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Cooperation is a Practice

Updated: Apr 11

When two people train together, their perspectives contrast or complement each other, creating a new perspective. This is why cooperation is fundamental in martial arts training. Like awareness, cooperation is a practice; the more skillful we practice in the process, the more comfortable we become.


Here's how cooperation manifests in martial arts. 


Martial arts involve partner drills, in which practitioners work together to practice. Cooperation is essential as partners practice offensive and defensive movements, provide feedback, and support each other's improvement.


Cooperation in Systema

In class, cooperation is crucial for skill development and a cornerstone of safety and respect. Practitioners must cooperate to maintain a controlled and respectful environment, challenging each other's abilities while ensuring everyone feels secure and valued. This involves adjusting intensity levels based on skill levels, respecting boundaries, and providing opportunities for both partners to learn and grow.


Cooperation is also important during technical training sessions. Practitioners often work together to refine specific skills, offering feedback and assistance to help each other improve their form, timing, and execution. #cooperation


Students also engage in various forms of fitness training together. Cooperation is key in these sessions to motivate each other, maintain consistency, and push each other to achieve personal fitness goals.

Cooperation among members strengthens this camaraderie, creating a supportive environment where everyone feels valued and encouraged to succeed.



More experienced practitioners often cooperate with less experienced ones by serving as mentors or leaders. They provide guidance, support, and encouragement to help newer students progress in their martial arts journey.

Even in the midst of competition. Practitioners must compete with respect for their opponents, following the rules and displaying good sportsmanship regardless of the outcome.


Adaptability and flexibility to accommodate the needs and abilities of different partners. Practitioners must be willing to adjust their approach, intensity, and techniques to ensure a positive and productive training experience for everyone involved.


In Systema, cooperation is not just about working together physically but also about fostering a culture of respect, support, and mutual growth within the community. Cooperation should not be mistaken for competition. Competition serves the ego, and cooperation serves the highest outcome. By embracing cooperation, practitioners can enhance their skills, deepen their understanding of the art, and develop strong bonds with their training partners.


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Evolved to Cooperate


Humans have a long history of cooperating, which has helped us survive and thrive for hundreds of thousands of years in places around the world. But we don’t always cooperate well, even when doing so could help us overcome a worldwide pandemic or solve our climate crisis. The question is why?


Outside of humans, the vast majority of cooperation occurs within the confines of family groups. And there’s a good evolutionary reason for that: Cooperation is favored when individuals share copies of the same genes, as it helps those genes find their way into subsequent generations. We humans are also a familial species—we live in stable family groups and cooperate extensively within those groups. What sets humans apart is the scale and frequency with which we cooperate with people that are non-relatives, even strangers.


For humans, it’s this flexibility in cooperating in a wide variety of contexts with lots of different people that’s more unusual than what we see in other species. It’s that propensity and willingness to branch out, to offer help and assistance to individuals that we’re not related to.


At heart, cooperation is a strategy that has evolved because it helps genes improve their position in the world. So, you can understand cooperation in some respects as a form of competition. It’s a way for our genes to gain a relative advantage, even if we don’t consciously think of it like this. That’s why cooperative strategies can be selected for.

As a corollary of that insight, cooperation can often have victims. We see this at all levels of life. For example, there are cases where cells inside our body cooperate with one another to our detriment, like when cancer cells cooperate inside our bodies to evade our defense mechanisms and hijack our nutrient delivery systems.


If we think about society as a whole, we can think of nepotism, corruption, and bribery—not normally words that bring cooperation to mind, yet all describe some form of cooperation. Nepotism is helping a family member; corruption is forming a collaboration with another individual that, nevertheless, has a cost to society. So, global or societal cooperation is always under threat from more local cooperation, which affects our collective welfare. The big challenge for us is to find ways to cooperate to generate larger societal benefits and not just local benefits.


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