Traditional martial arts recognizes student development by awarding a series of belts and stripes leading to black belt and advanced degrees of black belt. Systema practitioners and critics are sometimes frustrated by the lack of a simple rational progression sequence like, “learn these 15 techniques and these 3 katas and you will move to the next level.” Systema’s layers are subtle and internal and you feel the progress or you don’t; it is personal. It truly is “your Systema.”
Phases of Power
Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend Parameters of Power got a glimpse of the deep and advanced Systema. The progressions were designed to remind us of what we had to unlearn, review what we had learned and then take us to a new level. Most improvements began with the use of tension and force. This was a reminder of what we had to unlearn early on. At the beginning of each exercise, we used what is commonly thought of as power. We used brute force.
In the second phase, we used relaxation techniques to perform offensive or defensive moves. This was classical Systema as we have learned it. We breathe, we move, we keep our form in a relaxed fashion and state. We are all familiar with these exercises. Systema breathing and relaxation are fundamental to our style.
But Parameters of Power introduced us to a new level:
Vladimir (our instructor) presented us to new exercises (new for me) in which he taught us to alternate and vary our relaxation and tension or at least use degrees of relaxed movement to our advantage to create power. We now gained power, like electricity, by creating and removing tension in our opponent. Our power was like electricity with alternating currents.
As an example, when we are hit, if we are tense, the pain of a hit resonates on us like the skin of a drum. Power in the traditional sense is how hard can you hit and how hard a hit you can take. I hit you 9 times and you hit me 8. I knock you down. I win. While Systema teaches us to relax and not take the hit in the traditional sense. We relax, we move, we don’t want to just take strikes, but our breathing and relaxation make us not afraid of being hit and reduce the pain of the strikes when we are hit.
But there is a third level, the alternating current level. The third level training is the taking of the punch, relaxing to a point and then countering with tension or at least less relaxation. We alternate from relaxation to tension to relaxation.
The same is true as we wrestle. We relax so as not to give support to our opponent. We then give some tension creating artificial support and then strategically remove the tension and the opponent falls into the relaxation. We strategically alternate tension and relaxation.
It’s Not About Technique
We didn’t learn techniques because Systema isn’t about techniques. We learned how to understand our opponents. We learned how to lead opponents with our eyes, sense opponent’s intentions before they strike or kick. We learned to study their structure. We practiced being a step ahead because we understood and studied them.
Techniques in martial arts are pre-programmed moves designed for a type of situation. Many of us have advanced training in other martial arts and when a punch comes, we have multiple techniques that are preprogrammed to “fire.” But the reason I fly from Texas at least twice a year to attend Vladimir’s seminars in Toronto is because, in real life, you aren’t dealing with a theoretical punch or kick. You are dealing with another human being, a unique human being.
To succeed if a conflict becomes necessary, you need to understand them and be able to use your Systema skills to deal with that person at that time and in that place and play the one card they least expect: the card that is relaxed and ready for them. The card that is ready to use their tension and our trained ability to alternate our current to meet them how they are. This card is the Systema trump card and we spent a great time working it at Parameters of Power.
Thank you to Vladimir, Valerie and all my training partners for an incredible seminar.