Wheeler Systema

Martin Wheeler just released this new video montage that is sure to be a favorite. I could only post it under one topic and "movement" seemed to fit best as Martin’s movement is unique. Smoothness is a desired trait of Systema but few people move as smoothly as Martin. His movement is relaxed without being too relaxed …something he tried to instruct me about when I saw him last year. Now I see it better, and this video gives us all something to work towards.

Martin is the instructor at the Los Angeles School of Russian Martial Art in California.

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Journey to Systema -or- "What is it about Systema that so inspires"

By Morten Danielson
My name is Morten Danielsen and I am a Systema Instructor under Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev. I am also the one presenting the training of Systema at our club in Esbjerg, Denmark. But this is not about me – this is about our Journey.


Our club was traditionally a karate club. Small compared to many – and after the journey together with Vladimir, Mikhail, Valentin, Konstantin, Sergei and others we have dedicated ourselves to Systema.


Systema Denmark started in Germany. Some of our club members went to a seminar in Münster with Mikhail and they got convinced that there was something they had to investigate further. So after purchasing many of the great DVDs (and my own personal favorite is Systema Hand to Hand, if you want to know) we started including some of the exercises in our karate training.


That was not enough for me. Being somewhat older and heavier than the most in our club, I sensed that Systema matched me in a way unprecedented to anything I have experienced in martial arts before. And after participating in another seminar in Münster, this time with Vladimir, and having the good fortune to spend some time talking about life and Systema, I got so inspired that I for one no longer train the traditional karate!


Members of our club also found the aspects and principles of Systema so interesting that they backed my participation at the Summit of Masters held in Toronto in 2006. The Summit of Masters was a great meeting of friends and a great display of Systema. We experienced many of the subjects covered in the DVDs first hand, and I must say that the combination of the DVDs with participating at live seminars works wonders!


I also took part in the Spring Training in Toronto and seminars in Serbia, Sweden all in all it is my impression of being totally inspired for training and life.


And we know how things happen, the inspiring message of Systema had spread to others in Denmark and we now have four groups doing regular training sessions, and the numbers keep growing.


A very interesting question is··· What is it about Systema that so inspires?

(follow link to read the rest)

What is it about Systema that so inspires?

To me this is clear; it is the head instructors and the way they present the principles. It is how the principles have resonance within us. They meet our needs for being human and developing.


It is interesting to me that seminar participants are almost always grown and experienced people. Perhaps many of the principles and exercises are best experienced when you have some luggage to clear up! Perhaps this is when the resonance is the greatest!


One of the training subjects that is so very different than anything else I have encountered is Breathing. It is very well described in the Breathing book and DVDs but I envy those doing the seminars and training in Toronto with Vladimir. I did feel how Systema works miracles. Sensing the breath, experiencing the fear of lack of breath, experiencing the power of breathing, the amazing effect on the body and mind. It is training to be more alive and present. Understanding yourself, body and mind, sensing tension and relaxation. Being okay with this sensing and taking this awareness into our daily life and transforming it! Being more relaxed. Breathing. Moving. Facing and Handling Fear. Doing this together with Vladimir was and is life changing.


Compared to the karate I have grown up with, there are other things that differ and make resonance in an adult like myself:


Openness – Systema demands you to develop your own system of movements in order to deal with where you are at the moment. In most martial arts you were to learn patterns, techniques. And it is said that from there openness transcends!


Creativity – you have to find a way to deal with the situation yourself. Some direction might be presented but ultimately you find a way that works for you. In karate I was told and shown what to do. Now I do not do it that way. I have no time to chisel and hone my body to be able to perform as a “Japanese warrior”. And with Systema I do not need to. I can creatively find my own way and still survive.


Playing – there is not the sense of teacher/pupil – you have fun and find new ways by playing, you learn by doing and interacting freely. In many ways you are equals. Teachers and pupils are alike.

Spontaneity – there are no prearranged situations, actions and responses. An attack is not staged as something fixed, it is free play most of the time, exploring actions, movements etc. as they come. The difference here is that I almost never fought using what I learned in karate. It always ended in a dogfight and that for sure was not how we trained. The realism of full speed was not always present. Things have to work in real situations otherwise it is academic interest only and not fighting.


Honesty – you know the moves that you learn really work, you see the results clearly and your body knows it is working. You hit and you are being hit, kicked, and pushed. It is never “it works because I say so·· ·” – no secrets but real effect.


Awareness and smoothness – you train your awareness to become more and more smooth. Personally I hope to get a chance for a 24 hours striking session from Vladimir one day. Scott described this in a forum post how training can consist of many short sessions or one of multiple contacts maybe million times with fists, chains, chairs, sticks from someone you trust!!! In the karate developing sensitivity was a very small part. It was more desensitizing to become as hard as possible, and therefore very stiff and rigid.


Fear – meeting your fear, handling your fear, accepting it, developing from it. Being human, not superhuman. Yet gaining enough courage and strength to conquer the fear.

Togetherness – you can train on your own but mostly you train with others on various stages in their Systema skill, you help others, you are being helped, you trust others and you are being trusted. It is an accomplishment to take a fist full of power, knowing it will come, without moving, hitting back or screaming for help but smiling and breathing, relaxing and thanking your partner in mutual respect. Smiling, grinning, enjoying – together.


In everyway, it is you who develops; you do not have to conform to a “perfect picture”, perfect techniques. Striving for perfection is striving to be a good person.

And I could go on···


These are some of the reasons I like Systema more than other systems. And it is not a question of what is better it is all a matter of liking it and making the right choice. I chose Systema and it works for me. Funny enough, as most of us I do not know if I will one day need the fighting skills again but we surely need being calm, smooth, breathing, and moving.


About the author:
Morten Danielsen is a certified Systema instructor. He has over 30 years of martial arts experience and is a supervisor and coach in Developmental Behavioral Modeling and Sensory Systems in Denmark (Systema Denmark).
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Systema Instructor Produces New Book on Knee Pain

Systema Instructor, Bill Parravano, has just released his new book on the topic of knee pain. This information is not from Systema itself, and although I have not read the book, I can recommend it without hesitation as I have had Bill work on me with amazing results, and have seen him work on many others, including Mikhail Ryabko …and heard nothing but praises.

Bill has an unconventional approach. I have a messed up hip that I believe originated from an injury of the knee on that side. When I train allot, like at camp, the falls on that one side add up and make it more painful. This year, after about three days at camp I was limping around and asked Bill his advise, hoping he would work on me a bit. Since Bill is such a good-natured guy who truly loves his craft, he had me lie down and he worked on immediately. It is a bit hard to describe what was done. It seemed like Bill pressed the leg towards the socket and rotated a bit both directions. It was very gentle and painless, lasting no more than about five minutes. To paraphrase his explanation, he put the joint in a position where it could release the tension that the body was putting there to protect it. Something did indeed seem to release, but gently, not like cracking chiropractics. After this short session it immediately felt better, and the following morning when I woke up it felt substantially better. Although it was not the end to the situation, I knew he was on to something with his technique.

For those of you who are interested you can find the e-book online
You can also visit the website at www.thekneepainguru.com

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Breathing with Multiple Strikes

(This is a follow-up to articles on striking posted earlier)

Vlad writes:
Question: When we work with a single strike it seems clear – exhale at the very moment that the strike makes contact with the body, and then, follow up with Burst Breathing if it is necessary to recover. But what happens when there are multiple strikes?

Vladimir: Multiple strikes give you multiple opportunities to take action by ways of: Breathing , Movement , Capturing the force. Let’s look at each one briefly.

1. Clearly, the importance of Breathing properly becomes even more important during multiple striking. No matter what, try to maintain exhaling upon every contact. If you are faced with quick consequent strikes, keep up by making your exhales very short. If two or more strikes land on you simultaneously, make a longer exhale. It becomes very apparent how to do that when you experience it yourself. Begin with pushing and practice by having two or three partners deliver pushes with their fists to various parts of your body. Start slowly and gradually increase the speed.

2. Breathing will help you avoid the tension and if tension is not holding you back, you will be able to move. The more mobile you are the less pain you will experience. In Systema, we often practice moving different body segments such as shoulders independent of the rest of the body. This drill will allow you to put forward less vulnerable body areas to meet the strikes. With multiple punches, you will also realize that preplanned and pre-rehearsed techniques will not work. Whereas, your breath patterns and your free movements can be adapted to any unpredictable attacks and challenging settings.

3. An additional alternative in dealing with multiple hitting is capturing the force. You would take the strike onto your body and redirect it towards your own fist to give your punch more power. You can transform the energy of each punch you receive to go into the force of your own strike. This training requires an experienced instructor and we do it in class and in seminars.

Vlad says, "We have received many questions on this topic. Some very good ones and some questions only show that people have not read LET EVERY BREATH book carefully, and that is a shame. The book contains many answers and most valuable information. It is entertaining and tremendously well put together by a skilled writer Professor Scott Meredith.
Life goes on so quickly and we should try not to miss the treasures on the way.

Please visit Vlad’s website when you get a chance. And contribute to the forum there if you are able.

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Article on Slow Training Principles

This excerpt is from Spyridon Katsigiannis’ article posted on Systema UK website. Mr. Katsigiannis is in Goteborg, Sweden. 

In Soft Work what we do is simulate combat situations using slow time framing (low speed, that is) while trying to keep the energy of our attacks real. This training method of the RMA has been highly publicised, mainly through videos available all over the Internet and it is because of this training method that Systema has been accused by practitioners of other combat arts as "unrealistic", "flowery", "girly" and various other reeeally cool adjectives!
Before going deeper on the specific reasons of using Soft Work as part of our training, I would like to state something that for Systema practitioner is already well known: we do not ONLY train soft in Systema – on the contrary, we use both soft and hard methods and each of those plays its own distinct role in our fighting preparation.

 ….Be sure and click "more" below to continue reading this article.

Before going deeper on the specific reasons of using Soft Work as part of our training, I would like to state something that for Systema practitioner is already well known: we do not ONLY train soft in Systema – on the contrary, we use both soft and hard methods and each of those plays its own distinct role in our fighting preparation.


Now, in order to analyze the scientific basis behind Soft Work, we must first take a deeper look in the most common emotion we experience during combat, which is fear. Extensive research on the human emotions in general and especially fear has been conducted in the last 30-40 years and one of the most prominent scientists in this field is Joseph LeDoux, Professor of Science in the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Referring to the fear system in the brain, LeDoux writes that "it is a system that detects danger and produces responses that maximize the probability of surviving a dangerous situation in the most beneficial way. It is, in other words, a system of defensive behavior".


Basically, what this means is that we are designed to survive. The millennia of evolution have hard-wired us with a personal protection system, which roughly functions like this: a potential threat is perceived by our senses (sight, hearing, touch taste and smell) and then sent for processing by a structure in the brain which is called the sensory thalamus. Subsequently, the info follows this route:

a) it goes to your "thinking" brain (cortex), which, based on your memories, previous life experiences, skills etc, will assess the situation and prompt you to an appropriate response, and also follows a parallel route to

b) your amygdala, another structure in your brain, which is not wired for thought but for direct action.

c) The info which has been processed by the cortex also goes to the amygdala, but it gets there a few milliseconds later than the info sent directly by the thalamus.


What’s also interesting is that the info that goes into your thinking brain is as accurate as possible, while the info that goes to the amygdala is crude and almost archetypal (something like what you hear when you speak to your mobile phone in an area where the signal is weak). The results of this process are described in this example given by LeDoux: "Imagine walking in the woods. A crackling sound occurs. It goes straight to the amygdala through the thalamus. The sound also goes from the thalamus to the cortex, which recognizes the sound to be either a dry twig that snapped under the weight of our boot, or that of a rattlesnake shaking its tail. But by the time the cortex has figured this out, the amygdala is already starting to defend against the snake. […] Only the cortex distinguishes a coiled up snake from a curved stick. If it is a snake, the [response evoked by] the amygdala is ahead of the game. From the point of view of survival, it is better to respond to potentially dangerous events as if they were the real thing, than to fail to respond. The cost of treating a stick as a snake is less, in the long run, than the cost of treating a snake as a stick".


So, the motto of the fear reaction system for which the amygdala is responsible, is "better safe than sorry" and in the long run of evolution, this has been a successful strategy. But, guess what: the amygdala, in order to initiate emergency reactions, is capable of ignoring a lot of information as irrelevant (under stress, you see less, hear less, miss more cues from the environment) and of course, it is also wrong a lot of the time!!! As Lawrence Gonzales, author of the best selling book Deep Survival puts it, "emotions [like fear] are survival mechanisms, but they don’t always work for the individual. They work across a large number of trials to keep the species alive. The individual may live or die, but over a few million years, more mammals lived than died by letting emotion take over, so emotion was selected".


There exists a number of modern self-defense systems (among them Krav Maga, Rapid Assault Tactics, Tony Blauer’s S.P.E.A.R etc) that are based on this function of the brain. These are known as "adrenaline based" or "reflex based" and the logic behind them is that since most crisis situations will trigger the fear reaction system, the training should take advantage of these fear responses as starting point for a few gross motor skills techniques. Systema instructor Kevin Secours from Montreal, Canada, has an interesting point to make regarding this approach: "If we simply decide that ‘all reflexes are good’, then we will be relegating control to every impulse and nervous twitch that we have and deprive ourselves of the incredible powers of our cognitive brains that have made us the dominant species that we are today".


Now, imagine you’re training in martial arts, Systema, or what have you. You want to work against a front kick and your partner decides to throw it not slow and smooth, but hard and fast. Your eyes see a leg coming towards your mid-section at 60 kph. The visual information goes through the thalamus to your cortex that will decide that this is your training partner who doesn’t really want to hurt you, so you should try to do something technical and martial artsy, right??? Wrong! Because a rough version of the same info will reach your amygdala first and it’ll go all "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!!!" So your abdominal muscles will tense, you’ll probably bend at the waist and your arms will flail uncontrollably towards your partners leg trying to stop it, resulting in a… well, less than technical move. Let’s presume you survived the attack (although this depends more on your opponents speed, or lack of it) by using this primal instinct, which is triggered without your cognitive brain even knowing what exactly happened. Please keep in mind that, even if your partner"offered" you a chance to counter-attack (like and arm you can manipulate, a slight loss of balance you can capitalize upon, or a vital target which is waiting for you to reach out and touch it), your amygdala has considered this information as irrelevant and ignored it!!! Have you learned something from this exchange? Have you gained some sort of experience that you’ll be able to use against real life danger? I’m afraid not… The only thing you’ve probably "learned" is to be fear conditioned and respond in the same spastic way every time somebody front kicks you.


The most important thing about our training sessions is that they should be educational and productive. There is a time and a place for both soft-smooth and hard-fast training. But training is not survival, and it is definitely not contorting our faces with anger or flushing our systems with poisonous chemicals (like adrenaline) which will do us harm in the long run. Training is about learning skills which some day may aid to our survival, in a sustainable way. So, next time you come to a training session think of this: if you go hard and fast, you use your amygdala which cannot be educated. If you go slow and smooth, you use your cognitive brain, which can be educated. Which one will you choose?

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What is the "Art" of Martial Arts?

Written by Alex Kostic, Senior Instructor in Serbia: translated by Dragan Milojevic


        We live today in a time where almost every single aspect of our existence is either directly or indirectly conditioned by technology. Moreover, according to many thinkers, the technology dictates the direction in which civilization will develop. Nowadays, man is following the dictate of technology, and not vice versa. Such a situation inevitably leads to a slow imposing of hard frames on thing most humane – the spontaneity and creativity as a feature of wondering. This “wondering”, which is being lost even among the children, is the main instigator of the co-existence between man and the mystery of being, which is discovered, layer by layer, through the wondering and amazement. 
        The ecstasy of discovery is primarily shaped through the “phenomenon” that we refer to as art. Everything else is just utilization and adaptation of the original insight to the daily needs. In order for a man to create a work of art, he must be inspire-d (as in-spirit-ed). We see here that words inspiration and respiration (root – spirit) are of the same origin, same root, which in turn awakes the thought that a man who creates needs to be inspired, i.e. spiritual. This leads us to recognizing some order. Breath…insight…materialization or shaping of “that something”, a phenomenon. That something, which is being unfolded has its hidden side. There is no other way…it would be the murder of the mystery of being. This dance between the concealed and unfolded is expressed (and is only possible) in art. A work of art is unlimited in its interpretations and bears inexhaustible messages and guidelines for each new generation. For example, an old, bent wheel-hub or an old broken battery radio might be witnesses of recent past, but have no use today (besides recycling), unlike Michelangelo’s David or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which does not cease to educate upcoming generations. This is just scratching the surface, as one might add the Bible, various music composers etc. 
         While reading this, someone might ask “what does it have to do with martial arts?” 
         If we accept the art segment of the martial, then we need to ask not where, but how is the art present there. I will attempt to give a short (and direct) answer to that question. In individual being (as opposed to persona). A man is not given, but rather “sketched”. If I can put it roughly, given is an animal body, with all its urges, instincts and so on. What is sketched is a man as a being of love. Someone who is transformed…or even better being transformed… someone who is overcoming his or hers mindless urges and is redirecting own energy towards the refining and modeling of one’s personality (in my jargon, as an Orthodox Christian, it would be called “Christ-likeness”). The context of practicing martial arts (Systema) opens up a possibility for some kind of corporal confession, by working out in the community with other participants. Quicker than anywhere else, we are able to perceive plethora of emotions that permeate our body, from anger, through sorrow to happiness… 
         When we are winning a sparring session, we are celebrating (while the other is maybe angry or sad),  sometimes we get scared from someone stronger or more ruthless. Sometimes we strive for a revenge…to hurt someone on purpose…and sometimes we retreat (we run away from the whole situation). Sometimes, the states are emerging that we haven’t been aware of. There is at the same time the mindless nature of the entire thing, but also material to work with. Like painter has his colors and canvas and sculptor has stone, so we have our body (as the foundation of Being – "body as the temple for the soul”) to work with. 
        To make it possible at all, we need to have a right framework, which means a different relation than the competitive one. What constitutes a man is his relation with others. Without others, which also means without the community, we do not exist as people. The relation with others is what shapes my identity…through interaction with others I am shaped, as an individual and a Personality. In the interaction and caring for each other we grow, become enriched and develop as individuals and as the community. Through the constant competition, what we get is the illusion of power…in plain language, we loot it from the defeated…until one day we get looted ourselves…our power is temporary and short-lived, like a drug. We go through emotional and physical hell to preserve the state…we close ourselves in our own fortresses, made of muscular armor, and there we dwell alone in the spiritual darkness. 
           There is no light without empathy and care for other. Only an open door or window will let fresh air or light into someone’s home. In case of man, it is the openness for the “other”, who is my other “I”. Fighting is always fighting with oneself. In a way, it means overcoming one’s own fears and weakness. The other is there to help us, and not to defeat us. The only thing that needs to be defeated is our weakness and fears that are impeding us from being a new body – a body of light and love. 
         The art in martial endeavor is the “art of transformation” from mindless into minded, through the terror of facing oneself with the help of other. Today, in the world of pragmatism and measuring, we often have the case of martial arts straying from the reality, i.e. avoiding that face-off. Under the excuse of “tradition”, they are hiding before the challenge of reality. On the other side, we have a pure utilitarian approach, which is deprived of humane, and becomes a purpose in itself, where the humane becomes sacrificed (of turning a man into a machine). The encounter of a man with reality in himself and around himself, all that within a community that provides support to overcome weakness and transform into spiritual, Christ-like…maybe that is a direction to follow. The greatest warrior of all times had defeated and brought down himself and not others…for the sake of us all.
Senior Systema Instructor Alex Kostic
Systema Serbia 

Alex is one of my favorite instructors and I have heard nothing but good things about the seminar he hosts there every year at a mountaintop resort. The prices are even good. Be sure and check it out on his website.

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On Any Thursday: Ken Good Breathes thru a Crash

Written by Ken Good, Mon, 29 Sep 2008 

On Any Thursday

         The actual movie title is “On any Sunday” which is an older motorcycle race/crash movie that my friend Ben Chassen just brought over…Perfect!

         As some of you are aware, I decided not to turn left on the road when it was prudent to do so.  We were in a relatively inaccessible canyon area, East of San Diego.  It was totally makeable, I was just stupid.

         Unfortunately I didn’t have a helmet camera on my motorcycle for do*****entation when I left the mountain to test the validity of my gravity theories in the local area. If there is any lingering doubt, I am here to say that gravity works quite well in this particular canyon….In fact, even without proper do*****entation, in my mind it’s beyond theory at this point, and I’m leaning toward it’s a scientific law at this point….At the very least, gravity is exceptionally consistent in this area….I also confirmed that granite boulders generally win when your back hits them at normally back-breaking velocities.

         I do remember flying through the air after my bike impacted the first set of boulders, thinking “relax and breathe” ala Systema principles, (which I did) like I have told countless people in our combatives training, but I did not expect to be having to tap that bit of knowledge for such a moment as this.  I was wearing full protection during my reunion with terra firma.
See: http://www.motostrano.com/bionicjacket1.html  Note the back protection on this system.

        When I hit the next set of rocks, I was actually surprised that I lived, then I was even more surprised that I could move my extremities.  Based on the scientific “thrash index”, I was thrashed on the upper end of the scale and thought for certain I broke my back.
        My best word picture to describe the wonderful sensation was it was like getting hit with a free swinging 2-ton steel girder concentrated in one area of your body but you are trapped against something hard when it makes contact.
       Granted, some of you on my email list can punch extremely hard, but I am here to tell you, ya got nothing on Mother Nature!

       My friends later told me later, that they had never seen such ash white and dark green on a human face before….I attribute it to the secret chameleon training I went through in the Navy…The ability to change colors on demand can be useful in stressful situations…But I digress.
       Although I almost lost consciousness several times over a 2-hour period on the ground, I kept control of my breathing as best as I could.

I remember kinda snapping back into reality and looking up and admiring the blueness of the sky, the beauty of the clouds.  Then my son walked by.  I thought, “Man he is a good looking kid….He looks like his mother…” I was chuckling at the ridiculousness of the entire scene… I remember hearing Molly pray from me and the first responders.  Regardless of your beliefs, this is good stuff in times like these. The clarity of the moment was pure.  I am actually quite grateful for it.

        Alas, all I have to chronicle the adventure is the helicopter lift out of the area taken from a cell phone camera (mine)….They were already re-allocating my belongings! In the 1st video you can hear me say, I am getting claustrophobic.  What happened was I was on the hot ground for a quite some time.  De-hydrated and in a bit of pain.  These guys bundle me up on back board, belt me in, tape everything down, neck brace, head brace…..I can’t move anything but my hands…It takes time….Not a fun feeling even in the best of cir*****stances. Then they spend about 10 minutes wrapping this lift bag around the whole thing….It’s thick….I immediately got exceptionally HOT inside that bag…Several times the material is draped over my face and mouth.   The neck brace is constricting my blood flow to my head, because it was too tight around my neck.  Think mummy sack, but you now know you cannot move…..Then 3 guys step over me….I had an immediate, powerful psychological reaction to it.  I calmly state, I am getting claustic….My friend Ben tells me to hang in there….I breathe and try to put my mind somewhere else…Then I ask my friends if they can pour some water over my head….They did.  As soon as the cold water hit my head and chest, I was fine…..

           In the 3rd video, in what appears to be the sun is me actually taking the opportunity to show the power of our HID lights during an emergency situation. You don’t always run across marketing opportunities like this and I wanted maximize time on target while the resources were there.

           Overall damage report:  Cracked Sacrum that should heal in 6-weeks and slightly beat up YZ250…I am walking on my own power today with no pain meds.

           In the final analysis:  I am exceptionally grateful to be alive, not in a wheel chair for the rest of my daze, and the my wife Francine is not real happy with me right now!!!  Yahoo Honey! – I am sorry Honey….

           I thank my son who found me, my friends who comforted me and prayed for me on-scene, the emergency response folks, and for Rick who managed to let me know he was personally grateful it wasn’t his $12K KTM stuck upside in the tree with smashed parts (which I was riding earlier).

As on “Oh by the way”, the 1st helicopter that showed up on scene, over-torqued during a low-level hover and almost crashed into the mountain….It was exceptionally close in terms of a another catastrophic event.  I talked to the crewman, when he did end up near me and he was visibly shaken from what just almost happened to them.
          What a day! The humor index was exceptionally high when you step away from being in the middle. I am also now thinking if I had a faster bike, I might have cleared the section….


         Ken J. Good

Thank God that Ken survived this one! Ken is a fellow Systema student and is a world-class close-quarters handgun instructor with whom many of us have been blessed to train.  http://www.pbase.com/marcbresee/image/80909400

Ken pioneered force-on-force training and has been instrumental in producing top quality combative lighting, now under a new name at  http://polarion-usa.com/media/Polarion.html

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Take it…or Greive it (Part 2)

-Second part of an article with Vladimir Vasiliev. Be sure and find part 1 below.

        Student: Could you give a few tips on applying Systema Breathing to taking a punch.

        Vladimir: There are training tips related to preparation for striking and the actual things you do while your are receiving the strike.
Most people have the primary fear of contact. Of course the degree of fear varies from person to person. I have met some who came to my school afraid to get hurt to such an extent that they were shaking even in a peaceful setting of the gym. Learning to take strikes should follow a good progression.

          One day at Mikhail Ryabko’s class in Moscow one of his students brought a friend who was not a fighter at all. In fact, the man had no experience in any martial art or any sport, he was from the world of science and classical music. He wanted to know how to take strikes, but was absolutely unprepared to have any contact with a fist. Despite his interest, he was completely unable to understand the principles of breathing and taking strikes. Even talking about punches made him panic.

(Be sure and follow the link "READ MORE" to the rest of this article)

         To help this man understand, Mikhail demonstrated this fundamental drill. In order to gradually reduce the fear, do not punch right away, but begin with pushes. If you are the recipient of the push stand comfortably with your mouth slightly open to allow exhaled air to flow freely out though the mouth. Have your partner place his fist on your upper stomach and apply intermittent pushes in a pumping action without breaking contact with your stomach. Allow the air to be expelled freely with each push though your mouth. Once you got the feel for exhaling the extra pressure, just to sense the alternative, close your mouth and try to take the same kind of pushing. You will immediately realize how much less effective this is. The extra pressure now cannot exit and you will clearly feel the discomfort that builds up.
           For another easy test, try to keep your mouth closed as you are just standing and doing nothing else, you will feel tension increasing inside. So imagine if you have tension to start with, then pushes cause more tension, strikes cause yet greater tension and hitting with an object or weapon would cause even more tension inside. The very thing we want to avoid, since as we know, unresolved tension leads to destruction.

           Student: Can you explain what you mean by that.

           Vladimir: If the impact of a strike enters a space enclosed by tension it has an increased power, it is explosive from inside. A strike that penetrates past the superficial muscle layers carries this force and destroys the internal organs and structures. That is why it is so important to make sure that the strike does not enter inside.

           Student: During these drills is it better to exhale quietly or to make a sound?

           Vladimir: You see, due to the everyday stresses, people arrive to class very tense. Their breath cycle has been constantly distorted and interrupted throughout the day. And they were not even aware of that. At the very least, what an instructor can do in class is to teach them to breathe. If breathing is audible, or obvious to the person himself, he will be more likely to remember that he is breathing, it will take less effort for him to concentrate on breath work rather than muscle work. Thus, it will be easier to reduce the tension. (for more description of Audible Breathing please refer to Let Every Breath··· page 50.)

            Student: When I am comfortable with pushes and exhales can I begin taking punches?

            Vladimir: We need to advance the skill by building a strong foundation. Continue working on the exhale phase of the breath cycle. Take light punches only. But now have them delivered to various body parts such as shoulders, arms, upper back. You can have your partner walk around you as he strikes. This drill will help you control tension in different body areas. Your goal here is to acquire an instinctive exhale to any contact.

             When you have gained this automatic response of contact-exhale, then you can start on real punching. You may like to prepare by doing a few sharp inhales and exhales to prevent the fear from developing. As we discussed in the first part of our conversation, such dynamic breathing interrupts the fear-building process. Sharp breathing keeps you in control while at the same time fills your muscles with oxygen needed to match the physically active condition of your partner.
             When you begin to practice taking punches, make sure you stand in a natural and straight body position, as described in Let Every Breath···, pages 51-54, at a comfortable distance to each other. At the very moment that your fist touches your partner’s stomach, he exhales sharply though the mouth. Then he immediately draws a short and sharp inhale though the nose with the mouth closed, ready to repeat the exhale at the point of next contact. 
            Punches can now get stronger than in the previous drills, but stronger for that recipient and his level of skill. Your primary goal is to teach your partner to breathe, so as you strike watch your partner vigilantly and make sure that your strikes do not make him tense.
            In Systema, we call these short and sharp inhales though the nose and exhales though the mouth Burst Breathing. It is widely used in tolerance training exercises and in combat. More details in Let Every Breath··· pages 69-70 and throughout chapters 5 to 7.
           When training, the more discomfort and pain you get from a strike the more you accelerate and intensify your burst breaths. This way you do not allow the pain to penetrate. By doing Burst Breathing you can also stop the destructive feelings of self pity, anger and resentment from arising within yourself.
           In Russian, Burst Breathing is also called The Saving Breath. There are numerous instances where this type of breathing helped to prevail in a confrontation or saved a life.
           I heard about one such dramatic episode from Mikhail’s student in Moscow. This young man was in a horrible accident. The minivan with several people in it fell off a cliff and rolled down a steep and rocky hill. The minivan took one shattering bounce after another and each time this young man tried to group himself, move and roll, he kept doing Burst Breathing constantly. (See news story Ken Good Breathes thru a Crash)
            Tragically, all other passengers were killed in the crash. He was the only one that took Systema classes with Mikhail, and he says that it was breathing more than anything else that saved his life.

            Student: Why does it have to be short breaths? It seems that slow deep breathing is a lot more relaxing.
            Vladimir: If you do a big long exhale when you are punched, it will make you take a big inhale and that is when you drag the pain and all the unwanted emotions into yourself. Whereas if you only breathe with the top part of the lungs, the stomach muscles remain slightly contracted and in tone even after a punch, and the punch remains on the surface. This type of breathing allows you to take a series of punches and allows you to stay mobile in a fight.

            Student: How many times should I hit my partner when we are practicing?

            Vladimir: Your partner is not a punching bag, so quantity is not important. What is more important, do not hit until your partner is ready. Make sure that he has totally recovered himself from your punch, that his face, position and breathing clearly tell you that he is ready to go on. Only then you continue and take turns.

            Student: I noticed that when I am being punched, I sometimes close my eyes for a very brief moment. Why is that?

Vladimir: Many people do that, especially during sparring or real fight. Your fear of getting hit is bigger than your will to protect your body. You can not handle the tension of anticipating a punch and therefore avoid facing it.

           You can deliberately make this an element to work on. It is important to watch and see when the strike comes at you so that you know exactly when to exhale. With more experience, you will be able to catch the right moment even with the eyes closed. Keep in mind that the perceptions of pain are different when the eyes are open and closed.

Student: Some strikes make me kind of disoriented for a moment. What can I do to control that?

            Vladimir: The reason is that you begin to concentrate on the pain and other body sensations, you become too consumed with these and thus loose the control of your surroundings and become disoriented. During practice, it is useful to look at your partner, remain in visual contact with him. It does not even have to be him, you can maintain eye contact with another person in the gym. Burst Breathing will also help you restore your awareness much faster.

           Student: Is it beneficial for an experienced martial artist to practice strikes with a non-experienced student?

           Vladimir: I often ask more experienced students to work with newcomers. It is a great opportunity to check oneself, because the new person presents something unknown and unpredictable, a chance to control the tension of anticipation and adjust to a variety of punches.

Student: What kind of things we can do to accelerate our learning progress?

            Vladimir: Make a habit of breathing properly all the time in class, during any exercise. No matter where and how you are training watch the tension as it appears from any contact or any effort and exhale it. Apply the same to your everyday life, do not let the stress, tension and negative feelings get in.

           Student: Are there any words of caution in training to receive strikes?

          Vladimir: It is important to proceed gradually, preparing your body physically and preparing yourself psychologically. Systema also recognizes that the one who strikes transfers his internal condition to his partner. As the skill of striking improves, it becomes easier to transfer inner feelings to the recipient. This is a word of caution especially to those who teach. An instructor may not even recognize it himself but he may be trying to prove that he is not just an ordinary person··· Sometimes we forget that we cannot be the strongest ones. The desire to be the strongest makes us the weakest. An ideal teacher is a calm and balanced person with no ego. His strikes would be safe to take.

       Thanks Vladimir: this is a great article. Be sure and visit Vlad’s website at www.russianmartialart.com

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Take It… or Grieve it (Part 1)

An interview from the gym of Vladimir Vasiliev
Student: We heard that you are currently working on a new book on STRIKES. One of the topics covered in that book will deal with the skill of taking strikes. It is of great interest to anyone studying martial arts, self defense or even human psychology. In Systema training, this skill is recognized to be very important, quite a lot of time is devoted to learning it. Why is that?
Vladimir: Why study this, you ask, but when they get hit, students also ask Why Me?… There are 2 reasons for training to take strikes. The practical-apparent one and the underlying-psychological one.

         No matter how good a fighter is, sometimes he gets hit. Some strikes you just do not see, some pleasant ones may come from the back, unexpectedly, or can be more powerful than you anticipated such as when hit with an object or a weapon.

         In my experience with numerous martial arts and martial artists, fighters avoid getting hit by trying to be the first one to punch, by learning escapes, evasions and blocks. But they rarely talk about dealing with the strike that actually landed on you.

         There is also an approach of taking strikes by withstanding pain, deliberately toughening up and tightening up various body parts. Aside from ultimately destructive effect of such practice, it would only work for a visible, anticipated strike, while in place. But what if you have not seen the strike come or if you were on the move then you would need alternate relaxation of muscles.

          I have seen how an unexpected punch can send a skilled martial artist into a state of disorientation, shock, panic, resentment, and many other counterproductive conditions. Moreover, I have never seen anyone capable of avoiding all strikes in a mass attack or crowd fight. You can easily verify it yourself in a group of 10 or more fighters.

         Here is a typical example seen in class many many times. A new student joined in, big and strong guy, experienced in martial arts. We began a mass attack drill where everyone comes to the center of the gym and is hitting in all directions, each man fighting for himself. Right away the new guy got punched on the head, he turned to see who did it ready to hit him back. At that moment he received a punch from the other side, with some anger building up, he turned to that side, his fist ready to fly in that direction. And then of course he was hit again from the opposite side. He was twirling like a good punch bag. Finally, he realized that a punch-for-punch does not work in a mass attack. So he exhaled and started punching those who were close by and not those who hit him.

       Unfortunately, most of us have an almost automatic response: when a strike touches us we immediately go to retaliate and hit back. This is caused by pride. Systema training of taking punches deals directly with pride.

Be sure and see the rest of this article (at READ MORE)

Student: When did you realize the need for learning how to receive punches?
Vladimir: When I was young and involved in many confrontations, due to my body type, I had an easy time evading and escaping any punch, I could move, roll and twist my way out of any situation. Although it worked for some time, I knew that I will not always be able to escape. And true enough, I learned though my injuries. First torn neck muscles, then broken ribs, and later torn knee ligaments.
        These injuries clearly showed me the limitations of my agility. That led me to very serious thinking that good agility, reaction time and strength do not guarantee success. I realized incompleteness of all martial arts teachings that I had known, or almost all…

        By the way, these injuries of mine happened while I was training with my legendary teacher Mikhail Ryabko. Being a restless student, every so often I would try sparring outside of my gym, tried other ways of fighting or tried to prove something… Now, though the 15 years of teaching at my own gym, I see a very similar picture with my students. An injured student arrives to class. What happened? His answer is usually: I was wrestling with a friend on the weekend, or played some soccer, or had a volleyball game. 

Student: So how does that relate to taking punches?
Vladimir: A punch is a potential injury. And there is only one sure way to minimize or prevent destruction from a strike and from physical stresses to the body. This sure way is offered in its completeness only by Systema. Of course, you have guessed what it is. Breathing.

        With proper breathing it is extremely difficult to sustain an injury. If the circmstances were very serious and trauma does happen, then the damage is a lot less severe than would have been otherwise.

        Breathing is the most interesting, useful and largest physical resource that we have. If we want to enhance ourselves we must incorporate this key element into our training and our life. If we look at a person, we see that he or she is complete, our training method also has to be complete with all the components present and connected into a system, or Systema…

Student: Can breathing really help that much to take a punch?
Vladimir: Let’s look at it step-by-step. What is a strike that landed on you? It is a sudden force or impact or increased inner pressure, in other words, a quick transfer of tension from person to person. Keep in mind that the tension not only comes from the physical impact but also psychologically from our perception of threat and pain.

        I have seen punching sessions where one or several punches were signaled or shown in a convincing way, but the fist was stopped just before making contact with the body. Although the recipient was not even touched, he became sick to such an extent that he had to throw-up.

        This clearly shows us the vicious cycle of fear causing tension, tension producing more fear, fear leading to more tension, etc. This is where breathing comes in as the best method to break the cycle in such a simple way.

         The effects of breathing are very well described in the book Let Every Breath… If you have not already read it, please check it out.

Let’s say you are punched in the stomach. If you breathe properly, the physical impact of the strike is dissipated, the tension does not build up in the area, there is no excessive blood flow and therefore, minimal or no bruising. Moreover, what is extremely important breathing does not allow the feelings of fear and self pity to enter the body, you literally exhale them. This way, even a powerful punch brings no damage physically or psychologically.

          Tension always builds up in the muscles from the anticipated pain of the punch and from the real pain of the impact. Breathing helps to eliminate the tension and thus removes both pain and all the negative feelings.

Student: And still, people do not really want to get hit, so if we are training to receive strikes, do we have to overcome this weakness and just force ourselves to get punched.

Vladimir: It does not have to be forced, it all depends on your instructor and training partner. Over the years of teaching, I never stop being amazed at what happens when we work on strikes at Systema seminars.

       As you know and have seen on DVDsDVDs, Mikhail Ryabko can hit with the power of a cannon ball. He stands calm, relaxed and smiling and from his subtle punches, the recipients drop on their knees, totally loose focus of their eyes, laugh or cry. Yet, what is most incredible, every seminar there is a huge line-up to experience his punches. Out of a hundred participants at least 50 voluntarily stand in line. These are people of all athletic abilities including the frail ones, all ages including the older ones, instructors, new students, as well as women. Each volunteer gets from one up to several punches. Each participant gets a different reaction, some are in real pain and Mikhail instantly shows them how to come out of it, some go though a whole spectrum of feelings, but all come out enlightened. And guess what, at the next seminar day the participants line up to get hit again. People say that with every strike delivered correctly and received with proper breathing fear leaves the body, replaced by peace and strength.

Student: I realize that training to take strikes is an extensive and exciting process and I look forward to the next class. Could you give a few tips on how Systema applies breathing to taking a punch.
Vladimir: I will be glad to. There are training tips related to preparation for striking and the actual things you do while your are receiving the strike…

…to be continued

Thanks Vladimir: this is a great article.
Be sure and visit Vlad’s website at www.russianmartialart.com
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Sept 13 Handgun Seminar Review

This last Saturdays training session was a success. Eight people trained many aspects of gunwork, beginning with simple movement, gaining ability to draw from concealment, disarming and retention, and ending with many and various sessions of force-on-force (ie shooting each other) in the barricade field.

It was a long day training in the Florida sun, but mercifully broken up with time in the shade. We began with two hours working indoora at the Training Center.

From there we moved to the field and worked a short session with blue guns. Then we turned up the heat and brought out the paintball guns. This brought out the adrenaline, the need to breathe and most of all, enthusiasm. Students really loved the work and it provided many opportunities to adjust their habits and movements to greater proficiency.

It got pretty heated up. We broke for the shade and watched Konstantine Komarov moving in "Gunpoint Supremacy" while drinking cold drinks and eating traditional russian snack of cukes, tomatoes, and olives. 

We trained in the barricade field for the rest of the afternoon until breaking before sunset for a swim and adult beverages. Steaks cooked and we discussed the day and added more fluids as it got darker.

With one last push we geared up to work in the dark, practicing room clearing with a flashlight and gun. Those who were not clearing populated the mock structure, appearing as either innocents or as armed opposition. We had done this drill in the day. But the night closes the environment in, making it more real and intense. The drills with both opponents and non-targets are very interesting and are a great benefit since it requires that the target be identified: in reality we cannont just shoot anything that moves. This forces people to control their emotions even more under stress. As always, proper use of lighting proved to rule the night, a point that everyone quickly saw and tasted.

I compliment the students that came to do the work. Most people are too lazy, too afraid, to complacent, or oblivious to know that they need to expand their abilities. They see the fair weather and don’t see a need to prepare for the possiblity of life’s storms. I admire those who attended for their hardwork and understanding of the value of training.

A few pictures are already posted at:

There were quite a few who wished to attend but couldn’t. I do know who some of you are but it wouldn’t hurt to send me an email and let me know you are interested. The next event will be coming up soon….new and improved, of course.

Robert Cooksey wrote:
     Thank you for a good time and some good training.

     For me, this kind of work really draws attention to the small, internal things that get lost during excitement: wanting to sit and snipe with the illusion that I’m safe if I sit still; breaking posture and realizing that if someone gets the jump on me I am not prepared to move; uncontrolled tension causing my breathing, posture, movement, everything to go sideways.

     This time around, the space felt different to me. It was similar to working an attacker with strikes and leading them. I wasn’t good at it by any means, but I could begin to see how simply showing barrel in a lane would lead an adversary in another direction allowing me more freedom of movement as I worked them into a tighter package. If they were moving well, this became much more difficult.

      Something that I’d like to work in future seminars would be close quarters gun retention and perhaps some training involving both knives and guns in which an adversary has a weapon in close quarters and we don’t know what it is. I know that if I know I’m training gun, I am sloppier with my movement on the lateral sides of the weapon than I am when I know it’s a knife. If i know it’s a gun, I immediately try to close distance, but with a knife, the fear that I’ve yet to learn to manage results in much different movement (not necessarily and probably not good movement in most cases).
      It’s always good to train with folks at varying levels of training and to see how small the margins are that we are always working to shave away in our favors. The humbling aspect of such training is always good for me outside of the direct application of the techniques at work.

      The relaxing and fun approach to the training I think helps to dissolve some of the initial fear and hesitation that people have with regard to this kind of training. Seeing confidence grow initially and leading to a more considered humility that continues to work through all those things that threaten to prevent us from moving freely by the end is something I’ve grown to expect to see in training with you and the Systema community in general. This seminar was no different. The camaraderie, per usual was a giant plus.

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