On the 19th and 20th of February, Daniel Ryabko visited Osaka, Japan, and gave an inspirational seminar. Daniel was also accompanied by Mark, who, throughout the seminar, without having a break, gave stick massage to many participants. I would like to sincerely thank Ryo Onishi, Head Instructor of Systema Osaka, and his students, who helped with the organisation of the event, for putting on a great seminar. The topics that were covered in the seminar were many, such as wrestling, strikes from close range, working while constantly moving and work with a whip. I will be doing a review based on my notes, so I apologise if I miss out any drills, explanations or the order of the drills is different.
First of all, I must say that Daniel was a gentleman, who gladly answered participants' questions and worked with students at any time throughout the seminar. Daniel's work was so subtle and controlled, yet very powerful. When seeing Daniel working in the demonstrations, it looked as if he was hardly doing anything. However, the effect on the participants was obvious. When I had the chance to work with Daniel, it made me realise that even though his outward movements were small and subtle, the effect on your body was great. You could really feel him affecting the tension in your body or introducing the correct amount of tension into your body to get the correct response. Of course, there was much more to the work than just this but it introduced the students to a more internal and deeper way of looking at and practising Systema.
On the first day, Daniel started off by introducing the Russian Rehabilitation Techniques using the stick, knife and whip. While demonstrating on a volunteer, Daniel told us that this is the essence of Systema. By receiving this kind of massage, the person can learn to use breathing to relax themselves and control their mind. By experiencing this, the person can clean themselves and change their state of mind. I was one of those lucky to receive this massage, which was given by Mark, and can definitely say that it would be worth while for anybody to under go this massage.
After the above brief introduction, Daniel showed a drill where he put his palms on his partner's palms, who was standing opposite him and pushing on Daniel's hands. Daniel said it was important to feel the tension and not to lose control. He pointed out that when the partner pushes you, you can feel tension come into your body. Instead of allowing the tension to take over your body, Daniel said that you could redirect the tension back into their body. By doing this, you therefore are able to use your partner's own strength and tension against them. Daniel also suggested leading the partner's push by not giving the partner any tension but moving in the same direction as the push, therefore talking the partner off balance. Daniel showed that once you got used this, you could also also redirect the push in a variety of directions. He said that it was important to keep your form, relax and to not just affect the point of the body you are in contact with, but the whole body. This progressed naturally to doing the same work but from your partner grabbing your wrists and neck.
After the break, we practised walking forwards and backwards while holding our hands straight up and in a ring and with our eyes open and closed. While still walking around the gym, we pushed the people around us with our hands and fists. This moved onto trying to take the people down while continuing to walk using the hands, hands in a ring and the feet. This kind of work was also done while doing crab walking and moving on the ground. This drill taught us that it's important to continually move while working.
After this, Daniel with a partner responded to a variety of grabs using movement and, when the time was right, pushed them with his fist. Daniel advised everybody not to wrestle but to just escape through movement. He said it was important to feel the partner, wait and push at the correct moment. Daniel also pointed out that when pushing the partner, it was essential to try and “take all of their body” rather than just effecting the area of contact. Daniel told everybody that when placing and pushing with the fist it was important not to give the partner tension and to touch the person “without power.” When this is done the person on the receiving end doesn't realise, because of the threat not being perceived, that the strike is there. He also mentioned that you don't need to pull the punch back before striking, you just leave it on the face or body and push from that point. If you wanted to do two strikes, you again push or strike from the fist, which is on the body. As mentioned before, from the outside, these kinds of strikes were very difficult to see but once you had a chance to feel them, the power of them was unbelievable.
Day 2 started off with Daniel getting the participants to walk around the gym while drawing numbers from 1 to 50 with the arms. It was suggested that we first draw the numbers with our hands, moving from the shoulders, low at our hips and then with the hands at shoulder level. This was then repeated but, instead of moving from the shoulders, we drew the numbers from the elbows. While doing this, it progressed to walking backwards. In addition, we changed the length of our stride to walking with long steps and very minute steps. We also did this with our eyes closed in both directions. We did this for an especially long time, in order to allow us to get used to moving our hands in a variety of directions without thought and tension. It was important to constantly check where the tension was in the body and relax those areas.
A drill that Daniel demonstrated was getting his partner to push him on the face or the body. He explained that you can affect the pushing hand by relaxing and giving them tension and, because of this, you can change the direction of the person pushing. This was followed by a similar drill but this time with the emphasis on the person pushing with the fist. He said that you shouldn’t just hit the person but control them. An interesting point he made was that “if you control them”, they won’t want to escape because you’re not giving them much power. When I felt this, he just placed his fist on your face but there wasn’t a threat there to make you pull away. If I moved, he kept the connection with the face and when he pushed me, I didn’t get pushed away even though the push was powerful. He somehow through keeping the connection and always moving, kept contact.
Another drill we practiced was placing the fist on your partner’s face and moving around them while keeping the fist in the same position. This moved on to your partner trying to keep connected and push you with their fist in the face. As they did this, you had to escape while walking and relaxing the neck and the body.
An interesting drill that we performed was to direct the partner down to the ground with our fists directly on them. This was done to learn how to control somebody with your fist. It was important not to give the person tension or use aggression to lower the partner to the ground. It was essential to stay relaxed, breath and work with the partner’s tension. Daniel said that you have to “work inside”, ”go around the tension” and “give the right direction” to the partner, so that they feel comfortable while being directing down. When I had the opportunity to feel Daniel do this work, I barely felt any tension even though I was gradually being guided to the floor. There was never any tension given that I might resist against. I definitely felt like he was working around the tense areas in my body. I also felt that with his first contact he had control of my entire body. Daniel did an excellent display where he did this work with two people. As I mentioned previously, Daniel’s movement was not obvious but his partners’ physical response was very clear. Every small movement that he made had a big impact on the movement of his partners. Daniel made it look so easy but as you can probably gather, it was very difficult to do.
For the last part of the seminar, Daniel showed us some short whip work against sticks and knives. Daniel said that it was important to control the attacking hand and to go straight to the body. When he was working, he manipulated his partner’s body with the whip as if he was just using his hands. When striking with the whip, he didn’t wildly flail the whip. Instead he precisely hit the attacker with short strikes. He never seemed flustered or excited, he just seemed naturally calm, as if he was drinking a cup of coffee. One of the most memorable parts of this part was when Daniel got everybody to lay on their stomachs on the floor. He then preceded to strike every participant on the backside with the long whip. The amazing thing was that each strike was just the right amount for each person to deal with and learn from and, in addition to this, everybody looked energized afterwards.
This was a fun and insightful seminar that introduced its participants to some of the deeper aspects of Systema. If you ever have chance, I sincerely recommend that you take advantage of Daniel Ryabko’s vast knowledge and experience.