Injuries & Systema, Part 3

To recap, there’s inherent danger in practicing martial arts, where the point is to inflict damage, yet we have to train in such a way so as to not injury each other while we are learning how to injury the bad guys.

This raises the question, “How do I stay safe while training, given the risks and training partners who may not have your safety in mind?”

First, you must adopt the mindset that your safety is your responsibility, regardless of your partner.

You might argue that each person should look out for their partners.

I agree, in principle, however, this attitude can make you lazy.

You may begin to rely on your partner to not ever hurt you, leading you to become complacent with your defenses.

In addition, a bad guy will be trying to harm you, so you better train like you’ll fight.

Even in training, if you neuter all of your attacks and train knowing your partner won’t really hurt you, then when you meet other students from different schools you might be shocked when they attack you realistically, with the element of danger missing from your regular practice.

At my school, we have a common response to students who get clipped a little too hard, “you should have moved.”

This mindset is so pervasive that I hear students saying, “I should have moved,” if they take a hard shot.

When I hear this I know they are taking responsibility for their own safety.

A side benefit of this mindset is that students don’t blame each other for training realistically, rather they come to appreciate what Vladimir calls, honesty, in training.

NOTE: by realism I mean not missing on purpose (you don’t have to blast someone in the jaw but you should still touch them so they know they didn’t avoid the blow) or not putting on a weak choke or lock, which does a disservice to your partner as they do not learn to defend against a real, tight choke or lock.

A simple method to ensure safe, productive training is to ask your partner to slow down if you are failing too often.

Most people will be happy to comply.

I had a student years back who was very good, and very proud, of his joint-locking ability.

Whenever something wasn’t working on his (usually less-skilled) partner, he would resort to a full-force, full-speed joint lock because he had to win, inevitably hurting his partner.

If I noticed this, I would have him repeatedly use the lock on his partner, telling him to do it again, only slower.

I would continue to repeat the lock until his partner learned to successfully escape.

My students were relieved to be able to counter his locks, while he would then gravitate to a newer student and we’d start the cycle all over again.

He never did learn, but all of my other students were grateful to be able to stay safe while working with him until he moved on.

The ability to protect yourself from harm, in class and out of class, is baked right into the main Systema principles and training methods — relax, keep proper body alignment and move by breathing correctly.

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