From Health to Performance

The title may seem quite obvious, but its actually the opposite of most sports/martial arts philosophies. The first time that most think about their health is when they are broken, and need fixing.

Being healthy is about much more than just being fit. You can of course be fit and unhealthy. In fact most top athletes are always on the verge of being sick, like a finely tuned racing car that’s just on the edge of breaking down. For me, a holistic rounded healthiness is a goal worth pursuing.

In Systema you first focus on building the person to a level of holistic health. When you do, all of the following are improved:

  • Joint resilience and mobility. You have to be strong not just when you are ‘aligned properly’ but also when you inevitably come out of alignment. Mobility exercises on the move (dynamic) are great for this.
  • Avoiding injury. Strengthening and recruiting the ligaments and tendons in order to endure longer and protect against injury. Slow movements target tendons. Try taking a minute to do a single, smooth push up for example.
  • Strength to bodyweight ratio. This should be 1:1, if you can bicep curl, run and bench press but can’t do a strict pull up or push up then you need to think again. Work with movements instead of exercising muscles. When you do this you don’t need supplementary ‘core’ or muscle exercises. More movement is all we need. Smooth, slow, simple movements are great, such as getting to the prone position and back up, or ground flow.
  • Effortless movement. Learn the correct way to move i.e with your body not against it. Move with softness and ease, protecting and looking after yourself. Avoid an unnecessary build up of tension and pressure as you move. You can do this with every movement that you do throughout the day.
  • How to manage physical stress, contact or impact. People carry the effects of impact around with them, often far longer than they need to. Letting the impact go is simply a case of learning to breathe it out and release it. Static pushing and striking drills are great for this. 
  • How to manage emotional stress. Again simply a case of learning to breathe and let go physically. We hold emotions physically in the body. When you let go of your tensions physically the emotions leave too. Again practices that require physical contact are great for this because they push so many buttons for people. Doing them gently and mindfully, and then building speed and intensity is the way. Gradual adjustments.
  • Breathing in a way that calms, restores and protects your body. Simple Russian breath ladders while walking are great for this. 
The exercises and many more can be found in the books below or in the downloadable videos also shown below.
My very best wishes for you training and health,


Click the images below to find out more and get your copies. 



Living Systema: Why I wrote it.

When I went on the 2012 Systema Camp with Vladimir Vasiliev, we were able to ask some questions at the end of the last days session.

I asked him how in the absence of any kata or techniques, we could practice Systema alone, without a partner.

He looked at me a little quizzically. I guess he was searching for how to answer a question on a concept that came so naturally and obviously to him.

He then got me to stand up and guess how many paces away from him I was. He then asked me to close my eyes and walk the 8 paces that I guessed towards him.

That was his answer. Typically simple and yet profound. In every action and moment we could and should be studying.

How often does our training end when we take off our kit, zip up our bags and leave the training hall?

This moment really got me thinking about how to train Systema more and more.

  • How do I walk?
  • how do I stand?
  • how do I deal with people? Do I get tense and rooted, physically, mentally, verbally, emotionally?
  • How do I allow my breathing to naturally adapt to whatever situation I am in?
  • Do people notice me when I move, or can I move in a way that people do not notice.
  • Do I pick up on things that aren’t right in a situation and then act upon them?
  • How much tension am I carrying moment to moment and can I release whats not needed?
  • What about mental tensions?
  • How much is my posture compromised by my thoughts and emotions? How do I restore it?
  • How do I get out of my own way and become more and more natural in my movement, my responses, my breathing, posture?

In short, how do I live this art? I wanted to find a way to work on it in every moment, in a way that wasn’t  too intense or obsessive, but was natural. It should enhance my life not be a chore.

This book, Living Systema, has been my collection of thoughts distilled into 30 practices comprising physical movement, breathing, balance, tension and awareness.

Like so many writers, It is the book that I wanted to read.

It is not meant to be a definitive dogma but rather an explorers guide. You should take it and run with it. Use what is useful and then build and expand it.

I sincerely hope that you find it of use.

Copies are available on Amazon. Here is the link.

My sincere wishes for your training and health.


A Soldier’s Story – Systema 4 Day Intensive in review

Clark had never done Systema before enrolling on the 4 Day Intensive, and he won’t mind me saying that he nearly walked out after the first morning of breathing and ground exercises. But all credit to him he stayed and this story is the result:


Dear Matt,

I waited until this morning before writing because I wanted some time to digest all that had taken place over the weekend.

I went to the gym this morning and, as I came out of the shower, one of the guys said “what the (insert expletive) happened to your back?”. To be honest I’d forgotten all about it but I just laughed and said “you really don’t want to know”. That’s what sort of a weekend it was – every bruise is attached to a memory that brings a smile straight to my face.

I don’t know if they were still running, ‘Exercise Snow Queen’ when you served, but if they did you will probably know what I mean when I say that this weekend reminded me very much of those exercises: day after day of hard work (and great fun) skiing with your mates, followed by evenings sitting and drinking, swapping stories and laughing with Officers, NCO’s and O/R’s alike. This weekend brought those days back to me – hard work, lots of fun and some amazing memories.

So, I’m extremely grateful to you, Matt, not just for the obvious effort you put into making these weekends possible. Not even for the memories you’ve given me, or the patience and understanding you showed when things became too much and I revealed aspects of my character that I would rather keep hidden. But for the way you’ve created an atmosphere at your school that can make such a diverse group of people work together, support each other and even trust each other like very few people in civvy street will ever come to know. Whilst working with you during the last few days, you reminded me of all the best officers I ever served with. And I thank you for that.

As I get back into the rhythm of things here at work, walking around the factory, I carry with me the knowledge that the trust and camaraderie that I thought I’d never see again is alive and kicking (literally) down in Wiltshire, and probably in all the other Systema clubs dotted around the world. I also know that my journey in Systema is only just beginning.

I’m sure we will be seeing much more of each other over the coming years. Thanks again Matt,


November 17.

P.S. Living Systema my latest book, has gone to print, it will out before Christmas. More information to follow soon!

Why I tried Systema and why I keep coming back – Chris Johnston.

I recently asked members if they would answer the question why they started Systema, and what keeps them coming back. Systema is so deep and diverse that people come for many reasons. Chris’s answer touched me, especially the end.

I first found Systema through some web browsing, looking for a martial art or fun physical activity that I could do with my eldest son, (I think he was 6 at the time).  My wife found a video you had posted of the Saturday kids classes and it just looked like fun.  We particularly liked how the kids were involved in everything, doing the demos, talking to camera etc and the way that the parents and children all trained together.  We thought we’d give it a try.

The kids class was all we had hoped for and more, with an emphasis on fun and movement we were both hooked and as soon as my younger daughter was old enough she also joined.  As a quick aside, she was at the time being recommended by her school for medical intervention due to worries about coordination and balance – worries that have completely disappeared within the last two years due in no small part to her Systema practice.

My youngest son and my wife are both planning to start on the Systema path in the new year so it will be a whole family affair, two generation with an age range from 3-40, all training, learning and laughing together!

My journey into Systema combat started after around 6 months of family classes. There was an open invite to a trial adult class and so I went to take a look.  It was bonkers, very different to anything I’ve seen in a martial arts class before.  Body weight exercises, but using someone else’s body, (such as press-ups on someone, squat while holding another person etc), full contact training but always with respect for your partner and the same sense of fun and adventure that was so addictive in the children’s class.

The thing that stood out for me the most was the movement, a fluidity and body control that I really wanted to have and I’m happy to say that I can now do some of those simple fluid movements myself. Movements that I could never have done before.

I keep coming back because there is always something new, there is a constant challenging of boundaries. I have learnt that I’m so much stronger (both mentally and physically) than I realised. I now believe in myself more. Finally, the classes bring a sense of peace that I get nowhere else.

Chris Johnston.

Chris and his children have been training for over three years and it will be a pleasure to welcome the rest of the team to the club in the new year!

P.S. The 4 Day Intensive course on 16-19 Nov is now waiting list only for all four days.

The Emotional Square

The Emotional Square.

I get a lot of people asking me how to deal with negative emotions like fear, anger, anxiety, envy etc. These emotions leave them feeling guilty, frustrated and exhausted. The emotions and resultant tensions are toxic to thier bodies and minds keeping them in a constant state of stress.

After a question from a friend and student about how best to manage emotions it occurred to me that it is like the ‘Fire Triangle’. In fire safety you are taught that fires can be put out by removing one of three sides of the fire triangle: Air, Heat or Fuel.

The Emotional Square is similar. It consists of four sides, but this time you add the element. The four things that a negative emotion can’t live with are: Relaxation, Good Posture, Movement and Good Breathing. If you add one or all of these, the negative emotion will quickly leave the body.

However, that’s easier said than done. You first have to be aware of the presence of the tension, bad posture, lack of movement and bad breathing. Then have the tools to correct them.

Lets start with the first one. Relaxation. Most of us are tense without even being aware of it. This is one reason that people enjoy vices so much. When you think about it they all have something in common, they relax us. There are simple tools that we teach in Systema to manage tension. They consist of movement, breathing, tension/relaxation and combinations of these. One way to find out if you are tense is to see how freely your body moves. Take your shoulders for example. can you move them individually and freely? Another method is to tense and then relax them. Once learnt and practiced these tools quickly become yours.

The second one is Posture. A commonality of negative emotions is that they bend the body out of shape. If you visualise of the stooped shape of someone who is depressed or the hunched shape of aggression, jealousy or anger. Straightening the posture will release the emotion. In good posture your head should be up, gaze straight ahead and neck relaxed. Your chest should be gently expanded with your back muscles relaxed. Your hips should be loose and free and your knees slightly bent and relaxed.

Thirdly we have Correct Breathing. Nearly everyone breathes unconsciously. That’s just as well or we would be in trouble when we sleep. However, if in your waking moments you can be more conscious of when you breathe, or more importantly when you don’t breathe, your performance, health and wellbeing will improve exponentially. As Vladimir says Breathing is the basis of everything, the fuller we can understand and use this resource the better. When affected by negative emotions you will either be not breathing at all, mouth breathing or shallow, chest breathing. You can rectify this by initially burst breathing in a relaxed way, then gradually returning yourself to long smooth breathing. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Again practice in this, with a good teacher, and regular testing of it will make the skill yours.

Finally we have Movement. Have you ever noticed that when we are emotional, and a friend says, ‘come on lets take a walk’ the emotion that was consuming us moments before starts to ease. Walking is great but almost any movement will help.

So we have the three things that fire can’t live without: Air, Heat and Fuel;
and the four things that negative emotions can’t live with: Good Posture, Good Breathing Movement and Relaxation. Adding just one of these will start to clear the emotion. Adding all four at the same time will clear you out in no time.

If you want to learn more about these tools and how to use them email me back or alternatively come along to classes. Click here for more details.

All three skills will be covered in my upcoming book ‘Living Systema’ due for release in Mid November.

My very best wishes,



4 Day Systema Intensive – Wiltshire – 16-19 November

The 4 day Intensive is running on the 16-19 Nov in Melksham.

The aim is to cover the range of systema work, including some outdoor and environmental training (weather dependant).

We will also cover elements from the Systema Twins recent Sweden Immersion Camp and Vladimir Vasiliev’s upcoming UK Camp.

Systema Progression:
The course will progress over the four days covering, ground, standing, stick, knife, multiple attacker, environmental, and testing phases leading to an optional video recording of the final testing phase for you to keep and if desired send to Vladimir Vasiliev for feedback and/or instructor validation/renewal.

Health and Conditioning:
We will also cover the Systema approach to mobility, stretching, massage, deep and functional relaxation and conditioning work.

It will be intense but a lot of fun, with time for relaxation and use of the studio for your own free training. There is already a lot of interest and limited spaces.

The cost is £199.

It will be a small group with lots of opportunity for questions, discussion and peer learning. The aim is to make big leaps in your understanding, teaching and execution of Systema.

To pay by paypal click here: (Cost is £207 to account for paypal fee)

To pay by BACS please email me for details.

Best wishes for your training and health,


P.S To help keep costs down there is also the opportunity to sleep on the mat at my gym for a nominal nightly fee. First come first served.

Recommended reading for the course:

Systema Health

Click on the image to order

Systema Combat
Click on the image to order

Dealing with tension in the torso/chest

Chest MobilityI recently posted a Facebook video of a chest mobility exercise. It got a lot of shares and comments, one of which really stood out and I have shared it below.

The audience of these blogs may differ to the Facebook audience, so I thought that I would share here too in case anyone missed the exercise. Here is the comment:

“I have been very much enjoying my career as a BDM over the last four years. Unlike most, one element I very much like is the amount of mileage, my area Being from the M4 up to Scotland. A fair amount of driving. Over the last two years I have become uncomfortable in my driving position to the point where it has obstructed my breathing. Not able to fully inhale or exhale without increasing discomfort. This made me check my driving position. I found I was habitually leaving my right hand at 12 o’clock on the steering wheel most of the day. Even though I corrected this habit over a year ago, have seen several doctors / specialists, had chest scans ect – nobody was able to address the issue ( I just know you are going to be smiling and knodding to yourself knowingly here ) that I repeatedly mentioned I felt was ‘Muscular’.

Last week I watched this post and your reference to chest tension immediately caught my attention. Now, I’m not one to be throwing my hands up and claiming miracles BUT this exercise not only provided INSTANT relief, enabled me to locate and target precisely where to focus but has also noticeably improved my lung capacity. Which I might add – after giving up smoking for 20 years just two years ago – Is allowing me to swim those extra, extra lengths…. just like you said it would.

So, I know this reads like some kind of made up promotional review – which it is 100% NOT – I wanted to say thank you. This really is making the world of difference mate.” Lauson Higgins.

To watch the clip, click here

My very best wishes for your training and health,


P.S I am running a 4 day course in November which will include similar exercises that will mobilise tense areas of the body and leave you feeling relaxed, supple and mobile. Click the image below for more information. The course is over half full.

Sweden Forest Systema Camp – In review

5afd7133-6256-41f3-999a-fe26f93a02f6Firstly a huge thanks to all who came on the Sweden Systema Camp. This years camp was the biggest yet. Just under 30 people from all over the world. This time I will leave the reviews of the camp to the participants. Here are some snippets of what they had to say:

‘Many things can be life-changing, although not all of them are good. I believe that this kind of experience can benefit people in so many ways. It’s not just the martial training, although that is the main drive, but the chance to get way from “civilisation” to a simpler time, and the opportunity to take stock of yourself.’
‘A fantastic opportunity to excape concrete jungle, enjoy nature and above all else learn systema from some of the best instructors.’
‘A camp, deep in the Swedish Forest, where you meet up with complete strangers, train up to 8 hours of Systema a day for 5 full days and leave as brothers and friends is hard to describe without using any superlatives. If I am allowed to use only two words, I would call the Sweden camp: mind blowing and life changing. If you really want to dive deep into Systema without any distraction and enjoy pure nature at the same time, there is nothing better than this camp now. High quality teaching by Systema HQ certified Instructors guarantees that you learn about your true potential and rise well above your limits. Last but not least you feel, see and learn one of the most important things in live: how to become friends with complete stangers and call them your brothers. It makes you grow but in a humble less egocentric way. In a true Systema way. I highly recommend this for everyone who is not only interested in Systema but wants to learn how little one needs to be truely happy and satisfied.’
‘The camp should be integral part of your Systema training. it allows the concepts to sink in and blend into yout daily life: breathing, movement, posture, psychological state. Same amount of training in the camp gives exponentially greater progress compared to regular training in the gym.’
‘This was the second time I’d had the good fortune to be able come to Matt & Dirk’s Sweden camp. Some have said this is a potentially life changing event, others have expressed their sense of great calm or wellbeing entering their person. Such feelings are special to each & everyone, and mine are no different. However this camp felt like an emotional step up for me. My tears (which came from nowhere and even caught me unawares!) at the end feedback session, probably cemented for me, the past two years of wonderful Systema training alongside personal losses and a plethora of constantly changing emotions. On the Systema side, the Twins’s almost personal attention over five days, perhaps honed into me how far I may have come with this wonderful art. Their sublime teachings supplemented by frequent humble discussions & dynamic demonstrations, allowed me to solely focus on my weaker areas like movement & strike heaviness. They also instilled a calm & spiritualness which, when combined with the beauty & tranquility of the forest & lakes, the camaraderie of my fellow friendly students, ultimately added up to an intense personal experience. Emotionally the last two years has been quite tough, having lost three close family members and a best friend. But equally it’s been a period of transition, a positive step forward with study, amongst the humble privilege of being able to start a small Systema club. Perhaps the camp therefore acted like a vortex for me…..the spinning culmination of two years of positive & negative emotions coming together, to vie for supremacy. As always though, good overcomes bad; the spiritual calm and indomitability of the camp, succeeding in bringing together a band of people to train, support & smile with each other. To ‘smile’ while being struck by leg or fist, knife or chain, during rain or sun, in mud or grass, night or day, is something I’ll always remember. “A smiling heart heals both body & soul” I could go on and on….describing the wonderful nuances of the training (“The Still Chain”), the bearhugs of training partners, the call of a single Raven embracing us with Odin’s good fortune, or watching summer turn to autumn as leaves fall upon us with the gentle breeze….but no. Suffice to say though, I must end yet again with the words of Vladimir (the words I tried to present through my tears)…. “Without humility we cannot be truly awed, and when we incapable of being awed, we fail to be inspired.” Thank you to all….. ‘
The camp will run again in 2 years time. In the meantime I will be running a 4 day Intensive course in Melksham at the Systema Academy on the 16-19 November. Numbers are limited to 24. Basic accommodation is available. I will be sharing concepts from the Twins Camp and Sweden and Vladimir’s upcoming seminar in the UK.

Click here to find out more.

My respect and best wishes,