Rolling around on the hardwood during a workshop with Vladimir, I had a realization that made doing Systema much easier. As we traded attacks, I felt nothing to apply force to, to break or choke.
Vladimir once commented on another martial system as being based all on levers. He then waved his body and said,”where’s the lever here?” demonstrating that if he didn’t give an opponent a fulcrum, no one could leverage him anywhere.
This is what I felt, nothing, he was like a jellyfish.
I did my best to keep up with him, however futile that may have been.
At one point, my left ankle got caught between his hip and his arm. As he snagged me I stopped moving because I felt the sudden pain in my knee, and I knew it could have been broken.
I looked at him with a puzzled look, he looked back and smiled that “gotcha” smile.
Then he looked to his right and motioned with his head in the direction I needed to move to escape, which I promptly did.
Free at last.
This short exchange was another Systema revelation. The best translation of my physical experience into words, the best explanation I could come up with for my realization was the general rule, what doesn’t move, breaks.
As long as I was flowing freely I was fine, and whenever a body part would get snagged, it was in danger. I now apply this simple principle to all of my movement, especially on the ground, defensively and offensively.
UFC Fighter Rhonda Rousey tapped Cat Zingano in a record 14 seconds with an arm-bar that, according to astounded commentators, “she never did before.”
What I saw wasn’t a primitive MMA fighter struggling for a specific technique, Rousey’s fluid submission was the essence of Jiu-Jitsu and Systema — good movement is good movement, no matter the source.
Rousey flowed into a position based on Zingano’s pressure and effortlessly fell into a fight-ending arm-bar. I could see her realization of the opportunity, “hey, arm-bar!” on the screen right before she solidified the lock.
The difference between the road to Rousey’s victory and Systema training is merely the method.
While people were surprised that she found a new way into a lock, that is the nature of Systema work, from day one.
In Systema training, you should be forever exploring, flowing until you come across that snag, the feeling that tells you something is stuck and, by not moving, is vulnerable to being broken by adding a touch more force.
Instead of memorizing every possible lock, you discover them as they appear, in whatever form.
Once, we were in a hotel room after a seminar in Florida where someone was playing a video of an instructor teaching a leg lock.
He had this formula — wrap, trap, arch, look away, or something to that effect.
Vladimir watched, shrugged and said,”that’s too much, just break.”
When Vladimir caught me in a leg lock (mercifully not a break), he would have been chastised by anyone skilled in traditional methods of joint-locking because he was breaking all the rules of a proper leg lock — all he had was my foot, he didn’t have his entire arm wrapped around my leg (my foot was trapped between his upper arm and his ribcage, he didn’t trap my body and he made a small, subtle move to apply the pressure.
However, in the flow of our bodies on the ground he had me, I had no time to move before my knee would have been broken. The potential break came from the particular movement, not any textbook position.
A core principle in Systema is Movement, and remember, whatever doesn’t move, breaks.