The Great East Japan Earthquake and Systema

July 26, 2011 by Takahide Kitagawa  

A massive earthquake hit Japan on March 11th. The magnitude-9.0 quake shook the Japanese archipelago for more than three minutes.
But, what was worse than the huge earthquake itself was the subsequent tsunami.
A large number of people in the coastal areas of northeastern Japan were either
killed or went missing due to the colossal waves.

I was in Tokyo at that time. The tsunami did not hit
the metropolitan area, but the quake rocked the city of 13 million people with
an intensity I have never experienced in my life.

Considering the temblor’s strength, it was quite
natural that most of the people in Tokyo were scared and panicked. However,
there were a few people who did not.

For instance, one old woman who happened to be at a
post office when the quake happened. Post office workers there fell into panic,
but she remained calm. She brought them together to a place that seemed to be
the safest in the building.

“Stay calm,” the elderly woman told them. “There is
no earthquake that won’t end.” When the earthquake ended, one of the workers
asked her, "Why could you remain so placid even during the big quake?”

There is another example: A mother holding her baby
was at a shopping mall when the earthquake happened. Most shoppers there became
frozen with extreme fears and could not think clearly. But, this young mother
was able to keep moving and thinking properly, she was able to escape very
quickly to save herself and her baby.

Why could these two ordinary women stay calm even in
a very terrifying situation? Actually, the elderly woman and the young mother
are regular students at my Systema classes in Tokyo.

The two shared the above incidents with me, and
there are many other students, who told me of similar experiences they had
during the earthquake. All of them said that they could keep themselves under
control and take appropriate actions thanks to Systema breathing.

"An earthquake is similar to a strike,” a male
student of my regular class told me. “The strike of Mother Earth is certainly
strong. But I know how to reduce the damage of a strike with Systema

He confessed that he panicked a bit at first when
the quake occurred. But, he could come back to himself with Systema breathing.
He is a beginner who joined my Systema class just three months ago.

It is amazing to see that not only those who have
practiced Systema for a long time but also beginners could benefit equally from
Systema breathing when they encountered this natural disaster.

Systema Charity Workshops around Japan were held to
help the many people who lost their families, friends, homes and jobs as a
result of the great earthquake and tsunami. The charity workshops were held in
Tokyo, Osaka and Shikoku, and many people participated in them.

It was also wonderful to see that many instructors
from abroad kindly donated their Systema T-shirts for the workshops. T-shirts
donated from countries around the world have symbolized the warm friendship of
the Systema community. The T-shirts were sold at the workshops and the profits
were donated to relief funds for the disaster victims.

The charity seminars were planned and carried out
quickly by Systema Instructors in Japan such as Ryo Onishi (Systema Osaka),
Kousuke Imai (Systema Shikoku),  Andy
Cefai (Systema Japan) , Kazumasa Okuuchi (Systema Kobe), Ryusuke Tsuchie
(Systema Hiroshima), Kakuo Goto (Systema Sannomiya) in cooperation with many
other Instructors-in-Training.

Systema Instructors from abroad such as Arend
Dubberboer, Frank Arias, Peter Annazone, Erika Ortega, Edward Whalen, Edgar Tsakouls donated many T-shirts and Systema goods to us.

Vladimir Vasiliev sent a warm message of support to
the Japanese Systema community immediately after the earthquake. It lifted our
spirits very much. Additionally, the Toronto Headquarters sent donations to

Mikhail Ryabko and the people at the Moscow
Headquarters also held a charity event for Japan, and the earnings were donated
to a relief fund through us.

On behalf of the Japanese people, I would like to
express our heart-felt gratitude to the Systema Masters and great people of the
Systema community.

Though the major earthquakes seem to be over, small
aftershocks have been continuing. What is more troublesome is the ongoing
crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and Japanese politics and
the economy are in turmoil.

However, the real and biggest problem we must
overcome now is FEAR. A lot of people in Japan are flustered now.  We must face this fear, and its negative
effects directly and constantly.

Fortunately, we are learning Systema. We try to
apply Systema breathing first to pull ourselves together. If we are able to
restore our nerves, many people then would wonder "Why can these people
remain so calm?"

That gives us an opportunity to share Systema
breathing with others. In fact, it is already happening.

In the wake of the earthquake, one publisher in
Tokyo thought that Japanese people need to learn Systema breathing, and asked
me to write a new book about Systema. In the book, I have included teachings of
Systema masters on how to control fear.

Vladimir Vasiliev, Martin Wheeler and Arend
Dubberboer will hold Systema seminars in Japan this summer and fall. In
particular, I have requested that Arend makes Fear Control the main theme at
his seminar. I am sure that these seminars will help Systema learners in Japan
make a great leap forward.

The March 11th earthquake and tsunami caused a lot
of damage and sadness.  These are huge
challenges for us. If we can overcome these challenges, it will help us grow.

And I believe Systema is the best tool to help us
promote this growth.

About the author:

Takahide Kitagawa is a certified
Systema Instructor under Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko. As a
professional writer, he has published some articles for magazines and a book
about Systema in Japanese language. He has been teaching Systema to people of
all ages in Tokyo since 2008. 

Takahide Kitagawa Takahide Kitagawa is a Systema instructor, certified by Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev.
He has over 20 years of martial arts experience.
Takahide teaches regular classes at his school, Systema Tokyo, in Japan.