My opinion of Systema for fighting neo-nazis - A one year student
The post is in response to the thread started by King of Nigeria, here:
First, I'll start by giving a brief background of myself so people know where I'm coming from, and the type of person I am.
I grew up in downtown Toronto, and of course as a kid there was always scraps in the schoolyard and on the street.
I always thought Bruce Lee was the best as a kid, that no one could beat him.
My dad was a student of Jon Park Tae Kwon Do. When I was about 8 he started teaching me. Of course I wasn't granted any belt or rank, it was just him and me. I sparred with him. He swore to me that TKD was the best martial art, because the legs are longer then the arms, and if you mastered TKD no other martial artist could close the gap on you because you would have a superior range.
But, I guess I didn't inherit my dads longer legs and skinny body, because I've always just felt that kicking was my weaker point. I also felt that the striking in TKD was very rigid. Even as a kid, it seemed to me that what my dad was teaching me was useless.
I would get in to a fight in the yard, as usual it would be against someone bigger and stronger. But it would end up on the ground, with me on the bottom. Helpless, and feeling claustrophobic.
I searched Kung fu / karate magazines, my dad had an enormous collection (actually, I still have many of them, some of the stuff is just perfect bullshido material) from the 1970's and up to the early '90s (I even have one Black Belt magazine with the original add placed by Rorion Grace for the first UFC tournament before they officially called it UFC). I looked for something that would give me some ideas that could help me stop that take down. At the same time I kept faith in my father's assurance that TKD would really give me the edge if I just practiced those kicks.
My uncle taught me some of his street fighting stuff. I scrapped in the schoolyard, I won some and lost some. But still, the ground was my worst fear.
I read Bruce Lee's book at 11.
My first wake up call was that my dad got his ass kicked by two big guys for no reason otherr than they didn't like how he looked. Granted, he was getting old by then and it was two guys. But I was still a kid and believed a martial artist could take on like ten guys like in the movies.
I stopped the TKD when I was about 12.
Then at 14, I was basically a pothead and didn't really scrap much because we had a group of friends that stuck up for each other and no one bothered us much. The odd scrap I got in to here and there, I felt that I had decent balance from TKD and could throw a decent punch thanks to my uncle, and a few joint locks / etc. that i saw in magazines, I pulled a few things off in odd teenage scraps here and there.
But what is significant about when I was 14, is this is when I had the opportunity to rent UFC III on pay per view. So, my buddies came over, we hit the herb and watched this style vs. style comp. I was somewhat surprised to see grapplers winning. Though for some reason I felt I should have known this. It's like "Isn't this kind of what was happening to me, even though my dad made me practice how to kick and punch TKD everyday?"
Of course, fighting at that age and later on are different things. :)
I never looked at fighting the same way ever again. Actually, I never really had to fight much ever again. Anytime it came close, I either had backup and they backed down or I simply avoided violence.
Fast forward about 10 years. I've got a wife and 4 kids. Jobs, etc. I had also discovered Marxism and became involved in political organizing. One of the things I got involved in was anti-racist and anti-fascist work.
So I was at a rally, with neo-nazis on one side and us on the other. And things got close to breaking out in to a all out brawl with about 25 even, give or take on both sides. This nazi waves his flag in my face. I tug it from him, and another nazi came from the side and hit me just below the left eye.
But this opened up a discussion in our organization. How do we defend ourselves if we have to? Which martial art would be the best to train in?
So we did our research, and it seemed that Krav Maga, Systema, and MMA all seemed to be the best choices. Though, it seemed that KM and Systema offered more of what we needed then MMA. Keep in mind, we didn't consider what is now termed "aliveness".
What we wanted was something that would make us ready for street scenarios, defense against weapons, multi-attackers, mass attacks with chairs, tables, etc. I mean, after all nazis could attack us at a rally. There could be sticks, knives, etc. or they could try to break up a meeting.
So, the task was simple. Two comrades were sent off to take Krav Maga and myself and another comrade went to Systema.
That's the why and how I came to meet Emmanuel at Fight Club in Toronto and trained Systema for just over one year.
First thing i want to say about KoN, is that I found his post kind of cowardly. I mean, he is willing to name all kinds of people and comment on them and their abilities, but not willing to state who he or she is. Anyone who had trained at Fight Club in 2005 / 2006 will remember me, so I'm not hiding anything. My wife also trained there with me as well for about 6 months.
First thing I thought about Systema is that the approach was way different then I expected. I had saw a few videos, and read the description, and after trying out two classes I decided it was good enough to sign up for. Also, the whole roots to the Soviet Union was really appealing to me as a commie. ;)
As for what KoN said about Systema not giving a good workout, it may have been partially that I had been mostly sitting on my ass for a few years, but I have always found Systema classes to provide a full workout. We did tons of stretching, tons of movement, working the arms and abs, lots and lots of pushups and leg rases, squats and more. And what was great about the exercises is that you didn't need to have expensive equipment. Manny taught us all kinds ways to exercise on our own, with a partner or with many partners. The exercises were for strength, stamina, coordination, speed, balance, etc. He also taught us how to use our breathing to maintain stamina, to temper pain, quell anxiety, etc.
We did drills that I thought were very useful. I learned diverse takedowns, great ways to move on the ground and on my feet that I never thought of... Most of all learning to control fear. The fear of getting hit, and the fear of pain. Most of all, was that fear of losing control when someone has you on the ground. This I credit to Systema most of all. Before I was afraid and would simply freak, hold my breath, etc. if someone got me on the ground. But after learning to control my breath, relax, etc. even when 3 or even 5 guys are in a pile at Manny's me first step on the mat in Submission might have ended with me tapping, but I didn't have any fear.
And I liked the way Systema classes went, with no visible ranks, and a sort of constant camaraderie between students in the pedagogy of the system. I liked the fact discussion took place after every class, etc. I felt that i was definitely getting some of the "socialist principles" in there somewhere.
The Orthodox Christianity is definitely a thing for Vlad and Mikhail, who I never met, and Manny is himself Orthodox, it was never a part of the curriculum. No one ever said anything about religion what so ever to my recollection. I'm not sure how friendly some people would have treated me if they knew I'm a commie, but I kept my politics quiet anyways and just didn't wear my Stalin t-shirt in case it pissed off someone. ;)
I'm sure the comrades that took Krav Maga kept there opinions about Zionism to themselves as well (oddly enough, we found out some neo-nazis actually take KM). So the reactionary politics aside, it seemed that all MAs had bad politics.
I also had a lot of fun doing the knife defense work. Though I was skeptical about defense from a stabbing or slashing attacker, defense against a "hold up" type situation seemed to be feasible with what we learned. And I practiced outside on our own time with a comrade in the snow.
Another thing I will vouch for is the water dousing. I started this in the summer outdoors and kept doing it for one year straight, even through the winter, despite the fact my neighbors though I was nuts. I swear that I felt better, disciplined and I never got sick. In fact, one week after I broke out of it and stopped doing it, I got sick, oddly enough, but had not even got a cold for a year.
At the same time I was training Systema I decided to check out Trinity Savate and JKD. I still thought Bruce Lee's ideas were great, and plus I wanted to get some work on my legs from Savate.
So of course, after a year of Systema and JKD I was feeling pretty good. I felt I was getting a good workout from both, learning great striking skills from the Jun Fan, Savate, FMA, etc. and stuff from Systema that I couldn't get anywhere else.
In fact I felt better in my everyday activities, running for the bus, climbing the subway steps, or whatever. The breathing techniques I learned from Systema helped with everything. As well, I felt calm and fearless in most situations. I also really liked the humble philosophy from Systema, as I never really liked the hole tough guy act. Let the fists do the talking!
However, I did feel that something was lacking. I didn't really care about the whole history of Systema thing, because my instructor was honest. He didn't try to sell me anything, he never tried to rip me off or pressure me to sign contracts. The whole "no touch" thing and criticisms on the internet was there, but i met people and felt what they could do myself. No one ever tried to convince us they could knock us out with no touch magic or anything like that.
But I still felt like I wanted to learn stuff on the ground, like the kind of stuff learned with BJJ. As I said before, Systema had helped me get rid of that fear of being on the ground, and helped me learn not to wear myself out. I also felt that I needed to really put Systema to the test, that the class had too much compliance. I needed to see if the takedowns would really work.
I found a group called TAP that did Submission fighting informally and on a PWYC bases. I found that many of the ways I tried to take someone down wouldn't work as easily when they knew it was coming.
However, I fully expected to be schooled on the ground. After all, these were ground guys. As well, there was things I felt I couldn't do. It just would be bad etiquette to wring someones love handles to break the guard, etc. besides I wanted to learn technique.
So I learned even more on the ground from people with backgrounds in Judo, catch wrestling (Shovel), Sambo, and BJJ. I started watching more videos from the Taktarov, Gracies, CSW, etc. etc.
But at the same time I learned you can't really put some of the things you learn from Systema to the test. When you spar with someone, you are basically kickboxing. When you roll you are submission fighting. You can't knee someone in the groin and/or palm strike them in the chin for a take down like Fairbairn, or crank someones neck. It 's too dangerous.
But I stand by Systema, and though I have not trained there for a year (I am now at a different JKD school) I want to go back. Only thing stopping me is $$$.
So I'll some up:
Systema provides a great workout
Systema makes you flexable (this helped a lot with submission since it made it harder for people to break my guard, or even apply a lock)
Systema gives you a great understanding of your breath and improves your breathing in a way that can be applied to combat and everyday life
Systema teaches you how to take hits
Systema teaches you movement, on your feet and on the ground
Systema helps you eliminate fear, it teaches you how to be calm and maintain control
Systema does teach techniques on punching and kicking
Systema is a flexible martial art that allows you to manifest your own abilities
Systema gives you experience of fighting in all kinds of different situations, with different distractions and stress factors
Systema allows you to pair up with people of different size, skills etc.
Systema is versatile in that you don't get tight, your body becomes loose at relaxed and you don't build tension by trying to assume a certain stance or copy someone else
Systema teaches you to land/fall/roll properly
Systema is also good for kids, my kids trained there and benefited from the training
-I felt that by 3-6 months in I improved my fighting skills, but after that I hit a wall. I felt like that the "softness" takes a long time to really perfect
-I wish we could have tried some things with resistance some time in order to get some idea of if what we were doing in slow sparring or "play" would work
-I would have liked to learn more technique on the ground, like chokes, armlock, etc. and how to escape them, though I see that Demetry Furman seems to focus on this in his classes
-It might not be for everyone. Some people just won't like it.
-Some people might think they can beat up 3 people with knives after training. I think you need to be realistic and understand what you are doing is a drill, and not a mirror of real life. Also, since I have started JKD we have been doing full speed knife sparring with the rubber knife, and I would never try to disarm a slasher / stabber unless my life really depended on it, and I still doubt it would work out
I would like to tackle some rumors though:
1.) I never experienced any cult like attitudes from Systema people. Though I trained at Fight Club, aside from Manny I also trained from Janice and James, both who trained with Vlad and many people from Vlad's came to train at FC.
2.) Cross training was never outright discouraged, though I was told that it's better to focus on one art. My opinion of this is that some people are better off being a master of one art and others just prefer to be a "Jack of all trades"
3.) Another thing I want to address is the "LARPing" thing. I don't like the military. I was involved in the anti-war movement at time. People often wore the camo pants, or some type of army pants. I also did wear the camo, along with the club shirt. But you could wear whatever you wanted to. The thing with the camo pants, is that it was sort of close to something you would wear on the street. How many people you scrap with are going to be wearing board shorts or whatever? But I never saw any sort of military type mentality at all.
As for Matt Powell and PraMek, it seems they have some good ideas about Systema origins probably being from Samoz and Spridinov.
I will say that the videos of Pramek I saw look a lot like basic Systema stuff that I learned from day one. I don't know what Kadochnikov System is like or ROSS, but if PraMek is similar then I think that Ryabko's is not too dissimilar. This is not an insult to PraMek, it looks very interesting and I would like to see more.
As well, I wish this whole thing about the nationality of Sambo can be to to rest by this simple fact: It was a SOVIET invention. Let's give credit were it is due, and simple say it was invented under the ideology of internationalism, rather than trying to place a national identity on the art.
That's all I can think of for now. I might think of other things to add, but that's it for now.
So, ask me anything you like and I'll answer truthfully.
Don't you think that you and your comrades going out and training in MA in response to a dust-up with the Nazis smacks of substitutionism? Seems to me that the better political solution is mass organizing. Outnumber the skins 10-1 or, for that matter, 1000-1, and you won't need to develop Russian Orthodox Tai Chi.
Originally Posted by marcell
Thanks for posting, and I will warn you about the uphill battle you're about to face. Lots of guys here will try to troll you and/or piss you off. If you take it in stride it's actually pretty funny, especially Cracky/Kungfools.
Originally Posted by Cullion
Sometimes, we put Ricin in the Cocaine. :ninja7:
Ok, you're right in some ways and this is sort of going off topic, but...
At the time the organization, ARA, had been sort of dormant for a few years as there had not been much neo-nazi activity in Toronto. So it was kind of a shock to us to have even numbers with them at those first few rallies in 2004.
In general we still can bring out more numbers then they can on most occasions, and most of their people come from out of town anyways.
Anti-racist and Anti-fascist organizing is a funny thing though. People tend to not come out unless the threat is very apparent and in their face, and since the work is very action oriented it also tends to be spontaneous. Therefor a few "hardcore" people are often left holding the bag at quieter times, which can mean that when things suddenly come up cadre is low.
As well, we looked at training martial arts as another way to gain more recruits. Since we used fund raising methods to help pay for cadres to get training, and the idea was to eventually be able to train our own cadres.
Also, certain "lead organizers" were targeted personally, so there is not always a guarantee of being in a position of outnumbering the enemy. I was one of the people identified and targeted so I felt gaining some self-defense knowledge to be a good idea.
Yeah, I know about kungfoolss and have spoken with him before. It's kind of funny though because some of the training approaches and excercises in SCARS is not too different from Systema.
Originally Posted by SFGOON
The ARA? I thought you said you were a Marxist, not a petit-bourgeois anarchist.
Originally Posted by marcell
I think the real question is, at this point do we really need people protesting nazi's? I mean, I think everyone in North America is in agreement at the fact they are morons.
On the other hand if you are just going to pick a fight with a nazi, where do I sign up? Even though I'll probably get curb stomped cuz i likes to rassle'.
It's easy to take an anti-Nazi position, to be sure, but some anti-Nazi actions are of little value. Candlelight vigils and tsk-tsking — beloved of liberals — don't work. Appeals to the state work in the short term, but states never seem to stop at simply censoring or busting up Nazi groups — they tend to just suppress any fringe group they dislike. Street fights, combined with other political activity, do work very well in keeping Nazis from gaining a foothold. There's nothing so special about North America that makes anyone standing on the continent immune from becoming a Nazi (Nazis and near-Nazi fascists have managed significant gains in Europe, after all), so anti-Nazi organizing is useful.
Originally Posted by conceited
Street fights without the other political activity though just leads to a handful of self-selected saviors getting their jollies making highlight reels for YouTube though. It's much less sexy to go knocking on doors in working class communities and having to deal with (horrors!) people of color oneself, in order to create a significant movement against Nazis than it is to play Whack-a-Asshole with boneheads, but what it lacks in machismo and self-aggrandizement is makes up for in effectiveness.
And if you're rockin' the Systema as well, then even your highlight reels are going to suck.
I disagree, Nazi's march down your street because they want a reaction. You're just giving it to them, and most likely they kick your average tree huggers ass. And some impressioniable isolated youth thinks, "Boy, I sure do wish I could do that to the bullies at school!"
My personal view: When they march, let em march, don't give any validity to their actions.
Is it okay to violently assaulted a nazi?
Oh yes, just don't do it when they are en masse and on stage. Just gives the media more reason to put them in the papers and adds to their dangerous on the edge mystique. Let them die a quiet death, well quiet except when you find one or two by themselves circle-jerking and listening to punk music, or whatever they do in between marches, and your buddy has a camera.
However our views on Systema and highlight reels are spot on.
How much do you know about Nazi organizing, seriously? Have you made a study of it, at all? Done any reading? Compared how Nazis have gained footholds in various countries?
Originally Posted by conceited
Because, you know, if you haven't, your opinion lacks credibility. Can you give examples of times and places where successful anti-Nazi actions have made Nazis seem more palatable and presented Nazis with a recruiting opportunity?
The funny thing about talking about the real world as opposed to mere theorizing is that how groups of people act and how you suspect they may act are very often two different things.
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