STRIKES: Soul Meets Body - Review by Yvan Cam

February 19, 2016 by  
Book review by Yvan Cam
Translation from French by Yvan Cam

Two months ago, I heard that Vladimir Vasiliev was ready to release a new book and that people who got a chance to read the draft were very enthusiastic about it. After that discussion, when I received the email from Toronto saying that the book was available, I immediately ordered it. Less than one week later, the book was in my mailbox and two days after, it was read. My opinion? This book is simply excellent.

Strikes is the perfect learning material to understand what Ryabko/Vasiliev Systema is all about. This is exactly what is so striking about this book. Yes, the subject is how to strike properly and yes, it gives lots of exercises more or less known to improve striking abilities (the one with the glove is really funny by the way) but above all; it explains the importance of working on strikes.

It clearly demonstrates how strikes practice is a way to improve ourselves and how receiving and delivering a punch allows us to know ourselves better. This is where the book becomes very interesting. Even more than Let Every Breath (by the same authors), Strikes directly connects fighting and training to emotions and a persons mental state; this is the focus of the first two chapters of the book. It explains how emotional control by breathing when receiving a strike, ultimately leads to relaxation. In return, this relaxation will free the psyche to become «cold», or in another words, not involved and not bothered by both our emotions and/or others’ emotions. This drastically increases the strikes efficiency.

An important focus is made on the link between movement and fear. Vladimir explains how much fear can interfere with movement, and offers solutions to let this fear go. These chapters must be read with a lot of attention because most of the fundamental principles of Systema are in them, and are very well described and illustrated. In addition, Scott Meredith’s anecdotes highlight, in a pertinent way, the message and make the reading even more enjoyable.

The middle portion of the book provides a complete understanding on how to improve strikes and make them efficient. I was very surprised to see the methodological effort that has been done. Indeed, a real step-by-step progression is proposed here to learn how to strike in a Systema way. A full set of exercises are outlined in order to understand how the strike will work, how to develop the good skills and how to chose the targets depending on the wanted effect.

Then comes the receiving work and how to throw a punch correctly. This section finishes on the subtle use of striking. Of course, a lot of Systema classes propose most of these exercises, nothing very new, however, the real additional value is the clear explanation about each exercise and the purpose of each of them. It provides the opportunity to combine those exercises in a logical manner in order to reach a final goal.

Finally, the book comes back on the utility of this work to overcome the fear, the ego… In one word, the mental. This part is short but really relevant. This is where we see that Systema brings us beyond the fight to directly improve ourselves. This book shows that the fighting phase is necessary to develop the right tools to be able to work on ourselves.

To conclude, Vladimir Vasiliev has released material that indicates that in addition to being an outstanding martial artist, he has an amazing and deep understanding of the Systema methodology. It also shows that when the Systema teaching is structured (maybe due to the incredible work of Scott Meredith), it somehow becomes clear. We must not forget how it also shows that a fair amount of training and discipline is required in Systema to be able to touch the essence of this martial art.

My final words are that Strikes is valuable for any practitioner wanting to progress in Systema.

Yvan Cam, Systema Toulouse ADDAM, France