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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Systematizing my Systema, Part 1: "Martial art? What martial art?"

So… what is it that we train at in the Dynamo?
A friend recently suggested that I write some technical articles focusing on the specific training methods and progressions we use at the Göteborg Dynamo Club of Russian Martial Art. Well, that is exactly what I am planning to do in the new Dynamo blog through a series of articles under the general title “Systematizing my Systema”. Since it is my firm belief that form always follows function, in order to explain the “how” of our training methods, it is of crucial importance to first explain the “why”, so starting today, I will first try to provide the readers with something of a training “manifesto”.  

Let’s start from the “Martial Art” part in our emblem – is it a specific martial art that we teach?
Well, most people think of a “martial art” as a set of answers to a finite number of combat-related questions (technical, tactical or strategic), plus a method that is used in order to teach those answers to groups of people. Martial arts are usually perceived as “crystallized”, closed systems. More often than not, people obsess about whether a style is “genuine”, or about the lineage of the instructor. If something new is added to them, martial arts usually become “watered-down”[1], so they have to go under a different name, or risk being discredited. In this sense, we are definitely not teaching a martial art: although the Göteborg Dynamo Club is associated to a number of instructors and schools of various styles of Russian Martial Art, the descriptor “Russian” in our emblem does not denote a historical of cultural connection, but rather an intellectual approach: the emphasis on universal concepts and principles of combat instead of particular techniques to facilitate learning, the use of biomechanics to analyze and enhance performance and the development of all-around dexterity and flow in movement. Come to think of it, I dare say that our style of Russian Martial Art is probably as much Soviet as it is Russian (here it is, I managed to utter the “S” word…). 

On the other side, what we do at the Dynamo does have some connection to martial arts practice as it is commonly understood: our goal is mastery. We practice deliberately in order to improve in something we consider important, but not necessarily utilitarian. In a way, our martial arts practice is not unlike playing a musical instrument – we do it not because we want to win some talent show or make it big in the music business, but because we find inherent value in music itself, so one could say that we are amateurs in the truest sense of the word. 

What we are trying to master though, is not a specific martial style (Systema, or other), it is just human movement as related to combat. By constantly sophisticating our movement skills we aspire to master our body and eventually, our self. For those of you who like to obsess with martial arts’ philosophy, herein lies the only teeny tiny shred of it that we offer to the Dynamo members: mastery only comes after practicing deliberately for a considerable amount of time, so if you don’t do the work, do not expect any results – mind you, this is actually science, not philosophy, but if it sounds like a gem of martial wisdom, why ruin it?

[1] Over the years I’ve been training in martial arts I’ve heard my fair share of absurd claims but none as nonsensical as “What? They’re using protective equipment and full-force fighting? Then they’re doing MMA, not Systema!!!”

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