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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.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Rob. I also believe that when you get too comfortable at a drill, you should change it slightly, make it more difficult, which can be done in various ways - physically, psychologically, mentally, emotionally, and often a combination of these. Overall, you should keep progressing/developing by extending your comfort zones, or have them extended for you, just outside of your reach, so to speak. This applies to both partner work as well as solo work. :-)