Looking forwards to 2018

Here we are at the start of 2018. Wow. What happened…?

2017, well it didn’t go as expected. A year ago, on January 1st 2017, I was in Russia, back in Saint Petersburg for a 3-week holiday, and loving it. I’d met up with Fedor Tarabukin for lessons in systema, Cossack dance, and the balalaika, and I had many plans for the year to come.

Life… had other plans.

There’s no need to go into details here, but 2017 was all about illness. In the spring, I was really ill, and it’s taken me probably until now to really start getting over it. As I got better, family members became very seriously ill.

So, I haven’t been anywhere near as active as I hoped to be when it comes to Russian martial arts, and specifically to the Siberian Cossack System. I hope this will change in 2018.

2017 was not without its positives, but they’re for my other blogs, rather than this one.

So, what was good about 2017, from a systema perspective?

I’ve started to put together my own training program. As a beginners’ program, starting from the very fundamentals, it’s based on Matt Powell’s “Helix” video, supplemented by elements of Scott Sonnon’s “Zdorovye” material. These are both very obviously based on the same source material, so they fit together very well.

This material expands naturally into lezginka, using material from Youtube, and Ali Askerov’s online course. It also leads naturally to the whip strike, and the trinity strike. For this, I’ve been using videos from Paul Genge and Rob Poynton’s Cutting Edge Systema.

Take this material together, and I think there’s a good foundational level of material to build on.

I’ll try, as time allows, to get reviews of this material up.

I haven’t been looking at groundwork, or falling, so much; to some extent, yes, in that it’s covered by Pramek’s ‘&‘ and ‘The Gear‘, and also by other elements of ‘Zdorovye’. However, that’s all for me to review in the future.

Working on the material mentioned is a good grounding in posture, the internal wave, relaxed power, full-body power, balance, footwork, positional awareness, and the fundamentals of striking, low kicking, and leg-fencing. Not to mention: dance! That’s all good. As with the Siberian Cossack system overall, it also develops confidence, presence, and social tie-building. That’s all good too. I haven’t mastered it all yet to make it effortless, but – to the extent that time has allowed – I have put in a fair bit of work and the results are pleasing – particularly when colleagues, seeing what I’m doing when I practise in dead moments at work, respond with variations on “Wow, that’s really cool!“. This supports my theories on personal safety and self-protection. Remember Sun Zi’s maxim: “[T]o win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill“.

Working on theory, I’ve bought several important books: Vasiliev’s ‘Strikes‘, Komarov’s ‘Systema Manual‘, and Poynton’s ‘Systema Solo Training‘, which have given much food for thought. On a broader canvas, Fleming’s ‘Surviving the Future‘ and ‘Lean Logic‘ make my efforts to develop a Resilient Community Manual redundant; these books contain most of what I wanted to say, and say it far better than I ever could. That said, though, they don’t cover community protection in a detailed, joined-up way, so there is still something to be added. Again, I hope to get some reviews up.

I’ve been treading water with my balalaika practice; I haven’t got much worse, and I’ve started to explore new territory, but progress has stalled. That’s something to focus on for 2018.

In terms of language, the Russian classes I attended in SPB over Christmas and New Year 2016-17 were very useful, and I learned a lot. I returned in July for two weeks of individual classes, for which I had high hopes, but ultimately were of no benefit. I hasten to add that that wasn’t the fault of my teacher, who tried really hard to teach me something! Rather, I was simply exhausted, after a period of ill-health, and an extended period of all-out effort at work. As 2017 drew to a close, I decided to renew my efforts to learn Russian. I now have a weekly class in Beijing, and a new language-exchange partner in Siberia, with whom I’m having frequent Skype conversations. So, as long as I can commit time to study, I hope to make progress on this front in 2018.

For reasons of both health and practicality (I do, after all, live in China, not Russia) in 2017 I focussed almost entirely on Chinese martial arts, and on Chinese health practices. I have noticed, though, that when reviewing material on Chinese practices and systema one after another, that teachers from both traditions were often saying exactly the same thing, often in exactly the same words. I’ve noticed that yiquan combat stepping is mirrored in some lezginka stepping. There is a huge overlap, so even if 2017 didn’t see me formally spend much time on systema… I trained an awful lot in material that is directly transferrable.

So, 2017 was a disappointment in many ways, and certainly a year in which I was silent as a blogger. However, I did make some progress, and I hope to be posting a lot more in 2018.

Image credits: Unknown. Image found via Google, believed to be in the public domain. Please contact me via the ‘Contact’ page if you believe this image should be removed.

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