Learning Martial Arts (Over 40)


What changes over 40?…

Have you ever heard the special forces slogan?…

“Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast”

The slogan is so simple that it’s easy to miss the power behind those 6 little words…

At its most basic level, it means that taking the time to do things right will get you faster results than trying to rush results for instant gratification.

And that’s is my mission when I train students in Systema at FightClub — to reveal the optimal path that may seem to take longer but that will get you the best and fastest results in the end. Because…

… well, I’m getting older too!

I just turn 49 in May (a couple weeks ago).

And although I’m probably fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been. I have accepted that I have to do things differently now than I did when I was 29 or even 39.

In fact, I wish I knew THEN what I know NOW. I realize that the changes I have been forced to make in my 40s would have made me so much better than I was in my 20s and my 30s.

I think everyone falls into the trap of thinking you can get to your goals faster just by working harder, or longer, or cutting corners.

We think going harder, doing more or learning a little “trick” will get us to our goals faster.

The reality is… it usually leaves you burnt out, injured or simply really good at doing something really poorly. (aka Crossfit).

In Crossfit, there are a handful of “prestige” skills that everyone wants to master.

One of them is called a butterfly pull-up. Done right, it’s a beautiful example of gymnastics-inspired body control.

There are basic positions and movement patterns that you have to master before you can do the movement properly and safely. Unfortunately, a lot of people rush into learning this movement before they learn those basics.

They take shortcuts and end up flailing around doing a movement that looks something like a butterfly pull-up but isn’t really.

Long story short… the best case scenario is they manage to work up to a limited work capacity with this stunted technique and they never progress anymore because they don’t have the foundation… Worst case… they end up with a shoulder injury. (That’s the most likely outcome actually)

On the other hand, the folks that take the time to work the basic positioning and movement drills may SEEM to take a long time before they actually start doing their first butterfly pull-ups. However just a few weeks later all of a sudden they are far outperforming all the folks who took the shortcuts.

In fact, shortcuts rarely turn out to be faster than doing things right. Think “crash dieting”, trying to build strength too quickly, or cramming for an exam. I could go on and on with examples.

However, the heart of the matter is that in most cases taking the road that seems longer – where you put the time in on the basics and take care to do things right – usually gets you to your destination a lot quicker in the end.

Remember: “Slow Is Smooth, Smooth Is Fast”…

By the way, the same applies to learning martial arts!

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Five Monkeys

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water.
After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.
Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all the monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack know that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.
Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.
Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.
After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have been sprayed with the cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s been always been done around here.
And that, my friends, is how and where problems begin in a society, self defense, a company, and in life.
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Systema Russian Martial Art – Training The Legs

Leg Work Systema Style 
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. If this is something that interests you please join me on Sunday, May 27th from 12-4pm for the ‘Kick It’ Systema Leg Seminar at FightClub.
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 breathe. Imagine 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 any one position.
B. Same as number ‘a’ but use a wall to help you stretch. Remember don’t hold any one position or your breath.
C. Same as ‘a’ & ‘b’ but now go the ground and use the ground to help you stretch.
1. Wall Work
Squat up against a wall. Make sure that your back, heals and shoulders stay in constant contact as you go up and down with breathing. Same from the front
2. Vertical Jumps
With your feet in a comfortable position – jump straight up as high as you can and land as softly as you can. Think of how a cat lands – very softly, almost catching itself upon landing.
3. Tension
Contract your entire lower body during inhaling then relax on exhaling.
Repeat 1 & 2 with the left and right legs.
Repeat 1 & 2 with the front, back and inside of the legs.
Hold the tension or relaxation as long as you can inhale and exhale.
4. Piggy Back Walking
Put someone on your back and start walking. Focus on breathing and posture.
1. Broken Leg
Make one leg straight and declare it broken. Go to the ground and get up without disturbing or bending the injured leg.
2. Move a Chair (standing)
Put a chair in the middle of a room and start moving it with your feet first. Then progress to using your knees.
3. Move a Chair (from ground)
Put a chair in the middle of a room and start moving it with your feet first. Then progress to using your knees.
4. Shoe Toss
Get a pair of old shoes – ones that don’t lace up. Practice taking then half off and throwing them from your foot with a whip-like fashion. Once proficient in the move, focus in on targets on a wall and try to hit them with your shoes. Start to see your legs and tools as well as weapons.
Systema Russian Martial Art offers so much creativity to its students when it comes to developing their ‘craft’. Play with the ideas I gave above and try to develop your own slowly over time.
Good Luck and I hope this helps,
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Benefits of Martial Arts


Have you ever consider your training partners?

In a society that rewards looking after yourself, before anyone else, the thought of considering the other person first is difficult. This is where the true mastery of the ‘System’ lies. Being connected to people in a positive and powerful way gives your life purpose and meaning. The next time, you’re training at the gym with your partner, help show them their weaknesses.

A lot of what makes Systema so unique is the creative opportunity that is afforded to us during class time. Use it wisely. This is where your purpose comes in. Ask yourself – what are you trying to accomplish from the training?

For example: if your training partner is tense in the hips or shoulders – try touching, pushing, or pulling that area. You need not say a word about what you are doing; your partner will by his own awareness see the flaw. Be patient, your partner may not catch on quickly, but by letting them discover the weakness on their own, it will mean much more. A premium has always been put on self-discovery as the essence of true learning.

How many times have you trained and really only satisfied your ego? This is the most fruitless thing you can do. By considering your partner, you immediately become more aware of everything you do as well. This means your learning!! Your partner will also feel that your intention is not a competitive one and will start to look at the things they are doing more closely. That means that their learning!!! The atmosphere that is created as a result becomes a more positive one.

There are many benefits to martial arts. One of which is in the true spirit of martial arts – consider your self the ‘architect’ of your own greatness. Build something wonderful, but stay connected by helping others as well for it will give you much more than you can ever imagine.

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Salsa Systema and the Cha Cha

I never was much for dancing. Sure, I respect it as an art form and enjoy watching good dancers but I was never one to actually get up there and do it. That sorta changed after I was sunning in my chaise-lounge at the pool while in Cuba when all of a sudden some animations staff appeared. The music went full blast and a bunch of people erupted into a mass dance explosion. At first I thought this was a flash-mob but learned it was a Zumba class. Zumba?

Well I must have been living in a cave for the last ten years as I have never heard of Zumba. A mixture of Salsa, Cha Cha, aerobics and what ever else you want to throw into the mix. Interesting I thought and fun to watch.

At night the resort bar had incredible bands and the salsa dancers were pretty amazing as well. It inspired me to want to learn this, how hard could it be?

Upon my return home on a cold snowing day sitting at my computer I felt like listening to some Cuban music. After a song or two I stumbled into a Zumba video and felt this was the time to start my Salsa dance career.

Step one, find a good beginner video on Salsa dancing on YouTube. No problem, found a great children’s dance class learning the three basic Salsa steps.

At first I was quite useless. In fact for my first at-home lesson I couldn’t even do the basic steps without stumbling. I thought I was coordinated but I was greatly mistaken. Obviously this was going to take some effort.

Next day, lesson two. There was a vast improvement in my rehearsal and I was actually starting to get the hang of it.

The thing that first caught my attention on day one’s effort was how useful this activity is in complimenting a Systema training regiment. It is excellent training for balance and coordination. Physically it is great workout for the lower back and once you start to get the arm motion happening it gives the shoulders a good workout too.

Cha Cha and Salsa is great for stand-up fighting technique different then say Capoeira, which incorporates a more acrobatic dance style. In other words, it ‘s fantastic for leg work training.

So if you would like to add something different to your Systema martial arts training program throw on some vibrant Cuban music and start dancing.

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