Archives for the month of: July, 2012

Good day, all!

So I’ve been living in Vaughan, Ontario for the last three months on a co-op term. That means I’ve been working full-time, approximately 90 km away from the dojo I train at. Since I’m also car-less in the interim, I haven’t been to a single week-night class. I have, however, been back on weekends to teach classes on Saturday mornings.

The second thing that my co-op in Vaughan means, is that I’m in a completely new martial environment, one which just happens to include Vladimir Vasiliev’s Systema school.

Yup.

I’ve been cheating on Karate.

But with videos like this, who could possible resist that sexy little nymph of a martial art:

Systema (also known as Russian Martial Art) was founded by Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev (Mikhail’s top student). A quick google (lol, verbing nouns) reveals that Mikhail and Vladimir are both accomplished in the russian military and secret service (read: Spetsnaz). Supposedly both were involved to varying degrees with Russian counter terrorism and black ops, and Mikhail is even cited as having literally written the book on hostage negotiations. Vladimir’s school in Thornhill (which is either part of Vaughan, or right next to Vaughan; I still don’t really know. Supposedly I actually live in a place called Concord right now…) is the Systema headquarters for the western world. So, naturally, living a mere twenty minute bike ride away, I made an effort to try out a few classes.

Okay, so I “tried out” classes the way a bear “tries out” your processed cheese slices; with no intention of ever going back to roots and berries again.  When I stopped in one day, before trying a class, I saw Vladimir hitting some of the students with a big leather whip. It looked painful (it also is painful). Coming from my pressure point work with Sensei Paul Simoes, any class with that level of masochism was immediately attractive.

(Side Note: The purpose of the whip was not punishment. It was an exercise to teach you where the tension is in your body. If you’re completely relaxed, then you’ll allow the energy from the whip to pass through your body effectively. If you’re not, then it will get blocked, which will be interpreted as pain. Big pain.)

The classes involve a multitude of drills unlike anything I’d ever done before. There’s a big emphasis on partner work, ranging from walking over your partners body using your fists, to rolling with your partner on the ground, to walking towards and punching each other, and all sorts of things in between. Some of the conditioning exercises are pretty brutal too. One involves using your fists against a concrete wall, walking down the wall as you walk your feet further and further out until you’re in a superman position, supported by the friction between your fists and the wall, and then going back up. Others involve holding your breath (on exhale, which is much much harder, I’ve learned) while doing push ups or sit ups (or squats or leg raises or running or that wall walking drill or just lying down or…).

I’ve been trying to understand the idea behind Systema (I think all arts are grounded in ideas), and here are the two I’ve learned so far:

  1. Be tensionless

    This is perhaps the most base concept of Systema: all pain comes from tension. No tension, no pain. There are stories of drunks falling over bridges and walking away with just a few scratches because they were relaxed when they hit the ground. Its the same concept here. When you get hit, breathe out and relax. When you hit, stay relaxed. When you move, stay relaxed. If you let tension develop in yourself, then it gives your opponent a method of recourse- a counter. A good way to test and train yourself in this regard is to do push ups while being aware of the tension in your body. If you can do a push up while staying completely relaxed, then you’ve got a good shot at being tensionless in your training. I’m just starting to be able to feel the tension in myself, and it is disconcerting. When I strike, I’m noticing that there are different parts of my body where the energy doesn’t move smoothly, and these areas would be especially susceptible to counters. The other place I’ve noticed tension is psychologically. In Karate, it’s become such a routine that its easy to focus on what I’m doing and clear outside worries, but with Systema, there is much less ritual and routine, so I don’t have the same ease. I often find my mind wandering to other things in my life, and it takes conscious effort to regain my focus.

  2. Do your own work

    In Karate, I’d learned (often from personal experience) that in sparring matches, the person who’s able to play his own game and make his opponent also play his game would usually be the winner. For example if one person had a very aggressive, quick style and was able to make his opponent (who supposedly doesn’t have the same style) spar in the same way, he’d probably win. But Systema takes it further. In everything you do, don’t allow yourself to get bogged down by what other people are doing. If you’re moving, move for yourself, not for your opponent. Similarly, when you take a stance, either to strike or for some other purpose, its important that you’ve taken the stance you want. You should be stable and centred. It’s the only way to deliver power effectively and, more importantly, consistently. I think I’ve improved the most in this regard. I’ve stopped worrying so much about what my partner’s doing, and focused on what I’m doing and what my goals are for the exercise. If I want to focus on taking a proper stance before striking, then I’ll make sure I’ve got that stance before I perform my strike, even if that means my strike misses, or is too late. It’s also good for the ego, being a beginner again.

Systema: it is not a magic system for destroying any attacker, but it is a legitimate martial art in its own right, and its instructors are highly skilled, leading people to alternately claim it as superior to other martial arts, or completely fraudulent. One thing I can say with regard to the sceptics out there: every demonstration Vladimir does looks just like the videos on YouTube, and nobody in that room is trying to make him look good; they’re just trying to learn from him.

I see this training, not as a betrayal of my beloved Karate; oh no! But instead as a complement, so that I can better understand the weaknesses in myself, and properly direct my training. It’s also given me some great drills to torture teach my students with!

P.S. I just learned that in the Japanese penal system, seiza position is an integral part of “correcting” prisoners’ faulty attitudes: http://amblerangel.wordpress.com/2012/07/25/hell-raising-teenagers-in-asia/

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Hello webfriends!

First of all, kudos to anybody that got the title on the first try. I wouldn’t have. Also, for having a very musically inclined half of my family, and having taken 5 years of trumpet, it was embarrassingly difficult to put that title together. With that out of the way, I now offer a warning: I’m about to geek-out really hard, and, you know, if you’re a potential love interest, or if you’re really digging the whole, peaceful-warrior vibe I was going for with the earlier posts, I’d suggest you just stop reading now. Close the tab. Come back for the next post. It’ll be good. It’ll be about zen and stuff…

Well, you’re still reading, so here goes: I want to be Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). I don’t mean, I want to own the Iron Man suit (undeniably awesome). I don’t mean I want to be Robert Downey Jr. (also pretty cool). I literally want to be everything about Tony Stark! Let’s go over some of the key reasons why.

First of all, he gets to fly around in a badass robotic suit. Now the best part of that is the word “get.” For example, pilots don’t “get” to fly planes; they have to. It’s their job. Maybe some of them like it. Doesn’t matter; still their job. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Jared, other people fly planes for fun. Not as a job. They’re hobbyists.” And to that I say, “A plane is not a badass robot suit.” Moving on.

While a robot suit is a pretty compelling reason to do just about anything (I’m not sure I can actually think of something I wouldn’t do to operate a flying robot suit), what makes me want to be Tony Stark even more is the way he uses his mind. He doesn’t solve problems with effort, or indomitable will; he solves them by being smarter than everybody else. He escaped from terrorists by being smarter than them and building a robot suit. He beat that other giant robot suit by being smarter than its operator and flying into the upper atmosphere. He beat being slowly poisoned by the device keeping him alive by being smarter than everybody (except possibly his father) and SYNTHESIZING A NEW ELEMENT.

But, I think more than anything else its because he’s free.

Not to get all pseudo-philosophical and suggest Tony Stark is some paragon of enlightened living. He’s a narcissistic, alcoholic, ex-womanizer with father-issues . But he can do what he likes in life because he’s smart. If he needs something, he can build it. If he doesn’t know how, he can learn, and if its never been done, he can figure out how. He does whatever he wants without fear of repercussion or social consequence. Henry Ford once said something to the effect of “If I lose everything in the collapse of our financial structure, I will start in at the beginning and build it up again,” and I suspect Tony Stark would feel the same, knowing that no matter where he ends up, he can build his way back to wherever he’d like to be.

All by being smart.

I think that more than anything, what we all want is to be free. We seek it by going to work and making money. We seek it by buying shiny things that will make us happy. And some of us seek it by giving it all up to find an Ashram and a Guru. We seek fame to be free from our insecurities. We seek religion to be free from death. We blog to be free from our loneliness.

Okay, so that was pseudo-philosophical. Or maybe a little actual-philosophical.

Freedom would be nice, but what I really want is to build my own robot suit.

Cheers

Hello, netizens!

This post is going to be a little different, as it is serving a different purpose. You see, a friend of mine has a phone that doesn’t receive photos well. That same friend asked me if I know of something crafty they could make for a crafty-gift exchange. Since I’m a japanese school girl (that’s the only thing I can think of to explain why I know about this), I suggested she make little puffy origami stars in different colors and fill a glass container with them in layers, sort of like this:

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(except in layers).

I tried explaining how to make them over text, but that didn’t work very well. She can’t receive photos of me making it, so I’ve decided to make one more (there are already hundreds) Tutorial on Little Puffy Stars!!! But what’s more, I’m making it entirely on my phone (I’m on a bus). Without further ado; thusly, we begin.

Thing you’ll need:

    Piece of paper

Optional:

    Scissors

To begin, make a strip that is about fifteen times as long as it is wide. 1 cm by fifteen cm works well. Don’t measure. Just sort of guess. It doesn’t have to be precise. Scissors help with this, but if you put a nice firm fold in the paper, both ways, ripping will work as well.

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Next, you need to tie a knot in one end of the paper. It should be clean (I.e. it doesn’t wrinkle the paper) and should leave you with a nice pentagon shaped knot. The (now) short end of the paper should be about as long as it is wide.

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Now turn the paper so it’s aligned as in the last photo. Take the short end and fold it over the pentagon so that the folded edge and one edge of the paper line up with the pentagon:

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Now tuck the folded end underneath the top strip of the knot:

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You should now have a pentagon on the end of a long strip. The next step is to wrap the long strip tightly around the pentagon, folding along the edges of the pentagon until the remaining strip of paper wouldn’t quite reach to the next edge:

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Now just like before, tuck the remaining strip underneath the top of the pentagon:

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You should now have a perfect little paper pentagon!

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Now it’s time to make it a star. To do this, you need to pinch the corners, which will make them pointier, and make the star puff up.

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Repeating on each corner:

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Congratulations! You now have a bouncing baby b- err a little puffy star. Now all that’s left is to make about a million in several different colors and fill a jar with them. Or go bake something. That’s crafty too.