A month or two ago, in circle, I was reminded of  something Nick Crossley wrote. Nick is a circuit training enthusiast who happens to also be a sociologist. One of his many insightful observations about circuit training, an exercise regimen involving ‘circuits’ of exercise—two minutes swinging a kettle bell, rest, two minutes holding a plank position, rest, etc.—is that this ritual involves a “lived temporality.” Participants in class learn how to gain a feel for the effort required and how to distribute that effort over time. This is called ‘pacing yourself’.  To know how to pace yourself, you need to know three sorts of things. You need to know how to perform an exercise, you need to know how much efforts it takes to perform that exercise, and—just as importantly—you need to know how much effort you are capable of exerting overall.[1] To ‘find your pace’ is to divide your total capacity for effort according to the precise needs of the exercise in question so that you are never doing too much or too little.

The class prior had resembled circuit. We had alternated ‘sparring’ and wrestling over a forty-five minute period. It was a lot of work. Then, after that difficult circuit, we had some time to do ‘free work’ involving grabs. At the end of class, during circle, many fellow students expressed frustration at their performance during the final drill. They were breathing heavy, faces still reddened by elevated blood pressure. Their frustration, so far as I could see, was not due to a lack of skill or general ability, but due to a lack of pacing. They had done too much during the circuit and now their bodies and minds could not find comfort.

Keeping your pace, in my experience, involves being able to remain yourself when presented with a conflict. While sparring, for instance, I sometimes feel that I am exceeding my overall ability. My breathing starts to get away from me and a wave of something resembling panic begins to flood the system. During such moments I have to be willing to throttle back even if it means expending less effort than my partner. I have to let him ‘out work’ me. Similarly, with wrestling, I try to find relaxation and efficiency even while my partner tries to smother me with their higher effort. I let myself lose so that I can win a more important contest. This is finding and keeping your own pace.

When you learn how to find your pace and to keep it, to give yourself over to it as a discipline, everything is less frustrating. Moreover, learning goes deeper because you can ‘stay inside yourself,’ not letting the exercise steal your consciousness.

Try this: next time you are sparring or wrestling with someone and you start to feel your breathing get away from you or start to hear your heart beating in your ears, take a moment to turn down the volume of your effort. Make it your goal to keep working but recover at the same time. You may find yourself at a momentary disadvantage in some sort of mock combat scenario, but that’s okay. You’ll be learning a much more valuable skill. You’ll be learning how to endure.

Learning how to endure is probably the most important thing anyone can do in the contest of life.

[1] Nick Crossley, “The Circuit Trainer’s Habitus: Reflexive Body Techniques and the Sociality of the Workout,” Body and Society, 10.1 (2o04): 48-48

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Knife Demonstration from Years Ago…

Some knife work from years ago…. (my hair was so dark back then) Great training times and memories for me.

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SYSTEMA as Stretching


Analogies are helpful because they allow you to transfer learning from one domain to another. When you understand the relationship between two things in one area of your life, and see that the same relationship applies elsewhere, it provides a new perspective, and an opportunity to learn something from a new angle.

Understanding something from many angles is a way to understand something deeply. It helps clarify what you are learning, and what the underlying essence is.

I recently remarked that in the warm-up, Emmanuel had us performing a task (e.g. 2 times 4), but then in the applied work, it seemed completely different (4 times 2). Same problem, different format. The quality of the work, and how we all perceived it was changed.

Why is this? Perhaps because we are focused on the specifics, and not the global characteristics of the system we are learning. While there are specifics to every permutation of work (knife/gun/stick/chain; grabs/strikes; static/dynamic; breathing/not breathing; standing/kneeling/ground; etc.), we need to understand the underlying essence of each, and work directly on those. These are the hardest to learn, but have the most leverage in the learning process.


I’ve been thinking of the following analogy lately.

Imagine you are a sketch artist. I suspect the Systema approach is not to have you accumulate many new shapes in your drawing repertoire, but to repeatedly consider how you are holding the pencil. Changing the grip forces you to have to re-experience drawing all the shapes you know, yet again.

I think Systema takes a long time and a lot of commitment because of this process. Every time you change the grip, it requires so much exploration and rebuilding of yourself because we have to forget what we know, and see if we like the new way better this time. Konstantin made a strong statement in his book that the unlearning process is very challenging, and I feel it acutely. Having to give up habits that I felt took me so long to acquire, in the pursuit of a new way of understanding, is very hard. You’ve come to rely on certain ways of doing things – of striking, of breathing, of wrestling. To throw it all out the window and start again? It almost feels like you’re throwing away part of your identity, but it’s actually the only way to be true to the path.

Some people may be able to draw many shapes, but those who are comfortable with the pencil, who feel its weight and can vary the angle they press the lead into the paper, will have a world of possibilities and creation. Those that learn many shapes may be competent artists, but may not have understood the true beauty and capabilities of the tool. Easier to learn a good grip as best you can, THEN master the shapes. Going the other way will only extend the process, because the process of rebuilding takes longer. In practice, we learn the global through exposure to the specifics, but I think it’s worth looking at the global as much as possible.

Our shapes are simple – breathing, pushups, squats, body raises, strikes, grabs, wrestling, mass work etc. They are not techniques or “real” drawings as of yet… they are components of real drawings (some other arts or approaches may have you practice drawing specific things from the beginning and get better at those directly). It may take a couple years to understand these basic shapes. In fact, many people can draw these shapes from the beginning. But to refine them… that will take the rest of your life.

Watching Systema masters at the top of their game, it seems like the refinement is at a level that is beyond us – we have no framework for understanding it as of yet. Somehow though, we can see the shapes are better. Their circles are somehow more elegant; their squares, crisp and symmetrical. The weight of the pencil seems defined and yet not overbearing. Some add shadows which are aesthetically pleasing, but those with stark unfettered shapes also provide a clean minimalist beauty. The pace of the drawing is easy; unrushed and not prolonged. The pencil seems to have a life of its own. Then you watch them draw “live”, and it’s simply a pleasure to watch and experience.

John Gardner has said that “life is the art of drawing without an eraser”. Whatever you want to draw, I think Systema will help it be incredible.

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Consistency is as Important as Correctness

Consistency is as important as correctness. How can you ever be true to your word if your actions are constantly inconsistent? 

Inconsistency is inherently sketchy and causes people to believe you have an alternative motive. This is both a factor in personal relationships, as well as business, and even fitness routines. Essentially, consistency can be attributed to any aspect of life.

“I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work.”– Louis C. K.

Inconsistency is a terrible attribute that far too many people nowadays possess. Throughout my life, I’ve strived to stay consistent about consistency. Even the best plans will fail without a dedication to consistency. 

If I say I’m going to do something, I do it. If I say I’m going to be somewhere, I’m there. In my experience, consistency is a must as you build and grow.

Here’s why:

1. Consistency allows for measurement.

Until you have tried something new for a period of time and in a consistent manner, you can’t decide if it works or not.  How do you measure effectiveness if what you are measuring isn’t performed consistently? I typically give new initiatives, processes, or training regiment at least six months before judging it’s success or failure. 

2. Consistency creates accountability. 

Be accountable for your goals. I put a priority on making time for and being the catalyst that moves an initiative along to a successful end.

3. Consistency establishes your reputation.

Growth requires a record of success. You can’t establish a track record if you are constantly shifting gears or trying new tactics. Many efforts fail before they get to the finish line, but not because the tactic was flawed or goals weren’t clear. 

4. Consistency makes you relevant.

You need a predictable flow of information. All too often I see people adopt only to end it before it gains traction. When you try something over and over the results develop a pattern – which quickly become very true and real. It’s relevant! 

5. Consistency maintains your message.

Consistency in yourself serves as a model for how you will behave.  

When something doesn’t work, I look back at what happened and ask some serious questions. Did I shift gears too quickly? Did part of me not deliver on a commitment? Or was the expected outcome off base from the start? Most of the time, the reason tracks back to lack of consistency.

Be Consistent in your SYSTEMA training at FightClub!

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Reflections of the Knife Master Class Seminar at Systema HQ

Dear Emmanuel,

This past weekend I attended the Knife Master Class Seminar at Systema HQ. It was a great event and there was a lot of information to process. As I study and train in Systema I keep seeing the same ideas and philosophies appear over and over again but each time going deeper and with more detail than I had previously seen and understood. For me it’s always fascinating to see that through studying Systema from one perspective (e.g., strikes, guns, knives, working outdoors) we are also Studying all of the other components of Systema in their entirety. It is impossible to understand Systema from one perspective apart from its whole.

Attending seminars also fills me with a great sense of gratitude. We are so privileged to be training here in Toronto with so many great people in two world renowned schools, Fight-Club and Headquarters. Meeting people who have travelled from all over the world to train here is very humbling and always makes me reflect on how lucky we are to have you as an instructor and access to Vladimir. This is a very special time. Thank you.

Here are a few notes I took from the seminar. Some are quotes from Vlad that are loosely paraphrased and some are my own insights.

God bless,

Julian Trimble

Knife Master Class Seminar at Systema Headquarters 

Jan. 21-22. 2017

– A confrontation with a knife is an honest conversation between you and your opponent about life and death, your life and death, and theirs

– When training always return to the basics, how you reacted to a threat

– When your body closes or gets smaller when faced with a threat this is because of tension, the goal is to open ourselves up

– Opening the body = eliminating tension, closing the body = fear and creating tension

– A knife is a tool of power and the effects that it has on our psyche is rooted in our history

– Be in control of the knife, do not let the knife be in control of you

– When working with a knife or against one keep your fingers and grip relaxed enough to maintain your body’s mobility. If your grip creates tension in your body and psyche it will be harder for you to adapt to the situation and ultimately survive. This is true of any Systema drill or exercise (e.g., wrestling, take downs).

– A knife (or any weapon) is an extension of your body

– There are two types of fighting, 1) to eliminate your opponent 2) to break through to them

-To prepare for knife work you need to access and ‘tune into’ your body and psyches’ survival mode, like a radio station.  To achieve this we had our partners give us one good stab with the knife to help our psyches and bodies access the reactivity necessary for this type of work. The body and psyche need to be warmed up for knife work.

– It is important to work with a partner that you trust and if you can’t find one at least find someone whose face you like

– There are three distances for knife attacks, 1) when the knife is in contact with your body, 2) when the knife is coming from a distance and  3) when the person is moving towards you with a knife. Become comfortable working with all three of these distances

– I cannot overemphasize the importance of ‘stepping’ properly and being tension free, this type of movement is crucial to defending against a knife attack and is a building block of Systema in general

-Stepping lightly and moving tension free can be practiced all of the time in our everyday lives, when we walk, when we get out of bed, when we get dressed. Constantly ask yourself when you are doing these things, “Do I feel relaxed?” “Am I doing this as efficiently as possible?”

– We are constantly trying to monitor our own internal states but as we progress in Systema the awareness has to be for our partners’ internal state and intensions

-A drill for developing awareness of our partners’ intensions is for one partner to hold out the knife in a firm but relaxed grip. The second partner places their hand on the wrist of the partner with the knife but in a very relaxed grip, almost more of a touch. As the partner with the knife moves (backwards, forwards), the partner without the knife has to ‘stay with them’ moving as they do with a relaxed grip on their wrist. This develops sensitivity towards your partner.

– Another drill for developing sensitivity towards your partner and the knife as an extension of your body is for each partner to hold out their knives and just have the tips or ends of the blades touching. As each partner moves (their feet and position of the knife) they have to stay with one another concentrating and extending their awareness to the tips of their knives. This will help develop awareness of the knife as a natural extension of your body.

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