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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!