Systema Up Against the Wall!

June 01, 2003 by Scott Meredith  
Systema Up Against the Wall!
Mr. Scott Meredith is in Seattle, WA.
He is a student and assistant instructor of Vladimir Vasiliev.

Walls are a simple bit of universal architecture - functional, unassuming, and humble in their supportive role. For strength, health, mind, and body training, walls can add a dimension of fun, honesty and supportive reality. We'll survey just a few of the ways you can work walls into your training.

But first, a little background. In Systema, all training functions on multiple levels. There is no concept of a pure strength exercise, or an obsessive muscle isolation. All work promotes simultaneous growth on the physical (strength; flexibility); psychological (perception; understanding); emotional (confidence) and intuitive levels. Wall training serves these deeper purposes as well, and it can be incorporated into many of foundational drills of Systema, fostering both practical preparation for combat as well as a psychological and energetic transformation of the student. All these exercises, in the words of the Chief Systema Teacher Mikhail Ryabko, must be perfected to make you not only a superior fighter, but a better, healthier and calmer person.

First, let's consider exercises that particularly develop your fingers and hands. We want fingers and hands that are not only strong, but also "smart", meaning they are aware, sensitive, and flexible under all kinds of unusual pressures and positions.

1. Finger wall-walk
Face the wall, standing about one or two feet out from it, feet spaced a bit beyond shoulder-width apart. Now lean onto the wall, contacting it with your fingers only, as though doing fingertip push-ups, with one third or so of your bodyweight supported with hands. You can rise to the balls of your feet. Now, begin to "walk" with your hands all over the wall, continuously shifting your hand positions along the surface, up and down, back and forth, even crossing your arms under one another. This exercise tends to free up your mind and body, leaving you feeling extremely comfortable. When you are ready, twist your whole body as you reach behind with one arm, reversing your direction and facing outward from the wall, but still supported as before, by just your fingers on the surface. Now, leaning backwards, "walk" with hands all over the surface, up and down, back and forth, just as when facing the wall. Reverse again, to your original position.

Moving beyond just fingers, we have their supporting systems, namely hands, arms and shoulders. These can also be worked using your wall!
For example, you may know of ordinary fingertip push-ups, but consider this interesting variation:

2. Wall-and-floor fingertip push-up
Assume a push-up position and turn you body parallel to the wall, (as if you are laying on your side) with one arm on the wall and the other on the floor, supporting yourself with the fingers of both hands. Your feet are near each other, slightly out from the wall. Now, lower yourself into the push-up. When you feel you cannot lower anymore without collapsing, hold your position a bit longer, and shuffle your feet backward, keeping up with your fingers working backwards along the wall and floor as well.
Wall training can also be used to highlight certain possibilities of movement with unexpected areas of the body. All such unconventional motion develops your body and brain.

3. Shoulder wall-walk
Face out from the wall; let your upper back contact the wall. Use your shoulder blades and upper body to "walk" across the wall surface, back and forth, up and down, and shift your feet as needed to keep it interesting. You may wish to stand on the balls of your feet, rather than flat-footed, for greater mobility. This work emphasizes the shoulders and back, two areas whose extension and movement potential is often overlooked.

Hey, as long as we are talking about relaxing, why don't we just lie down? Near the wall, of course!

4. Raising your body with your palms
This is a very difficult exercise indeed.
Lie on your back at 90 degree angle to the wall, your head up against it. Now, place your palms on the wall behind you, and simply attempt to walk yourself up, using your hands or fingertips. This one is a little tricky, because if you do not relax your abdomen, it will turn into an ordinary sit-up. So, you need to make sure your whole abdomen is relaxed, and that the hands and fingers are doing all the work. The same exercise can also be performed while lying in the same orientation to the wall, but on your chest.

And as always in Systema, every variation implies its own reversal, so we also can try the following:
Lie on your back at 90-degree angle to the wall, with your feet up against it. Now, using only your foot and leg power, begin to climb up the wall. You can scoot yourself forward using your back muscles as needed to accommodate your rise. This can also be done on a tree, using your legs to grip around the trunk as you "climb" yourself straight up.

You will find that all the exercises above tend to make you, or your body, "think" as you work them, as they offer unfamiliar angles and challenges.

Furthermore, when we work against the wall in the kinds of exercises described above, the development of the tendons is emphasized. The development of the tendons, as the crucial link between bones and muscles, in turn yields energy, strength, and health benefits to the entire physical system.

Try the work above, smile as you sweat, and enjoy yourself!

Scott Meredith Scott Meredith, the writer of STRIKES: Soul Meets Body and of Let Every Breath, is a certified instructor of Systema under Vladimir Vasiliev.
He is intimately familiar with the languages and cultures of Japan and China, and is a lifelong student of martial arts.
Scott is a professional technologist who holds a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has worked for over 30 years as a senior researcher in human-machine interface technologies for IBM, Apple, and Microsoft.