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Combat Camp 2012 - Learning the language of Systema

Combat Camp 2012 is over.  For three days and two nights we lived Systema the Combat Lab way.  Both experienced and beginners alike met up for what has to be the most intensive and information rich Systema camp I have been involved in.

Like all events it had moments that stood out.  Not least was Paul Reppy’s morning cup of tea or the fire built by our own scout master Ben. 

The theme for the camp was language.  Students were given a vocabulary to use to describe their Systema.  Terms such as the triangle and three planes became the norm for the participants.  I likened Systema to learning a language.  The community we shared even came up with its own language.  Combat mathematics and special showers are phrases that will stay in our memories.

Whe we learn a language we first learn the words and with a bit of effort can string them together to form sentences.  This can then be grouped together to form paragraphs and later write stories, poems or technical texts on any number of subject of the writers choice.

Systema is the same.  The principles of movement, structure breaking and low acrobatics are the words.  The final story is personal and of choosing of the individual student.

All involved learnt new words and how to form phrases with what they had learnt. Others corrected their pronunciation of words they were already trying to use, by concentrating on the fine details of what they thought they might already now and everyone made incredible leaps in the way they understand Systema.

One person at the camp when one stage further that the rest. He started writing the first chapter of his own book.  Sunny Lum has been my student and friend for a number of years.  Recently he has been working on his skill as an instructor.  Over the last few months he has taught our group material he learnt from Alex Kostic on asymmetrical fist fighting and visited a non-systema club to teach.  These lessons have been reviewed then improved on and it is safe to say he has developed an incredible teaching manner.

Combat Lab is about producing instructors that can both use and impart knowledge and there is no doubt that Sunny has the gift of being able to teach.  So I decided to test his ability to fight on this camp and more importantly to remain calm under extreme pressure. 

The test went like this.  He was asked to step out and without instruction on what he should do he was attacked at full speed with a chain.  I am not talking about a gentle swing.  The only limiting factor on how much force I used was my ability to control where it went after he avoided its trajectory.

When this was over he thought the ordeal was finished, but he was in for a shock when he was attacked full speed with a machete.  Over and over I swung at him and every time he escaped.  Soon he was not only slipping the attackers, he started to take me down to.  Acting on instinct and using the principles of structure breaking he survived and I am proud to call him an instructor.

This kind of testing may seem harsh.   To tell a student they are an instructor is a massive responsibility.  What they teach could get someone else killed and you never know what kind of person may walk through that door and challenge the instructor.  This kind of mentality is a little old fashioned in martial arts, but that is how it used to be. 

For this reason I believe that the instructor who is putting someone up as a prospective instructor should be prepared to attack that student in a manner that very real possibility of harm exists.  If they are truly convinced of their ability they will not shy away from doing this kind of test.  The key to doing this safely is really getting to know your students.  That way you will already know what they are capable of and the test is really about making them realise what their own potential is.

To all those who came and spent their time with us I would like to say thank you for your friendship and efforts.  This has been an amazing camp and set the bench mark for future events.