Arend Dubbelboer, summercamp 2016, a review

“Obey gravity, it is the law”

For me this seminar in the woods of Drenthe was all about working with the centre of gravity, helped enormously by great food, prepared by Marga and Odile, and by the company of a group of dedicated practitioners, from all over the country, and abroad.

In previous seminars Arend taught, explained and showed this work, but it somehow eluded me. So it remained a rather abstract subject I could not use very well in training or daily life. Except for walking that is. Except for walking. Because, as Arend explained: you cannot go anywhere if you don’t move your centre of gravity far enough in the direction you want to go, or when you try to stay balanced all the time.

So this is what we did: we walked, bringing our centre of gravity forward, learning how to move from there. We walked while holding dumbbells, and punched our friends with them, allowing the weight of the dumbbell to do its job. We walked while holding shovels, moving around by bringing the shovel in the desired direction.

This may sounds rather abstract, but the thing is: if you know how to put your weight in your shovel, you can start put your weight in other things, like knives or fists. So now your blade becomes ‘alive’, and your fist feels heavy.

It also means that you learn how to start your movement with fist or weapon, instead of other parts of your body, like your feet, your hips, or –  shudder – with your shoulders. George Silver (ca. 1550-1620) called this principle ‘moving in true times’, and it is essential for any kind of effective weapons work.

You also start to see how you are very often stabilizing the other person, by adding your own weight (or ‘density’, or ‘attention’) to the other person’s centre of gravity, either in a psychological or physical sense. You realise that if you try to stay balanced all the time, (usually by moving forward and backward at the same time), you might give the other person ‘support’, something to lean on, preventing him from falling down.

So this is what we did mainly on friday and saturday. Working with these concepts, trying to apply them while breaking structure, escaping from grabs, doing teamwork and working with punches and kicks.

Sunday was weapons day. We worked with shovels, sticks and knifes, and learned how to make use of the environment. The previous lessons deepened the weapons work, which apparently is not just  about slashing and stabbing, but is also about using deception, about trapping attention, while cutting or stabbing at the same time.

Because, when you bring weight (or ‘density’) to your weapons, tools, or fists, something happens with the attention of your opponent. And you can learn how to use this. Sounds like fun to me.

Instructor and organizer: Arend Dubbelboer

Back to basics or walking backwards

Sometimes doing Systema feels like taking one step forward and two steps back. I feel like this especially during the ‘know yourself’ seminars series of Arend Dubbelboer. During the excellent seminars Arend offers new insight in the ‘basics’ of Systema, leaving me and some other participants asking ourselves if we will ever get this down.

I started wondering whether this was something specific for Systema, this process of returning to the basics and finding out you still don’t master them. Those who know me, know I did not do any other martial art before I started Systema, so I am unable to compare. I did do a lot of rock-climbing though and started to wonder if things were the same there.

At first I figured that it wasn’t because my weakest link in climbing was endurance and to some extend strength. When I would look at some other climbers of my level (back then at least) it was clear that most of the men could do with some training to increase their quality of movement, most of the women could do with extra strength. But the interesting thing happens when you look at the climbers who are doing a ‘project’. They pick a route that is just a little bit beyond their capabilities and start training for it. To do this you have to get intimately acquainted with the route and then you need to find a way to do all the moves as efficiently as possible. And that takes you back to basics. Not like the first time when someone explained to you how you should hold your hand or place your foot, but by further exploring the knowledge you already have and integrating it more deeply physically.

Same with Systema. I find it a bit more frustrating then climbing, because it is harder to monitor progress (climbing routes are graded). With Systema it is also easier to fool yourself by compensating with strength and other tricks. So maybe going back to basics might feel like taking two steps back, but if you can walk backwards, I’m sure you’ll do fine walking forwards as well.