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:
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?
ON THE OTHER HAND:
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?
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 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,
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art