Systema Learned 2017

“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”~ Haruki Murakami

Last weekend I had the honor to train with my teacher, Emmanuel Manolakakis, at the Systema Learned seminar, hosted by Eric Peltz, owner of The Warrior’s Forge in Isanti, MN. The first day, Emmanuel set the stage of the weekend with the concepts of creativity and confidence building. While there are several great Systema instructors to learn from, each one brings their own flavor or, shall we say, their own version of Systema to the table. Not one instructor is the same as the other. Regardless of the influences, each person who trains in Systema will interpret this beautiful art in their own way and reflect themselves through it. Emmanuel encouraged students to not copy what he was demonstrating, but to internalize and create their own personal interpretation.

As Systema evolves within the years of the individual it will not only reflect what drives this person, but also who they are. Creativity, unfortunately, is not taught or even promoted often. It takes practice. Emmanuel has several concepts around FightClub, two of my favorites are “Know Yourself” and “Have fun.” One of the drills that helped drive these concepts in the seminar were open non-stop movement drills (ground movement vs upright movement). There was very little instruction, just non-stop movement. The stretching and breathing drills focused on opening the body to further freedom of confidence and creativity. What I have observed over the years, is that, while you can’t always change the thinking process right away, by changing your body posturing, you can promote openness, strength, and confidence and attract similar things towards yourself. Thus, promoting a better way to think and behave. These breathing and movement drills set the stage for the students to be free to explore their creativity and build the confidence of their skills.

We continued our training with grabs. By relaxing tension, we were able to move our partner by their tension. This was a very deep drill. Beyond the locking part, I found myself getting stuck with my own tension. Sometimes I was able to only get to my partners elbow or shoulder, which could be just enough to take the person down. Emmanuel took this drill beyond, by connecting to the persons core and then grounding them to the earth. He was able to show how to use your weight to be heavy, not tense, but using your own weight to make this drill even more effective. There was boundless internal work in this drill. If my ego or “winning” pride got in the way, I wouldn’t feel my partner nor successfully move them. I was challenged to look both into my partner and into myself, which often times seemed to be a similar reflection.

The next day, we started work toward strikes. Emmanuel spoke on the direct relation of tension to fear. “You can’t scare someone out of their fear,” he said. Over the past few years, Emmanuel has shown me the deeper benefits of striking to include healing and emotional work. This was something I was uncomfortable with in my early stages of Systema. It was a process to get comfortable with striking others and receiving strikes in return. It takes a lot of trust and you start developing a sensitivity to feel and understand your partner through this kind of work. It is quite intimate. Again, we worked drills that encouraged openness and relaxation. We worked to relax each other through massage and increasing range of motions in the neck, chest, back, and hips. Emmanuel showed us drills to bring fullness to our fists, but to relax the rest of the body. Jumping drills were practiced to feel different weights that, in turn, delivered strikes of differing intensity.

Emmanuel spoke of being open in our personal lives. That all too often, we keep a lot of things to ourselves and never quite express how we feel to each other. This creates tension within and suppresses us from freedom of expression. He interestingly said that we all have a scream inside that we want to share and set free, but hold deeply within. It reminded me of some lyrics from one of my favorite songwriters:

“There’s a scream inside that we all try to hide
We hold on so tight, we cannot deny
Eats us alive, oh it eats us alive, oh
Yes, there’s a scream inside that we all try to hide
We hold on so tight, but I don’t wanna die, no
I don’t wanna die, I don’t wanna die, yeah” ~ Sia Furler

This really hit home for me. All to often I don’t express how I truly feel and it builds up tension, causes relationship bitterness and conflict, and hinders openness. What goes on inside of us is directly reflected in our bodies. Emmanuel intuitively observes this is his students and is able to give us a deeper understanding of this tension and how to heal it. We saw this beautifully displayed in his deliverance of strikes to individual students. I could see how some had a lot of anger and self-doubt that they were holding onto. Some took the strikes more as a punishment they felt they deserved. A lot of emotions come up as they usually do. Emmanuel spoke on the importance of not breaking someone down with strikes without knowing how to put them back together or having the time too such work. This is beyond my understanding, but I see time and time again, how Emmanuel can instinctively know how far and how deep to work on individual students.

Personally, I had a lot of things I was holding onto this weekend that caused me much grief and suffering. I am used to some of the deep, fear induced strikes that Emmanuel is known to deliver to help chip away destructive tension. During this seminar, however, Emmanuel’s punches were different. They brought up feelings of happiness, joy, and picked me up. Though he didn’t know all the details to my personal suffering, he knew that I needed something that wasn’t going to break me down any further. Never have I received a strike that made me laugh…not the nervous laugh intended to hide fear or tears, but true, happy laughter. When I inquired of this particular strike and how I could learn this to help others, he said “you have to be clean inside. You have to feel happiness and joy inside before being able to deliver this to another person.” It went on to show the depth of Systema and the internal work that must be done for continued growth.

“Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true.” ~ Honore de Balzac

I was fortunate enough to attend the Systema Learned seminar last year as well. I noticed quickly that every student had been practicing and training in preparation to this seminar. Students quickly picked up on concepts, were able to go deeper into the drills, and had an understanding and sensitivity to the internal work within themselves and their partners. I am impressed with their instructor, Eric Peltz, who has successfully been guiding them to this point. He is one of the few instructors that can feel and successfully teach this type of work. Emmanuel was able to plunge more into the inner workings of Systema and it was clear that Eric had greatly prepared his students for this instruction.

A great thanks to Eric for hosting yet another successful seminar. It is clear that you strive to understand and embrace Systema on multiple levels. And you have proved to have instilled that strongly into your students. They are very fortunate to have your as their instructor.

Much gratitude to my partners who were open to learn and helped me into a deeper understanding of myself.

And to my teacher, Emmanuel, thank you for your instruction, your faith in my abilities, your friendship, and, most importantly, your commitment and sacrifice to your students. You truly do more than most realize and there’s no words to how much good you bring.

– A. Conrad

“Unless you learn to face your own shadows,
you will continue to see them in others,
Because the world outside you
is only a reflection
of the world inside you.” ~ Unknown

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