How to Teach Systema - Interview with Vladimir Vasiliev

March 16, 2010 by Vladimir Vasiliev  

Question: We can see that Systema keeps rapidly growing. Many people enjoy practicing Systema and eagerly share it. It would be helpful if you gave some guidelines and directions to those who teach Systema as Certified Instructors and those who share Systema training informally with friends, colleagues and family members.

Answer: I agree, this is a much needed topic to discuss. With the growth of Systema, we are moving to a deeper level of understanding, this makes our discussions and training more interesting. First I would like to say that if we present or explain anything to another person we have to know what we are doing. We are responsible for anything we give to another individual.

"First - do no harm" is our fundamental rule. We have to understand what we are teaching and ensure that it does not damage the individual physically or psychologically in any way. It is fairly easy, in Systema everything that destroys is wrong and everything that strengthens and builds is correct. For example, if we do exercises with proper breathing we enhance our heart, circulatory system, nervous system, enhance our psyche to become calm and efficient. In any sport if training is done without breath work - it will strain, damage and destroy every parameter of our physical health and will make us unstable, fragile and weak psychologically.

The same goes for straight and natural body positioning, smooth and continuous movements and correct state of mind while training and fighting in Systema. These are general principles that interact and influence one another. Keep in mind that Systema is not mechanical but alive, therefore we cannot just make a list of categories and memorize techniques. The learning process is not technical but intuitive and dynamic.

Question: Could you give an example of things to do for a good training class.

Answer: First of all, the instructor has to be aware of the condition the practitioners are in. During exercise the heart rate, blood pressure and temperature go up. May be someone came to class tired from lack of sleep or was drinking the night before. If we put that person though rigorous physical exercise, we might needlessly strain him or even cause injury. The ideal rhythm of heart work is 60 beats per minute. If we can maintain that beat and after each exercise make sure the pulse rate comes back to 60, then the onset of fatigue is much delayed. Whenever we raise the parameters we have to reduce them back to normal. Of course, the key to control of all the parameters is proper breathing. Breathing and movement have to go hand in hand with each other. As you know, the blood pressure is not always the same in the right and left sides of the body and in various areas, top to bottom. Breath work evens the blood pressure in both sides and throughout the body and periphery.

We can tell if the training session was not done correctly. The participants would then be somewhat stirred emotionally. If they have a feeling of being ready to fight after class, we know the training process and breath work were not done properly.

Slow exercises done with breath work are extremely good for working with tendons and developing strong and elastic body. They allow to get rid of lactic acid. They also provide unique work for the fascia tissues and therefore, give us endurance and explosive potential. In addition to that, the nervous system gets stronger and balanced, because there is no stress. Breath work removes the stress as soon as it arises.

I will say it again, we should understand the implications of everything that we do. I see so many people coming to my class from other martial arts or sports that have injured themselves not in a fight, not during an accident... but just from training in a gym. I see so many that are strained psychologically, not from being in a battle... just from everyday stresses... including training in a gym. This is because we do not notice or analyze what we are doing and why.
We will cover this in greater detail at the Summit of Masters this summer. For now, please be more attentive to and wise about what you are doing. If you are taking instruction, take a look at your teacher. A lot of times the teacher is no better than his students, he is just as tense and inefficient in his movements. If that is the case, what can he pass on to his students?

Question: So what can student do if he finds his teacher has certain problems? Answer: We should realize that we do not come to train to a particular person, we come to study Systema. No one is perfect and we should be independent too. Also known as "understand yourself", Systema is so deep, rich and diverse, there are ample opportunities to learn it just by working on ourselves. We do need training partners, it is good to have teachers and instructional materials, but eventually the onus is on us. People we train with and DVDs we watch are ultimately ways to understand ourselves too. Knowledge obtained though serious work with ourselves is real and rewarding, it cannot be taken away.

Question: Vladimir, I know in the past you have said that often times when people teach they rush to get results, they have a wrong approach to such basic things as striking and walking. Can you address these and other common errors.

Question: Vladimir, I know in the past you have said that often times when people teach they rush to get results, they have a wrong approach to such basic things as striking and walking. Can you address these and other common errors.

Answer: When we train, we have to build the foundation first and guess what it has to include... normal walking. It hurts for me to see that so many people regardless of their experience simply cannot walk, 90 percent are not able to walk backwards. Tension creates excessive load to all leg and back joints and is detrimental to any fighting on the move. Moving back is essential in reacting to strikes, to knife attacks, moving in a crowd and many other situations. Please pay attention to your walking forward and back. Combine various walking with different breathwork patterns. There are some ideal breathing-walking progressions that we will cover at the Summit of Masters.

Another common mistake happens when we study Strikes. Most instructors spend a lot of time talking about and practicing delivery of strikes, but neglect the study of taking strikes, as if they never get hit. It is next to impossible to be in a real fight and not take a single hit. Also, how can a student practice strikes if his partners are not trained to receive those strikes? Taking strikes has to be studied first and approached in a way to gradually increase impact. It also must involve the skill of seeing tension in your partner and especially in yourself.

Another point about rushing to get results, remember that the goal of training is not acquiring many quick and fancy moves, but learning to control your own irritation, fear, anger and self-pity.

Question: Could you discuss the place for emotions in training.

Answer: Emotions generally take away power by making us tense and do not allow us to realistically look at the situation by distorting our perception.

We must watch our feelings, if we feel proud of ourselves when we are praised and we feel some resentment when we are criticized, it tells us that we are week and can be easily manipulated. And it is OK to see that we are weak because then we can work on it.

The beauty of Systema is that training includes all the essential components to get rid of these unwanted emotions. Breathwork, slow exercises, and the right state we are in during training ensure that we will be able to sense our own tension, see our own pride, egotism, fear, impatience, aggression. Once we see those we proceed to the skill of eliminating them from our training and our lives.

Self discovery and self control is hard work but it is truly rewarding. When we do things right, we get a tremendous feeling of joy both consciously and unconsciously. All the people I know that are doing Systema seriously have become happier and healthier.

Question: Sometimes there are very mixed training groups of beginners together with very experienced martial artists and professionals, very young people along with senior citizens. Do you have a suggestion for a group that is very diverse in age and experience?

Vladimir Vasiliev Born in Russia, Vladimir Vasiliev received intense combative training and profound Systema training from Mikhail Ryabko. Vladimir moved to Canada, and in 1993 founded the first school of Russian Martial Art outside Russia - Systema Headquarters.

He has since personally trained and certified well over 700 qualified Russian Martial Art Systema instructors and schools in over 40 countries worldwide, and has produced an Award-Winning instructional film collection. Vladimir holds a number of government medals and awards including the Russian "Order of Duty and Honor" and the "Order of Loyalty". He offers regular training at his school in Toronto, at international seminars and camps, and through the Systema Video Program.