I watched a video today of the best of a workshop that Rob gave last year on close range tactics from the perspective of the Systema that he practices and teaches in the UK. I was reminded while doing so that we live in an audio-visual age which might well have made the founder of the Yang style Taijiquan, Yang Lu Chan, green with envy. For those who don't know the story, he was reputed to have learned the basics of his art by watching Chen-style practitioners practising while he hid behind a stone wall and watched them training night-after-night. What would he have thought of the modern opportunity to attend workshops, buy dvds, stream instructional videos or "shop around' at a variety of martial arts that teach openly to anyone?
I felt a little bit like I was "stealing secrets" myself while watching Rob and his students training on my monitor screen. Perhaps I'm only fooling myself as to the depth of my understanding of martial body mechanics but I saw much that I recognized and liked. I also saw much that was done differently or explained in ways that made more sense to me than the kinds of explanations I have used with my own students over the years for similar methods of standing and moving while delivering and receiving "discomfort"
You can learn a great deal from "discomfort" and sometimes that is as much psychological as it is emotional or physical. Systema seems to understand 'the taking of pain" in a way that still seems to escape many modern martial systems where the performance of solo forms or structured, formal two-person methods have become the whole of the exercise instead of being an important part of the course of studies. As in the better expressions of modern taijiquan, the Systema focus on breathing and being functionally relaxed certainly rings true to me as a valuable adjunct to daily living, not just as an essential aspect of dealing with martial "discomfort".
Of course, it's also difficult to balance out safety while training with students who are studying a martial system in peace time and still have to be able to go to work the next day without a lot of bruises and injuries or kiss their children when they get home without getting blood on them. Rob and his students certainly seem to look after each other in that sense and there is also a healthy use of humour to make the intensity more bearable.
Do I have any criticisms? If I try hard enough to find some, it's that this was a highlight film and some of the topics I saw covered were not discussed in enough depth but that's hardly surprising in even a 90+ minute film. The only other thing I will mention is that Rob is a big strong man with a ton of experience and looms over most of the students working with him during the filming; that's worth mentioning only because it is very common these days to find instructors who are somewhat bigger than the average of those they work with and "size does matter" so that bigger instructors often can look even more effortless in their interactions with smaller people. The better teachers -- and I suspect that Rob is one such -- understand this and don't abuse their size advantage; the poorer ones talk endlessly [this is particularly true in the taiji world] about how size doesn't matter while using their physical advantage to stay ahead of their students.
The longer I train in the Chinese internal martial arts; the more I start to see the common factors to competent martial training -- even the recreational versions that most students are looking for -- and the best instructors, as Rob seems to be, are good examples for those they teach. What I particularly liked in today's viewing was that all of the students shown seemed healthy and fit and that many of the participants seemed to be "getting it" and working with some of the grace and finesse that Rob displays.
N.B. I would suggest to anyone curious about Systema to have a look at Rob's Cutting Edge products. I have read several of his books and watched some of his videos as well as those of his Systema instructors but I have never met Rob though we have exchanged a few emails. Oh, and I wrote this short review only as a way of saying 'thanks" for letting me steal secrets legitimately as I have never reviewed anyone's martial products for payment of any kind and haven't started doing so here!
More About Me
I graduated from university in the early 1970s and went on to work in a variety of fields (archaeology, Federal Government civil service and IBM Ottawa) before becoming a magazine editor with the RCMP for a decade. From 1985-1996, I was the main caregiver for my two sons while also working as a free-lance writer and teaching Chinese martial arts in the evenings.