Thanks to everyone for the positive feedback so far! Brian H got in touch and suggested I write about my training routines, so here we go!
As a kid I was never that into playing sports but did a lot of running and a bit of football. I do rememeber being outdoors a lot of the time, climbing trees, throwing stones and generally being active, something that I'm not sure kids today get so much of
My "proper" training began in the Chinese style - which starts with stance training! Early training consisted of learning stances and form movements. This type of training can be very time intensive - and painful! Luckily at the time I was a budding musician so had lots of daytime free - I can remember regularly spending at least an hour a day in practice, forms and stance mostly
Dave and I began exploring a lot more knife and stick work, getting into some silat and the work of people like Rick Hernandez. This all fed back into my solo training routines
There was also plenty of "tell but don't/can't show". I remember at one competition Dave was doing a little impromptu push hands. A Chinese "sifu" stood off to the side watching and made a loud comment. He didn't know one of Dave's guys was a Mandarin speaker and he translated - "that's rubbish, that's not how it should be done!" Red rag to a bull for Dave - he invited the guy into the circle and promptly pushed him ragged for five minutes. The look on the guys face as he tried to get away, only to be pulled back in for more "treatment" was a picture. We did find that quite prevalent.We always wanted to feel first hand from the instructors we encountered but very few would give you any direct hands-on. This may have been a cultural thing again but it was frustrating none the less, especially given the stories of "miraculous powers" these masters were supposed to have.
So my solo training routine at that time would be anything from one to four hours a day, incorporating all the kung-fu methods I'd learnt up til then, plus the general bag work, sledgehammer training, plus a bit of fitness - running and horse riding. On top of that I was teaching a few times a week, plus had the lads over regularly for sparring work
When I got into Systema and met Vladimir that all started changing - slowly at first, but eventually I'd drop virtually all the previous solo training. The thing I trained most at first was the falling and rolling. Largely absent from before apart from a few breakfalls and just hoping for the best! I found the ground movement in particular opening up new areas - and new muscles! My emphasis became less on root and more on three dimensional mobility
One of our guys asked Sergei Ozhereliev when he was over about how long he trained each day. He said something like if you are training on your own for more than an hour you aren't doing it right! You shouldn't be able to go beyond that point if you are really pushing yourself. Again it flies in the face of "conventional" martial arts training, which is almost seen as a "polishing" process, of struggling hours and hours every day to perfect something (cue "training montage" from the movies!). Of course it depends on your training motivations but there can be perhaps too much emphasis on perfecting a syllabus as opposed to developing yourself
On the physical health side, I feel the Chinese styles had some good benefits - general good health, posture, balance, strength. However I did start getting bad knee problems through the low stance work (the standard reply is "you were doing it wrong" but knee problems are not uncommon amongst top masters.). Since I stopped forms and worked more on my hips and legs the problem has gone. That's been one of the revelations of Systema work, along with the breathing. I now find the same benefits from the breathing work as from the previous Qigong work - with a lot less time and none (so far!) of the possible problems. Things like cold water dousing also offer a quick and "easy" way to health!
I like to join in as much as I can when teaching, though I'm always aware that I'm there to teach not to train.
Still it's good to work with the guys, there are plenty of them capable of making me sweat now! It's always fun going up to see the Leicester crew, getting back on a horse has provided new challenges! If there's one thing I've learnt from Systema it is that you have freedom to do and try whatever you like. You don't need a gym, don't need equipment, don't have to worry about getting something perfect, "the world is your gym", just get on with it.
It can be easy to get a bit lazy, but that's one reason it's important to get together with other people as often as you can. Even then it's important to have all those exercises in class, they really are the foundation of the work, not just something to get you "warmed-up" at the start of a session. There is a danger they can be dismissed as "just some exercises" but look beyond the surface. The group also provides a supportive / challenging environment - how many of us would try the "fall flat on your front" drill on our own?
I just want to add in something about developing "skills" here too. Solo you can develop some attributes - cardio, strength, flexibility. To develop real skills you need other people. That can be acheived in various ways, limited only by your ingenuity in devising drills. I think it is important to always be developing a new skill or improving exisiting ones. I never got this "lowest common denominator" approach to training - the one that goes in an emergency you lose all fine motor co-ordination and become a lumbering cavemen. With such an approach you learn some very basic techniques - chop this bash that - and that's it. All well and good - but then what? Do you just practice that for the rest of your life? In context it's useful - eg quick training for people going into a specific place. Outside of that is seems a bit limited. To my mind the greater your depth of skill and understanding the better you will work. It's a principle that works for jet pilots, racing car drivers and concert pianists....
For me it's the skill development that maintains my interest - I mean, I do it but I don't much enjoy running round the field in the rain..... Also skill stays with you, whereas as we know fitness goes so quickly! So as far as advice goes for your solo training (apart from "buy my Solo Training DVD" hahaha) - work all the things you can on your own, once you get comfortable with an exercise, change it some way to increase the challenge. Always be mindful of how your exercise can be applied - functional fitness! Take advantage of every opportunity you can and treat life as a learning experience. Alway always always treat your health as number one priority in training and balance your training with the rest of your life. It should enhance your life not detract from it.
Most of all - the biggest secret off all - find a way to enjoy everything you do.... Or to quote the legendaray Viv Savage of Spinal Tap - "have a good time all of the time"