Systema Reflections


Systema Reflections

Systema is one of those Martial Arts that is very different from most peoples’ perceptions of it. Having practiced it regularly for over 6 years now, I can truly say that it is the discipline that has taught me most about myself. It’s been tremendously useful.

Reading online discussions, most people’s perception of Systema is from videos, and opinions voiced about those videos. My view of it and what I take away from it is far from the aggressive fight system that many people think it is or fails to look like.

I have zero interest in Systema as a fighting art, but I have huge interest in Systema as a healthful practice giving intrinsic capability.

There is a widespread belief these days that having a little physical stress regularly is important, because when a stressful event happens you can handle it in a much better way. An important aspect of this is that the ability to handle physical stress transfers directly to your ability to handle mental stress.

My main practice is Qigong – Mindfully Connected Method. Again, most people’s perception of this is an art that is slightly more interesting than watching paint dry!

The reality is very, very different. The reason that Qigong is practiced slowly is that your body learns the whole movement much better when done slowly – this builds in powerful, supple body structures. If you charge through an exercise your body learns how to get from the start points to the end points, but not much else in between.

What is fascinating for me is that I see Systema as an application of Qigong. Many principles I know from Qigong are in Systema. There are strong indications that Qigong used to have far more Systema like elements in it in the past, but these have been progressively dropped out to gentrify the art. I think there are large benefits to training in Qigong for Systema practitioners – as there are some useful elements in it that I haven’t seen in Systema.

Systema, on first sight, seems to be a very straightforward discipline. It has four pillars: press-ups; sit-ups; squats; leg raises. And it has four main principles: breathing, structure, movement and relaxation. Simples! But the nuances are the real skill and they are also the real benefit.

Personally, I have been both amazed and surprised at the nuances. I like the analogy of climbing a tall mountain. From the bottom you can only see what’s immediately above you – but at each level there is yet another level to climb!

The latest nuance for me has been deep relaxation combined with an autonomous response. This is beyond letting go of tension, beyond re-training your muscle structures, beyond acceptance. The best way I can describe it, is letting go of intention – transferring from seeing and thinking what to do, to observing and letting your body do what it needs to do – at an autonomous level.

I’ve understood the concept for many years – even thought I was doing it – but when your body actually responds without your conscious input it is a very different feeling – a Eureka feeling! And your thinking brain is not involved – so you stay absolutely calm.

Anything you practice is going to have some good parts and it’s going to have some bad parts. Systema does have some concepts that I’m not totally happy with, but the positive aspects way exceed any of the negatives I see and experience.

If you want to not only get back in touch with yourself, but marvel at what you can actually achieve, do come along to a Systema class.

Class times are 8:00pm Mondays, in Guildford.

If you’d like to practice some Qigong, Body Centered Mindfulness or Whole Body Power training, please contact Glen ( or me ( for details on classes and workshops.

All the best for some inspiring, meaningful and healthful practice.


New Year, New Challenge – The Wim Hof Method (WHM)

Wim Hof Method

One of my New Year’s challenges is to try out the Wim Hof Method (WHM) to see what is does for me, what I can learn from it and how it relates to stuff I already know about and/ or practice.

My first impressions are very positive – effective breathing, meditation and energizing. I’ll write a series of blogs about my experiences as they develop.

So, here is the first one;

Wim Hof Breathing

I do like this. It takes me around 10 minutes to do the simple breathing exercises (3 sets) and then another 10 to 15 minutes meditating afterwards.

My approach to this was to follow Wim’s recommendations of breathing into my abdomen deeply (lying down), then into my chest and then feel as though I was breathing into my head. Then letting go with my body and breathing out relatively heavily.

He recommends to practice this cycle 30 (optionally to 40) times. Then to breathe out and hold your breath for as long as you can. I can manage around 60-70 seconds reasonably easily.

Then after this to take a deep breath in and hold it for another 10 to 15 seconds. The 30 breath cycles, expired breath holding and inspired breath holding, forming one complete set.

After 3 sets I do feel very chilled and ready to meditate, but I’ll describe that part in my next post.

For me the breathing session is about double the time I would normally practice and engages the upper chest more than I would normally do.

Mindfully Connected Method

Adding in the Mindfully Connected Method (MCM): I use structured abdominal breathing to emphasise the depth of abdominal breathing, following that with a wave of MCM structured upper chest breathing and then MCM Vertical Head Line Expansion.

Adding in the MCM components definitely enhances the WHM breathing approach for me.

Systema Breathing Trick

There is also a trick from Systema breathing that allows you to hold your breath for longer: You will notice that after 30 or 40 seconds you’ll start to get a tightness in your chest and a panic desire to breathe. Try and ‘swallow’ this feeling. At first you’ll only be able to swallow this panic feeling once or twice. After a bit of practice you can get to swallowing it for 5 or more times and your breath hold will then go past the one minute mark relatively easily.

So Far, So Good.

I like the extended breathing approach, I can relate well to it and I can feel it is doing me good. I can also enhance it will a few additions from my current practice.

Next Post: Meditation stage