My Systema InspirationMarch 14, 2011 by Spiro Spanos
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“What I do know and can explain about Systema, often feels less important than what I don't know about it, yet feels more valuable than any vision I have about ambition, because it protects me by chiseling away at fear, opening my mind to reality”. Let me explain why Systema practice is as fundamental to my life as is my blood.
“Systema... what is that?” Something I hear at least once a week. Usually I only get a chance to explain that it is from Russia and maybe talk a little about Systema being unlike other martial arts. But every time I'm faced with this question I feel compelled but mute to explain it. Systema rugged training, ancient philosophy, clarity of being, it's personal, it's genuine fun and natural, it's me. While explaining Systema I try to keep it simple and be thankful that I know anything at all about Systema life.
Over the last six years, since I began to study Systema, a lot has changed about what Systema means to me. It began as the coolest thing since baggy jeans and sideways hats (and continues to be so) then it molded into my love for being athletic. It offered challenging exercises that were fun and different and left me feeling strong and healthy. Also, it was always on my mind, so it led me into all sorts of engaging conversations and deep thoughts. I talked about how cool it is, how tough my trainers are, how we don't use pads when hitting, and of course how many ways there are to break a fall. But as the days became tougher and training also more impossible and difficult, my expressions became softer. Today one might consider me a marsh-mellow of a man in everyday life. But the softness has roots like a big old Red Cedar tree. It’s because Systema always surprises me; it even makes me surprise myself.
The inspiration to do Systema health practices such as cold water dousing and serious training comes in part from knowing Vladimir's history of rugged training, and the basic desire to be a person of support to my family and the people around me. Every Systema experience can be unique, bringing its own flash of lightning, striking my heart with powerful internal wisdom.
Being a human being alone puts one in the same league as those who accomplished great things, be they top athletes, warriors, saints, or all of the above. I chose to include myself, reach up, and be proactive with my health and life. Systema gives me the “tools” to do that.
My inspiration is continually fueled as I dig deeper into Systema. In Systema I find methods of genuine holistic conditioning, “tools” as I like to call them, that support life. I have learned that the attitude that I bring to class is probably the most important topic of attention and discussion. “Don't feel sorry for yourself” resonates within my body while swimming in the Pacific at 10 degrees Celsius, standing on my knuckles or really doing anything at all. It is a bizarre statement at first, but like a phrase from the Gospel, is so profound it can be studied everyday of life and still be engaging.
Where is self pity? and how truly damaging can it be? Call it a blind spot. Call it destruction. Call it fear. Systema life for me is taking action to prevent the harm from fear every day. When we truly practice Systema (the Systema that Vladimir and Mikhail govern today), we learn to dive into ourselves and develop the awareness and discipline to spot fear, and work with it. Until then, it can remain invisible, built into the fabric of our “identity”. Spot this tricky and sneaky “piece of our identity” and place it into the hands of your Systema tool box. See it next to your soul and learn to exhale it. Knowing how to control fear keeps my ability to think and reason when a situation becomes immoral and offensive, physically and/or emotionally.
“Poznai sebia” - discovering myself through the “tools” offered by the Russian Martial Art Systema is to begin and continue a proactive life towards true strength, and to regain the natural attitude towards life that overcomes diverse and difficult situations with courage, love and humility.
Systema training can seem violent, void of such noble qualities if a group is not working with knowledge of fear. It is easy to hit hard, work up the heart rate, be tough and learn where we are strong and have talent, this is important; but when we neglect the mystery of what we don't know, and are too bold to the world, we can become lost in fear and our knowledge becomes proud, thus dangerous and destructive. Not that it is wrong to have fear, but if our attitude is undetermined and we are missing the skills to work in our fear, we are apt to hurt ourselves or others. But this is why we train in Systema, to gain understanding of fear. Class is a place to stir it up a little, then calm back down 10 fold. In training we learn physical and mental exercises that rattle our “everyday identity” then rejuvenate us and make us stronger and calmer. I like to make this point time and time again to myself and throughout my work, it keeps my students and I solid and easy.
In class, we must all take part responsibility as “trainers”, to watch out for each other. The drills I teach are very simple, and sometimes so simple that people are keen to ask “what’s next?”, but Systema is a bit counterintuitive. A simple drill like gentle pushing on a partner that is relaxed, might seem mundane for the first 5 or 500 hours that its practiced, but a sense of physical intuition and understanding about you and your partners body will build up in a genuine way. A way that is unique to each person and that no trainer can “give” to a student. A way that will be useful at full speed in any location at any time. The practicality that the Systema community is always speaking of, begins simple, becomes deep, and ends simple.
For me, diving into Systema head first has since proved itself a compliment 10,000 times over. It is here that I begin to see the truth of my being, my life, my family, and my community. It is here that I rejuvenate my body from the stresses of life and become the whole person I was born to be.