Systema – Neutral Points of Contact and Subterfuge

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Systema Principles

In Systema, the four main principles may be relatively simple and straight-forward, but the nuances are subtle and complex.

One of the nuances that has taken me many years to understand (and I’m still going) is the concept of a Neutral Point of Contact. By neutral, I mean contact that gives your opponent or partner the feeling that nothing has changed when they move in towards you to attack.

Now, the words may make that sound like it’s simple, but it’s not. At least for me, it’s not.

Everyone will tend to use their model of the world (mind model) to interpret what Neutral Point of Contact means for them, for example:

  • leaving your hand where it is, and move your body around it
  • it’s like sticky hands in Tai Chi
  • it’s like ‘blending’ in Aiki Jujitsu or Aikido
  • it’s like not being there
  • it’s acceptance
  • it’s connecting with your opponent’s centre

I think it’s like all of these, and yet like none!

The best way I can describe it is forget what you already know, forget your entrenched mind models, and try to gain the feeling of subterfuge – fooling your partner into feeling that you haven’t moved when in fact you have. The more proficient you become at doing this the better you move and the better you breathe – so as not to disturb your opponents ‘sleeping’ sensors. Disturb that ‘sleep’, and they will wake up and react.

One thing it is definitely not, is moving your hand ahead of moving your body once contact has been established!

Neutral Energy

In my terms, I call this Neutral Energy.

To give an analogy to illustrate why, if you stand in-front of a fire, it gets warmer when you move towards it, and colder when you move away from it.  Now, if the fire is moving, for example a large flaming torch that is being carried, then keeping the same distance away from it will give you a balanced, Neutral Energy feeling.

Perception and Subterfuge

So back to the real world, keeping your hand (or other body part) at the same contact level or pressure when someone is moving towards or away from you removes one of their abilities to sense what you are doing. And this is a very important sense: touch sense is reactive and very fast. That is, it responds very quickly to changes in perception. Visual perception on the other hand requires more processing – only micro-seconds more – but enough to make a difference.

The ability to fool someone’s sense is called subterfuge and it is a powerful tool to have..

This aspect of subterfuge is a profound one. You can make use of it for any contact or near contact and your opponents senses will be ‘fooled’.

In my view, this is a very profound principle within Systema and once learned gives a whole new feeling to calmness and movement.

Here, I’ve really just talked about handling someone’s attempt to move in to attack.  The beauty about the principle of Neutral Energy is that it applies to anything. Particularly also to striking. If your opponent cannot feel your attack as it’s happening, your ability to disrupt them increases dramatically. But, that’s a topic for another post.


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