Show up, train, repeat.

November 10, 2020 by Loren Clements  
Chatting with one of my massage clients last week, the subject of martial arts came up. I, of course, was happy to share a bit about Systema and the positive benefits I feel from it in my daily life.

During the conversation, she asked me, “Are you good at it?” She went on to describe what she thought makes a good martial artist; breaking things, fighting rooms full of people, and general Hollywood movie mayhem seemed to be her reference points.

We laughed, and she laughed even more when I said half jokingly, “Yes, I am”, demanding that I justify my answer.

I replied, “I show up, I get on the floor, and I train.”

I explained further that as I think of the martial artists around me, it is their commitment to the art that I admire most of all, not flashy moves or grandiose exploits. It is their commitment to understanding themselves and their place in the world that inspires. This defines “good at martial arts” for me.

So, how do we get “good”? The answer is surprisingly simple (do not confuse this as “easy”!)

Number 1: Show up to class
Number 2: Train
Number 3: Repeat (...often!)

Whether in your solo practice, private lessons, or group settings, there is one common denominator - you. The very core of Systema is you. You, being present and engaged with the process. You, being creative and thoughtful. You, being willing to explore your capacities, strengths and limitations. You, accepting both your successes and failures gracefully. You, grinding it out in the sunshine and rain. You, staying the course through frustration, plateau, and doubt. You, being honest about your emotions and dealing with them openly. You, being part of a supportive community and learning to rely on one another as training partners. You, building rather than destroying. You, wanting to give more towards your goals. You, never feeling quite satisfied.

Picture in your mind someone you admire in terms of martial arts skill (...or any skill for that matter). Think about how many hours have gone into their skill development and attainment. Try to come up with a daily, monthly, yearly number to represent that effort. Now, multiply that number by 50, and you may just be in the ballpark of the actual figure.

In any endeavour, skill requires time. It is the willingness to apply yourself, deconstruct, reconfigure, reapply, and repeat over time that defines a martial artist.

I sometimes get asked by new students, “What will Systema give me?” I initially keep the answer pretty broad, explaining a bit about awareness, connection, practicality and functionality, etc. What really gets them thinking though is that I then ask them, “Now, what are you going to be willing to give to your Systema?”

This usually takes them aback and takes some effort for them to formulate an answer. It just doesn’t compute initially that they’ve come FOR something and will have to GIVE to obtain it. I remind them of those they admire and the attributes they exhibit. I, again, ask them to imagine how much work and effort goes into developing the readiness, poise and power that excites them when they see it. What goes into it? Well, as they say, “blood, sweat, and tears” coupled with time.

Some seem daunted by the prospect of having to give so much, some seem to be provoked by the challenge, some are quiet. Regardless of the response though, it all boils down to the student/practitioner having questions within themselves and then making a decision to get on the floor repeatedly to start working towards the answers.

It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, had a crappy day, aren’t “feeling it”, are too busy, and a whole host of other excuses I’ve heard over the years. Time doesn’t wait. If you want to be good at Systema or anything, there are no ways around it, and no shortcuts to be had. You have to put the work in, you have to give from yourself.

Martial arts, specifically Systema, have played a big part in my life for many years now. Week in and week out. Through the high and low points in my life. Through my best days and my worst. As time has progressed, I feel I’m just now seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of skill attainment. Some would see this as a negative – so little perceived gain for all the hard work. But for me, this is actually very exciting. It means I get to continue to enjoy the camaraderie I feel with my fellow seekers, to continue to find purpose and to keep trying to go deeper into my self and what makes me tick. I get to represent my forerunners to the best of my ability in promoting and spreading this wonderful art, and to continue practicing as an engaged student for years to come.

My massage client asked, “Why do you keep at it? What’s the point?”

I replied, “Come down to a class, that’s something you’ll have to answer for yourself”.

And to you reading this, I give the same advice - Get to class, get on the floor, get engaged with yourself and others, support your local community, and get growing... no one is going to do it for you!!

Loren Clements Loren Clements has been training in Systema since 2007. He is qualified to teach by Vladimir Vasiliev at Systema Auckland. A former police officer with both frontline and tactical team experience, including staff management. And has first hand experience with street-level violence, and self defence solutions.