My first experience with the Russian Martial Art of Systema, or “The System” came in 2006 with senior Systema instructor Martin Wheeler in LA. At the time he was teaching in a park in Santa Monica, CA with a small group of students. Martin has an extensive martial arts resume in addition to work in the entertainment industry that includes screenwriting and fight choreography. Most notable of his work would surely include fight choreography on The Double with Richard Gere. He now operates an exclusive training facility tucked away in Beverly Hills with BJJ Coral Belt, Rigan Machado. Although my training with his group was only a few sessions over a few months from 2006-2007, I took away a deeper curiosity about its training methods. Specifically, its focus on breathing and its integration with relaxed movement along with spontaneity and creativity in response to partner movement has captured most of my interest in this art.
My curiosity led me to continue to seek training in Systema albeit on and off over the last few years. Most of my additional training was with DC Systema while assigned to the Pentagon from 2010 to 2012. One doesn’t realize just how hard it is to remain relaxed, breathing, and moving at the same. This becomes increasingly more frustrating when you add in some additional complexity of a training partner who is trying to purposely disrupt this harmony. Add a weapon and additional partners and things get really interesting.
I recently visited The Academy Beverly Hills and trained with Martin again for the first time in a number of years. Since my first introduction in 2006, I’ve tried to be mindful of its training methodologies as I focused my training primarily in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Over time, I’ve found that it has increased my capacity of breath and given me the ability to see opportunities of adaptation in technique. In the last couple of years I’ve moved away from drilling as my primary method of jiu jitsu practice to a methodology that is more focused on the sparring (or ‘rolling’) aspect of jiu jitsu. I did this in the spirit of how training is approached in Systema. I’m still convinced that this is a quicker path to proficiency once AND ONLY ONCE a solid understanding of fundamentals, principles, and basic technique is understood. In my opinion, you must have a foundation before you can gain freedom in your movement. I will continue to integrate more Systema work into my practice going forward. There are some health benefits in its focus on breath, movement, and structure. It just so happens that it has also been helpful for my jiu jitsu. Consider the following videos to become more familiar with these topics.