Training the Legs

by Emmanuel Manolakakis

I’ve had a lot of questions from students about how to develop leg movements, working flexibility and creativity. Below I have compiled some drills and training ideas that I hope will help everyone. These are just a few ideas that have helped me personally and my hope is that they do the same for you.


1. Stick Rubbing

Begin by rubbing your legs with a stick (any kind will do). Rub as hard as you can without causing any pain. ‘Wake up’ your skin.

2. Stick Tapping

After rubbing your legs start tapping them all over. Tap as hard as you can without causing any pain. ‘Wake up’ your muscles.

3. Joint Rolls

Roll your ankles, knees, hips and waist, one at a time in a circular fashion. Make the circles as large as possible, without losing balance. Remember to breath. Image you have a pen stuck to the joint and you want to draw a circle in the air.

4. Movement Stretching

A. Start to stretch legs out from standing position. As you reach the end of your flexibility for a given movement, switch into another direction and continue with your movement/stretch. Just never hold anyone position.

B. Same as number ‘a’ but use a wall to help you stretch. Remember don’t hold anyone position or your breath.

C. Same as ‘a’ & ‘b’ but now go the ground and use the ground to help you stretch.

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Attention II

This is the fifth part of the fifth chapter of an ongoing series entitled Know Thyself. You can find the first chapter collected here. The second chapter is collected here. The third chapter is collected here. And the fourth chapter is collected here.

There are a number of different ways to train your attention. You can train to pay attention to yourself, you can train to pay attention to your environment, or you can train to do both simultaneously. On the whole, Systema tends to involve drills directed at splitting your attention or at directing it inward. Komarov offers a very helpful way of preparing the ground for the development of such skills. “Everyday, once every 30-40 mins, turn your attention inward for 30-40 seconds and scan your body from the inside.”[1] Komarov asserts that practicing this for over one month will build a habit of splitting one’s attention between self and environment. I have yet to consistently follow Komarov’s direction, even though I suspect that it would be a great benefit to me. It is all-too-easy to forget or put off an exercise like this because it requires that you take yourself away from your daily tasks, to find a moment of silence roughly sixteen times in your average work day.

The same goes for attention drills that involve breathing. Such exercises tend to require a significant commitment of time and effort. The benefits, however, are great. Breath work not only opens up the possibility of strengthening your lungs, but it can help you to calibrate your mood and to detect areas of hidden bodily tension. Although Systema trainers do not employ inspiratory muscle training devices which provide mechanical resistance on inhalation, they do recommend drills that consciously extend the length of inhales, exhales, and breath holds. Exercises such as these, if done with enough intensity, can literally increase the lung’s maximum inspiratory pressure, vital capacity, total lung capacity, and even diaphragm thickness.[2] They also allow you to work on the so-called accessory muscles of inspiration, muscles in the abdominal area, which account for twenty-five percent of air movement.[3] Beyond the merely physical benefits, attending to your breathing provides you with a way of interacting directly with your emotions. When the body changes state, for instance when it becomes anxious, it alters its breath-pattern to suit the occasion. But the opposite is true as well. When we consciously alter our breathing, our bodies change state in order to suit that occasion. In a clinical setting people asked to breathe calmly through the nose in regular, moderately deep and slow breaths reported feeling joyful; those asked to breathe quickly, irregularly, and deeply through the nose with thoracic tension reported feeling angry.[4] Playing with our breathing can give us a means to strengthen and regulate our bodies, both physically and emotionally.

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Attention I

This is the fourth part of the fifth chapter of an ongoing series entitled Know Thyself. You can find the first chapter collected here. The second chapter is collected here. The third chapter is collected here. And the fourth chapter is collected here.

If intuition comes to us from the associative learning mechanisms of the body as a whole, then in order to attune ourselves to our intuitions we must attune ourselves to our bodies. According to Claxton, there are four ways to accomplish this reliably: biofeedback, meditation, something called ‘focusing’, and movement training.[1] Biofeedback involves tools like a heart rate monitor, something that helps you to visualize the internal, visceral processes of the body. Such visualizations help the conscious mind interact directly with our largely invisible bodily processes. Meditation, on the other hand, is an attempt to zoom in on tangible, visible bodily and mental events. It can take two forms, although they tend to overlap in practice: focused attention and open monitoring. Focused attention is much like what it sounds like—focusing your attention on a single object or process like your breathing; open monitoring, also called mindfulness, involves being aware of the present moment without judgement, ‘seeing’ thoughts and letting them pass by. Focusing, meanwhile, is a form of talk therapy that involves attending to sensations in your throat, chest, and stomach while you speak. When you answer a question like “how do you feel about Sally?,” there will be a number of answers that well up in our conscious mind. But, says Claxton, only one of those answers is going to feel right to your body. The answer that feels right, provided that you are not in a zero-validity environment, is most likely the correct one. Finally, aerobic exercise and movement training—such as Yoga, T’ai Chi, and dance—familiarizes us with our bodies’ limits and helps to integrate all of their various mental and physical processes.[2]

Systema trainers employ two of the above measures: meditation and movement training, supplementing those with a form of quasi-focusing. We practice focused attention on bodily sensations such as breathing. At the same time, we—as explained in a previous chapter—explore the multidimensional aspects of human movement. We practice moving both our own bodies and the bodies of others in an effort to map the terrain of bodies generally. During this we try to “let our hands go forward,” trusting that the intelligence of our bodies has begun to solve the problem in front of us before we have even become conscious of it. We are then encouraged to take this trust in ourselves into other contexts beyond the club.

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Consistency is Key

There is one ingredient that keeps people from reaching all their goals – CONSISTENCY!

“Lack of Consistency can bring on a lack of Interest”

SYSTEMA Training at FightClub is no different. Through my years of training I have gone through many ups and downs in life, but the one constant has always been SYSTEMA. I have noticed more then ever before students that are impatient when it comes to learning. Too many times students do not give their training enough time to reap the benefits they are looking for. No matter what we do in life we will not achieve the success we want unless we work at it day in and day out for years and years. You can have the best teachers in the world, and train real hard every time, but if you do not stick with it consistently, you will wind up spinning your wheels. This will lead to frustration, impact motivation and ultimately lead to inconsistent results. I have yet to meet a student that trained consistently for 12 months and did not learn or reach fabulous results.

If your a student – get to class. 

If you are not a student – get started. 

If you start consistent I guarantee the results!! 

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This is the third part of the fifth chapter of an ongoing series entitled Know Thyself. You can find the first chapter collected here. The second chapter is collected here. The third chapter is collected here. And the fourth chapter is collected here.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics in 2002, helpfully distinguishes between two otherwise indistinguishable systems of thought operating in the human body. System 1 is fast. It uses memory associations to draw conclusions and make suggestions for action at an unconscious level. It is the source of our intuitions either at work or in our daily life. Ever finish someone else’s sentence? Realise that ‘something was off’ about your friend? That’s System 1 at work. Most of our thoughts and feelings are, whether we are willing to admit it or not, the product of this system. We have in our body, for good or ill, a powerful ability to jump to conclusions. System 2, on the other hand, is slow. It is what we use to control ourselves and to verify or disprove our beliefs. When you hold your breath or keep yourself from saying something inappropriate you are making use of System 2. If we are not vigilant or aware of our cognitive biases and habits, our System 2s simply give ‘reasons’ for why our System 1s are correct.[1] I wrote about this in an earlier chapter with respect to moral codes. Ask a person why they hate someone or some subgroup of people and they will no doubt give you lots of ‘reasons’. Really though, they just hate by association.

As such, learning to be more rational in the manner that leads to wisdom does not mean learning to be a better problem solver or crossword finisher. It means learning how to be “more alert, more intellectually active, less willing to be satisfied with superficially attractive answers,” and generally more skeptic of our intuitions, despite their reliability in certain contexts.[2] It means recognizing, for instance, that even our deepest thoughts are profoundly affected by our moods. People in good moods are more creative and intuitive but prone to casual and superficial conclusions; people in bad moods are the opposite—less creative but also less lazy; “good mood, intuition, creativity, gullibility, and increased reliance on System 1 form a cluster…sadness, vigilance, suspicion, an analytic approach, and increased effort also go together.”[3] Being rational involves recognizing and taking into account these and other important variables when reviewing our beliefs and feelings. It means getting to know the powers and weaknesses of System 1 for the purpose of learning when to accept its intuitions.

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