Less Tension More Power

January 08, 2019 by Mark Jakabcsin  
Camp Report by Mark Jakabcsin

I find writing a review after a seminar helps me to analyze the information, gather my thoughts and bring the entire event into a clearer focus. Every Systema seminar or camp I have been to presents so much information, it is impossible to retain it all. Hence, I try to find and understand a common thread or theme that the instructor is presenting and a few drills to demonstrate that concept. This allows me to return home and study at a pace that helps me to learn and make the information my own.

The following article has my thoughts on what I learned and experienced at the amazing Systema HQ Camp 2018, Structure of Freedom by Vladimir Vasiliev in August 2018. If you have never been to a camp event, I highly recommend saving your nickels to attend when you have the opportunity.

The new camp site at Rosseau Lake College is really fantastic. The lodging is significantly more comfortable than the previous location, the lake is beautiful, the cafeteria is larger, and the training field was excellent. There was even a gym that could be used in case of thunderstorms, luckily we didn’t have any. With all of that said, the best part of each camp is the people and that remained the same – awesome. Each camp has its own cast of characters, and this year was no different, but what happens at Camp stays at Camp so no names. The positive attitude, welcoming nature and general goodwill of the entire group remains a constant at all Systema HQ camps. Somehow, Vladimir creates this amazing environment of hard training with minimal ego.

Each time I get to see Vladimir in person, I am amazed at his effortless skill and awareness of everything around him. Of course, the people seeing Vladimir live for the first time are amazed, but so are those, like myself, who have been around for many years. His learning curve is steeper than ever.

It is not meant to be a comprehensive review but will reflect my personal filter. Each morning there was a warm-up, then off to breakfast, followed by a 3-hour training session, lunch, break, afternoon training session, dinner and then another training class in the evening. There was also night training for those who wanted more survival and awareness practice.

Each training class focused on a specific area, be it striking, movement, legwork, knife work, personal protection, groundwork, fighting in the water, clothing as a weapon, etc. To me, the thread that pulled it all together was found in the name – Structure of Freedom. We studied how to be free in each of the training subsets. After a few classes, it became apparent to me the tagline, ‘Less Tension, More Power’ was more than a nifty piece of advertising, it was the goal of training.

To me, the big take away was learning that identifying excess tension (physical, emotional, and/or spiritual) and releasing it, I was able to increase the power of my mind, body, and spirit. Note that it is ‘less tension’ not ‘no tension’. Some degree of tension is required to create movement, thought and life, the idea is to hold no more tension than is necessary to accomplish the task, remain healthy and happy.

The following are the core drills I understood to be the building blocks of less tension, more power.

Concept: Study total relaxation – how to achieve it, what it feels like and how to move while maintaining that feeling. Then add just enough tension to do the work but always trying to reduce the tension to the minimum. Fundamental Drills: These are to study no tension, memorize the feel in the body and psyche, become aware of when the feeling of relaxation has changed.
- Lay on your back and breathe as lightly as possible (deeper breathing adds tension) and focus on releasing all physical, mental and emotional tension. This sets a baseline to which one tries to stay as close to as possible.
- Still on your back, raise your hands above your chest all the way with the least tension. Release the tension from chest/shoulders but not elbows allowing the entire arm to drop and hit the ground. Repeat many times trying to identify and release any residual tension.
- Same set up with arms raised, now start the relaxation from the elbows flowing into chest/shoulders. The upper arm strikes the ground first then the forearms right behind. Repeat this drill many times, studying residual tension which you try to eliminate.
- Now do arms independently, in different directions and different release patterns.
- Same drill but with legs. Simply bend the knees then release or raise legs straight up and release. Study releasing hips then knees then study releasing both at the same time. Do in different directions.
- Now raise legs and arms together, release all, then 1 or two, different directions and timing.
So far, this is a study of tension and releasing in the arms/legs and supporting muscle groups, but we want to explore tension in the whole body as well. - Sit up with legs out and body at about 45 degrees to the ground. Feel tense areas and release completely. Feel the fear of slamming the head that might keep from a complete release. Avoid this tension. Keep the head up just enough from hitting the ground and when your back is on the ground then lower it. Learn this feeling of being tension-free physically as well as emotionally. Is there any reluctance to let go? If yes, how does that manifest physically?
Really study and understand the body’s and mind’s reluctance (fear) to completely let go.
- Now sit all the way up and do the same. Add in falling to the sides and back corners
- Now kneel with your butt on your legs and fall sideways and forwards.
- High kneel all the way up and collapse in all directions.
- Follow up with the same work from a low squat, mid squat and eventually standing up.
- At any point, this can be a paired drill with one person laying on the ground and the other falling on top of them. The fear and relaxation for BOTH is the purpose of the exercise.
- For additional partner work, #1 takes #2 down, #2 does not resist. Can do static, then with movement. #1 can take #2 down while he gets up. Key is no tension, physical or emotional. Reduce the fear and trust yourself.
- Walking, walking, walking. It always comes back to walking. I remember the first seminar I ever did with Vladimir in 2001, a frequent question is how do we learn to do what you do. The answer was always study walking and study pushups. Truer words have never been said, even though it took me a very long time to begin to understand this truth. At Camp, in the briefest words, we focused on walking with the softest knee possible, holding no more tension than was necessary to support the knee and body above.

As we learned to identify excess tension and release it, we were challenged to maintain this state of relaxation while working against sticks, knives, strikes, kicks, and wrestling. It was easy to forget that we were trying to develop power by finding the perfect amount of tension needed to complete the work, instead of focusing on the individual drill or work (i.e. fighting). Trying to win a drill is a form of tension that reduces awareness of self and the ability to relax.
To further sharpen our skills of awareness, several of the evening training successions involved working in low light or no light to feel our partner’s intention and avoid.

During the day, we did several training sets on reading the attackers intent, both in paired work and multi-attacker drills. Not surprisingly, the more tension one had the more difficult these tasks became.

So how did I use this information after Camp? How did I take the core concepts from above and utilize it with my own training group?

In a nutshell, we start with absolute relaxation, laying on the ground trying to breathe it all out, then we move trying to maintain as much of the feeling of total relaxation as possible while gradually increase the range of motion, intensity, and speed.

The following is a sequence I have been doing frequently in class:
- Use the progression above of laying down breathing, then dropping arms, legs, whole body. It can be different each time, skipping some, adding other variations. Create and maintain the feeling of relaxation.
- Slowly start to move around on the ground trying to maintain the same sensation and feeling of relaxation. This takes a degree of awareness and honesty. Some people immediately start to have excess tension with movement but cannot feel it or ignore it while increasing their range of motion and speed. If this occurs, the result is greatly reduced training value.
- Increase the movement to going to the knees and back down.
- Then increase to standing and back down, all the while keeping the relaxed feeling.
- Then start walking randomly.
- Have your partner take a knife. Now start to avoid the knife while maintaining the same sensation of relaxation. Note, the knifer is also training so he/she should also be working to maintain the same sensation of relaxation at all times.
- If all goes well, increase the speed but if the tension (physical, mental or emotional) comes, slow down or revert to earlier drills to regain the correct feeling.
- Somewhere during the speed increase, the defender should start to simply touch the knifer with hands (at the initial stage it was best to avoid hands). It is more difficult to maintain the proper feeling of relaxation once the hands are involved. Hand motion tends to pull our awareness to our hands creating mental and possibly emotional tension, plus raising the arms tends to create physical tension in the chest, shoulders, and back. Do this slowly and really pay attention to the changes in yourself. A reminder that through all of this, the knifer is studying how to move hands, arms, legs, and body without excess tension.
- The next step is to work against the knifer. Perhaps start with simple pushes/pulls with no thought of conquering the knifer, simply study your ability to apply a little pressure and see how that may or may not affect your inner stability.
- If and only if one is doing well, does one start to do actual takedowns, disarms, strikes, etc., but slowly in order to study the smallest changes in the body, mind, and emotion and to take corrective action as needed.
- Over time, the speed can be increased to all-out fighting but note at higher speeds it is very difficult if not impossible to study oneself, hence learning is limited at higher speeds. Higher speeds are more for testing to see what one needs to work on at slower speeds.

Using the core material from Camp, a similar progression can be done with striking, legwork, sticks, grappling, multiple attackers, etc. Any drill sequence that helps one to be more aware of oneself has value.
While I am sure I missed much of what Vladimir shared with us, I hope the reader finds at least something to consider and explore from this article. One can follow the core drills above, study relaxation, then do any drill set they want while focusing on maintaining the feeling of complete relaxation to the best of one’s ability. Simple…… but not easy.
I want to thank Vladimir, Valerie, Melissa, Julia, the co-instructors and everyone who helped plan and execute the event. Your hard work in is greatly appreciated! Thank you.

Mark will also be teaching: Less Tension More Power - Meno Tensione Piu' Potenza seminar in Bergamo, Italy on January 12, 2019
and a Striking Dissection seminar in Dallas, Texas on March 16 - 17, 2019.

For Less Tension More Power in your body, wear the T-shirt and the Sweatshirt, comfortable and inspiring for your training and everyday attire.

Mark Jakabcsin About the author: Mark Jakabcsin has been training and teaching Systema since 2001. A dedicated instructor, Mark has attended many seminars and camps in Toronto and Moscow with Vladimir, Mikhail and other instructors. Mark has over 35 years of martial arts experience and holds Navy Commendation Medal for his service. He currently teaches at Systema Georgia in Atlanta, GA and Jax Beach Systema in Jacksonville, FL.