On the 29th and 30th of October, Vladimir Vasiliev graced Tokyo, Japan, once again, to provide over 100 participants, from around Japan, Asia and Europe, with an incredible seminar. Some of the topics covered were: Breathing, Restoration from Stress, Knife Work, Escapes from Grabs, Leg Work and much more.
I would like to show my deep appreciation to Vladimir, for his inspiration, humour and patience, and Valerie for her support. The entire seminar was a truly great experience.
I would also like to thank Andy Cefai and Scott McQueen because, without them, none of this would've happened. I also thank Ryo Onishi, of Systema Osaka, for his excellent translation and breathing, and Sanbongi and the guys, from Systema Japan, who helped out with the organisation of the event. A big thanks also goes to the attendees for participating in the seminar.
The amount of valuable information that Vladimir gave was unbelievable, so I will try my best to cover what he taught at this seminar.
Vladimir started off the day with explaining the importance of removing tension and fear from the body with the use of breathing. To do this, Vladimir said that we can use three exercises to help us “remove fear from the body and psyche.” These were: Push Ups, Squats and Leg Raises. He said that these are exercises “you can specifically do for yourself” and that by doing them you can build “sensitivity for yourself and the people in front of you.”
First of all, Vladimir explained how to do a proper push up. He pointed out that when you do a push up you “subconsciously hit the other person” and that “instead of hitting people, you hit the floor.” He also advised that “you only need to use the muscles you need to do the exercise” and “you have stay in such a way to relax the muscles.”
The first drill performed was to inhale, exhale, hold our breath, relax ourselves and then do one Push Up. After restoring ourselves, we did 2 Push Ups. We tried to do this up to 15 repetitions in a period that took about 25 minutes. In between bouts of Push Ups, we restored ourselves by stretching in a variety of ways, walking and running. He said that we had to remember the feeling we had before we started the exercise and that during the exercise we should feel comfortable. Vladimir told us that at about 5 or 6 Push Ups emotions come. For example, you feel sorry for yourself or you hate the people around you. He said that we have to be ready for when this happens. Vladimir said that “we need to know how to remove fear from the body” and that by doing this exercise, we learn to restore ourselves if somebody scares or does something to us. A very interesting thing he said was that by doing the breath hold exercises “the tension inside will grow, because you don’t breath” and that “the tension inside will destroy the tension outside.” This was very noticeable after doing this exercise. We also did the same drill but with Squats and Leg Raises. A couple more important points that he made were, that in Systema, “you study to work with your own stress” and that by doing this “you’ll know yourself more deeply.”
We next did the same thing but held the breath on the inhale. Vladimir asked us to try and do 5 Push Ups, Squats, and Sit Ups on one breath. It was basically up to us but it was important to restore ourselves in the same way as we did before. Vladimir said that this was the “next level” and that it was “easier but harder.” The reason for this being that we are happy because we have more breath in our body but it’s harder because there’s more tension in the body. This leads to the blood pressure rising very quickly. He said that the “rule is not to destroy yourself” so it’s important not be a fanatic.
Next Vladimir got us to do some walking while holding our breath. We inhaled, exhaled a little, raised our arms, held our breath, walked for as long as we could and counted our steps. After starting breathing again, we had to restore ourselves before we tried the breath hold again. It was important to progressively build up our number of steps. Vladimir told us that the purpose of this drill was to “find where the fear comes from.” Vladimir also explained that by performing this exercise we can study how to “check ourselves” and that we can “see the point” when fear comes in. He said that we should “bravely walk” and not look down. Vladimir explained that when we raise our arms “fear comes much faster.” We also “learn to relax our shoulders” and it “allows you to walk straight.”
The above series of breath hold exercises really helped me to observe the deeper tensions that lay in my mind and body. After each exercise, I felt calmer, lighter, more relaxed and energized. These exercises also help to cultivate honesty and patience. I found that even though it’s harder, it’s better to do the exercises slowly rather than rushing to complete the task. This reminds me of something Vladimir once said about speed being a reflection of fear. If you do the repetitions fast, it means that you are more fearful.
We next did a drill where you strike, slap and choke your partner. After the receiving the strikes, the receiving partner had to restore themselves. You then changed over. Vladimir said that “you don’t need to go deep” and that you should “hit the muscles.” I was lucky enough to receive some of Vladimir’s strikes to the shoulder muscles and back. Upon impact, they felt like a mini explosion in my mind but even though the blows were thunderous they were not painful in an irritating way. Afterwards, my shoulders, and body felt more relaxed and felt calmer and more energized. Vladimir’s strikes seemed to help remove fear and tension from the body.
After the break, Vladimir taught all of the participants Knife Work. Vladimir gave an amazing demonstration on how to work with a knife. While doing this, Vladimir advised that “it’s better to keep straight at least in the beginning” because “if you bend, you’ll scare the person.” He said “allow the person to poke you” so you can “see the how you respond to contact.” He explained that we “need to know how to move properly” and that proper movement entails “seeing what’s around you.” Vladimir also mentioned that it’s important to observe the person.
Vladimir allowed the participants, more or less straight away, to disarm the knife and take the person down. Along the way, Vladimir gave us little pointers. Some of these pointers consisted of how to use and apply pressure to the opponent’s tension areas when taking the knife away. He also told us to “work a little before the movement” and to affect both hands of the attacker right away. He said that you should control the knife hand, but not in a tense way, and that your shoulders should always be relaxed. Other hints he gave were not to look down, to “see the distance of the opponents hands and feet”, to “work with different parts of the body”, to “relax your hands” and that your “legs should always be free to escape.” Vladimir also explained that if the attacker moves at one speed, you should move at one and half their speed. He demonstrated this by having his partner attack him with the knife. Vladimir didn’t seem to be moving faster but the distancing was so perfect that the attacker could never reach him. This was very subtle and amazing work. The day was finished off the day with working against 2 or 3 attackers with knives. Regarding working against a knife, two points that Vladimir made really stuck with me. The first was to “be patient” and the second was to “work from relaxation.”
Vladimir, again, began the day by talking about the importance of learning to remove tension from the body. He said that there is a lot of tension inside of the body and that sometimes it “takes years to remove it.” He said that we “usually destroy ourselves without a partner” so we have to learn to protect ourselves from ourselves. Vladimir taught us that “fear makes your body dry”, so we need to remove this tension and fear, so our body can be “stable, flexible” and so it can react properly.
In order to do this, Vladimir introduced us to some breathing exercises that were helpful and important. First, he asked us to breathe in a little, then mid-way and finally as deep as we could. We then did the same thing but added the same degree of tension to the breath. For example, when breathing in a little, you tensed up a little. After this, we performed a similar drill but when we inhaled and tensed up a little, we stayed in the tensed up position and used burst breathing to breathe through the tension. We did this for a little, mid-way and deep inhalation. We then, in our own time, did the same work but changed the levels of breath and tension in our bodies. This helped us to learn to breathe through constantly changing bodily tensions. While doing this, it was necessary to “check yourself all the time.” Vladimir also mentioned that “if you cannot relax yourself, at least, breathe through the tension” and by doing this “you start to work with your own fear.”
Vladimir then demonstrated a drill where you inhale, while completely tensing yourself, and then, on the exhale, do as many ground movements as possible. When Vladimir did this, he looked calm and his movement was smooth and not rushed. After the exhaled movements, he restored himself before doing it again. After, we did one inhale/ ground movement and one exhale/ ground movement. Vladimir said that “every time you switch your movement, you switch your breathing” and that the breathing shouldn’t be interrupted. Vladimir also told us that, if we like, we can tense and relax ourselves at the same time.
Vladimir taught a series of exercises where you learn to remove tension and restore yourself through movement. The first exercise, was to get into a pushup position. From this position, we inhaled, exhaled and relaxed ourselves. When the tension came, we had to do one push up to reduce the tension. The next stage of this, was to do it from a three quarters position and ,after that, from a ninety degree position. Vladimir told us that by doing this kind of exercise we “learn to relax through movement.” He also said to focus on relaxing the shoulders. After, we did a similar thing with squats, sit ups and leg raises. With the leg raises and sit ups, we raised our legs to a 45 degree angle, waited until the tension came and then did one leg raise. After this, we straight away raised our upper body to a 45 degree angle and did the same. The drill went from leg raise to sit up to leg raise and so forth.
In order to relax ourselves, Vladimir asked us to lie on our stomachs and hold onto our ankles. From there, we moved forwards, backwards and sideways. We then turned over, put our hands and legs in the air and did the same thing.
The next exercise was to do push ups until you got tired. When tired, you straight away moved into squats. Once you got tired from the squats, you did sit ups and then, in the same fashion, you moved onto leg raises. The order of the exercises was up to you. It was important to inhale on one movement and exhale on one movement. Vladimir said that “I need to hear your breathing.” Vladimir told us that you study how to “restore yourself through exercise” by doing this drill.
The next drill Vladimir showed was inhaling, exhaling, holding our breath while doing a Push Up and then, after starting breathing again, restoring ourselves doing the same exercise. After that, we did the same thing with squats, sit ups and leg raises. We moved from one exercise to the other without stopping. If it you got too tired, you could walk, forwards or backwards, or run in order to restore yourself. Once you restored yourself, you started with the main exercises again. We restored ourselves by using burst breathing. Vladimir said that when the body is tense, we can build our breath back up with burst breathing. If our body’s tense, it’s harder, with deep breathing, to get breath into the body because the deep breaths increase tension.
We next moved onto learning about how our partner’s body moves by moving their shoulders, and checking their hips and knees. This is also important because we can check if the person has any injured joints because, as Vladimir told us, they will “subconsciously protect the injured area.” If this happens, we should tell them not to worry so that they can relax more. This also enabled the person being manipulated to learn how to fall properly. This was done by exhaling, staying relaxed and not making any noise. Vladimir taught us to “work with the person as if he’s a young child” and to give them “a road to escape” down.
Vladimir went on to demonstrate a Grab and Escape drill. His partner tried to grab his head and Vladimir either went under the hand or removed the hand. He explained that “all of your movement should be relaxed”, you should “check yourself” at all times and move yourself a little further away from the person grabbing you, in order to confuse them. We then did the same thing but always had to have one hand maintaining contact with the partner. After this, Vladimir demonstrated taking the opponent down. Vladimir advised us to put the attacker down quite softly but placed emphasis on caring but not caring about your partner.
After the break, Vladimir showed us a drill where by, with his fists, he checked whether his partner was soft. He said that you do it to “see how the person reacts if you touch him with a fist.” As with the previous drills, we had to constantly check our internal state while pushing and receiving the pushes. For the person receiving the pushes, Vladimir explained that gradually their movement should become less and less.
We then moved on to pushing the legs with the feet. Vladimir said to “work from contact” and that “if your legs aren’t that flexible, use your arms.” Vladimir gave us an inspiring demonstration on how to work against kicks. When working against kicks, Vladimir advised us to see where the hands and legs are, to be natural and to not be untouchable. He also told us to “see different possibilities”, “wait for a position when you can hit” the attacker and to not react and get upset. We then did the same work but against 3 people.
The next drill of the day was to evade your partner’s kick, relax yourself, check yourself and then push your partner with your fists while still maintaining your relaxed state. We did this in groups of three. Other points that Vladimir made were to “use your hands to escape” and that you “need to learn how to use the different parts of the body.” The day was ended with massage and participant questions.