“Many people ask me to teach them how to fight, but how do I teach you how to fight if you do not know how to stand?”
This statement by Mikhail Ryabko at the opening of the Against Tension International Seminar in Moscow set the stage for the rest of the work shown in the seminar. Most of the days (and the first day in particular) began with us doing push ups, squats and sit ups while repeating “Lord” upon an inhale and “have mercy” on the exhale – a traditional prayer highly favoured in the Christian East. We were taught to inhale the name of God and bring our problems to Him whatever they were and allow Him to solve them and then exhale. This work as I came to understand, should be done from the posture of penance and well basically is work that should be done.
The post seminar wrap up had Mikhail explain what I imagine was a summary. That all martial arts have 3 components:
- The physical level
- The perceptive level
- The spiritual level where we ultimately draw our power from
To be honest, most of the seminar content still eludes my understanding and so almost a month later I am left with the same conclusion as everyone else – that the most interesting work came from the 3(?) hours of push ups and squats we did while repeating “Lord, have mercy” on the first day.
When I reached Moscow I was still in the midst of digesting what Vladimir Zaikovsky had shared with us in our recent seminar “V2: Resilience and Internal Power” and I was wondering that perhaps I might be setting myself up to take too much more too soon by going for the seminar at this stage. That proved to be true, but, as I will later explain, turned out to be a good thing.
From the first lesson with Misha (“peace inside you, attention to partner”) to the classes with Artem (“transformation partner”), Sasha, Lev and Zaikovsky, something was yet again incredibly clear – I was so completely out of my depth from what the guys in Moscow were doing that I was brought back to the place of asking myself “do I really know what Systema is?”
In a way, being lost was part of the plan – I wanted a long warm-up time before the seminar followed by a short rest before returning to classes to re-calibrate before returning to Singapore to best deliver whatever content I had received. Eventually everything worked out in effect as I planned, but the journey had no semblance to my original intention…
Coming back to the whole experience in Moscow, all the instructors while saying very different things and portraying very different aspects of the work all converged on one point – feeling. The notion of everything resting upon this thing seems vague and subjective and even superficial, but I have come to the realisation that it is in fact the complete opposite – feelings are concrete, objective and deep. Perhaps the frame we tend to consider feelings in is in the frame of emotionalism – the sense of the word “feeling” where we hear people talk about making irrational, stupid or out of character decisions based on a sensation of excessive happiness, sadness, anger or any other sort of emotion. In this frame, feelings or emotions sway us to make otherwise informed choices. Emotions certainly belong to the realm of feeling, but this is an incomplete view of the breadth and scope of the feelings the Muscovites seem to be describing.
Imagine the first art lesson you attended. The teacher walks in, carrying a huge stack of books and after a warm greeting begins to explain the lesson plan: “The Physical Properties of Pencils: Part 1”. No? Obviously not. Art class is where students break pencils for fun, sharpen them excessively and scribble obscenities on hidden portions of the tables and classrooms. Formulas and algorithms belong in the science and math classes, not art classes.
In art, practice is essentially an immersion into various perspectives or tools – a baptism into the realm of the pencil. The artist is infinitely more familiar with the material properties of a pencil than a scientist ever will be because he lives with it. He has tested it empirically with thousands of hypotheses and through millions of experiments – he knows the nuances of how the layers of graphites slide of and onto various mediums and the precise pressure he needs to apply to change it because he has felt it countless times. The same can be said of the paper he draws upon as well – the artist can pick the perfect grade of pencil for any given grammage of paper because he knows it better than anyone else. The truly dangerous part of an artist is not, however, his familiarity with lead and repurposed wood fibres but his ability to convey messages using only reorganized carbon atoms. It is his reliable ability to feel his tools that enables the artist to make art, not his wavering experience of happiness and sadness. His capability as an artist rests on his experiential grasp of the tangible and unchanging material properties of our world, not his fleeting emotions. The problem is that we call both things feeling.
The art teacher’s role I believe, is very similar to that of a Systema instructor. Our job is ultimately to appear as seldom as possible. We work to be a reliable source of experience of what Systema is without colouring it too much if possible (it is impossible). Anything we say or any curriculum we design is ultimately of little consequence if our students do not feel what Systema is. Once they feel what Systema is, additionally, anything we say or teach also likewise becomes of little significance.
I would like to come back to what I said about being presented with “too much Systema” to handle in Moscow. In the recent seminar in Singapore with Vladimir Zaikovsky, I was presented with work that I could start to feel and develop and train. In Moscow this time, I was presented with so much more that I found that I was unable to contain any more of it and I started being able only to utilize a tiny sliver of what was presented at any given time and that even if I were able to increase my capacity to contain 3 times more of it I would still fall far short of what I was being presented with. Somewhere around that was when the words Zaikovsky said years ago started to make sense once again – “If we went to the ocean and thought to bring it back and put some of it into a jar, what we would have is not the ocean but salty water. If we want to have the ocean, we have to dive in.”
It was at this point that the theory of Systema’s spiritual nature had moved at least in the slightest bit from being a purely theoretical and abstract goal into some semblance of an experience and feeling.
My hearty thanks to Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev and all the senior instructors at both HQs for being so patient with us as we inch forward ever so slowly in understanding things they have been repeating for so many years. Systema truly is an for beyond our lifetime.
I will be hosting a seminar “Invisible Power” to present some of the key insights from my trip to Moscow and from the recent Against Tension seminar with Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev. In this seminar, I will share aspects about breathing, power sensitivity and control as well as work on the perception of an opponent’s power and form for both combative as well as healing applications. Andre our new instructor in training will also be helping to share some of his takeaways as well! This is a seminar not to be missed!
Invisible Power seminar
26th October 2019
10.00 – 17.00
For tickets please visit: [TICKET] INVISIBLE POWER – A Moscow Review
People of all experience levels are welcomed to this seminar as the work we shall be doing is beneficial for all levels.
For more information please contact us via Facebook or WhatsApp at +65 81396737.