1. There are no uniforms or belts.
You might have heard this one already. There are no uniforms or belt system in Systema. Students usually wear comfortable pants and shirts in class, and some may be wearing mat shoes. Students seem to like it this way. Everyone’s on equal footing in class and having no uniforms or belts makes class a more relaxed and fun experience. The recurring piece of clothing you may see is a Systema T-shirt, something the students wear with pride.
2. Beginner students are in the same class as experienced students.
Don’t let this scare you. Everyone learns together in Systema. This is a good thing. It allows you learn from the teacher as well as your fellow students. Some of the more insightful instructions I’ve received over the years have been from other students in class.
3. People like being hit in Systema.
No one likes being hit; not really. But if you’re going to get hit, why not get hit in a Systema class. We learn how to take and deliver strikes. We learn this by striking each other. There’s a difference between striking and punching. There’s a difference between delivering blunt force to someone and delivering a strike that affects the muscles and internal organs. We also look at how to take these strikes while protecting our psychic as well as our body.
4. The Movement Looks Weird.
The movement does look weird. You’re not the first one who thought that way. You won’t be the last. There are no set stances and no set techniques in Systema. When you rely on your breathing, movement, relaxation, form, and your natural instincts; things will tend to look strange the first time you see Systema.
5. Class looks like organized chaos.
That’s actually a good description. We are not in lines, not performing katas, not training techniques, and not trying to stay out of the action. Everything we do in class, from the beginning to the end, is very active and educational. You really have to experience this for yourselves.
6. Why is there so much talk about breathing?
The first thing you do in life is inhale, and the last thing you do in life is exhale. That means a lot in Systema. We try to incorporate Systema into our daily lives with a better understanding about how we breathe and how our breathing can help everything else we do.
7. They do push-ups on their fist?
We do push-ups as we would throw strikes; with fists. This allows us to work on proper form as well has strengthen our wrist and fists. This may sound simple, but doing push-ups this way is very educational for the Systema practitioner in more ways than one.
8. I have more tension in my body than I thought.
A common theme among students is the realization at how much tension we carry around with us. We discover a lot about ourselves in Systema, and how much tension we carry around with us is one those discoveries.
9. Everyone seems to be in a good mood.
Systema brings out the best in people. I’ll give an example, where else will you see someone get punched in the gut, fall to their knees, breath to recover, and then get back in line to get punched again? Most likely that person had a smile on their face the whole time.
10. Why do they move slow during drills?
As the saying goes “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.” Training slowly allows us to see everything within our movement as well as the attacker’s movement. I remember a question posed to Vladimir Vasiliev at a seminar once. “What if the attacker moved fast?” Vladimir’s simple response says a lot “Than I’ll move fast.” Training slowly doesn’t limit your skill. Training slowly enhances it.