When I first started to train at the Toronto Systema Headquarters of Vladimir Vasiliev the wave was a constant topic of discussion and practice. The influence of Mikhail Ryabko’s systema has changed the emphasis on this important movement pattern, but it is still at the core of the way Vladimir moves today. In this article I want to discuss the wave and its opposite ball movement.
What is the Wave?
To generate power efficiently we need to use our body as a whip to maximise the speed of any striking surface or point of contact used to apply force to our opponent’s structure. Remember Force = Mass X Acceleration. The amount of mass we have available is limited by our build and this means making the most of acceleration through a well timed use of muscular contractions is the best way to increase the force available to us.
The body consists of a series of inflexible segments (bones) connected by flexible links created by joints. The idea is to move each segment in turn from the point of pressure (usually the feet on the floor) and to the point that applies the generated force to our opponent.
Wave movement is very difficult for our opponent to predict. This means that the opponent can find it challenging to hit or avoid being hit by someone using the wave effectively. Another advantage of the wave is that the movement can be created from any point of pressure, including if our opponent manages to hit our body.
In these clips Combat Lab Affiliate Keith Whatley explains the necessity for wave movement and how he uses it to generate force in Systema structure breaking.
What is Ball Movement?
Ball movement is a concept that has started being used with Mikhail Ryabko’s School to describe how their movement pattern differs from the wave. The easiest way to imagine it is to think of a ball being rolled along the floor. The ball does not distort to make this movement and remains in a ball shape. The idea is that as they move they do so without use of the wave and keep themselves from over extending their limbs.
If you have trained with Ryabko you will be familiar with the position he uses to work from where he has his arms bent at the elbow and his fists held in a relaxed though clenched position or him working from a position stood with his hands clasped in front of him and at his sides. It is this position that his students aim to maintain in ball movement however even in this case there has to be a wave of muscle contractions in the legs, pelvis and other core muscles for the student to be able to walk from one position to another.
Both methods have their advantages. Significant amounts of force can be generated in ball movement if the direction of stepping matches the direction of strike.
Where ball movement is limited is when it comes to generating force without moving position. The reason I say this is because the force of a Ryabko style punch comes from the contraction of the triceps and pectoral muscles. This does not recruit other muscle groups in the same way as the wave, which recruits far more muscles and more importantly links in the kinetic chain.
Systema Styles That Emphasis the Wave
Systema styles such as ROSS and the other Systema Kadochnikova influenced schools still make a greater emphasis on the wave. In this clip of General Alexander Retuinskih, the founder of ROSS he is clearly showing an application of the wave movement pattern.
This footage of Alexander Maksimtsov teaching his version of Systema Kadochnikova also shows footage of the wave being used to perform a number of takedowns during one of his seminars in the UK. The next of these events will be in February 2013.
I know there are people on both sides of the ball / wave debate wanting to justify why one approach is better for combat than the other. It is understandable that people want to make these distinctions, but pointless for a number of reasons.
As far as force generation is concerned the wave rules. It is simple physics and no different from any other physical activity such as a soccer player kicking a ball or a baseball player hitting swinging a bat. Both rely on the wave to generate the maximum force possible.
This doesn't mean that the wave is always the most efficient solution. There are times when the force available from a Ryabko Systema style punch is sufficient to get the job done if it hits a vulnerable target at the right angle.
In fact the linear nature of some of these punches and the relative speed of delivering the punch can make this style of punch the most appropriate tool for the job if the situation is appropriate and if you are working from a completely static position. The reason is it is going to be far quicker process to get the weapon on target in this manner than having to generate a wave first. However you have to accept it will land with less force than a punch generated using a wave as a trade off for using it.
Like everything in my approach to Systema I believe we need to understand the reasons behind the different approaches and learn to apply them when appropriate. That is why I haven't discarded what I learnt under previous Russian Systema styles when I moved over to study Systema Kadochnikova. Everything has something to offer if you dig into it honestly and with a good basis of principle to help demystify any unexplained methods used by some instructors.
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