On and off, I do a bit of exercise with Systema, a Russian “reality-based” (as opposed to sport focused) martial art.
I have ended up with a few notes on the general principles and on some common exercises.
I find these helpful when I try to explain what it’s about to someone new, which happens occasionally as Systema is still moderately obscure in the UK.
It’s also nice to remind myself what I like to play with when I eventually go back to class.
Good to remember: it’s not a competition.
The 4 pillars of Systema
Focus on one or all of these in every exercise.
- In through the nose, out through the mouth.
- Breathing out to release tension from hits.
- Patterned breathing, e.q. square breathing for running exercise or doubled breathing for faster recovery.
- Breath holding for generating mental stress.
- Shallow breathing when restricted by a lock or during ground work.
- Don’t forget to breathe!
- Continuous breathing that is not too fast or too slow for the situation helps save energy.
- Remain flexible and adaptive.
- Conserve energy by using only the muscles needed.
- Use selective tension to provide structure to an opponent, then take it away.
- Helps prevent injury.
- Vertical spine is usually good structure.
- Good posture allows easier movement and avoidance, and more efficient power generation.
- Strong structure is defensive as well as a good base for controlling the structure of others.
- Moving targets are harder to hit!
A hard surface
A sprung wooden floor is forgiving but hard enough to make mistakes clear; grass is less good once you begin to gain confidence as it forgives too much.
Walls can be good for exercise, for learning use of space and footwork, for structural support.
Great for footwork and timing, ok for massage, good when working close contact for learning leverage and instinctive biomechanics.
Can be fun for exercise.
A training knife.
Can be fun for timing and stress work, and great for control, but less useful for me as I don’t want to train in the expectation of getting into a knife fight. Run away!
Movements to include
- Moving inside and outside an attack.
- Avoiding while maintaining structure, in the ballroom-dancing, pivoting, weight transfer sense.
- Duck walking.
- Movement while grounded - rolls, crawling, forbidding certain limbs.
- Changing levels - avoidance, rolls, takedowns focused on structural weak points, working from the ground against a standing opponent.
Often creatively combined with each other, with random non-traditional exercises, and with some minor pummelling.
- Leg raises.
- Selective tension and relaxation.
- Rolls and falls.
- Force (generally spiralling) against a resisting partner.
Exercises can be tried slow, fast, and with particular patterns of breathing or with no breath.
Form should be varied often.
- Varying strength and depth.
- Right on the surface for pain compliance work and structure shocks.
- Slow and deep, moving towards pushes.
- Gravity based, very relaxed with heavy hands.
- Accuracy, for stop hits and to penetrate defence.
- Aggression as a defence.
- Hits specifically to deform structure.
- Hits to attack weapons (e.g. arms).
- Boxing style - high elbow, straight line from shoulder, shoulder moves first for a whipped arm, tension only at the last second.
- Small work, keeping low - great for stop hits.
- For attacks at multiple levels simultaneously.
- For working from the ground.
- Side kicks - great exercise, but not hugely practical. Keep that leg high!
- With focus mits: Continuous movement and varying intensity. Figure eight. Aggression vs defense, for movement across a room.
Control work (the fun bit)
- Takedowns - whatever works.
- Maintaining a particular distance - following and leading.
- Control from the head.
- Control from joints.