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A question of Speed

A question of speed



In this article I will discuss the topic of varying speeds of training, there advantages and disadvantages depending on what your goals are?


Slow training and its place in Russian martial arts

Even if you have never trained Systema it would only take one look at the many clips on Youtube to realise that a vast amount of training time in Russian Martial Arts styles is spent on unrealistically slow paced training.  To understand the advantages to this approach we have to look at what the ground rules students should follow when practicing in this manner and what qualities the drill being practiced is trying to develop.

As far as the rules go they are pretty simple:

  1. As a person defending an attack only move at the pace of your opponent.
  2. As a defender attack in an honest manner.  This means do not defy the laws of physics just because the slow pace of the drill allows it and make sure that the attack is committed as if you were really trying to hit them with it.
  3. As an attacker do not freeze at completion of your attack. Instead continue to move into another attack if you training partner has not managed to subdue you.
  4. Do not fall over unless your attacker makes you.

So that is how we are meant to train slow, but why do we do it.  The first consideration comes from one of the main principles of structure breaking in Systema Kadochnikova.  In it they state that it is important to work directly against vulnerable point such as the nose, eyes and throat.  Also Systema is an armed art that works with and against a variety of weapons and in that form of Systema they prefer to use real weapons instead of training weapons.  The advantage to doing that is that the student will get comfortable with being around real weapons, how they look and how they feel.  This is important because a student who remains calm working at speed against training weapons can freeze even if the pace of attack is slow when faced with a real weapon.

Another important point is that at speed students can miss gaps in what they do and faults in timing and distance. Things can happen too fast for people to notice what is happening and lead to a lack of progress.

A part of Russian martial arts practice is to pay attention to how drills make you feel both physically and emotionally. Realising where you are carrying unnecessary tension can help you work on removing it.  Ultimately this will make your movements quicker and more efficient if you practice a realistic pace. 


The need for increasing the speed

However if you only train at a pace or intensity that you are comfortable with you will funny pictures never feel either the emotion that a fast aggressive attack can cause or the subsequent tension that being in an unfamiliar and threatening situation can cause.  This is one of the reasons why some schools advocate the use of sparring, scenario based pressure testing or sporting competition to give students some experience in applying what they have learnt in a more stressful environment. 

As the fencing instructor Luis Preto from the Jogo Du Pau style of stick and sword fighting observes in one of his clips on training conditions and combat skill an increase in speed can mean that some movements that seem possible at reasonably lower speeds become impossible under the condition of full speed attacks.  For that reason it is necessary to ensure that basic movements work at both slow and fast speeds and the only way to do that is to experiment with an increase in pace.

In the 'Coaches guide for teaching sports skills' by R. Christina and D. Corcos it is advocated that training at slow speeds is initially a very useful teaching tool, but early in the athletes practice of a new skill they must begin practice under contest like conditions as soon as they are able to do so safely.  In our case this not only includes speed and resistance, but many other additional factor such as terrain, weapons and stratergy.  By carefully selecting and drilling skillsets that be combined safely with speed we can, in part, work at real world speeds. 

A number of Systema based schools such as ISVOR, Combat Systema and Sistema Homoludens advocate full contact testing using protective equipment to reduce the risk of injury. Students of ROSS can also study sambo, judo, bayonet fighting and renovated boxing, all of which have a competitive element to them. This is a clever method of drilling and practicing skills safely under contest like conditions. They may be very different to what can happen in a real combat situation, but is training at slow speeds any more real?

Sparring has another useful side other than the development and testing of technical performance.  It also develops and at full speed tests the decision making process.  Unarmed combat no matter what method you use requires a large number of complex decisions to be made on both a conscious and unconscious level.  This skill needs development as much as the ability to move correctly when an attack is fast.  After all we all have seen demonstrations of techniques being performed an incredible speeds when it is obvious that the person demonstrating is only able to perform at this speed because they know exactly what attack is coming next.

This is the reason that I started a sparring and full speed testing project.  It highlighted a number of things that for me only worked under the right conditions.  Speed was not the only variable I played with and this series of experiments showed that just because a principle does not work at full speed at one range does not mean it will not function effectively at a different range.  An example of this happening with me was when I tried to apply the short striking method I had learnt from Michael Ryabko to a boxer. Fighting at his range it was incredibly difficult to stop him from beating me to the punch and catching me with good solid shots.  Also closing to a range where my punches were effective was also difficult because of the boxer’s footwork and the reach the jab afforded him. However when I tried starting the exercise at a conversational or closer range and with both of us stood in conversational stances such as many street fights start the short strikes and Ryabko style movement worked well.  Like a lot of things in martial arts it is about finding what the context is that our techniques work well.

It is for this reason that I hope to train further with people I see as being at the forefront of applying pressure testing to Russian martial arts.  Over the next few years I will train with a number of styles that are further ahead of me when it comes to this are of martial arts training. Also our own experiments will continue.



Luis Preto Lusitan Fencing



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