Join Date: May 2003
Systema Semiar with Vladimir Vasiliev, Part 3
Review of Systema Seminar with Vladimir Vasiliev
Saturday and Sunday, June 28th and 29th, 2003
New York City, New York
by Alex Loglia
PERSONAL PROTECTION/BODYGUARD WORK
The final session on Sunday was the personal protection/bodyguard work.
We began with a very simple exercise of pairing up and practicing walking around a stationary person. Vasiliev explained that it was very important to be able to move smoothy and quickly around the client, without interfering with him. We then continued this exercise, except with the "client" walking, with the other person trying to walk around the client smoothy and without getting in his way. The next exercise had us in groups of two, with one person as the client. The bodyguard was to face in the same direction as the client, and practice moving around the client from front to back and back to front as smoothly and quickly as possible. To explain, if the bodyguard is standing directly behind the client, and both are facing in the same direction, the bodyguard sidesteps with his right foot to step to the right of the client to pop out as his side, and then sidestep around the client with his left foot to end up directly in front of the client. The same type of movement is then used to step off to the clients left and then back behind him. At first, these movements were done on a one-two count, but then with a little practice, I was able to shift from front to back on a one count.
We then broke up into groups of four, with two "bodyguards" and one client. The two bodyguards would stand next to each other behind the client, the threat would approach, and the two bodyguards would slip out from behind the client to out in front of him and in-between the client and the threat. Again, with practice, this exercise became very smooth.
Next we set up to lines of people about two meters apart, with the two lines facing each other. The bodyguard would walk client between these lines from one end to the other, while the people in the two lines would try ot grab the client. The bodyguard's job was to keep the people from touching the client by moving their hands away, or moving the client. This was not so easy. The problem I noticed was the body guard's tendency to get focused on the person he was dealing with at the moment, and while he attended to that interaction, others were coming in and touching the client. The exercise required practicing keeping your gaze relaxed and using full peripheral vision, and not getting preoccupied with any one person reaching for the client.
An exercise was introduced with tennis balls. I stood with my partner a couple of meters apart, and we started simply by tossing the ball to each other and catching it with one hand. After this, we were instructed to not look at the ball as it was thrown to us, but only use our peripheral vision. Once I got comfortable with this, me and my partner also tried doing this throwing balls at each other at the same time without looking directly at each other. This was a very good exercise, but also not so easy. It really forced me to work on my peripheral vision.
Next we practiced moving the client around us while standing still. We stood still, and we moved the client around us in a circle using only their arm, as gently and as smoothly as possible. This entailed passing the client to my left, grabbing his left arm with my right hand, and passing his left arm from my right to my left hand, then getting his right arm with my right hand as he passed by in front, then grabbing his right arm with my left hand and passing him behind me , grabbing his right arm with my right hand behind me, pulling him around to my front and grabbing his left arm with my left hand, and pulling across the front again. We practiced moving the client around in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. After we logged some time doing this, we got into groups of threes. The bodyguard stood behind the client, and the threat approached from the front. The bodyguard had to practice moving the client quickly to the side and behind him before the threat could reach the client.
The next exercise had to do with redirecting oncoming threats. We got into groups of two. One person approached the "bodyguard" straight on. Vasiliev demonstrated how to redirect the oncoming person by pushing their shoulder area near the collar bone with the hand. Basically, the movement began by moving the threat into a turn, and then the bodyguard would continue spinning the approaching threat around 180 degrees, and escort him away back in the direction he came from, or in any other direction, and we practiced doing this for quite a while. Vasiliev also showed the same kind of redirection achieved by pressing the hip of the approaching person. Vasiliev showed a variation of this exercise where the treat approached not head on, but passing by the bodyguard on one side or the other, toward the area the client was in. The movement he showed consisted of grabbing the threats near arm and using it to spin him 180 degrees and escort him away. These were very useful simply from a movement and sensitivity standpoint, and I found them particularly interesting, since many of these basic principle apply in a variety of aikido movement.
We then began a series of sensitivity and awareness exercises. The first set involved #1 having a knife. #2 would turn away from #1, and #1 would place the knife anywhere on his person that was visible from the front. On a clap or a verbal "go" from #1, #2 had to spin around, visually locate the weapon, and grab it off #1. The next stage of this exercise escalated. #1 now would grab the knife and start to attack #2 but stop. So, on #1's cue, #1 would start to attack #2 while he was still facing away. #1 would then give the signal to turn, and #1 would stop the attack short of hitting #2, and #2's job was to both sense the attack, and on #1's cue, turn around, locate the attacking knife, and begin an evasive movement or a technique. We began this exercise very slowly. Vasiliev stressed that speed was not the point, but to develop sensitivity and respond naturally. The next stage of the exercise had #1 simply attacking #2 fully, and giving his signal to #2 at the start of the attack. On the signal, #2 had to turn and respond to the attack by evading and/or disarming with any technique. The knife attack could come form either hand, and the strike could be made in any manner. Again, we were told to start very slowly, which we did. I found this set of exercises really useful. It really forced me not to think about what I was going to do, but to simply respond spontaneously, an all the while keeping my mind alert and trying to sense the attack and not loose my attention. Once I got going and felt a little more comfortable with this, the techniques came naturally and spontaneously, and I in turn was able to relax more and be much more responsive and sensitive as I stopped trying to anticipate or think. It was also nice to see many variations of the many knife disarming techniques form Aikido come out naturally, as well as many other possible evasion and disarming moves that came up on their own in the moment to moment interaction of movement between me and my partners.
FIREARMS AND TENNIS BALLS
Next, we moved to some basic exercises with firearms and tennis balls. #2 stood with his back to a wall, with the practice weapon in his waist in whatever position he was comfortable carrying it. #1 stood facing #2 a few meters away, holding the tennis ball. #1 would throw the tennis ball, gently at first, at #2, who had to evade the tennis ball, draw the weapon, and fire on #1. Vasiliev demonstrated a bunch of evasive moves to get out of the way of the tennis ball; to the side, dropping down, slipping, etc. It seemed in practice, however, that dropping had many natural advantages, whether it was on the back, or just on to one knee, or even just squatting a bit. We got into groups and practiced many variations of this, with different evasive movements, practicing moving to both sides, dropping, turning, trying different carry positions, etc. And of course, once we felt more comfortable, the tennis ball was thrown a little faster and harder. The second stage of this exercise involved a third man as the client. Now, the client stood with his back to the wall, #2 stood next to him, and #1 was standing facing them, and trying to throw the ball at and hit the client. #2's job was to move the client out of the the way of the oncoming tennis ball, not get hit with it himself, get himself as much as possible between him and the client, and draw and fire the weapon. This was not so easy. Pushing the client out of the way and dropping seemed to work best, but we experimented with variations, such as the client only being allowed to be pulled towards #2 instead of being pushed away. It also became more complicated because #1 could throw the ball at any part of the client's body, and it was tricky making sure that the part of the body that was actually in the path of the tennis ball actually got out of the way. For example, it ball is coming at the legs, pushing or pulling the clients arm, or even his shoulder, produces a bit of a lag time before the legs move out of the way. This is fine if the ball is coming at the torso, but not the legs. In some circumstances, I found I had to directly move the client from the hip and center. Other situations presented similar problems, such as the ball coming at the head. There is a lot of slack in pulling on the arm before the head actually gets out of the way. Sometimes, the head had to be moved. Even apart from the obvious efficacy for this type of training for any real security professional, I found these exercises to be very instructive, since they trained reaction time, responsiveness, spacial awareness, and keeping you head straight under stress. I had a really good time with them. And, using my imagination, I began to think of even further complicated and difficult exercises in a similar vein.
Next, we moved to a set of takedowns off of handshakes. Vasiliev explained that in many circumstances, people will mechanically shake your hand if you offer, and, from a personal protection standpoint, offering a handshake, and the response you get, will tell you a lot about the intent of the person in front of you.
The first technique had you shaking hands with the threat. You release your grip slightly, rotate your wrist, around, over, and to the left, hook his thumb, and apply a twisting and downward pressure to bring the person down. In a variation, the thumb was hooked around the back of #2's thumb more, while in the other variation, the index and middle fingers were moved around behind #2's thumb to apply a slightly different kind of pressure.
The second technique started from the handshake. #1 would simply turn counterclockwise while rotating his wrist counterclockwise, moving slightly towards and to the left of #2. #1 would let his hand get behind him and apply downward pressure, and #2 would drop. A number of pins and restraints were shown to finish it off.
The third technique involved #1 shaking #2's hand, but with #1 grasping the back of #2's hand with his left hand. You know, a very friendly and vigorous handshake. #1 uses the pinky and ring finger of his left hand to peel #2's pinky up and straighten it out, bend it back a little the wrong way against the middle joint, and then apply pressure straight into the pinky towards #2's hand using the heel of his palm. This hurt like hell by the way. I assume by how it felt that it would be very easy to break this little finger.
The next one was my favorite. #1 shakes #2's hand. #1 then uses the bones in his forearm or near the heel or back of his hand to rub down the the bone of #2's forearm from elbow to wrist. Those in trained in Aikido are familiar with the attacks to the nerves in the forearm in different types of yonkyo applications. Well, this is very much the same. This movement surprises #2 and for some reason easily unbalances him, and then #1 moves back and to his right and applies pressure near #2's elbow and takes him down with a little spiral motion. It is interesting to note, however, that it is not necessarily a matter of pain. We experimented doing this rub along the forearm bone with less and less force, and realized it almost works better if you don't press too hard. Part of its effectiveness has to do with the movement from the elbow to the wrist, and how it affects #2's body and balance. It almost collapses him a bit.
The last handshake technique was basically dealing with encountering resistance to the second handshake technique I described above. #1 shakes #2's hand and starts to rotate and turn, but #2 lifts his hand and applies pressure upward to #1's hand as it it moving behind #1's back. This unbalances #1 upwards and is not a good position to be in. So, #1 turns clockwise towards #2 (now they are almost shoulder to shoulder), drops his elbow while pushing #2's elbow forward and up while encouraging a bend in #2's arm at the elbow, and scoops up under #2's right elbow as #1's right hand is dropping, brining #2's elbow towards his shoulder. This movements twists #2's arm and elbow up in the air, bends his entire upper body backwards, and ties up his arm completely. This technique is not unlike several of the ude katame techniques in aikido.
We were having lots of fun, and consequently, the time flew by. At the end, Vasiliev took questions. A student asked about what to do with an experienced knife fighter who attacked with short jabs and went after your arms. Vasiliev said its best to shoot him, or ever better, talk to him and distract him while your buddy sneaks up on him and kills him from behind the Spestnaz way. But in the serious part of the answer to this question, Vasiliev spoke again about not worry over technique, and that you must fight the person in front of you. He also pulled up a student with a knife and spoke about manipulating the timing and rhythm of the other person. He said that people can attack with different attitudes, and you need to know what to look for and how to feel them out. He explained that in tense real-life situations, you can test the other person, such as by making sudden movements and seeing how he reacts. He said that some people will come at you non stop no matter what you do. Others may respond in a jerky fashion, and may flinch at a feigned strike. He said the mind set of these two examples are very different and you can take advantage of their psychological state in different ways. But he stressed that it was essential to key ito the other person's timing and rhythm and disrupt it.
Another question came up about putting people to sleep. For those of you who don't know, Vasiliev's teacher from Russia, Mikhail Ryabko, produced an amazing video called Beyond the Physical. Ryabko was trained in the Russian fighting arts by on of Stalin's personal bodyguards. The tape is phenomenal, since it covers very simple movements issues, and gives a deep insight into the underlying concepts behind he Russian fighting system. Ryabko's randori is beautiful, because it there is incredible economy of movement, and the intent he carries in his movement and strikes is incredible. It is not fast, but full of power. In fact, his randori on this tape looks a lot like the large group randori's you will find in the films capturing O'Sensei's randori in his last years.
Anyway, I digress. On this tape, Ryabko very matter of factly demonstrates how he is able to put a couple of student to sleep in about a minute. So the question at this seminar came from someone who had likely seen this tape. Vasiliev explained that it was not a big deal and anyone could do it. He pull a student at random from the crowd, and had him lay on his back. Vasiliev sat next to him, and explained that all you need to do is know how to relax the person. Vasiliev began to gently touch and stroke the student on his chest, upper arms, abdomen, thighs, very slowly and lightly. As he did this, he explained that he was just helping the student relax, and he was going to do it in such a way as to make it very hard for the student to get up. Vasiliev continue to lightly stroke the student, and touch him, and watched him very intently all the time. The student never actually closed his eyes. But I say his breathing change to very deep and slow within about 15 seconds. Then, his eyes became visibly heavy, and half-closed. Then, the student tried to move a little, and giggle and cooed a bit, but couldn't formulate word. It was much like the effect you get when talk to a person who is half asleep. Vasiliev then stopped making contact with the student's body, and simply kept moving his hands a little over the students body, and about 35 seconds in, he stopped doing anything and simply sat back. The student tried to move a little. He shifted his weight from side to side, obviously trying to lift a leg or an arm. He was totally groggy, and was obviously conscious enough to feel amused, since he let out a bit of a slurred giggle as he tried to lift a limb or sit up, but he just couldn't. His eyes were half open. After about 20 seconds of the student trying to get up, Vasiliev came back next to him, and waved his hands over the student for second or two. He then placed his hand on his solar plexus and rubbed him a little there, and then gave him a little thump. The student woke up, and was very groggy. He sat up, and kept having to shake his head. He couldn't formulate words for a few seconds. He then laughed a little and said, "I couldn't do anything."
I noticed that during this demonstration, Vasiliev was very keyed into the student and psychologically connected to him, never taking his attention off of him. Afterwards, Vasiliev explained that if you know how to really relax yourself, you can relax other easily, and if you are tense, you can make others tense as well. It was a very impressive demonstration, not the first time I have seen or done this by the way. It is not unique to Systema by any means. But very impressive, and, I was awed by the fact that it was done in merely seconds, and done very matter -of-factly and with no fanfare.
Finally, I squeezed in my question. I told Vasiliev that I noticed that he kept his fists very relaxed while punching, and he did not make the typical tight fist you see in other martial arts. Vasiliev answered that the fist he makes is tense for him, but loose for me. He make his fist and shook his arm, to show that the muscles in his forearm and upper arm were still loose. He said that in Systema, they also don't do a lot of the typical hard stiff strikes you often see in other martial arts. He said that when you hit someone like that, the force gets transferred back to you; that it is like getting hit yourself, and so, in addition, they also use a lot of strikes that hook or hit off line of the body, so the reaction force does not come back at you. As a final note, I will say that Vasiliev was also able to generate punches with a lot of force just off the shoulder, without hip involvement. It was very unusual.
In the end, the Systema seminar with Vasiliev was excellent, and I recommend it to anyone, regardless of their level of martial arts experience. I am a total novice when it comes to Systema, so I cannot say how or if a Systema practitioner might gain from aikido practice. But I do have a strong background in Aikido, and feel I can authoritatively say that those with an Aikido background, particularly advanced Aikido students, can gain a lot from Systema, as the underlying principles are very similar, and in many ways, the training is very complimentary. Advanced students in particular will gain a lot from the freestyle format, and the principle of natural movement being primary, and technique being allowed to grow and flow out of the relaxed natural movement.
If you are going to be at the Expo, you really should check out Systema for yourself, and actually get on the mat and experience it yourself. This seminar experience was very rewarding for me and gave me a huge number of ideas and creative possibilities. It also left me wanting more training in Systema. I don't see a conflict with aikido training at all. As far as "taking what is useful" goes, there is a lot to be taken here.