Systema Colorado Interview 1

Listen to the first of a series of interviews with our Head of School Brad Scornavacco:


Paul Trout:  This is Paul Trout with Systema Colorado and today we’re talking to Brad Scornavacco, the head of school here. We’re going to have a short interview, we’re going to discuss some of the items about training Systema from a couple of different viewpoints. So how is Systema different from traditional martial arts from a training perspective?

Brad Scornavacco:  From a training perspective? Most martial arts that you see, the traditional ones, are based on kind of a step by step model where it’s a codified technique model way. You learn a specific sequence of moves that are designed to thwart an attack or an escape and what you do is you just learn those and try to perfect that technique. So however many repetitions that takes, usually thousands, to really get that down, you do that and then you build on, depending on the art, you build on and then a counter to that or an extension movement off of that and now you can do this or sometimes, a lot of martial arts will just teach you a completely different movement the next time. So you might learn your sequence, you know, I’m going to call it technique specific sequence…

Paul Trout:  OK.

Brad Scornavacco:  That is designed to thwart a specific attack and that’s what I mean. So it’s an if/then, they do this, they grab you this way, you escape this way and then you practice a specific response over and over. That’s pretty much how you see a lot of traditional‑based martial arts work whether or not it’s a hip throw or it’s a striking sequence from some striking martial arts or if it’s a triangle choke or something, you learn that over and over. You just do that thing until you get it down and obviously it works because so many people are doing it.

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  So it can work for people but it’s not the only way to do stuff and it’s not necessarily the fastest way that you can actually gain your self‑defense abilities. So it’s that’s kind of what the traditional schools are like, they’ll take that and then, usually what they’ll do is they’ll teach you these techniques and then you go right to a free form sparring situation. So you’ll say, I taught you this one counter and you’ve done it for several classes or several weeks and now just do it in a random attack and just go out and do it and the jump from one to the other is really hard. It’s very difficult to do specifically this for that and then to have anything come at you.

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  So that’s one of the things that I learned even when I was doing Kenpo which was my first start is that we did a lot of it. We went straight from memorize your technique to now do spontaneous self defense and you don’t know what the guy’s going to do. It was pretty scary and then there wasn’t a bridge from one to the other really. Yeah there wasn’t a specific way to get there.

Paul Trout:  Again, it’s hammered. These nails look like they’ve been…

Brad Scornavacco:  Yeah exactly, that’s what it was. So it’s kind of a traditional approach you see in most schools. When people come to Systema they don’t see that and they just associate that with being, “Well, that’s what a martial art is.” And I had a woman come in who had that viewpoint and she said to me, “Well, it’s nice to be spontaneous and make up your own stuff but it’s really not what martial arts is about.” So obviously she came from that kind of mindset. That’s what I see from most traditional arts that come in and do that.

Paul Trout:  OK.

Brad Scornavacco:  That they start from that one specific scenario, one specific response and then try to branch out from there.

Paul Trout:  OK, so how is it the same as traditional arts? I mean everybody talks about, Systema is different.

Brad Scornavacco:  Right.

Paul Trout:  It’s the best.

Brad Scornavacco:  Right.

Paul Trout:  There are some aspects to the training?

Brad Scornavacco:  There are. You know I’ve had one of my prior teachers to Systema said, “Everybody punch and kicks and blocks and that’s kind of how you do that, that’s what makes it different.”

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  So enter… put technique name right here, what he meant was, everybody gets to a point and one of the things that I tell people is that I’ve had to protect myself and a little martial arts that I’ve learned before I ever did Systema or ever even heard of it and they worked. So if the point is to be able to train yourself, you actually get there. One of the analogies that people use is that there is different paths to the same mountain and when you get to the top the view is the same, right?

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  It doesn’t matter if you got there by helicopter or if you took the hard road, the easy road, you went through the middle of the mountain, whatever it was, once you get there, you see the same thing. So that’s one of the things that people see with high level martial arts saying, “Wow, you guys are all doing the same thing.” And it’s supposed to be, you’re supposed to get there. And I’m not a Buddhist but when I studied Buddhism, there was a sense of, there were two major schools, one was Mahayana for the masses, it was what they called the big vehicle and there was something called Hinayana which was for, kind of like the smaller sect of people. They called it small vehicle and the idea was that each one of those systems was supposed to get the people to their enlightenment and once they got to the enlightenment, they left the boat at the shore kind of thing.

So it didn’t matter how they got there and I think whatever your religion or non‑religion, the story is important that however you get there doesn’t matter if you get there. And you have to put that aside and martial arts gets caught up in that.

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  We learned this way first and we learned this one first and you learn all of these movements stuff and then you learn how to do some specific lock or something. But we learned the specific lock first, no one knew how to do movement stuff and some people get caught up in that and that’s, in my mind, it’s irrelevant because we get people come in with no previous experience and eventually show them some technique and we get people with a lot of technique from other martial arts and you have to free it up. So it’s the same as other martial arts because there is a progression, well there are several progressions but there is a system, that’s why it’s called Systema, there’s a system, there really is and there’s a way to get that and test your skill and do that just like you do in other martial arts which is why people like it. It’s almost like they just get another facet of the same gym but they see anything and, “Oh, I like that. It’s getting you there.”

So the teaching methodology is very different but the results are the same and the thing that’s good about Systema is you usually get there faster and you get more people there. Whereas, I’ve had people come in tell me, they say, “Yeah, I have this high level teacher and ex martial art and he figured it out but all his other compatriots didn’t figure it out but he did and he’s doing what you guys are doing and it seems that people kind of stumble across it one way or another after it. Probably if you’ve been doing something for so long, people realize, “There’s got to be an easier way.”

Paul Trout:  Great.

Brad Scornavacco:  Systema is a system of how to find that easier way and then applying it and make it very explicit that this is what you’re trying to do. And you have the names of all of these other martial arts. Martial arts with the Jiu in them, they’re supposed to be gentle and you see everybody work and nobody’s being gentle. So Systema was the first art for me that when I read about it and I looked at it, it’s the same thing. It seemed very congruent. When I saw the martial arts, “Oh, you use the attacker’s force against them and you do this and that and I would look at them doing anything and they’d struggle.” I’ve seen hard style martial arts, a guy kicks them in the head, “Oh, he used his force against him.” And I’m thinking, “He just kicked him in the head, how does that uses force against them?” It wasn’t directing his head into your foot, it was kind of sketchy.

So when people say that, I see the philosophy and having a degree in philosophy and reading these things and looking at it and Systema seemed to be something that really, from the get go, strives to do exactly what it is that they were writing about so it made more sense to me as opposed to trying to find how to act in this?

Paul Trout:  You’re trying to reconcile what you do…?

Brad Scornavacco:  How does this possibly, yeah, reconcile with what we’re doing or how is this getting me closer to that?

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  It’s like I’ve been training, I’ve been training, I’ve been doing everything that you’ve been telling me but how is this getting me close to that ideal? I’ve had, time and again, since come in and say, “Yeah, you guys are doing and you’re telling me how I can get there and so that’s a big bonus of Systema but everybody’s trying to get there.” Like I said, plenty of people have knocked people out without ever knowing how to do a Systema punch so they’ve learned it.

Paul Trout:  Absolutely. So one of the things that Systema is very different from other martial arts, is the use of fear in training. For most of the people, this is the first thing that they run into that is so different and it is rather shocking. So can we hear some recommendations for the best way to work with your fear and actively train with it without becoming damaged, either physically, mentally, emotionally…

Brad Scornavacco:  OK, well this is a big topic because Systema is the only martial art that attacks it head on or addresses fear in a way that plenty of other martial arts realize that fear is important and it plays an important part of your ability to protect yourself. And they tend to address it in such a way that only, kind of it increases your fear.

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  So their rationale is that if someone attacks you you’re going to be afraid and it’s going to be a stressful situation and this is what happens to your body under stress so let’s just make your body as stressful as possible and do these things. If your body wants to do certain movements when it’s under stress whether it wants to turtle up or put your hands up in such a way. Well, if you’re going to do that anyway, let’s build on that. So instead of trying to overcome it or transmute it they ingrain it more and so they make that, they take that tunnel vision, they take all of it, the stress, the tension, everything else and they just amplify it and that’s not a way to go through life. So when I see people like that come into the school who have been training in that way, most of their interactions are this, they’re like a fear‑based response. So they don’t have a sense of putting fear in its proper place because it has a place, they just make their life a life of fear and so what happens is, well beyond the training floor or anything, they respond to any situation with more distress, looking for people’s bad intentions.

Seeing that they kind of see the world more as a hostile place and the people, everybody’s out to kind of get them. It’s almost a sense of paranoia within. “Well, what did he mean by looking at me like that? I’m going to hit him right now. Because I’m afraid and I know when I’m afraid because I hit people.” So they stay ingrained in that too, over the sense of, one of the biggest ways that people or reasons for people being aggressive is pain. There’s a lot of reasons why people think others are aggressive and one is pain and the fear of pain.

So when somebody’s hurt, they instantly want to lash out at people. So whether or not they’re physically hurt or psychologically hurt, the martial art training is, “OK, I’m going to lash out at you.” So the response to everything and you see that, I see it when I see these people, the way they interact with people, they’ve got a, they need a retraining of that fear.

So that is one way of dealing with fear. We just say, “I’m going to make you afraid and turn you into this, basically, a stimulus response organism.” Fear, you do this and just tear the person apart and then when you’re drunk at a party and you’ve have one too many to drink and somebody does something and you do something that you regret because you don’t have your inhibitions there because of the alcohol. All of a sudden you’ve ripped someone apart when you shouldn’t have and you could’ve chosen another response to the situation and that’s kind of where Systema, the ways it’s going to deal with fear, it’s going to address it head on.

I mean just to look at it and say that there’s two acronyms that you use with fear, one is False Evidence Appearing Real people use and different versions of that and the other one is Forget Everything And Run. So you do have both of those things and fear is there to keep us safe and that’s what we have. It’s there to keep us from danger and it also can work overtime and evolutionarily speaking, we fear a lot of things that we shouldn’t be afraid of anymore.

People within Colorado are afraid of getting eaten by a shark when they should be afraid of the guy texting on the cell phone driving next to them in traffic.

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  So our fear gets attuned to the wrong things and it becomes over agitated and easier set off and so Systema is trying to retrain that, all those responses that you have. So the training specifically is to look at the fear, what you’re afraid of, and what’s going on in your body because it’s very much a physiological response. It’s a powerful response is the thing, too, what these other martial artists understand. Anything you’ve learned that’s very, very emotionally charged and very fearful is something that you remember. It only makes sense. You want to remember the things that make you very afraid because if it comes up again you want to make sure you don’t walk right into like the sharp teeth of a lion or something because your body says it’s bad. So it’s a good thing in its proper place and that’s why we have reason to keep it in its proper place.

People come to martial arts because they’re afraid, for the most part. They’re afraid of something. Whether or not they have low self‑esteem, they’re afraid people are going to laugh at them, they’re afraid of whatever it could be and they want to deal with it. So what happens is they learn all these cool martial arts moves and they’re still afraid on the inside, but now they have the ability to hurt people and then they go out and do that.

That’s kind of what you see in the martial arts fights. You see a bunch of guys who are afraid. It’s almost like there’s a bunch of guys who are trying to be the toughest guy in the room when they’re afraid some little girl is going to walk up to them and laugh at them and they can’t handle that.

It’s hard. We all have to deal with that. Nobody likes being embarrassed, nobody likes being laughed at. Those are all our own human fears. So in Systema there’s a lot of training that makes us address that. It’s a paradox because we need to address it in training such as the fear of getting hit and getting hurt. The way we overcome the fear of getting hit is we hit each other and people think “Are you nuts?”

When you do it by degree you acclimate to it, you get used to it, you realize that you can survive it, and the fear of it is lessened. Then you can come up with other solutions and it never happens. Again, that’s part of the paradox is that when you master the fear the thing you’re afraid of then just doesn’t happen.

That may sound like airy fairy or philosophically new agey or something, but it’s very much the case. The people who are always afraid of getting punched are staring at the guy’s fist and get punched in the nose all the time. People who let it go and think all right if he hits me my body knows how to react to it, it knows how to move off of it then they can find other solutions.

So you can choose your response to situations more so than other people, that person that can only respond in anger and just trying to fight back. In Systema you can choose your response so it allows you that mastery of the situation that other people don’t get. It’s a really important part of training.

Paul Trout:  OK. This plays off of the last question. A lot of people get hurt. They halt their training for some period of time. I’ve been in a seminar and I’ve heard Vlad say the best thing is to simply train with the injury without telling anyone. While that seems severe, there is kind of perverse sense to it. Don’t spend your time concentrating on the pain, the suffering, the misery. Move through it. At the same time, there are differences between our training and the training Vlad was going through when he did it. Do you have any recommendations or guidelines for judging when this is a good idea and judging when it’s time for you to come back?

Brad Scornavacco:  Well, training injured or training hurt it does offer you a lot of different opportunities because if you hurt a particular body part all of a sudden you can’t use it and you have to protect it. You naturally want to protect it and your body will start to move differently and it’s very interesting. To train with that, one, you need partners that you trust. So if you are in school with people that you trust and you understand that. I’m talking about let’s say with a cast on or something or you broke your clavicle or something and you’re not going to be rolling on it. You can actually explore different movements and find different ways that your body will respond to situations. You can actually increase your skill level that way.

Kind of what to judge it is, if one blow is going to permanently debilitate you then probably not a good idea if you want to take that much of a risk. You shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself, but you shouldn’t be stupid either. Most of us don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I’ve had people come in and train with broken ribs and you can’t really tell if a person has a broken rib unless you watch them and see them protecting it.

Those are situations as a teacher. I’m in class like, OK, we’re not going to do punching in the ribs today. We’re going to do other kind of work so that person can actually move around and work with it, deal with it. There have been like small joint injuries. Thumb, fingers. Those are easy to deal with. If you just had open heart surgery maybe that’s not a point where you’re feeling sorry for yourself.

There is a common sense to it, but the idea that people feel sorry for themselves when they get hurt or injured is important because, again, that instills more fear because you are afraid of further injuring it, but then your body also has the memory of that injury. So then you don’t want to put yourself in those positions and you stop trying to do things and then it only gets worse. So that’s a very real danger of becoming so fragile because you’ve been injured and having everybody protect you.

So really just saying I’m going to go in and do it is a way to get out. That idea of no pain, no gain and people pushing through it to a degree where they’ve gotten injuries, that’s too much. Athletes do it and the stakes are high in doing it, but doing it in a way that you can work slowly. Maybe you’re working in a group of two other people where you’re not the person falling and rolling but you can start doing the defense and they can do that, are things that you’ll want to do. There’s a good opportunity to learn.

Those are the extremes. The extremes are I’m going to push through it no matter what. You’ve got a broken leg and you’ve just compounded the facture and you’ve done something worse for yourself just because you didn’t’ think you were feeling sorry for yourself, but you actually just weren’t as intelligent.

Paul Trout:  You weren’t paying attention.

Brad Scornavacco:  Yeah. You weren’t as insightful to say maybe I should get to a doctor first and have them look at this. That’s part of the training. It’s good because what happens the don’t feeling sorry for yourself can sometimes then turn into pride and then you’re over prideful about see I trained? I broke my clavicle and my tibia and I went all the way through it. That can be too much, especially for civilians.

Paul Trout:  Yes. [inaudible 20:33] much more training to augment our quality of life.

Brad Scornavacco:  Exactly. Does that answer the question in kind of being hurt?

Paul Trout:  It does. As a Systemist I’ve run into this out on the mat. A lot of people who don’t think about training they go to somewhere and they hear Vlad say I trained, my neck was broken. I had to lift it off the pillow. Wow. You start thinking maybe I don’t really need to do that and I can still get better and work through that.

Brad Scornavacco:  Yeah. There’s definitely degrees of that of what people are willing to go through. The important thing is the emotional response to it. What you get is the once bitten, twice shy response, then you don’t want to do things because of that. I’ve had people quit who were just totally afraid. Didn’t even get hurt. They were just afraid of the possibility that something might happen that maybe they would get hurt. It’s just so far removed from their reality that it’s unfortunate. That type of debilitating fear, that’s too much.

There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. We get hurt all the time. We get bumps and bruises and sprains and this and that and you can still continue, but then there’s the things where you’re really injured and you probably need to get to Urgent Care or something. When you can come back you come back and do what you can.

You also don’t ask everybody else to pity you, either. That’s the thing. You want to come into class and say oh I’m hurt. The Russians usually just…

Paul Trout:  Yeah. That was actually, not telling anybody, I thought that was a very insightful thing when I heard Vlad say that because you’ll either be able to go through class without showing any sign of it or people will pick up on it and work appropriately.

Brad Scornavacco:  Yeah. The pity party starts. I’ve done it myself. I’m guilty as anybody else. That’s one of the reasons I’m aware of it. I’m like OK, just go and do it. It’s OK. If you’re really all that bad you need to get out and go and do it. One of the guys in Russia, Michael, sliced his hand open with a shovel [inaudible 22:48] . They went and wrapped the thing up. The translator about passed out and he thought he should go to the hospital. He came back, his whole hand was bandaged, and the guy kept training. It was just like wow. There’s somebody with a warrior spirit. There’s somebody who’s not going to ever give in and you can see it.

I’ll give one more story with that. We had a guy who was a kickboxer from England. He was with Michael and he was doing takedown defenses and Michael wanted to show how to strike when somebody’s doing takedowns. Of course, the guy had broken his ribs in a kickboxing match and Michael’s fist went right to the broken ribs,. The guy came at him, he hit him, he dropped. It’s like OK, demonstrations are over, everybody go practice.

The thing with that, the interesting thing about Systema is when you get good at it, and this is a danger of practicing when you’re too injured, is that when you find good Systema people they will zero in like a magnet on your weakness and so you have to watch it. There’s a balance that way.

Paul Trout:  So after you’ve trained for a while, you’ve been doing Systema and you start to understand and really work within the foundational concepts, the form, the movement, the breathing, the relaxation, you’ve started to actually put these together and be successful with them. What are something things a student can do to ensure they don’t simply plateau at that point but continue to get better?

Brad Scornavacco:  My initial response was I’ll tell you when I get there.

Paul Trout:  Fair enough.

Brad Scornavacco:  For one, a plateau is a good thing and not a bad thing. Part of training is learning to love the plateau because you’re actually learning something at a plateau. That CAN-I myth that goes around positive self‑help circles, constant, never‑ending improvement, every day you’re actually better. That’s not the case and learning doesn’t happen that way. Learning is sporadic. It’s up and it’s down. You’re up for a long time and all of a sudden you’re worse and you’re thinking what’s going on then all of a sudden you’re better than you’ve ever been. It zigzags like that. Some days you come in and you’re just having a bad day and you’re just mediocre. It’s just going all over the place.

You want to make sure it’s trending upward, first of all, and hopefully that is trending upward. It’s part of my influence in your training. If you’re just coming in and dabbling and taking class and just thinking that one of these days it’s going to happen and you’re not actually looking at what you’re doing and trying to actually think about am I making one mistake over and over and over above all others? If I fix this mistake I’m going to get them to the next level. Or is there just a bunch of stuff that I don’t understand?

A lot of times there are. There’s one little tweak that you can make. It requires self‑awareness and it requires a teacher, a qualified teacher, someone to look at you and say every time you do this you’re doing this and I bet if you do this instead all this other stuff will do better and you can see the ripple effect go through all of your work. That’s really why I go see Vlad. He says do this one thing and do it everywhere and then you see an improvement.

So if you get to a point where you’re thinking I’m not getting any better it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re doing. Using video of yourself, feedback from your partners, feedback from teachers, and asking. A lot of people just go in and they take what they get. Part of it is because the training itself, everybody comes out of class saying I’m great. I feel better than I did all week because I came to class.

So you get that “Systema Smile” and that high and wow this is wonderful. So they get that and they think that’s good enough and for some people that’s all they want. If you’re thinking I know I get that when I come to class. Now, above and beyond that I would like to try to figure out every time I do this, the guy stabs me. I would like to not get stabbed. What am I doing wrong?

It’s important to go through that and figure out what that is. That requires, like I said, looking at your training, asking the right questions, asking questions even…

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  Saying “This is the scenario that I’m having problems with.” And then, if you’re communicating that to a teacher and say “Every time I do this I get stabbed.” and the teacher says “OK, let’s do gun work now.” It’s not going to help you. So the training has to be tailored to people to say “You need to do this one thing, or these three things. Go practice them, come back, report to me and let me know what you have done.” And when people haven’t seen Vlad for a while, that’s what they should be doing between the times that he sees them. Whenever I see him, I try to get, out of a whole weekend; I try to get one thing. That’s all I’m looking for. I’m trying to have a good time, and meet all the other instructors and friends, and everybody else, do all that, that’s great.

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  I’m looking for one thing that I can do for the next six months or so, and try to put that in all my training. And when I get that down, and that’s working, I go to the next thing. It’s just that mind flow, the training mode of having a goal, I think because Systema doesn’t have belts and uniforms people think that there are no goals and there is no way to improve. And, there are. If you’re a conscientious student, those are the kind of things that you’re shooting for, which is why you want to also… Training speed is training speed and you should have a testing speed where you go through and say OK let’s do it speed one, speed two, speed three, speed four, all the way up to full speed and see where you are.

And say, “OK, I’ve kind of really got this down. Every time somebody chokes me, I’m on it. Chokes. I can get out of chokes”. But every time somebody does this other thing, or if they do bear hugs for whatever reason, they can’t get out, dial it back down, fix it, and go higher and higher and higher, and get a lot of the movements down and test it that way, and you’ll see an improvement. Those are ways that…

As a student, you have that responsibility for yourself, and for their teacher, let them know. “I want to work on this; this just is not working for me.” It might just be you are doing something that is so unnatural for you that you might want to do something else.

Like you’re the six foot six guy, working with the five foot ten person, and you’re always trying to duck under him. You’re thinking it’s not working! Well, just keep your form and everything else, just move around this other way. All of a sudden, the guy is falling.

Paul Trout:  Thank you. So Systema, unlike different traditional martial arts, there’s a lot of talking between students on the mat during Systema.

Brad Scornavacco:  That’s because you don’t get yelled at. Yelled at for doing it.

Paul Trout:  Right, so obviously there is a place for talking on the mat. When does talking on the mat start getting in the way of training? Aside from the obvious, social… People are just like “Hey it’s great to see you; I haven’t seen you in so long.”

Brad Scornavacco:  If you are doing a long seminar, there is a lot of talking because everyone just gets tired. If it’s a long time, you’re like “Hey, I need to recover a little bit.” And a good teacher will look at that and realize that it’s time to switch gears, and do some push‑ups or something trying to get back to the training. But talking should be feedback. Going back with each other and saying, “I really felt…” It should be constructive feedback. It shouldn’t just be “Relax, breathe.” That doesn’t do people much good. And some people get upset with that; they’re like “I am relaxed! Shut up!” and it makes it worse. It makes it tenser, more tense.

Paul Trout:  Yes.

Brad Scornavacco:  . Talking between each other is good. It’s good for camaraderie. It’s good for… Some things you have to feel. Some things are helped by one sentence of an explanation. That you say “Oh! That.” Then you go back and do it. Because Systema is such an experiential visceral martial art, a lot of people think “Well then you shouldn’t say anything.” That doesn’t work either. You want to use all your faculties to learn.

Paul Trout:  Yes.

Brad Scornavacco:  There are people, whom if you give them one simple explanation, will be able to really jump to the next level. If somebody else is… Visual, auditory kinesthetic learning thing. Some people are “you can tell them all day long, but if you show them, they get it.” Some people you do it on, they get it. Some people, you do it on them, they think, “I don’t know what you did, I’m on the floor. I have no idea what you did.” And then you show them on someone else and they have to see it for themselves, which is why there is a lot of demonstrating in Systema. But with the verbal part, some explanation of “Put your finger here when you do that.” “Oh, OK.” Sometimes that helps. But people shy away from that because they think that the explanation becomes a technique.

Paul Trout:  Yes.

Brad Scornavacco:  Because it’s a specific instruction. And that’s not the case at all. With “Pushing the knee this way”, that’s a principle, not a technique. It’s not saying, “Every time he does this, you have to bend over and push his knee. It’s just saying, “The knee doesn’t go like this, push it this way.” That helps, and giving each other that feedback when they are doing something, just like, for example, “I felt when you were moving that time.” or “It felt like you’re using too much tension.” or “I noticed you didn’t breathe out. Try to breathe out when you take me down next time.” It should be cues to help with the movement. You asked what the rule is…

I came from a martial art that has pages and pages and pages of terminology. When you go to a seminar, most of them are standing, arguing about what the terminology is. There’s all this terminology. There are whole books of terminology. There’s so much terminology that the people stand around and argue about the terminology versus spending actual time getting repetitions in and repetition matters.

The more you’re talking about what you’re doing, that takes away from your actual repetition time, your actual moving time, and training time. You’re wasting the time to them. I’ve seen that of people think they have the physical art, so they can talk about the physical art. Dissect it, analyze it. You want enough terminology that the person understands what they are supposed to do, so they can take action on it, and fix what they are doing. And no more.

That’s the Goldilocks principle. Just enough. Just enough to get them moving. Everything else is just a waste of time. If you are doing punching drills, you are doing punching, “What did that punch feel like? Well, I felt like I did this.” Now you are getting good feedback from your partner. That’s what they give you. Now you can say, “Oh, try it this way.” “OK, I felt this.”

“Now I’m going to try it this way.” “Now I didn’t feel a thing at all.” “OK.” “That one went really deep. This one felt like it was just on the surface. I just felt your whole body tense.” That’s the kind of talking that you need. Another thing that people need to remember is that it comes from a culture with a different language.

Paul Trout:  That’s a good point.

Brad Scornavacco:  The first time I was in Russia, we didn’t speak Russian, and they didn’t speak English. We got a bunch of people on a training floor, who’s going to explain something to each other? There was a bunch of smiling, a little bit of sign language, thumbs up, thumbs down. That kind of thing. Then “Let me throw you on the ground again. Understand that? OK.” That was about it. There wasn’t even an option to talk about what we were doing. Over the years, the explanation coming from Russian System in people has gone from vague to a lot clearer. As they learn to translate that stuff into English, and the concepts of what they mean by that. I’ve seen that. That’s…

Paul Trout:  Yeah.

Brad Scornavacco:  That’s what you’re looking for with the amount of talking in class. Like I said in the beginning, it’s a class environment, it’s a friendly environment where people, not automatons who are supposed to just march in lock step and do stuff. That’s a cultural difference. Most of that comes from different cultures that do that.

Paul Trout:  We’ve talked about a lot of different things, basically, to summarize a little bit. Be an active participant in your training, if you’re having problems, you need to talk to your instructor. The use of fear, understand why it’s being done. There’s a lot of analysis that takes place during Systema. To kind of wrap this up, have you found any kind of analysis after a seminar or after a training session that has been particularly non‑productive? When you see your students indulging in this kind of reflection or analysis of what’s going on, you just go “I need to step in and guide this and stop it.”?

Brad Scornavacco:  In what way? The way people are explaining what happened to themselves…?

Paul Trout:  The way they explain what happened or the way they’re kind of sorting out what they learned and where they need to take their training.

Brad Scornavacco:  Kind of just an interpretation of class…

Paul Trout:  Yes.

Brad Scornavacco:  And what the point of class was?

Paul Trout:  What the point of class was, what did them actually learn…

Brad Scornavacco:  What they didn’t learn. [laughing]

Paul Trout:  Absolutely, you know.

Brad Scornavacco:  That’s what it sounds like, “what you didn’t learn or what you aren’t getting” when you take this from a training session. Part of the end circle, that is the time that to talk about what you went through, to get it into your memory more and reflect on what it was in class that you learned, and that’s often times the most interesting part in class is to hear..

Paul Trout:  Right.

Brad Scornavacco:  From the teacher’s point, to say, “I was trying to teach you this.” and then hear the feedback from the student say “Well I learned that.” And you’re thinking “Wow, those are miles apart.” But that’s why whoever is running the class is the last say, so he can kind of redirect or clarify the point. That’s what a teacher should do at the end circle. It should be a summation of the key points, the key topics, what you went through, and why you were doing it. Even if the students can’t do it, if it was the first time they were exposed to it, if they aren’t ready for it, whatever level they are…

Because everybody is in a different level, so you need to be able to have something for everyone in the room to take away. So as a person running the class you should let them know what you’re trying to get across. What the point of it was, how you were trying to help them, and then where they were. So it could be a class where, say, last week we were doing wrist defenses and working on all the stuff to the point of taking people down, where a new kid in the class, he was just learning how to move away, and not just fight against a person.

Even though we did all this other stuff in class, that’s really your take away. To get your feet moving, stop trying to struggle against the ground so you can create a better position for yourself and figure out “This is where I push, this is where I pull, this is how I knock this guy down.”

That’s just where the person is, kind of in the training. On one of the steps, where somebody else already has that down, and it’s more a sense of you really need to watch a person’s reactions to your reactions, so you can then find that sweet spot that’ll put them down.

Pay more attention to their body than your body. Those are all things that a teacher should be going through and letting people know where they are, and that helps a lot.

Paul Trout:  That is an excellent point.

Brad Scornavacco:  Because you take everything from a class. And you think, “Geez, I got to do all that?” Then you see Vlad do a ten minute demo, and think, “I can do that?” But maybe you don’t have to do all that, maybe the only thing you got from that is this little section. You slice that part of the whole system of pie up, and say “I’m going to work on this for a little bit.” You don’t have to do in an A, then B, if, then, rote, repetition technique format. That’s another thing that people tend to forget.

They think because Systema has no techniques, that means everything has to be completely unstructured. That’s not the case at all. You have to pick something. You have to pick some topic. You have to start somewhere. He is grabbing you, he is punching you, and he is stabbing you and work from that. You can pick that and choose to work at certain attributes or responses. Get better, and then put it back into the mix, and put in a new thing.

Systema people can be impatient about that. Dialing back a little bit and focusing on something can actually… Earlier you asked about improving. Sometimes take that complete 100% free form thing out, focus on something that you are making a mistake on, and fix it.

My piano teacher tells me “You are doing these things, and the beginning and the end are the same thing, and you’ve got the beginning, so don’t worry about that at the end. But this part in the middle here is the part where it changes, and it’s difficult, and while do you keep doing the whole thing spend more of your practice time doing that middle part, get it down now play it from beginning to end. And all of a sudden, it’s better. Instead of saying I got to use the whole thing right now every time.

That’s an intelligent way to look at your training. And for people who really want to improve, it’s going to help them improve.

Paul Trout:  Very, very good. Thank you very much. That’s all of my questions.

Brad Scornavacco:  Well great, see you guys next time.

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