“Is anybody else sweating?”

Reattempting Lesson Plan #0001’s wall push

This evening as I browsed the Kindle store I came across a book title that really intrigued me – “The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs”. No I haven’t read it yet (although it does seem like a very compelling book with a title like that) but it did remind me of an idea I started to develop in my recent training sessions of things being a sort of texture which we can interact with and navigate: tension and relaxation shouldn’t be seen as merely physical or mental conditions but as material in which we transport and carry movement and power among other things.

I am as of yet unsure of whether this perspective of tension is similar to the ancient Stoic philosophy on hardship, but in as much as it intersects with a specific point I am trying to make it certainly fits very well.

In Systema we generally tend to see tension as something to avoid. After all, excess tension kills power and movement. Everybody recognizes this fact and we therefore speak mostly in terms of relaxation. Yet, tension is and can be used both effectively in movement and in power generation and is an extremely effective teaching tool by which we learn to use relaxation. We don’t want to be so averse to it that we become afraid of it. In other words, we need to have a developed understanding of tension – the good, the bad and the useful.


In the first Lesson Plan, we explored how to start to familiarize with parts of our body that we cannot feel. If you haven’t given that a shot it would be a good time to do so. If not, you could just hop into this one as well.

Following from the lead the previous session, we start to explore the concept of moving from relaxation instead of tension. To do so, we will be doing push ups from an initial state of tension moving into relaxation as opposed to our default attempt to keep maximal relaxation throughout.

The drill is simple:

1) Do a couple of push ups (as many as you need to tire yourself out a little bit)
2) Go to the top of a push up position, take an inhale before lowering yourself down on an exhale while tensing up your whole body with the exhale
3) Inhale and tense up the body while very slowly creating some upwards push until you feel some tension start to creep in. You should be ascending as comfortably as possible. Each time you find the tension rises beyond a certain comfort level, exhale while relaxing or opening up the area which is tensed up or stuck to allow for greater movement. This should, done correctly, create some movement upwards. Repeat this breathing process until you complete the push up.

This drill enables you to slowly yet surely discover that movement can indeed be created from relaxation and a discovery that the tension (or obstacle) we find in ourselves can be converted into a path of movement if only we allow ourselves to breath through it to extract power from them or at the very least traverse it.

If you find yourself using a lot of tension during this drill at the beginning, I reckon that is entirely acceptable – if in doubt, just do some relaxation work to bring your tension level back down afterwards. As Vladimir has wisely said before, “if you cannot tense something, you cannot relax something”.