Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Benevolent Fists

We have been playing with cleaning the body and psyche of excess fear and tension using striking. Something I took away from my time in Toronto was the quality of the strikes that were delivered amongst teachers, students and training partners. Whilst at times the strikes were both heavy and deep, they were always delivered in a way that were calming to the nervous system, to help cleanse the person of fear and agitation. It was also an awesome bonding experience, which fostered a great sense of community :)

For those of us that study Systema we have all heard that there are strikes with different qualities. Two such qualities which I am thinking of now are strikes which calm versus strikes which irritate the nervous system. I remember hearing a great explanation from Emmanuel Manolakakis of Fight Club in Toronto; Often people will come to a Systema class, and will often take many hits from many different training partners. When strikes are delivered that have an irritating quality or effect on the person over the period of the class it has a cumulative affect. At first it could be just a slight irritation which is unnoticed by the person who has been hit. However then he cops another strike with an irritating quality a few minutes later, followed by another and another. Over a period of the time often without the person realising it the level of agitation in the psyche increases and increases and then begins to effect how they maintain themselves, how they perceive situations and in turn then affects the work that they produce. 

There are times when it may be appropriate to deliver strikes which agitate or incapacitate a person, however within the realms of training, practitioners need to consider longevity and sustainability. If we are going to be hitting each other everyday regularly, it needs to be done in a way that does not destroy each other, but in a way that makes each other stronger and more relaxed, helping to clean the body of fear. In this way we are able to train and strike on a regular basis and do so in a way where we are able to do this today, tomorrow and hopefully well into our old age (some sooner that others....just joking).

What has helped me work on this for myself and convey this idea to people who I train with is to consider a few things  which will Irritate the nervous system vs Calm the nervous system. Some possible ideas are as follows:

Things which irritate the nervous system 
  • Surface impact with sharp but light pressure (likened to getting flicked in the ear)
  • Sharp, jerky and erratic movements
  • Impact involving bone on bone
  • Uncertainty or nervousness in the movement
  • An erratic or unpredictable rhythm (which will not allow the person to adapt and become comfortable with the strikes)
  • Strikes which cause jolting movements locking the person's body
  • Trying to dominate or coerce your partner
  • Trying to hit harder
  • Thinking of striking as competition
  • Striking or working with no awareness or care of the other person

Things which calm the nervous system
  • Deep pressure, a deep level of touch (likened to getting a deep comforting massage)
  • Smooth, not necessarily slow, but smooth movements
  • Impact involving flesh on bone, or flesh on flesh
  • Certainty and confidence in the movement
  • A constant rhythm (to allow the person to first adapt and become comfortable with the strikes)
  • Strikes which unlock tension and teach movements which give a person "somewhere to go"
  • Trying to relax or help your partner
  • Allowing yourself to learn how to hit well
  • Thinking of striking as massage
  • Striking or working in such a way that you are aware of the other person, considering there needs at any given moment

In this way a practitioner can learn to hit in a way that is conducive to sustainable training for everyone involved. As funny as it sounds it is a good thing to learn to have Benevolent Fists

Or perhaps to be able to "Hit with love", a more familiar saying amongst Systema folk :)

Somebody from across the seas recently told me: You can put the guy down and actually lower the level of fear and anger in this world rather than just shift it. It's a very nice skill.

Thanks Gene.

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art