Training Notes – 29.05.2015

Alec and Tim“Ground and pound” – that was the focus of this session. The rather unpleasant position you see the floored gentleman in was what we took some time to focus on: you’re on the ground and somebody decides to take that as an opportunity to do some serious damage to you by enlisting the help of gravity in order to make his strikes (which are unfortunately directed towards you) very powerful indeed.

Getting Knackered: Pads, Pushups and 4 Points.

After loosening off, stretching and warming up with some ground mobility, we played a fun game for cardio: Striker stands in the middle of the hall with a Padholder presenting focus mitts on either side of him. Striker hits one (pads are presented randomly so the choice of strike is freely made). If it was a good enough strike, the padholder takes a step back. If not, the strike has to be repeated. Once the padholder steps back, Striker turns to the other padholder and does the same. This is repeated and as the drill progresses the two padholders are a longer and longer run apart from each other, until the striker has to run the whole length of the hall in order to deliver those strikes!

We also played with some intervals of pushup variations: standard (fists under shoulders), alternating with one hand in front of the other, downward-dog shoulder ones and pushup jacks (down = feet apart, up = feet together). The emphasis was, as always, on posture and breathwork and – within those criteria – getting very tired very fast!

Following from this, we did an interesting ground mobility drill. Person A holds a very high quadrupedal position: hands and feet make a square on the floor, face down and bum up. Person B crawls and rolls around those four points, being restricted in movement by the torso of their partner. This is something that sounds easy but isn’t! It’s also great fun and serves to trim down superfluous movements.

A Spot of Breathwork:

We looked at the four levels of breathwork: places to ‘breathe from’ (an analogy to shift focus – of course scientifically you breathe from your lungs regardless of anything you do!) and also places which we can affect a person’s breathing with. We partnered up and explored different ways of affecting and even fully preventing a person’s breath, and the benefits of certain levels of tension and relaxation depending on what was being affected and how in terms of retaining the ability to breathe when someone tries to stop us from doing so.

Me and TimSupport in Groundfighting:

We did a few drills involving taking away an attacker’s support when they’re (intending to start) raining blows down upon us when we’re on the floor. As we’ve covered already (and here), climbing up your attacker is a great strategy which keeps you relatively safe as you get up onto your feet. However, if you’re being pinned down to the floor you of course have to remove that obstacle before you can start climbing. We started off looking at disrupting posture, removing stability and control with various pins, starting with simple pressure applied with the hand and moving onto things like knees and grabs. This evolved into partners actively trying to pin each other, passing the pins and gaining positions of dominance in free flow.

Padwork from the Ground:

Similarly to earlier this month when we spent some time looking at striking from a disadvantaged position, we worked our striking from the ground while being pinned by our partner. This brought together all of the breathwork, grappling skills and striking work we’d looked at:

  • With the breathwork (and awareness of tension and relaxation) we don’t ‘gas out’ and lose energy easily.
  • With relaxed movement we generate adequate striking power even when we have only a short distance to accelerate the strike in.
  • With the grappling skills of removing an attacker’s support and preventing them from pinning us, we turn the tables and gain a position of dominance from which to effect our escape.

Bonus Feature – Soft Tissue Manipulation:

Made famous by Richard Dimitri of Senshido, ‘The Shredder’ or soft tissue manipulation through clawing is an excellent methodology to gain control of an attacker with. Essentially, by digging the fingertips into soft tissues that can move over bones (for example the cheeks over the teeth and cheekbones) a significant amount of pain can be caused without significant injury, and as such this can be used as a low-force option (thinking about the force continuum, as always). It’s also very distracting and unpleasant when used on the face, as the face can be turned away (disrupting posture) and eyes can be covered, made to close by reflex, etc. However, it’s a versatile methodology in that it can be used as a higher-force option too – eyes can be damaged, skin (ears, nostrils, etc) can be torn, hair pulled, etc. It is an excellent setup for close-in striking such as quick, close-range elbow strikes, using those controlling hands as a reference point.

Here’s a short video demonstrating ‘The Shredder’ and explaining how it feels:

As you can see, it’s excellent stuff.

The Appendices – Relaxation, breathwork and striking:

To finish, we just loosened off with some relaxed movement and breathwork: one person stands in-between two others being pushed around, and using relaxed movement retains good posture and avoids being overbalanced by avoiding direct confrontation with the force presented. Depending on levels of comfort and experience, we worked up to strikes instead of pushes too. Having two people providing this stimulus is a great progression with this kind of work, as you may have conflicting directions to deal with (one person shoving you into someone else’s shove)!

As always, it was a pleasure training with you all. Many thanks to everyone who came and I hope you’ve all had a great weekend. See you next time!

-Josh Nixon

All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Training Notes – 03.04.2015

Elbow Strike NeonAnti-grappling!

This session was a lot of fun – we explored some ideas to help us deal with common methods involving grappling and develop some useful skills with that in mind.

We started, after the usual loosening off, with some breathwork under stress. This took the form of simple exercises done with good breathing, followed by inhaling and performing the exercises with that breath held, and exhaling before performing the exercises with empty lungs.

This kind of breathwork is useful for lots of reasons. It places greater emphasis on the quality of your breathing while exercising by giving an extreme counterpoint to effective breathing, but also it helps us deal with the very real fear inherent in not breathing. By dealing with this fear, even a little, we can help ourselves to panic less in the event that someone tries to stop us from breathing in a violent encounter. In contrast, we also appreciate much more viscerally how seriously we should take such an assault, and how quickly we need to act in order to prevent syncope: a loss of consciousness.

From there, we moved onto tension and relaxation drills: Person A tries to manipulate Person B’s spine and effect a takedown by disrupting their posture (we looked at this in detail when we trained on Red Nose Day), while Person B resists with tension. This made for a great core stability exercise! Then, instead of using tension to deal with the stimulus, we used relaxation: allowing the push to continue past us and moving to a position of advantage. Like fighting a ghost. We also did some padwork with resistance from the padholder, having to forcefully push them off us before being able to strike the pads they presented.

IMG_20150408_130057 - CopyWe focussed in on grips themselves for the next section, using grabs to the wrist, arm, clothes and throat to look at the anatomy of a grip and how to break it. We found that, as the weakest part of a grip is the gap between the thumb and fingers, what tends to work best in breaking that grip is moving what’s been grabbed in the direction of this gap, and moving the grabbing hand in the direction of the back of that hand. That’s difficult to articulate, so have a picture!

In this example, we moved the hand in the orange direction and ourselves in the blue direction (if possible – we did this up against a wall too). If there’s two hands, they just need to go in opposite directions! This is very simple to do and show, but complicated-sounding to type.

Grip Size ComparisonWe also found a simple thing to bear in mind: the wider the thing being gripped, the weaker the grip on it. Thus, a grab further up the forearm is structurally weaker than a grab to your wrist.

Grips to clothes, however, were not quite so easy to break quickly and so we used that grip to effect various biomechanical manipulations or bypassed it altogether to capitalise on the striking opportunities that the grab gave us. The difficulty in breaking these grips lies in how the material tends to wrap around the fingers into the middle of the tightly clenched fist, as the picture to the right shows. Clothes Grip GIFThus, it’s generally more efficient to use these grips to our advantage instead of focussing on them and trying to break them. Everything the attacker does presents us with opportunities – we just need to know how to look for them and what to do with them.

Once we’d worked on the anatomy and angles regarding grips and breaking them, we put this basic knowledge into practice against some of the more common assault dynamics involving grappling:

  • Grab with one hand (typically clothes/chest, or throat), followed by a strike with the other towards the face.
    • High guard, intercept and drive through with the elbow before following up with control and/or striking as necessary.
  • Grab around the throat up against the wall (either one hand, typically followed by a strike with the other, or a concerted effort to choke with both hands).
    •  Various methods of breaking the grip and using the high guard and elbows to strike while maintaining control of limbs, head and shoulders.
  • A ‘shoot for the double-leg’ takedown, involving the attacker grabbing both legs and pushing forwards and upwards with their shoulder, in an attempt to flip someone over so they land on their back or the back of their head.
    • Sprawling and turning the tables on the attacker: allowing their own movement to be their downfall (literally!).
  • To reiterate some previous points, a bear hug.
    • Sometimes it’s just as easy as standing up in the right place: using your whole body to disrupt their posture while you improve yours.
    • Sneaky strikes work wonders.

We discussed how the grabs themselves that we’re looking at are rarely the most pressing issue when it comes to the assault that’s taking place – nobody tends to just grab your clothes and leave it at that, otherwise we wouldn’t be overly bothered by it – but rather it’s the followup that we’re most concerned with. The grab to the clothes isn’t a problem, but the punch in the face following it is! The bear hug in itself isn’t much of an issue, but the other three people hitting you while your arms are pinned are! That’s why our response has to be as fast and efficient as possible – especially if the person attacking knows what they’re doing or is naturally stronger than you are.

Again, it’s worth mentioning the force continuum here: we’re not interested in sticking around once we’ve dealt with the assault and battling it out, having a wrestle (despite the fun and games between Steve and I whenever there’s the opportunity for some wrestling!) or ‘teaching the scumbag a lesson’. We’re getting to a position of advantage and doing what we need to do to escape and stay safe. That’s it. Sometimes one or two good, well-placed and well-timed strikes is all that’s needed. That’s when you didn’t manage to see it coming, evaluate the situation and talk your way out of it (or just avoid it altogether) in the first place of course. Never lose sight of the goal of your training: survival and escape.

As always, it was a pleasure to train with you all and many thanks to everyone who came. I hope you all had a very happy Easter and see you next time!

-Josh Nixon

All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly. If anyone has any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Training Notes – Endon – 20.03.2015

IMG_20150217_205603 - CopyOn our Facebook page today I made a tongue-in-cheek reference to the eclipse this morning, saying that they’re a portent of epic things to come.

I wasn’t wrong. This week’s session was phenomenal.

A warm welcome to another new member who is already experienced in Filipino martial arts, JKD, BJJ and KFM. We love it when people come who are already experienced martial artists, as they always have something new and fresh to bring to the table. By the same token, it was great to have our friendly neighbourhood Samurai with us again showing off some incredible Jujutsu skills on the ground!

This week, we’d been double-booked by our new venue. As there was an annual event going on in the hall, we were told we couldn’t train. This, of course, is not how we roll so I asked if we could use the small back room instead. The result was a very enjoyable shake-up to how we normally train!

The funny thing is, I’d planned a session focussed on close-quarters stuff!

To start, we warmed up with some partner work:

  • Pushes and strikes for relaxed movement and footwork.
  • Positioning for control: controlling a partner’s arm and following up with strikes and takedowns.
    • Recap: forwards and backwards fall absorption and efficient takedowns by manipulating the spine that we looked at last week.

Then we got onto some more in-depth partner work in close quarters:

  • Person A grabs Person B’s shirt and punches him in the face. Classic angry man outside the chippie style.
    • Person B uses positioning, footwork and parrying or blocking (depending on angle) to move IN to the attacker and gain control of their posture.
    • Person B takes Person A to the floor.
    • Progression 1: Person B then tries to kick and stamp on their partner, who climbs up them (as we did the other week) in order to prevent this rather unpleasant treatment and maintain control in the process.
    • Progression 2: Person A takes Person B down. Person B climbs up Person A and takes him down. Continuous with quick changes of partners at unexpected moments!

Of course, as always we respect the reiterate the Force Continuum: we’re using the stamping and kicking here as a tool to explore how to deal with that kind of assault, not necessarily as a recommended followup once you’ve taken an attacker down!

Padwork in close quarters (ranges 2 and 3):

  • Hook punches, palm strikes and hammer fists starting with the striking hand on one pad, enforcing a short distance within which you can accelerate.
    • Relaxed movement and footwork to generate power.
  • Short elbow strikes from a reference point:
    • From the fence, front hand is the reference point.
    • Collapse the arm and step forward quickly, striking with the elbow.
  • Proactive targeting: Don’t just wait for a target to present itself! Make your own opportunities. Grab the pad and move it to where you want it. Grab the head and turn the face away, etc.

Don’t be reactive. Be proactive.

Edged weapons:

  • A common modus operandi for stabbings: grab and stab (linked to the previous grab and punch).
  • Using this as a framework (lead hand grab, frenzied stabbing with the rear hand towards anywhere in the torso), we explored how to increase our chances of surviving.
    • Drill 1: knife acclimatisation. 
      • Moving parts of the body away from the blade in order to limit the chance and seriousness of injury.
      • Awareness of which parts of the body to be particularly wary of protecting.
      • Awareness of where the knife is and what it’s doing.
    • Drill 2: grab and stab, grip and control development.
      • Person A grabs Person B as before and stabs towards the stomach with their rear hand.
      • Person B responds the moment he’s grabbed – immediately – and moves his torso away while intercepting the other arm. It could be a stab or a punch, or he could be reaching for a gun, or anything – right now, it doesn’t matter. Intercept that arm.
      • The stab comes, but is parried by that intercepting arm. Person B grabs onto the attacking arm and controls it close to their chest using both hands. The knife is pointing away from them and the arm is secure.
        •  …or is it? Person A tests the grip by violently shaking their arm and trying to free it. Maximum force, absolute ferocity.
          •  With a high COM (Centre of Mass), you can be moved around easily. The further you are from their shoulder, the easier you are to ‘rag around’ and take off-balance. It takes great footwork to keep up with this. Drop your COM a little with a slight bend in your knees (keep good posture though) and sink yourself in close to the attacker’s shoulder and you can resist their efforts much more efficiently.
            • Today’s (O_o) face goes to Dave for full-on picking me up in the air in the process of demonstrating this!
        • If you don’t get stabbed and cut up, you secured the arm. If not, you didn’t!
    • Drill 3: grab and stab, followup from control.
      • Once we established how to achieve and maintain control with a non-compliant partner ragging you around, we looked at what to do from there.
        • Striking options: quickly striking when opportunities are present and returning to controlling the weapon.
          • Striking without letting go: using the shoulders, head and feet to strike while keeping full control of the armed arm (pun intended).
        • Takedowns: risky but potentially viable. Take their balance by manipulating the spine.
        • Disarming: keep it simple and stupid. Smash their arm until they let go, or keep two-handed control of the arm and smash the back of the hand into a wall if there’s one there.
          • If you end up on the floor, smash the hand into the floor. You can also pin the arm using your leg while you do what you need to.
      • Again, the Force Continuum has to be reiterated. Don’t just default to grabbing the knife and carving your name into their chest! If you can avoid using excessive levels of force, and this is entirely dependent on the situation and all its infinite variables, then you should.
    • Drill 4: exploring parrying and striking simultaneously.
      • Person A stabs Person B as before, but wears a focus mitt so Person B can strike while simultaneously dealing with the blade and going for the control, etc. A useful little drill.

To finish, we did some basic breathwork drills (which we’ll return to next week…) and tension & relaxation work, along with percussive massage.

This week’s session was incredible. An awesome turnout, another new member and the return of recent new members as well as our seasoned warriors. The atmosphere was fantastic, the skill and effort I saw in everyone was unbelievable, and it was incredibly enjoyable to train with you all as it always is.

See you next week! We’re back in the usual hall from next week onwards, though that room is always there if we want it…

-Josh Nixon

All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly.

Training Notes – Endon – 13.03.2015

Red Noses Focal B&WYesterday was, of course, Red Nose Day! At the time of writing this post, their website says £78,082,988! Incredible.

We couldn’t let this day go by without some form of recognition and so, while I was sitting at work thoughtfully squidging my friend Snortel the red nose, I had an idea for a rather enjoyable drill we could mark the occasion with: Red Nose matches!

So, after a few shuttle runs, shoving each other around and shoulder mobility exercise, we got to it: in pairs, everyone has a red nose on. As a test of your parrying and blocking, you have to knock each other’s red nose off! No point-keeping or anything; just a bit of fun to warm up with.

We used this however to make a very useful point.

If you keep your attacker at range 3 (about an arm’s length away) and you’re trying to control them like that, good luck. I say that because it’s incredibly difficult to protect yourself successfully while you’re there, as you usually get into a kind of standoff where you’re reacting to their strikes, throwing some of your own, and you’re too easily overwhelmable. You have to be extremely skilled to manage to parry and/or block an unrelenting attack keeping someone at that distance.

However, as we were saying the week before last, fear (or inefficient training) can lead to mis-management of this distance between yourself and the person trying to assault you. As we found with this lighthearted drill, it was much more efficient to move in to range 1-2 and control the limbs of the attacker much more closely, restricting their movement and ‘jamming’ their attempts to strike.

Takedowns! …posturepostureposture…

Yet again, you’re going to be sick of me going on about this, but posture is everything in takedowns too! We looked at a couple of concepts: spine alignment and the position of our Centre of Mass (COM).

IMG_20150314_192001IMG_20150314_192013As we saw with our partners, applying a downward force to a straight spine doesn’t really do much to their posture. A straight, neutral stance is of course very stable as your COM’s reference point (marked X on my scribbles) is right between your feet along your centre line. (Wing Chun people are nodding sagely…)

However, if the spine is misaligned, things are different. Whether it’s a sideways bend (as the right-hand scribble on an old diary’s page attempts to portray) or a move forwards or backwards, this misalignment shifts the COM away from that centre line.

IMG_20150314_200559As the point on the floor directly below a person’s COM (reference point marked x on the above scribblings) is moved in any direction away from the centre, the posture of the person is weakened and their ability to withstand downwards pressure without falling to the floor is compromised. The person’s balance is off, and you can use that to your advantage! Think of it as moving that x towards one of the compass points to the right.

Prevent their feet from taking the natural step they’ll want to take to recover from this and lo and behold: a takedown just happened!

  1. Misalign the spine.
  2. Prevent recovery.
  3. Downwards force.

Of course there’s more to it than just this, and plenty that can be done besides, but this is a basic look at takedowns. This post was going to be just brief bullet points, but then I found I was in a typing-something-up mood!

The Aftermath: Justification and Explanation

After violence occurs, you have to be able to explain what happened and justify why it did. We took a simple drill – Person A attacks Person B however they like, and Person B responds – such as you’d find in any self-protection or martial arts class. What we did then, however, marks out quality mindful self-protection training from those who pay lip-service to the Force Continuum and to justifying your Force Deployment after violence takes place.

Person A then asks questions.

‘What did you do?’

‘Well why did you do that?’

‘Did you really have to? I mean, did you have to use that much force?’

‘Why didn’t you just walk away?’

‘Was he even of sound mind? For all you know he could have been vulnerable and you just slapped him!’

‘Couldn’t you have used less force? It seemed a bit excessive.’

‘I bet that really annoyed you. I’d have been furious. I bet you really wanted to give him some then, didn’t you?’

Person B has to justify what they did – honestly, openly and mindfully. When we talk about justification, it’s important to remember that you’re not just justifying yourself legally. Socially, you might have to justify yourself to the people around you (family, friends, colleagues) who could see you as ‘violent’, or as someone who’s ‘been in a fight’. It’s now up to you to explain to them that it wasn’t a fight: you protected yourself and had to. Personally, you will likely have to justify it to yourself as well. Doubts could spring up about what you did and whether it was the right decision, whether you could have de-escalated better, etc. After the violence has ended, there can be a lot of mess to clear up before it’s all over!

This underpins everything that we learn in an Evolutionary Self-Protection session. Never forget that you have to justify and understand what you’re doing. There’s a lot more to it than chucking your partner around and bashing the pads.

Even a silly bit of fun – knocking red noses off each other – in a room full of laughter is a valuable learning and training experience with obvious progression and subtle nuances for beginners and experienced participants alike.

Train mindfully. Train efficiently. Train evolution…arily? Yep, that’ll do!

Have an awesome weekend everyone – see you next week!

-Josh Nixon All the details of this class are on the Public Classes page up at the top. Your first session is FREE and all are welcome to come along and take part. Every session is beginner-friendly.

Training Notes – 20.02.2015

IMAG0206.jpgAs always, this week’s class was a lot of fun! Many thanks as always to everyone who came and we hope to see everyone else again soon! The sheer skill and natural ability I saw this week was phenomenal. Everyone did exceptionally well and should be extremely proud of their progress and prowess.

Here’s some brief notes to guide your martial ponderings…

  • We started off this week’s awesomeness with a circuit of the usual kinds of calisthenics exercises: pushups, Russian twists, throwing a slam ball, passing a kickshield from hands to feet and back again while lying down, dips and burpees.
  • Thoroughly warmed up, we loosened off with some quadrupedal movement before moving onto ground mobility drills involving a variety of rolls, takedowns and padwork from different positions.
  • This week we took the drill we did last week on dealing with an attack with a stick and expanded on it with many logical progressions. Some key points to remember:
    • Once you decide you need to deploy force, and you find the right moment in which to do so, you must act immediately, efficiently and decisively.
    • Close distance and use your elbows to your advantage!
    • Get control and make sure it’s a strong grip you have. Anything less than your strongest is not good enough.
    • Act fast: strike and control.
    • You might get hit a little despite your best efforts, but there’s varying degrees of how much that’ll ruin your day. Your positioning and footwork has a lot to do with this. Train intelligently and act efficiently!
  • We also looked at some options when using a high guard against straight and hooked punches coming towards us – it’s a very versatile and efficient method of protecting yourself.
    • Regardless, we’re not about to stand there and deal with one hit at a time! Just as with the stick:
      • Close distance and gain control.
      • Striking, striking, striking…
      • Disrupt their posture and you compromise them greatly – this can be used for takedowns or truly devastating striking opportunities. Or, if possible, just a shove and your chance to run away! Remember the Force Continuum – it has to be borne in mind at all times in your training.
  • Sometimes, try as we might to avoid things getting this bad, we end up on the floor with someone trying to turn our torso from convex to concave with their feet.
    • Again, act immediately, quickly, efficiently and decisively.
    • Close distance, claw and climb your way up them. Grab whatever you find: clothes, skin, muscle, fat, hair… it doesn’t matter. Like a monkey climbing a tree. Credit to Andrew Holland (http://theselfdefenceexpert.com/) for introducing me to this very useful concept in his excellent Primal Combatives session back in 2013.
    • The closer you are to those legs, the more difficult it is for them to kick you.
    • Get up. Fast. And don’t forget that if you need to then striking can be done on the way.
    • After a tiring set of drills combining much of the aforementioned, we finished off with some percussive massage (Russian style) as a relaxation and breathwork drill.

This class is free for beginners and runs every Friday at 17:45 in Stoke-on-Trent (ST99NX). Everyone is welcome and all the details can be found here (or just click ‘Public Training’ at the top).

Free Open Snow Day Training Workshop! (Friday, 30th January, 2015)

Due to the chaos caused by a bit of snow last night, we’ve decided to do things a little differently and have ourselves an Open Snow Day Training Workshop!

Anyone and everyone is welcome to drop in any time between 17:00 and 19:00 today, and anyone who does brave the blizzards and storm the snowdrifts to get to us can have a cuppa on us too.

If it’s your first time training with us, you’re welcome to come and have your first session for free!

We’ll be covering a variety of topics, including:

  • threat awareness
  • threat evaluation
  • threat avoidance
  • management of (and awareness of) personal space and positioning
  • preparations for taking action
  • upper-body and lower-body striking
  • power generation and impact management
  • ground mobility
  • escapes
  • parrying, jamming and blocking
  • throws, takedowns and breaking posture
  • problem-solving in combative situations
  • dealing with armed assault: surviving attacks with blunt and edged weapons

We train at The Wesley Methodist Church hall, Leek New Road, Stockton Brook, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST9 9NX and usually our training session is 17:45-18:45 every Friday.

All welcome as are your questions! Don’t forget – this is all free if it’s your first time so feel free to drop in, have a cuppa and learn something about what we do.

You can reach me at 01782502684 (landline) or 07981175878 (mobile but I’ll have negligible signal until about 16:00 or so), or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/EvolutionarySelfProtection .

I made an event on Facebook for it: http://www.facebook.com/events/1531366307150866
And one on Streetlife! http://www.streetlife.com/conversation/d95jspv6e2el/

See you later!

-Josh Nixon

Review: ‘Systema Basics’ by Cutting Edge

Review: ‘Systema Basics’ by Cutting Edge

While it is of course true that one cannot endeavour to effectively learn a martial art or combative system from videos and books, such material can prove invaluable when supplementing existing training, or if you just want to learn a few new concepts to add to your training. This was precisely my aim when buying the ‘Systema Basics’ set from Cutting Edge (you may know them as Perten from YouTube). You can buy all of the DVDs here.

So what is Systema?

(Information from here and here.) Systema (Системa, to write it properly) literally translates to ‘The System’ in Russian. It can be thought of as a general title, similar to the Chinese Kung Fu in that it encompasses multiple different styles and systems. It has been adopted for some high-risk Special Military Operations Units in the спецназ (Spetsnaz) and the ГРУ (GRU) among others after Stalin’s death. Its more extended history and roots are unclear, and multiple conflicting theories exist as to where it came from and what its influences are. Its general characteristics that seem to be consistent throughout different practitioners’ styles are ones that are integral to my teaching in the CSPS; some of which I implemented before knowing about Systema and others I adopted to my training and teaching after finding out how effective Systema is. Here are a few main ones:

  • A profound appreciation of the importance of breathing
  • Abstract, concept-based training rather than technique-based training
  • A lot of emphasis on understanding tension and relaxation
  • An appreciation of the body as a whole system, and a holistic view of training and health in general
  • Psychological training pertaining to fear and relaxation
  • Flowing motion and the resulting efficient transfer of kinetic energy

Robert Poyton of Cutting Edge states that Systema is, in its purest form, ‘a system of breathing and movement’.

In the following sections I have included links to the pages on their website where you can purchase the DVDs, and embedded their trailers from YouTube.

Systema Basics Volume 1 – Falls and Rolls:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B001

This DVD covers one of the most important aspects of training – how to safely fall over without injury! I don’t need to tell you why this is essential knowledge, whether you train combatively or not – consider falling off your bike, or tripping over, or even falling down the stairs! With the right approach to training, all of these can be much less dangerous events than they would otherwise be, which can never be a bad thing! According to this DVD, rolling also teaches us to work against impact (with the floor), how to move safely in dangerous situations while helping us to overcome psychological barriers like fear. There’s also an introduction to takedowns and throws. I thoroughly enjoyed the approach this DVD has to mobility techniques like these, and the mechanics of rolling exemplified in this video are both tactically sound and biomechanically viable. I completely agree with their teachings in this DVD, and you know that means a lot coming from me, because I am extremely picky.

Systema Basics Volume 2 – Ground Mobility:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B002

Building on perfectly from the previous DVD is this one on ground mobility training. Aside from the obvious tactical benefits in a combative situation, the kind of mobility training in this video offer phenomenal core strength training, and are very fun too. When I’m bored at home (which isn’t that often these days – always something to do…) I often have a roll around just because it’s so fun! I get funny looks from people at home, but we shouldn’t let that bother us! A note to parents and instructors – kids love this stuff! I have the honour of co-instructing at PHDefence, and I often get the kids there flopping around on the floor like this, and they absolutely love it! I would recommend that everybody, whether you’re interested in combat and self-protection or not, give this kind of training some thought, as it’s invaluable and highly enjoyable.

Systema Basics Volume 3 – Wave Movement:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B003

Wave moment, a key theme in Systema, allows for a ‘free and natural response’, allowing for both the absorption of and delivery of powerful strikes. This DVD goes through all of the basic concepts necessary to assimilate wave motion to your own movement – breathing, tension and relaxation. In addition to this, there are drills to aid with achieving a full range of motion in your joints, which is of course essential. There is work on using the hips to increase striking power, and also an introduction to what Cutting Edge call ‘Figure-Eight’ striking, which is (as with everything in Systema it seems) both effective and fun. Basically this DVD is about the effective coordination of the different parts of your body which allows for a much more natural motion in combat and training. I have yet to find an aspect of training or combat that the wave motion is not useful for, and that includes rolling, headbutts and even weapon work – it’s an extremely powerful concept to play with, which I would recommend everyone take a look at.

Systema Basics Volume 4 – Health:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B004

Don’t skip over this one! If you’re extremely pragmatic in your training mindset, it’s perhaps understandable to think: ‘What’s this got to do with self-protection?’ The answer is that it has everything to do with self-protection! If you’re ill, or have a weakness in your body or even your mind, then you are unable to defend yourself effectively. Consider this – how much thought do you give to self-protection from pathogens and infection? If not, why not? Is it any less an assault on your person than a human attacking you? This DVD covers use of sticks, concepts regarding posture and balance, cold water dousing (very good stuff) and massage. Take it from me – this is fantastic information that you will regret missing out on.

Systema Basics Volume 5 – Groundfighting:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB005

More fun stuff! Working on principles instead of the more standard MMA-style techniques, Robert Poyton’s different approach is both refreshing and fascinating. Breathing, movement, striking from the ground and escaping compromised positions are all included on this video. I’ve found their approaches to be very useful concepts that are worth assimilating into any training system or martial arts style.

Systema Basics Volume 6 – Takedowns:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB006

This DVD’s pretty simple to explain – it’s stuff you’ll find useful if you’ve got someone standing up, and you want them on the floor! Systema takes a very efficient approach, concerning itself with the structure of the opponent’s body and how to break it rather than set throws and takedowns. An understanding of posture, support and how to work against tension is what you’ll get from this video, which is fantastic knowledge for beginners and experienced combatants alike.

Systema Basics Volume 7 – Movement:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB007

Posture, footwork and movement in general is the focus of this DVD, and it is a sound addition to any training you already do. The drills in this video will help you get yourself in the right place at the right time much more readily than one without this understanding of how to move would be capable of. Again, I heartily recommend it as a great addition to your combative collection!

Systema Basics Volume 8 – Breathing:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB008

As you all know, breathing is central to everything in Systema, as it is in ESP. It underpins literally everything you do, whether it’s exercises, striking, dealing with being struck or anything else. The particularly interesting section of this for me was breathing through physical discomfort, which I have found extremely useful – using these concepts, whether it’s stubbing your toe or accidentally letting a punch slip through your guard, you can make things a lot better for yourself through simply being aware of your breathing. If you’re into meditation (I am) then this DVD will be especially interesting.

Systema Basics Volume 9 – Biomechanics:
Please note that this title is no longer available (as of 29.10.2013). 
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB009

‘The body is a marvellous machine and in some ways can be manipulated as such.’ This quote from their website speaks for itself! Paul Genge in this one explains how the principles of levers, cogs, spindles and wedges can be used in combative situations. An awareness of these principles is extremely helpful in all situations, and this DVD could well be the most important of the lot if you’re new to this kind of training. The mix of diagrams and examples works especially well for the left-brained among us, but the way it’s all explained makes this an extremely accessible and yet highly informative video.

Systema Basics Volume 10 – Kicks:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB010

It is what it says on the tin really – a DVD about how to apply Systema principles to kicking! After going through some stretches and exercises, the DVD shows how to deal with kicks as well as dish them out, which was the particularly interesting bit for me. Sometimes training can focus too much on kicking pads, and not enough on what to do if someone else is kicking you – don’t let this happen with yours!

Systema Basics Volume 11 – Solo Training:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=B0011

This is the first one I saw, and it was a great place to start with this series. The DVD goes through a wealth of information regarding exercises you can do alone, working with sticks and knives, breath work, ideas for ground mobility and how to adapt the basic exercises to develop new ones. At the end is a guided breathing exercise which takes you through a tension and relaxation routine, which is great for those who are interested in stress relief or meditation. This DVD is the perfect one to get if you’re not sure whether you want to commit to buying the whole set in one go, and want to get an idea of what’s in it first as it gives you a great introduction to what Systema is. This one might be my favourite DVD of the set because it’s so useful, whether you want general fitness and health benefits or combative training. If you get any of them, make sure you get this one.

Systema Basics Volume 12 – Drills:
http://www.cuttingedgeshop.com/proddetail.asp?prod=SB012

Similar to the previous volume, this is another ‘bits of everything’ video. The last in the series, it draws together all of the concepts from the other DVDs and expands on how to develop your own drills while also developing natural movement. It explains abstract ‘no technique’ learning, how to structure a training session (useful information that all instructors in particular should consider) and sparring drills, among other things. It’s a brilliant ending to a brilliant series.

The Bottom Line – Pros:

  • An extremely informative and detailed introduction to Systema training.
  • Concepts anyone can take on board, adapt and use for many aspects of life.
  • Informal and entertaining delivery.

The Bottom Line – Cons:
In all honesty I can’t think of any! I thoroughly enjoyed this series and though I wasn’t completely new to Systema, I learned a lot from it. I was going to say I would like more elaboration and depth, but then I remembered the title – ‘Systema Basics’.

The Bottom Line – Conclusion:
I would recommend that everyone with even a passing interest in these topics would benefit from this set. It works. That’s all I have to say really! Enjoy.
Don’t forget – there’s a discount for buying in multiples. Check out the Special Offers section for full information.

Josh Nixon
Founding Instructor, ESP

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