Our first class of 2020

13 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Psalms 13: 1-2

As Singapore prepares to enter into a new phase of measures against the coronavirus pandemic, we look into finding new ways to express the relevance of our practice to our lives. One of the things that I have found myself increasingly aware of is the sense of being immobile. While our movements haven’t exactly been so definitively shut (the lesson plan title itself is a reference to Singapore’s mild version of a “lockdown but not quite”), the sense of being contained by jails of our very own making has certainly increased. It is in times like these when our comfortable patterns of life are challenged that we feel the desire to break out, but it is precisely in such times that we need to stay strong and build ourselves firm in the very foundation of our lives – to hone our souls if you wish. This might be a little somber compared to my previous posts, but as, short of a miracle, we are going to be dealing with this pandemic for an extended period of time, I think it is important to to think about how we can work through our training even as we prepare to get back to classes in the future.

1. Think about what this means for you

For many of us, Systema has come to be something very personal. It is a way of life, after all. It is probably very strange to have something so embedded in your psyche suspended from your day to day in a way that makes it very hard to participate in it as you have been used to. Systema training is marked probably by it’s very communal and participatory nature – training in Systema is almost associated with meeting each other and the lack of classes will certainly reduce our capacity to train in some real way. Having said that, it is a personal art. As “there are as many Systemas as there are Systema practitioners”, it is important for us to find what this is to us. Take this time to think about what it means to be a practitioner of this System. Perhaps this sounds a little too far from your experience – that’s fine. Maybe for you it would be more of thinking about the principles that we train and how they have benefited you in your physical and mental health and how these principles can be applied to other things you do in life as well.

2. Train

I don’t care how much or how little of this System you think you have understood. Train. For those of us working from home, we are enabled to easily slip in a couple of minutes of push ups or squats or breathing exercises in between our day job. This serve as a means of stress release and mental calibration that we are typically unable to do in the office. That’s great.

For those whose work is deemed “essential” and are not able to work from home, there is a great opportunity likewise to incorporate our training in your work. From breathing work to relax yourselves, situational awareness and practicing distancing work – what we now know as “social distancing” except with a little more acuity than those who previously never had to give this any thought, there are many little things you can look at and “map” to a martial art context to give yourself something to train with. “Social distancing” for example could be a way to work on your spatial awareness as you go around to ensure that you are keeping the specified distance from everyone around you even from behind. Facing someone without a mask? How would you position yourself to be out of any potential cough or sneeze they might suddenly make? Are you downwind from them? This is after all, self defense. Train. Especially if you intend to get back to this System after this, train.

3. Train at the same time you normally do

I am perhaps one of the worst people in the world to talk about a routine, but when it comes to training I think this is really important for many reasons.

For starters, if we want to be prepared to return to training when it resumes, we need to make sure we keep the same time slots we train at available. In the whole slump of things it is easy to reorganize our lives into what is “comfortable” rather than what is necessary in order to defend what is important to us. We might have seen those memes about everyone coming out of lockdown circuit breaking mode all chubby and physically unfit. Well it doesn’t have to be that way – especially for those of us who are working from home. If we allow unimportant or comfortable things to take the place of what used to be our training routine, it is going to be a lot harder to get back to training once this is over.

I personally like to see the time I previously set aside for training as time that has already been set aside. When my typical training day comes, I get ready to start my own training at around the same time I normally would. I also make sure I change into a Systema t-shirt and train Systema things and not just any physical fitness thing that might be easier to follow. All this sounds like a ritual. It is. There are probably much better authorities on the topic, but I think it suffices for me to say that to put aside the same time to struggle through the same things is going to help me in the very thing I was trying to get better at by attending class.

4. Ask your instructors questions

I’m not sure how best to put this, but do take some time to ask your instructors questions or engage in discussions that might be taking place in your schools’ WhatsApp or Facebook groups. This is one very real way you can “incline” yourself to growing in the art and also helps to encourage everybody around you to keep up with their own home training. At the same time, this also helps to encourage the instructors who, more than anything else in the art, want to see you grow in it. As it is, many of us have started putting up training from home resources or hold online classes – this all when a good number of instructors don’t get paid from gym fees at this time. We genuinely want the training to be as impactful in your lives as it has been ours. This sort energetic feedback is helpful for us to know what sort of content to put out and to better address concerns the group might be facing which will create a positive feedback cycle. Do it!

5. Stick together (well, not physically)

In the midst of this dampened mood with the suspension of classes, one of our guys started to post his own home training attempts which was a fantastic initiative. We’re all in the same position and I think now more than ever we can afford to look less crisp than we normally would and be a little silly even – just like in Vladimir and Valerie’s video! I’m not saying we all have to start posting videos of ourselves online for criticism, but if you are a little self conscious then rest assured that people are going to be a lot more forgiving at this time (and for everyone else, please do be!).

6. Use your creativity to train

What we do is perceptive, right? We spend a great deal of time in class using day to day analogies to describe the feeling of doing Systema. Now the time has come for us to do the opposite. What a blessing! How do we find the “Systema feeling” in the stuff we do on a day to day basis? If we can make that connection, then in a very real way we have learned to train all the time and our training would have transcended the class setting. Certainly that will yield an incredible payoff!

7. Rest well and dwell on good things

The world is slowing down and more likely than not you probably should too. Take time to sleep well, eat well and spend time with your family in person or over the phone or even over social media if it is not possible to meet. Remember to keep in touch especially with the older members and perhaps those who might not have a many people to reach out to – that was one of the best advice I read in this time.

Also, while it’s probably easier said than done and while we should not deny the reality of the current crisis we are in, we also need to ensure we feed ourselves with good and healthy thoughts and content to ensure that our psyches are kept healthy in such times. Pause, pray and think good things. More than most of us have ever needed to, and hopefully ever be forced to again, we want to ensure that we are aligned to the people that we want to be and can exhibit that sort of virtue we aspire to have. We can start by making sure we develop all that is good within us and to practice it in thought and word and deed.

Remember the Psalm above? Like many other Psalms, it starts of with great despair but ends with words of hope and beauty. Much like the days we will see ahead. In the meantime, we train.

I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13: 6

Here’s something silly from me for reading this much!