Dave Merrell and Tommy Floyd gave a seminar on September 3, 2016 which was sponsored by Floyd Systema & Karate Institute. There was a great turn out. Many faces I have never seen before.
Let me first say that both Dave and Tommy are awesome practitioners and instructors. Each have the ability and talent to take esoteric concepts and express them in laymen’s terms.
Dave and Tommy both have impeccable backgrounds. Dave actively trained under Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev for a number of years and was the first American to be taught by Mikahil and Vlad. As a matter of fact, Dave was acknowledged in Vlad’s book Let Every Breath: Secrets of the Russian Breath Masters as one of the instructors that “crucially shaped” Vlad’s understanding of this art.
Tommy currently trains under Vlad at every chance he gets, which is often. And it appears as though Tommy is fast becoming Vlad’s number one apprentice. I note the numerous pictures of Vlad using Tommy as his ace receiving partner when demonstrating techniques while at seminars or training in Vlad’s Montreal headquarters.
Both are well deserved accolades and affirmations of their stature in Systema. I am lucky enough to train under each one of them on a regular basis. With Tommy opening a new school, I hope to train more.
OK. Onto the seminar.
I took two concepts away from the seminar; tension and breathing. Really, the two main concepts to Systema. And all martial arts for that matter.
There were specific exercises and drills we did that dealt with strikes, punching and grappling. But what was going through my mind were the breathing and tension principles and their application to making my exercises and drills more productive.
Let me start with tension. Both Dave and Tommy kept making a point of releasing the tension from your body so that you can feel your body. The initial reaction is to tense up your body and this cuts you off from your whole body. It locks you.
What I mean is that if you were being punched in the gut, you would tense up your stomach to deal with the punch. It happens automatically and essentially freezes you in the moment. Your stuck in that one position even if its brief.
The reality is that you want to be free to move. If you have an opponent worth his salt, while you are stuck in that frozen position, no matter how briefly, he could devastate you with a multitude of strikes.
This is what Systema is teaching, to overcome that tension reaction so you can move and move freely.
To emphasize this point, Tommy had us do a drill where we each got a partner and pushed/punched into their stomach. The person being pushed on had to release their stomach muscles and let the person push/punching drive their fist in as far as they could.
It was not painful and was not meant to be painful. It’s purpose was to show that by releasing your tension you can take a lot more than you think you can. And that in overcoming the automatic tension freeze-up reaction, your body responds more effectively.
But tension, and the release of tension, is intimately tied up in breathing. Learn to breath correctly through the tension and your body releases.
To show this, Dave had us do punching drills. And the concept of tension release and breathing is applied whether you are the striker or strike recipient.
So in action, the striker was to release his tension so that his strike came from his whole body and a relaxed position. The strike is meant to mimic a hammer drop so to speak. Let the weight of the hammer drop and do the work.
In application, the results are incredible. For the striker it’s as if you are just dropping your fists in dead weight with minimal effort while producing maximum impact.
To the strike recipient, you can feel the strike reverberate through your whole body. And to be able to take the hit with minimal injury you need to breath through your nose and out your mouth in order to release the tension in your body. When you release the tension, you can feel the strike go through you and dissipate.
Anyway, Systema is awesome. If you want to learn more about body movement and increase your own martial arts, whatever flavor it is, you can’t go wrong by adding Systema to your repertoire.