Systema Breathing & Health Testimonial – John Hawley


Systema Health and Breathing Testimonial – John Hawley

I remember looking at him and thinking he must be mad – but again I did it and that was a turning point in my life…

After an introduction by a friend I met Matt in early May ’17 at a point when my physical health and confidence was at an all-time low.
In June ’16, well into my 60s, I unexpectedly had to have urgent major surgery resulting in the removal of my left lung followed by over three months of intensive chemo and radio therapy – and for months after that wrestling with cumulative and debilitating side effects.

Medical advice in early ’17 was that it would take at least two years to recover. There was no other support available so I was told enjoy day time TV! I was angry and frustrated, something that I was not prepared to accept.

When I met Matt in Melksham, as I watched him walk up the second flight of stairs my immediate thought was I couldn’t possibly get to the top (I struggled at home to get up our stairs) but I did it. His positivity, calm confidence, and the overwhelming sense of genuine care was immediately evident.

We discussed what I would like to achieve over the next three to six months, goals which I thought then were impossible. At best I felt a shuffling wreck. But Matt said we could achieve them and more, and then had me walking around the dojo, motivating, encouraging and prompting me with an almost spiritual understanding. He then asked me to do a press up, sit up, leg raise and a squat – I remember looking at him and thinking he must be mad – but again I did it and that was a turning point in my life.

Over the following months he has patiently taught me how to walk and breathe again. Week one I could barely walk back to the car, or a hundred meters from the house without collapsing and wondering how I would get home.  I am now daily doing a series of exercises and walking a mile and a half with an achievable goal of four miles in sight. Matt’s confidence, motivation, commitment and patience is extraordinary.

Each week he has added a stretch factor, another challenge, another bench mark; improving significantly my breathing capability, getting me to jog around the room, walk the plank backwards, hanging on the bar by the door downstairs for ten seconds and lifting my feet off the ground (exceeding Matt’s expectations) were memorable moments, seeing Matt genuinely delighted with my success and achievements. I feel a real and holistic re engagement with my body and soul.

After training sessions I have wonderful aches and pains in parts of my body I thought had long ago given up.

I run the risk of a tsunami of adjectives, Matt has hugely and positively changed my life, giving me new hope, new aspirations, an incentive to look for new challenges, helping me rebuild my confidence and self-esteem. Summer camp ‘18 now seems an achievable target.  Matt’s ability to enthuse and motivate personal self-achievement, and his passion for people is a very rare and inspirational quality.

For people who have had similar experiences to mine or worse, I feel like shouting from the roof there is a better way forward, you can get your life back. Talk to Matt.

John Hawley
July 27th 2017

John is a rare man. He wasn’t prepared to accept the debilitating condition that his life saving surgery left him with. He has worked incredibly hard in the sessions, but that isn’t enough. Systema isn’t magic, you have to put in the work. John has put in the work. He has persevered through the daily breathing and movement exercises that we agreed on and the results have spoken for themselves. He has holistically and gradually built himself from the inside out. Systema is a complete system of internal and external work. John has left no stone unturned. It has been an inspiration and a pleasure working with him over the past 3 months. 

Matt Hill.

To find out more about Systema Breathing and Health classes click here

Are you prepared – part II – Systema Camp

Wide Range Sensitivity

Wide rangeIn the previous newsletter Are you prepared – part I, I discussed two important points that I picked up from the last Systema camp with Vladimir Vasiliev:

  1. Before you move a muscle: Catch the thought.
  2. Minimize preparation: Just move.

… Here is the conclusion of the story.

  1. Wide range sensitivity: The highest level.

We worked on a lot of different terrains: open field, close forest, water, by day and night. Vladimir encouraged us to take a few seconds to check ourselves when we moved between terrains. Was there any effect on our heart rate, blood pressure, tone or tension in the muscles and nervous system? If so, we were to work to restore and remove the tension.

Then he said to spread that sensitivity out to check the feeling in the group, had it changed? Was there more anxiety, excitement, calmness?

Finally, Vladimir asked us to spread that sensitivity outside the group and into the wider area. Are there other people outside the group, around camp? Is their focus on us or are they going about their business? What do you sense around you in nature from the wind, the trees?

This is an important skill for a professional.

However, it is also valuable in everyday life. If you walk into a business meeting, take the time to check yourself before you go in. Are you calm and prepared? What is the feeling when you enter the room? Is it tense, friendly, guarded? Most of us naturally take a gut feel, it’s built into us, but how many of us are conscious of it let alone adjust our actions according to it.

In this day and age, I think this is more important than ever. When you walk into a pub, a busy train station, get on a train, enter a restaurant, attend an event or just walk through a supermarket or down a street, are you sensitive to the perceptions you are getting?

If it doesn’t feel right, do you have the courage to get off the train or walk out of the restaurant or club? This may just be the highest level of martial arts. The ability to sense a problem and leave safely with your family and friends before you even need to deploy or test your skills.

We will be covering this in the upcoming UK Systema Camp in Wiltshire on June 29th. 

Click here to secure your place and see you soon!

Best wishes for your training and health,


Are you prepared? – Part 1

Are you prepared?Are You ‘Prepared’?

2012, 2014, and then 2016. Last years camp was my third Camp at Systema HQ Toronto. It was the best one yet.

Vladimir did nearly all of the teaching himself (except for the early morning sessions from 7 to 8.30 done by the hugely talented Systema Twins) and this gave the camp a total consistency of thought and training that flowed from beginning to end.

Verging on 60 hours of training with practically no repetition of drills or teaching.

I had three main takeaways from the Core Mastery Camp.

  1. Before you move a muscle: Catch the thought.

Many martial arts work on blocking or evading, then countering. Slightly more advanced is to block or evade and counter at the same time. An even higher level is to strike as they make the decision to strike you. Before they even move.

This theme ran through the camp. Vladimir said that physical skill is fine and important, but limited. If you can sense and feel the opponents’ intent to strike, to see their thought before it becomes visible in their body, then you won’t be late. We did several drills specifically designed to develop this concept.

Many great martial artists and warriors from history, have been attributed with this highly developed skill, Musashi, Ueshiba, Napoleon (on a larger scale). I had never seen or felt it in action.

Vladimir called me up for a demonstration. I held a knife and he held my wrist. It was my job to attack randomly.

It was night, in a small clearing in the woods. Every time I thought to attack, he moved my hand. Before I had moved a muscle. It is a very strange feeling. I played with the timing. He didn’t get it wrong once. I must have thought to attack 10 or more times. He caught my thought every time.

  1. Minimize preparation: Just move.

Before we move, we prepare our body for movement. For example, if we stand up from a chair, we move our hands to the arm rest, plant our feet, sit up straight, etc. Vladimir watched me do a sit up and just shook his head and smiled. ‘Not there yet, Matt.’ Watching Vladimir sit up off the ground is beautiful. It was leonine. There was no preparation in the normal places such as shoulders, adductors, feet, etc. before the movement. He just moved. This sounds simple, but just try it. Lie flat on the floor and try to raise your torso without doing any peripheral movement first. This is mastery of movement. Simple yet profound. When applied to combat, it allows you to move smoothly, with minimal warning, almost unseen.

… Continued in the next newsletter.

I am running a 4 day woodland Systema Camp in Wiltshire this year. There are still a few spaces left. Click here for more details

Where do you Train? – Optimise your skill, awareness & health

Systema Logo - Where do you Train?Where do you train?

If, like many others, you only see training taking place inside the dojo or gym, you are missing out on most of your training opportunities. In fact when it comes to practicing a martial art, you may even say that you will never truly get it.

A martial art is a way of life. A way of approaching every aspect of your life. The way that you stand, sit, walk, breathe are all training opportunities. The way that you deal with people, situations or setbacks are some of the best training opportunities. The way that you observe people, rooms or landscapes are again, all opportunities to train. When it comes to Systema, they are ways to not only train your martial skill and awareness, but also your health. In fact one of the reasons that I appreciate Systema so much, is its moment by moment ability to become conscious of and thereby improve your health, mobility, awareness and relaxation skills.

The dojo or gym is where you learn a particular skill, that may be a technique, principle or concept. But you will never master it there. If the next time you think about it, is when you go back to the gym, even if that is every day, it is not enough. It has to be embodied. It has to become part of every thought, every movement. It is a way of thinking, breathing, moving, being.

For me, Systema is a feeling. I am either in a feeling of Systema, or I am not. This feeling is relaxed, balanced, smooth, calm. Wherever I am or whatever I am doing. As soon as I notice something pulling me out of that feeling into tension, I check whether it is appropriate or not, and if not, I release it and drop back into the feeling of Systema.

Our bodies communicate thier to us through feelings: Pain, happiness, fatigue, tension, emotion etc before concepts and ideas. These are our first internal representation of what is going on. So if you can establish your baseline feeling as a good (clean) one: light, relaxed, calm, balanced and notice when you are pulled out of it, you are well on your way to making Systema a habit.

I am currently writing my next book, ‘Living Systema’. It is about taking the concept of training out of the dojo or gym and into your life. A way to bring your training to every moment to improve your skills, awareness and health. A way to make the act of living your training. In short, the way to improve yourself.

I will share these concepts more during the 4 day camp coming up in Wiltshire at the end of June. One of the key benefits of the camp is to make you more aware and conscious in every moment of the 4 days. Training outdoors is a one of the best ways I know to breathe life into your training. 

I look forward to sharing these ideas with you.

Respect and best wishes,


I will also be sharing many of these ideas at the upcoming course in Marple, Lancs on the 21st May. Email me for more details.

Click the links below for Matt’s systema:

Upcoming Courses:

  • 20-21 May – Matt Hill Marple Seminar, UK. Contact Chris Wallace of Systema Marple to book.
  • 29 June – 02 July  – UK 4 Day Systema Summer Camp – Wiltshire with Matt Hill. Click here for more information and to book.
  • 22-23 July – River Wye Canoeing and Camping Trip. Click here for more information
  • 28 Aug – 02 Sept Sweden Total Immersion Systema Camp with the Systema Twins. Nearly Sold out. Click here to get one of the last remaining places.
  • 16-19 Nov 4 Day Systema Intensive with Matt Hill – Wiltshire. Click here for more information.
  • More dates to be added soon.

A Leaner Pack

A leaner packA Leaner Pack

Anyone who has had to carry a pack over any distance will know the value of making that pack as light and lean as possible.  Imagine this scenario:

You park up at the car park and check off the kit list: tarp, sleeping bag, bivvi bag, roll mat, hammock, stove, food, warm kit, map and compass, knife, dry kit etc… check.  As you are closing it you see a trusty top and an extra wooly jumper better throw them in just in case, it may get chilly you think.  You also throw in an umbrella and small folding chair, just in case of a shower; an extra pair of wooly socks, a couple of extra snack bars and a light rain jacket for those occasional downpours.

Okay pack ready and I am now set for any eventuality.

You go to lift the pack out of the car boot and rather than it coming to you, you go to it. Its that heavy. You eventually get the pack on and almost buckle under the weight.  You brace yourself and set off on the trail with the pack digging into your shoulders.  Its okay you say to yourself, I will get used to it. Its good training.

The road less travelled…
However, ten miles in and the pack is really starting to weigh you down.  The straps are digging in, your back is covered in sweat and your feet have ‘hot spots’. All that extra stuff that you put in is taking its toll and what’s worse?  You haven’t used any of it.  

You come to a fork in the path.  You have heard about a glorious spot about 8 miles further up the trail to the left.  People have waxed lyrical about how stunning it is and how good they felt when returning from the spot. It is a small secluded glade by a pool at the bottom of a waterfall that almost no one goes to.  It is quite a steep path with some loose rock and all uphill.  Any other time you would do it but after walking so long with such a heavy pack you are thinking of taking the more traveled route down to the riverbank.  Not as spectacular, quiet or secluded but still nice and rewarding with good spots to pitch camp.

You catch yourself mid thought.  When am I next going to be taking this trail?  The last time was over a year ago. Carpe Diem. I am going to do it.  You make the commitment, move into the bushes and take out everything except what you will need for the trip.  Out come the rain jacket, wooly jumper, socks, umbrella, seat and extra snack bars and you hide them under a bush. You put the pack on and it feels so much lighter, almost half the weight.  You almost float up the hill, its not just the reduced weight, its knowing that you are lean and clean of clutter.

The principle of minimalism
I know that this resonates with many of my experiences.  In the Army we would go to huge lengths to lessen the weight of the pack.  Cutting the bottom half off toothbrushes, cutting a roll mat in half, squeezing half the toothpaste out so that you only had what you needed.  Cutting towels in half, trimming the edges of the map.  It sounds crazy I know, but all of these things added up to a significant lessening of weight.  We were ruthless with it.  Take care of the ounces and the pounds will look after themselves.  It was also mentally important to know that you were as lean as you could be.  When you know you have extra clutter it is not just the physical weight. Mentally every step reinforced in your mind that you were carrying more than you should be.

A lighter pack for martial artists
Lightening our pack is vital as a martial artist.  It is possibly the most important aspect.  Correct training works to create an environment where the training pushes our buttons.  It triggers our fears, tensions, anxieties, pride, ego, frustrations and other unwanted ‘heavy’ emotions.  It gives us the tools to be aware of these emotions and simple reliable methods of removing them.  In battle, be that a combat situation, self defence situation or a high pressure negotiation, we need to be free of these inhibiting emotions.  We need to be relaxed, fluid, loose and creative both physically and mentally.   We are often blissfully unaware of the fears and anxieties that are running constantly through our bodies and minds.  Our body and our movements are the physical barometer for them.  Unchecked, these fears and tensions inhibit spontaneous, natural, creative movement and a response that is ‘just enough’ and appropriate to the threat.

Lightening your emotional pack
Then there is the mental fatigue of carrying anxiety, stress, worry, and tension. These mental things very quickly become physical.  Worries and fears quickly become physical tension.   Usually in the back, neck and shoulders.  These sap your energy levels, drive, motivation and enthusiasm.  They cause poor posture, knotted muscles, headaches and worse, and they rob you of your vital energy.  Spend just 10 minutes sat on a bench or at an airport watching people as they walk.  The majority won’t be walking naturally and at ease.  Most will be hunched in the shoulders, back, legs or hips.  Most of the time this will be worry or anxiety related tension rather than an actual physical injury.

Lightening your pack in life.
The worries of everyday life can be seen in the same light.  Worrying about meeting the costs of ever increasing outgoings for things that we know that we don’t really need.  Meeting the demands of commitments to friends, family or co-workers that we couldn’t say no to even though you know that you should have.  Wading through a life cluttered with stuff that we haven’t used in years. Items from old hobbies, an office and drawers overflowing with manuals for things we don’t even own anymore.  Go through them and ruthlessly de-clutter.  It will feel great afterwards.

Daily Ablutions
As well as normal cleaning, the warrior would need to ‘wash’ themselves daily of these unwanted emotions. The tightness, headaches and knots are the roadmap of the fears and thoughts of the mind.  Daily training, floor rolling and breathing exercises help you to firstly notice and then release these tensions.  The amazing thing is that once you notice and remove the physical tensions, the mental ones go too.    Think of the body as your alarm clock.  Once you start to do this you will find yourself much more aware of the daily tensions and be able to drop them, leaving you with more energy, feeling more relaxed, moving more smoothly, being more creative and much, much healthier.

I have 3 trips organised this year where you can put some of this to the test:

UK 4 Day Systema Summer Camp – 29 June – 02 July  – Wiltshire with Matt Hill. Click here for more information and to book.

River Wye Canoeing and Camping Trip – 22-23 July – 4 spaces left Click here for more information

Sweden Total Immersion Systema Camp with the Systema Twins – 28 Aug – 02 Sept – 2 spaces left. Click here for more information

Respect and best wishes,


Hidden in plain sight

39557972 - dirty lioness hiding in the bush, serengeti, tanzania, africa

39557972 – dirty lioness hiding in the bush, serengeti, tanzania, africa

The beauty, power and surprise of natural movement.

Martial arts in demonstration, teaching and on the big screen look amazing. But much of it is show. It doesn’t look like that for real, it is too obvious. A fighter outside a ticketed show does not want to draw attention to themselves. Think of a soldier. The last thing they want is for people to notice them. They want to do thier job and get home safely to their family or mates.

I remember an SAS instructor on my jungle warfare course. He looked ordinary, but his approach to everyday movement and skills was anything but ordinary. There was an attention to detail and an understanding of the ordinary that was extraordinary. The surface was similar, but there was a deep well beneath.  One small example: Most soldiers carry the weapon across the body – look at any newsreel footage of soldiers. The weapon is most likely on a sling and diagonal across the chest. The SAS instructor made us carry the weapon at the hip facing the same way as you. So whether we were walking uphill, down or turning, the weapon was immediately to bear. A simple thing, a small detail that made all the difference. It brought to mind the phrase: ‘Still waters run deep’.

I see the same with the Systema masters Vladimir and Mikhail. They can have you working for hours on the simplest of movements. Walking, breathing, lowering to the ground, turning. I had a eureka moment when I realised that everything was reversed. These movements seemed so mundane, unmartial, just a warm up, until something clicked. I realised that these movements were the real ones ones and that the martial techniques that I had spent so long learning suddenly became unmartial, unnatural. They weren’t mine.  Things are actually the reverse of what I had thought.

They say that a great martial artist doesn’t show thier skills. I always thought that this meant that they shouldn’t demonstrate because others may steal thier secrets. While this may be true I also think that there is  another angle. Their skills are hidden in everyday movement. Just like a magician uses misdirection. The misdirection here is normal, natural movement. Nothing about it signals danger to you. There is no change in speed, no wind up of power, no change of breath, no shouting, no tension, no technique, just natural execution of a movement. It is virtually undetectable.

I remember the first time I really felt Vladimir Vasiliev as I attacked him. I was smiling in bewilderment. After doing martial arts for a while you can feel when someone begins to build to something. It is a common language. With most people you can feel something about to happen even if you can’t do anything about it. With Vladimir it is different. There is no build up. He just moves in an ordinary way, like the SAS instructor showing military skills. Nothing flash, nothing to draw attention, but a deep well of understanding and appreciation of what lies beneath normal movement. Nothing wasted, a conscious understanding of movement. So much so that I seemed to be fighting myself. There was nothing to catch. things just unfolded before my eyes, we moved and then out of nowhere I would get hit or felled. Only now do I start to little by little understand it. With Mikhail it is possibly more baffling. He doesn’t even seem to do anything to produce the same and greater effects.

Natural movement is healthy. It is smooth and relaxed, absent of tension, doesnt put any strain on the system and goes with not against the joints.

My journey into Systema has been a period of unlearning bad habits. Habits like holding my breath under physical, mental or emotional stress, moving in rigid, unnatural ways, thinking that the secrets lay outside in techniques, rather than inside myself.

Natural movement is fast, smooth, hidden, powerfully absent of tension, healthy and almost impossible to intercept.

My call to action to you would be this: Whatever your martial arts practice, even if you don’t do a martial art, study breathing. Learn to relax and be normal. in every breath, moment and movement. So many of us walk around constantly tense, a toxic knot of anxious stress. The good news is that it is not binary: i.e relaxed or not relaxed. It is a continuum of progressively feeling freer as you become more relaxed. As soon as you begin the journey to conscious relaxation you will start to feel better.

Relaxation is the hardest skill I have ever had to try to master. Moving along the continuum will make you better, healthier, happier and more effective. At whatever you do. Paradoxically you will then be anything but normal in todays society, but you will be what you were born to be.

River Wye Canoeing and Camping Trip – 22-23 July 2017

Symonds Yat

River Wye Canoeing and Camping Trip 22-23 July 2017

Canoe down the River Wye, one of this Islands most beautiful and spectacular river sceneries, camp overnight on Saturday (tent and roaring campfire) and then back home for lunch on Sunday.

Yat Camp Fire

This started out as a trip for the Systema Family Class but has since opened out to all. It is mainly a family trip but of course all are welcome.
Start time – 10am Saturday 23rd July in Symonds Yat.
Finish time – 10am Sunday 24th July in Symonds Yat.

Symonds Yat Swim

Basic camping kit will be needed (tent, sleeping bags and mats, cooking equipment, food etc. full list will be given on booking).

Wye Sun

This is a fantastic trip down the River Wye. A timeless trip of high adventure and the the kind of trip that childhood memories are made of!
Numbers will be limited. Please let me know ASAP.



£45 per child and £55 per adult.
To pay via paypal click below (£2 added to cover paypal fee):
Please email me for BACS details
Child (16 and below)
Children must be accompanied by an adult.

I look forward to welcoming you on the adventure!

Best wishes,



Is your training pushing the right buttons?

Pushing buttonsI have written in recent articles about the wrong reasons to train such as obtaining superhero muscles, because you have eaten too much, to fit into certain beachwear etc. All pretty superficial reasons and sadly all too familiar in our culture.

So what about the right reasons to train? Which buttons should you be pressing? Below are the key areas that if neglected, will have a detrimental effect on your short and long term health?

Good training or lifestyle should address:

  1. Endurance. Your overall systems ability to endure. Not just cardio vascularly and muscularly but energetically and will power. This doesn’t mean running marathons or even running daily or weekly. But if you need to do it, you should be able to, without physically or mentally giving in. Conscious and competent breathing is a huge help here.
  2. Strength. I wrote a recent article on this. You should have basic 1:1 strength. A pull up, push up, deep squat (bum on heels, feet flat), sit up and leg raise should be smoothly doable. If you can’t you are either too heavy, too weak or both. 🙁
  3. Resistance to injury. If your training leaves you regularly damaged you need to take a closer look. This will take its toll. Outside of competitive sport your training needs to be sustainable for life. Good training should build your resilience.
  4. Relaxation. You should feel better, refreshed and rejuvenated after training. Not depleted, anxious or stressed. There is no need to push it to the max every time.
  5. Movement variety. Your training should have lots of variety in its movement: forwards, backwards, pushing, pulling, twisting, turning, compressing, extending, jumping, landing, throwing, catching. All natural movements. I will enlarge on this in a coming blog.
  6. Adaptability, body intelligence. It should make you more ready for the real and potential rigours of life. Your body move naturally, smoothly and intuitively. It should flow smoothly over and around obstacles. If you can bench press your body weight but pull a muscle during a sharp unexpected movement, there is something wrong.
  7. Cardio function. The heart rate should get used to going up and down. Not constantly low, but not constantly up high either. In a session try to have regular periods of raising it and then regular periods of consciously recovering it. Your heart rate variability is important.
  8. Mobility. You should look to maintain and even improve your levels of mobility and fluidity as you age. Don’t settle for decline. This is largely a matter of relaxation.
  9. Balance. Critical to almost every endeavour, in every sense.
  10. Stimulation and fun. Why do it otherwise? Your whole body should smile during exercise, from the heart to the mouth and thank you for it. Training is not punishment for your body or spirit it is an enabler.

I am sure there are others, you may agree or disagree, let me know your thoughts.

So what types of training incorporate all these I hear you ask? Tough one.
Here are some good ones that hit most of the points:

  • Dance – most types.
  • Systema
  • Many other Martial Arts
  • Contact sports e.g. Rugby
  • Many adventure pursuits e.g. climbing, hiking and scrambling, bushcraft,
  • and the number one:

Play. with children or grandchildren. Outdoors preferably. Run, hide and seek, tag, off ground tag, play fighting, ‘rassling’ anything goes!

There are of course others, thats just off the top of my head.

With respect and best wishes,


P.S There are still a couple of spaces left on the Breathing Masterclass on 21-22 Jan. Click here for more information or to book.