Many years ago at a seminar, Vladimir told me to lie flat on my back, which I eagerly did, not knowing what he had in store for me.
He then instructed another student to lie down on top of me.
“Ok, so now what do I do?” I thought.
But he wasn’t done.
One after another, he had students lie down on top of every part of my body until you couldn’t see me from the bottom of the pile.
Yet, one row of bodies on me wasn’t enough, as Vladimir had another row pile on top of the first.
“Done yet?” I wondered.
Then, a third row piled on the second.
“Well, that’s all I can take.”
Fortunately, that’s all he piled on me.
Next came Vladimir’s simple instruction,”Now, get out.”
I couldn’t move.
That was the point.
I thought there was no way I could move several hundred pounds of human beings…
…and I was right.
I had come to know that with Vladimir, there’s always a way to do things I thought previously impossible. This was just the next challenge.
If you’ve never had 10 guys crushing you into the floor, it’s quite the experience.
First comes the fear that you will be flattened like a cartoon character under the weight.
Then comes the (perceived) inability to breathe that causes panic, in the purest sense. I’ve seen a student freak out when we repeated this exercise several years ago.
Once I realized Vlad. was serious — and that everyone was watching me to see what I would do — and I knew there was a way out, I set out to find it.
I knew I couldn’t move them, but I could move myself.
From what I had already learned about Systema at that time, I knew that I could always move some part of me, but would that be enough?
I began to breathe and writhe, noticing that everyone above me began to shift with me.
I just needed to keep this movement going, and to keep trying to amplify it.
Then it happened.
The guy on top fell off!
I kept breathing and altering the directions I moved to see if I could free a limb.
Sure enough, as the mass moved with me, I got an arm free and two more guys fell off.
Now I knew I could escape, which after a few more undulations, I did.
I was out!
The exercise went from panicky to fun.
Vladimir explained that this exercise is not just for people, but could also work if inanimate objects, like a fallen bookcase or part of a building, had you pinned down and you needed to wriggle out.
For combat, this exercise is a brilliant method to teach you how to move your body first, before moving your limbs, to generate space and affect your attacker, the same type of whole-body movement you need to escape chokes and holds.
If you can find a way to move with 9 or 10 guys on top of you, moving with only 1 guy on top of you is a piece of cake by comparison (Unfortunately, it doesn’t work both ways).
Yeah, we’re not normal.