Eliminating Tension – 3 Elements of Freedom

21 Feb

In daily life, we gather tensions, injuries, and fear’s. These are all stored in our body and psyche, and usually are interlinked. When we have/ or hold our physical tension, it typically means we are also holding some kind of psychological tension. In fact,  the root of many forms of tension is when we start to hold our breath. This activates our various hormones, raises our blood pressure, basically our body thinks this event is important, and so for a number of reasons your body believe’s subconsciously that this tension will protect it, that it will serves you. However, the opposite is actually true.

Over time your body starts to become stiffer, more inflexible, less responsive and less free.

Systema is about freedom and the ability to release these past tensions and learn how to move without tension is paramount.

So how do we unwind these tensions and release them?

The answer, unfortunately, is time and pain.

It takes time to remove what took years to accumulate.. (or alternatively you could go for a Systema Massage:  https://thomashogarth.com/2013/04/20/systema-in-moscow-stick-massage-video-session/which works directly on this deep tension.)

However if you want to work on these tensions at home, here are a the basic steps:

  • Awareness – If you don’t feel it at all, or have trouble identifying where you are tense, then you can’t do anything about it.

Thus the first step is to become more aware of yourself, your body and your internal state.

The most basic way to begin feeling your tensions, is in a position where your muscles are not under strain. The best way to get started is by laying down on your back. Then doing breathing, and tension/relaxation exercises. Simply, breathing in tensing a body part, then breathing out and relaxing it. You can then progress into sitting, kneeling, standing and then walking while tensing and relaxing different body parts. For more information on this, check out: Let Every Breath by Vladimir Vasiliev

  • Understanding– after you’ve identified some tensions and still feel them persistently, or when you find a way to relax them, they come back soon after, it could mean a few things:

The tension could be structural, i.e the wrong muscles are tight and strong and the right muscles are relaxed and weak. This could be a result of your daily activities or environment, i.e you sit a lot, you mattress is two soft/too hard, you exercise with bad form etc. In general, your body needs to have the right muscular balance to be free of tension, and to feel light and mobile. The best way to attain a strong, relaxed body is; the core exercises with breathing; Pushup, Squat, Leg Raise and Situp, then adding in other bodyweight exercises.

The tension could be more deeply psychological, Why not spend a training session working with one tense part of your body, i.e shoulders, legs, hips etc.. this session could be a combination of stretching, breathing, bodyweight exercises, use of a stick, weapon etc. The goal being to free up and to understand that tension, why it is there and to release it. This is a deep process, but will be extremely valuable, to becoming more free, relaxed and soft.

-The tension could be a medical issue; digestion, hormonal imbalance etc.  If you find some areas are consistently tense or in pain, I’d recommend seeking the advice of a medical professional.

  • Removing – Lastly, there are some tensions where massage, and use of sticks/whip/other weapons is required/or speeds up the process with releasing tension.

Since this is a larger topic, I’ll talk about this in another post. However , just to re-emphasize the first point, hands down the best way to become aware, to understand and learn to work with your tension, is by having a Systema massage. So, go find a certified Systema massage practitioner in your area!

Back in the Game: Foundation of Systema

26 Jun

I have a confession to make.. for a number of months I have not been training in a Systema group, and actually have only been training solo.

My job means I travel around the world to a different country every week, which can be challenging to start a regular training class and means I have to make do with when and how, I am able to train.

Honestly, I really need a trip to Moscow, to get me back in the Systema mode, get a massage, go for a banja, do some lessons with Michael, Alexander, Vladimir Zaikovsky and the team.


Until then, I have designed a training program to get me back in the game, to relax and strengthen my body and psyche.

The first question that came to my mind is – What is the core of Systema? What is the Foundation?

The answer came as quick as the question and in fact was always their – Breathing.

Breathing is the beginning and end of everything we do, it can relax us, make us more powerful, stronger, healthier and can almost always be called upon, as an unlimited resource.

Therefore, I decided to get back to the root of Systema using breath training.

Most importantly, it had to be simple, so my first week, morning routine looks like this:

1-Tension-Relaxation exercise (From Let Every Breath) (20 mins)

2-Walking, with arms raised and different variations (20 mins)

3-Rolling – forward and backward, slow and fast and different variations (20 mins)

Try this simple routine, it will make you feel energised, calm and powerful. Most importantly it will get you into the Systema “state” pretty quickly.

PS – I will start posting more often, as I have a lot of past seminars and conversations with the masters to write up. As well as a few upcoming training sessions.

Feel free to request a specific post or video, or if you have any questions at all.

Until next time, Train Hard.

Good VS Evil: How to Reach the Person and Develop Fighting Spirit

21 Jul

This post is part of a number of conversations I had with some of the Russian instructors, including; Michael Ryabko and Vladimir Zaikovsky;
-The Question: It is not Good vs Evil, evil makes this up. You should only remove what is causing the evil to work. If you work the same way as darkness you become darkness. You don’t fight it, you just do it.

-Spirit: Reach him, reach him with your fist and heart. Why is Michael so good? because the body is secondary, the soul (intention/awareness) is first. Reach the person/his spirit with your whole body.

-Punches and Kicks: Work with the person. Don’t fence with a person, feel the support, the tension. Feel where the move starts from.


How to Reach the Person:

(IMPORTANT: In these drills a relaxed, strong contact is necessary. The contact needed to take or reach the person- should be; not to little and not too much. When you feel your muscles tensing that is too much, just before your muscles switch on. Stay soft)
Drill: On the floor, one person grabs you and throws you slowly, then you feel the power he applies, let it go inside you, go with momentum and then put the power into him.
Drill: One person holds a stick, you hold the other end, reach inside the person through the stick and move him.
Drill: Spar slowly with the person and reach him. Don’t fence him, reach him.

With Resistance:

Exercise: One person stands in one place, they resist, the other person has to push them, take their spine and make them lose balance.
Now try doing the same thing- take the whole person/his centre of gravity/his balance by pulling his T-shirt, trouser pocket etc. Not through force, but through reaching the persons core.


Two Russian Exercises for Developing Confidence and Spirit:

DRILL: Two partners face each other, one has a wooden stick in front of his foot. One partner rolls the stick back on his foot, flicks it up and at the same time kicks it towards the partner-at him. Not so he can catch it, but reach him, his whole body and spirit.
DRILL: Throw a knife at each other, reach the person, not so the person can catch it, but at them, reach them. Once you reach the person you know it. Person that is having the knife thrown at them, should relax, move away from the knife and with this movement also catch it.

Final advice that was given to me and helped a lot; Don’t take the passive role, be active, be switched on.


Moscow 2014 – New School with Zaikovsky: Insights and Exercises

1 Jun

During my time in Russia last year, many things had changed and the “new school” was established. In general there were some different teaching methods than with the “old school”, and in my mind this was created to separate from the copy-cats and lower level teachings of Systema, made popular by a number of Russian/international trainers.

New School – A lesson in Internal work:

Whenever I train with Vladimir, I always come away with many new insights and this particular morning was no exception. He started off by saying that “internal work is a completely different way of working”

Exercise: You and a partner each grab each others hands, you can interlock fingers or just place palm against palm.

The basic idea is the partner applies pressure, you absorb his feeling, allow it to fill you up, then you give it back to him. Give him support, then take away the support, keep a relaxed body but a “full” hand.

Vladimir made a point of saying that you should make your hand alive, keep awareness and sensitivity there, it feels like a light tension or fullness just on the point of your hand.

Also, do not wait, always keep your body switched on or ready to work, or know how to switch your body on fast.

When you initially touch the persons palms, touch the whole person/connect with the whole person, their body.

This same drill can be done with a grab, someone applies a grab to you, you abosrb their tension, follow along it and then put this tension back into them, while keeping a straight body form. You have to flow or move inside the person.

This is very subtle work and if you do it correctly will require almost no force. This type of wok also opens up many new areas of sensitivity and awareness.

General advice:

Get the feeling and just do it. No hesitation, stay switched on, aware and in the moment. Conscious in the situation. Don’t react, move a little before. Pump body out a bit, get some form, relaxed but not floppy. Another way to describe this feeling, just before your muscles tense is the correct feeling, tensed is too much, just before. Not too little, not too much.

On working with a person: Treat the person as a person not just a body. Hit him, forget about you, its about him.

Advanced drill – for internal work:

This drill follows on from above, but requires more sensitivity as you have to feel and see the persons tension without direct contact. One person push’s a stick into you, you feel the direction and tension applied by him, and you redirect the tension into him or take his power away- so he feels he cannot push. If you get the hang of this, you can then try the same drill but now on the move and a little more dynamically.

On Taking Strikes: With this exercise as with others, there is an important piece of advice, “Dont be a victim, always be working”. Even when taking strikes, take them as if you would hit back afterwards.

Sparring Tips:

Be above the situation. Control the other person. If you are too much in the situation, you will be reacting to him rather than working ahead of him. Your mindset needs to be on another level.
Have a higher awareness than the situation.
Fast and soft movement, hit what is nearest to you, the arms etc
PUNCH for him, not just to punch. Punch him


Sparring With Vladimir Zaikovsky – Moscow Training

18 May

I’ve  now returned from Moscow training in the Systema HQ. This year was extremely interesting and had a few new interesting twists!

Classes with Vladimir Zaikovsky were at a completely different level from last year. Two classes that really stuck out for me were Systema style “sparring” classes one with punches and one with kicks.

The drill was as the below clip: basically punching each other, avoiding punches and moving. Starting slow then getting faster.

Some important points Vladimir emphasized were:

– Being above, higher than the situation. If you are in the situation and reacting to it, you will never be fast enough. You need to be active versus passive. He actually emphasized this throughout all the training, even if you are standing taking strikes, be ready to strike back – active – versus just being passive. Control the partner so he moves how you want him to move. Have a higher awareness than the situation.

– See what is happening in the moment and work with that, not what you think is happening.

– Don’t just punch his body or punch just to punch, punch him. This is not easy to explain but very clear when you feel it. A person can punch your body and you still stay ready and aware with your mind. You need to punch the partner in such a way that you reach him. Reach his body, psche and spirit – himself all in one.

– On the first level, the work should be soft and free. Punch what is nearest to you, for example arms, and don’t try to reach for his body.