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.