Interview with Brad Scornavacco Part 2



Paul Trout:  Hi, welcome back. This is Paul Trout with Systema Colorado here with Brad Scornavacco, Head of School here at Systema Colorado. And, today we’re going to talk about something that’s near and dear to my heart because it seems to be rather odd in the case of Systema and that’s measuring success and progress, both as a student and as an instructor.

So, I’m going to start right in with why does measuring success seem to be so hard for Systema practitioners?

Brad Scornavacco:  I don’t know. [laughter] Oh shit, why is it hard for people to measure success? Well, I mean, if you’re going to measure success, first of all you have to have a mindset that you want to progress versus just saying well, I’m going to go in and train because I go in and have the in circle and have a good time and I feel better, then that’s it’s own reward kind of thing. And that’s really valid to be ongoing and say I had a great class, but nobody comes in the door and just wants to be as good as they are the first day they walked into class. I mean, everybody wants to get something out of their training.

On a very physical level, it’s can I defend myself? And then, once they get into well, I want to learn how to relax, I want to take the benefits outside of the training floor, that’s another issue.

But, is the question really that? Is that on the physical of why is it difficult for people to measure their physical success?

Paul:  So yeah, there are a number of new students in every six months to a year. We’ll kind of go through waves. And, there always seem to be a couple who don’t leave because they don’t like what we’re doing. And they don’t leave because they’re scared of what we’re doing. And, they don’t leave because outside influences cause them not to be able to train.

They just seem to get to a point where they’re like I have no idea whether what I’m doing, they can’t seem to believe the results that they’re getting. And, they go out and they read and there’s nothing. Systemic has no formalized progression. It’s almost impossible to find anything that currently resembles curriculum.

So, when you design curriculum, you say these are the goals, these are the things we want to achieve and this is how we’re going to get there.

Brad:  Yeah, like if you went to any other school, martial arts or otherwise, or if you went into any business or a corporation anything where they were building something, there would be some kind of blueprint or outline of this is what you’re going to be doing.

Paul:  Yes.

Brad:  And then, Systema seems to be devoid of that? That’s kind of a question?

Paul:  They start to get a little nervous when three days in a row they walk on the mat, we do warm ups, and then it’s kind of like what are we going to work on?

Brad:  Right. One of the first ways I measured it was on my first trip to Russia, I went in and everybody just threw me around for a week. And, I couldn’t do anything. I had no idea what I was doing and why what they were doing worked and what the heck is going on.

Paul:  And, you had a language barrier, too, right?

Brad:  And, we had a language barrier. And, at one point Michael just says you guys don’t know how to breathe. You have bad posture. You’re not moving. You’re too tense. It was almost like he said all of that and that’s kind of what has now coalesced into those four principals. It’s just because he looked at all the Americans and said, “Well, this is what you guys are doing wrong.”

And, maybe he had that and I hadn’t just heard it prior to that, but it was just kind of like wow, that seems to, it became kind of like a teaching model.

And so, after a time [inaudible 3:45] and going back and then being able to see a lot of the same people and being able to hold my own and then further trips being able to say ah, I got you, I threw you down instead of you throwing me down, for me it was very tangible.

It was like I saw the same people and I saw myself progress while working with them while I got better. And a lot of people don’t get that or maybe they don’t look at it.

So for a student to measure their own success, the first thing you have to do is you have to define what it is to you at that time. And that’s why sometimes as a teacher, one of things I tell people is your ability to start relaxing is one of your measurements.

And when they’re not, you want to look at it as a hierarchy, a progression versus like what I call almost like that mosaic view of Systema where you do a little here, you do a little there, or like that holographic view where everything is contained in every part.

Whether or not you look at it in any of those ways you still have to have components. You still have to be able to do them.

I think that people want to do everything and they have an issue with saying my arms move fine. I can’t move my feet. So, let me take a class or two or a month and work on just moving my feet. People have a tendency not to do that.

That can be their own tendency. It could be a misunderstanding of what they are expected to do I also wonder if that’s because people learn for the most part in the seminar setting. You go on a weekend and you’re getting blasted with so much information. It’s that drinking from a fire hose.

When I first gone to seminars, one of the teachers said the seminar means comes to plant a seed, seminal. To plant that seed in your mind means that you are supposed to take something that would take a week and [inaudible 5:40] .

You are supposed to work out for six months under somebody who can help you. I don’t know to what degree people do that. That’s kind of their issue. One, I don’t know what anybody was doing.

Ones that contacted me but when you see people, I can see that dynamic might happen, do my command and that’s the only exposure they get to a qualified teacher. They take what they can get. It becomes kind of a mission actually.

They understand the ideas but it’s kind of well, am I doing it right? If they are working on it for six months, are they doing it incorrectly for six months? If someone is saying, no, it’s not really that way.

If you don’t have a teacher who is qualified to look at you and say, if you do this, it will get better. If you don’t have any goals for yourself, I’m saying, well, every time the person chokes me, I get tense. I stop breathing and I stop moving. It eventually work out slowly, really work on a lot of people.

Do it faster. Let people choke me out. Let people choke me out. Let myself feel really what it feels like. Start working on it, get success and then cast it again.

All right, it’s choking you. It happens. It’s a very simple way to measure progress in that area. One of the trips to Russia which was really interesting was we were asking questions and as we asked questions, the Russian students and Mike himself kept directing us to certain people in the room.

That was really interesting because we were like, oh, we were working on these locks. Go work in Sasha because he’s really good in locks. I said, I want to work with him, right?

Here’s the schedule. Really good, he likes to do locks and we’re going to do striking things. I’ll go work with Sergei. He’s really good at this. We went to him and it was cool because we know these people, these experts in the room and they say, the need help with this. They need help with this.

They all had to seek… They have their own style basically. What fits for them, the way of expressing Systema and what they like and the way they like to work. It was different.

Another level is pretty interesting because you could see where the martial arts were developed. Here’s a guy really good at locking and if just teaches everybody locking, they are good at liking but then they might do striking. Likewise, as you can see how that would develop.

If you are not getting exposure to people who knows those things, that’s is going to… You’re going to stagnate a bit in certain areas in training which is why it’s… The library, people here and I would love to have flatter other people just to see what their angle is and their perspective.

I think it’s a really good thing. That, you have teachers. If you don’t have the light teacher or exposure you can get to some place. There’s a lot of people learning the videos and they can get confuse.

You’ve seen them come here. As you’ve seen other video. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t understand it. I’m trying it. I don’t know what it’s doing in the video even because they don’t have the background knowledge to kind of understand what’s going on.

That’s one reason, the other one is just not going that blind side. Saying, I am here to improve on whatever it is. A lot of students take notes of their own training when they go to places.

And so, you go through a training session and you take notes. As we did this, we cover these topics. First topic, I had no idea what’s going on, way over my head. They don’t get that next time.

This one in the middle, I got him really solid. It seem like I’m getting better at that. This other thing, just starting to understand it.

You have to have an introspection and that review yourself as a student. That’s responsible at being conscientious student.

As I have said earlier was that people come in. I got a great training. I feel good like this is a smile going. Relax and then they are going to leave, forget everything. That coupled with the fact there is no set curriculum and so the topics change and life defense, you are going to find multiples and you are doing ground work and different things.

It’s difficult for people to see that those are all the same thing because probably, things appear different. They don’t or can’t make the connection between those and see the [inaudible 9:31] better. Those are some things.

There goes some challenges why it’s difficult for people to do that. A lot of people don’t… The thing is that how good is our students as students? I don’t know. If you look at a room in a cross section of a seminar or workshop, there’s a hundred people.

How many of those people were A students at school? I mean just an academic school. What they went through a good learning progression and learned something and learned how to learn.

Paul:  How many of them weren’t A students but still knew how to learn? Knew how to take notes and develop the work ethic and skills that go along with that to improve?

Brad:  Right. How many learned how to fake their way through school then you press them and they don’t know what they’re doing? Or talk a good talk, things like that? So you have that personality‑wise, which has nothing to do with Systema, it’s just the way people are of their own learning.

The other thing is you have people who just have different goals. Some don’t have a goal on purpose. I have students who come in and want to do Systema because they don’t have to take tests and they don’t have to learn exactly what everybody’s doing. They don’t have to put their time in. They just come in and get what they get.

Paul:  In fact, if they really didn’t like it, they put the monthly evaluations in.

Brad:  Right, and they didn’t like to be put on the spot, to see if you can do this. So there’s different personality types. You put all that stuff together and it’s kind of a recipe for what it is.

Paul:  Thank you. Your answer in the conversation took care of, as a practitioner, what can I do to make this possible? To be responsible. If you want to set the goals, look for these areas. It’s basically all of the things you would study. Anything. So this next one could be a little touchy, but as a student, how can I gauge my instructor’s progress in Systema?

There are a lot of people who are in study groups, and usually study groups coalesce around one or two individuals who really want to learn this and they’re the ones who put the group together. They’re the ones who go recruit people, and usually they’re the ones who are the leaders.

Instructor may be a bad word. If you’re working in a study group and it’s more of a communal setting rather than going through, what are some things that maybe you can do to help keep each other honest and engage the overall progression of the group?

Brad:  That almost seems like it’s two different questions. One, about if I have a teacher, how do I know the teacher’s improving versus oh, we are learners and how are we improving together? So the one, it’s a really good question because again, I’ve seen people who get a degree of skill. Edward Debono is a guy who wrote a bunch of books on lateral thinking and creative thinking and different things.

He had this term I really liked called the intelligence trap. An intelligence trap is somebody who gets enough skill or ability in something, or enough knowledge in a certain area that they can defend that knowledge without ever having to go outside of it.

So you can protect it. So it would be the kind of person who can argue a point just enough to defend his own point, but then never grow beyond that. So they get just enough.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, kind of thing. But I really liked that term, that it’s a trap. There are people at Systema that I see so far that get a little more relaxed than the average person,

They understand how to flow more and not just do techniques, and, all of a sudden, they go back to their old friends or people they knew in the other martial arts, and all of a sudden everybody’s looking at them. “How did you get so good?”

They use that just enough to defend themselves and not get any better, but when you have beginners, you’re always better than them.

So you can get caught in that, even if it’s unconscious. You get caught in “Oh, I’m better than this person anyways, so I don’t have to improve.” So the idea of how would you gauge your instructor’s progress?

If you start besting your teacher all the time, maybe he’s not getting any better and maybe you are. That’s one simple way to look at it. That happens, and if it happens it’s fine.

But if you feel that you’re getting better all the time and the instructor’s getting better too, that’s how it should be, right? There’s that saying the instructor only has to worry if he stops training.

If he’s not getting any better and it’s an honest thing? It’s not a deference thing of the person just falls and whatever? I guess there are things you can look at in the classroom, are they letting you challenge each other, do things, continue to attack and counter, what is that like?

I mean, because again, I mean, people can build up that little following around themselves and just keep themselves better than everybody and some people like that because its that, you know, you create a comfort zone for yourself and that can happen.

Like I said it doesn’t have to be for a bad intention it can just naturally happen because no body else is around. If you’re in a place where there are a lot of people coming in all the time with skill and other Martial Arts, it’s a good thing Instructor handles those people who have skill and other Martial Arts. I mean, that’s kind of what Systema is about.

A guy comes in and he’s doing Jujitsu, how can the instructor deal with it, you know, and if he can’t, well then, you know, maybe that’s not a bad thing, but it’s feedback.

So, go practice it, so somebody comes in and is a killer stick fighter and she can’t do anything with the guy, you know, you shouldn’t look at that and say, “Well, we shouldn’t do any of that.”

That’s an opportunity for growth. Only that’s how I look at it, it’s my [inaudible 15:25] and some people may not share that, so that’s the difficult thing and so, that’s one way you want to look at any instructor.

I mean I look at it as, fellow students, instructor, anybody, what are they doing to improve and if ‑‑ I don’t know, I mean, when you get good at [inaudible 16:34] you can see what works and what doesn’t work. And if the person, you know ‑ I’ve seen people like that and I’ve seen do stuff and as soon as somebody challenges them they start muscling things and all of a sudden those four principles go out the window.

Paul:  [laughs]

Brad:  I mean, I’ve seen videos of Systema people do that. I know what I’m looking at enough to see it and say, “OK.” I’ve gotten in trouble with people about myself just saying the truth of what I see, “Well, he’s really good and he’s going out teaching seminars,” that’s great, but when I saw this guy on the ground I did not see Systema. I saw him struggling and looked like he really didn’t understand what he was doing.

That’s my opinion based on what I saw and that’s neither good nor bad, that’s what I see. I’ll call it like I see it. I will give people any credit they want but if they go in and they start trying it in our kickboxing ring, all they can throw is left punches one at a time, then they can’t really work in it.

Then I’m going to say, there’s a lot of talk about honesty and that’s being honest. You know, if that is the reality you see it.

So, that’s maybe a reason why in Systema that they don’t want all the different rings, hierarchy, structure, and there are some but I think they try to keep that down so people, you know, kind of stay away from that ‑‑ I’m an instructor, I’m a this, I’m a that, I can’t make a mistake or I have to be better than this person or I have to do this, so that’s something on the wrong road.

Paul:  Yeah, that’s the person who’s supposed to impart the information…

Brad:  Yeah.

Paul:  …That can run you into a, you know

Brad:  [inaudible 18:00] between the two and one’s going to take you, you know ‑ but then, you know ‑ OK the other question was about a basically kind of [inaudible 18:09] study group.

Paul:  Yes.

Brad:  And, you know, my advise for somebody if it were me, if i were in a study group, learning something that I know, that I’m not a qualified instructor in I would make sure that anybody came in, I’d let them know that all the time. [inaudible 18:48] I’d tell people, look, you know, I’m not an instructor in this, I’m learning this and going through this. This is what I am doing to train. This is what we get together and do and [inaudible 19:15] .

I’m running the program here or I’m directing the teaching and saying let’s work on this topic. If somebody comes in and there in a study group and they saying I’m really not good at this knife work stuff, but we’re going to do knife work, this is what I have learned.

Now, let’s explore it and then we get to an instructor we can talk to him and asj what we can do to improve. That’s something that they would owe it to the few people who come to say.

Paul:  Right.

Brad:  If I came to a study group that I knew the person wasn’t a certified teacher, that’s what I would want from them. As they go through and again it’s a lot of feedback from each other. Because if you are in a study group you might not know what you are doing right or wrong and you need your partners even more so to say, well how was it did that feel like…?And you usually get that in Systema which is really good which is “Wow, what was that?”

How did you do that? The person says, “I don’t know how I did that,” “What did I just do?” and they have no idea what really happened and then you can go through it

Paul:  For groups like that would you recommend that they just put a video camera off to the side and get as much as they can on video for folks,…

Brad:  Yeah, look at what they were doing because they’ll ‑‑ and if they’re watching video and they don’t have access to an instructor and then they watch a video of them doing something. Let’s say, you know, even if I were in a study group, I would say, “Oh Vladimir has this tape [inaudible 20:05] let’s watch it,” You know, or I would watch it before I went to my study group and then I would start practicing it, film of yourself.

Paul: Right.

Brad:  And then watch them side by side and think, “Oh I kind of got this [inaudible 20:25] or this really didn’t look like he was doing or,” you know you deal with [inaudible 20:30] measure of comparison to how you were doing. You know, to do it [inaudible 20:36] , so you know, that’s a really good idea for a study group, you know and if you are in a study group too. Then you got to an instructor you might show him some of the videos and were working on this stuff and there and he might just say, “I see that you keep making this mistake.” Now you’re here with the teacher let’s practice it.

Paul:  Right

Brad:  And you know, that could save a lot of time.

Paul:  Yeah

Brad:  You know, so, there are a lot of things that could, you know…with the right amount of feedback.

Paul:  On the subject of feedback, is the circle at the end, that’s both as an instructor and as a student, that’s something that’s going to be unique to Systema. I see it here, we have a lot of feedback in that circle both on what we did that class and what we’ve been doing over the last several classes.

That’s also where people speak up and go “I really would like to explore this more.” That’s another thing to take away.

Brad:  Yeah, the end circle’s important for a lot of reasons. But for the reason of feedback, people get to it and they think it’s supposed to be a love fest. It’s great to thank your partners, thank your instructors, comment on how you thought everything was presented. Those are very gracious things to do.

But there also should be that sense of it takes some courage to be in a room with a lot of people and just say, “You know what? We were doing this today and I felt really good, but this one part I really wasn’t getting and I’d like to practice that. I don’t feel like I was…”

Maybe just say, “I just wasn’t as good as I normally am. Normally I get this and something happened today and I don’t know what it was.”

You want to be able to explore that stuff, and say, “Maybe I was with a group of people I didn’t really know so I didn’t know how to act with you guys and it kind of hindered me, but next time it’ll be better.”

Those are insightful comments. They should be welcomed and people should be OK to say all that stuff and not just say “Everything’s great, you guys are wonderful.”

That’s wonderful to say and it’s good, but it’s better what you got out of it, what you’re still trying to work on, what you’d like to see. Because those are things that, if you have an instructor and you’re in a class and you have the same instructor for a while, he can start zeroing in on things to help you with. It very much is a feedback session for that.

There are the social reasons and everything else, returning information, but as far as that goes, that can be really good or it can just be kind of “Hey everybody, thanks” and listening to other people’s comments.

Sometimes you get some insight, too, of what you missed. Maybe of something you worked on and you forgot you ever did. “Oh yeah, we did that and that fed into this other thing and that’s why I got better.” Those are a good thing to do.

Paul:  The last question. This one, once again, I kind of run into this a lot and I’ve met other people who run into it. Is it realistic to train to be like substitute for superstar of your choice, here? Is it realistic to train to be like Vlad Michael? Is that a realistic goal, or is that something you’re trying to shoot more yourself and may not work for a variety of reasons?

Brad:  Again, it was the first trip to Russia that I was on. The guys didn’t have much English. They would just point at me and say, “Be like Michael.”

Paul:  So you’re 5’10”, 160 pounds and Michael’s what, 5’7″, 250?

Brad:  Yeah, but linguistically if you look at it, they didn’t say “Be Michael.” They said “Be like him.” Not try to… almost like the spirit of it. Be like what he’s doing. See the way he moves gracefully. If you think of it as far as attributes, instead of adopting their hairdo and walk like them and stand like them.

Because if you see that in Systema, they ape Michael. We see people who adopt his mannerisms, and that stuff is common and it’s a social thing and it is very much a human thing of moving and acting like the teacher.

My buddy, Al, is also a Systema instructor. He’s an oil painter and his analogy is Rembrandt made these wonderful paintings that are just amazing.

Do you want to spend your entire painting career redrawing Rembrandt paintings or do you want to find your own brush and paint the things that you paint in your own way?

They might not look like Rembrandt at all, and they might never be a Rembrandt, which most people won’t. 99.9 percent of people won’t be a Rembrandt.

Do you spend your life in a fruitful effort trying to just recreate what somebody already created, or find your own way based on the things that they were doing?

There’s a Zen saying that, I know Zen’s not Systema but, there’s a Zen saying that says, “Do not seek to follow the master, seek what the master sought.”

And, that’s my viewpoint of it… like you said Michael is a different size than I am. He is a different size than Vlad is, they move differently.

And if somebody comes along and they’re standing on their head and spinning around and taking everybody down, and you’re thinking “There’s no way I can spend the rest of my life trying to do that and it wouldn’t help me,” then it makes no point, makes no sense to try to be like that person, to try to move like that person.

I personally think that the way I teach, is that I want you to move like you the best that you can move like you. I can show you my example of how I do stuff, but you’re going to move differently. You’re going to move differently than I do.

And that’s the way you think, the way you act, your own experiences, the limitations within your body. If you’ve got injuries, whatever it is.

A lot of people bring their other martial arts background to Systema, so that influences the way they move. And it will. And to think that you can just erase 20 years of martial arts training just because you do Systema. Your body’s…

Paul:  Or that you should erase…

Brad:  Or that you should, yeah. Your body’s going to have a hard time with that. But, it’s for inspiration. And ideas. And to look at things the way somebody does something very well. I personally think that you should look at the people who do whatever it is you want to do. The best people in, should look at them the most.

Because you want that imagery in your head. When you start watching enough Systema videos you start getting the, you know, if you’re training Systema you start getting feel.

Like, “Oh yeah!” you can start feeling the hits, and the movements, and the grace, even. And you’re like, “Wow I can get that sense of body moving so nice and I want to go do that.”

So, you get that from them. But, if I teach a drill, and I show you guys something, no matter what I show, people try to do exactly what I’m doing.

Then I tell them don’t do what I was doing because it doesn’t fit right with you. People get caught in that. It’s like “Well I’m trying to do that move you did.” I’m like “Well that move I did does not fit right here.”

And sometimes that’s hard for people to get that idea of you just showed me to do this, and now I’m not supposed to do it. You can only show people examples, and how to do things, and how you move.

One of my friends, Scott Meredith, had gone to see Vladimir. And his comment was, Vlad doesn’t look at what you’re doing, he only looks at how you do it. How you’re doing the things that you’re doing. The qualities you’re putting in it.

Are you doing it with too much tension? Are you breathing right when you’re doing it. Not necessarily any… Did I step right, did I step left? Did I put him down with this takedown versus that takedown?

Yeah. If you have those things be your guide. Even if you go back to not seeing, if you never saw Vladimir or Michael’s… you go back to the principles again with that introspection of, am I moving as relaxed as I could have been.

That’s what I do. When I do things, there are times when I put somebody down I’m thinking my shoulders were a little tense when I did that I used a little bit too much muscle that way, or I did something that I probably should have stepped this way when I did that, and it kind of just didn’t work.

It might of worked, but it wasn’t as fluid, or maybe it wasn’t as relaxed as I would have liked it to be. But for self defense it still worked. So there’s good there, but then it’s like, now I will work on this to improve that. You have to have that awareness in your own body. And that it’s self takes time. People don’t even know they have a body.

“I didn’t move my feet?” “Yeah, you didn’t move your feet at all.” “Oh.” It gets to a point of thinking, “Now I’m moving my feet.”

I’ve had other Systema instructors ask me “Was my form OK? I’m trying to work on my form today while I was teaching.” Thinking, “Yeah, your hand was a little forward but everything looked great. It’s asymptotic. You’re never going to reach it, but we still want to get as close as possible.

So, you can always be more relaxed, maybe your breathing is a micro second off, or things like that. Realistic to be anybody else? I think it would be, one, unrealistic to try to be like them. I think it’s unattainable.

And I think people just look at you as a pale shadow of that other person who’s doing this versus you do it your way and I do it my way. I like the way you paint, I like the way you paint better. Or I like the way you paint in a different way than I like that way that you paint.

As everybody tries to carve out their own instructor niche, where I’m going to be the one. Vladimir’s been very much into it. There’s no one. There’s a multiplicity of interpretations.

And I think that’s the way it, I don’t think that’s the way it should be, I think that’s the way it is. Whether or not you choose to accept it. Really, try to move your body as efficiently, as effectively as your body and brain move. That’s the best way to do it.

Paul:  And I think that’s an excellent place to stop. Right?

Brad:  All right. Well great. Thanks.

Paul:  Thank you.

Brad:  See you guys next time.

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