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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

New Class Training Clip

Some footage from the last month or so at Tempsford, mostly work around falls, throws and takedowns

When it's Time to Train - then Train!

Just this last week we have been putting finishing touches to this year's Summer Camp. One thing I'm always aware of, whether it's a camp, a workshop or even just a basic training session, is keeping things moving at a good pace and providing a balanced amount of information and activity for the students.
What prompted me to write this post was an e-mail I recieved about a Kung Fu training camp being held over seas. It included a day-to-day itinerary, which was along the lines of 9am - 11am training session  11am-5pm free time  5pm-7pm training session for each day

It struck me as odd to travel all that distance and spend less than half the time training. Over the years I've travelled as far afield as Toronto and Moscow for training - and have to say I would have felt a bit disappointed if I was only getting a couple of hours a day in.  Happily that hasn't been the case - in fact sometimes you wish it would stop ha ha!

Closer to home over the years I've driven consderable distances in the UK to attend classes and workshops. Again, most of the time I have not been disappointed,  the sessions have been well-run and enjoyable. There have been a couple of exceptions -  one workshop for example was around 80% talking (mostly instructor  "war" stories - tales of violence and derring-do) and 20% actual training. Other class sessions became a social event with an ever-extending "tea break" halfway through.

I can accept the fact that things need to be explained on occasion (our recent body language workshop for example was half lecture-half drills) and, of course there is a social aspect to training, after all we are not in the military!

But these things shouldn't  impinge on actual training time. We should be able to manage a two hour session with a quick drink break (though we often don't even have that). When it becomes a coffee and sandwich break then something is wrong! I understand it from a teachers point of view - if, that is,  you have a need to drag out information and drip-feed.  Perhaps then you should ask yourself why exactly you are teaching...

We are all a bit lazy and take any opportunity for a break -  another good reason to keep training sessions brisk and lively. That doens't mean mindless beasting  (neccesarily!) but a structured approach will contain all the elements needed for good training - physical and mental

There is another more important aspect to this question and that is how we organise our own training time. I've already written about my own solo training - in many ways it's harder to push ourselves without the "support" of the group -  but there are so many ways to utilise time. If you can't put a regular schedule together, then use what time you can - exercise while waiting for the kettle to boil. Get up half an hour earlier and go for a run. Take the stairs rather than the lift

But this is all on a basic level. When you internalise the principles of Systema you can be "training" virtually constantly. Breathing, posture, tension and movement are constants, they are part of our natural state 24-7. So we can always be mindful of these things in ou daily life.  Being aware of ourselves will extend out to awareness of others and our surroundings. You'll find you can avoid a lot of situations and get into a lot less arguments and confrontation with even basic awareness.  Once you add in the skills of recognising non-verbal signals you willl find your communication skills improve, hopefully making ife much less stressful in general!

This awareness should also extent to "tactical thinking". The most basic method of this is the "what if" game. "What if someone jumps out from behind that wall, what if  etc etc"   However this method should extend beyond mild paranoia into something much more useful (and healthy!). It's often just a case of noticing where things like fire exits are. Or who is the loudmouth in the pub. Or where your kids are at any given time. It's also about developing and listening to your inner voice. Over time it becomes a natural part of you - much as it was when we were hunter-gatherers and were in an "eat-or-be-eaten" environment. Interestingly all the same instincts and responses are still wired into us, even at the deli counter in Tescos (watch what happens if someone pushes in the queue...)

This kind of training will be very self concious at first but if you take it on board you will get some surprising benefits. Training then becomes something else  - to quote Ed Philips "the world is your gym"  - and that applies for both mind and body.  This approach also helps break down the barriers between training and reality. I've known people who couldn't train without their uniform. Or who floundered outside of their usual training environment. Sometimes their training has to be preceded by routines or ritual - in fact the whole training is a  ritual in itself. Fine if that is your thing and you are honest about it, but you have to be aware of just how much of a construct training can become

I'll sign off with a story that I've mentioned before but  illustrates the point beautifully..... a young journalist was sent to interview a venerable jazz guitarist for a music magazine. During the course of the interview the journalist asked "So how many hours a day do you practice?". The musician replied "I never practice!"

The journalist was aghast "but you are one of the top players in the world, how can it be that you never practice!"

The musician replied "I never get time to practice, I'm too busy playing"

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


We always share real-life experiences in class - they either come out during the training or in the circle-up at the end. It's a very important part of the process as it means we can draw on the collective experiences of everyone in the session - not just for "fighting", but so much information also comes back on awareness, fitness and general "life experience".

Normally these experiences stay in the session, but one of the lads had was involved in an incident a couple of weeks back that I thought should be shared with a wider audience. It raises a number of interesting points and, most importanlty, the only person who got hurt, short and long term, was the guy who instigated it.

Our man "X" has been training in the group for around a year and has no previous martial art experience. He is 30-ish in age, just a regular guy. A few weeks ago he was walking through the car park of a large supermarket at 3.30 in the afternoon. He had just finished making a call on his mobile. He heard someone say "give me your f------ phone". He turned to see a young guy approaching. His first reaction was that this was some kind of joke so he aked "What?"

The robber repeated his demand, more aggresively. X laughed and told him to "f----- off". The robber now shouted his demand, put his head down and charged forward. As he did, his right hand dropped to his belt/pocket

X without thinking shot a kick to the knee and as the robber went down, X punched him in the face. The guy was now laying on the some discomfort. Next to him lay an opened knife

People nearby rushed over. X, thinking quickly, loudly said "did you see that, he had a knife! He was going to stab me". He also began acting shaken up and scared. Within seconds all the people were agreeing with him, they all said they saw the knife even though most of them were some distance away

Now the police arrived. X was told off for "talking to witnesses". The robber was claiming he was "just mucking about" . X continued to act scared and unsure of himself and repeatedly pointed out the fact the robber had a knife. The robber was taken to hospital, he had some damage to his kneecap

The police asked X if he wanted to press charges. He said no, as far as he was concerned the thing was over. So the police arrested X. That was the end of the actual incident


A few days later X saw the robber again, this time with a friend. He approached the robber from out of line of sight, then put his arm around him and said "remember me?" The robber was clearly worried and his friend kept saying "we don't want any trouble!". X told him that they shouldn't go out robbing people then and it was left at that
In the meantime X had a two week wait while the CPS decided whether to go ahead with the case against him or not. Eventually it came through that no charges would be pressed

In terms of his actions and re-actions I think X did very well . Perhaps the only thing you could say was he didn't do initially spot the robber - but then again at half three in the afternoon in a busy place you wouldn't expect it (which is perhaps a lesson in itself). His physical response to the threat (and who knows what the guy would have done with the knife) was perfect - delivered naturally, precise, effective and appropriate. It is also worth noting that the knife was unseen until it was dropped onto the floor by the robber

However where I thought X really shone was in his "post-event management". He could have boasted about what he'd done to the witnesses or, even worse mentioned his Systema training! Instead he handled the situation very well, everyone supported him - and rightly so, after all. But I can tell you from my court days how easily events can be twisted in the hands of a good brief. The important thing is what you say - that is what gets noted most. Actions can be interpreted in different ways, if you speak with clear intent it is more difficult to distort

The next interesting thing was the fact that he got arrested, despite all the evidence at the scene. I'm not sure if this is procedure or down to the discretion of the officers on the spot. To be fair they have to make a decision based on only seeing the aftermath of an event.

Finally I thought X handled seeing the robber again very well. He could have gone aggressive on him, or even been scared of him. Instead he gave him some brotherly advice (that will hopefully be heeded). This should curtail any future come-backs or thoughts of revenge on the part of the robber. This is something that's often overlooked in self defence, especially when the emphasis is all on "turning into a wild animal and savaging your opponent". When you come out of that, back into the real world, there can be significant consequences to deal with

Anyway the important things are that no-one was too badly hurt, X kept his phone and is not being charged and a young man has perhaps learnt the error of his ways. Hopefully this will provide some food for thought for all of us and some lessons that can be fed back into our training

Thursday, 5 August 2010

An Apology!

Sorry I haven't posted here for a while - things have been very busy on the music front! I'll be getting some new posts up over the next week or so, there are a few topics that have come up recently plus an interesting incident involving one of the Tempsford guys which I'll be posting details of

A few people have asked about gigs - you can see where and when I'm playing over on my music site at