Systema Family Classes – the most fun I have all week!

Family Classes – the most fun I have all week.

The family class has rapidly become my busiest and most enjoyable class of the week. I only started it to give my two daughters the chance to train in Systema. But it might just have been the best thing that I have done in sharing Systema and growing my club.

I thought it would be a good idea to have a class where mums and dads could enjoy the session alongside their children. I wasn’t wrong. I now have a very busy class on the Saturday morning sessions. They cater for children from the age of four to their parents and even grandparents in their 60’s. Everyone trains together and classes are great for people of all ages.

Before we start the children are already naturally warming up before the class playing tag, rolling, tumbling and spinning themselves around on the mat.
We then sit in a big circle, (no hierarchy of grades or rank in Systema) welcome everyone and I present today’s topic.

We then roll out backwards and do the first breathing exercise to relax everyone. Everyone lies on their back and we go through some breathing and relaxation cycles. There is of course some fidgeting from the youngest, but very little. For me this is probably the most beneficial part of the class. This skill of knowing how to breathe in a way that relaxes them is a skill that will benefit them in stressful situations for the rest of their lives.

In Systema everything is everything. Every movement, drill or exercise that we do works on their physical, emotional and psychological development. It smooth’s out their movement and strengthens their bodies. It makes their nervous system more resilient and able to handle change, pressure and uncertainty. It acclimatises them to physical contact. So many people today are unused to physical contact. Even within their own family. I see this time and time again when new people join the class. In all ages I notice an initial uncertainty around contact when they have to place their hand on someone.

This is then followed by walking, running, crawling, forwards, backwards, falling, rolling, sometimes with eyes closed, balancing skills, coordination and a myriad of other movement skills. It is all done in a fun way and in a very short space of time every muscle in the body is woken up, used and developed.

We then do the four pillars of exercise. These are movements that we are born with. They are in our DNA. I have a 10-month-old baby boy and he has been doing these for several months. No-one taught him. They are just there. They are the push up, the sit up, the squat and the leg raise. All four are done naturally with the focus on breathing and relaxing the whole time.  The exercises take you through your body’s full range of motion and check your ability to support your body’s weight through that range. The children learn to move with smoothness and effortless ease removing tension through the exercises. Mums and Dads  start to turn back the clock on the restrictive tensions in their bodies, limited ranges of motion and their body’s inability to support its weight through that range of motion.

Monty Squat

We then do some rolls showing children how to fall softly and safely. This is a fear that most carry their whole lives, which becomes more acute as you get older. Systema removes that fear through experience, physical and breath training and falling in a huge variety of ways.  Rolling is also fantastic conditioning training and works nearly all the muscles of the body. A baby builds a body for life from the ground up, by rolling and doing the four pillars. Systema does the same thing. It removes your fears of the ground and teaches you to once again move freely and easily in that realm.

Increasing their resilience. We then go onto the combat side of Systema. This is first and foremost about improving their resilience and removing fears in a fun way. All children get and give hits and kicks. They get grabbed, pinned, thrown, stood on, by one person, two people, with their eyes closed, in a crowd – every scenario you could possibly imagine. Most of the training is done slowly and in an experimental way to avoid injury and in order to learn. This is great fun. It also increases their physical and emotional resilience to any situation and their creative abilities expand exponentially.

Systema also teaches children to get comfortable with stresses and emotions of all kinds. The physical stress of movements, the stress of being in a class with adults and children, the stress of taking away a sense, such as sight, the stress of close physical contact. Emotionally they have to deal with anger, anxiety, pride, ego, self-pity, pressure, fear and other emotions. They are taught how to manage any kind of stress through simple breathing exercises that will stay with them for life. The adults too learn the value of these breathing techniques and start applying them in their lives straight away.

Being comfortable with getting things wrong. In Systema there are no set responses, so really nothing to get wrong. Think lion cubs. It is just play and experimentation. Their creativity flourishes in this environment. In his incredible TED talk Sir Ken Robinson speaks about creativity and the arts. That all children are born creative, and that this creativity is systematically educated out of them as they get older. The fear of getting things wrong stops them creating ‘new’ responses, ideas and movements. In Systema this isn’t just encouraged, it is the only way to do it. They have to engage their problem solving skills throughout the session. The response to situations is theirs. They continually seek to find appropriate, effective responses based on their strengths. We just ask them to make sure that they are breathing, moving, relaxed and keeping a good posture as they move. In short they learn to do something against anything.

Social skills development. After 45 minutes, the cubs (4-8 year olds) go off to play together in a raised area off to the side. So the children socialize and interact across the age range throughout the session. The adults and tigers stay on. Another 45 minutes goes by in a flash; going over similar ground, but just a little further in the skills’ development.

The session concludes with everyone coming back onto the mat and playing a game of bulldogs or tag but with a Systema twist, such as restrictions on movement.

Many of the adults start by bringing their children and end up joining the main evening classes, when they see the benefits it brings to them. Systema builds healthy, strong, calm, confident, stable, balanced, well-adjusted children. It is also some of the best fun I have all week.

With respect and best wishes,

Matt.