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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