‘Natural born heroes’ by Christopher McDougall

I have been trying to be a runner since my early teens. Without proper training and with lots of injuries I never managed to build up the length of my runs. Until I read Christopher McDougall book ‘Born to run’. One of the best adventure stories I ever read and it really made me want to run even more. In addition to the inspiration and entertainment it also gave a glimpse at a different way of running. So I started running again, so far with success. And now the new book by McDougall ‘Natural born heroes’ arrived. So why should Systema practitioners read this book?

First of all because it is a good read. Second because of the subject. Where I had expected it to be a book about running it is a book about being self sufficient. Not so much in the sense of ‘how to survive the zombie Apocalypse’ but more in the sense of knowing how your body works and what it will be able to do if complemented with the proper mindset.
All this is woven through the story about the Cretans and the British sabotaging the Germans during the WOII occupation of Crete. A nice surprise were the sections about Fairbairn and Sykes teaching the British special agents. It reminded me so much of Konstantin Komarov’s training I could imagine him walking in on the scene.
Even though the resistance story is a big part of the book, it is not what the book is about. It’s about what it takes to be a hero. According to McDougall the ancient Greeks considered this simply a set of skills anybody can attain, so he sets out to find out what it is.
McDougall emphasizes heroes need the right mindset and the right physical skills. He does not give clear lists and descriptions of what these might be, but he describes his own adventures trying to find the answer to what this mindset and physical skills might be. So he shares his interview with a grade school principal who has successfully defended herself against the attack of psychotic man with a machete, the creative tricks of the heroes in Greek myths, his own Parcours lessons and his switch to ‘fat as fuel’.

What does it take to be a hero? Just summing up McDougalls findings would not really honour the book and the way it is written, so I can only recommend you read the book yourself. Even if you have your own thoughts on the subjects, you will have a good read about the Crete resistance and sneeky British warfare tactics during WOII.

Maxim Franz Kortrijk 2015: making the connection

Over the years I’ve been at at least six seminars of Maxim Franz, plus at some classes by Maxim at headquarters. And it never get’s boring. Partly because of his dry humor, but mostly because of the excellent build-up of the training, good feedback and skilled demonstrations. This time was no exception.

From my perspective this seminar was mostly about  making connections: with your attacker, but also between yourself. Through these connections Maxim was giving insight in the thing that seems to come so effortless to him: attacking (or defending) from any movement or action.

As usual, Maxim started us at the basics and slowly moved us towards more complicated drills. For example, we started with pushing the whole person from good posture and working from the movement of your partner. From there the ‘defending’ got more active by showing a shoulder for attack and controlling distance by using good footwork. On Sunday knife work was added while trying to hold on all that was learned on Friday and Saturday. Such as ‘harmonizing’ your footwork with your partner’s movement, your arms with his or her attack and make sure your arms, legs and the rest of your body stay connected to itself. And don’t forget to catch the whole person.

The most important insight for me personally was to drop the distinction between ‘attack’ and ‘defense’ and instead to focus on connection with the other person(s) and honestly work with them in more or less friendly ways.