After almost two weeks in St. Petersburg, I should write something about what it is I’m trying to find here in Russia (in martial arts terms), and how it’s been going so far…
I guess the first step is to try to work out what the heck I mean by “Russian martial arts”. Frankly, this is such a confused topic, where there is so much that’s unknown, and so much that’s fictional, that I’m going to cop out on this, and ask you to read the summary on Paul Genge’s site.
Done that? OK, here we go.
The absolute number one person I wanted to get to train with, if I possibly could, is Andrey Karimov. His background is with the Ryabko school, which one of my instructors in Wales – Mark Winkler – belongs to. He’s got a lot of videos on YouTube, and his fighting style isn’t as elegant as some of the others I’ll come to in a moment. However, what’s unique about his approach (to the best of my knowledge) is the way in which he integrates martial techniques with other cultural areas such as singing and dancing. If I want to have any kind of future teaching martial arts in Wales, I think this is the way I’m going to do it; the combination of group singing, Cossack dancing, and systema that I’ve seen in Andrey’s work is the origin of this blog’s name: that is what I aspire to learn and then teach. He also covers traditional weapons such as the shashka, which I particularly want to learn.
The second school is ROSS, the branch of systema created by Cossack general Alexander Retuinskih. The early videos of Vladimir Vasiliev that I saw back in 2007 or so, and then some early work from Scott Sonnon (especially his Soft Work and Hard Work material) are firmly based in ROSS; both of them demonstrate an extraordinary fluidity of motion, and of whip-like action, that I have wanted to learn since the first time I saw it. They have a broad, well-structured curriculu, which I like – even if it contains elements I’m not so interested in, such as Sambo. On the other hand, the curriculum also covers traditional Cossack dance, though I’m not sure to what extent they actually train in it.
Third, last on my list but by no means least, is the Kadochnikov school of Systema. I’ve got a number of video tutorials, and their approach to groundwork, in particular, is superb. This is the bare-bones, scientifically-proven approach to martial arts. The system incorporates a lot learned from 20th century experience in Stalingrad etc, and so includes the study of fighting with sharpened entrenching tools as well as the more usual knives. My other instructor in Wales, Jeff Faris, comes from this school.
So… if those were the schools I wanted to train with, how’s it going?
Sadly, the answer is “not well at all so far”.
Andrey Karimov, it turns out, lives in Pushkin – a small town that’s more or less an hour away from St. Petersburg. His regular classes are only on Wednesday afternoons, which I can’t make because of my teaching commitments. We’ve been in touch quite frequently via email, and he is – in principle – willing to run private, individual classes. However, he wants to meet first, and all of our attempts to do this have been frustrated by my changing schedule. We’ve agreed to leave it for a few weeks until I know exactly when I’ll be free on a regular basis. I need to email him with a description of my background; I got one of my Russian colleagues to call him on my behalf, and I gather that he’s quite curious about why a Brit should suddenly have turned up in Russia and want to train with him. Current status: some bumps and difficulties, but still a possibility.
ROSS: I was given the web address of the St Petersburg ROSS school by Arthur Rowell, a member of Paul Genge’s Combat Lab Systema group on Facebook. That had some contact details, including a phone number which I also got a Russian colleague to call. It seems that the school building is being renovated, so there are no general group classes running. The head of the school, Alexander Egorov, is who we called, and I’ve subsequently had a few email exchanges with him. He expressed interest in running some individual classes with me, and said he’d be in touch this week to arrange a time. However, I haven’t heard from him. My colleague tried calling again, but can’t get an answer. Current status: up in the air.
ROSS: another instructor from the same ROSS school is Vitaliy Denisov, with whom I was put in contact by Michael van der Woude, another Combat Lab contributor. We connected on Facebook, and he sent me the details of his classes, which are at a time when I’m free (Thursday evenings). I’m writing this on a Thursday evening! I actually tried to get to tonight’s class, but it seemed that everything that possibly could go wrong, did. I was leaving from Gostiny Dvor metro station – but when I got there, the doors had been closed, and there was a long queue to enter. We all waited for about 15 minutes, then got let in. I got to the closest metro station to the school, Cherkesskaya… and just got totally lost. I asked, and people kept pointing me in different directions. The class was supposed to begin at 19:00; at 19:30, I was walking back to the metro station for the 3rd time, trying to work out where I should be going. My legs were frozen (it was -16C), so I gave up and went home. I think I now know where I need to go, though.
Current status: hopeful.
Kadochnikov Systema: as I mentioned, I’ve bought teaching materials from this school online, so I contacted them directly. They pointed me to a page listing their 2 instructors in St. Petersburg. Arthur Rowell pointed me to the same page via Combat Lab. I’ve emailed one of the instructors, but haven’t received a reply. I’m going to leave this until I know where I stand with the people I’ve listed above, but if they fall through, then I’ll start asking my Russian colleague to call these instructors for me… Current status: limbo.
So, perhaps progress is a little disappointing so far… but I’ve been here less than two weeks, after all…
Image credit: egg_timer by OpenDemocracy on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.