“I’ve been doing Systema too long to do that”

We get drop-in students all the time, some who train in other arts, but most who have trained in Systema to one degree or another.

All Systema instructors have our own way of presenting the art so variation in approach is expected. In addition, schools tend to gravitate toward drills, scenarios and moves they are comfortable with.

No matter what the outward expression of the art is, the underlying principles should also be expressed, which brings me to the story behind the video clip I have posted below.

A visiting student attended one of our classes, the topic of which was choke defense, and he was having noticeable trouble working on the defensive movements we were teaching.

One common movement when being choked from behind is to turn in the same direction the attacking arm is moving. So, when the right arm is snaking around your neck, moving to your left, you also turn your head to the left. This is a valid movement with plenty of solid application, however there is one danger.

The point I made about this move was that if you move too late, the attacker can use your clothing against you, choking you out as you turn your head. He could pull your clothing/shirt collar to the right as you turn to your left, effectively choking you harder.

Because we were also working choke defense from the ground, we were showing students how turning into the choke puts the attacker on top of them as they are put face down on the ground (a common rear naked choke mistake).

After being the only student in the class who could not turn toward the incoming arm to effect an escape, he said, in an exasperated tone, “I’ve been doing Systema too long to do that.”

No Joke!

As a teacher, it’s easy to dismiss a student’s comments such as this one as purely ignorant — there’s always something a student may have not learned or seen yet, and the newness frustrates him. However, the nature of his comment gave me an insight into his disturbing mindset.

After only two years of training,with what regularity I have no idea, he thought he had seen everything there is to Systema, and that, in his mind, if his first teacher hadn’t shown a move to him then whatever we showed that was different couldn’t be The Real Systema (as if there is such a thing floating out there).

Further, he implied that what I was showing him somehow wasn’t Systema, as if I were a fake, a fraud passing off other martial arts as Systema. Forget the fact that I’d been doing Systema for about 15 years longer than his first teacher.

Forget also that every other Systema student in the room who saw these defensive movements for the first time easily learned them, while he did not.

His myopia about what IS and what IS NOT Systema, as if such a generative, creative art could be pigeonholed into a list of techniques was worrisome; I hope this does not become a trend with this generation of Systemists.

So, here is a clip of Vladimir Vasiliev, my teacher and the person most responsible for spreading Systema in the Western Hemisphere, performing virtually the exact same movement this visiting student had such disdain for.

Since I learned this (and much more) from Vladimir himself, especially during numerous classes/workshops when he used me as his attacker, how is this NOT Systema?

Stay humble and open to new, useful knowledge. We all have a lot we can learn.


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