Sunday, 30 June 2013

Advice from Systema Instructor Brad Scornavacco Concerning Principles of Support and Resistance Through Structure

A few months back I needed some advice on how to explain certain things concerning the principles of "working from support" and providing "resistance with muscular tension VS resistance through correct use of structure". I got in touch with Colorado Systema Instructor Brad Scornavacco who was kind enough to provide me with some guidance on the matter:

Justin Ho:

Hi Brad,

Thought you might be able to help me with something. The reason I am asking is so that I know how to explain things to my students here in Sydney.

It concerns the principle of "working from support" and providing "resistance with muscular tension VS resistance through correct use of structure"

Is resistance with excess tension giving support, as it provides feedback (i.e. Muscular tension which the opponents musculature and nervous system can register) for an opponent to work from?
Is resistance through structure (Bones, Tendons and ligaments) NOT giving support as the absence of excess tension (excessive activation of the muculature) will not provide any feedback (point of reference) for an opponent to work from? So although you are not yielding the absence of feedback keeps him neuromuscularly (is that a word?) blind to what you are doing, hence not giving support?

Brad Scornavacco:

Hi Justin,

Basically the harder you tense the more the opponent's brain can create a map of the shape of your body. He can feel exactly where you are, about how much force is being applied and about the size of it. His brain can use this feedback to respond.

Using the minimum necessary tension (my definition of relaxation) to get the job done doesn't give his brain enough feedback to create a clear picture of where you are or the amount of force being applied or where it's coming from. This is what fools his proprioception, where he cannot detect you or your movements.

As for the principle of support, think "holding him up." When you give enough tension that the person feels like he can relax into you because you will keep him from falling, he can relax and free himself up to act while you are supporting him.

On the other hand, setting him up, creating "false support" for him, makes him fall because you take the support away. This is a big part of non-contact takedowns. When we see a person, our brains instantly estimate the size and weight of the person because most things obey this law. So when you don't give any support it fools the brain again.

We have these kettle bells, all the same size at the school. If we give someone a heavy one to swing, then give them a pink one to try next, they almost hurl the thing through the roof because their brain mis-estimate the weight, based on size and previous experience.

I learned this idea in my Philosophy classes in college. We always sit on chairs assuming they are solid and will hold us up, even though there's no logical reason they will keep doing so. Funny story: in NY several years ago Vlad sat in a chair after a workshop and promptly fell to the floor (maintaining his Form). No matter how many times we have someone take support away/move, we can't stop our bodies from assuming and acting like they are solid.

Ok, Structure vs. excess muscle.

This one time Vlad had us do "no-muscle" push-ups. Afterward, he said in private, "of course you use muscle, you have to, but saying it this way gets people to use the least muscle as possible." Imagine moving from tendons/ligaments/bone with your muscle cut in half. Not happening.

So here's how I visualize it. I imagine the smallest line of muscle contraction through the entire muscle, just enough to connect the bones. I liken it to a puppet being pulled up from the floor, just enough tension in the wires to make its shape and no more.

Here's a secret -- the stronger the tendons the less muscle contraction you need to maintain the structure. This separates experts from novices and is a very real, physiological difference when it comes to that work.

Brad Scornavacco

Brad Scornavacco is one of the longest time, continually teaching certified Systema Instructors in the United States and is one of the first Americans to travel to Russia to train directly with Systema Master Mikhail Ryabko. In 2003 he demonstrated Systema for the Russian Minister of the Interior, where the current Ryabko-lineage Systema logo was unveiled. Brad appeared with Mikhail, Vladimir and other top Systema teachers on Russian television. Brad is head of the Systema school in Colarado:

Thank you for your advice Brad,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Systema in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine: Technique Workshop July 2013

This July we are featured in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine in their Technique Workshop: Defence against a shoulder grab and punch

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Monday, 17 June 2013

You are as Old as Your Spine

"You are as old as your spine"
-Chinese Proverb

Whilst having good posture in itself is not equivalent to having good form (see previous blogpost Degrees of Good Form), cultivating good posture is not at all a bad place to start :)

I have gathered some resources which I thought would be helpful to people interested in doing this. They offer a range of different perspectives on the subject.

Take a look at the following clips:

This first clip is by a gentleman named Danny Dreyer, the founder of the Chi Running Method ( In his video blog Danny describes finding optimal posture by lengthening the spine. 

This second clip is by kit Laughlin, one of the world’s  most sought after authorities on the subject of stretching ( In this clip he describes a drill called the 3 point spinal alignment drill. Through moving the hips, then chest then neck, Kit demonstrates how you can both align and lengthen the spine.

This third clip is of Jane Kosminsky, a teacher of the Alexander Technique ( At about (1:41) She explains how observation and awareness of the head in space, can affect the structure of the spine and the whole body. I was unable to embed the clip, but just click on the following youtube link:

The final clip is of Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev ( From 9:32 to 23:26, Vladimir both explains and demonstrate how Systema employs a concept called the Natural Body Position, involving the straightness of the spine, feeling the body as one whole unit, and the benefits for movement. Vladimir goes onto demonstrate drills and exercises in order to cultivate this very important attribute.

This is excellent as it demonstrates how cultivation of good posture, can lead to the cultivation of good form, and the practical applications.

I hope that this information is useful,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Monday, 10 June 2013

Systema Strikes - Keeping the Trust

I came across this today. A clip of one of the French Systema Groups during their time in Mikhail Ryabko's school in Moscow. About 40 seconds into the clip one of the English speaking Instructors, a gentleman named Aslan Guseynov begins to teach a French Systema Practitioner about strikes.

During a training trip to Moscow in May of 2009, Aslan was one of the Instructors who looked after David (Quaile) and myself. He was already very skilled back then, and from what friends have told me he has progressed even further under the tutelage of Mikhail.

I love how he teaches striking, progressively and with a lot of care to build, not to damage the person's Psyche. He explains and demonstrates the need to understand how much a person can take, and understand how much to give him in the strike so that you don't destroy the person.

This type of training allows the partners to Keep the trust between them, when they strike each other... This is so important.

At the end of it, the gentleman being struck looks so Alive!!!

This looked like it was a good experience for everyone involved.

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art