October 7 2016

Dave Merrell & Tommy Floyd Systema Seminar 9/3/2016

Dave Merrell and Tommy Floyd Systema Seminar September 3, 2016
Dave Merrell and Tommy Floyd Systema Seminar September 3, 2016

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.

Having some fun posing for pictures after the seminar
Having some fun posing for pictures after the seminar

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.

One more pic of this group of knuckleheads
One more pic of this group of knuckleheads
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May 7 2016

Dave Merrell Systema Seminar 3/12/2016

2016-03-12 Dave Merrell seminar group 3
Dave Merrell Seminar attendees on March 12, 2016 at John Stretch Park, Clewiston FL

Dave Merrell gave a Systema Seminar at John Stretch Park in Clewiston FL on March 12, 2016. I went up with my training buddies from Systema Boca.

One guy came from Chicago and another guy came from Georgia to train with Dave. It was great meeting both of them and I expect to see them at other seminars.

It was an incredible day of training. I especially like training outdoors in nature. It reminds me of my old Army days. Something about training outdoors that makes me feel alive and real.

Dave went over tons of stuff but I am only going to blog about two things; 1. movement, and 2. circle exercise.

Movement is everything. Systema movement is relaxed and encompassing. What I mean is that the movement mimics your opponent so that you are like fly paper he can’t get rid of.

You move in response to what’s being thrown at you. And in Systema, that could be anything because there is only one rule: live to fight another day.

Dave was teaching that in movement you have to minimize the distance between you and your attacker while maximizing your safety against the attack. You need to have small movements such that the force of the attack keeps its momentum yet you are just out of the way enough so there is minimal damage to you.

As far as exercises to understand this concept, we did the circle exercise. This was a few different exercises done in a circle.

The first was to have all the trainees stand in a tight circle, shoulder to shoulder, with a trainee in the middle of the circle. The trainee in the middle was told to relax and just go with the movement as we pushed him around from person to person. It was like being a human pinball at the mercy of chaos. And how can chaos be merciful?

I know from my experience, from doing this exercise, the more I let myself go and became part of the movement, the easier I moved and the less pain I felt.

It was hard to let myself go too. The group was forcefully shoving, pushing, cajoling me to get off of them and out of their personal zone. But I think that through this pounding I became softer. I liken it to kneading dough.

It’s difficult not to react to someone pushing you. I guess that’s the ephemeral lesson; to let yourself go and become one with the movement.

Believe me, we were not being gentle to the monkey in the middle. Systema trainees are a rough group of guys who like to advance their knowledge of pain. Both in inflicting it and taking it.

There was another circle exercise we did that was a bit more subtle. In this one, we stood in a circle, arms length apart from each other. Big circle.

While standing there, one guy at a time would break out and traverse each other trainee in the circle. He would weave in and out between each guy. As he came back around to his beginning spot, the next man would go.

It started with just weaving in and out while working on your breath pattern. Step, breath in. Step, breath out.

Dave then had us escalate it so that the second time around, you would weave in and out while the guys in the circle would move to hit you.

The weaver was charged with moving such that he would not get hit. He wasn’t allowed to block the punch or kick or to move far outside the hit. He could only move in order not to connect with the attack. Not easy when you instinctively want to react and protect yourself.

So we continued this circle weaving exercise and each time we went around, Dave added something new onto it. It got to the point that at the end, the weaver had to move with the attack and then take down the attacker. But it had to be done while maintaining the closeness to the attack. You weren’t allowed to make big sweeping movements around the attacks in order to avoid it.

It was a great seminar with great guys.

Systema Boca training buddies
Systema Boca training buddies
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September 13 2015

Dave Merrell Systema Seminar 9/12/2015

2015-09-12 Dave Merrell seminar 1We had a one day intensive Systema seminar with Dave Merrell at Aikido of Palm Beach County and sponsored by Systema Boca. It was awesome. There was a good turnout and the bulk of the crew were Systema practitioners.

This is the first time I met and trained under Dave. I have heard lots of great things about him over the last few years and they seem to be true. He’s completely into this and it shows.

A few of things I took away from yesterday’s seminar are; 1. accepting what you are given, 2. body alignment and 3. breaking form.

Accepting what you are given is in essence absorbing your opponent’s energy. But it is also not giving back to your opponent any information that you have his power.

For instance, if you are grabbed on the wrist, let the wrist and your whole arm go sorta limp. I say that because its akin to being limp but you still have some energy and power to your wrist/arm but not enough to trigger a response in your opponent. You then move towards your opponent while keeping your non-response operative.

I was amazed when Dave demonstrated this and I grabbed his wrist. It was as though he wasn’t there. And because I was receiving no feedback from him regarding my grab, it tricks your autonomous being into thinking that the grab is working. But the opposite is true.

Dave’s response to my wrist grab was to move towards the grab and capture my hand. At the same time, he moves around the point of energy and in a sublime way, takes control of some other point of my body. Which flows into breaking form.

Breaking form is the practice of monopolizing points on your opponents body to disable him. In Systema, the areas you want to concentrate on are head, shoulders hips, knees and ankles. Its these areas to watch because if your right shoulder moves back, then your left shoulder will be moving forward.

Its how the body works and it points out an open spot. When this happens, its doesn’t take much to control that open spot because your opponents weight has shifted in order to compensate for his movement.

There is another important element to breaking form which is that once you get the open spot you move it to the contrary part on your opponents body. The practical application of this and how it was taught, is if you have your opponents left shoulder in control, then you drive that down and through him to this right hip. The same would be  if you had his right hip, then you drive that down into his left knee and so on.

The result is that your opponent just melts into the ground. This is not a muscling technique. Done properly you should expend very little energy. This is body alignment.

One thing that I liked and want to mention is the warm up. We did some stretching but Dave emphasized how important it is to work your core. We did a number of pushups, regular closed fist and twenty count, then leg raises focusing on your stomach muscles and finally squats, regular and twenty count paying attention to keeping your back straight. The whole time lecturing us on proper breathing in order to control your body. Needless to say, we were all sweating and out of breath before instruction even began.

For the last hour of the seminar, we did kick response; your opponent kicks you and you respond. Which seemed to me a variation on the principles of the above. For instance, a front kick is coming at you and you move slightly out of the way without stepping and move your opponent by moving his kick with your knee to a spot he doesn’t want to be, off balance.

These are the three things that stuck out. A lot more was taught and I may update this post as I recall more. But for now, this is it and it was a Saturday afternoon well spent.

As Dave explained, you need to watch the body. It will tell you everything you need to know.



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July 4 2015

Rick Merrell Systema Seminar 6/27/2015

2015-06-27 Rick Merrell Systema SeminarRick Merrell gave us a great Systema seminar. We trained specifically for defensive knife fighting. Very interesting.

Let me first state that if you are ever unfortunate enough to be in a knife fight, expect to be cut. It’s going to happen.

That being said, this was an eye opener for me. I like the Systema philosophy that you need to flow with your opponent. For instance, in this seminar, Rick kept saying to feel the point of the knife, where it is pointing and move it that way.

You don’t move it by force or fight, but rather by flow. You disable the blade by getting the flat side engaged. It’s not easy, but it is doable. Its also contrary to the automatic fight or flight response.

The seminar was not about attacking someone or learning how to cut with a knife. It was about feeling the flow of energy in a very material and concrete way.

2015-06-27 Merrell Systema flyerI have never worked out with Rick. Against advice from Scott and Tom, the Systema instructors I train with on a regular basis, I had to push Rick to see what he was about and what he had.

Oh man did I learn. Rick quickly disarmed me and used the knife against me. Even though I continued to fight, he had me spun around such that I was bending backwards while he was holding my chin and exacerbating the bend in my back.

I still fought. Rick responded by slamming my chest so that I fell to the ground with the wind knocked out of me.

It was not a hit he used either. It felt more like a concrete block hitting me. The energy came straight down and connected. Pretty cool.

I will be working out with Rick again. He has weekly Wednesday night classes in West Palm Beach.

Anyway, the underlying lesson, which runs through my whole martial arts experience and which I need to fully integrate into my being, is to flow with the energy of the attack.

I have to really learn how to feel it. Which means peeling away layers of the onion and reworking my automatic responses.

Systema has a more integrated way of doing this than other martial arts. So much so, that it appears completely free form to the outsider. But it is not.

It’s a System. And it works very well with my other martial arts training.

January 25 2015

Tom Floyd Systema Stick Training Seminar 1/10/2015

Tom FloydTom Floyd of Floyd Systema & Karate Institute taught a Stick Training Seminar at Randal Smith’s dojo.  Here’s Tom’s YouTube channel: Floyd Systema Kyusho

The focus was not so much using a stick (jo) as a weapon but to use the stick as a tool to increase your flexibility and strength. It gave me a whole new perspective on using the stick, which I am used to calling a jo.

Tom showed some very effective exercises. Such as wrapping your leg around the stick and using the leverage created by the stick to increase your flexibility, balance and range of motion. You wrap your leg around the stick and push or pull, depends on what side of the leg you are doing, towards the ground. The movement stretches your leg muscles and opens your hips. I can feel the muscles, ligaments and femural heads opening up and moving. Hard to explain without pictures diagramming it.

Tom showed a shoulder exercise that helped in stretching out the shoulder muscles and laying the scapulars flat on you back. In the exercise,you grab the stick and put it behind your back while going to your knees and not compromising your grip. What happens is that you chicken bone yourself and create the stretch. Then move your head to the side to increase the stretch.

There was also a nikkyo exercise that Tom showed where you hold the stick and do a nikkyo on yourself. You grab the opposite end of the stick and use the leverage to really dig into the nikkyo, stretching those muscles to new points. Doing this stretch causes not just your wrist and supporting muscles to get a good stretch but it also gets your whole forearm.

There was a lot more that was taught. I only listed three of the things that I now use in my daily solo practice. I hope to be posting a video of this seminar which will show lots of good information.

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