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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Why Exercise?

A question came up on a martial arts forum recently about how much time people spent on stretching in class. This led on to a discussion about exercise in general during class time.

There was strong feeling from some that exercise has no place in class. That students can exercise at home, when they come to class they should be “learning stuff” and that somehow a teacher who has exercises in class is short-changing their students.

I have some sympathy with this view, having been in classes that were as much as 80% solo training with little or no input from anyone else. I’ve also attended numerous classes that, whatever the style, had the almost identical “warm up” and “cool down” drills at beginning and end of class, you got the feeling they were there because “that’s what you do”.

My old pal Terry Shepherd dropped in on one of my Systema classes a few years back. He made an observation  “I see you do your exercises throughout the session”.  I don’t think I’ve done a Systema class anywhere that didn’t involve exercises at some point - the core ones being of course press-ups, squats, leg raises/sit ups and some type of breathing/stretching/tension work.   Why would this be when, as some say, exercises can be done at home and are really just a quick warm-up before the “real work”?

The answer is that there can be so much more to exercises than warming the muscles. Exercises can be preparation for work and can also provide the framework and attribute development  for your work.

So many times I see self-defence training in various forms which has people hitting pads, working techniques and so on. Now it may be that I’m not seeing it, but to me there is a vital factor missing - where is the power coming from for the techniques?  We all know that applied power comes from a combination of functional strength, good body mechanics and understanding of principle.  So, ok, you may be able to build strength by weight-training or doing some press-ups outside of class. But do you know how to feed that strength into your technique? Is your exercise training functional or because “that’s what you do”?

This is where the Systema approach comes in. Every exercise in a Systema class is multi-functional. A basic press-up can teach you a lot  about body structure, selective tension, breathing patterns, fist placement and more - if it is taught as such. Of course you can just blast out 30 reps, fast as you can, with no thought of form or structure. Seeing people do this badly with squats always makes me wince..... the knees are misaligned, the back arched, the head tilts back....people are doing the exercise without understanding what it is for and can end up doing more harm than good.

So in this sense doing the core exercises is one way of teaching your body to apply your technique or work efficiently and also giving you the strength, physical and mental, required to do so. I’ve said before that in a way the core exercises are Systema’s kata or form, they map your body structure and point the way towards natural movement. Running, walking, rolling, climbing, all are similar exercise activities that feed into our work, whether it’s for self defence or just day to day living.

Of course people should exercise at home too, in fact once you get the correct feeling from the exercises it’s hard not too - I find even a day without and the body start to feel rusty (especially at my age!) Some pressups, a few rolls, some breathing and things are back to normal.

That is solo exercises. Of course another feature of Systema training are partner exercises, be they bodyweight, with a stick, or other variations. These also have “educational value” beyond the obvious. They can be co-operative (leading into team work) or competitive (in the sense of one person being a hindrance or obstacle).

This is all on the physical level. There is just as much to be learnt on the psychological
level, once again even basic breathing patterns can teach us a lot about panic and self control. It is better at first that any new exercise is carried out under supervision - once you know how to check yourself and what to look at for you can add your own variations in at home to stop things getting dull!

So - should you exercise in class? Depends entirely how you view exercise and how it fits into your work. If you see little or no connection, thenexercise is largely worthless beyond being a quick stretch or warm-up. If you see it is a means of development it become a rich source of information

If you would like more information on how exercise relates to application, check out our latest Class Download, here's a preview clip

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Class Notes 22/02/2014

1. Breathing, tense and relax
2. Freestyle pushing in threes
3. Stand on one leg pushing - redirect force up or out, not into leg
4. Using same principle re-direct punch and hit back
5. The basic exercises - simple but difficult to do properly - the "biting" point
5. Exercises with focus on
correct posture
6. Partner exercise to assist with posture
7. Partner exercise to assist with focus and mindset
8. The application of exercise to work - squat/takedown, pressup/punch situp/groundwork
9. Refined/powerful exercise = refined/powerful movement = refined/powerful work
10. Free work using all the above
11. Mass attack punch massage
12. Chickpea or lentil?

Main emphasis in class was on exercises as more than just a "warm up". Will be covering this in more detail in the next blog and Class Download

Wednesday, 19 February 2014


I mentioned in my last article about watching some self defence training clips recently. This by no means applies to all the SD training out there, there are some people doing good work. However there does seem to be a trend towards the “quick fix” self defence course which, I believe, can actually be dangerous.

One of the favourite buzz-words for this type of course is “empowerment”. It’s a powerful word, if you’ll pardon the pun. Who wouldn’t want to take a person who is suffering some sort of threat, violence, abuse or lack of power and give them the tools in order to assert themselves in a bad situation.

The problem is in the method of doing so. People attending are shown some “sure-fire” techniques which they work against a helpful partner or on a Bob dummy. In addition they may be encouraged to “power shout” and put all their aggression into the technique.  Everyone gets a bit adrenalised, get’s the chance to vent some tension and no doubt goes home feeling “empowered”.

This is in marked contrast to more realistic forms of training, where people, for the first few sessions at least, feel markedly worse after! This is an important aspect of training - you have to make people understand and recognise  their vulnerabilities before addressing them. Otherwise it’s just papering over the cracks. A person who has undergone training to control their emotional response in a dangerous situation is far better equipped than a person who is taught to “just slap the ears” or “just kick the groin”. They may get lucky, but if things do not work like they did in the class there is a real chance they will freeze or fall apart.

This points to the second problem with the “quick fix” method - technique above principle. Some measure of technique is very useful to start - but only if it is taught as a possible response, not as a carved in stone “he does this you do that”.  Further study of principle leads to important things such as awareness, understanding of body language, communication techniques and other skills not covered in the “quick fix” approach.

 Working in a behavioural way through a principle led approach will lead to a person being much more adaptable under pressure and ultimately lead to empowerment as a state of being rather than an empty buzz word

The biggest problem of course is that marketing the “quick fix” is liable to be more comercially succesful - in almost every sphere of life, from dieting to self defence to keep fit. The brutal truth is that without a lack of real understanding, reliance on a coupe of “tricks” holds potential for disaster

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Class Notes 15th Feb 2014

Today's class notes
1. Paint!
2. Inhale/exhale with stretching
3. Pushing with fists
4. Minimal resistance to push
5. work from body, re-direct with arm  
6. Ditto with knife
7. Quick response into knife disarm - "hot to the touch"    
8. Knife work pre-contact
9. Three person disarm and stab knife drill
10. Knife gauntlet work
11. Two vs one knife movement
12. Knife vs knife
13. Crowd work with knife
14. Group punch and slap
15. Restricted rolling
16. Partner exercises
17. Don't tell your mum you were in a fight!

Point 7  - this is working from contact with the knife, ie the basic "knife push" drill. However make your body movement fast and small in response. At the same time apply your knife strip disarm work. Imagine the knife is red hot, as soon as it touches you respond fast. Helps "wake" the body up to fast work and you can then feed this feeling / movement into your other work

Friday, 14 February 2014

Class Notes

Class notes  8/2/2014
1. Windy!
2. Stick warm up - movement from wrist, shoulder, whole body
3. Catch and throw stick drill
4. Catch and throw applied to punches
5. Speed work vs one person
6. Reaction work vs two people (non-attachment)
7. Gauntlet work
8. Sensitivity work in pairs, giving and receiving information via touch
9. Ditto in threes
10. Working against two, working inside the movement, re-directing, short strikes
11. Affecting structure through short, deep hits
12. Stick push drills to realx
13. How relaxed you think you are is not always how relaxed you actually are (thanks Bart!)
14. Still windy!

Class notes  1/2/2014
1. Joint rotation and stretching
2. Core exercises
3. Get pushed
4. Pushed to the floor and get up again
5. Get pushed by a group
6. Get slapped around by the group
7. Two vs one - positioning
8. Ditto - work vs legs then the arms
9. Using person as a shield
10. Drop one attacker instantly
11. Guard or no guard?
12. Redirecting strikes
13. Attack the first guy on the way to attacking the second one
14. Taking strikes
15. Relaxing muscles through pressure and massage
16. Forgot to take pictures with hats
17. RP to check the calendar!! Outdoors next week!

Class notes  25/1/2014
1. Breathing
2. Joint rotation, top to toe
3. Applied tension vs a partner, head, torso, arms, legs
4. Stand up grappling with tension
5. Stand up grappling relaxed
6. Finding the weakest and strongest points in a movement
7. Attacking the weak point
8. Soft work vs weak spot
9. Hard work vs weak spot
10. "Double tap" punching
11. Deeper strikes to develop power and impact / fear management
12. What's a picost?

Class notes  18/1/2014
1. Breathe, twist, stretch, tense relax
2. Side, forward, backward rolls
3. Eyes closed and pushed / taken down from sitting, kneeling and standing
4. Stick exercises for shoulders, forearms, fists
5. Stick wrestling
6. Maintaining arm tension while body relaxed
7. Stick movement, single and both hands
8. Stick movement translated to punching work
9. "Knife" type punch and "bullet" type punch
10. Targeting arm muscles vs a punch
11. Double tap! Carotid or mastoid
12. Shocking the lead arm
13. Adding in legwork
14. Freestyle
15. Groupwork at speed
16. The Return of Don, Steve and Nick - nice to have you back!
17. How's the wife?

Class notes  11/1/2014
1. Running with pyramid breathing
2. Changing levels, sitting to floor, standing to floor
3. To floor and back without using hands
4. Takedowns using bodyweight
5. Recap on work against legs
6. Kicking to legs to break structure, relax muscle or damage joint
7. Takedowns from floor using body
8. Changing level to work against the legs
9. Team work, two on one, for restraint
10. Knife handling / passing
11. Knife work from clinch
12. Close-in knife work
13. Group knife work
14. Home invasion - preparation, home security, help your neighbours, especially elderly / alone

An Apology

Sorry I've let the blog slip a bit lately! A lot of time recently has been taken putting the new website together. It is now up and running at There are still more pages to be added, plus new articles and info.

The shopsite has also undergone a makeover, you can now order DVDs and downloads from the same site So I'll be getting some more posts up here on the blog - each week I'll be posting our class notes from the Saturday group and expanding on them if I get the chance. To start off I'll post notes from the last few sessions, plus the latest Class Download cl;ip preview - see below