My Systema Origin Story

Of the common human values Freedom is pretty high on my list.  When I moved to Colorado in 1997, after training in Kenpo et al since 1984, and opened my own martial arts school I felt free to explore any martial art I could get my hands on, and I did.  Upon arriving in Colorado I checked out the Kenpo scene, met and trained with some very high-level Silat teachers and got into the MMA/groundfighting craze.  I was doing the standard JKD/cross-training thing and as part of that I wanted to continue my weapons training in the Filipino martial arts.  I had a friend and teacher, Al McLuckie, who I met through my Kenpo teacher, and immediately invited him to come out and teach at my school.  (Al had an excellent reputation in Filipino and Kenpo circles)

I first met Al in Chicago when I was a kid training at Dragon Wind Kenpo Karate with Lee Wedlake.  When I moved to Florida to train at Mr. Wedlake’s new school in Fort Myers, Al frequently flew down to teach Filipino martial arts seminars and we re-connected.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning and working with Al and looked forward to every training session.  I knew that I wanted to train more with Al and put some intense effort to master his weapons work.
In early 1999 Al came to Longmont for a seminar on stick and knife work.   Now I had been training in Filipino arts with Al, Huk Planas of Kenpo fame as well as a couple of seminars, including some taught by the late Edgar Sulite and martial arts legend Dan Inosanto.  I knew Filipino arts and what Al showed that day was definitely something strange and different.  I loved it!

After the seminar we were having dinner in Boulder and Al told me he has a confession to make.  He was hesitant about what he was about to say because he was afraid I wouldn’t have him come back to teach.  Before he told me he prefaced his confession with the fact that he lost students because of what he was about to tell me.  Here I am waiting for the worst, but really intrigued.  Al’s big confession was…he wasn’t teaching me Filipino martial arts, he was teaching Russian Martial Art!

I about laughed in his face, I think I did, as I couldn’t really care less what he was teaching or where it came from–because it was incredible!  I had been on this mixed martial art path, take the best from every art kind of thing but I knew that something didn’t seem quite right about that idea.  I was trying to go beyond techniques, not just learn more of them and have my brain fight about which technique from which art I should use while under attack.  I was at that “there has to be something more than this, something that makes this all click” point of my training.  I also realized that my current training was yielding diminishing marginal returns, an economics term meaning that I was getting less and less skill out of more and more effort.

I know Al was experiencing the same diminishing returns in his training too, so that when he came out of nowhere with a quantum leap in skill and martial arts ideas I knew something was up.  I remember thinking to myself, “where did all this come from”?  His revelation explained it.

An interesting aside to this tale is that a noted Indonesian martial artist attended a few of Al’s seminars and loved everything Al taught, until Al said it wasn’t Filipino but Russian.  He abruptly stopped training and went back to what he knew while, oddly, writing an article in Black Belt about the value of relaxation in training.  After seeing this I understood Al’s fears of losing students.  Again, my view was who cares what you call it, it works.

Al told me his Systema story and pointed me to Vladimir Vasiliev who I found out had a few Systema instructional tapes available.  I ordered everything he had that Monday morning.  When the tapes came in the mail I literally watched each tape one right after the other.  I couldn’t get the next tape in the VCR fast enough.  When I had watched every one I started over.  I did this at every opportunity for the next week.

After I had bombarded my brain with Systema, and started dreaming it,  I started teaching Systema in all my classes.  I stayed late and started scheduling extra classes and seminars just to have the chance to keep working it.  I hadn’t even met Vladimir at this point and already knew I would do whatever it took and pay whatever price to excel at Systema.  Then, I met Vladimir which is a story in itself!

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