On this day, Vladimir covered ground wrestling and learning to escape with movement from grabs and locks. It was another great day and it gave us the chance to continue the practice of the principles that we learned the day before, except applied to different situations.
1) In pairs, we rolled together with only our fingers (one finger) lightly touching each other. It was important to stay relaxed and to continually move. On one roll, together, we breathed in, and then on the next roll we breathed out.
2) We then did the same thing but instead of one finger, we did it with all the tips of the fingers and thumbs touching each other (one hand). Again, it was important to breath, relax, keep connected with your partner's movement and to touch your fingers as lightly as possible.
3) We then returned to doing it again with one finger.
4) With a different partner, we put the soles of our feet together and rolled from our fronts to our backs in a spindle motion. When we were able to connect the feet well, this was a lot easier to do but once the connection was lost it became very difficult. It was necessary to lightly make contact with the feet while being sensitive and moving at the same time as your partner.
5) We next did a similar drill but this time we placed our feet on our partner’s shoulders and did the same work.
By doing the above drills, they helped me develop sensitivity and awareness of my partner’s and my movement. They also enabled me to learn how to match my movement with my partner’s movement with minimal contact. This contact was just enough to feel the movement.
6) In a big group circle, we did One Arm Push Ups while placing one of our hands on the person next to us. Now, I’ve done this exercise before as I just explained it. Vladimir gave us the real reasons for doing these kinds of exercise.
First, before you do it, go into a normal push up position and try to “distribute the tensions evenly” throughout your body. From there, place your hand onto the person next to you and as Vladimir said “take the force” your partner is giving you “and give it to the other person.” He said that “each one of you will make it easier” for everybody else and because of this you will “feel comfortable and relaxed.”
Vladimir also mentioned that “the idea is to distribute the force” and “to find a way to give it.” He said that if “you feel too much force, you won’t be able to pass it through, you can do nothing.” To be able to do it, Vladimir taught us that we have to control two things. These were: controlling our own movement and the force that is applied. He then related it to wrestling by saying that the person you are wrestling with “gives you force” and “the idea is to give back that force.”
I have to say that when I was able to pass my partner’s tension through to the next person, it was very easy to do the One Arm Push Up; your arm doing the action felt very light. Your whole body was being carried by everybody else doing the same thing. This only happened when you were able to pass your tension through though. However, when there was a break in the chain, you suddenly felt even more tension being applied to you and thus made it very hard to do the push up. The reason being that you suddenly had everybody trying to gain their support from you while you couldn’t pass the tension on. Even though it was hard, I really enjoyed this practice and can see how this work can be applied to so many areas of Systema.
7) We then did similar work but applied to Circle Squats. By synchronizing the breath as a group, it, again, felt like you were being carried by the movement of everybody else. This was not just about doing a group squat but working individually. This was about learning to work together and connecting with all of the group’s breath and movement. Vladimir got us to do it slow and then we did it faster and faster. The number of times we did it, and the speed at which we did them, depended on the number of claps he did.
It amazes me that these apparently simple but hard drills have a much deeper purpose than just improving our strength, stamina and, of course, breathing. It makes me realize that so much can be learned from these simple drills. All we need is patience, awareness and the right advice from a teacher with a deep knowledge in Systema. The acts of spreading tension and receiving and passing tension on are some of the major things that I took from this seminar. It makes me look at and do our core exercises in a different way and with a new awareness.
8) In pairs, we did wrestling but the person defending on their back was only allowed to use their legs to defend themselves. The other person had to try and get past the legs and control the body. In order to learn, we were asked to do it slowly and softly. This was a chance for both people to learn about movement. W did this for a long time, and with many partners, in order to get used to it.
Here are some statements that Vladimir made while demonstrating:
“Let him initiate with any kind of movement.”
“Do it softly.”
“Don’t hold him tight.”
“Control his ability to stand up.”
“There is no information that is offered.” He meant himself.
“Be ready but do nothing with your body.”
“He’s giving me everything I need.”
“I’m not rushing at all, there’s no danger to my movement.”
“Move yourself conveniently.”
“It’s like a conversation.”
“Start slowly and progress.”
“We are here to learn.”
I had a chance to work with Vladimir on this drill and the main areas that impressed me the most were his calmness, relaxation, sensitivity to movement and movement. He was always patient and because of this he was able to take advantage of the movement that I gave him at the right time. At no moment did I feel like we were wrestling because he wasn’t fighting me, he was just moving in the right way at the right time. It was just about movement not a clash of egos. There were no quick sudden movements which startled me and put me on the defensive. This was mainly due to the fact that he moved smoothly and subtly and allowed you to tie yourself up, rather than him trying to control you overtly. While watching him demonstrate, his face was always calm and he never looked tired because of his efficient use of his energy. The movement and feeling reminded me of the day before when I worked with him with the knife. The feeling was the same.
Vladimir then got us to work in pairs. One person had a knife and the other didn’t. Vladimir counted to thirty and the person without the knife had to get the knife off their partner. If they managed to do it, their partner then had the remaining time to get it back. Whoever didn’t have the knife at the end of the time had to do 20 Push Ups. We did this exercise 7 times. On the last go, the “loser” had to do 50 Push Ups. As you can imagine, this was a very tough but fun drill. Everybody was very tired but energized after this.
After the break, Vladimir demonstrated how to escape from locks while the person trying to lock him was kneeling down. This was the same work as we did with Daniel Ryabko when he came over, so it was great to get the chance to review it again. Vladimir described this as “Soft Work.” He said that when somebody applies a lock on you, you should “listen to your body.” Vladimir further explained that you should observe “how tensions are growing in your body” and that you need to feel what direction you should move in, “in order to get rid of those tensions.” He made us aware that your partner shouldn’t feel any of those tensions in your body. This made me think again of the Knife Work we did with him when he said that your partner shouldn’t feel anything. It should be almost like you don’t exist. He said in order to “eliminate those tensions”, we should “relax”, “move continuously” and not overextend our body. He said that “if your body is collected, it’s easier to move.” When working with Vladimir, it really felt like you didn’t have hold of anything. I couldn’t really feel anything. It was almost like I was moving my hands around in the air without holding anything. I learned from this that continuous movement, when done naturally and in the right way, enabled you to keep your form without needing to put any tension into the joint. You breath, relax, move and this helps you to maintain form when somebody is trying to affect your body through manipulation of joints. Sensitivity to the very start of a movement or the intention of a movement about to be performed also helps.This was what I observed and felt when getting the chance to work with Vladimir.
We then moved on to doing the same thing but standing up. Here are some other statements that he made while demonstrating this:
When your partner puts a lock on you “your partner shouldn’t feel anything.” This again relates to the work we did with the knife on the first day.
“Stay relaxed in order to perceive tension.”
“Stay relaxed in order to perceive tension.”
“Don’t give tension back.”
“Sensing the feeling of the movement from the very beginning.”
“If you push, they’ll do something.”
“The quality of movement is very important.”
“Listen inside your body, see what the reaction is."
This drill merged into another exercise that showed an important concept that would be practiced in all of the classes I attended with Vladimir. The idea was to “take the movement he’s giving you and add a bit of your own movement.” He said that “power comes from the movement” and he showed this by accepting his partner’s movement, harmonizing with it, taking it over unnoticeably and then adding to it. By doing this, he was able to generate a lot of power without the use of muscular tension. The effect on the partner was very obvious. It’s almost like the partner did it to themselves. When working with Vladimir, I again didn’t feel hardly anything. It was like I was grasping air. The movement I gave, ended up controlling me. He was able to use my inertia, in order to move me around without force. I don’t think he would’ve been able to do this though, if he wasn’t completely connected to my movement. This idea of receiving the movement like something “precious”, and then adding to it, is one of the main things that I took away from the whole time Vladimir was here. It’s a subtle aspect but very essential when trying to work with someone without force being applied.
Vladimir said to “ride this movement” and I feel that this is a very important point. Desire to do something shouldn’t get in the way, you should “let it be” so to speak. Even when adding to the movement, this doesn’t come from desire but from the feeling of the movement and where it’s going. Instead of two ego’s movements occurring at one time, the movement becomes one and there’s no “clash of personalities” as Maxim Franz said when he came over to do a seminar for Systema Japan.
Unfortunately I had to leave early but to say I had a great day is an understatement. I took away from this a deeper feeling of the depth of Systema. It was truly remarkable. I will write the other special class’s reviews as soon as possible.