By the time this video was out, I was already an instructor-in-training in Systema. I really really love that video and I like to watch it every once in a while to remind myself of the basics of Systema. What I would like to discuss now is one thing in particular which struck me. It was the short exchange Maxim had with the instructor around the middle of the video.
Maxim: “So I want you to understand the good thing about Systema. Systema is very vast and there is no way you will grasp it in your lifetime. Period.”
Instructor: “Especially if you train three times a week only. That is the minimum. It’s really hard.”
Training three times a week is considered madness to many. Five times a week? Now that’s just absolute fanaticism!? Right?! Well, it depends – but I’m going to go with a no. People sleep every single day and no one considers that crazy. As I pondered this issue, I realized how ridiculous it is for people to say that training 3-5 times a week is crazy. They’re crazy. They think being slightly better than mediocre is excellence. It’s not.
It has been said that to really master something you need to spend 10,000 hours on it or practice the skill 10,000 times. There are 2 hours in a typical training session. 10,000 hours is equivalent to almost 20 years of training 5 times a week. It takes 20 years of training 5 times a week to get good at something. Let me repeat that – it takes 20 years of training 5 times a week to get good at something. Suddenly it doesn’t seem so crazy any more to train just 5 times a week for only 2 hours unless you are satisfied with mediocrity.
Now let us look at it from a Systema perspective – many of us start training in Systema at 20, 30 or even 40 years of age. A common realization amongst new practitioners is that they haven’t even been breathing properly their entire lives. That’s 20,30 or 40 years of 24 hours a day practice and we still haven’t even realized how to breathe properly. In one of my training trips to Moscow I was told I couldn’t walk properly. What is Systema? There are many ways to answer this question, but one of my favourite is found in the first chapter of the Systema Manual by Major Konstantin Komarov. It says that Systema is a “science of life”. This is like what Vladimir Zaikovsky said as well, that one could learn the same things we learn in Systema in life – except that because we approach it from a martial arts perspective we learn it much faster. My point is, if Systema is something that really helps us in all aspects of your life, how could you simply get away with practising it once a week for 2 hours? You don’t. You have to do it all the time. This is where the example of sleeping everyday comes in – sleeps is integral to life. So are the principles of breathing, moving, relaxation and keeping good form. We just happen to call this Systema. And by the way, if you could survive without doing any of these 4 things, do let me know (here’s a tip, you can’t).
So I can’t say if the 10,000 hour thing is prescriptive for Systema or not because it involves a certain type of skill acquisition that is not quite the same as that of Systema’s, but I think it is worth noting that if you are not practising good breathing and form, you are practising poor breathing and form. By now I think you would also realize that I am not advocating a fanatical sort of training, but a natural one. One that we do all the time without thinking about it (although coming down for classes 3-5 times a week is highly advisable and you should check our schedule out 😉 ). One that many Systema practitioners before us have and continue to go through and one which they swear by. Don’t take my word for it, take Konstantin’s: “In my opinion, [Systema] is primarily a holistic approach to the individual, considering the interconnected unity of body and psyche, as well as the inseparable unity of peace (daily life) and war (extraordinary situations). Wholeness in Systema presumes that life, which has many diverse manifestations, is not to be compartmentalized; and that a human being is whole and cannot change piece by piece – only as a whole.”
I would like to end this thought with what Maxim said right after that short exchange, in case the task seems a little too daunting now:
“But that’s good about it, because there’s so much to learn. And the bad thing is – there is so much to learn.”