Yun Yin Sen performing Liu He Ba Fa Primordial Essence “Qigong”
In 2009 I was traveling in Asia and I had the opportunity to visit Shanghai. Before coming to Shanghai I had found an interesting video on Youtube with Yun Yin Sen. I want to meet this guy I thought. I guess fortune was smiling because I was able to find Yin Yun Sen in the park near the central square the next morning. I felt an instant mutual connection with Yun Yin Sen. We spent the entire morning and the next together. Yin Yun Sen taught me his Water Boxing, Push hands and Qigong and a lot of insights willingly – thank you!
The words zheng gu shui mean “bone setting solution” in English. In my experience it’s simply the best solution for bruises, sprains and pain to the extremities with no bleeding. And Zheng Gu Shui relieves pain in the bones and joints as well. Yet another example of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that works. I have used this many times on my self and friends with astonishing results almost every time!
The only caveat: do not use in connection with infection or open wounds.
1. The Xin (mind/heart) motivates the qi, directs it to sink, so that it can be stored and concentrated into the bones.
2. Let the qi motivate the body without hindrance, so that it will effortlessly follow your xin (mind/heart).
3. If the shen (spirit) is raised, there will not be any sluggishness. This is the meaning of the crown being suspended from above.
4. There should be agility in the interaction of the yi (mind intention) and qi, so that it [the qi] will be circular and lively. This is what is meant by, ‘changing substantial and insubstantial’.
5. When executing fajin (releasing the force) the body should relax and sink. Focus on the one direction.
6. When the body is upright, loose and tranquil, the feet will support all eight directions.
7. Direct the qi like threading the ‘nine bend pearls’, by flowing continuously it reaches everywhere unrestricted.
[When the qi flows throughout the body] the jin (relaxed force) is like tempered steel, overcoming all solid defences.
8. Have the appearance of a falcon preying on a hare. Concentrate the shen (spirit) like a cat stalking on a mouse.
9. Be calm like a mountain and move like a river.
10. Store up the jin (relaxed force) like drawing a bow, discharge the jin (relaxed force) like releasing an arrow.
11. Seek the straight in the curve, first store then discharge.
12. Force is released through the back, the steeps change with the body.
13. To receive is to release, if it disconnects then reconnect.
14. In moving forwards and backwards, there should be folding. In advancing and retreating, there should be changes of direction.
15. Extreme softness yields to extreme firmness and tenacity.
16. Only with the ability to inhale and exhale, will there be agility.
17. When qi is cultivated naturally, there is no harm. When jin (relaxed force) is stored, there will be a surplus.
18. The xin (mind/heart) is the commander, the qi is the flag, and the yao (waist) is the banner.
19. First seek exspansion while opening then seek contraction while closing. It will lead to perfect refinement.
20. Its said: “If the other does not move, I do not move. If the other has the slightest movement, I move ahead”.
21. The jin (force) seems song (relaxed), however it is not song (relaxed), it is about to expand, although it has not yet expanded. The jin (relaxed force) might disconnect, but mind must not.
22. It is also said: “First the xin (mind/heart), then the body”.
23. When the abdomen relaxes, the qi sinks into the bones. When the shen (spirit) calms, the body becomes tranquil.
24. Keep this in xin (in your heart). Remember; when you move, every part moves. When you settle every part settles.
25. When moving forwards and backwards, the qi sticks to the back and permeates into the spine.
26. Internally be acutely aware of the shen (spirit), externally appear calm and relaxed.
27. Step like a cat. Transmit the jin (relaxed force) like reeling silk from a cocoon.
28. The yi (intention) should be on the jingshen (spirit), not on the qi, otherwise the qi will stagnate. With qi, extra-ordinary power will develop. Without qi there will only be li (brute strength). Qi is like a cart wheel and the yao (waist) is like the axle.
Reference: Taijiquan Wuwei: A Natural Process translation by Wee Kee Jin 2003
How can substantiality and insubstantiality be distinguished between left and right or between top and bottom parts of the body?
The muscles, the skeleton and the nerves are parts of the body system. When practicing the movements, the use of consciousness to sink and relax the body is most important. The centre of gravity is moved while preserving the uprightness of the central axis of the body. It is important to focus on steadiness, tranquillity, relaxation and rootedness. The movements propel the external movements in a continuous or uninterrupted fashion. Internal force is generated with turning movements. After a long time, the whole body is in balance. When left and right is distinguished, one is substantial and the other insubstantial along the pattern of “cross alignment”. For instance, together with the distinction between top and bottom parts of the body, when the left upper part of the body is substantial, the left lower part is insubstantial and similarly when the right upper part of the body is substantial, the right lower part is insubstantial. This pattern of cross alignment is used in shifts of the centre of gravity from one leg to the other. This is similar to the “cross-roads” of the nervous system. When moving Qi, therefore, one must separate substantial from insubstantial, move the step without moving the body or moving the body and not the hand. If in moving a step, the body also moves, then it is not separating substantial from insubstantial. If in moving the body, the hand also moves, then the shoulder and the hands are not relaxed. It is important to follow the principles of using consciousness to propel movement. The top and bottom, left and right portions of the body must be coordinated. A rounded grinding stone may move but the centre is not moving. All parts of the body become one system characterized by lightness and agility, roundness and smoothness, even respiration, alternate opening and closing like that of the sea where with movement from one part of the sea, all parts are also moved. The movements are guided by consciousness and are properly regulated like the regular movements of the waves in the sea.
“Qigong” (literally “breath exercise”), an invaluable component of traditional Chinese medicine, has its origin in ancient times. Its primarystimulus was the search for longevity with the ultimate aim of immortality,which has much entranced the Chinese mind from ancient times. Therecords shows the exercises to help the qi (the human body’s vital energy)circulating freely and to nourish the internal organs dated to the ShangDynasty (16th -11th century AD). The actual practice of qigong began inthe fourth century AD. Since then the search by physician and patient forgreater health, techniques of religious cultivation and the martial artist’squest for better training methods all contributed greatly to its developmentand enrichment over the following centuries. The Taoist, Buddhist,Confucian, Medical and Martial schools of practice developed. Qigonghas been passed down from generation to generation.
Generally, qigong is divided into two types. One is the quiescent type(jinggong 静功)，which is meant to be performed standing, sitting, orlying down using special breathing techniques by which the practionerlearns to focus his mind. The other one is the mobile type (donggong 动功)，which practices a set of movements and massage while keeping aproper balance between mind and emotion, qi and strength. Internally,qigong can enhance the spirit, the qi and the mind. Externally, it canstrengthen the tendons, bones and skin. The structure and style of qigonghas close relations with the introspective observation that is typical of Chinese culture. For example qigong takes harmony as its guidingprinciple, classical Chinese philosophy as its theoretical base, the use of will power as its fundamental means, a combination of dong (motion) andjing (stillness) as its form of expression, man’s longevity as its goal.
Qigong has had various forms, and its name and emphasis may havevaried according to the form. However, its oldest and most diverse form isTaoyin (导引)，which holds an important position in the traditionalChinese art of preserving one’s health. Tao refers to the fact that physicalmovements are guided by the strength of the mind and in turn stimulatethe internal flow of qi within the body. Yin means that with the aid ofphysical movements, qi can reach the bodily extremities (for example, thefingers, feet and head). In this way the flow of “qi” links the zang 脏（solid organs） and fu (腑) (hollow organs) or qi being transmittedthrough the body. Sometimes this can be released from the body, and thenit is known as external qi.
The basic methods of Taoyin (导引)are kai (开)(opening), he (合)（closing）, xuan (旋) （rotating）, rou (揉) （rubbing）, tui (推) (pushing),an (按) （pressing）, and fen (分) （separating. There are many posturesand movements in Taoyin exercises, but the emphasis is on achieving astate of harmony between body and mind. This can be done with the helpof the movements, not solely because of the movements themselves, andwhen you reach a certain level in practice, you can even “forget what youare doing, and this is gaining the true essence of qigong and forgettingphysical movements.” This state of harmony culminates in the practice ofjinggong (静功) （static exercises.
Taoyin has many differences from gymnastics and other modern sports,as Taoyin exercises are based on mental activity and therefore it is possibleto accumulate and conserve one’s energy while practicing Taoyin exercises.However, the practice of modern sports requires showing off one’sstrength and skill, and therefore the consumption of energy.
Another form of “jinggong” exercises is tuna (吐纳) （exhaling andinhaling）, otherwise known as tiaoxi (调息) (regulating breath) or xiqi (吸气) (absorbing qi) . this is a synthesis of different breathing skills. The basic train of thinking for these exercises is that as far as possible oneshould expel the stale and stagnated air and inhale fresh air, thusimproving the functioning of the internal organs to resist senility andprolong life.
Tuna skills can be divided into three basic categories: Koubi huxi(breathing through the mouth or nose), Fushi huxi (abdominal breathing),other methods of breathing and regulation in conjunction with mentalactivity such as chongqi (filling the body with qi), dantian huxi (directingqi to dantian, a region two or three centimeters below the navel), zhongxi(directing qi to the heel), and guixi (breathing like a tortoise).
Unique to China only, Qigong exercise become an integral part of theChinese culture. Qigong exercise can produce a myriad of beneficialeffects, of which the most common are preventing and curing diseases,strengthening the constitution, avoiding premature aging, and prolonginglife. Qigong exercise requires one to relax, to be calm, natural and freefrom distraction, so that it can remove “stress”, and dispel tension. Qigongexercise helps to keep the main and collateral channels in good shape toestablish harmony between vital energy and blood, to balance between yinand yang, and improve coordination of the nervous system, so thatprotective inhibition of the cerebral cortex can be enhanced. Qigongexercise helps to reduce fundamental metabolism, increase the capacity ofstoring energy, apply massage to the abdomen and improve appetite andbring good digestion. Qigong exercise helps to tap the body potentialities,stimulate positive factors, and enhance one’s self-control. Therefore, itbecomes an effective measure to attain health and longevity. Qigongmasters and medical practitioners have developed a theory from a wealthof experience and practice of qigong over many centuries. The modernscientific research and evaluation of qigong exercise has attractedincreasing attention from all circles around the world. This may bring thebenefits of qigong intellectual to light, but it may leave mechanisticdogmatism to qigong phenomena.
Reference: A Brief Introduction of Chinese History & Culture by Liang Zhigang, QingTao Press Sept. 2001
Systema Principle of No Tension (Sung) by Mikhail Ryabko.
Detecting the tension in the partner and use his own body tension against himself. Start the movement in a subtle way flowing in a circle.
“An attacker brings the solution to his attack when he attacks. If we relax and “listen,” the solution will become apparent and all we have to do is implement it. However, if we already have a technique that we want to use to solve this problem we have limited our ability to perceive the most efficient solution.”
“Our mind is reflected in our physical body. Fear-based judgment produces rigidity; faith produces fluidity. Our own resistance becomes our teacher. The universe was set up to teach us; as it corrects itself so are we corrected. If we give pain we get pain. If we give fear we get fear. If we give love we get love. What we give is what we receive.”
Inhale through nose; exhale through mouth.
Let breath slightly lead physical action in time.
Take as much breath as you need at the moment, for the action, not more not less.
Keep breathing, without interruption or holding, no matter what you are doing unless doing a special breath-hold training)
Let every breath cycle complete itself and reverse naturally, as a pendulum swings and reverses naturally without interference. Allow, and experience, the reversal pause at the end of each cycle.
No specific type of action is invariantly tied to any particular phase of breath cycle (i.e. you should be able to punch or roll as well on inhale as exhale).
7. No tension:
Keep your muscles and your body overall relaxed.
Systema; Principles of the Russian System
If someone had told me a few years ago that out of a western Christian tradition would come a martial art as deep, sophisticated and evolved as the best of the oriental arts I would not have believed them. Yet there is such an art coming out of the ancient Russian culture with deep roots in the Russian Orthodox monasteries. At its root in the present day is an exceptional man, Mikhail Ryabko. Trained by one of Stalin’s Falcons from the age of five and beginning his operational career in the Russian Spetsnaz (Special Forces) at the age of 15, Mikhail Ryabko was not only given the secrets of this ancient art, he was put in the position of repeatedly applying both the art and its principles in life and death combat on, what for much of his early life, was a day-to-day basis. This System, taught by Mikhail Ryabko, is not a shadow of what once was, it is a living practical art that even now is being applied by warriors in combat. When working with Mikhail and his foremost student, Vladimir Vasiliev, one is struck by the calm depth of these men. Enormous knowledge and ability taught with calm, deep conviction.
The heart of Systema is its operating system. Techniques do not define the art, in fact, techniques per se are not taught. To make the most of Systema the mind/body must be free to do whatever is necessary, and not be limited by trained techniques. Techniques create a box, limiting the individuals ability to problem solve. By operating system I mean the manner in which human physiology and psychology access physical reality according to both a classical Newtonian and quantum physics understanding of universe reality. It is this operating system that opens the door to a whole new world. When Vladimir was told at one seminar “You are very flexible, he replied, “No, I am free.” It is this very freedom, this giving up of ego, that gives back so much. This is because technique-based Systema conforms to the individual instead of requiring the individual to conform to it. Everyone’s expression of Systema is different. It is like you are taught how to paint and then you express yourself.
The Systema operating system as taught by Mikhail and Vladimir is a faith-based operating system. The process of giving up your ego-based personal power and having faith that things are the way that they should be forms the core of this art. Mikhail teaches that fear produces unnatural movement. It is only through faith–knowing that things are the way they are supposed to be–that we can be free of fear and move naturally. Faith is based on the fact that everything that we need to exist has been given to us. Most of those things that are essential to our existence we do not even think about. We tend to breath unconsciously even though oxygen transfer is the most important thing that takes place in our body. It is the seminal energy transfer from which all else becomes possible. As Mikhail says “You breath in when you are born and out when you die, in between is your life.” Gravity keeps the atmosphere which contains our oxygen and ourselves on the planet that supports our life. Electro-magnetism allows shape and form. All of these, and many other unseen forces work to our benefit, yet they are all gifts as we have nothing to do in determining them. We live by grace, whose meaning you may ponder for yourself. If you are further interested you might do some research in regards to strong anthropic principle and super-string theory. That which we view as solid and “real” does not last. Those energies that allow us life, that we cannot see, are more real than those “solid” objects that will all pass away.
One of the exercises that I use to keep present and in faith, is to catch myself judging another or lacking of forgiveness. These states of mind do not come from faith; they come from fear. You will find that you are constantly judging, and this does not just refer to negative judgments. Accepting things as they are is as freeing as it is difficult. Reality is that at any given moment things are exactly as they “should” be because they are responding to Universal law. The fact that we think that they “should” be different means we are not accepting what is, we are denying reality. How does this transfer to a martial art, you may ask? Allowing things to be as they are frees us from fighting and contesting. A key element in Systema is not to contest for space or to hold ground. Learning to blend and flow with force is taken to an exceptional level. It also keeps us in the present moment of time, freeing us from the confines of the past and future. The conscious human mind, the ego mind, is moving constantly between past memory and future anticipation. Neither of these states is real and both limit or preclude our ability to perceive the absolute moment of “now” time. We tend to spend the majority of our time in this state of unreality. Those moments when we are truly present stand out for us such as when we have done something very dangerous that took all of our ability to accomplish and when done we have the “high” that comes from being absolutely present.
“We arrive at the understanding that living the will of God is the passport to the endless possibility of infinity itself.” –Urantia
Contesting for space is a huge fear-based response for human beings. We even talk about people invading our space, as if we owned it. The fact that someone’s fist and my face intersect at the same point in the fabric of space/time is an agreement. How you might say would one make such and agreement? These agreements to fight and protect space are made by our fear, our insecurity. The so-called startle reflex, and sharp inhale and tensing of the body when surprised or frightened, is an excellent example of this response. This response is fear based and destructive to us. One of the reasons drunks emerge from traumatic situations so well is that they do not have this response, they are not aware enough to be afraid, fight the kinetic energy and damage themselves. And there is the real truth of it, we damage ourselves. We do it in so many ways, however, here is one that is easy for us to understand. Tension resisting kinetic energy means that something has got to give. Kinetic energy cannot be created nor destroyed so guess who loses.
A natural, faith-based response, is simply to not be in the force vector. In reality, there is nothing to protect. The space that we are in at any given moment does not belong to us so why not vacate if something else want to be there? In Systema this response is taken to a truly incredible degree. When facing Mikhail, who is 5’6″ and quite thick, it seems almost impossible not to be able to grab him. Yet this is extremely difficult to do. He is standing within arms reach, yet you cannot touch him enough to transfer any force or control. Your eyes tell you that you have a thick strong man that you are about to make contact with, yet you cannot seem to do it. This paradox is one of the end products of Systema training. When you look at the Master of Fighting video you will see how well Mikhail “mirrors’ his attackers. His ability to perceive their movements, even before these movements actually take place is a product of a lifetime of training. When you are working with him it feels like there is nothing that you can do that he is not already in harmony with. You can go faster–not recommended to the faint at heart or those who are allergic to pain–or slower; it makes no difference except that the more energy that you put out by moving faster the more is returned. Rob Green demonstrated this for everyone when he went after Mikhail with a knife at full speed. Rob works in a hazardous profession and needed to know for sure if Systema was effective. No one else asked to duplicate Rob’s attack, and Rob was a good sport about how effectively his question was answered.
When practicing Systema, visualize yourself as a contiguous energy field. In other words, there is no separation of body from mind. Visualize your partner the same way and, as you begin to work, keep this awareness. Don’t contest, don’t try to do, just be moved. If you have truly understood the return energy drills the solutions will come of themselves. This reflects another Universe truth, all problems bring their solution with them. An attacker brings the solution to his attack when he attacks. If we relax and “listen,” the solution will become apparent and all we have to do is implement it. However, if we already have a technique that we want to use to solve this problem we have limited our ability to perceive the most efficient solution. I tell my students if you allow it, the opponent will give you more than you could ask for. If you approach the problem with a toolbox of techniques and strategies you will be limited to them regardless if they are the most efficient means to deal with the attack. In fact, depending upon the opponent, they may not be successful at all. I teach my students to always apply Occham’s razor, when faced with a choice of solutions, i.e, the simplest, most efficient, is the correct solution. We define efficiency as the least amount of time, space, and energy it takes to solve the problem.
Allowing, accepting, also gives us access to energies that we normally have only a rudimentary ability to use efficiently. One of the main energies is kinetic energy. As you get softer, relaxed, and more aware, you realize that there are energies at work within you that you can use. You do not create them, they are not yours to own, however, they are available for you to use if you can give up enough of yourself, your ego self.
Psychic energy is like fire. We cannot create fire, however, we can create a situation in which fire is manifested. We do not own the fire, however, we can use it. It is not intrinsic to us and yet it can serve our needs. There is no need to try and accumulate physic energy inside ourselves; it is everywhere, it is an intrinsic aspect of Universe Reality. Like a sail that can shape the invisible energy that we call wind, we too can blend and shape forces on the levels that we can perceive. We do not create these forces, just as we do not create the wind, however we can perceive and use them nonetheless.
Breath is the beginning of all energy in the body. It is the seminal energy transfer; without it death occurs, with it machines can be built that take us into space. And with proper use of breath our own body/mind can be trained to do that which does not seem possible. In the beginning, it is essential that we begin to harmonize with our breath. Most people breathe as effort increases because their body is telling them that they need more oxygen. However, as you become more aware, you breath so that you can do more work and thereby gain more ability and performance. As an analogy, if you want a steam engine to go faster you must first give it fuel, yet we constantly ask our body to do more and then breathe harder to try and make up for the oxygen debt that is incurred. The next step up the ladder is to breathe so that we can do more. My friend Rickson Gracie is very good at doing this. The proper use of breath is not just emphasized in Systema, it is everything.
In Systema, the kata is replaced by slow-speed sparring training. There is an excellent article written by Arthur Sennott, on slow-speed sparring on my dojo web site. Learning the physical movements is the outside or omote of the art. The ura or inner art is learned slowly over a period of proper instruction and training. This growing awareness, perception, and understanding is never ending. This path of discovery is fascinating, enjoyable, and takes you into another world of understanding and performance. Getting into the flow of slow-speed sparring can get quite addictive. Your sensitivity and awareness move to a higher level. You begin to perceive movement, distance, and possibility with more than your eyes. You begin to see not just what is but what is possible.
Another benefit of slow-speed sparring is emotional/psychological. You find out exactly where you are stiff, where fear is being held. You also find out where you are not practicing with integrity. Speeding up a movement to avoid being hit for instance is out of harmony with the practice. You know that you did it, you partner knows that you did it, you know he knows, and he knows that you know that he knows. You find where you are not in integrity both on a conscious and unconscious level. The immediate cause and effect is enormously more beneficial for the emotional/psychological growth prospect than the rationalizations for our behavior that make up so much of our defense systems. Thus practicing with integrity not only improves our martial skills, it creates an incredible feeling of being in the flow of “now.” It makes you want to spend more time there.
Our mind is reflected in our physical body. Fear-based judgment produces rigidity; faith produces fluidity. Our own resistance becomes our teacher. The universe was set up to teach us; as it corrects itself so are we corrected. If we give pain we get pain. If we give fear we get fear. If we give love we get love. What we give is what we receive.
Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev have a strong, positive impact on people, both in regards to their skill and personal integrity. In them we are, in my observation, seeing the best of Russia and its ancient culture. If you have an interest in what they teach, by all means make arrangements to attend a seminar. The atmosphere is one of sharing, loose and relaxed. You can present any problem or question and expect a functional, courteous answer. One of the main differences between Systema and a Japanese dojo is that you can question the teacher. Neither Mikhail nor Vladimir will be offended if you think that what he is doing will not work and ask him to show you. Just be aware that the amount of energy that you put into a problem that you would have them solve will be returned, it might be a good idea to ask the question softly at first.
When you can give up and allow instinctively and intuitively, you can return any energy sent your way like a conduit. This returning of energy to its source means that the attacker gets back what he gave. At higher levels, this returning of energy needs to be felt as how it can be achieved does not seem possible. Hearing about it or observing it leads to incredulity. The difficulty comes in trying to explain something that words are not adequate for. Explain to me how you ride a bicycle. It is an extraordinarily complex relationship where the experience of doing it far exceeds any ability or attempt to explain it. It is best to feel it for yourself and “know that there is no spoon.” My favorite analogy to my students is the dojo scene in “The Matrix” where Nemo is asked why he was beaten. This is what we are dealing with at higher levels of ability. Again this is not to add mystery to the art however when you are dealing on the edge there are many phenomena that words are not adequate to explain. Your conscious mind does not, indeed cannot, ride the bicycle. That is why you can think, day dream, etc. while you are riding the bicycle, it is your subconscious mind that is making it possible to ride.
The returning-energy phenomenon does not allow an attacker to escape receiving the energy that he generates. It is like standing a few feet from a solid wall and throwing a rubber ball at it as hard as you can. The ball immediately rebounds back at you before you can avoid its path. The human body can return energy in the same way if we do not fight the energy and just let it go back. The vectors can become very complex and almost impossible for the attacker to avoid.
Energy flows in waves. The blood that pulses through your body does so in a wave. Surfers are able to do the maneuvers that they do by riding kinetic energy waves. When watching Vladimir move it is easy to see the kinetic energy waves passing through his body. You can learn to use these waves to keep your balance when avoiding a strike and you can use these waves to return the energy to its source, your attacker. And these are the beginning levels, relatively speaking. To be able to access kinetic energy efficiently it is essential to truly relax your body. This relaxation is far beyond what we normally feel is relaxed. To achieve higher levels it needs to be deep in your psyche, hence the necessity of faith.
We do not realize how much resistance that we have to being pushed by other human beings. Our fear makes us contest for space to a degree that is unconscious and reflexive. The use of an object like a knife to apply the pressure engenders a very different reaction. Our fear-based ego response to another person’s push or punch all of a sudden gives way to a get-out-of-the-way response. This is because of the pain and damage the knife would cause and, in my opinion, because the knife is an inanimate object our ego also has an easier time letting go of resistance. I use the knife, real, sharp blades, ever more in my teaching because of their ability to help reprogram the resistance response in our brain.
There are good reasons why Systema does not teach “techniques.” Technique-based systems have a strong tendency to produce technique-based solutions. This “box” that is built, however large and powerful, limits possibilities. It also limits, to a great degree, how the individual can adapt to each different situation. There are an infinite variety of potential problems that are never the same of the sort, best explained by chaos theory. If you have a body of techniques, however large, you try to fit the problem into the existing structure regardless of whether it is the most efficient solution for treating that particular problem. The mind attempts to define things by what it knows already using existing understanding and concepts. This technique-based process does not allow for those possibilities that may exist. In a manner akin to a governor on an engine, the mind itself becomes limited. As my friend Scott Meredith says, “a bigger box is still a box, and a longer chain is still a chain.” The System, quite literally, is the teacher. Since the System is made up of the laws of the Universe, there is only truth in the teaching. It is not about opinion it is about discovery and awareness. Systema is a state of consciousness, not a series of techniques.
The fist, the stick, and the whip present the double-edged sword of training giving pain, exposing fear, and teaching us how to relax, use breath, and deal with painful energy transfers on many levels, with the mind being positively involved. One enormous benefit is that of inculcating a relaxed exhale-startle response. This contrasts sharply with the “normal” fear based contraction inhale response that is a great detriment to us. We injure ourselves with this rigid, fear, based response. A pliable body can take much greater stress than one that has been made rigid with fear. Instead of ribs flexing and absorbing the impact of hitting the steering wheel with force, tensed muscles give the ribs no choice but to break under the impact with a potential penetration of the lung from the sharp broken end. Without the fear-based mind to injure it, the body will protect itself. Integrity is essential in any higher human endeavor, and faith is essential to integrity. In Systema, integrity is essential to proper training. This integrity is required of both practitioners, as this journey cannot be walked alone. It demands that we share ourselves, and in the giving we get more than we give.
In Systema, soft means sensitive and aware. Systema makes us aware of force vectors so that we do not contest with them. It has nothing to do with an emotional “feel good” state. As I often remind my students, in the real world that warm, gooey feeling is usually blood. The conscious mind is not accessed when engaged, it is too slow, too emotional, and cannot handle a sufficient number of variables to deal with the time-space-chaos of combat, it is also not possible for the conscious mind to be “present.” Systema does not seek to control the chaos of combat; you ride the wave of it like a surfer, knowing that you cannot control the forces but that if you don’t fight them you can use them. My personal definition of soft is conformity with cosmic law; that which is in conformity is soft, that which conflicts is hard.
The ancient roots of Systema are derive from edged-weapon, lethal force conflict. Contesting for force vectors with long sharp pieces of steel and flying steel projectiles is not a viable option if one is to survive in this environment. Here is a basic overview. Plate armor was not common in Russia. Chain mail armor will not stop a hard sword cut on a rigid target. My friend Hank Rienhardt demonstrated this for me and allowed me to test it myself. We took a pork loin with bone, covered it with a gambeson and put chain mail over it. When struck hard with the sword the chain mail was cut, the gambeson was not, however the damage to the flesh underneath was catastrophic. Plate mail was not common in ancient Russia, however chain mail was. Mikhail had told me that the reason Systema evidences the kind of blending movement was because the chain mail would not protect a rigid target. Hank proved it too me and allowed me to test it for myself. Thus the necessity for the warrior to be constantly moving, absorbing, and redirecting the cuts from the sword. The energy that ensues from this motion is directed back into your sword, which cuts the enemy as he is attempting to cut you.
In my personal experiences the empty-hand arts that are the most sophisticated are all a part of sword-based systems. With edged weapons the space that is being attacked is vacated by you, the opponent’s target. As he enters that space to attack your weapon meets him in the very space that you vacated. This is the returning of energy that is practiced at many levels and in many different ways in Systema. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, however it can be shaped. I will demonstrate this at the Aiki Expo 2003 so that it is easier to understand.
Knowing is being and doing. It is an understanding in the body mind that is apparent and perceptible in function. An intellectually grasped concept is not knowing, it is thinking. It exists in the fear-created mind, which is not in touch with reality. The gifts of Systema are free. Free in the sense that the more you are in harmony with Universe law the more of that Universe becomes available to you. You don’t work for individual abilities as you do in other martial arts. This is the result of faith-based process. One analogy would be that of a leaf blowing in the wind. It blows as far and as fast as the wind blows it. No faster than the wind; no slower, it just is. In training look above the opponent’s eyes with defocused vision. Pick up the totality of the rhythm of movement. Like listening to a symphony with your whole being, become the flow. Separation leaves gaps, nature abhors a vacuum, these gaps are filled, what/who fills them is the question, and you have the answer. One you can manifest this level you can begin to play with and change it.
“Virtue is righteousness, conformity with the cosmos.”
We are looking for a state of being, a state of consciousness. Conscious, not-thinking as opposed to unconscious non-thinking. This is another world, a transcendent state. Conformity with cosmic law is living the will of God. Systema is a path to that conformity. Living with faith, not fear, allows us to be aware of and access those energies that have been freely given for us to use. This is true on the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels: “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”