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Systema Critical Thinking


Before looking at specific weight training exercises I want to discuss two seemingly unconnected subjects.  The first is critical thinking and the second the idea that we train tendon strength in Systema as opposed to muscular strength.  In my opinion the second subject illustrates my stance on the first.


There are a number of definitions of what critical thinking is.  Though scholars cannot always agree on the exact definition I like this one I took from Wikipaedia.


"the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action”


In short it is a process of actively analyzing and evaluating information gathered from what ever source or experience you have at your disposal.  


So how does this relate to the subject of using tendon strength?


A number of times I have been told in Systema classes that slow exercise and breath work increases tendon strength and allows us to use tendon strength as opposed to muscle strength to perform movements such as a push up or punch.  So what happen to this belief if we gather some information and apply a little critical analysis.


First we need to look how movement occurs.  When a muscle contracts it pulls the distal ends of two bones closure together.  It does this by pulling on the bones using tendons which are fibrous and slightly elasticated connections between the bone and the ends of the muscle.


Tendons cannot be contracted and therefore cannot cause movement on their own.  However if stretched it can temporarily store energy that will be released when the tendon snaps back to its original length.  Now this is not enough to propel movement, but if timed with a muscular contraction it can add extra energy to the movement making a jump higher or punch stronger.


So how do we stretch the tendon?  A tendon stretches when the muscle contracts to absorb energy.  In the jump this takes place as the muscles in the legs contract to stop the body collapsing.  In a strike it can take place in the wind up movement that is hidden within the figure eight movement in Systema.


Now we can see that this energy storing and release takes place at speed.  First decelerating and then accelerating in the opposite direction.  If that is accepted the idea of a slow Systema push up or squat educating the movement to become more efficient is quite crazy.


We know that force = Mass X Acceleration.  Now we can do little to increase mass, but can dramatically increase acceleration by improving the speed and strength of muscular contraction and how this is coordinated with the energy release of the energy stored by the tendons and the relaxation of antagonistic muscles that restrict the movement.


Again if coordination is the goal we need to make movements used in Systema and at a realistic speed.  The movements we choose to work on do not have to be the whole movement and can in the case of weight training focus on key patterns.  I will therefore look at some weight training exercises and see how we can improve our Systema through use of weight and other resistance methods.


With a little very basic physics and physiology we can quickly see that the notion of using slow exercises and breath work to make our punches more powerful is really quite nonsensical.  This process of gathering information and using it to analyze this belief can be done with any other belief in Systema or other martial arts.  Take the time to do a little research of your own and really think about what you have been told by others. Even if they are well meaning with their explanations it does not always mean they are correct.


To learn more information about science of Systema and how it can be used to really understand our Systema check out the Combat Lab Systema Shop.