russian martial art. Vladimir and Mikhail Ryabko,
who I was lucky enough to meet recently, are incredible teachers of the martial
arts. Their concept of the art and teaching methods are quite simply amazing. I
am not even entirely sure how they do what they do, I just know that it works.
In a way I was searching for Systema without really knowing what I was looking
for, the training regiment I was following was telling me to relax, stay in
contact with the opponent , steer away from specific technique, keep in motion,
allow my weapons to follow their own paths and let the bodies fluidity work for
itself while encouraging the mind to intuitively strategize. But saying all that
I think if I had carried on down the path I was taking for the next 20 years I
still doubt I would have learned as much as I did in only my first week of
training in The System under a teacher such as Vladimir.


(follow link to continue reading)

  From what I’ve seen of Systema it appears to contain just
about every real art I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. What in your
view, Martin, makes it so special?


My view of the System is still rather limited as I have only
been training in it for a relatively short period compared to the other arts I
have studied, although the training I have had so far has made a profound
difference to my martial arts and more importantly to my life. I am convinced
that any training in The System will change a persons perception of a martial
art. The System is special because it seems to work as much on a persons
consciousness as is does on the their body. There are no techniques just
exercises, concepts and spontaneous work which develop a profound sensitivity
and relaxation into a practitioner’s movement and awareness. A student training
in it is encouraged to teach the body to think for itself using natural
reactions as a base rather than mechanical blocking, parrying and slipping
skills. Out of this total freedom of movement and lack of a defining framework
a student’s consciousness, energy and physical structure learns how to blend
and effect the consciousness, energy and physical structure of the opponent.
The system works on all levels of human ability, the psychological, the
phsyiological and the psychic. I think the body can be considered to be
constantly out of balance and only in "balance" for an instance both
mentally and physically on a moment by moment basis. It is dealing with a
tremendous amount of internal and external information. It is quite an
achievement for an animal to stand on two feet and deal with the information
that a human does, this fact it seems can as easily work against us as for us.
It seems that it is not difficult to control this balance when you work at a
bodies subconscious level. The subconscious, after all, is the level at which
we naturally move. I think to contrive a movement such as moving into a
pre-determined technique takes an logical act of will which guides the
subconscious into a specific type of movement. This must imply that thought at
some level is creating a logical sequence of events. This type of training can
be honed to an extremely high level of spontaneity which can develop into a
practical sequence of ideas that develop a system of martial arts. But it seems
if you work slowly and very softly and with positive intention you can teach
your body to act and react extremely smoothly out of its own natural reactions
allowing "logical" intuition to guide your nervous system into
action. Using your senses and ?energy? system to guide the body without a
perceivable "lag" time created by a conscious thought process. A
practitioner of The System is never searching for technique to apply instead
they are taught to enhance the body’s natural sensitivity beyond that of
physical contact into more of a state of intuitive driven empathy to create
spontaneous defensive (or offensive) movement. We are energetic beings and our
energy fields reach out way beyond what we would consider to be our
"physical" body. I think the best way I can describe this is the
feeling you get when you enter a room and know that someone is looking at you
with an intention of some sort, instinctively you turn and look to see who it
is because you want to rely on the senses that you are most familiar to you in
society, looking, touching, smelling, hearing. But if you allowed yourself to
relax and "feel" the intrusion then you would possibly start to
develop the innate human ability to be intuitive with your senses. The training
methods are designed to develop your intuitive nature with and beyond what you
would consider to be the physical senses. A practitioner of The System is
encouraged to see an opponent rather than just look at them and allow the body
to act and react intuitively. The body is instinctively designed for the best
methods of fighting, but we generally train to fight by imposing
"techniques" upon it and relying on logic to apply these techniques
at the appropriate moment. For this to become "instinctual" takes many
years of training and even then only a few are capable of achieving this level
of freedom. Most every martial artist trains with the goal of freedom of
movement and reaction but even for those who manage to gain this they are still
in some way maintained by the framework of their system in some way which
possibly creates a level of "blockage". I hope this is not construed
as condescending in any way towards any particular system or martial artist, it
is certainly not intended that way as I am just making a conceptual observation.
The System seems to be designed to work out of a level of profound relaxation
and total freedom of movement. By working at a level of sensitivity by
enhancing a practitioner’s natural reactions allows the Systema practitioner to
create a state of neuro-muscular blindness in an opponent. This state is
achieved when an opponent enacts some form of attack be it punching, kicking,
grabbing, throwing etc. When an attacker attacks they are no longer in control
of the attack the movement is as instinctual as throwing a ball once you
release into the toss. I mean you could not stop yourself from throwing the
ball half way through the movement if you have committed to the action, the
conscious part of the brain does not work that fast. Nor does it the in a fight,
when someone genuinely commits to an attack such as a punch then they only
really react again once that punch is blocked or lands. The contact tells the
body to do something else, if that contact never comes then the body goes into
a temporary state of "neuro-muscular" blindness. A Systema
practitioner practices to develop a level of freedom with his reactions that
create this sensation and produce spontaneous techniques based on
moment-by-moment information being introduced to the nervous and physic system.
This leads to a very unusual and extremely effective defense system which
capitalizes the opponent’s tension, "blockages" and anatomical
structure and requires no real knowledge of the opponent’s martial arts or
combat background as the practitioner is only reacting out of what he or she
feels. In fact the more unusual the defense the better as this also effects
your opponent on a psychological level. Then there is the energetic level where
a practitioner develops a sense of the opponent’s energy and learns to effect
the opponent at that level. This is also extremely effective as seems possible
to me that we negotiate the world on a subconscious level using this part of
our senses, and when people fight they do so at a subconscious level. Subtle
manipulation of the subconscious means controlling the action. The System works
with multiple opponents, on the ground, against or with weapons, the
applications seem limitless. Even though it appears to work on all human levels
of movement and perception it tends to work as a whole system, like an
intricately woven ball of silk it would be pointless to try and define one
layer from another, it’s true beauty being accepting it as a whole. To me, so
far, it seems to be like moving using a single concept rather than applying
technique to a specific situation. The System allows a practitioner to let his
or her physical and energetic movement ride a wave of a developed intuition
rather than a more logical process. I am simply amazed as to how much
information you give away about yourself just by the way you naturally stand.
When you work out with someone like Vladimir or Mikhial it becomes abundantly
obvious how much information you are projecting about yourself and how it can
be manipulated, mainly when you realize you are on your back when you could
have sworn you were just standing a moment ago. Strangely enough it appears
that if you apply the concepts of the system to your life it seems to have the
same effect of relaxing you and actually healing you and your training partners
body’s and fortifying the spirit. They say when they punch you they heal you,
and trust me they can strike with incredible power, but it is done with such a
positive and natural energy that they are working to heal you by eliminating
the tension from your body. No tension, no blockages of the energy flow through
the body. You always come away from a workout feeling better than when you
started. It is a simply amazing art. Also it has a very strong psychological,
spiritual and physical health component, in fact these factors, I think, are
more important than the purely physical components. Without a loss of ego and
an understanding of how to develop positive energy in your life it is hard to
see how one could do more than scratch the surface of Systema. I know that
these are the things that I struggle the most with. But even just
"scratching the surface" would still go far beyond most martial arts
I have encountered on a physical level. The art itself, as Vladimir explained,
is not really a martial art at all but a method of cleansing yourself and
allowing the art (and your life) to come out of that. The intuitive method and
training regiment presents a very fast learning curve and because you are
working out of natural reactions it is extremely hard to forget. The System
stands alone as a work of genius in my admittedly limited opinion, but just the
concept of it can be used as a great enhancer for any art that you study. As
you may have guessed I highly recommend it." 

-Martin Wheeler

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