A Word from Paige Erickson

Paige M.J. Erickson

When I tell people that I travel alone in Europe eight months a year, the first question is always whether it’s safe for a woman. (The second is: how do you pack only one suitcase for eight months?) While I do feel comfortable as I travel, it’s likely because I’m mindful of my safety. I don’t pretend I’m in a movie. I read Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift of Fear.” I try to listen to my instincts. Because of this interest in looking after myself, I kept getting drawn to videos by Vladimir Vasiliev and Systema Colorado. As a woman who would likely be smaller than an attacker, I became fascinated with Systema escapes and the ways to handle larger opponents. It looked like dancing, but it was also clearly effective for self-defense.

There’s a Krav Maga place very close to where I live in Colorado, but I it wasn’t for me. I’m under no illusions about whether I could square up with a huge guy and claw his eyes out. I wanted a way to be stealthy. So instead of walking to Krav Maga courses, I drove 30 minutes to Longmont for Systema instead.

On my first night of class at Systema Colorado, Brad asked about my goals. I said I wanted to be able to escape. So the class started to practice this, but I also learned about breath, movement, and relaxation. I work online and tend to hold my breath while on my laptop. I can end up with my shoulders up by my ears, so Systema breathing is practical for my daily life as well.

Each class was an opportunity. Students are well aware of how challenging and valuable Systema can be, so there’s humility in the practice. New students work with experienced students, and we can all learn from each other. At the end of the class, we reflect on our experiences. One night I said: “I remembered to move my feet. It was a minor miracle.” Everyone nodded. They had all been in my place as new students and could remember the journey.

Yet, in only two months of training, I feel a positive change in my awareness and my posture. I do wish more women would take Systema, but not because I dislike working with the men. All of the men I have encountered in Systema have been respectful, helpful, and generous. I would like to see more women in this study because of our vulnerabilities and our strengths.

Systema principles are a great equalizer. I worked with men and could put them down on the mat without aggression, and without having to be stronger. An exercise like this does wonders for dissipating fear, panic, and uncertainty.  It helped me to go beyond my instinct of freezing under pressure, or it would teach me how to recover if I did freeze. It’s a challenge, but so often a real challenge helps us to see who we are. I want to be able to defend myself, if necessary, but it’s also remarkable to see how I could change and surprise myself.

I feel very grateful to study with Brad Scornavacco. Brad sets a standard of integrity so “tough guys” don’t stay long. Only open, generous, curious students who want to do the work will continue to practice. He’s brought together a community of people who want to improve themselves, and who have an interest in helping others to improve as well.

I went to Toronto for the Personal Protection Seminar with Vladimir Vasiliev in March and enjoyed that experience as well. There were only three women in the group of forty. Again, the men were kind and respectful, but I think women are missing out on the benefits of Systema.  We can do well in this training and uncover our potential. We have something valuable to add.

I am going to enjoy my summer months away in Turkey, but I’m also looking forward to getting back to Colorado and resuming my training. Before I left for the Toronto seminar, Brad sent me a note with advice that I am carrying even now: “Just remember, you have every right to be there, and that everyone is there to learn something they don’t know.” I think that’s a perfect way to approach both Systema practice and the whole world.


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