I recently saw a comment on one of the multitude of martial arts forums that caught my eye:
"How can they call it the System when it doesn't have one?"
It caught my eye as it illustrates perfectly how on first glance Systema can confuse or puzzle. I'm guessing that the author of the statement practices what have become known as "traditional martial arts" or TMA. This is one way that martial art styles are classified these days. Generally the other two ways are MMA (mixed martial arts or sports martial arts) and RBSD (reality based self defence).
For those for whom classification is an important issue these labels provide a convenient short-
Back to the System. I would hazard a guess that the author of the above comment was a TMA practitioner -
Typically each of these arts encompasses a body of knowledge taught in a particular method and sequence. This may encompass empty hand work, weapons training, meditation, and so on. The student starts at base level, learning particular stances and techniques and the develops in a set progression through the ranks. In other words you can see a clearly defined "system". Furthermore, each style has its own methods, techniques, strategies, postures. In this way we can distinguish between, say, Wing Chun and Shotokan.
Learning each system involves conforming to the dictates of the style. The long, sweeping arm movements of one style might be considered anathema by the tight, in close movements of another. Students can gauge their progress by how closely they conform to the requirements of the style.
Such a person might look at a clip of a Systema mass attack drill and find it hard to perceive any notion of style or technique in the movement. -
Interestingly we have TMA people training with us who cite the freedom of expression within Systema as one of its main attractions. We also have professionals training with us who cite Systema's training methods as being of real benefit in their "real life" work.
IF THERE IS NO "SYSTEM" WHY IS IT CALLED "THE SYSTEM"?
The answer is that the person is the system.
Human beings consist of the following:
1. Nervous System
2. Cardiovascular System
3. Respiratory System
5. Digestive System
6. Lymphatic/immune System
In addition we might be said to possess physical, psychological and spiritual aspects to our make up. Training in Systema is designed to work on and through each and every of these systems. Frequently an exercise might work on several at once. Even a simple push-
As Vladimir describes, this is also why Systema can be described as “poznai sebia” or “Know Yourself”. This, on all sorts of levels, promotes our understanding of others. If you can truly understand yourself and others, self defence -
IF THERE IS NO KATA HOW IS THE SYSTEM DEFINED?
The answer is simply through constant awareness of what have become known as the "Four Pillars" -
There are a core set of exercises in Systema that provide a foundation of understanding the Four Pillars -
Each drill or situation is a lesson in applying the four pillars. When applied correctly the best and most appropriate response (or technique) will naturally happen. This means you learn to deal with what is actually happening rather than what you would like to happen. The response fits to the moment rather than trying to fit the moment to the technique. Once you have your basic response it can be built upon, refined and tested under increasing amounts of pressure. For an idea of training progression see my article on Links in the Chain
HOW DO WE LEARN WITHOUT TECHNIQUE?
There may be an element of technical knowledge necessary to apply work -
It is the instructors job to provide meaningful situations for the student to respond to. This may apply as much to a ground fighting drill as to a question regarding an aspect of a person's lifestyle. Everything is an opportunity to learn. But we are often lazy -
The beauty of Systema is that the body of knowledge within it increases with every generation. Different needs bring new problems and new answers. Having said that, fundamentally many of the problems today are the same as a 1000 years ago, and here we can look to the spiritual roots of Systema for guidance.
Maintaining the approach of individuality and creativity means that Systema will not become a museum piece or an exercise in art for arts sake, as worthy as those goals may be. At the same time it gives us an avenue to explore our cultural roots and hopefully brings us a respect for traditions and an appreciation of the fact that we "stand on the shoulders of giants".
SYSTEM? WHAT SYSTEM?
by Robert Poyton