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I received an e-mail recently asking some good questions about the downloads I put out. One was questioning the teaching/use of wave movement and figure eight work. The person quite rightly stated that you see very little, if any, of this in Mikhail and Vladimir’s current work. It’s a good question because it helps highlight some very important points about Systema training, points also raised in Martin Wheeler’s recent blog about flow. To make the same point as he did there, it is important, in my view, to see wave/figure eight (WFE) as just a step along the path, one aspect of practice that we work through as we progress.
People like styles. Styles bring certainty, a solid structure, a means to clearly measure our “progress”. A style has certain demands – stylistic demands. That is why Shotokan Karate looks different from Baguazhang, or why skinheads look different to Teddy Boys! It is very easy to see WFE as a stylistic expression of an art. But in Systema, we have to be very wary of getting caught in the stylistic trap. Why? Because I feel that to do so limits our potential and growth.
Mikhail once said that you can take virtually any single part of Systema and form a whole style out of it. This is certainly true of WFE, and there are people doing that. It gives a very clear structure and form to an art that can, given its incredible depth and breadth, appear nebulous, difficult to get into. I mean, with Systema, where do you start? This is the main reason I include WFE as part of my teaching. I was running a class recently which included a few Thai boxers. I can work invisible / short strikes on them, but they found it much easier to grasp the concepts I was putting across when I started teaching large, F8 type movements. After all, it is a universal movement pattern across many weapon and empty hand styles. The “aaaahh!” moment comes when you progress from showing a specific strike (which is in part of the F8 movement) to the fact that you don’t have to have a specific strike, you can just do a F8 and something happens! When worked this way, I find people tend to very quickly get the idea that Systema is about movement rather than technique.
Also WFE is “good movement”. It teaches body coordination, it is healthy movement, it encourages flow and good range of motion. Once you start refining it, it also leads in nicely to more internal work and so onto the “invisible” strikes and all the rest of the more subtle areas of training. However, it wouldn’t feel right to me to be teaching only large WFE to people who are more experienced. They should be moving on from that, having got a decent understanding of it.
No-one thinks about the rules of grammar when they have a conversation, they just speak. Systema should be a similar expression, it fits the requirements of the time. WFE may be an aspect of Systema, as is flow, tension, relaxation, and all the other elements of training, but it is just that – an aspect.
If what you do is completely defined by WFE, or any other single method, then I would suggest you are practicing a “style”. Fine, but see it for what it is, a method, a teaching/learning tool, an addition to the palette of movement. Once you can cross the river, you don’t need to carry the boat!