Would I Survive?

I received this testimonial from Susan, an attendee at last years Systema Camp in Wiltshire. It is a good indication of the benefits at any age and level of fitness or experience.

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I have written this to to demonstrate how systema is becoming part of my daily life. It is getting me through times that would have challenged and stressed me before.

I had the honour to meet up with some systema practitioners last summer at the Systema Fundamentals camp in Wiltshire under your guidance Matt. I had no idea what to expect and was nervous as to what would face me. Would I survive?!

I loved the experience.

It was probably the first time that my mind and body was able to look past the daily worries and challenges of work and aging parents.

It was also the first time in a long time that I was pushed out of my comfort zone over my 56 years.

Since then I have enjoyed (and struggled with) your 28 day challenge and the online breathing video course.

Unexpectly I have found the new approach to movements, breathing and even something as simple as standing a huge benefit to my overall health.

I have been amazed at how elements of the camp your programmes have naturally become part of my daily routine. This has meant that even during the most demanding times, I am able to find calm, focus on my immediate surroundings and relax the mind.

You mentioned recently in an email Vladimir’s quote “stop feeling sorry for yourself” while performing strenuous exercise.

I realised that this ethos can be applied when I feel life in general is getting too demanding. Just that viewpoint grounds me. Without realising it I had adopted this quote.

I look forward with respect and anxiousness to returning to the camp this year!

Thank you for introducing me to a way of living that I am beginning to include in my daily life.

Susan.

This years camp runs from 3-7 July 2019. The theme is Living Systema.

Among many other things we will be covering how to translate the exercises and drills into a way of living your life with more ease, calm and relaxation. We will then bring this state of body, mind and spirit to the application of Systema in self-defence.

It is a deep 5 day immersion into all aspects of Systema and ultimately a better understanding of yourself and how to live, move, breathe and respond in better ways.

The price goes up in less than two weeks. Here is the link to the page with more information.

If you enjoyed this blog there are more in my weekly newsletters here.

My best wishes for your training and health,

Matt.

Testimonial from a former Royal Marine Commando

…”Instead of scanning my environment for threats, I now scan my mind and body for tension…”

 

 

 

 

The following testimonial is from Billy, an ex Royal Marine 45 Commando Sniper.

Hi Matt

It has been a couple of weeks now since your 2 day systema breathing weekend and the principles have remained solid and constant.
Since 2007 I have been having intermittent flash backs to Afghanistan where I served as a sniper with 45 Commando. The memories would be triggered by a certain smell or landscape. My imagination would wander and feelings and strong emotions would get stirred up. Before I knew it 20 minutes would elapse in complete unawareness of the present moment and my surroundings. This is not ideal at 03:00 when you are flying down the M5 at 80mph thinking the rear car lights are RPG’s) these uncontrolled thoughts and vivid memories had the tendency to ruin the rest of my day and leave me with an underlying bubbling anger.
During the outdoor exercise that you did whilst walking across the field I had a mini flashback to a raid I was involved in. However the difference this time was that instead of getting carried away I remained anchored in my breath which prevented any emotional attachment. It seemed to establish a present awareness that caught the thought before it took hold. Although the memory was still there it seemed more like a dream that faded the more I concentrated on the breath.
I have continued to apply the whole body breathing exercises during the waking day and it is becoming almost automatic. I have realised that for me this is not a one off thing to be done a couple of hours a week but a way of life where I remain ‘on watch’ over myself. Instead of scanning my surroundings for threats, I now scan my mind and body for tension.
An unexpected bonus of this is that the chronic aches and pains I have are also starting to subside and life is becoming brighter. Thank God.
Best regards,
Billy.

It is not just our Military that suffer from and live with these episodes. They are on a spectrum that we can all suffer from at some point in our lives.

Systema’s approach may work with everyone, but we all have more power to heal and clean ourselves out than we believe.

What Billy was referring to are not just breathing techniques. They are a deep understanding of how your breathing is linked to and affected by emotions, thoughts, movement, strain, tension and posture. There are tools to learn how to be sensitive to this and then how to manage it. Once we have the tools, they are then ours.

My sincere thanks to Billy for sharing such a powerful experience.

I have listed a couple of upcoming opportunities to explore this deeper. One on-line and one at an upcoming 5-day camp exploring the fundamentals of Systema’s approach.

Matt Hill

The 28 Day Challenge below gives you a day by day guide to Systema’s approach and is great for exploring breathing and movement for performance and healing.

The booking is also open for this years UK Camp on 04-08 July – the camp is now half full.

Click the links below for Matt’s Systema:

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.

Matt.

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.’
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‘A fantastic opportunity to excape concrete jungle, enjoy nature and above all else learn systema from some of the best instructors.’
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‘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.’
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‘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.’
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‘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….. ‘
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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,


Matt.

The Daily Constitutional

It’s about so much more than A-B or even calorie burn

Family Walking at Sunset
When I first talk about relearning your walk at systema classes I can see people looking at me dubiously. After all, they have been walking ok for thier whole lives. The difference is that I want them to walk in a way that promotes health, not just in terms of calorie burn, but in terms of resetting the system and removing stress.

Walking is the defining movement of a human being and the great thing about walking is that you can’t be sitting at the same time.

Few people in the western world walk enough these days and the benefits are well documented:

  • Calorie burn
  • Endorphin release (mood enhancers)
  • Tones the muscles
  • Strengthens the heart
  • Reduces risk of diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

However, you can get more.

Walking is our natural reset button. We know this intuitively. When someone is stressed or angry we say to them, “come on lets go for a walk.”

Adding just a few elements to improve your walking can enhance the effects stated above. Daily life puts stress in our bodies. Physical stress from sitting too much, bad posture, high stress lifestyles etc. This is compounded by emotional stress which starts as a thought or worry and quickly becomes physical tension in the body.

Walking is our natural antidote to this. When walking correctly you literally breathe and walk the stress out of your body.

Here are a few steps to help this.

  1. Focus on your breathing. Try to link it to your steps. Breathe in through your nose for say 4 steps and then out through your mouth for 4 steps. As you relax and improve you can stretch this to 6, 8, 10 or more. You then also get all the benefits of nasal breathing that I have outlined before.
  2. Relax on the exhale. As you exhale, try to relax your muscles from the head down to the feet. Your body should feel light, In fact, your body should ‘disappear’. If you are relaxed and in good posture you should not feel your body. All you should feel is the contact of your feet on the floor.
  3. Walk from the knees. This will relax your leg muscles, make you more energy efficient, lighten your step reducing impact and make you more balanced over uneven terrain. To do this, begin the step by relaxing and moving the knee forwards.
  4. Maintain a good posture. Chin should be in and pulled back, chest should be out and not sunken, arms loose and relaxed at your sides. Key is not to pull your shoulders back, but to lift your chest gently out in a way that does not add tension to your muscles. This will ensure that you are not building tension and pain through bad posture.

It obviously helps to walk outside in fresh air, preferably in proximity to trees. When you walk with these four points in mind you will amplify the benefit of getting outside and dosing up on vitamin D.

Just like a computer that has to process too much and needs to be reset. Our natural reset is walking. In a very short space of time we can switch off and then on again using walking and keeping these points in mind.

Best wishes,


Matt.

Are human beings compatible with 21st century living?

Climb and Play

In short, no. From a physical standpoint and to thrive as human beings, we are designed to move much, much more. In our current lifestyle we spend most of our waking hours sitting. Think breakfast, then commutes, then office work, then commuting back, then dinner, then TV, then bed. nearly all of that is done in a seat.

We are not designed to sit that long, and when we do, we get problems. We seize up, physically and psychologically (stress).

Rewind back to tribal living, where most of our time as human beings has been spent, and none of that would have been done in a seat.

We are designed for a day filled with walking, running, jumping, swimming, diving, hanging, swinging, rolling, squatting, twisting, pushing, pulling, lifting, throwing, getting down and up from the floor.

Playing in the woods or even a children’s play area will have all or most of this. When was the last time you climbed a tree? Could you still do it? Here’s a question: did most people stop doing these things because they couldn’t do them anymore, or can they not do these things anymore because they stopped doing them?  Getting older comes to us all, but in many ways getting older in terms of our ability to move well is a choice.

Some of the best fun my three children had over Christmas was challenges I set them on dog walks for tree climbing.

Don’t mistake this for high intensity exercise at the gym though. All this was done countless times during the day in the course of everyday life. An attitude of play and fun in daily movement is vastly underrated. ‘Exercise’ is just a modern phenomena of the past 40 years or so.

In order to thrive as healthy normal human beings we need to be moving our body through as big a range of movement as possible, every day. We should be able to do the four pillars through the full range of motion as a minimum. I would also add a fifth pillar, a pull up but brachial i.e. overarm not underarm chin up. The vertical hang is also fantastic for fixing shoulder problems (see Shoulder pain, the solution and prevention by Professor John Kirsch MD.)

When we can move well we are and able to enjoy life much more fully. It also cleans us out psychologically. We literally, move and breathe stress and anxiety out of our bodies. It gets locked and hidden in our bodies when we spend too much time thinking and worrying while sitting still, in stasis, and we need to move through our whole body to find stiffness, tension (stress) and ease it out.

For the best results try not to limit yourself to just one type of activity such as running, cycling or swimming. Humans are all rounders. There are better runners, jumpers, climbers, swimmers etc in the animal kingdom, but we are the best all rounders. So try to find something with lots of varied movement. If your are too specific in your type of movement, you will pay a price (balance in your body, injury and boredom).

Its quite easy to incorporate these movements into everyday life and feel the benefits very quickly. Pop along  to a local Systema class where you will find out more.

A great opportunity to understand more about this topic is coming up on the 4 Day Systema Intensive Camp in June/July this year.

To continued success in your training.


Matt.

Systema Vs Bullying

Systema Against Bullying

Louie has been training in my family and Junior classes for about a year. A better brought up, nicer, more polite boy you couldn’t wish to meet. He is in his second year at senior school.

Louie didn’t tell me about the following incident, his Dad did. Louie was too shy. When I approached him he did talk to me though and together with his Dad Louie wrote this short piece:

It was lunchtime when I saw one of my friends in the distance on the main field of the school playground.

He was surrounded by some bigger lads that I had seen before, but didn’t know too well.

The next thing I saw was that my friend had been pushed. Straight away I knew that he was being bullied, so I began to run over to see if I could help. Before I got there one of the bullies had punched him in the stomach and he crumpled to the ground.

I felt a combination of fear and anger. Fear because I was about to rush into a confrontation and anger that my friend had been hurt. My Systema breathing started immediately to calm and relax myself.

I shouted ‘enough!’ to them to try and get them to stop. One of them came to try and push me away but they weren’t able to get much power into their push because I had already started to soften my body just like Matt had taught me. He kept trying to push me but his pushes kept slipping off as I moved my body with the pushes.

I was still focussed on reaching my friend, so the next time he pushed, I moved my body to flow with it and stepped in and countered with a push of my own, using his push against him, which sent him off balance and out of my way.

The main bully saw this and also began to move away. My friend had begun to get back to his feet and I asked him if he was ok.

I now realised that all of the bullies had gone away and it felt great to have saved my friend thanks to Systema.

Louie aged 12.

As they say all it takes for bad to prevail is for good people to stand by and do nothing. Louie didn’t just stand by.

I thank Louie for the great example of how Systema can be used to confront bullying. Without undue damage to himself or anyone else, Louie acted in an effective and proportionate way with strength, courage and humility.

Junior classes run on Monday early evening and Family classes on Saturday mornings from 9am.
At classes children learn much more than just the physical skill of how to look after themselves or others.

The unique drills and practice of Systema teach them how to be calm, stable, strong and resilient in life, not just in an altercation.

Building yourself from the ground up

Vlad GroundPart two of the Toronto Chronicles:

One of the simplest forms of exercise to strengthen the body, build endurance, boost recovery, improve suppleness, relax and build confidence is:

Ground Movement.

A key element of training that I brought home from Toronto is the amount of ground movement that was done in each class. Classes nearly always began and ended with some ground movement. Many of the classes also had lots of ground movement during the classes.

Vladimir made a point of saying that ground movement is a great thing to do, especially at the end of the day, as it relaxes and de-stresses you.

For many adults ground movement can seem, well, child like. Falling, rolling, crawling, wrestling and twisting movements as an adult can feel strange and awkward physically. It can also make people feel self conscious emotionally.

I see it every week when new people start training. For some it is so strange that they can’t get over it. They struggle and then give up.

However, if you can get over this, and persevere for just a few weeks it will give you more bang for your buck than any other type of movement. Why I hear you ask?

Firstly, it will relax you physically. Most adults are so stiff and tense! Mainly due to the stress of modern life. When you move on the ground you use every muscle that you have. As you do it the body starts to relax and you see people start to smile first in their faces and then in their whole bodies as they begin to move smoothly and easily. BUT, you have to learn to do it with relaxation, and there lies the skill and most of the benefit.

Secondly, it is great exercise. Our body is the thing that we will carry around with us for the rest of our lives. If you can move it up and down and around on the ground with ease and continue to do a little each week or even better each day, you will always be able to do this, whatever age you are lucky enough to reach. It will improve your strength, cardio vascular system, vestibular (balance) system and proprioceptive skills amongst other things.

Thirdly, it is low impact and therefore will not wear your joints.

Fourth it will relax you mentally. As your body relaxes so does your mind and you are left soft and supple on the outside and relaxed and at ease on the inside.

Finally in terms of self defence if you can lose your fear of the ground, falling or being thrown, and get comfortable on the ground, your skills will become more complete and a new world will open up to you.

Watch your children or grandchildren. They are so happy most of the time because they move so much of thier body, so much of the time. One minute they are crying (and you will notice they will be still or static at this point) the next they will be tearing around and laughing.

The more of you that you can move, with freedom and ease, the happier you will become. It is when you get tense emotionally and then tense physically that you clam up, stop moving and become unhappy. 

Haden, one of the group that travelled to Toronto mentioned that after just one week of daily ground movement he felt that his body was softer, healthier and move relaxed.

If you fancy a 21 day ground movement challenge, click the link below, it is starting in a few days!

Here is a short clip of ground movement to give you some ideas. Nothing special or complicated but great for all round health and free movement.