Cross Training Systema for Traditional Martial Artists
The idea of cross training is popular in some circles and in this article I would like to discuss some of the benefits of studying Systema as an addition to another martial art. I will use Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu as an example because this is a martial art I know well, but it could bring similar benefits to any traditional art.
A little history behind this article
Last week we took one of our Students to teach at the Bujinkan Butoku Dojo in Salford so that he could get the experience of teaching an unfamiliar group a little of what we do. If you have read my biography you will know that the Bujinkan is one of the martial arts that I studied prior to Systema and one I am very fond of.
In my opinion the Butoku dojo is unique in that martial art. The reason I make this bold statement is that the instructor Graham Ramsden and a number of the students are practicing physiotherapists who analyze their study of martial arts from the perspective of physiology and biomechanics.
Also Graham has also spent some time studying informally with Vladimir Vasiliev and even attended his school in Toronto with me in 2001. This led to a rather interesting phase where he used Systema free play drills and concepts to polish his own material.
Though a Bujinkan student through and through, Graham has taken the time to learn from other styles. I have seen him interact with martial artists from other styles a number of times and get the feeling that so long as their intent is not to prove a point, he tries to get as much learning of his own from the interaction as possible.
This thirst for new information has always been an inspiration to me and it was Graham that first lit the touch paper that led me in the direction of Russian Martial Arts.
So what could adding a little Systema bring to your own studies?
Unfortunately most martial art students do not have access to the level of physiological or biomechanical knowledge as the students of the Butoku dojo. They are left practicing things how they were shown without understanding why they do things a certain way. This means it is often difficult to correct their own techniques because they do not know why they are doing wrong.
To use a Japanese word they can struggle to identify the 'Kotsu' or essence of the kata because it is difficult to interpret the exact mechanics that make the techniques in the kata work.
Unfortunately most martial artists lack access to students or instructors who are qualified physiotherapists or personal trainers, but you may be able to get information from other sources.
Certainly from the perspective of physiology there are a number of texts available that explain how the body functions and can be injured. The difficulty with reading these is that they can be very heavy going and hard to interpret into usable techniques.
For this reason I believe an informal study of Systema structure breaking is of benefit to most martial artists. The idea is not to add new techniques to your arsenal, but to understand the ones you already do. This means the process of polishing the techniques you already do is far easier and can make teaching them to others a simpler task because you have a language to use based on scientific principles.
Remember nothing in martial arts is truly new or unique and that the best way to understand a topic can often be from a new perspective.
Understanding something as the classification can dramatically change the way you look at joint locking. Some times you can make a lock far more powerful by altering the classification of lock you are applying. This is because levers can either produce force, speed or balance.
Take a foundation technique from the Bujinkan, Ganseki Nage, as an example.
Placing yourself in the wrong position can cause leverage to work against us. Ideally we want to be in a position that puts us at the center of their vertical axis. This means a lever of speed is created, but it does not matter because of our position which mean they are rotated in a spiral fashion to take all three planes and therefore create a collapse of structure.
Lastly by blocking their leg with our own we create a couple of parallel, but opposite forces due to Newtons third law of motion (that if one object exerts a force against another object, that object exerts an equal and opposite force back).
Now if you do not understand this terminology you might be left thinking how does this make any difference to learning the technique? However by breaking it down into the principles involved we can adjust each in turn to get the most efficient use of the force we create.
Another advantage is that once the students of a class understand these phrases they have a common language for the instructor to explain what they are doing and changes can be made just by telling them what to correct.
From experience this is far quicker than having to describe what is going wrong without a language established in the class.
For more information on the Principles of Systema Structure Breaking read our ebook 'The biomechanics of Structure Breaking in Russian Martial Arts'.