Yet Another Powerful Reason Why I Do Systema

In January 2017 at Arapahoe Basin, a skier was being let off the ski lift when his backpack got caught up in the lift chair.

He was yanked past the skier drop off and pulled, along with his backpack, as the chair returned on its way to the base of the lift.

As he was dragged along with the chair, the skier found himself dangling in the air, with his backpack choking him into unconsciousness.

Mickey Wilson, a slack-liner and part-time ski instructor at A-Basin, heroically climbed a ski lift tower and shinnying along the cable to reach the skier.

Ski patrol threw him a knife, which he used to cut the skier free, saving him from being choked to death.

Here’s a link to the original story:

Man hanging unconscious by backpack on Arapahoe Basin chairlift is cut down by friend in harrowing rescue

I wear a Camelbak backpack when I snowboard, so this story hit home for me; I didn’t want this to happen to me.

Last week I found myself in the Youtube rabbit hole, where I stumbled across a short Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu video showing an escape from a Full Nelson.

Curious to see if there was anything I’ve hadn’t seen before, I took the bait and clicked.

The clip showed what I consider a standard Full Nelson defense, one I’ve seen in several different arts — locking your hands together, supporting your forehead, preventing the attacker from pushing your head down, then using your elbows to break out of the hold.

Been there, done that, decades ago.

Enter Systema.

In 2000, I had the good fortune to demonstrate with Vladimir some defenses against rear attacks, including Full Nelsons.

One of the several defenses I hadn’t seen before was where he stepped forward as I applied pressure and his noodle-like arms slipped effortlessly out of my grasp.

Vladimir used the force of my arms to push him right out of the hold; instead of standing there and trying to fight, he relaxed his shoulders, moved his feet and, poof! he was free.

That was cool! So cool that I practiced getting my shoulders loose until I could do escape as easily as Vladimir did.

Over Presidents’ Day Weekend, my family took a ski trip to Steamboat Springs.

I was on the Thunderhead Express lift with my daughter, preparing to be spit off the chair (some lifts let you off gently, others shoot you out your chair like a cannon).

I recall watching my daughter exiting the lift when I began oddly, inexplicably moving backward.

My conscious brain took a few seconds to make sense of what happened.

My backpack got caught up in the chair, just like in the story I read about the skier last year who almost died.

Two things saved me from a similar fate:

The first thing that went my way was that I had only one shoulder in my backpack straps, a habit I developed because it’s more comfortable on the chair, but also so I wouldn’t get caught up in my pack.

The second thing that saved my right arm from getting ripped out of my shoulder socket was my Systema training.

As the strap pulled on my shoulder, my arm instantly and instinctively slipped out of and away from the force.

I glided off the lift, stopping by a teenager who looked at me and said,”nice save.”

I chuckled at this and looked back to see the lift operator stop the motor and untangle my backpack for me.

Here’s my revelation:

Had I only practiced Full Nelson escapes from all the other self-defense arts I’ve studied, including BJJ, without training in Systema I would have been taken to the hospital by the Steamboat Ski Patrol.

As good as the “brace your arms against your forehead” Full Nelson Escape is, it still responds by going against the force versus initially moving with the force to escape.

Vladimir teaches that the force you are dealing with might be a human attacker, but it might also be an animated object, something heavier and more powerful than you are, for example, getting out from under a falling bookcase.

That Sunday, no amount of going against the force on my shoulder would have saved me from a gnarly injury.

I wasn’t going to beat the ski lift, all I could do was find a way to prevent the force from acting on my shoulder, by moving it and slipping away to safety, just like Vladimir showed me how to do.

Nothing in BJJ or any other art, where the object is to dominate another person, could have prepared me to prevail against a malicious ski lift.

It’s this way of being and moving through daily life I’ve internalized — the Systema I’ve learned — that’s yet another powerful reason why I do Systema.

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