Shortly after my arrival in Russia, I met Vitaliy Denisov while I was looking for a class in the Russian Martial arts. Vitaliy’s an instructor in ROSS, or “the native Russian system of self-defence” (Росси́йская Оте́чественная Систе́ма Самозащи́ты). ROSS was created by Cossack General Alexander Retuinskih, a former student of Systema Kadochnikova; he blended systema with sambo and Cossack martial dance techniques. There are good background articles available from Scott Sonnon and Paul Genge. As the former described ROSS in a comment on Facebook as “the scientific system of health and combat integrating ancient Russian martial traditions with the modern sciences of applied biomechanics and stress physiology“.
Anyway, I wasn’t able to attend Vitaliy’s class, as I was working at the time when it was held. Still, I managed to get to the gym on one occasion to say hi, and we subsequently connected on Facebook.
Some time later, Vitaliy got back in touch: he wanted to improve his English, so how about a trade? Well, that worked for me, and so we’ve been meeting on Sunday mornings at a gym run by one of Vitaliy’s friends, very close to my apartment.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, after I’d visited Vitaliy’s regular class and seen what his students were wearing, I’d visited a store selling military equipment and bought a suit of battle dress. I’ve worn the trousers in Andrey’s classes in Pushkin, but as ROSS is more acrobatic, and has a lot more groundwork, I wore the full outfit. My first thought as I saw myself in the mirrors was: Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?
We train for an hour and a half each time. Fully the first half, and usually more, of that is spent on basics: crawling, basic stances, walking, rolling and so on. This is hard! It calls for a degree of strength, flexibility, and coordination that I just don’t have any more. Crawling the length of the hall on my back, I leave a wavy trail of perspiration. I sweat until it seems that my pores are dripping ammonia. The uniform didn’t last. The wooden floor is pretty high-friction compared to the gym mats I’ve always trained on before, and the anti-rip stitching on the uniform added even more friction. It was just killing me, so after the first couple of sessions I switched to Craghoppers and a t-shirt.
For the last part of the class, we train in martial applications. For the first couple of weeks this was escaping from hold; for the last few sessions it’s been boxing techniques, including evasion, deflection, and so on. We’re gradually working through the curriculum outlined in Retuinskih’s Yellow Book.
It’s been quite the learning experience. The walking techniques are different to anything I’m used to. One method is to move gingerly forward, setting the toes down first, and then rolling down the foot to the heel, always surveying what’s going on 360 degrees around you. In the basic boxing stance, you start with feet shoulder width apart, then move the rear foot a pace backwards and a pace sideways. Both feet then swivel 45 degrees to the direction you’re facing. Moving in this stance, keeping the distance between the feet with your centre of balance centrally between them, seems to me to be moving semi-sideways, like a crab. Odd… I keep wanting to move into a fencing stance, with the heel of the rear foot directly behind the heel of the front foot, and Vitaliy has to keep telling me off.
This morning’s session was very intense. After a long session on the basics, pretty much a solid, unbroken, hour, we worked on evading punches, using the twisting of the shoulders and knees that Scott Sonnon calls “the Cossack Screw”; this then built into a duck and scuttle, controlling the attacking arm while moving to stand behind the attacker. Interesting! We then developed this into ‘duck and kick’ using a long punchbag as the target, but by that point I was so exhausted I had to call a halt.
And that was it, for now. Vitaliy doesn’t run any training sessions during the summer; he’s off on a walking trip in Siberia. We’ll resume in the autumn… I need to spend the time practising what we’ve covered, and trying to get fit again…
Image credit: Imperial Recruitment. Sorry, sir. You are too short to become a stormtrooper. by user Pascal on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.