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Martial arts are usually associated with "harmony". We hear about becoming “one with the flow”. People train to harmonise body and mind. In some arts a lot of time is devoted to developing “intention” in order to create form and energy. While Systema recognises and uses some of these principles, it also recognises the use of separation.
Perhaps the area in which this is most obvious is in striking work. Every other martial art I have studied works on full body power for strikes. Whether it is the boxing use of rear foot and hip, the reverse punch of Karate or the “full body unity” method of Chinese internal styles, the aim is to focus the power of whole body movement into the small area of the fist. Cut to a Systema class or workshop and we see the master make relatively small, arm-only movements - yet we can hear and see the profound effect on those taking the strike!
There are many aspects to developing this skill (see the excellent Strikes bookby Vladimir Vasiliev), yet it all begins with the ability to “separate” the arm from the rest of the body. Of course I don’t mean you rip your arm off and beat the opponent with him (that’s advanced work!). What we mean is the arm moves with no discernible engagement from other body parts – particularly the hip and shoulder. This takes a good understanding of selective physical tension / relaxation. It also takes a good understanding of our psychological state.
Unlike some styles, Systema aims to work without overly exciting the nervous system. In a stimulated state our intentions and movements become obvious. Typically we may gain something in aggression and short-term strength, but we also inhibit our awareness and become inefficient in our actions. With a calm nervous system we can allow each part of the body to work as it will. In effect, we free the fist to “hit for itself” rather than the brain forming the intention to hit.
Now this may result in strikes, but they will not necessarily be powerful...so where does the power come from? In other styles the power comes from the intention, the aggression, the focus and/or the body movement. In Systema the power comes from the position, the angle, the movement itself and the physical and emotional tension of the opponent. In practice this means that a seemingly light strike at the correct time and place can have an overly large effect. The effect can be increased due to this type of striking being what we call “invisible”. In other words it is not picked up by the opponent’s nervous system – it’s like a bolt from the blue. Conversely we train not to become “emotionally attached” to the outcome of our work.
The separation of mind and body is an important aspect in much Systema work, particularly on a professional level. In this following clip Martin Wheeler talks about it in relation to slow sparring
Martin Wheeler Miami
There are many layers and aspects to this work, but I hope this gives you some ideas and thoughts as to how you approach harmony and separation in your training. Check out our Developing Shorts Strikesdownload for more training ideas!