Saturday, 28 September 2013

Interpreting Footage of the Internal Work

It's amazing to see footage of great Systema Masters demonstrating skills and abilities which leave us inspired and even more curious about our study of the System. However when viewing these things from the other side of a computer screen, it is important to remember there is a lot that we can't see going on. Furthermore it is also to  important to remember that what these people can do is often the result of a lot of time and hard work to acquire these abilities which is a credit to them. Neglecting to remember this and  neglecting to take into account the context of what we are watching can sometimes lead to imitation without understanding. This is a big problem.

I recently came across some great footage on Facebook of Mikhail Ryabko teaching internal work in Moscow. Through this social medium I got into a conversation with a friend of mine Loren Clements, an Instructor in New Zealand who raised some questions which were both FAIR AND REASONABLE to consider. For context here is a link to the footage. I could not embed it so please click the link below the photo:

Please note that this article has been written with the permission of Loren and also, Kitagawa Takahide, the gentleman who's Facebook wall this conversation occurred on. 

Loren Clements: What are we seeing here? What is the purpose and what are the roles played? Cheers.

Justin Ho: From the outside looking in, to me it looks like incredibly refined internal movement to study how to return tension. IMHO it is the result of meticulously cultivated FORM, but real form not just "good" posture held with tension. I don't know if you can see it due to the angle of the camera but look at the connection of his feet to the floor and how it relates through his body to the top of his head. Whatever existing tension he has he evenly distributes throughout his body making it both full and powerful.

Again as I'm on the on the side of the screen and can only take a stab at it; He seems to use his sensitivity in order to feel the direction of the external force the Japanese gentleman is giving him, and uses the very minimal amount of internal movements (a masterful expression of economy of movement) in order to RETURN TENSION into this gentleman's body affecting his structure in such a way to weaken it enough making him dependant on Michaels physical presence for support.

I think this also involves how Michael is in terms of his very being (not in an esoteric sense). I think due to the practices he engages in the way he is as a person but also just being comfortable as physiological and neurological ATTRIBUTE enables him to develop that rapport through comfort to enable him to relax and hence control this person's nervous system. Simply put he is so comfortable he makes the other person comfortable. The other person is so comfortable he has no desire to fight against the situation and his nervous system accepts it, and as such is willing to accept Michael as his main frame of reference (perception) to remain standing and his main source of support (physical).

I believe that Michael then indicates that once you can do this from contact, by keeping a "Connection" (I am not entirely sure as to the nature of this connection) with the person you can begin to have a similar effect from a distance. That part is outside the realms of my understanding so I cannot comment.

That's just me taking a stab at it. I may be wrong.

Also I think whilst we can perceive a very small amount of what's going on, there are always many things going on which we just don't understand, and may not have the capacity to understand... Yet

Loren Clements: That's the one Justin, thanks! The posting of these types of clips is a doubled edged sword - good to see the work, not so good that there are no real descriptions or translations of what the work is......

This is an interesting clip. What is the transition to using this work against someone that does not want to be controlled?

Justin Ho: Again I may be wrong but I'll take a stab at it. Oh and I'm not saying "It's like this and that's a fact". I'm sincere when I say there are always other factors at play which we don't and may not ever have the capacity to understand. This is just what I can see at this point in time.

1. Acquire the right attributes and understanding of ACTUAL form. And TAKE THE TIME to do it properly. Don't just gloss over the work like it's a chore. As a mutual friend of ours advises you gotta go back to the beginning before you can climb higher. As usual it involves finding whatever it was we've been missing/ignoring, and as we both know that hurts the pride and ego more than any beating ever could. It's hard to convey the information properly via text but this may be useful: 
NOTE: In the linked article I am not referring simply to keeping the heels on the ground. I am talking about whole contact and even distribution of weight and pressure throughout the entire soles of the feet.

If you observe the clip in the article I think that the same principles may be at play:

2. Once you have acquired REAL form as an ATTRIBUTE (not something that you "do", and "not something written in some textbook, or that someone else tells you to do" but something that is part of "who and how you are". Then Begin studying the impact of external forces on your body and your form. Begin with a slow, honest push consistent in pressure. Pick a part of the body that suits you (hand, forearm, chest, stomach etc...) Take that pressure from the push and rather than escaping absorb into your physical being, distributing that pressure and external force evenly throughout your body. Here's a tip: Feel the soles of the feet. Really feel the sole's of your feet. Don't gloss over it.

I know everyone always wants to go full speed and force with that whole "would this work in real life?" Mindset... Resist this urge in the initial stages. People are keen to pressure test their skills (and gratify the ego) but I submit to you this: how can you pressure test skill when you do not possess any skill to pressure test? Or as I like to say: "why buy a lawn mower when you don't have a lawn?" Work at the pace and level where you can produce results, and increase the intensity (speed, physical pressure, unpredictability of the attack) to the point you are able to succeed until you reach the point of failure. Reaching a point of failure is inevitable.

3. Upon reaching the point of failure often the pride is hurt and it is a common misconception for a person to throw their hands in the air in frustration and go " arrgh it's all just smoke and mirrors!!". Do not fall into this trap. People will often try to break through this plateau by banging their heads against the wall. But now the question is "how did you come to the wall in the first place?"... Time to study ourselves. Go back to the beginning. The problem is likely to not be where you are stuck but something missing back in the beginning. The weak, undeveloped and ignored part of the base so to speak. Go back to the beginning and figure it out. Again, this hurts the pride and ego more than any beating. But then you should be able to progress further with greater levels of intensity and pressure before failing.

Do this again and again and again. Hard work. No short cuts. No excuses. No self pity.

In my opinion the mark of a good Systema practitioner is someone who can take the rawest of ingredients pulled from a personal experience, and make those raw ingredients into whatever he needs them to be. Someone who can take it all the way from beginning, middle and end, but as a result of studying themselves.

When people say things like "aww know yourself, know yourself, these Systema guys are just spouting out catch phrases and buzzwords"... Well they are only buzzwords when people choose (and it is a choice) to pay lip service to them. "Study yourself" is NOT a metaphor.

(Just a general statement I'm not having a dig at you man)

I don't mean to talk down to anyone. I consider how this applies to me and my shortcomings far more than I do to anyone else. Nobodies perfect.

Loren Clements: Studying is good. Taking things for granted is not.

The question - Will it work in real life? is a very important one and should not be swept aside because we are 'supposed' to be training a certain way. Some of us HAVE to know whether the work CAN translate to streets because we rely on the lessons to protect ourselves and our colleagues on a daily/weekly basis.

Systema is a lifetime of study - but we should definitely be taking away very PRACTICAL information from every class. This immediate practical material keeps us safe and healthy while we have years to delve into the truly mysterious and amazing.


Thankyou Loren for being so mindful and having the time (and nerve) to ask questions of such an important nature, rather that simply accepting what is seen on a computer screen without thinking. 

Loren Clements and Systema Auckland

Loren CLEMENTS is the Principal Instructor at Systema Auckland Loren began his involvement in martial arts in 2000. He studied a number of Chinese Martial Arts systems before becoming heavily involved in Yin Style Bagua Zhang. Loren's interests expanded to the 'reality-based' combatives systems but he found that although they were extremely functional they did not fit in with his philosophical needs. Upon commencing his Systema Journey and obtaining certification to teach from Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev, Loren has set about creating a healthy environment where those interested in Systema can work as equal explorers and delve into this unique art. He has set a goal of constant upskilling for himself and sought out the opportunity to do so; this has included - daily training, attending and arranging further seminars, as well as regular trips to Systema Headquarters Toronto. For anyone interested in training with Loren in Auckland please visit:


Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

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