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Friday, 30 December 2011


I hope you are all having a happy holiday time and enjoying the festivities! It's been a quiet Christmas here, apart from playing a few gigs - including one in a barn (not a nice  barn conversion, a barn! First time I've played with my coat on!)

2011 has been a good year for training - I was just looking at some of the group photos and clips from this time last year and it's pleasing to see all the same old faces are still around - plus a few new ones too!  This is where depth in training comes from - regular graft with a group of good people. From a teaching point of view it is much more satisfying and challenging. It can be quite easy to teach purely out of seminars.  It can be the case that people who go to seminars are looking for a couple of new tricks, or to collect a new form / kata, or to be entertained by some war stories, or maybe to have a point of view reinforced rather than challenged

Of course this isn't always the case, it's good where you can work with people who train in specific skills, such as the lads at Danny's workshop earlier this year

The real meat of training is in the regular work though, where you have the time and luxury to not only cover lots of different subjects, but also to go in depth and really work on the core essentials of body mechanics, breathing, psychology and so on.

The beauty of Systema is that we do both simultaneously. Whatever work you are doing, be it hard sparring, learning to read people and their intentions, practicing some ground work, or whatever, you are always working on the core principle - yourself

This is where some training methods fall down, in my view, it's about fitting you into a style-box. In a world that is box-shaped that may make sense. If doing something purely for the pleasure of it, that may make sense. But if we are talking about truly exploring our potential and opening up new ideas, new concepts and growth then training should only be restricted by safety concerns and practicalities.

Another danger in training is that people over-specialize. They get good at something and that becomes the sole focus of training. Anything that goes on in class becomes skewed around the teachers pet subject / skill - so now we have a box within a box! You have to take care as an instructor that you don't just teach people what you enjoy, you have to show them what you don't enjoy too!

There is another aspect of modern martial arts  - the internet expert. It's telling though how often there is a considerable gap between a person's words and their video footage. I say video footage too because, also very often, you never get to meet these people. So I think one resolution for the New Year is to spend less time on people I will never meet or get to experience their fantastic knowledge and more on people who actually train. I think it's a good sign that the main Systema forums are fairly quiet compared to some. While it's good to share knowledge, and the internet can be a great tool for that,  I think most of us prefer to do it in person in training rather than  in extensive and often non-productive forum ramblings, arguments and counter-arguments. The music forums have their own ups and downs but for the most part if you come in with a strong point of view you better have a clip of yourself playing well! No-one cares who your music teacher was, if you can describe in minute detail the workings of piano, how the way everyone else lifts a finger to play a note is wrong, or whether or not you would win  X-Factor.

 So for 2012?  Both Vladimir and Martin are in the UK next year, that's two great opportunities for anyone to experience Systema at its best.  As far as regular training goes - more of the same, but different! We will be getting into some psychological testing work (the Leicester crew are finalising some challenging cold water training) . Hopefully we will get another Summer Camp organised this year. Plus we will be continuing all the regular training, covering whatever we can and bringing in outside knowledge for things we can't. Once again if anyone has any specifics they would like covered, in regular class or in workshops, just let me know.

Thanks again to everyone who has made training so enjoyable and challenging this year. The message for 2012? Ignore the false fear, live your life, stay safe, stay healthy and above all stay true to yourself

Happy New Year!

God bless


Systema Basics DVD Set Review

Josh Nixon of the CSPS (Combative Self-Protection System) has kindly reviewed the Systema Basics set at his website. You can read the review here 
Thanks Josh! 

And just a reminder - our Christmas offers will be running for a few more days only!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Inhale, exhale

Andy asked a good question in class last week. "Why do we inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth?" I say good question because, apart from the fact that it's good to ask questions it also highlights the fact that we can take things for granted. Once something gets repeated a few times it can become assumed that it is the correct thing to do and that everyone knows why we are doing it.

So in answer to Andy's question here are a few points and ideas on inhale/nose exhale /mouth (of course this is a big subject, so the following is a quick skim!)

1. Inhaling through the nose warms the air making it less harsh to the lungs especially in cold weather

2. The nose has mucus and hairs that filter that air going into the lungs - this means less work for the immune system

3. Inhale through the nose means that we breathe less. That may sound odd, but it means there is a higher level of CO2 and our cells are more oxygenated. CO2 is responsible for determining when oxygen is released. When muscles are used more intensely, CO2 levels rise and more oxygen is sent to them. If there is insufficient CO2 in the blood, oxygen is not distributed as readily as it should be - which is why people can faint when hyperventilating. Some claim that most people actually inhale more air than their body needs (four to six litres a minute) to supply the blood with oxygen, which triggers the body's defence mechanisms

4. Nose inhale allows for regulation of the breathing

5. Mouth exhale allows for quick / larger release of breath

6. Exhaling through the nose can be uncomfortable (other than to clear blockages!)

7. Mouth inhale can dry the throat, particularly in cold weather

So should we always do things just one way? Well no, of course not, it is up to each of us to try things out for ourselves to increase understanding. I was training a group a few weeks back and asked them some questions during the session. Everyone seemed a bit surprised - the teacher is supposed to give answers, not ask questions! This highlights another aspect of training - your mindset in terms of taking in information.

Don't come to class just to be a sponge. That implies a very passive outlook on your behalf. Of course you need to be able to take in information, but of course that information comes in many forms, not just a teacher stood in front of the class lecturing. If the training is all in lines, follow-my-leader, no questions, do-as-you're-told...then it might be a nice hobby to get away from things for a bit, but the knowledge gained will be limited.

The important thing is to approach training with a curious, enquiring mind. Act on the information given, test it, if it works, file it away for future use. Be aware that in different circumstances it may need to be modified. To return to the breathing - you may not be able to nose inhale with a broken nose for example. Or if tired you yawn to take in more air quickly.

This is one reason why we rotate the inhale / exhale and breath hold cycles during drills and exercises. So try the same with nose/mouth, switch them round and see how it feels.

As I was explaining to the group, when you learn something this way you retain much more information because you have taught yourself. I know in my music, I remember a piece much easier if I have helped to write it rather than having to learn something by reading the sheet music. The sheet music becomes a crutch, the mind is lazy and will take the easiest route every time unless you tell it otherwise!

There are modern therapies such as Buteyko which are centred around breath control, particularly in the easing of asthma symptoms. Scientific / medical opinion seems divided as to its benefits. There are also much older traditions, be they Christian hesychastic or Eastern yogic which involve breath control - of course they also highlight the strong connection between breathing and state of mind. Sports science is starting to catch up too, with devices now available to train the breathing muscles.

And remember, the single most important thing with inhaling and exhaling....KEEP DOING IT!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Sensitivity Training

Preview of latest DVD release - out on Nov 25th. Covers different types of sensitivity training and application

Available for pre-order at special price here

Monday, 7 November 2011

What's the Point?

I don't think I've seen any kind of martial art or self defence training that didn't involve "drills" at some point. By drills I mean two (or more) person training  - pad work, sparring, forms, sensitivity work, scenarios,  taking strikes, evasion, etc. Given that in Systema there is no form / kata work and outside of core exercises all the work is with partners I'd say the typical Systema training session comprises mostly of drills.

The strength of this approach is that we are always working with another person - whatever the particular skill or attribute being developed it is  be done with the input of a real body rather than fresh air. It also makes training flexible as drills can easily be adapted on the fly in a variety of ways.

However there is also a danger that training can become to "drill-centric".  By this I mean that the point of the exercise becomes to get good at the drill rather than to extract the skills developed through the drill for actual use.  The drill is the map, not the destination. A guy may be able to  keep a football in the air and flick it onto the back of his neck - it doesn't make him a great football player.

It can also mean that the nature of the drill subtly changes in order to maintain our comfort  / skill level in it, sometimes negating the whole point of the exercise. Let's take an extreme example - , a person feels very comfortable with working a jab and hook combo. So in a pad drill or some kinds of sparring they do well, dominate their partner and feel good.

Now the drill changes to kicking only -  our man keeps closing in to jab and hook his training partner, in order to feel comfortable and maintain his dominance. So his partner has a dilemma - does he go along with the drill being changed to suit the other person or does he try and continue the original drill and get punched a lot?

It's actually not such an extreme example. Over the years I've seen similar examples in all the styles I've studied - from the guy who started punching wildly in a push hands drill to people who refused to close their eyes in a restricted sight drill. There may be different reasons for this  and an instructor has to deal with each accordingly and appropriately. People may feel nervous or tense and this is how it comes out. People may feel they have a point to prove, or people may wish to challenge the teaching. Sometimes people shy away from any work that puts them in a perceived weaker position  - yet this is a very important aspect of training. We don't have the luxury of knowing when and where and how we may have to call upon our skills, in fact it's generally best to assume it will be under the worst circumstances - so it makes sense to devote at least some time to exploring those circumstances. There is also the principle of strengthening each link in the chain and facing up to our shortcomings and fears - if nothing else it keeps the ego in check!

It's important then to understand the boundaries of any drill, the reasons for them and the attributes the drill is designed to develop. For example you could have your partner hold the pads and hit them for three minutes but what are you getting from it? If you understand that the drill is to develop a particular strike then the drill changes. If you understand that by working at speed you can be developing some cardio, it changes again. If the pad holder understands his job is to move around a little and not just stand like a dummy the drill changes again. The more understanding that each person has about what can be gained from the drill, the more useful the experience for both people.

That is an important consideration too - I always prefer drills where both people benefit in some way. Being a crash test dummy or static target is not so productive - in fact it can become a subtle form of conditioning leading to some of the abuses seen in the martial arts world. A partner should be able to learn something even from a demonstration, not just be a fall guy for the instructor. Some of the best lessons come when working with people like Vladimir and Mikhail as they demonstrate a principle or idea - nothing beats first hand experience! Again it is down to understanding the purpose and specifics of the situation.

It's a fantasy to imagine that there is such a thing as no-restriction all-out training - at least in our civilian context. There are always limits to any kind of drill, no matter how intense,  as safety of participants is a major concern. The point is to understand restrictions, why they are they and how they can be altered in order to enrich the experience for all concerned. Drills should always be adaptable to in order to provide new challenges and to encourage growth.

Systema training is both wide and deep. It covers all aspects of movement, survival, psychology, health, fitness -  self defence in the broadest terms. As such it has developed - and is still developing - a wide range of drills to develop and test skills for all types of situation. Across forums I often see questions about how to fall, how to breathe, how to hit with more power, how to channel aggression and so on.  Systema drills provide a clear, structured and comprehensive answer in every case - because they exist outside of a style or construct of how things "should be" and deal directly with the one common factor of each and every situation you experience  - you.

People become blinded by style or charismatic teacher - especially those who can perform a couple of party tricks under constructed circumstances. Progression in a drill becomes a measure of acheivement in that style - how many classmates can you dominate at your chosen drill? But can you extract that skill into a situation where your partner doesn't understand the rules or in fact give a toss about them?   This is one reason there is often a random person in Systema class wandering around with a knife - just as you feel good about yourself  you get  that prod in the kidneys.... a gentle reminder that we are all strong and we are all vulnerable. How we deal with our own and others vulnerabilities is a measure of what sort of person we really are.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Class Work Autumn 2011

Some recent class work footage, mostly of movement drills and exercises

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Flow Motion

If you can't move you can't fight - I can't imagine anyone would disagree with that. But what about the quality of your movement?  How many people consider this in their training? Sure, you can learn lots of techniques, but without an efficient method of delivering the technique you are stuck. 

The problem is that many people equate fighting with tense, jerky movement, often designed to look good and obvious for the camera. Movements need to look forceful  and difficult to reinforce the fact that people are fighting, perhaps to create an emotional connection with the audience.  However if we look to other physical disciplines, or indeed good fighters, we see a different type of movement - smooth, fluid, dynamic and functional.

This isn't a movement system that needs to be invented, it is pretty much what we are born with - or at least what naturally develops during our early years. In that respect we are the same as animals, they have that innate quality of movement that draws the eye, powerful but understated. It's one of those things, like fitness, that can't be faked. Your mind can instantly distinguish between a live tiger and an animatronics model. Or between a good dancer and the average Saturday night king of the disco.

The problem is that our natural movement system (for want of a better term) gets suppressed as we grow older. All sorts of fears, cultural factors, environmental factors and social demands get placed over and above the need for good movement. It wasn't that long ago even in the UK that left handed children were beaten in order to make them right handed.

One of the cornerstones of Systema is this natural movement - ie allowing the body to move freely and fluidly as the situation dictates. The last part is important - very important. There are martial art styles that seek to overlay natural movement with either stylised moves or with a different movement pattern (usually involving initiating all movement from the dan tien / hara). The problem can be that the needs of the situation are sublimated to the method. While training this can be fine, but in a real life, real speed situation it takes years of hour upon hour of repetitious practice to get anywhere near as good a response as the "natural" one. If you don't believe me have someone throw a tennis ball at your head from 6 feet away and tell me which part of you moves first.

Fluid movement (or "flow motion") is the subject I decided to explore on my latest DVD. It shows some ideas to develop flow in striking and in footwork, starting with one or two movements, then building up. Along the way it also shows the importance of spirals in natural movement, referencing the Fibonacci sequence I mentioned before.  It also mentions how working this way has many positive benefits on the body and the psyche. Personally I believe that is because this is how we are built to operate - and people work best and most efficiently when doing something comfortable and familiar rather than trying to fit into a robotic or "un-natural" movement pattern.

There are lots of other benefits to developing good flow - it leaves less gaps for an opponent to take advantage of and makes your own movement much more unpredictable and difficult to counter.  It also reduces the risk of injury as you are working with your body rather than against it. Conversely you understand how an opponent's body can be manipulated into damaging itself purely by the spirals and torque you  subject it to. It also increases efficiency, meaning that more can be accomplished with less.

Of course fluid movement alone won't get results and it all needs to be pressure tested -  but it is a vital aspect of training. To ignore it in pursuit of something more macho is a bit like putting water in your car because it's cheaper than petrol - you'll only get so far before you break down.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Time Gentlemen Please

I once read a quote that said "Time exists in order that everything doesn't happen all at once…and space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you."

It's obvious that we operate in three dimensions and that the primary requirement for any weapon to work is range - whether it's a fist or a missile. It's also apparent that any physical work is enhanced by a knowledge of levers, triangles, circles and spirals as they relate to the human form. But what consideration do you take of time in your training? We are just as bound to it as to the physical dimensions but time often goes unnoticed or unmentioned. In my experience Systema is one of the few arts to address this issue in depth and anyone who has worked with Mikhail or Vladimir will attest that they are masters of timing!

Good timing is crucial in any physical activity. The best punch in the world might as well be the worst if it's thrown too late. What is it that triggers the punch to be thrown? If we study the process can we work to make it more effective and efficient?

Systema has a wealth of drills to help. The most basic is the walking / zombie drill. A walks towards B, who moves aside when he/she feels the need to. Like any drill it can be developed in several ways - increase the speed, have more than one walker, add obstacles, add in kicks and punches, etc

The root of the drill remains the same though - you observe a movement, decide it is a threat and take action as necessary. Timing is integral - without it you will have little sense of when the threat will arrive, at which point to move and so on. You can explain the process involved in simple terms - "I see I move" - you can describe it using a model like the OODA Loop, you can also go into great depth about the inner workings of the brain. All of which is useful only if studied in conjunction with actually doing the drill - the knowledge needs to be "in the body" to be of practical use. Here are some more ideas to help develop this attribute

Stand just outside contact range of your partner. Your partner puts out a hand or foot, when you see them do so you take a step back. This should be easy, so now move into contact range and do the same

At first your partner makes the moves obvious. Don't watch for the move but for what precedes it - this is where the learning takes place! Over time your partner makes their movement less obvious - so it now becomes a two way drill, observation and reaction for one, learning not to telegraph movement for the other

Go faster or slower, change the range, use a weapon or object (stick, training knife etc), try different positions (sitting, on floor, etc). Change your response - instead of moving back, move to the side or forwards into your partner's space.

Once you've had a play around with this, work against two people. Now peripheral vision is even more important - tip, don't look directly at each person, fix a "soft" gaze somewhere over a shoulder. You should also of course add in movement at some point, singly or double.

This is the basic template of the drill, you can add in whatever
situational factors you wish. For example we sometimes run this as an "escape" drill. Person A is confronted by two or three others. As one of the gang moves Person A has to hit and escape, or at least put themselves in a stronger position.

Person A stands with back to a wall, person B throws tennis balls at them. All you have to do is dodge. TB's are best as you can throw them hard and fast with no threat of injury, but are heavy enough to sting a bit if they hit (motivation).

Have a group of people dodging and a group of people throwing, again a good workout for peripheral vision. Have one or both groups moving for added chaos

So, two simple drills that can easily develop into more involved work. Awareness is key to each one, not only of what is going on around you but also the internal dialogue that determines when and how you react to a stimulus. Information about this is widely available and of course it's also covered on a number of our DVDs. When working try and pay attention to the internal dialogue and see what sort of things affect it (stress, tension, emotional factors) and also how it can be regulated (breathing, awareness, focus). Experiment with working the same drills with different mindsets - run the dial from 0-10 and see where you settle in most comfortably and efficiently.

Another aspect of studying time in training is to "slice" movements down in order to study them. It's not a novel concept - in most types of work people taking on something new will break it down into digestible chunks rather than try and take it on whole. Why should fighting be any different? You can go about it a couple of ways - work slow and study how you and your partner move. The difficulty here is in keeping everything slow and also keeping the same intensity as if you were moving fast. It has to be the same intensity as it is the fast movement you need to work against, so you need to recreate every aspect of that movement except the speed.

The second method is to freeze the action at given moments - either to give yourself time to decide what to do, or do examine the posture and position of your partner. We discuss this in details on the latest Self Defence Workshop DVD, applying the OODA Loop model to the decision making process.

It seems very slow and cumbersome at first (because it is!), but it's really no different from learning to drive or learning to play the guitar. With practice and mindfulness you'll be working at speed in no time. If once you speed up you find yourself getting caught or your work degenerating, then slow it down again to fix the problems. Once they are fixed, take the speed up again to test yourself.

Another aspect of time is how best to organise your training time, whether for solo training or running a group.

One method for solo training is to to set aside a fixed period each day. This may be especially useful if you have a lot of demands on your time or have to operate in a strict routine. On the plus side you can easily organise your areas of training to fit into the schedule. So if you have a half hour to train you might spend five minutes warming up, do rolls and ground movements for 10 minutes, spend 10 minutes on core exercises and five minutes stretching. On the downside it can become a bit routine and more about ticking boxes than training - just something you do for an hour a day

Another method is to train whenever possible. This can be as simple as doing some sit-ups in a spare moment (don't do it at the train station though, it worries other passengers), or monitoring breathing while walking or running. The plus side is that you can train throughout the day in a varied way. The downside is you might not be able to train as much as you like or need.

My preferred method is to see the training opportunity in everything. Many daily activities can become training with a little imagination. Breathing can be worked on almost constantly. Observation can be worked in all sorts of ways - whether externally or observing emotional reactions in stressful situations. Available time can be put to good use for longer or more focused sessions , but always with an eye to functionality and to being carried over into class work. In this way training becomes behaviourial and an integral part of us rather than a set of moves to be carried out under prescribed circumstances.

When it comes to teaching, methods again depend largely on aims and circumstances. However one thing that is vital is the need for strong basics. How you organise training for those is straightforward enough - if people need to learn rolling, then spend more time rolling! In general people need a reasonable understanding of how to fall, ground movement, wave movement, impact management,breathing and structure in order to develop. I find the best approach with beginners is to break everything down into those "slices" and work through step by step. It can also be useful to apply some of the work into basic drills so that beginning students get a chance to understand the applied function of the particular exercise.

Assuming everyone has a level of basic understanding you can broaden the work out. One method is to plan the training session minute by minute - so spend 10 minutes on running and breathing, 10 minutes hitting each other, apply and escape from locks for 30 minutes, etc. In this way classes can be planned out in advance. This can be useful for the person who is new to teaching.

You can alter this "structured" method in this way - think of a specific topic for the class, say striking. The warm up exercises relate to striking - shoulder rotations, press ups, arm tension. Then run some preliminary drills, for example moving away from strikes. Add in more detail - move and return strikes. Look at the strike itself in more detail - placement of fist, etc. Re-run the striking and moving drills, perhaps with groups of three or more. Add in a couple of more challenging exercises. Then finish the session with a period of freeplay drawing on all the work covered. This is quite a useful template that allows a little more freedom than the "clock watching" method

For more experienced students and instructors though I feel there should be a spontaneous element in class. In this way as questions arise during training (which they always should) you can take things off on a different tangent and explore things that you hadn't thought of before and which are more relevant to the group. Of course as an instructor that sometimes means saying "I don't know", or "let's try a few different things" but that is certainly no bad thing. It calls for extra observation and flexibility in class, not only from the instructor but also from the students. Having taught martial arts for 20 years now I personally find this approach (as exemplified by Mikhail and Vladimir) makes for a dynamic and fluid learning situation and allows more scope for development of the individual - which is then reflected throughout the group as a whole.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Self Defence Workshop clip

Here's some footage from last week's self defence workshop. Rather than give a lot of techniques for dealing with attacks (see our Street Defence DVD for that!) we took the approach of working on the decision making process (via the OODA Loop).  Using the Loop as a blueprint we ran through various scenarios based on real life events and also discussed tactics used by criminals and preventative measures. 

Friday, 19 August 2011


Recently in class we have been working on the concept of "flow" in movement (shortly to be released as a DVD "Flow Motion"). Part of the training involved students giving one strike, then two, then three, then five. I asked if anyone knew what the next number in the sequence was - 1,2,3,5.........?
Well the answer is eight - and the sequence should more properly be written 0,1,1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc It is know as the Fibonacci Sequence (FS) and is formed by adding the previous numbers together.

Fibonaccio (Leonardo of Pisa) was born in 1175 and, among other things, introduced the sequence to Western thought . As we have seen each succeeding number equals the sum of the two preceding it and in doing so we find some interesting relationships. For example when divided the numbers give us the "golden ratio" of 1.618...or PHI. This can then be developed into a logarithmic spiral which could be described as on of the fundamental shapes or building blocks in nature. It can be seen in everything from the structure of the cornea,  to the formation of seashells,  to the approach of a hawk to its prey,  to the spirals of the Milky Way.

In other words it is a fundamental aspect of ourselves and the world around us. It finds expression in art, mysticism, architecture, industrial design, even finance. My old pal Anthony Walmsley began researching this concept in relation to Chinese martial arts some 10-15 years ago and has produced a book covering this topic in detail.  Check out the links for further information as my space and mathematical ability are both restricted! 

So what does all this have to do with training? In terms of flow and movement - well all will be revealed on the DVD! But in brief, if we look at the FS in bio-mechanical terms then this model (and remember it is just a model!) is a step on from two dimensional representations of the body. Of course we exist in four (known!) dimensions and our work has to take all of those four into account - so an understanding of three-dimensional spirals in both form and movement is vital. We could say with some measure of truth that the body is not capable of a straight line movement as everything involves spirals of some description.

Our striking work shows how a short twist or spiral can increase the penetration of a punch. We know from basic grappling work that twising a person in three directions dramatically increases the effect of a throw , lock or takedown. We understand from our health and fitness work the effects of twisting and spiralling the body in terms of improved flexiblity and overall tone.

These are all quite basic things that should quickly become apparent with a little thought. But does the FS have wider applications in our work? I believe it does - and again this will be covered in the DVD. But in brief I think this sequence resonates with my previous descripton of fractal Systema - each part can be separated off but remains a reflection of the whole. If that sounds a bit vague or too philosophical simply consider it this way - everything that you are is reflected in everything that you do. There is something of you in all your actions, however impersonal or unemotional you think you are being.Everything that you do will have some effect on who you are. This is an important thing to bear in mind when you are training - because how you train can and will affect what you do. It is easy to understand this on a superficial level. Train hyper-aggresively - how do you think that will affect you? Train with no intention, drive or pressure - what will the result be? The problem is that while it is easy to see these things at the extremes, they are more difficult to notice when we work at deeper levels. Often we do not notice these things ourselves, but those around us do. Funnily enough we usually then blame the people around us for those problems. No-one is immune, there are very few people capable of totally honest self -analysis and insight -  but if one of the effects of your training is to diminish that capability I'd seriously call it into question.

Understanding this notion of spirals and structures in our own bodies I think leads to a greater appreciation of those structures in the world around - and perhaps give us insight into the natural world. It can change how you approach situations - from a principle point of view rather than a purely technical one. If you know the principles of how a bike works you don't need a different set of techniques for every new bike you sit on. Similarly if you grasp the underlying principles of movement, manipulation and body structure you can quickly get a handle on how to harm or help a person. Going further out still (or deeper in) still, understanding the dynamics and principles of social interaction will help develop your emotional intelligence and hopefully make you a more understanding and rounded person.

Outside of living history and re-enactment, does it make sense to try and slavishly emulate the way people trained in another culture 200 years ago? Does training solely for one type of situation or operational activity makes sense for people not in that line of work? Perhaps both approaches are a control / coping mechanism to ease the feeling that maybe the "real world" is just too chaotic to deal with?

However I believe that if you understand something of the Fibonacci Sequence and the related areas of sacred geometry, quantum physics and some of the latest medical research, not to forget the great spiritual teachings of course, you begin to see patterns beneath the chaos. That might lead to the conclusion that we are all inescapably linked together in ways we can sometimes barely imagine. Something to think about in these troubled times.......

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Class Work 2011

Footage of some recent general classwork, plus the RSF London Groundwork Seminar

Monday, 11 July 2011

One Step Beyond.....

Western music has, for the last 1000 years or so, been founded on a very simple principle - the octave and the standard music stave. This system has been used by everyone from Bach to Lady Gaga. It is at once clear in it's simplicity - it can be read and understood in an instant by any musician. Yet also profound in it's depth. It can convey a simple one line melody or the full glory of a Beethoven symphony for full orchestra and choir.

At it's heart, however, it remains simply an octave. From those single tones are developed chords and their inversions, different types of scale, harmonies, discords and melodies. They have the power to stir emotions, lift spirits or give us a nice tune to whistle.

Anyone who learns how to play music in the "traditional" sense begins with the octaves. Running up and down those 8 notes in their various keys and scales. Correct positioning to play the notes fluidly, correct technique for the particular instrument you are working with are the first steps. Then you start to learn something of the relationships between these tones, how thirds and fifths work, how chords are created.

Of course music is written to be performed, so at some point every musician will play in front of someone, even if it's just family. Now you begin to learn to cope with the pressures of actual performance as opposed to practice. Nerves, expression, ability, not to mention the fun and enjoyment performance brings.

This is within reach of anyone who takes up an instrument within 6 months or so. With  good tuition and a little practice it should be easy to reach this level. But what lies beyond?  Why do some stay at one point and others go much further? There are several factors of course, but for the sake of argument let's make it a level playing field and say all things - time, money, opportunity and desire -are equal. The variables then must be in the people themselves and how they view the playing of music.

We could say that music is a mathematical exercise. After all it was Pythagoras who "discovered" the laws of music. So if a person understood completely the mathematical relationships between all the notes in a piece of music, they would be an amazing composer, right? You could create a score based on tonal relationships and intervals that would be neat, tidy and rational

We could also say that music is an exercise in technique. The faster I can move my fingers, the better. The more notes I can cram in to a phrase, the better I am. People will be amazed at the speed and dexterity of my playing, the flashiness of my performance.

Then again, music is an exercise in theory. See how cleverly the chord in the first section is inverted in the second and a diminished fifth added, which relates to the the harmony of the string part in the fourth movement. The more elaborate and complex the piece the more people will appreciate my intellect and cleverness -  I can discuss it endlessly on internet forums, I don't even have to play anything for people to appreciate my genius.

Perhaps music is all about learning things. If you go to a teacher who just gives you the eight basic notes and asks you to work with them, what use is that? Isn't it far better to have a teacher who has strict rules for everything and can take you step-by step through it all? That way I will never have to think for myself, everything is neatly laid out for me. My work will be exactly the same as my my teacher and can be replicated over and over again.

Music is a language. Through someone else's work or your own,  music is a form of expressing a feeling, an emotion, a sharing of joy, pain, love, anger or just the desire to get up and dance. It touches something deep within us and connects us to something outside of ourselves.  There are aspects of all those previous things I mentioned before in there of course. Understanding theory, technical ability and so on are all valuable - but not at the expense of the necessity of honest self expression.

This is what takes the student "one step beyond" playing simple scales and into the realm of understanding, performance and creativity. But only if  the student  is willing to take that step and has faith in the process. It's easy to look outside and blame others for not showing you things when in fact they are in plain sight.  Of course if you want to keep someone as a student this is how you teach them - step-by-step, keep everything  obvious and mechanical, drip feed  "information".... But if you want someone to become a real musician, you encourage them to imitate... then innovate. A little guidance is necessary here and there but the information is all contained in those eight notes - you just have to open your eyes, ears and heart to see it.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Tactical Training Day

The day was put together by Danny Lines of the Britannia Gym and K9 Security Services. The idea was to give some security professionals training in different aspects of their work.

The day started off with me showing some  Systema close protection drills, including movement of people, movement around people and responding to low level threat. This was later expanded into some basic teamwork for takedown and restraint

Danny Lines showed some pressure point work from Aiki-jitsu and how it fits into pre-emptive striking as well as takedowns. Some verbal /psychological work was also covered

Simon Batty then took the group through Muay Thai striking techniques. Starting with the jab, Simon then moved on to kicks, finishing up with knees and elbows. The group covered pad work and some basic sparring methods

Sujay Bholak then introduced the group to the basics of working with dogs. Very few had experience in this field, so it was very interesting to see how the dogs responded so readily to the commands of the handler and how effective they were in bringing the bad guy to the floor! a few of the lads volunteered to put on the jacket and have a go  and everyone also got the chance to work with the dogs on a hostage scenario

All in all a great day of training and it was good to work alongside some great instructors (especially a fellow Manor Park / Avenue boy lol). All the participants got stuck in with good attitude and spirit and all the different areas complemented each other nicely. 

Monday, 20 June 2011

Fractal Systema

I mentioned in a previous blog the idea of concious / subconcious learning. It's an important aspect of the way we train and perhaps needs a little explanation, especially for anyone new to the System
At his recent London workshop Martin Wheeler was recounting a recent sparring session with Vladimir. They were groundfighting and Martin, despite being no slouch when it comes to groundwork, said he found himself being effortlessly outclassed by Vladimir. When he asked how this could be - after all, Martin has considerable experience in BJJ and other grappling styles, Vladimir replied "you have good knowledge, but my body has more knowledge".
What does this mean? To my mind it means this - through his training Vladimir has arrived at a state where his body "knows" how to react to any stimulus applied to it. At this level technique becomes irrelevant, the work is pure instinct - not only that but the instinct itself is highly tuned to a state of survival. How to arrive at this state? I think by making your work geared to training your instinct to react in the appropriate way - and the main way to do that is through sub-concious training to aquire "body knowledge".

But can't we just rely on our natural instinct? After all, you touch something hot, you move faster than you will ever move in your life. Well yes...and no... the problem is that "natural instinct" can lead us to different reactions. In essence there are only three possible reactions to a stimulus - and this applies on a cellular level upward. Test carried out on cells have shown that they will move towards a source of nutrients and away from a source of poison. Something indeterminate - there is no movement.

So those are our three options when faced with a stimulus - we move towards it, away from it, or stay still. This happens on a subconcious level. We know from studying body language that a person talking to someone they don't really like will manifest that feeling in some way - their feet may point away, they may lean back or frequently glance away. We can be "repulsed" by something - think of something horrible, picture a big pile of dog crap on your desk - how does your body react? You moved back I'm guessing!

The other option is to move forwards. The stronger the bond the more demonstrative the movement. We hug family, shake hands with colleagues, nod and smile at acquaintances. But it is all "positive" forward movement. If we are not sure - we falter. We teeter, back and forward or side to side - indecision (which incidentally is the state in which we are most susceptible to suggestion)

To put this into a conflict / self defence terms we have the option of flight, fight or freeze. The first two are obvious - we try and escape the danger or we tackle it. The freeze option can come about through fear or indecision leading to tension. It might also come about through "if I don't move he won't see me"

These options work at a sub-concious level within us, but can be modified and tuned. For example someone experience in handling firearms is not likely to flinch when one is shot, whereas someone who has never fired a gun will. But how do we access this sub-concious level in order to work with it?

Breathing is the first step and the major link between what goes on outside and what goes on inside. As we know, regulating our breath plays a major role in controlling the psyche. This in itself is a concious act at first - or at least it is in adults, most of us lose the natural abilities of the child in this respect. Over time it becomes the natural reaction to adjust the psyche through the breath - something makes you jump and you are in burst breathing before you know it.

This also has to be translated into physical movement and the first level of this is simply moving away from the source of pain. It may be a stick, knife, chain or fist, but just the "simple" act of avoiding it is informing the body on a sub-concsious level when and were to move. What I mean by sub-concious level is this - when running the swinging the stick drill, for example, we don't sit down beforehand and discuss in detail the bio-mechanics involved in taking a step. Nor do we have people do the movements without a stick present, just pretending it is there. In both cases the body is not learning - in the first because the information is intellectual, in the second because the threat to the body is imaginary.

Now I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with intellectual learning in martial arts. There are many areas of training where studying the how's, why's or mechanics can be interesting and useful. But it should be should be used to back up the physical training, not replace it.

As for the types of practice that rely on imagination such as forms / kata - in my view they are far less useful. You can imagine all you like, at some level the body knows that there is no opponent in front of you. In fact I think they can be counter-productive, in that how you imagine something is rarely how it actually is - and your body will react to what actually is rather than what you imagine.

So we extend this idea out through all of our training. Whatever the drill is, just do it. Don't worry too much about getting it right or looking a certain way,. Iif the drill is to avoid the stick and you avoid it - job done. If you can avoid one stick well, great - then let's try two. Once you have this basic movement idea down and your body can move comfortably, we can add in other factors to the training.

Tactical factors for example - how do you avoid the stick, but move in and take the person down? Or technical factors - what is the best way to apply a lock to the arm? Even here though, the work can be largely "sub-concious" - you learn to do it by doing it, not by reading about it. In this respect the class should be seen as a laboratory where you are free to experiment and find what works best for you. Funnily enough - or not, given we are all basically the same - you will soon find that natural efficiency which characterises the best kind of Systema work. Through training and testing you begin to tune your instinct to the situation. This is where the faith is developed that your body can take care of itself when under threat.

I will admit that to people used to a more apparently "structured" approach this method can seem messy and "unscientific". Some people prefer the comfort of syllabus and grades, and that's fine. But once you look under the surface you find there is a whole lot of structure to Systema, not only that but it is very deep. Some talk about "steps" in training, you go up one level at a time. Some talk about "spirals", you go round in a circle but each time you go up a bit. I think of Systema as fractal - each aspect contains the whole. You can zoom in and see individual shapes, or zoom out and see the bigger picture. You can also zoom in and keep going and going and going......

And that is exactly what this approach allows you to do. I've trained in styles where you do basics, then at a certain level you don't do those things anymore. I find with Systema the basics are advanced and vice versa. This is because you are always working on yourself, not on replicating someone else's movement. Your work is always dynamic and in and of the moment - once it's happened, it's gone. It's a truly creative experience (even in a destructive situation) and this, I think is a one of the factors in the "cleansing" aspect of Systema - as one of our guys mentioned last class "I feel so much better after training"

So when training try and let your body learn - don't over-analyse during (post-drill reviewing is good), just breathe, move, enjoy the experience. Learn to take whatever is thrown at you with a breath and a smile, do whatever is neccesary in the situation then move on to the next challenge!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Sat 25th June
Essex Sports Village Purfleet Rd
Averley RM15 4DT
9am - 5pm
£40 per person £5 spectators





This Seminar/Workshop is an attendence certificated one day training workshop

Limited places for a QUALITY days training

For booking details contact Danny

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Competition or Co-operation?

Martial arts training is usually associated with competition rather  than co-operation. The only time I can think of a co-operative aspect in my pre-Systema training was in group form / kata work for the purpose of a demonstration - everyone moving in synch to create a nice display.

Outside of that all the training I have seen and experienced was either solo work or based around some form of competition, be it sports-based or the idea of defeating an attacker (invariably in a one-on-one situation)

Systema takes another approach. This may be a reflection of the arts modern military use - after all a military or bodyguard unit that can't act as a cohesive force is not going to be very effective.

In basic training terms this takes the form of learning to operate as part of a pair or as a member of a team. This involves learning new skills alongside existing ones. For example -

Communication - being able to relay information in a concise way is important, especially in the pressure of a dangerous situation. This can be verbal or non-verbal and involves not only the method of relaying the communication, but the awareness to receive it

Role - in a team everyone has a role to play. Understanding your role and sticking to it is important for the integrity of the team. However it is equally important to be able to change roles and to recognise circumstances that may require such a change

Accepting orders - when the rubber hits the road, there is no time for a conference. Team members must feel confident in and be able to follow instructions

Accepting suggestions - in training or prior to a situation, team members should have equal input into problem solving. Everyone has their own unique skills and viewpoint

Have a plan - every professional organisation I can think of has procedures for dealing with situations. A little forethought and planning goes a long way to mitigate the "wtf?" factor

Stick with the plan - if the plan or procedure works, then stick with it. Likewise, be prepared to adapt it if necessary and learn from the experience

Empathy - some identity with the team / group helps. This may range from being family members to professional units to just being a group of people who need to get out of a predicament

It's easy to think that this type of training is the preserve of LEOs, special operations units and similar professionals. In fact they are part of everyday life. How do you and your partner act when out with your kids? What happens if a friend in your group is threatened or attacked? How do you react in a situation where someone is injured? These are just a few examples where a measure of co-operation and teamwork can help.

This was the thinking behind our latest DVD release which lays the foundation for teamwork. It covers basic drills for movement, communication and practical work for pairs or more and will hopefully spur you on to create your own drills and training methods

Friday, 6 May 2011

Class Training Spring 2011

Teacher Centred Learning....

Here's a thought for all the instructors and students out there. Who is the primary focus of your training sessions? Or, to put it another way, is your approach teacher centered learning (TCL) or learning centered teaching (LCT)? OK I know it is the sort of nonsense-speak so beloved of "blue sky" thinkers and people who run it up the flag pole, but there is a serious point to consider

It strikes me that the majority of martial art training in the UK is centered around the teacher, style and school. People  come to learn a "style" and  are expected to conform to certain patterns of behaviour, to train in specific ways and to adapt themselves to the requirements of that style. It's similar to someone wanting to learn to "play music". They will typically have chosen an instrument in advance (unless we are talking pure theory) and will learn according to the requirements of the instrument. However once they have learned to play the instrument they can play any style of music, or even compose their own. The same cannot be said of martial arts training

The TCL approach may also involve putting the head teacher on a pedestal -  in which case progression in the style depends on not only learning the syllabus but  how close you can get to the head honcho. Can you become part of the "inner circle"? As you move up the gradings you no longer have to train with the beginners, you get access to the higher level students and become privy to the "secrets" of the style. Some point to  tradition as the reason behind this approach,  I'm not sure that's entirely valid or if it's just an excuse to exercise an unhealthy amount of control over students.

Systema takes more the LCT approach. The class is based around the individuals within it. Everyone works together, there is no formal hierarchy. Drills and exercises can be  adapted on the fly according to the needs / abilities of the student. This means the same drill can be run across the group with differences in intensity to suit different capabilities.

Perhaps most importantly, the teacher is no longer the focal point of the training. There is no standing in rows following what the teacher does. The teacher is there to provide the conditions under which people can learn - in fact when done well the students virtually teach themselves. It's akin to  a director working with actors - he provides the necessary motivation and settings for the actors to act.

Nor, in this approach, is the teacher a distant figure who sits and watches the class and may, if you are one of the chosen few, bestow some words of advice to you. The teacher in  is as likely to be taking part in the drills as the students, stepping out in order to advise the individual or to change the drill. It's a much more hands-on approach to teaching

In order to make a more detailed explanation to the group the teacher may demonstrate something, highlighting specific points of movement, strategy or technique. The overall aim, however, is for the student to discover their own solution to the problem. Which brings us on to the question of problem-solving in training. This can be as simple as how to do a slow press-up with minimum tension through to a full blown outdoor scenario involving a dozen or more people. The job of the teacher is to construct and present the problem in a well thought out, practical and realistic way. By that I mean that the problem should bear some relation to events that the group might expect to be involved in.

Teachers have to take care with this approach that they do not  construct problems that are only relevant to their own situations, likes and dis-likes, or are based on extremely unlikely situations. Of course there are some problem-solving exercises in which the end result of the exercise itself is almost irrelevant, they are constructed to provide a means of team building or similar. But it is more productive, I think, to keep things in a "realistic" context in order to relate skills and training experiences directly back to the outside world.

One other aspect of this approach is the free flow of information in any direction. In the TCL  model, information only flows one way - from the top down. In the LCT model information flows from teacher to student, from student to student and from student to teacher. Nothing is beyond questioning, in fact an enquiring mind is encouraged. A student's real life experiences can be analyzed in class and used as the basis for work. A student may also have expertise in a particular area that the teacher doesn't, which can be tapped into for the benefit of the whole group. Training this way becomes an organic process, it develops naturally along the lines of the experience and skills of the group as a whole. This is why there is no "syllabus" - the people are the syllabus, in the same way that the people are the "system"

I know things are never quite so black and white, but I do feel you can broadly divide training into the TCL or LCT categories. When the two collide or combine things can get interesting! It can be confusing for a person to cross straight from one to the other, especially if there is a prior expectation. I find this sometimes when people come into our group expecting it to be typical "martial arts" - yet no-one is wearing a uniform, no-one lines up and bows and there is a degree of freedom not present in most schools. The vast majority  find this a liberating experience - it's not uncommon to hear " at my last school we were never allowed to do that", "we were never shown this" or most common of all "you mean it is ok to move my shoulder / put my hand this way / move my feet?" (answer - if it works, yes!)

That is nice, but of course this approach is not for everyone and some do prefer a  highly structured TCL  approach. Having to find your own solution (albeit under guidance) does require a measure of self-awareness and self-responsibility from the student. No-one will do your thinking for you and that is not what everyone is looking for in their training.

It has been my experience that very few instructors who embrace the "free" approach go back to the TCL model, though there are always exceptions! While I find this difficult to understand from a self-development point of view, I can understand it much more readily from a marketing / business perspective. Selling self-awareness and self-reliance to the general public is not likely to make anyone rich! The public in general embrace certainty, a concrete syllabus, a snappy name, jargon and terminology (whether technical or foreign language), a measure of progress (such as grading) and a teacher who can  be seen as the expert on every subject. The problem here, with the teacher who makes their own style up, is that they often themselves become the style. When they go, so does the style. Also, everything has roots, and you often find more nourishment from the root than from  the distant branch or leaf.

The TCL approach  speaks more as a method of learning with the conscious mind rather than the sub-conscious - but that is a subject I will talk about next time!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Preparing for the worst

In one of those odd little examples of coincidence (synchronicity?) both the Tempsford and Leicester groups have recently been exploring the area of pressure testing / psychological work. Also this week, a poster on one of the (few!) forums I regularly read posed the question "I am interested to hear how people approach preparing for real life conflict in terms of drills and scenarios whist maintaining a safe learning environment"

So it seemed an opportune time to clarify and explain some of the work we do in this area, especially as, in my experience, much of it seems to be unique to the System

First off, let us split our training into three areas

1. Physical - developing functional strength, flexibility / freedom of movement, good posture, sound bio-mechanics, functional fitness, health

2. Technical -  technique or principle based, developing skills of practical application, be it for general  work or more specific areas, academic study

3. Psyche - understanding the mental and biological processes that underpin our physical actions, understanding interactions with other people, including cultural and other aspects, how to monitor and regulate our responses to various stimuli

Of course there is over-lap in these areas, any division is inherently false and made only for convenience. Having said that it can be interesting to isolate one particular area of training, in much the same way that we  occasionally isolate a particular movement, or part of the body. This can be likened to strengthening the links of the chain, something I have written about previously

Every martial art / training method copes with the first two areas, indeed the sight of a person performing martial art movements (physical / technical) is the uppermost public perception of "martial arts". In combat sports the two are slightly more separated -vis the stereotypical training montage of bag work, running, pads, etc before the big fight. The third area is less clearly defined. There is certainly some overlap, as I mentioned, physical practice can sharpen mental focus, competing means you have to deal with pre-fight nerves and so on. Yet there seems to be little in the way of an in-depth approach to what, after all, is one of the most fundamental aspects of "self defence" - dealing with fear.

I would bet the the very first thing almost everyone does in their first Systema class is...breathe. I can't remember any Systema session where breathing wasn't mentioned at least once. If you think about it, we swim in air, yet most of the time that - and the fact that we breathe at all - is taken totally for granted. Already a fundamental aspect of our ability to operate is overlooked. There are numerous articles on Systema breathing, plus of course the excellent book and DVDs so I won't go any further into breathing here, suffice it to say that a decent understanding of breath work is the base for any further training.

The simple holding your breath exercise is also the first level of psychological work - I say simple not because it is easy, but because it is straightforward to practice and direct. You get cause, effect and result very quickly. Hold your breath for a minute or so and you soon discover your first "panic level". Until you experience it, you can't be aware of it. Once you are aware of it, you can do something about it. Incidentally, this exercise also illustrates the difference between knowledge and awareness. We all know the effect of holding the breath intellectually, but until you do it and actually have the experience, you don't have the awareness. This is a simple but profound truth that you should apply universally.

Breathwork becomes ingrained into the physical and technical aspects of training. After all, it is the same person doing them! By that I mean that whatever endeavour you are undertaking, be it high speed driving or painting a watercolour, you are the same person with the same psyche - in other words, you are the constant. It makes sense, then, to understand the constant, the one thing (maybe the only thing!) we have some measure of control over

So, already we are working on the psyche in our everyday practice and you can begin working directly on fear control with drills like those we show in the Fear Inoculation Training DVD

 Steve wrote in his blog recently about control and this is a good place to start. We feel comfortable when in control - so take the control away and already we have scope for testing the psyche. A quick and easy way to accomplish this is blindfold work. It doesn't have to be full-on sparring, just wear the blindfold and walk or run around the training room. Like the breath holding, it gives you direct access to the fear centre of the brain and forces you to deal with it.

A simple method when training in a group is to  lay down and have four people twist your arms and legs. This quickly teaches you to relax into the movements as attempting to fight them results only in more pain. Drills were we have no control also teach us something about acceptance. Not that we have to accept every bad thing that happens to us - but that we have to accept that it is happening. Denial is not an option, dealing with the here and now is!

Once you are experienced at this level you can begin to work at deeper levels of fear control. Once again these drills can take many forms, but often involve taking away a measure of control and/or putting the person into an unfamiliar situation. The key is introducing an element of real fear into the drill (whether the danger is real or imagined) but at the same time keeping things safe. It's very rare that I film such drills and you won't see them on our Youtube clips, this is for a few reasons -

Firstly as the drills become more involved, the work is very personal to the person concerned. It touches on fears and phobias and puts the person in a vulnerable state so to me it is  off-limits to the public eye

Secondly  such drills if not viewed in context can easily be misconstrued, misinterpreted or even misrepresented. Another aside - I heard recently of an instructor of another style who told a new student that  he watched what I presume was our class as we "ran around a field with sticks pretending to dig trenches".  The misrepresentation may be intentional or not, in either case it is interesting, let's hope it had the desired effect for him and he has a new student

Thirdly this type of work should only be carried out under supervision of suitably experienced people. We are putting people into a vulnerable position. Similar methods can be used to influence people in a very negative way and to exert forms of control over them - the absolute opposite of what we are looking to achieve in our work. So I wouldn't want anyone taking the outer form of a drill without understanding the underlying and often subtle aspects of it.

It is also important to stress this type of work is not about "toughing it out". Sure you need determination and fortitude but that aggressive type of macho external toughness is one of the things that needs to be cracked (Vladimir calls it "cracking the shell without damaging the egg inside"). External toughness is limited in scope and can be counter-productive a lot of the time. We are looking for something deeper and more practical.

It is interesting and rewarding to see how this training influences people and carries over to their daily life. Forget deadly hand-to-hand combat, with these methods we have had people overcome fear of flying, become much more assertive and confident in bullying situations at work, de-escalate situations that they previously would have flown headlong into and deal successfully both with a nasty situation and the aftermath. As I mentioned before it is you that is the constant in any situation, yet so much work in martial arts is about fitting you into a style or set of techniques with no thought as to how you operate under pressure. Endless repetition is not the answer, nor is mindless beasting. It is not uncommon to see people with years of training in stylised movement revert to scrappy boxing when under pressure. Why is that? Because they haven't addressed the underlying issue, in fact training can sometimes be used to cover it up and paper over the cracks.

Having undergone psychological training it is of course then important to feed it back in to your regular work. Drills can address any or all of the three areas of training. For example the humble press-up obviously falls into the category of physical work,  but hold the static press-up for five, six, seven, eight minutes and we are firmly into psychological territory too. This is then fed into the technique area by realising how the structure and movement of the arm in the press-up relates to striking work. Start exchanging heavy hits and we are once again into breathing and fear control. It's a simple process  when you look at it, but then the best things are. There is no confusing jargon, no terms to argue over or cultural niceties to consider - it's just fist meeting body and how you deal with it.

To take  the work further into preparation for nastiness it is easy to set up scenarios to play through.  I like to keep these simple as I feel anything too elaborate begins to become an acting class rather than self defence (though a measure of acting can be a useful skill!).  The method I use the most is task-based sparring drills. For example one person has 60 seconds to get from A to B, the other person has to stop him. Or one person is told to walk through a doorway where another person is primed to do something to him (which might range from asking the time to pulling a knife). Putting a time limit on these drills helps give a sense of urgency and stops the degenerating into "bouncy bouncy" territory

This work can be further heightened by moving it into different environments. One of the lads commented on Saturday that even training outside onto fairly level grass changed the quality of his movement. So we will work inside in large rooms, small rooms, around furniture, outside in the open, in and around cars, in undergrowth, in an urban setting and so on. Training is really only restricted by your imagination and any constraints of your environment (don't practice gun disarming in the park!). It's also important to say that these drills don't always have to be about punching each other - that really is only one small (but important!) part of self defence. Drills can be based around observation, awareness, escape and evasion (instead of running on a treadmill get out and run around town or through the woods) and may involve climbing, hiding, problem solving, communication or anything else that is a factor in real life situations.

I'm not surprised that people who only ever work in a highly structured, hierarchical, clean and matted  training room sometimes look at what we do and pronounce it "weird". But  weirdness is in the eye of the beholder - and when you think about how things are in real life and how they can be in the martial arts dojo you have to wonder what environment people are truly being prepared for.