Going Deeper: Why do you train?

During class a couple of weeks ago we were working on a drill that involved having your partner grab you while your eyes are closed and then with your eyes still closed taking them down. Emphasis was placed on taking time to feel the options and conducting the take down smoothly and with a high degree of control. The partner that I was working with said to me that we need to go deeper because what we were doing was fake and not realistic. In a real situation people won’t grab you like this and it will be more of a struggle. I partially disagree and agree with this statement and I will explain why beginning with why I partially disagree.

Often times when we work with partners during class on specific drills we are not ‘fighting’ we are training our martial arts skills. Much in the same way as when we perform work with knives we are not ‘knife fighting’ we are using a knife to train our martial arts skills. Many of the drills that we perform in Systema are not intended to simulate real life situations; they are intended to help us develop the attributes and skills necessary for survival under duress whether that duress comes from a physical altercation or other stressors. So relating this back to the initial drill I mentioned, where one partner grabs the other and the partner being grabbed has to take down their partner with their eyes closed in a calm smooth manner, of course it’s not realistic. We were working with our eyes closed, we were expecting to be grabbed and were purposefully taking our time to explore our options and study the movements of both our and our partner’s bodies. But this doesn’t make it fake. The purpose of this drill was to train our sensitivity, bodily awareness and psyche which are all indispensable attributes of Systema. This was not a ‘fighting’ drill intended to simulate a real world scenario. In Systema we train at the speed and intensity that we can handle and push these boundaries until our skills fall apart and then we start over again to rebuild these skills to a higher degree or threshold. In this way training in Systema can be compared to driving. We usually begin at a slow speed in a very controlled environment until we become comfortable enough to drive faster in less predictable conditions. With all of this being said I also agree with my partner that for training to become more realistic we need to go ‘deeper’ and this is necessary for our training to evolve.

So what does going deeper mean and what does it mean to evolve in Systema? Different people train for different reasons and because of this I can only give you what my thoughts are about going deeper and evolving as a Systema practitioner. To evolve in anything it is very important to ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Why are you training in Systema? Why do you dedicate hours and in some cases years of your life to this martial art? For me one of the reasons (not the only nor most important) is that Systema is a very practical form of self-defense rooted in survival. I have years of experience in the security industry and I have used my training several times both in and outside of work. Some of these incidences have involved physical altercations and others have not but my life experiences have taught me that Systema has applications beyond training at the club and I try to keep this in mind whenever I step onto the mats. For me ‘going deeper’ means pushing myself by opening up to situations that make me uncomfortable such as being hit or restricted in holds and then working from these areas of discomfort. If I do not consciously do this every time I train, I risk believing that I am more prepared than I really am for the reality of self-defense on the street. One of the reasons Manny holds outdoor seminars is to open us up to the realities of Systema and what it looks like in an environment that more closely represents reality. In class I need to open myself up to as many experiences as possible to counter balance working in such a controlled environment.  Regardless of level of training or experience anything can happen to anyone at any given time but just being aware of this already puts you at an advantage in a real life survival situation. None of the altercations that I have been involved in were anything epic but they all could have gone very wrong had I not been  taking them seriously but also remaining calm. This brings me to another insight into going deeper that involves work outside of training at the club.

Never underestimate the importance of having an honest conversation with yourself about what you are willing to do to defend yourself and your loved ones and under what circumstances. What is your line in the sand? What is your ‘green light’ to fight? I may have all the martial arts training in the world but if I do not know under what circumstances and to what extent I am willing to utilize this training, it is useless. For me this work has taken the form of reading books, playing out scenarios in my head and reflecting on personal experiences. We live in a fairly safe society but there are people who carry guns, knives and other weapons and commit heinous crimes that the majority of us cannot understand the reasoning of why (below I will list several books on this topic that I have found very informative). I still come to class to have fun and enjoy my training partners but keeping this in mind from time to time has helped give purpose and meaning to my training. I also try to always keep in mind that regardless of who I might hypothetically encounter I must always strive to see their humanity. For me the highest form of martial art is not having to fight but if I have to fight the highest form of fighting is controlling a situation.

Our training can go as deep as we want to take it but the deeper we want to go the more we have to invest in it. We have to make a conscious effort when we train to open ourselves up and come to class with a purpose. The highest form of knowing anything is feeling, but feeling cannot be taught, it has to be lived and this takes practice, commitment and applying it in our daily lives. See you on the mats and God bless.


The Gift of Fear – Gavin De Becker

Meditations on Violence – Sergeant Rory Miller

Strong on Defence – Sanford Strong    

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