The Gun

Some martial arts are built around a particular weapon. Kendo is built around the sword. Eskrima is built around the stick. Bojutsu is built around the staff. I like to think that Systema is built around the needs of the gun and the knife, the two fundamental tools of the modern soldier. Fight Club’s second-most-recent seminar, held in January, helped me to develop this idea further. Both the gun and the knife require a stable, calm body capable of finding comfort in awkward positions and erratic motions. These are precisely the capabilities and skills that Systema imparts.

Until you place a mock gun into the hands of a Systema practitioner, they may not even realize that they’ve been training this whole time to be comfortable with a gun. I’ve always suspected this was the case from previous experiences with a mock gun and from watching gun-related Systema videos, but I wasn’t ready to draw the conclusion in full. After this seminar, I think that I may be.

Much of the seminar was spent performing the very same skills that we would practice in a normal class, except with a gun in our hands. Moving on the ground, jumping towards objects laying on the ground, moving behind bodies, and keeping our eyes fixed on our targets as we went forward. What was most striking to me was, for the most part, how intuitive these drills were after having studied Systema for so long. With the gun in my hand, my shoulders were relaxed, my body loose by stable. I could keep the gun steady yet remain on the move. It was like I had been practicing with a gun for years.

I guess I had been.

As a consequence, when our group went downstairs to practice working with fake pistols (spring-loaded and CO2 cartridge pellet guns), I felt very comfortable aiming and firing the weapon while someone jostled my body from behind, shaking my shoulders or kicking the back of my leg. The gun rested at the end of my arms as if on a gyroscope, balanced on a sea of sharp motions.

Of course there is still a lot of work to be done with the gun. I won’t pretend to any level of proficiency with a weapon that I have never truly fired. Fake guns are fake. I won’t feel confident asserting that Systema was ‘built around the gun’ until I’ve had more experience with the real thing.

That said, what was most interesting to me about this seminar was that it inspired me to want to learn more about something that I generally abhor. Beyond my sympathy for realist approaches in foreign policy and the belief that some animals are too mad or too plentiful to let live, I see no use for guns. Like most progressive-minded liberals, I’ve never been comfortable with ‘gun people.’  Nonetheless, whatever my misgivings, I see that there is a lot for me to learn from the gun.

For now I can say that the gun is a wonderful tool for teaching yourself the skills which Systema most prizes: efficiency, grace, and stability of movement, the capacity to bring your attention to multiple things simultaneously, and to know how to trust your instinct when it comes time to take action. Whether it has anything else to teach me has yet to be seen.

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