Memory, Tension and Striking
I know when I first started training with Vladimir I was overwhelmed by the fact that I seemed to be giving away such huge swathes of mental and physical information about myself that I felt practically naked in front of the man. If I moved he countered, if I prepared to strike he struck, if I did land a shot it was all but laughed off. And when I was hit, just how devastating the effect of the strikes were (and are).
But for all my efforts, even though frustration was a huge factor, eventually through soft training, gentle coaxing and a monumental amount of patience on Vladimir’s behalf even the most dyed in the wool martial artist will finally get the point that far more is going on here than the simple or even sophisticated techniques employed by most fighting systems.
Now I am often assailed by the same questions at seminars of training sessions that I asked of him- mainly how do you see the tension and make use is it?
We are born and we eventually die, an over simplification of life I know but the only framework that I have to work in. In between those events are our lives, and everything we learn, love, hate and achieve, every event from suckling a breast, to being punched for the first time, to driving a car and taking our second to last breath are irrevocably writ into physiology, psychology and movement, and in turn can be read by a practiced eye (I use eye in the metaphorical as well as the physical sense here).
The reason your own eyes are scanning these words the way they are, the way you are sitting to read this, the way your hand is moving to either scroll down further or shut this crap off and flip to Youtube has been learned by your body through a series of trials and errors which allow you to exist in your environment in the most comfortable way possible.
Nobody does anything to be uncomfortable, no one intentionally walks awkwardly, intentionally throws a ball well or poorly (if they are genuine in their purpose to do it well), or fights you in a way which is uncomfortable to the individuals mechanics or psyche. Even through these actions may be born out of stressful situations no-one intentionally makes themselves more uncoordinated or clumsy than they naturally are or have trained themselves to be. They will work in the most efficient a way that their memory, subconscious or conscious, and mechanical physiology allows for.
The inevitable tension created by the muscles and tendons that must fire to coordinate these movements are linked to the memories and experiences of our life, whether those experiences have been good or bad, right wrong or indifferent. When someone moves they are showing you far more than just their movement, the body is essentially a book of the mind, it is the physical manifestation of the individuals whole life experience.
When someone moves they are showing you their life, all of it up till that point.
The tension points that you are attempting to seek and feel through the soft work employed in Systema training could be considered as layer upon layer of memory bound experiences that are literally holding the person up not only physically but also mentally/spiritually stable, allowing them to they perceive the world and their spatial awareness in it, and not independent of their experience of it.
This is why when striking the effect of (positive) striking can have a far more devastating effect on the receiver than the usual method of blunt force hitting employed in many martial systems.
Not that blunt force hitting doesn’t have its merits and effectiveness, ask any poor sucker-punched sap or highly trained MMA fighter waking up from the effects of a well placed shot, but that is not what I am attempting to unravel here.
Systema striking should at its most fundamental level be a deep level of touching, essentially no different from the lightest level of contact employed by the fingertips, soft but deep enough to release the memories bound in the movement at a subconscious level. At the point we have literally invested ourselves at that moment.
I think back to the fights I have been in for ‘real’ or ‘training’, the ones I have won and the ones I have lost, each its own unique and intimate learning experience and each a moment I would swap for no other in my life, but as I look back on them for all their unique components there was always the commonality of having someone to fight.
No matter who the opponent, from some ‘dude’ to various top level professionals in multiple arenas, they always gave me someone to fight. The more and the harder they hit me, threw me, choked me.. The list goes on… the greater my desire to defeat them in some way if I could. The harder they came the more navigation points they gave me to direct my will at. Give me someone to fight, whether I win or lose, I will fight them. I’m pretty sure many reading this will have shared this feeling at some point.
I then think back to the times in my life when I have been reduced to a quivering husk of a man unable to even stand on the legs right under me, for whatever personal reasons that I am not prepared to go into at this time suffice to say I am also pretty sure that most of us have experienced the same emotions; the loss of a loved one, the thought of a desolating event befalling us, the apprehension of news we know we are simply not prepared to handle at this very moment in our lives, etc.
My point being that often the only things that we cannot face are those locked deep inside of us, those things that take us out of our level of comfort and force us to confront our greatest and darkest fears of the unknown, and until competently guided, the unknowable.
That is, to my mind, is one of the reasons why the strikes work so effectively. Skillful intuitive placement of deep level strikes/touches releases untended memories and experiences into the individual- giving the ‘opponent’ no one to fight other than themselves. This creates an almost insurmountable wall for them to climb, a flailing sense of loss as the familiar navigation points of perception and experience are skewed, if not totally removed.
Strangely enough this is also the healthiest thing that can happen to the person being struck if they are indeed being struck by someone with skill and positive intention. As those fearful memories and experiences are expunged and faced and replaced by a positive, healthy and ultimately survivable experience.