Talking systema: Glenn Abson

I make no claim to be a great student of systema. I love the art, but I’m not currently in a situation where it’s possible attend classes, given my intense travel commitments for my work (and anyway, I’m in China – there’s no systema instructor within 2000 kilometers!). So, it’s really interesting to talk to other practitioners, to get insights into the art from them, and to boost my own motivation. I’d like to make this an occasional feature on the blog here, and I thought I’d start with Glenn Abson, who really showed a commitment to learning systema by moving to train in Novosibirsk, in south-west Siberia… The following came out of a chat we had online; I’ve edited it a bit for clarity.

singdancefight: Thanks for taking time to answer a few questions. I think we first got connected a few years back through Paul Genge’s Combat Lab. At the time, we were both in Russia – me teaching English in Saint Petersburg, you studying in Novosibirsk. I was managing to get a few systema classes with Andrey Karimov’s Cossack Systema group in Pushkin; you were training much more intensively with Sibirsky Viun.

I’ll get back to that shortly, because I’m very curious about SV, but I actually don’t know much about you. Could you maybe start off with a brief introduction about yourself?

Glenn Abson: I started to train in Martial arts at the age of 23, I read a book cover to cover about Tai Chi and decided to inquire about classes and I trained with the BBD, a hybrid of Bujinkan, I did both of these arts on and off for over 10 years. In 2000 a friend that I used to train with invited to watch Vladimir Vasilev Systema series, I was simply in awe and in 2006, I began to train in Leicester until 2010. During this period I had attended seminars hosted by Aleksandar Kostic, Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko both in Europe and once in Canada. I was hungry to find out how Systema worked and how to make my Systema work, I knew that there was a lot that I didn’t know and felt that I wasn’t being taught the technical aspects of the art.

Over a period of 2 years 2008 to 2010, I was receiving invitations to attend Sibirskiy Viun seminars in and around Europe and after a 3 months of not training, I took the opportunity to train with Dmitriy Skogorev and Ivan Venediktov in Sofia Bulgaria, November 2010 for 2 days. Immediately it was clear to me that the ground acrobatics and movement of SV was different to my previous exposure in the Ryabko school. when Dmitriy and Ivan announced that they would be hosting a week long seminar the following summer in the Altai region of Siberia, I knew that I had to go. This would be my first trip to Russia after this seminar I was left scratching my head wondering how I could train and stay in Novosibirsk long enough to learn the rudimentary movements and technical side of SV, it was Dmitriy who suggested applying to one of the Universities in Novosibirsk.

sdf: Thanks, Glenn. There’s lots here to explore. I have some further questions about this, and then we can move on to your time in Novosibirsk.
sdf: Which style of taijiquan did you study? What did you like about it, and did you feel it had things missing? What was it about taiji that eventually felt you had to move on? Similarly, with BBD (which I know absolutely nothing about). There seem to be a lot of people who move on to systema from tajiquan, including myself to an extent, though I still practise it a bit. With the traditional Chinese martial arts, I really valued the relaxation first of all; the use of the relaxation and qi to identify the blockages and tensions in one’s own mind and body, and to then clear them out, whilst simultaneously strengthening both mind and body. Ultimately – and this is purely a personal view – I found this to be taught most practically in yiquan, which is what I practice here in China. What have you brought from taijiquan and BBD to your practice of systema?

GA: My journey in Tai chi began with the universal style/ 24 and 48 combined form. While I was learning the forms I always had a nagging thoughts how to use and apply the form, so I began my training with the BBD. I then began to study Wudan style and finally studied Chen style. I am very fond of all, the styles of tai chi that I studied, but I like to know why I am doing this movement in the form and how is it applied. I gained a lot from qi gong and meditational aspects of tai chi, but I wanted to know what I was doing, it seemed to me like a long and drawn out process before anyone would teach you what you are doing and how to apply it.

sdf: So when you switched to systema in Leicester, who did you train with? Was that the Ryabko/Vasiliev ‘flavour’ of systema? What did you learn in this period that you most value?

GA: I trained with Ed Phillips, who was an instructor under Rob Poyton and taught Vasiliev school. I valued training with superb instructors across Europe and Canada, also not having to learn long forms or katas,and enjoying the freedom of movement and the ability to express during training.

During my first year in Novosibirsk,I initially attended, Dmitriy’s and Ivan Venediktov class on average four times per week, this was at 7 Dostoevsky Street , or the Sibirskiy Viun headquarters and on Friday’s the training was always held on Red Avenue, where many different students would get together and the training emphasising sparring. The building was a large gym hall and was much larger than the gym on Dostoevsky Street.

All the lessons would start with a salutation: your right hand would go from your chest to the floor and then the warm up’s would begin, loosing up the each part of the body, running around the gym, backwards, forwards and sidewards, a whole lap for each of the movements. This would typically followed by a series of ground acrobatis. While I participated in the warm -ups instructions would be given in Russian and incorporated all the fundamental movements of Sibirskiy Viun School.

Later in my stay in Novosibirsk, I chose to attend Artyom Gan’s gym, which was held near where I lived in Novosibirsk and due to Artyom’s understanding of kinetic movement and his great attention to detail,to ground acrobatics and efficiency in movements. Artyom’s class was small and Artyom would guide and correct his students posture, form and movements and he would draw on his knowledge of parkour/ free running.

These photos are from Altai international seminar in 2011/ 2013 – training on Friday when sparring would happen for the majority of the lesson/ training outside in the snow it was below minus 25c in February 2013 in Novosibirsk:

Altai 2

Altai 3

sdf: OK, so you’ve jumped ahead of where I was going next. You mentioned that you saw that SV was different to Ryabko. Can you go into more detail about that, for the benefit of people like me who know a bit about Ryabko/Vasiliev, but don’t really know anything about SV? And let’s face it: moving to Novosibirsk is a huge move. It’s a commitment most people wouldn’t be willing to make. What was it that persuaded you that it was what you needed to do? How would you compare SV to ROSS, or Systema Kadochnikova? Does it has a particular philosophy that makes it distinctive from other systema schools?

GA: Sibirskiy Viun owes a lot to the Kadochnikov school and the Ross that came from General Retuinskh, however there are flavours of other Russian hand to hand fighting schools such as Buza and the non contact work and influence of Alexander Lavrov, who again was a collegue of Kadochnikov). During the many classes that I particpated in, the emphasis was on correct form, and movement that compromised of ground acrobatics rolls and the correct contact or meeting of force, this would be practiced and shown at the warm up stage and would be the main theme through out the lesson.

Sibirskiy Viun has developed and progressed with it’s own ideas also. I can recall Ivan, Dmitriy and Artyom discussing how part of the school symbology was a hop plant and how hop plants spiral and wrap around objects, they use this analogy in the movements of Sibirskiy Viun.

I like to explore and understand concepts , this helped me to make the transition to move and study in Novosibirsk. When I was young there was always an element of the forbidden when it came to the USSR/Russia, with my natural curiosity I had to go to Russia, to help me further understand not only the RMA’s but the history, culture and who are the Russians, the whole place fascinated me and presented a huge challenge, which it still does.

I needed a challenge, I was bored of the mundanity of life in the UK.

sdf: How did you find life in Russia, and what was your experience of interacting with ordinary Russians?

GA: I loved living and interacting with Russians. I got to know a lot of Russians and I still have a few friends. I loved the energy in Russia, it always seems to be positive. I can’t wait to go back again.

sdf: How could someone who wants to study SV in the UK train with you?

GA: I am not an instructor of Sibirskiy Viun. On Dmitriy’s SV site I am listed as a possible candidate for instructor within the UK. I will become an instructor of the school the next time I am out there.

sdf: You are an instructor in Alex Kostic’s Homo Ludens system. How do the two compare?

GA: Homo Ludens in my opinion, you start and the learn the fundamentals of Systema, as taught by Alex. It is a methodology to explore and play, a true understanding of who you are. The Homo Ludens philosophy and teaching method allows it’s students to think outside the box and go and explore other arts, etc and bring it back to the table. I have had a few lessons of Savate,La Canne. La Baton plus Irish Stick fighting, these have all added to my all round technical ability, mobility and understanding the principles of these arts have helped develop me as a martial artist. When I have employed different approaches while teaching , it has enhanced the ability of the students, through the way that I can show, and describe the movements.


sdf: Finally, any future plans?

GA: I am keen to study Skobar school in more detail, continue learning traditional Savate/ la Canne plus Irish stick fighting.

sdf: How can people contact you if they would like to train with you?

GA: I can be contacted on facebook via RMA Nottingham. I train in my garden or peoples gardens in woods etc around Nottingham, I like getting to know people outside of training too, I have also felt that works for everyone training.

sdf: Glenn, many thanks for your time, and for giving us an insight into your systema journey!

Image credits: all images copyright Glenn Abson 2019. All rights reserved.

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