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Friday, 9 November 2012


A wise man once said "as soon as you get three people together, you have politics" . In modern society almost every issue has a political implication, from views on health care through to where you go shopping

Martial arts is no exception - in fact when it comes to politics it's a towering inferno! I don't know how things were back in the old "traditional" days of the Asian styles (much the same I reckon) but I do remember the   80's  Wing Chun wars, the Preying Mantis feuds, the Tai Chi challenges..not to mention the machinations of varying governing bodies, inter-club rivalries and tournament fun and games. All in all it made  Machiavelli look like an amateur.

Interestingly enough the most incendiary disagreements were not between different styles, as you might expect, but amongst practitioners of the same style. Endless battles raged about lineage, the "true" transmission, who was on the inside track and so on. Huge importance was given to obscure matters of form and training that were completely irrelevant to anyone outside of the training hall (who mostly viewed it all as "guys wearing pyjamas")

The  internet has made the situation both better and worse. Better because it is now a lot easier to share and see information, you can find out about even the most obscure style. Worse because these arguments now spread online where, of course, you have the option to remain both anonymous and safely out of reach. I guess one positive point of those old arguments was that at some point there would be an actual physical interaction to sort things out (or at least give something else to argue about, eg "my shoes were slippery on the floor")

Anyway, enough of ancient history, what has all  this got to do with Systema? Just that there seems to be a lot of  politics flying around at the moment. We have had anonymous bad-mouthing for a while of course, but now it seems that who you train with is the subject of nudges and winks, rumour and gossip are doing the rounds and I saw recently it has even come to attempted hacking of websites.

Let me make clear my own personal position - and this is personal, my thoughts alone, I don't represent anyone else except myself. I don't mean to cause offence, this is purely how I see things, just my opinion.

I've always tried to avoid politics. Over the last 30 years I've trained with a wide range of people. What prompts my decision to train with someone is a mixture of  the information they have to offer, how they put it across and how they conduct themselves and their business. I've encountered  people with  little information and even less ethics, they generally fade out of the scene pretty quickly. I've encountered people with good ethics and information who I enjoyed training with and got something from.  There are people it would be interesting to meet / train with in the future, time and funds allowing

Then there are people  I have the opportunity to train with that I choose not to. Not out of any political motive or because I've been told not to. Simply because I don't think I would gain anything from it and/or because the way that person conducts themselves doesn't resonate with me. In a similar way I'd go pay top dollar to see Tom Waits any night of the week but wouldn't watch Coldplay if they were doing a free gig in the field at the back of my house. Your tastes may vary of course and you are as free as I am to make choices

So I hope that clears things up for anyone thinking that I make "political" decisions about where I train. Of course it's not the first thing I've been accused off on the internet and by no means the worst! That list includes:  being a cult member, running a "whites only" neo-Nazi training group, giving up boxing because it was "too hard", not being a "good martial artist" because I didn't demolish a beginner in sparring, having spent time in prison, claiming that I was "stab proof",  not teaching properly, being a weekend commando and being "good little doggy" in order to protect my position (I run a class in a village hall once a week!). No doubt there are many others!  All the claims have a couple of things in common - one, they make me laugh and two none has never been made directly to my face.

Of course you expect all this in the professional martial arts world, it's simply business. In a free market we all have to protect our "rice bowl" as the Chinese put it. Some choose to do that by putting down the "opposition" , directly or indirectly. To me it speaks volumes about a person's ethics and also reveals something else about them. For example someone who's attacks centre around  credibility or status is likely a person desperate for credibility and status

But this is by no means the only way to do business.  I've met  plenty of people across the styles who run their school / business in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect. Some of them have talents way beyond their "status" in the martial arts world. They are all busy just getting on with things, they have the maturity to understand that grown adults make their own choices, based on a wide range of factors, probably the least of which is the certificate you have hanging on your wall or how big your pecs are

So having been around all these different teachers and styles, why settle where I am now? Simple answer - it has everything I'm looking for. In terms of information I'm barely scratching the surface, in terms of results the training and teaching methods have proven themselves over time and in terms of ethics I've encountered nothing but  generosity. A world away from  the expensive pyramid / franchise model, just a simple "turn up and train"

Am I bound by some rigid code or etiqutte? No, other than simple everyday good manners. Am I ever discouraged from trying different things or asking questions? No, in fact the opposite. Granted this approach doesn't suit everyone - it certainly doesn't suit the person looking to feel "special" or to be part of some elite training group, but each to their own.

People make different choices in life and I have respect for people who are honest about the reasons for those choices. People who can't make the grade or who feel let down in some way often feel they have an axe to grind. I can understand that,  I was in that position myself some years back, but learnt after a while to move on and find my own path, rather than keep trying to recycle old ground.

So please don't feel I'm being political if I make choices based on someone's actions or their attempts to undermine my friends and my business. It's not politics, it's  just plain old fashioned manners


  1. It has everything I am looking for too!

  2. What do you think about Mike Sigman ? Does he have any martial skills?