Monday, 21 November 2011

Experiencing and Explaining Systema

Let me start by making it clear what this post is NOT about:

  • I am not saying that there is never a time and place to analyse and try to articulate your experience using your words and intellect.
  • I am also not saying that technical and scientific information should totally be dispensed with.
  • I am also not saying that explanations to students on how to do things are the devil. I am quite a fan of methodical and explanatory training (if they're the right type of explanations).

With the above in mind, let's proceed.

It has occurred to me that any description in words of Systema, at least the type of Systema which I study, is wrong. Not so much wrong but an imperfect representation (i.e. verbal or intellectual) of a phenomena which must be experienced to be truly understood. Much in the same way that a sign that you see on the road that points to a particular town is not the actual town itself, explanantions and
analogies about Systema... are not themselves Systema. Just as a sign is just a guide to get you to the town it points to, explanations and analogies in Systema are just a guide to get you to the point where you can learn Systema my experiencing it. They are important stepping stones and foot holds, but they are only there to take you somewhere. To be able to learn and work by just being.

Another example that I like to use is that of Chicken. I'll be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn't like chicken (although I am certain these sick weirdos are out there), however I don't really know anyone who thinks that they can verbally describe what chicken tastes like.

Try it, really. How do you describe what chicken tastes like?

Continuing on this train of thought, a word that one person may use to describe the phenomena of what chicken tastes like, although making sense to them, may mean something completely different to another person. For example the word that comes to my mind when I think of chicken is "meaty"... And I don't even think that's a real word. What is that supposed to mean to someone else? Some people may know what that means, however it is also likely that misunderstandings and arguments will ensue;

"No beef is meaty, chicken is more dry"
"What? Dry's not a taste, it's a texture, chicken is more spicy"
"Maybe if you go to KFC and get hot and spicy, what if it's cold
chicken on a salad?"

Sounds pretty stupid right? Yeah it is stupid. Will any of these above arguments bring anyone closer to understanding what chicken tastes like? Probably not. The funny thing is that although none of the above statements are really right, they're also not really wrong. It may be a better idea rather than arguing about the description or representation of the thing they are trying to describe to just experience it. Or perhaps even; "Hey try eating this, it's chicken"

Learning Systema is a very similar experience. An interesting experience I have had is training with people who could not speak English. There obviously were some disadvantages, however there were also many advantages as well. We couldn't get confused about each other definitions of things that were better experienced, all we could do to communicate was to do the work, and pass the information onto each other by feeling, experiencing and simply being with each other in that time and place.

Once again I am not saying there isn't a time and place to analyse and try to articulate your experience using your words and intellect. I am also not saying that technical and scientific information should
totally be dispensed with, or that explanations to students on how to do things are the devil. However at least for me I have found it is best to have an experience to analyse before I try to analyse it. Otherwise what I am then analysing and trying to break down and make sense of isn't the thing itself, just the idea of it in my head. And as close as I may be able get to the experience using all cognitive faculties at my disposal: It ain't the actual thing.

Systema is one of the most effective fighting and survival Systems in the world today. However it is also one of the greatest tools that are out there to study the phenomena of being human. This is something much more amazing and complex than simply describing what chicken tastes like. All the words, explanations and analogies that are out there could not truly do this phenomena justice. When learning Systema, one of the major attributes and qualities to acquire is the ability to learn simply by Being, Feeling and Experiencing. And then being able to take this attribute even further by being able to draw your skills, abilities and knowledge from here. Once again I'm not saying dispense with technical and scientific information or even methodical and explanatory training and teaching. However remember that to be able to learn and work by simply being is incredibly important aspect of Systema.

A good Systema teacher doesn't simply try to teach you what they know. A Good Systema teacher will try to teach you how to become capable of learning how to learn what they know on your own.


Even this entire post I have written, as a description or explanation... Is Wrong ;)

Seriously, try to describe what chicken tastes like.

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

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