Updated: Sep 26, 2021
In the western world, we are hard wired to think that hardness is strength. When I say “hard wired” I mean it is embedded in our belief systems. A lot of this comes from American culture and movies, which permeate our own. The adage “go hard or go home” is well known, but the people who live by that rule tend to be prone to conflict or are generally just annoying to be around. Is “going hard” really the test of machismo? Of how badly you want something, or how hard you are prepared to work?
I say it is not. And the people who claim that it is tend to look at the world in a deeply binary way. It’s all a black and white, “just do it” mentality that leaves no room for nuance. But life doesn’t work that way.
Softness is more giving. It allows you more options. It allows you to retain your awareness and pick your moment before you strike. You remain cognizant and connected. Unlike when you are angry or aggressive or “going hard”, when your awareness basically shrinks. See the irony there? If your awareness is shrinking; if you become less cognizant, you are more vulnerable to surrounding forces.
When I am working with my students in Systema training, I always tell them to soften there muscles so they are not so tense. Even if they are doing push ups or something “aggressive”. Of course they tense to a certain extent to do the exercise, but the surrounding muscles, or the muscles you don’t need, can soften. In some cases, you can do more push ups than your normally could because your arms are not so tense.
Similarly with lifting weights or doing squats. These exercises take enormous effort. Softening certain muscle groups during those exercises allows that effort to have ripple effects through the whole body. In another example, if a car gets stuck in a ditch and you have to push it out, you realize pretty quickly that even using every muscle in your body won’t get the car out. But if you focus, start slow, relax as you push – you are not bench pressing – then at the right time, you can add your effort.
There are so many Systema videos out there showing punches and kicks. But watch closely. When they relax, they can pack a more powerful punch. Just as in sports at the highest levels. If a soccer player gets ready to kick a ball or a baseball pitcher gets ready to throw one, what do they do first? They stop and become silent a moment. They focus. They relax. Their elasticity is visible. This is soft power. Softening allows you to move your body in the right way and apply strength at the right time. We all know how important timeliness is to skill development, right?
So the idea that softness equals weakness is a fallacy. Relaxation gives you an advantage. Even speaking softer can make you more likely to be heard when someone is upset. These ideas are all incorporated into Systema training and can be drawn from in all aspects of life.