by Barry Gibson
Over the years of my Systema training I have had only a handful of classes using training guns – far less than sticks and knives. I have always enjoyed those opportunities, so I was very excited when I found out the topic for this seminar. I think the chances of me ever being in a self-defense situation involving a gun are very remote; it’s always good to explore all of the realms of possibility and to train for those unlikely situations, but that was not the main motivation for me to attend the seminar. I like guns – I have since I was a kid – and I just thought it would be a fun topic to explore. What I came to realize is that a gun is a great tool (just like a knife, stick or chain for that matter) to help you learn about yourself and your understanding of Systema.
Guns have an interesting power to them, probably because of their deadly potential. The mere mention of guns can be upsetting for some people, never mind the actual presence of a gun. Pick up a loaded gun for the first time and you’ll know what I mean. Tell me you don’t feel the power of that gun in your hands – it is equal parts exciting and scary. With training and with experience we can learn to not let that power overcome us. I remember how gingerly and cautiously I handled a gun the first time I went shooting. Now I’ll carry my shotgun for hours when hunting and not think a thing about it.
Emmanuel has a lot of experience with firearms and knows the potential power that they have over the psyche. He designed the seminar so that we would have to opportunity to familiarize ourselves and become comfortable working with a gun so that we would be able to maintain our calmness when we eventually got to disarming a gun-wielding attacker. Emmanuel divided the seminar into three sections: (1) getting comfortable with the gun, (2) shooting (and being shot) with the gun and (3) disarms.
Much of the seminar was devoted to the first section. Through many different drills, Emmanuel helped us become comfortable with a gun and not “lose ourselves”, so to speak. One of the most basic drills that we do in almost every class – moving on the ground – suddenly became much more difficult when a gun was added into the mix. It is necessary to be conscious of where that barrel is pointed at all times and to not pass any body parts in front of it at all for fear of shooting yourself. It took some time for my usual smooth, calm movements to come back while moving with a gun and to stop being self conscious and choppy. With practice I was able to find myself again and not let the gun take over my psyche.
Emmanuel had a ton of great, fun drills to help with this work. Before pointing our training guns at one another he had us walk around the room and point with our fingers. He urged us to keep that feeling when we went on to point our guns at one another. Throughout the first section of the seminar we were diving on the ground to pick up guns, drawing guns, handing off our guns to another partner, acquiring targets while moving and calmly picking our guns up off the ground to defend ourselves from a charging attacker.
The second section of the seminar involved shooting the pistols (we were using BB pistols – most were spring loaded, but there was one CO2 handgun in the mix which was significantly more powerful) to become comfortable with them before shooting one another. This part was a lot of fun and there was a lot of joking and laughing between everyone. This is an interesting point, because the seminar could have turned very serious during this section. There was some fear to being shot, and shooting people for that matter, but it didn’t overcome anyone. All the participants were able to “keep themselves” as in they didn’t allow the power of the gun to take over their psyche.
One takeaway from this section is that the mid range distance of a pistol, say 5-10 feet is a bad place to be for an unarmed defender. It is really easy to shoot someone from that distance; most participants were inexperienced shooters and had little difficulty hitting a human sized target – moving or not. It is also extremely difficult to close that distance without getting shot. We did not go into great detail working from this distance in a self defense situation because it can be brutal and was not the focus of the seminar. Emmanuel advised us to use this drill sparingly, doing it once or twice, and to use it as a tool to observe yourself. Are you calm? Can you move under this pressure? Again, are you able to stay within yourself and not lose to the power of that gun.
The third section of the seminar involved disarms. We were working from the closest distance – contact with a gun. Imagine an attacker pressing a gun against your body somewhere. In traditional Systema fashion we worked on moving from contact before adding in any sort of defense or takedowns. This again allowed us to keep our calm while working.
Things got very challenging when Emmanuel instructed the attacker to try and keep the gun and to not give it up willingly. Emmanuel’s demo was incredible. He used calm, heavy, precise strikes with devastating effect to disarm his resisting partner. Attempting this drill was the real work of the day – this is what we had been building towards. It was also quite revealing of the work I have to do in my Systema practice. I confess that my psyche lost out to the power of the gun. I found that when my partner offered aggressive resistance my focus was almost all on controlling and taking the gun from my partner. Fear, poor breathing, excess tension, restricted movements and desperate tactics ruled my work. I frequently found myself locked and in a power struggle with my partner. With the adrenaline came exhaustion. We decided together to slow down and we noticed dramatic improvements in terms of being more precise and effective. It is clear to me what I need to focus on in the coming months.
The notion of “keeping yourself” or not allowing external forces overcome you is a powerful aspect of Systema. This is an essential skill not only in self-defense, but in everyday life. There are many ways to explore and test this skill in class such as multiple attackers, more aggressive partners, or other tools that instil fear such as knives or chains. Using a gun presents it’s own unique flavour and challenges while accomplishing the same goal. Thank you to Emmanuel for presenting this opportunity and to all of the amazing participants in the seminar.