Systema Seminar Review

Suffer Better – Eat Bitter – Be Happy

A Review of Emmanuel Manolakakis SYSTEMA Seminar

written by Matt Furey

Years ago in the movie “Iron and Silk,” American born Mark Salzman documented his life in China, which included teaching English and studying Wushu. Before he began his martial arts training, though, Salzman was told by the master, Pan Qing Fu, that he would need to “eat bitter.” If unwilling to do so, there was no point in getting started.

In Emmanuel Manolakakis most recent Systema seminar, he took the philosophy of “eating bitter” to a whole new level when he said, “We need to learn to suffer better.”

Unlike the story in China, Manny had no prerequisite to “suffer better” before the teaching in Russian Martial Art began. Instead, he opened with a discussion on breathing and how it influences everything you do in life. He taught that Systema is not solely about learning to fight, which was his orientation when he began.

“Only 10-15% of Systema is about fighting,” said Emmanuel. He then drew a diagram showing us how Systema’s methods can and do effortlessly integrate into all aspects of life. This, he taught, starts to be set in motion when you “know yourself” through a combination of deep breathing exercises done while walking, running or doing other types of exercises like pushups, squats, leg lifts and more. Or, in deep contrast, how you breathe and relax while at rest.

There was little need to “suffer better” the first day, even though the exercises and training were demanding. But on the second day reality reared its  head.

No more soft stuff, fellas. Let’s see how you handle pain. Let’s see how you suffer.

The exercises and drills in pain tolerance helped take the student beyond the physical pain. With changes in breathing patterns and awareness placed in different body parts, attendees learned to transform the pain into something better. And like it. Yes, they learned to suffer better. The bitter became the sweet.

Most importantly, despite Emmanuel’s many talents and his keen ability to teach, his greatest assets are his sincerity and humility. He puts on no aires, tries to impress no one – yet does so abundantly because of the ages-old truth that “he who know himself knows others.”

Know yourself by suffering better. What a concept. – Matt Furey

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Systema Leg Training

Training the Legs

by Emmanuel Manolakakis

I’ve had a lot of questions from students about how to develop their leg for martial art [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.


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.

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Systema Seminar

Interpreting in a Systema seminar/bridging two worlds

“-Are you scared?
-So why do you move like you’re scared?”
This little snatch of conversation took place two weeks ago between Manny and a student. Of course, it didn’t go exactly as shown here, because all the students spoke French, so someone was charged with doing the translating. I was this person, and I really enjoyed the experience.
I have been training in Systema for about three years now and have participated in a few seminars – though always as a student. Being the translator gave me a very different perspective of everything that was happening during the seminar. Yes, everything – for during the weekend, I was not paying attention to myself or my partner, or to the people directly around me, or to the instructor, but to everybody. I was somewhere between the students and the teacher, between two worlds… bridging two worlds.
Fortunately, everyone was very kind and supportive, which helped me going. Overall, the energy was very positive. Participants were very attentive and it was clear that they wanted to learn as much as they could from Manny. He patiently took the group to a place where they could really express their -martial- creativity all while having fun. You should have seen the smiles on their faces 🙂 But it was also serious when needed! Serious but relaxed.
Being close to Manny, I could appreciate everything he said to students when helping them with a problem. Sometimes he would say just a few practical words or use a metaphor or an analogy to make a point. If he felt the student was not quite close to understanding he would rather show him physically, make him feel it. He always seemed to find what to do or say to help the student.
On a more general level, he also gave some of his insights and reflexions on training which are already helping me and my partners during class. For example, he reminded us that it matters most to understand an exercise than to master it. What also was very instructive was his concept of the process of Systema, which he thoroughly exposed to us during the seminar. If you’re curious about it, and I think you should, you can hear about it in his podcast. I feel that different aspects of this process already have an impact on my Systema, namely how I apply work on my partners or even how I perceive the exercises that we do.
To put it in a nutshell, attending a seminar from the translator’s perspective was a tremendous experience. I feel that I learnt enormously without having done a single exercise, and having helped my partners gain as much as they could from Manny was very satisfying too. Everything I saw and heard and felt in this seminar, from both the participants and Emmanuel, made me ever more certain that Systema can bring a lot of good to people, and most importantly, it can make them change.
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Kid’s Martial Arts – Teaching Respect

One of the most important words in martial arts is respect. Students are taught to respect their instructors, each other, and themselves. Our instructors spend time in class discussing the importance of respecting school teachers and parents. Respect is often missing in many facets of modern society these days. This is what separates the Kid’s Martial Arts Systema Training Program from other sports. A child’s social behavior should be directly linked to respect, not just about winning. Our Youth Program is about personal growth and becoming a better person.

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Recurve archery and some ways to correct them



Do your feet change position slightly from shot to shot? Your stance – where you place your feet when shooting – is the foundation for your shot. Your stance must be solid and consistent arrow to arrow.

To ensure a consistent stance, apply painter’s tape on the floor where you practice. If you use an open stance, for example, place the tape so your foot alignment and toe position will be identical for each shot.

Remember, your stance not only affects foot position, but also your balance and centre of gravity. By making your foundation solid, you ensure a more stable platform for strong shots.



Correct elbow rotation is one of archery’s simplest, but most important, skills. This means keeping your bow arm’s elbow rotated straight up and down while drawing the bow and releasing the arrow.

If your bow arm’s elbow doesn’t rotate straight, many problems can result, including a bruised inner elbow and arrows veering to one side of the target. To prevent problems, rotate your elbow straight before raising or drawing your bow.

By setting the bow arm elbow correctly from the start, and maintaining its position during the shot, your upper body will be properly aligned, which results in a stronger shot and better arrow groups in the target.



When you place your fingers on the bowstring, do you actually look where you’re placing them? Or do you simply grasp the bowstring and start drawing? Rushing to place your fingers on the string is one of the most common archery mistakes. Taking a second look at your finger placement can pay big dividends for your shot.

Hooking the bowstring with too much finger tension – or in the wrong place on the fingers – can cause many issues. The problems range from missing the target entirely to developing painful finger blisters.

Therefore, make sure you place your fingers on the string for each shot exactly as you were taught, and be sure your hand position relative to the bowstring is consistent. Hooking properly and consistently creates tighter groups!



For beginning archers, anchoring consistently can be a challenge. The anchor point is a spot on your face – usually the corner of your mouth or just below your chin – where you pull the bowstring every time.

To understand the importance of a consistent anchor point, consider what an anchor does for a boat: It keeps the boat from moving. Likewise, an anchor point prevents archers from placing their draw-hand in different spots each time they shoot, which would send your arrows flying in different directions.

You can determine your anchor point with your instructor’s guidance. The most important part is drawing the bowstring to the same anchor point every single arrow. If you feel it changing, work with your coach on techniques to become more consistent.



A common mistake made by many archers is failing to finish the shot with strength. Aiming too soon often causes weak shots. Another culprit is focusing so much on aiming that you forget to focus on the proper muscle movements.

Weak shots can cause low shots and side-to-side groupings, depending on whether the archer is right- or left-handed. Fortunately, weak shots are easily fixed: Just change your focus.

When you’re at full draw and ready to aim, stay focused on the muscle movements your coach taught you. Aiming is important, but it’s equally important to use your muscles to create a strong release and follow-through. By focusing on the right technique at the right time, your shots will be stronger and your groups tighter and more consistent.

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