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j416to
11/01/2004 5:27pm,
I just got back from my firsy Systema class, and thought that some people might be interested in my first impressions. This is not a review, just my initial impressions. In all fairness I believe that I would have to have spent at least six months to a year learning Systema, or any MA for that matter, before I would be comfortable passing judgment on someone else's art and/or school.

For reference, here is my background:

Kenjutsu (iai, kyujutsu, iai, naginata, jo, tanto)
Muay Thai
Kendo
Aikido (only a few months, wasn't for me)
Tai Chi Chen (only a few months, wasn't for me)

So, here's how it went:

90 min class taught by Vladimir Vasiliev (roughly 20 students)

1) Warm up:

a) Breathing/walking exercises, one lap around the room (inhale one step/exhale one step), next lap (inhale two steps/exhale two steps)...etc.. until you're walking one lap during one inhale/one lap during one exhale. Repeat in a descending cycle.
b) Breathing/Running exercises, same as above.
c) Breathing/Walking/Arms held out at shoulder height, same as above
d) Duck walk, one lap around the room
e) Spider crawl, one lap around the room
f) Sitting v-lift, scooting across the room by simply rotating your hips, no arms or legs (exhausting!)
g) Random tumbling/rolling across the room
h) Crawling across/over people to reach the opposite side of the room
i) Front, back, and side falls

2) Partner work

a) Pushes, rotational evasions, back and forth
b) Pushes, rotational evasions into arm locks, back and forth
c) Pushes, rotational evasions into arm locks and escapes, back and forth
d) Pushes, rotational evasions into throws, back and forth
e) Light sparring using all the techniques described above, with a fully countering partner.
f) Walking shoves, evasions, rotation into one armed body grabs, control your opponents shoulders, counters and controls
g) Knife work, thrusts, evasions and rotations into control and counters

Initial impressions:

1) I was totally exhausted! While it is true that I have no grappling experience and thus I was physically inefficient, this class was still, more exhausting that I ever remembered my first couple of Muay Thai classes to be.

2) While the movements were all flowing and rotating, this was nothing like Aikido, at least to me. Everything here was at closer quarters and much more physical. Aikido seems more sequential in practice, and performed at greater distances than Systema.

3) Systema seems to be more about finding your own way in and out of situations, by rotating yourself with the attack, and then into a counter. You're never really stepping out of the line of action, or trying to intersect it with a block.

4) Here is what was most interesting to me, the final knife work. Given my experience with tantojutsu, I began this drill with a high degree of skepticism. In all the years that I've practice tanto attacks, I've never met anyone who could effectively and consistently defend against a knife attack. Not because I'm so skilled, but because most defenses try to control the obvious global movements of your arms and body, and aren't very effective against the small local movements of your wrist. The subtle local movements that allows you to cut your opponent, even after they've begun their counter. So after practicing with one partner, and constantly reminding him that there wasn't any point in him continuing to disarm me, since I'd already severed all the muscles in his arm, he agreed that his counters weren't working and politely asked the head instructor, Vladimir Vasiliev, to come show me how it's done. Mr. Vasiliev handed me the knife and encouraged me to attack him, which I did. Even at half speed, and with limited force, it was clear that his counters addressed both my global and the local movements. His defenses first neutralized my local movement and range, then proceeded to disarm me by countering my global positioning, all with very little force exerted on his part. In all the years that I've practiced tanto attacks, this was the first person who'd ever done that. I was impressed. On that alone, in that one moment, I lost my skepticism of Systema, and have found a profound respect for Vladimir Vasiliev.

Shuma-Gorath
11/01/2004 6:06pm,
Awesome post. It's refreshing to hear that there's some decent knife defence out there. Did you ask if they do freestlye knife work?

Itto-Ryu
11/02/2004 12:00am,
Thank you for posting this. I was looking forward to it.

Glad you're enjoying it.

supercrap
11/02/2004 12:13am,
Sounds good, good post. Nice to hear an instructor who can actually do what he says.

MUT
11/02/2004 12:25am,
Nice....are you going start going there consistently now?

Ronin
11/02/2004 8:11am,
J416to,
Thanks for posting this review of a class of systema and NOT the art in itself.
Can't wait to hook up with you so you can show me what he was teaching you.
I have his video tape, and I know of a couple of guys that have tried his classes, and while I have yet to formulate an opinion on him/his art, I was "leaning" towards the Bullshido type.
Your review made me re-consider, can you give me/us a little more detail in what impressed you the most?

Te No Kage!
11/02/2004 8:29am,
I'd check it out if given the chance, but really haven't made up my mind yet if it's BS or not.....

Thanks for giving us some first hand info.

j416to
11/02/2004 10:17am,
.....Did you ask if they do freestlye knife work?

I suspect that they do, but since this was only my first class, I'm afraid that I didn't ask too many questions.


....are you going start going there consistently now?

I'm not sure. I paid for two classes, so I'll definitely go back for the 2nd class. And while my wife has been pushing for Systema, I've been leaning toward BJJ. I'll have to decide after the 2nd class, we'll see.


.....can you give me/us a little more detail in what impressed you the most?

In all honesty, it's hard to accurately judge anything after only one class, but I can give you a few of my initial impressions.

1) It was much more physical than I'd expected, and I liked that.
2) This concept of rotating evasions flowing into unscripted counters, as oppose to blocks or more aggressive linear slips and sidesteps, was interesting.
3) I could see the obvious application to muliple attackers, it reminded me of how you handle multiple attackers in kenjutsu.
4) Since I didn't see any non-global technique instruction during this class, I'm not quite sure how the students develop this general strategy and then focus it down to any specific situations.
5) I'm glad I came with some MA background. I'm not sure how people without any MA background develop within this concept.
6) What impressed me the most, what totally blew me away, was Vladimir Vasiliev's knife defense. It was efficient, exerted very little force, and neutralized both my local and global cutting movements and range. His counters didn't require him to massively over power, or be significantly faster than me. However, with that said, I'm not sure how this skill is actually passed on to the students, since most of them appeared to be focusing on countering gobal body movements, which usually end up getting you cut.

Ronin
11/02/2004 10:28am,
" 6) What impressed me the most, what totally blew me away, was Vladimir Vasiliev's knife defense. It was efficient, exerted very little force, and neutralized both my local and global cutting movements and range. His counters didn't require him to massively over power, or be significantly faster than me. However, with that said, I'm not sure how this skill is actually passed on to the students, since most of them appeared to be focusing on countering gobal body movements, which usually end up getting you cut. "


Interesting....
Did you see any students that were "close" to his skill level ?

j416to
11/02/2004 10:31am,
....
Did you see any students that were "close" to his skill level ?

No, not with a knife.

Ronin
11/02/2004 10:37am,
And empty hand?

j416to
11/02/2004 10:47am,
There were a couple of very skilled senior students. They would occasionally stop the class and allow one of the senior students to spar with Vladimir Vasiliev, at very close to full speed, to show everyone the application. That was impressive. I've been a member of several MA schools over the past 20 years, and I can only think of a handful of instructors who would suddenly drop everything and spar, full out, with a senior student, to explain a concept.

Rock Mechanic
11/02/2004 10:49am,
My experience with Systema was pretty similar - however, I stopped going because I needed full contact experience - the students that had no other MA experience looked like they needed to put some gloves on. The guys that had bought into it all were pretty good, there were some ex boxers, aikidoka, BJJ etc etc and a few of them had really good movement.

The religion (Russian Orthodoxy) issue bothered me in the end too (Im not a Christian so I would never fully 'get it' - my impression although other infidels seemed fine to ignore the issue).

If you can train with Vladimer you should even if its just for 6 months - he is top of the tree and some of it should rub off. It was designed that you could learn the principles in a short time...

They have a different approach (not better or worse) and I still recommend it as the best art (where I live) to anyone who just wants 'self defence'.

Bang!
11/02/2004 10:54am,
Shuma, when I did my trial class there, they did freestyle knife-work. I have very limited experience with knife defences (read: I did some bullshit ones in the first style I trained), but the methodology employed seemed to develop legit skill.

I'm going to repeat this one more time: If anyone in the Toronto area is marginally interested in what the hell the Systema people do, I definitely recommend going and taking the two trial classes ($15). It's well worth the price of admission.

hythloday
11/02/2004 12:31pm,
sorry daddy dont play with knives it seems im alerrgic to sharp objects
i bleed all over the place

but this guy sounds interesting maybe it isnt a load

thnx

RobP
11/02/2004 12:38pm,
".....Did you ask if they do freestlye knife work?"

Yes, we do. In fact everything is pretty much freestyle, in that there are no set attacks. There aren't usually any restrictions on the attacker, unless called for by a specific drill.