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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Age, Injury and Training

I got rather an odd e-mail  this morning, it was only short so i'll quote it here in full:

"Systema is great  if your 30ish but over 50? Tai chi has the advantage  of training til your 80 but takes years to learn if you can find a  good teacher. What does a 60ish person do in systema?"

My reply was equally short, pointing out I'd just been on a full-on training weekend, over six hours a day training. I'm just touching 50, I wasn't the oldest person there and in fact the teacher was older than me (he moves better and hits harder than me though!)

There is an interesting association in our culture between age and capability. For the first time this year I started getting Saga brochures through the post and catalogues for elastic-waisted slacks (powder blue sta-press), stair lifts and assisted-rise armchairs. The message is clearly that I'm getting on a bit and so need help with even basic tasks.

The fact is that at a few months off of 50 I'm more active than ever, both in training and in life. A typical weekend will be two gigs (often a fair distance away), two teaching sessions and (when my wife collars me!) a day working in the garden. I'm by no means special or super fit, I just made a decision not to live a life that cycles between armchair and work

So as far as Systema goes - "what does a 60ish person do in Systema?"   Answer - same as everyone else!


Part of the assumption about age is that you will be more prone to injury. I've not found that the case. However there are two important factors to bear in mind. The first is existing injuries and the second is how you train

Over the years, especially when I was teaching "soft" styles, I had people coming to me who's previous training had busted them up. Most common were knee, hip and back problems. I used to hear two things, one was "I'll do all that soft stuff when I get too old for the "real" stuff" and  "I can't do that any more, so now I want to learn this"

The problem was that by the time the person got "too old", they were in such poor condition because of their "real" training that they couldn't effectively do the soft work either. Previous injury had caused postural problems,  tension, lack of mobility and in some cases a psychological "hardening" that proved difficult to overcome

There is also sometimes a perception that "soft" work is somehow easy and perhaps a bit useful but it's still not the "real" stuff....the advanced work is all tough, full-on training, the sort of thing you see in the "training montage" in movies.

In my former Chinese martial arts studies the expression was "eat bitter". You weren't learning unless you were suffering. Now granted there was a lot of health work built into to that, but nonetheless it was gruelling physical and psychological work - and the "soft" side was the most gruelling of all. I can easily demonstrate this any time, any place, it normally takes less than five minutes.

There is a similar line of thought in some schools -  that training is a form of punishment. There should be nothing enjoyable about it, the body and mind are to be forged into steel, injury is a form of weakness, never surrender!  The problem is that this approach can destroy the person over time rather than make them stronger. Sure it can make people tough, but tough can also be brittle.

Does this mean training should all be soft and easy?  No - but it should build you up not tear you down. It can be intense but good for you.  I saw a video clip recently that to me shows the difference in approach, see what you think, who's your money on?

Injury can come in three ways - 

Existing injury - sports or martial arts related because of previous training, or could be a disability or long-term condition

Accident - RTA or similar or perhaps something that happens in training

Illness - can be anything from cold / flu to a more serious condition

How can we work around these in Systema training? The first thing I would like to say is that  - given the way we train in terms of contact levels, no mats, etc - it is very rare to see injuries in training. I put this down to the the way the training is structured - when people understand the role of tension in their own bodies they are much better equipped to protect themselves in training. The clearest example is in falling - if you are adept at falling and rolling you can be thrown vigorously but without injury. That approach carries across into all types of work

Alongside that is the concept of drills and training being co-operative. Not in the sense of making things easy for our partner or that everything they do works, but understanding that we are not there to destroy each other. It's akin, I guess to the concept of good sportsmanship in combat sports styles. 

It is of course, entirely possible to give your partner a lot of agression and tension when appropriate in order to mimic some aspects of  real life. But even then you have to be aware of protecting your own body. It can be a subtle thing but some of the higher work in Systema is allowing the attacker to destroy himself. You put some pressure in and watch it "leak out" through the weak points of the structure. If the person is unable to deal with this, their own tension works against them

When it comes to condition, injury , fitness, I can safely say I have seen and heard of almost everything and everyone in training . This includes people with a missing limb, a broken leg (in plaster), a range of conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, bad backs, bad knees, emotional / psychological injuries, overweight, underweight, bodybuilders, MS sufferers, the list goes on.  On a personal level, following advice from Vladimir and Mikahil my knee problems disappeared after about a few months of specific exercises. 

The point is, whatever the injury or condition, if you are able to get to class,  you are able to train. You may have to be mindful of your condition but there are many ways to work around it.  No-one is deducting points for "lack of effort" or not being tough enough, because at the end of the day we are all tough enough in some circumstances and weak as a child in others

Even if you can't get to class you can train - breathing exercises, tension relaxation and so on. We come back again to the point of how you perceive training. Is it a once a week punishment, a chance to blow off some steam, a social event -  these may all be valid. Or is it something that you carry with you at all times and are immersed in. For me this is where the true benefit of Systema  training lies, not in having imaginary fights with someone who might be hiding round the next corner, but in ensuring you have a fit, balanced, healthy and self-aware  lifestyle - now that's true self defence

1 comment:

  1. I liked that Rob, last year I had a few injuries and problems and I thought it was my age - see you in the new year mate.