Finding faith and firm ground: Twins in Amsterdam

Only having two days of training is already a great opportunity to have good focus and time for Systema. A four day seminar offers the opportunity to go even deeper. But only if you dare….

Going deeper not just means going deeper physically, but also mentally. Not that a seminar is some kind of confrontational soul searching exercise, but I found with myself usually that a block in progress in Systema was more a mental thing than a physical thing. And if you are prepared to look at what is holding you back mentally and deal with it, you might find yourself making sudden physical progress as well.

This however was not the subject of the seminar, which was ‘Dynamic power’. Unfortunately as with my last post, I started writing this way to late so many of the details have escaped me (I will make more effort to write sooner), so I will not be able to bore you with all the details. A general description would be how to generate powerful action, while remaining mobile in the sense of actually moving or being able to move.

This is one of the interesting parts of Systema: generating power while being mobile means you are by definition limited in the use of your body for the generation of the power. So for maximum mobility the power preferably comes just from the part of your body you are using for the contact without hindering the motion in the rest of your body. Anybody ever having tried this can tell you this is hard even doing each element separately.

As such the Twins had arranged for a full four days with exercises focusing on generating power from the part of your body you are working with, on mobility and obviously a combination of the two. As with all Systema work, this requires tension and relaxation in the right places and to be able to do that requires some faith.

Working as a climbing instructor (already more than a decade ago) you see the same thing. Fear of falling, lack of confidence of being able to do something will create tension, which will make it harder to move and will make you tire much faster. So on the one hand you need some faith to work to the best of your abilities, on the other hand it is still the case that you might fail. For this you need firm ground. In climbing you are secured by a rope (though there are people who like to climb without), in Systema you have your training partners and your instructors. However as with climbing,  where some people still have a hard time falling in the ropes, in Systema people can have a hard time trusting the firm ground of their instructors and training partners. This combination of not having faith in your own abilities and not being able to use the firm ground makes training a lot more difficult than necessary and it has made my training a lot more difficult than necessary.

And at some point, while training with a good friend, Adam approaches us and points out to me that I should occupy the whole space I am working in, not just the part where ‘I’ am at (though I do not remember the exact words). This triggered a feeling which in turn triggered a shift in attitude towards myself and my training partner and the instructors. I felt that I was able to do the work and supported by my training partners and instructors, while at the same time paradoxically emphasizing that I had not had this kind of faith and firm ground before.

Obviously after having this feeling for the duration of one exercise, I lost it completely in another. But I have no doubt I am able to get there again.

Instructors: Adam and Brendon Zettler

Organizers: Systema Amsterdam


Through the looking glass: organizing the Twins in Groningen 23,24 January

This time a blogpost about a seminar from a different perspective: organizing.

We had been playing with the idea already for some time: organizing a seminar ourselves. It only seemed fair after having been participants so often. Some deliberation and weighing of the pros and cons (of about 1,5 year) later we decided to go ahead. After all, in itself organizing a seminar seems simple enough.

  1. Get instructor
  2. Get date
  3. Get gym
  4. Get participants
  5. Make sure people know stuff

1. Get instructor
There are many good instructors in Systema, even if you stick to one style. Nevertheless, we managed to make a choice, although we did not manage to keep it to one. We did consider inviting just one twin but we could not bare to break them up. So both Twins it was.

2. Get date
Getting a date should not be too difficult, but with all the European seminars it takes some planning. First of all we wanted to be on time, secondly we did not want to interfere with other seminars. As the spring and autumn tend to be the busiest times we decided winter was a good idea. After almost picking the same weekend as Eurosonic (huge music festival in Groningen) we decided on 23-24 January. This was an excellent date, even though it meant I worried from the start about winter weather making it impossible to let the plane take off, land or to pick up the Twins from Schiphol. And not without reason. Two weeks before the seminar the north of the Netherlands froze over. No trains going, ice rain in the North, negative advice to go on the roads. I was already imagining planes iced over and unable to come or go. In the end all that went wrong was that we had the wrong landing times and while the Twins were already landing in Schiphol we were still two hours away drinking tea at my parents’……

3. Get gym
One might think getting a gym 9 months in advance should not be too much of a problem, as it is enough time to get pregnant and deliver the baby in that period. I guess it is very much dependent on the country and place, in Groningen there are really only two places to rent a gym. The university sportscentre (in June): “I don’t know yet, maybe you can contact us again in October”. And the municipality: “What did you mean exactly with the whole day? Doesn’t really matter, it will be from 12.30.” All said and done we started on 12.45 on Saturday, which in the end wasn’t so bad after all.

4. Get participants
Now this is really the hard part. When I started to do Systema, to have two seminars in reasonable close distance a year was quite a lot. Nowadays me and Bart don’t have proper holidays because we spent all our money on seminars (and even though we are not rich, we have more than enough money).

So how to get a lot of participants if there is so much choice? Just ask people….. a lot….. and then remind them that they said they would come…. and again. And we had a lot of help with the promotion from a lot of people. I guess it helps being a funny Systema couple as well ;).

Nevertheless, you won’t know if you’ll have enough participants until you have them. In this case we got them plus a little extra.

5. Make sure people know stuff
The one warning I got from other people organizing seminars is that you spent a lot of time answering questions, so I figured making sure people are well informed would be worth the trouble. Homepage, newsletters, confirmation mails et cetera. As we received only few questions, I guess it was effective.So was it worth the troubles and the worries? Definitely! The seminar was really good, we had lot of enthusiastic reactions and all that’s left to do is sorting the 1500 pictures……Big thanks to the Adam and Brendon for the excellent seminar, to all the participant for coming and Guido and Ritzo for helping out!!!

Chains, joint breaks and knifes: The Twins in Kortrijk 2015

Age off course is a relative thing and it does not take too much to be considered young in the Systema community (hair for example). Adam and Brendan Zettler, ‘the Twins’, prove however that you don’t necessarily have to be over forty or even thirty to be an excellent teacher.

They checked off an impressive list of topics (combative body, joint breaks on the move, multiple opponents, chains and knife). Starting with basic work in each topic, working towards work with more speed and pressure. Through the different topics, the Twins showed a clear thread in putting focus on how to move the body and continuous movement when working.This solid base was complemented with good action demo’s, where willing victims were sacrificed voluntarily for our greater good.

For me personally its nice that six years after my first seminar (Vlad Kortrijk 2009) I finally have the feeling that I’ve learned enough basics to do some proper training. And I will be very happy to see the Twins in Groningen, the Netherlands 23-24 January 2016.

Beginnings or how Systema helpt

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”
– Gospel of Thomas –

“When I want to learn some self-defence, what martial art should I do?” I ask my brother who has some experience in the field. “Systema” is his immediate and certain answer.
His attempt at explaining what Systema is gets stuck on my lack of knowledge of any martial art, but his conviction that this would be the right thing for me to do is enough for me. In certain things I believe his judgement is very accurate.
I am lucky enough to live in a city with two different places to train Systema; with the student martial-art association and with a non-profit organisation offering sports ‘for all’ that has something like a dojo in the basement. Already doing fitness there I noticed the small, somewhat vague, poster inviting people to join the self-study group in the basement. Even though somewhat hampered by an unexpected familiarity with one of the trainers, my hesitation to go was overcome by something else and despite some awkward moments I found myself feeling all right in the group.

Without going into to much detail it will suffice to notice that at that time certain things were getting me down. I used to do a lot of climbing, but throwing all my spare time and money into it became somewhat unsatisfactory. My decision to focus on my studies and quit working for a while left me feeling useless. A bad relationship with my (ex)partner and my parents left me feeling alone. I felt miserable and knowing the circumstances I felt justified. Keeping friends at a safe distance I was able to keep this misery up. Convinced that I needed a ‘new’ start I started planning a world trip, solo. For which I though it would be sensible to learn some self-defence.

Enter Systema.

I had no intention of learning any more than some self-defence, but soon got more than I bargained for.
One of my favourite Systema-work was and is punching. However training to hit and get hit is something very intimate. A lot of trust is asked and given and as such certain physical and some emotional intimacy is impossible to evade. To me, the comfort this contact offered was a surprise. Giving emotional trust and finding it not being damaged was practicing something I had become too afraid to do in ‘normal’ life. Though it was not that clear to me at the time why, I think this kept me coming back.

Things changed after my first seminar, March 2009 Kortrijk, Vladimir. I have honestly no idea what exactly changed. All I remember of the seminar was my feeling of lack of understanding, which might have been the exact reason for my enthusiasm. Something was going on here and I had no idea what.
I increased the frequency of my training, but to no avail. I felt clumsy, did not know what to do in many situations and felt I was disappointing my trainers. I did not understand what was expected or what I was doing wrong and the only thing I seemed to have some talent for was landing a punch.
In the rest of my life I felt stuck as well. Finding myself less and less able to focus on my studies and more and more involved in family crises, I found my general state of misery more and more justified.
At this time we were training with sticks. For me for the first time and to my own surprise, I seemed to have some natural talent for it. During the training I overheared one of the trainers talking to another student. “That your ankle hurts or is pinned down does not mean you cannot move the rest of your body.” I turn my head and see the student lying there convinced he is unable to move, while all that is stuck is his ankle. “But it really hurts” is his reply to the trainer. Suddenly a thought arises. ‘That I am in emotional pain in some area, does not mean I can’t move anything else.’

Something became unstuck, the all out misery suddenly did not seem justified anymore and in stead of seeing myself as held down by circumstances I figured that there must still be some place in which I can move.
And in practicing Systema I obviously already wás moving, though I only realize that now, writing it down.

More seminars followed. A weekend outside with Sergei Ozhereliev outside near Berlin and a week in the French Jura with Maxim Franz made me realize more and more the importance of a ‘neutral’ attitude in conflicts. “A good punch has no personality” as Max told us during the week. Not wanting more than what needs to be done in any situation and especially not caring about what others think made Systema training and life easier to handle. More and more I began to see the phrase “don’t feel sorry for yourself’ not as an incentive to never give up, but as an incentive to leave my ego out of whatever has to be done.

By the end of September I left for a year studies in London. After the summer-seminar I got determined to ‘get good’ at Systema and as such started training in London 3-4 times a week. Nevertheless my determination and hard work did not seem to have helped me very much when I meet my Systema friends from back home in November in Bern during a seminar with Vladimir.
This relative lack of improvement does not ring a bell and since I was hoping to teach Systema myself one day, having been a climber instructor for a long time and always having enjoyed it very much, I go back to London even more determined to improve my skills.
During the weekend in Berlin however I begin running a low fever that will last for almost five months, accompanied by increasing physical and mental fatigue all I seem to be able to do at a certain point was sleep and study. Obviously this meant no physical training.
It also meant all the more mental training. I had to let go of all non-study related activities, where I tend to be a person that finds it hard to give up. I had to see how long I could study without taking a nap, where I am a person that likes to work by schedule. I had to let go of many wants and expectations and as such in a sense of myself. I found that sometimes ‘not feeling sorry for yourself’ means giving up what you were doing and not holding onto it.

A changed attitude towards mostly myself clearly helped me while I was ill, but to my surprise when again in Kortrijk, March 2010 with the Twins, hardly having done any physical Systema training, my practice seemed to have improved a lot. More importantly I found myself less eager and having more fun at the seminar.
Back in London, having improved physically enough to start training again I decide to take my time for my final exams, only starting training again when I am back home in mid-June, where a summer of thesis-writing awaits me.

First however the summer kicks of with a Seminar with Kwan Lee in Meppel, where again I notice that my practice has improved though I have hardly done any training. After this seminar I start writing my thesis. Sitting behind my desk all day, being back home, being confronted again with old problems and conflicts and practically living of my boyfriend seem to get the better of me and I realize I still have a lot of work to do. In the one week between handing in my thesis and leaving on a two week holiday beginning with a seminar in Kortrijk with Konstantin Komarov, I find myself in the middle of several difficult issues that seem to be pushing me just a bit further than I thought I would be able to take.

But apparently I thought wrong, breathing, being angry, but mostly not acting on it, being hurt, but remaining open and wanting to leave but staying, I manage to make it till the end of the week and find myself sitting on the floor listening to Komarov. “Don’t hook on other people, make your own plans.”

Unashamed to say, I cried.

This was originally posted on the now gone Systema forum of the website.