Kids in SystemaMarch 08, 2014 by Konstantin Komarov
Kids in Systema
by Konstantin Komarov
by Dmitry Trufanov
I spent a good
part of my childhood playing with my friends in our apartment building’s
courtyard. The courtyard was very spacious, and my friends from neighboring
buildings would come play with us. There used to be a courtyard in every
building, but ours was the biggest—about the size of two soccer fields. We also
had many other places to play: basements and attics, construction sites and
gardens, the grounds of nearby factories and warehouses, and all kinds of nooks
and crannies hidden from the eyes of adults.
We had a variety
of games to play. We’d often play war – all my friends had various war toys:
wooden machine guns, swords, bows, and pistols. We reenacted different wars
because we’d read and heard a lot about them, because we lived among living
veterans and witnesses of this horrible war and that horrible war… our battle
swept across the courtyard, basements, attics, construction sites, and gardens.
Sometimes we’d put together shooting/exploding devices of all kinds, using
matches, aluminum shavings, permanganate, saltpeter, and gunpowder from old
bullets and shells (my home city had seen some very intense battles, so we
found these old war relics often).
more time playing courtyard games than we did organized sport games (like
soccer, hockey, or tennis). Not only did we invent our own courtyard games, we
also “inherited” them from older kids. Practically all of our games involved lots
of moving around. It was boring to sit in one place without moving, even for a
short time. Since those times in my courtyard, I have held a firm belief that
kids absolutely must play physically. There are too many serious things for
kids to do these days, and vastly lacking play time. And it only gets worse
I was still
“playing” in my courtyard when I turned 16; it was just that the games changed as
we grew. Bicycles were replaced by motorcycles; we competed on the horizontal
bar instead of playing tag; did boxing and weightlifting in the school’s
basement instead of going down the slides. The crux of the games has not
changed though. Playing means high-energy
interaction with peers and we frequently did just that.
When kids start
practicing Systema, there’s a fundamental difference between how one should
approach working with kids vs. adults. Systema for an adult is typically a
question of personal safety and a confidence builder. These are not yet
important for the young kids. They don’t care about the end result as much as
they enjoy the training process itself. Of course, that changes with teenagers,
and goal-setting starts to play an important role.
If we were
to divide kids and youth groups by age, we would do it roughly like this:
Up to 7
years old – start training in small groups including parents, using games that
require a lot of movement, or work individually.
old (the core kids class) – active, mobile, developmental games, specialized
exercises, and a lot of wrestling. Traditionally, for the Russian youths at this
age, games, running, and wrestling were the main types of exercise.
old – introduce the basics of Systema, using specialized exercises, wrestling,
and strikes. At this age you can already put the kids in some of the adult
classes, but until then it’s better to keep the groups separated.
year-olds can participate in adult classes with no differentiation.
A few points
on the core kid’s group aged 7 to 13. Playing games is very important for this
age. Only through games and by considering the unique traits of this age group
can we balance class productivity and the kids’ precious attention.
The goal of
your classes for this age group should be the discovery and development of
important physical and psychological traits and the cultivation of basic
skills. For example:
body development, correct body form;
movement, ability to control the body, and overall coordination;
without unnecessary tension, ability to relax as needed;
Control of emotions
Ability to fall
smoothly and safely, overcoming pain;
productively with a partner;
And the list
goes on and on...
All of these
things can be taught through simple games and exercises, both individual and with
a partner / group. A large part of this work should hinge on interaction rather
than competition, sensing rather than understanding. It is difficult for kids to grasp
abstract concepts, but they are good at feeling things. Take advantage of this
to do much falling, working on the floor, crawling, especially from under a
partner, pushing, wrestling, and, in general, work with a lot of physical
interaction. This teaches sensitivity to your partner, providing the right
amount of effort and general body awareness. Don’t be afraid of these types of
work: it’s not injury-prone. Kids fall more softly and more naturally than
adults. The goal is not to teach kids classical acrobatics or prescribed ways
of falling, but to achieve free, easy, and safe transitions from the ground and
back up again, removing fear of falls from the body and psyche. Prescribed
moves or structures will make kids stiffer. Give them freedom, let them do
exercises to the best of their ability, and eventually, with small suggestions
and corrections, they will be doing it right.
shouldn’t focus too much on stationary work. It’s much better to encourage
constant movement; crawling, rolls, walking, or running. It’s not worth relying
on strength; rather work through relaxation and mobility.
should also include practice with your eyes closed – training for sensitivity,
hearing, a sense of direction, memory, the ability to make decisions in complex
situations, etc. Kids love working with their eyes closed and do it easily –
think of the popular Russian game “zhmurki”
(“blind man's buff”), in which one blindfolded person is “it” and tries to
catch 3 to 10 other participants in a limited space.
helpful to provide as much physical contact as possible using a variety of
The beginning of the class should focus on
physically challenging activities involving a lot of movement, followed by work
to slow and calm the class, such as slow push-ups or squats, in a game format.
All of this is intended to shed surplus energy, allowing you to spend a
productive 30-40 minutes working on your chosen topic for the class. At the
very end, you should conclude with an entertaining activity or game to leave
off on a high note. The most important thing is to avoid formalizing the
classes or using rigid constraints. Improvise more. Let the kids release the
tensions and fly free – they have more than enough constraints already at
school and at home.
example, here is helpful game I often use when working with kids 9 years or
older at the conclusion of classes called “the elephant.” The game is played in
groups of eight kids or more.
group into two equal teams. In the middle of the room, draw or mark a circle
about four meters (12’) in diameter. You can mark it by drawing on the floor
with chalk, or by laying out a rope. One of the teams designates one or two
“guards,” and the rest are “elephants.” The elephants stand in the middle of
the circle, put their arms around each other’s shoulders, and lean their heads
in. The goal for the team outside the circle is to jump onto any of their
opponents’ backs (including the guard’s). If a guard has someone on his back
and leaves the circle, the person on his back has to get off. The guard’s goal
is to tag the opposing team on their leg below the knee before they can climb
onto the “elephants”. All the while, at least one of the guard’s feet must be
in the circle at all times. There’s no limit to how long you can stay on top of
someone, but the fun part of this game is trying to get on top of the opposing
team as many times as possible. As soon as one team member gets tagged, the
This game is
very fun and involves a lot of movement. After 2-3 rotations I pause the game,
point out players’ mistakes and give some advice, then let the game continue. 10
minutes is usually more than enough for the group to cheer up while getting a
fairly intensive workout.
kids is fascinating but at the same time requires pretty intense control. To grab
and keep the kids’ attention, it’s necessary to maintain a fast pace of the
class and a positive attitude. Still,
you forget the taxing nature of the work when you see the sparkling eyes and
the happiness of the children! Then you realize that you have made a
contribution, however small, to a proper childhood and upbringing for them.
At Systema HQ school in Toronto,
Youth classes are held
regularly for ages 8 to 16. Some Systema schools around the world offer
instruction for younger age groups as well.