Friday, May 27, 2016

Seminar in St. Petersburg 2016

Well, I tried to write during the seminar this year, many things happened at once, so it became difficult to even post anything more than photos.
Going into St.P, I already had a few medical setbacks, so I knew most of the training would not be something I'd be able to participate in.
That being said, I was looking forward to training with Natasha Kopylova and Yuri Sheshukov.
Before I continue, I would like to point out the following:
Happy just to observe
This event is not for everyone,and explicitly has been stated many times,that there is no schedule. 
Some of us like this organic flow...some hate it. Either way, you either adapt or not.
This event is heavy on the cultural side.By "heavy",I mean there is a definitive guideline to the music,dance,and performance of this Cossack group. It helps if you speak the language, know the lyrics to the songs,have a natural ability to dance and sing or understand the Cossack lifestyle.
If you came to "just train ",that will not work.While nothing is mandatory, it helps to attend everything.
Now...let's get into it.
I suffered from severe jet lag,followed by more jet lag with a dose of the "White Nights". This,of course,made me extremely unproductive and unmotivated.While,I arrived a week late, I felt it would be a non issue due to the fact that I sorta knew everyone. As soon as I walked in the door,it was like I never left a year prior. About 10 minutes after saying hellos, it was back to training as usual.
yup, I did not wake up on time for this. Trust me..I know
The course of the next few days proved to be extremely taxing for me mentally and physically. While there was a very articulate translator at the event, alot of technical words went unnoticed. This,IMO,opened the floor to many questions during a class by Yuri. His technical speak, as I have been told by translators,is damn near impossible to translate,unless you know the jargon.Due to the constant rate of filming and stopping,there was very little time to ask questions. I also,now famously, slept through the "trench warfare"demo,but got some spare time with Yuri to recap.
This year's event seemed to heavily focus on music and singing lessons.Both of which I have a tiny bit if interest in and not nearly enough to work on my actual singing voice. While the group as a whole,had absolute dedication to improvement, I sat along the sidelines documenting and observing as much as I could. Previously, I tried the balaliaka and it's not my thing,so I chose to skip those classes.
Of interest:
the power is self explanatory
This year, Karimov heavily critiqued his upper tier instructors during their workshops with children and their individual classes. As this is his specialty, he has every right to demand the best from his instructors. This was an interesting dynamic and some of the open criticism was a bit much for my taste,but also,the material was not translated at times. This left another gap in what I wanted to write about. Is the build up of the games something that can be done internationally?Yes. Is there theory behind the methodology? Yup.Can this be broken down into different languages and cultures? Yes. Does it work?Yup....I've seen it with my own two eyes,for long term purposes and consistency, it is a valuable and crucial part of his work. I do hope that one day, it can be easily taught to compromise an international audience....

  • Fedor Tarabukin. Evidently, I missed some good dance lessons the first week,led by him. I was blown away by what I did see. It was magical and profound and likely to outshine any lower acro routine imaginable. He is a professional dancer...he makes it look easy and pointed out to me that everything he did standing up,he could replicate on the mat. Just like that,Fedor out-Cossack squatted everyone in the room. It was almost like watching a bouncy ball that never lost energy. Hands down, one of the best instructors around. He is full of creativity, energy, and passion about the art.

  • Natasha Kopylova. I want to say I came here to train with her,but really,I came to watch her. She makes swordplay look dangerously easy. Again,I missed a few classes,and some were cut short to have her proceed with filming (this is where my creative energy ended),but when she did coach me, she immediately saw my mistakes and corrected them.No fluff. She also broke down alot of the more complex skills by number count(thank you dear God for helping her learn English numerals). Her classes were often bright and early in the morning, and again..*jet lag*. I had a great time learning from her and she is a very gracious and patient instructor,which is a nice break from the norm. I was super excited to see her working on combatives training and mat work,singing and music and am sure she will embody the full package of what is necessary to be a great instructor. 

Now..the goods and the highlight of my trip....

  • Yuri Sheshukov....well, Yuri brought it this year. I mean,he BROUGHT it. That's all I can say without overly gloating about the work I witnessed  (I cannot phathom wtf I missed). His attention to detail, scenarios, weaponry and his mass abundance of both military and historical knowledge really has driven me to learn the language so I can keep up with what he is saying during his block of instruction.His physicality along with technique and helpfulness makes just attending three or four of his classes worth the entire trip. Not only does he teach blocks of coordination, mat work and hand to hand, his knife skills workshop, trench work, and fencing are equally matched with his dancing knowledge and singing skills. If you haven't heard me brag about "The Shesh",

then I have not done you service. He mentioned to me that alot of his basic work is what is already on video but he did make a few more videos while I was there(some I missed filming, some I witnessed and managed to get some short video clips).His block that was about basic to advanced floor roll techniques and floor"gliding" and combative crawls, proved that alot of what we are missing in the US is a significant and detailed military based style that requires a proficient instructor to correct your mistakes while working towards a progressive skill set that takes time and needs to be evaluated more thoroughly. In short...if you have a chance to train with Y. Sheshukov, you must. At this point, I'd even invest in hiring a personal translator just to make sure I didn't miss anything he was saying.Yes..he's that good.Not to mention he has a great sense of humor, is very animated(sometimes, you don't need a translator) and he is seemingly ego-free.

Another interesting concept that I have yet to see in the US(or anywhere), is two master level instructors working so well together.While Sheshukov and Karimov work flawlessly together,it is very time consuming to do the two method approach during a seminar, but it was very effective. If you cannot identify or seem to mentally disprove one method, there was always another one to observe and work through.This for me, was definitely something that is needed when perhaps you have a preference between a more structured style or something more organic and free flowing. In fact, often times the two instructors would sidebar during filming and still continue to talk about methodology and technique.Truly a point worth seeing because rarely, do two men at this level attempt to further acknowledge that there is more learning to do. And they both are fervent learners.

The addition of the performing arts path at a more professional level, left me as a mere observer as I quickly identified the group's goal into actually working towards stage and more public performances. I was totally ok with sitting out and watching someone new to me, Denis Denisov, a professional singer, who's voice seemed to singularly carry the entire group. Once he began professionally coaching the group, within days, their level was catapulted to being very substantial, and he alone, made all the difference in sitting in on some of the singing. The first time I heard him sing, I ended up in tears. That's how profound his deep, powerful singing voice is. It captured the true essence of the Cossack lifestyle.

Take aways:

  • This event is not for everyone. I have stated this publicly many, many times. Some people come to just to learn combatives with Karimov or Sheshukov and that is NOT what this event is for and that is not how it is taught here. There is a social concept that is required to graduate to the tier level that they teach and if you miss out on this theorem, you will not grasp the H2H or mat work, or even knife skills. They are masters and breaking the mental hangups that you may have that they feel are necessary to give you significant breakthroughs in training. Essentially, it is a step by step and buildup ideal that is not done anywhere outside of Russia. Do I think it will be plausible outside of Russia? Not necessarily. You have to have a certain strength, moral character and you most certainly have to be comfortable with yourself and accepting levels of critique that may or may not make sense to you. If you are of weak constitution mentally, the event is not for you.
  • Translation-OK, again...learn the language. That's it. I missed so much technical speak , not of the translator's fault(she was amazing and absolutely helpful), but if a translator does not have RMA or technical background in martial arts terminology, you may miss out on some things. Social translation also is very important in a communal setting and usually, this is when rightfully so, translators turn themselves off to relax. It may be worth hiring a translator at your own cost while training in Russia. There are several localites there who will work on an hourly basis, and it may be worth looking into. Since our translators were there for translating the material into English for the DVD series, I had no expectations of them following me around translating everything I had to ask or say( I have learned this from previous experience). Again, I need to learn the language and only blame myself.
    reverse technical translation-my brain hurt
  • Have a plan B, C, D, -----Z. There were blocks of instruction that I wasn't really interested in or felt like since I do not actively train as a stage performer in the US, it was not something I could keep up with.Therefore, I spent ample amounts of time meeting with other groups,
    business associates and touring St. P which led me on a few more adventures that I will later write about. I never felt forced to attend every block of instruction and while I asked a few questions that had already been reviewed, I managed to keep up with most of the material. While my creative energy was at a lull, it was something that forced me into social situations outside of the event that gave me a new perspective on Russian culture and society. A blessing in disguise even.
  • Take time for yourself- this is something I struggle with even in the states, but was forced to face in Russia. The jet lag was so severe, that I slept for 10 hours straight one day (not something I've ever done at home) and I didn't feel bad about it. I've never had such severe jet lag in my life and it wasn't until the end that I began feeling a bit better. Thankfully, I had some great advice from friends that helped me (one was being out in the sun as much as possible). I also spent alot of time walking around some of the parks and museums on my own, at my own pace with my own passions guiding me. Much different experience than running through St. P as a group. If you are an international visitor, this is probably something you may want to consider. Last year, we missed a few great museums and tours, so this year, I tried to get to as many of those spots as I could. Again..made it worth the trip.
    I found Mosaic Yard!
  • Know yourself- many people know Karimov's style as very strong and powerful and this also segues into his psychological critique of both your emotional blocks and weaknesses, to help you understand how to move and perform more freely. At a few points in the seminar, it seemed a little too much for instructors to muster, but again...this is the Russian way (I am told). This certainly may not be palatable to everyone and was difficult for me , personally to bare witness to. However, the results of this technique seem to be effective for a few people.You can take it or leave it, but in no way does it change the level of mastery he commands on the mat, in combatives, or more. He is a true master and genius at his skill set, which is something 100% undeniable.
  • Make new friends and try to communicate-oddly enough for me, the children at the event were alot more eager to communicate with me than the adults. Children typically have very little social hangups and this was also something that happened last year.While I also struggle attempting speaking the Russian language, I managed to use Google translate quite easily, which helped me navigate some of the social barriers. I learned alot from how truly brave and curious the children were in their attempts to spend time around me and play, which helped open my mindset to regaining a fresh, new perspective on working my way through St. P on my own. 
    kids keep it real
  • Know you aren't always going to get what you ask for--this event is uniquely divine in that it will not change for anyone. Period. There is no conformation to what other people want and it has seemingly progressed as an event for mastery versus an event for culturally profound cross exploration. Alot, if not all consistent attendees are the same group who frequently tours together, it is building annually for Karimov's main instructors to take their skill set to the next level. That alone is something worth watching and interesting to see the progress they've made in just a year. In short, Karimov and his group, will NOT sell out to make it a cushy and soft event for YOU. And that, is a powerful thing that is also very, very rare.
Next year, hopefully, I plan on attending a few new events that I've been invited to, including the very well planned out and culturally significant, Cossack Games at Rostov-on-the-Don. This was something I've heard about through social connections, but witnessed some of the groups from this region, perform in St. P. Touring more of Russia, including Moscow, Ural mountains and other regions have become a priority for both training and cultural purposes. I 100% feel still, if you are training in Russian Martial Arts, Systema or Slavic Arts, this is a crucial part of your growth as a practitioner and instructor. There are key elements that exclusively happen in Russia(that are not watered down) that will not happen anywhere else. No matter what instructor you may exclusively train with, it is always, ALWAYS a good idea to find a few more to connect with while you can , in Russia. Even my exploration of local Sambo, judo and tae kwon do groups in Russia, was pretty epic and opened alot more for me to research.
will go to Rostov to see events like this
All that being said, you can easily follow Siberian Cossack Systema on both Facebook, and VK. 
For listed digital download videos, you can go to

To contact Andrey Karimov for booking and tours go to Siberian Cossack Systema or to watch his work on You Tube, go here
To view a highlight clip of some of Yuri Shehsukov's skill set go to You Tube here or here.

To get a glimpse of the amazing work of Fedor Terabukin go here

I'll also write about a few more topics including cultural inclusivity, cultural and social dynamics, cross cultural hospitality norms(all from my POV) and more...stay tuned!
Oleg the Great

A very , very special thanks to Oleg Tchernetsov for his partnership with instructors for demonstration as well as Ranko Cherich for his additional co-partnership. Without great partners for instructors to demonstrate on , there would be no event

A very special thank you to Alina Ra for her clear translation and sheer enthusiasm to learn. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Training in Guadalajara with Sergey Kolyushenko

I finally found a few minutes to sit down and write about my training with Sergey Kolyushenko, in Guadalajara (Mexico).

Kolyushenko had been on my list of instructors I wanted to train with for a while now specifically after a friend of mine sent me his brief video about "eye gymnastics". Due to nerve damage in my occipital area, I began losing vision in my right eye within the last couple of years, which , combined with chronic migraines, clusterheadaches and age,my vision was the last thing I needed to lose. The video quickly led me on a trail of several other videos of Sergey's work.
I soon discovered that several of my peers in Russia attended seminars with Sergey and they all highly recommended his work. Of course, the minute I found out he would be teaching in Guadalajara, it didn't take long for us to book our flights.
In the meantime, I chatted with Sergey a few times, and he was more than helpful which made me look forward to training with him even more.

After our arrival to Guadalajara, we toured the city quite a bit and the day of the seminar, I was pretty exhausted. Upon arrival, Sergey immediately greeted me and began talking to me in Russian. This, my friends, is an incredibly nerve wrecking experience, but further reminded me that..I MUST LEARN THIS LANGUAGE. Besides that, Sergey was very stoic in appearance, and blended in with everyone else on the streets on Mexico. This, to me, was scary...however, when he smiled..he lit up the room. He is incredibly svelt in appearance, and once he began moving, I realized the quality of training we were about to have.
Much to my pleasure , the seminar started with an "eye gymnastic" type workout. Since I had been in the sun and was pretty vision was slowly failing in the peripheral of my right eye. I also had a looming migraine which begins with a flashing light on the lower right corner of the edge of my eyesight. sucks, but this is also why I was there to train with Sergey.
The drill itself , for me, was pretty intense. Sergey had us focus on different objects in the room, while shifting our gaze between objects, then adding the objects back into our entire view all at once. It sounds easy, but it was quite complex as he picked objects similar in size in shape and then varied into larger pictures  and focal points quite out of range for most people. Eight minutes into the drill, I had a full blown migraine, which ironically, was a sign that the drill was working a little too much and causing vision strain. It further confirmed that my peripheral vision, which was perfect, had declined to something I had been in denial about for a while.
One of the preceding drills, consisted of meditation to hone in our environmental, spacial and situational awareness. For most people who are parents, or have been, you may be very in tune with this type of work. For mothers specifically, you are probably a pro at this(as my son will tell anyone I can hear him miles away, swearing under his breath). The drill consisted of sitting on a bench, with erect spine, focusing on breathing through the diaphragm, eyes closed and taking notice of sounds and movement that was happening around us. We focused on the direction of the noise, it's origin and recognizing what was causing the noise and or movement. Since this event was held in a rather busy area of Guadalajara, there were alot of "city" noises occurring. Sergey discussed the importance of doing this type of work in the woods, forest or park. He also discussed the practice of "scanning" an area without being incredibly obvious and how combining the "eye gymnastics" exercise and the acute listening work daily for two weeks, we would see a difference in our awareness level, and will be further able to avoid potential dangerous situation(s). By paying attention to everyday nuances, we could , ideally, sharpen our skills to actually avoid a situation as opposed to being directly involved in one.This was a common theme I've recognized with some of the better, more thought provoking instructors in Russia. They are calm and collected and never fear monger their students. In fact, quite the opposite; they train to mainly avoid situations, however, they practice on subjects like reaction time, flexibility, endurance and other deep work that is rarely discussed in the west.
Speaking of flexibility...Kolyushenko immediately discussed the importance of movement. Not only daily movement, but "natural" movement. He repeatedly steered us into a series of drills, one that built on a prior one, that expanded both our coordination AND physicality. Not one second was wasted on mindless pushups or squats, however, he lamented the importance of a regime of a hyper-slowed down version of these things, for joint control and range of motion. His demonstration of a slow push up and slow arm up, was quite impressive and I gather, not able to be done easily by most people. This was precisely the point. Sergey discussed that in reality, none of us practice "true"combatives at full force everyday, so we must find ways to adapt our daily routines (he used an example of switching on a light switch with three fingers and attention as opposed to randomly and non-chalantly). Adaptability and ability to move was , for me, a highlight of the seminar.

Much to my surprise, Kolyushenko also discussed Cossack work quite a bit. I had no seen or heard of him using this in seminars, but I was quite thrilled. Since I trained extensively with A. Karimov, I felt relieved that I knew exactly what he was talking about(even during a few of his anecdotal stories, I was able to relate how this pertained to overall combatives training). A few times, Sergey launched into a very controlled dance, that was both sincere and fully involved with several levels of coordination, yet flowed freely and precisely. He relayed how Cossack theory and movement were a driving force for Russian Martial Arts and how none of the work we had been learning was "magic" . It was all easily explained by historical trials and tribulations of the Cossacks, and the movement had evolved over time.
Even better, Sergey pointed to North, Central and Southern Mexican style dance for a frame of reference for movement and techniques. He discussed how in cultural artistry, including dance, there is almost always a traditional form of fight style training. This was also a highlighted part of the seminar for me, because it had been a topic I have researched for a while. He mimicked the hand movements of dance he had seen from the regions of Mexico and quickly transitioned it into Russian Martial Arts.

The next few days of the seminar were just as amazing as the first. Kolyushenko did what most really skilled instructors can do, which is, get everyone on the same page, for a better training environment. We worked our way through a series of coordination drills, awareness drills, striking patterns, drills to enhance our reaction time and much more. One drill , in particular, was especially complicated(video was not allowed per event host, otherwise I would have video'd all of these complex series of demos). The drill involved a small raquet ball or similar, and with one hand, you drop the ball and catch with the other before the ball hits the floor. Just was everyone was somewhat able to do this, he migrated the same drill to incorporate an alternate figure 8 movement with the opposing hand and then...incorporated the wall. All of these drills were quick to give the student a glaringly harsh reality that, if we are NOT taught methodology that includes ideals like quick reactive timing, or micromovements and spinal stability, that the rest of what we learn in regards to striking or defensive techniques, will virtually , not work. This is something that rarely is seen or discussed in the west(or even , if you watch any You Tube videos of the more mainstream schools of thought on Systema or R.M.A., you will rarely see this type of work as a main focal point in training). Personally,this is the exact reason I have decided to go to the direct source for information, because as much as you spend on training, if you cannot do equal and rapid precise and accurate reactional movements, what would be the point of the rest of the work?

After four days of training, and a variety of solid information, not only did Sergey's work and instruction point out a path of instruction that I needed to evaluate for myself, it further encouraged us to make the commitment to *hopefully* attend one of his intensive camps in Russia.
While I could have easily gone a few more weeks learning from him, the solid information he worked on was enough to give me a guide of more work I could do on an individual basis to further my skill set.

Even more so, Sergey is also an avid believer in equal training for women. I was more than elated to not be the only female in the class(the event host's mother was also training, and alot better than I was), but Sergey was extremely accommodating and understanding to everyone and if there was anything I had a question about, he graciously answered or recaptured the demo at a level that was highly detailed. I do however, wish we had more Q&A time with him, but like all great seminars, time seems to blow by quickly.
I am glad I took the time to take notes during the seminar, because his topics and discussions were extremely detailed and meaningful and helped tie in alot of techniques that are used in his methodology.
One topic I found particularly interesting was how Sergey described breathwork including diaphragm control. He rejoiced in a song that bellowed , and described how the Cossacks were able to control their diaphragm during long singing hours, which, in turn, helped build the muscle to control panic breathing during combat or attack. This was something very familiar to me, as A. Karimov gave a very loud and eye opening demonstration of this same concept while he was here in Texas. He stood on one end of a park , while the rest of us stood on the other, and he continuously shouted and paced himself backward, creating an echoing effect that we could not mimic , at all. When Sergey discussed the relevance of this technique he also demonstrated how to NOT show your opponent your "breath". Meaning, move stealthily without making your lung capacity fully noticeable by any opponent. I immediately thought of this video at 10:13, in which Kolyushenko is seen wading quietly through a lake area. I imagine that if this were done at night, and he was underwater, he would go completely undetected, and that is exactly how he moves on land. His movement and skill level, topped with his physicality, ability to articulate information and detail including proper form and technique, is exactly what is lacking in instruction in the USA(in my opinion).
Unfortunately, Kolyunshenko has very little video in a public format and you would be hard pressed to find a seminar outside of Europe or Russia led by him. This, however, makes him extremely important to get to if he is teaching near you. While even his background is not something I had a chance to ask him in person about, what I gathered from other schools and sources was the following:

  • taught fisticuffs(combatives)/ plastun for the Volgograd Recon "Scorpion" unit
  • learned with R.O.S.S. founder , A.Retuinskih 
  • fought in the North Caucacus-(internet source)
  • currently teaches law enforcement, civilians a variety of skills including H2H , pistol work, coordination and many other techniques 
  • has extensive training camps in the Ural mountains 
While it seems a bit difficult to attend one of his seminars, it is every bit worth the time and financial investment. Overall, our trip to Guadalajara ,including airfare and seminar fees, were still less expensive than a larger , and commercialized/generalized style of the seminars held in the US. Considering the seminar was to last for 6 days in total(we left early due to work schedules), I cannot say there are better values for the expense. The one on one attention, clarity of work and flow of solid material was enough to convince us to attend any seminar we can if he is on our side of the hemisphere before we get back to Russia to train with him(we may even trek to another one of his seminars sooner, if we can).

This type of work is very rare for this area of the globe, and there is no longer a reason to be stuck in training. Instructors are just as eager to travel and teach , as we are eager to learn this work. The take-aways I got from the seminar are the following :
  • Natural movement is essential to alot of the militarized and Cossack style instructors. If you display an inability to move, they will give you a variety of techniques and drills designed to HELP you move and work on fluidity, that not only include dance(Kolyushenko also did a Charlie Chaplin type move and discussed the importance of his work), but increased range of motion, joint and spine stability and more. Not one minute was spent on what I refer to as "sheep drills"-mindless and thoughtless drills that are time fillers in commercialized systems designed to exhaust students and take up a bulk of training. 
  • Coordination is key-while I had seen and participated in *some*coordination work in the States, it is NOTHING compared to the work I learned in Russia , and at Sergey's seminar. In fact, I would not even consider the two as comparable. Until you witness someone of Karimov's, Shehsukov's, or Kolyushenko's level of fast moving AND highly skilled coordination level, you will NOT understand what you're missing. 
  • Learn the language-for the love of all things chocolate..I have put this one off for quite some time. Karimov(an avid language learner) and I developed a system of intricate and awkward phrases in Italian, Russian, Spanish and English combined with hand gestures and animated movement when we converse. To an onlooker, it is I am sure, one of the most hilarious things to witness, however, communication is crucial to both of us and Karimov is literally a genius level learner-meaning he can learn, compute and regurgitate information at a genius level so language learning is rather easy for him. Not so much for me, so I got lazy attempting to learn Russian. Since I can understand 75% of Russian language(more specifically, "training Russian") I never considered it a true deficit for training purposes, however, there are gaps of time that I could have better used had I known the language. Luckily, his methodology and actual work, needs very little description(that's how clean and clear it is) but his insight and personal anecdotes are really crucial in understanding his teaching style.
  • Note taking is valuable- with an instructor as elusive as Sergey, I decided that taking notes would turn to be more valuable than actively participating through some of the drills(my PIC was fully capturing all of the physical and technical work and I feel together, we were able to put everything together for better understanding. There is no shame in sitting down and taking notes as long as the instructor is ok with it(which I asked before the seminar due to the fact that medically, I would not be able to participate in some of the demos)
  • Take pictures-this one, I absolutely dropped the ball on. While taking notes, extensively, I failed to try to take as many pictures of the drills as I could(video was not allowed per host). However, the pictures I did take, turned out to be blurry or failed to capture the MOI (moment of impact). Midway through the seminar, I found a setting on my camera that took a series of snapshots , but Sergey moves so well and without flaw, it was still difficult to capture on film. It's best if you train with him in person and see for yourself.
  • Ask questions-I always , always do this as much as I can and usually find nuggets of wisdom in the answers. Sergey has very interesting and thought provoking things to say like" always move forward", "stare through your opponent", "stand like you are sitting on a horse, with your feet firm in the stirrups", etc. These are key phrases that anyone can take away from a seminar and use in solo training drills
  • Dance- while some in combative arts laugh at this, others take this into high regard and consideration. Of some of the master level instructors I've talked to or trained with, ALL of them discuss the importance of the ability to dance AND to dance freely. Sergey was no exception. As I've stated earlier, he would occasionally break out into a Cossack style dance, a breakdance or a Charlie Chaplin like movement for a visual aid. He would immediately transition back into a strike, evasive or defensive technique with no gaps or apprehension. Suprisngly, the same instructors who demonstrate their ability to dance, also have very little to no training injuries at all. Ever. That, speaks volumes.Often times, their endurance outlasts the students, which speaks for itself.
  • There are techniques and methods- often times in the US, it is advertised that "systema" or "R.M.A." is a technique/method-free art. Over the past year, I'd 100%argue that theory. Not only are the techniques solid(wave movement was also thoroughly taught at Kolyushenko's seminar), but a master level instructor can teach the techniques to anyone willing to learn at any phase of their training. 
  • Practice on your own is just as valuable-Sergey discussed the importance of completing the coordination drills and working them daily for a minimum of 20 minutes, for 2 weeks straight. This doesn't seem like alot , however, once you advance into the more complex coordination work, you will find that the use of both sides of your brain can be taxing. I asked Sergey if there was a resource for this type of coordination building series(he demo'd several that kept us all in knots), and he pointed to the work of A.A. Gruntowsky and his published book(now possibly out of print). The problem is, the book is in Russian, and the pictures are 2-D drawings, which again, reinforces the need to train with these instructors in person
  • Question your training-if you aren't learning some of what seems to be obscure, then it's time you challenge your instructor for more. My instructor and mentor, A. Karimov, recommends that all of us, specifically instructors for his school, cross train with other instructors, as does Kolyushenko. If your instructor does not recommend this or does not understand the need for coordination and acrobatic type work, then it's time you evaluate what you are learning. Having an instructor who is active in the arts socially, physically, mentally and wholly and who actively lives through the work, is also something not seen in the US. Alot of these instructors travel to seminars, teach only on weekends or hold camps . Weekly training is not something seen out of the better(and hidden)schools in Russia. It is assumed you are doing the work on your own and seminars and camps is for tune ups and new information. Since I stopped weekly training, saved the money to travel to Russia or to see Russian instructors, my experience has expanded 100 fold. 
  • Plan ahead-to my detriment, I was not able to spend "down time" with Kolyushenko. This is usually where I can ask alot of questions, get answers and get a deeper insight of learning. This of course, I am sure, is something that could have been planned before the seminar even started, but would have been alot easier if I knew the language. Often times, Google translate didn't work, or our translators were not available. That , paired up with my site seeing exhaustion, proved ill-managed time on my part. However, in Russia, living on site of training, proved to be ample amounts of time for individual work, socializing, touring and communing with all of the instructors, which, in turn, made for the overall experience something more than I could ever expect. With the seminar in Mexico, again, the price we paid was nothing compared to the amount of material that was taught and the amount of work that was done. Taking sight seeing trips and meals aside, the overall experience was well worth the 6 days and the low cost of a flight , lodging and taking off work. Even if you can only train with Kolyushenko for two days, I promise, it will be a full two days of work that you will use the rest of your life.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How a sword saved me....and it could work for you,too!

Over two years ago, I had a horrible miscarriage at which time, a surgeon punctured a portion of my diaphragm and an anesthesiologist aggressively prodded my lower lumbar spine a total of three times. The result was devastating.
After a few months in rehab, I was given the dire news that I would no longer be able to "train" or do any sort of major physical activity. Ever . I was heartbroken. Not because I regularly trained in Systema, but I knew that once my body healed, my mind would catch up to me, and the art I loved so dearly, would help me get through those trying times. I just knew I needed to get back into it.

When I slowly began to go public with my outcry for any type of instructor-based-assistance I could get in the matter, it fell incredibly short..incredibly fast and on deaf ears. Luckily, a really amazing
instructor and health coach in Australia showed me a few videos by Andrey Karimov of Siberian Cossack Systema.
I was blown away by Karimov's force, speed, power and ..finesse.
Video after video captured my attention to no end...and I eventually ended up spending over a week glued to my computer watching videos and struggling to figure out what he was saying in Russian language.I knew, that "his" method was something that went beyond the confines of what I was learning(or not learning) here..but, I had no idea how it would impact the rest of my life.

Not only did I message Mr. Karimov(he messaged me back immediately)...I also messaged Sergey Zhukov..a.k.a. "Basketball Sergey". I had seen his basketball floor work video and it was under an "R.M.A." type thread so I wondered how it all connected. I literally spent a year, just trying to find Sergey's name. (I talk about this is previous posts).

The amazingly talented S.Z.
Back to Karimov...
Keep in mind, I don't speak Russian, and he does not speak English.I quickly discovered Google translate. I told him that I felt really stuck in training, and that I came up with a drill that worked great in class, but I knew my time training here, was over. I felt creativity and empathy were severely lacking and I just wanted more. But I wasn't sure what , yet.

He immediately told me to pick up my
Cossack whip. Which, many of us had in the US , but had no idea how to use it. I sold mine a while back(because I wasn't using it) but my fiancee had his.
Karimov told me very simply..."start using the whip...she's a great teacher".
Um..I had no idea what he do I use a whip? I was always told these were exclusively for instructors!
When I relayed that information to him, he immediately sent me videos and photos of kids ranging in age of 5-14 years old using whips.
And women. Lots of women using the Cossack whip. Lots.
I was stunned. Shocked.. in horror. How was this even possible???
His only response was "how are you NOT using this tool of the art?".
It was at that point I felt a complete loss for what I was missing out on.
Over the course of several weeks, Karimov walked me through a series of drills, techniques and variations on how to use a whip for massage, balance, coordination, breathing, fear control..and so much  more.
Keep in mind..he was not my instructor.
I did not pay him.
I did not ask him for individual attention.
He...just helped. He saw exactly what I needed and jumped in there. We relayed videos back and forth and he meticulously and directly corrected me.
I gotta admit..there were times I wanted to give up. I had tons of what I now refer to as "whip kisses" on various parts of my body. I couldn't give up though, because I knew that my health, my movement and my body were completely at risk for shutting down.
The more I practiced with the whip..the less I noticed the nagging aches in my back. The more I "stung" myself, the quicker I could catch my breath and fill my diaphragm with energy( freaking hurt like hell)...
more importantly..the more I tried, the more encouragement he gave me to push through. At some point, I needed two whips and he sent me a box of whips. I was floored. Of course, as soon as I opened the box, a whip flew out and hit me in the face. It was the best feeling ever.
I immediately began telling everyone about his work. Why wouldn't I? It was creative, fun, challenging and caring. It was harsh. Brutal. Painful and intense. It was everything I certainly needed at the time(and of course, still do). It was the perfect balance to my situation.
I booked my flight to Russia and the rest was history.
While I waited for the day to go meet him in person, Karimov and I chatted about culture, history , the arts, children and so much more. He shared everything he knew, with me. A complete stranger. I absorbed every single ounce of it and even started writing about it. It was and still is, fascinating. At one point..he sent me a video of this beautiful young woman, slinging whips around at an epic rate of speed. Her name was Natasha Kopylova. She captured my soul in just watching her.
And it gets better. A few days later..he sent me video of Natasha using two the same rate of speed she was using the whips. He told me I also had the ability to do this work. I was in awe. I never had a desire to swing swords around, but damn. It looked amazing.
I sort of joked and asked if she would be at our seminar in May. He responded with an emoticon.
When May arrived and I walked into the gym in St. Petersburg I was so overwhelmed that I didn't notice Ms. Kopylova standing 8 feet in front of me. When I saw her, I immediately started to get emotional. I am not sure if it was the suprise itself or the fact that I may be able to ask her some questions or that somehow, this beautiful woman would touch me with some sword magic.
you can see the fear on my face
Karimov must have noticed my tears welling , because the next thing I know..I had a sword in my hand and she was teaching me some basics. Literally 30 minutes into my first day of training..I was training with a sword. I was mortified. And it's on the way. I had the translator tell her I was incredibly in awe of her and that I had no intentions of using a sword and she smiled and said"why not?? It's easy!"......

I remember looking at my fiancee and trying to think of a reason why I couldn't use a sword. Then Kopylova told me that children began training with them in Russia at a young age. She also told me she knew women my age that trained with swords.
I literally had no excuse. And how on earth could I tell her no , let alone, Karimov? I pulled up my britches and got to it.
The third day, Natasha did a few drills of really basic sword work. I was in a skirt(I also wrote about this), and I was secretly dying on the inside. The sword was surprisingly heavier when we were being skirt was itchy and I seriously have training dyslexia. Everything I did was completely not right and opposite of what was being wasn't wrong either.
See..the difference with training in Russia is , (from my perspective), is no one really micromanages you. No one is there to scoff, roll their eyes or worse, tell you every five seconds what you are doing wrong. The overall consensus is, you will eventually get it.Eventually. Of course, I asked for help and literally had people holding my hand with the sword saying"like this" was real, hands on training.

Several days of sword work went by and I even amazed myself. At one point, I nailed a very complicated back handed toss up and I looked around the room to see if anyone noticed. They did. No high fives were given though, because was only complicated for me.
I told several people there that I never thought I would be in Russia, but also, I never thought in a million years I'd do anything with a sword. Everyone encouraged me to keep pushing through the sword work as it was such a rewarding experience and great teacher. The sword, became ultimately, my nemesis, mirror, joy, weapon, partner and the list goes on.
The most important part is..the sword, saved me.
You see, by the time I returned from Russia, I was hit with another very complicated medical condition(two actually). One of them was the official diagnosis of clusterheadaches;a painful headache that lasts 3-4 hours and feels like a "brainfreeze". Except, I was in "cluster cycles". Meaning my headache lasted 3-4 weeks, with very little breaks in between. My activity was limited because of variations in everything from lighting, to noise, to pollution to vertigo. There were days I laid on my floor , crying endlessly because of either the pain or my restrictions because of the pain. I was desperate. My vision often times decreased with these headaches or became very altered, so the thought of doing anything with a whip or sword, was out.
But that was just was only a thought.
I remember Karimov telling me once that we are only limited by our teachers and their knowledge and I remembered a woman at our seminar broke her foot on the sidewalk, yet the last day, she performed with her sword and cast and all! I remember crying out of sheer joy for her and thinking"wow..she is badass".
I asked her how she managed to even swing a sword with her cast on (and she hadn't been practicing), and she very clearly and boldly said" no one told me not to".
That was it...I had been telling myself that I couldn't even lift a sword up with no supervision, but also, I was so worried about my decreased vision , and pain being triggered, that I was scared to try. Here I had 4 swords collecting dust, and who was I to NOT use them?
Thus, began my slow journey into regular sword work. I decided to film myself not only for my instructors to review, but I knew, if I could do it, OTHER people could do it. The problem was, I wasn't really doing it. In fact...I sucked.I was horrible. Stiff, motionless, (still am at times) and super, super guarded. I was weak from being on bedrest and a few times, I yelled at my swords. They were defeating me.In such an inanimate way.
I was on the brink of giving up many, many times and it seems almost every time I WANTED to give up, Karimov sensed it and posted a few videos of children using swords. Or my friend Olga Malkova, would send me a few videos of her work(we both started with swords at the same time). I almost felt like I couldn't let them down by giving up...that motivation all I needed.
A few times, of course, I hated it. I absolutely hated the metal, I hated my blisters and my dry, arthritic looking hands. I hated the wind. The sun. Being outside with them. I hated it. It wasn't until my son picked up my sword and did the unthinkable. He, juggled it. son, who many people know as a knife and tomahawk thrower, never had a sword in his life. He walked over to my sword..picked it up and did some weird one handed flip thing. First time. Nailed it. And..he kept going. Ten minutes into it..he had the sword spinning at high rates of speed, tossing it up, catching it and dancing along as though he had been born with it. He was on fire. He looked at me and said" Mom..come on..this is easy!"

I am not one to step down from a challenge.....the rest is history.
See, the thing is ,often times we only let what we know or what we are exposed to , stop us from finding out more. We rarely push ourselves to new heights, new levels or new activities.
We let the lack of creativity from our sources, prevent us from growing. We let our own fears, stop us.
Now, Im not saying sword work isnt is. Very. But I've been through some dangerous shit,and it wasn't any worse than driving in Austin. And yes, I've hit myself, cut myself, flinched, dodged , weaved and almost broken a sword or two...but again...all those things come in handy.
And I certainly learned how to "GTFOOTW" quickly. Like..super quick. This, was something that I struggled with while training , alot. (***get the fu*k out of the way***).
I even decided that , for me..the sword saved me. It gave me some hope that at the very least, there are great instructors out there who are full of knowledge and encouragement and ideas. Even after my clusterheadaches worsened...I wasn't allowed to feel sorry for myself. By this time, I had a tiny fan base of people watching my videos and asking ME for help with sword work! It was and is a weird pressure that I never expected, but glad that I can help.
Every doctor's appointment (usually with bad news or scalp injections) I just think about how much worse it could have been had I not even sought out something more for myself. Had I not listened to Karimov or Kopylova tell me that it was almost absurd that I DIDN'T do this.
Had I listened to the haters. The negativity, and not to own thoughts.
In fact..I was so convinced that this "sword therapy" would work on other people...I discussed it with my new awesome friend, Janice Bishop(a.k.a.Janice Bishop O.G.)
Janice and I had a few(ok more than a few) things in common. One strikingly obvious to each of us is that our vision in our respective right eyes , is diminishing. While mine comes and goes...gets spotty, and I get facial pain and paralysis....her's is progressive. Over a period of time..she will likely have no vision at all. We argue constantly about who is more blind.
And I get it...there are people that are blind that do great things.... But it is INCREDIBLY depressing that you are told what not to do, by doctors, instructors, peers, family and friends. It is almost numbing. And after talking to Janice, I knew..SHE knew what I was saying.
When she came to Texas, of course..I wanted to play swords with her all day. Janice is incredibly tall...she has long arms...and doesn't flinch. At all.She is quite phenomenal to train with, because you will in fact, run into her limbs and almost knock yourself out. All while she's smiling. She is the best..really.
Once Janice and I got to spend some alone time with swords, she too, could also feel the struggle, the love/hate...the draw. It almost drives you crazy, if you are an RMA practitioner in the states,because...why weren't we given this as an option? I mean..Janice and I can individually run handgun drills ALLDAYLONG...but swords? FORGET it.
And there in is the problem. Not only did I see the great potential in this aspect of the art, so did she. Now we have two blind folks swinging swords around laughing it up, dancing and shit talking each other. Our lives, minus our depressing disabilities, as practitioners....have been restored.I personally thank Karimov for that(although to him this is just part of Cossack style training), but for myself, it really gave me a chance to explore, meet new people, wear a dress, go to the park and play, differently...It gave my my mobility back, restored my faith in myself and opened up so many new doors.
The take-aways I got from all this are:

  • Know when to fold 'em- if you aren't getting what you need from training, don't be ashamed or secretive about looking elsewhere. 
  • Ask for help from those in the know-the beauty and power of social media is, there are so many great and enthusiastic people who will graciously assist you. Stay away from people who immediately tell you what you are doing is wrong without you asking for help.
  • Push your boundaries-don't let language intimidate you. If you are scared to reach out to a foreign instructor 'cause of "language", you shouldn't be training in combative arts
  • Watch the children around you- my son is perpetually happy.That is just who he is and it can be down right annoying, his energy is contagious, but his comfort level in who he is , as a person, is something we all need to possess.
  • Find a partner to give you shit- for me, it was Janice Bishop. Since we both "get" why this is valuable, we both appreciate it, and we both understand the value of what potential this has for us. We give each other shit daily, about swords. It is one of the reasons I still use my sword.
  • Say "yes"- I never saw the connection of hand to hand combat and weapons/sword work. Not ever. I rejected an opportunity to train with swords a long time ago. I thought it was ridiculous. Had I known that the coordination and skill, not to mention, bravery of holding this bad boy could give me, I would have said "yes". The sword has opened so many doors for me, personally, that I'm not even sure my life is real.'s that good.
  • Don't give in...or up- I was very, very close to giving up. I had zero encouragement, loved ones aside) from many people. In retrospect, it was lack of creativity or even trying to understand my dilemma on their parts. You will ever only know as much as your teacher knows. 
  • Be creative- I didn't have a sword for a while. I used my whips for everything. But I also had a baseball bat, a few sticks, a hammer, and more. My sword work gave me the confidence to explore log work, Hungarian whip work and a few other dangerous things....
  • Men..listen up...the very , very , very best teachers for sword work, in Russia, are women. While, yes, there are very distinctive types of work(sword-dance vs. combatives) , usually women train to learn both in Russia, and that is what I do. While I *try* to make sure all my moves have a "combative" or "true to soldier form", alot of what I do is actual, technical work, that takes long hours of practice and coordination. I've been around way too many men who have watched my sword whizz by and they try to emulate what I am doing without asking. It really doesn't work that way.There are no stupid questions with this work...there are no dumb "self filmed" videos and all of it, ALL of it is learning.
  • Train on your own- I get highly distracted trying to train around a ton of people. Most of my videos are filmed on the roof of my building. I meditate. I listen to music. I watch videos. Some days it works, some days it doesn't. Sometimes, I message one of my many instructors for the old "get out there and do it" speech. Nothing gets done, if you don't try.
  • Go to Russia-I absolutely cannot emphasize this enough. If only for a week, get there(if you are training in RMA), it is an entirely different experience training with several groups of people and different styles. Research everything.
  • Find groups of like minded folks-the first thing everyone asks me is if I know about "HEMA"....keep in mind, I have alot on my plate, however..this sounds like a good thing. Right now, I thoroughly train on my own at my own speed and I stopped trying to emulate the 100 or so women I watch in Russia. I am not them.In fact, the less I watch, the better I become. The sword will get it out of you.
  • Hit an apple or melon- ok..this one, I gotta admit...was fun. Total waste of food, but I try to remain precise and accurate with training with weapons as I would with a gun. At least , it's a great party trick.
  • Film yourself- I get alot of shit for this one...alot. Either I am too "clumsy", too "sexy" , too "alone" or too "mannish" or whatever term anyone can think of. I film 90% of what I do for myself to watch back and see what I can do differently(by the way..not one of my instructors in Russia has never said anything negative about my videos...this negativity usually comes from people who don't use swords, are scared to use them, or repute the fact that they are indeed, a crucial part of RMA).I also make a ton of really short clips, because alot of people get overwhelmed when they search the internets for Shaska sword videos. Even when I was watching Natasha face to face, I was so perplexed by what she was doing, I had to stop her many times and ask her to repeat it.
  • Don't over invest in your first sword-I intentionally beat the crap out of my first sword, because I know many, many people who let their swords sit around and collect dust(like their whips). I also know alot of people who spend way more than a few hundred bucks on a sword that's gonna end up hitting the ground if they really train(and more than likely, get dinged up). Invest in a decent , basic Russian Shaska(I use Windlass Russian Shaska...which I also now sell), because it is the closest thing to what I used in Russia. The sword is heavy, awkward and heavy. And awkward. It's exactly like the ones children and adults and soldiers use in Russia(to keep it in perspective).
  • Have fun, but be safe-I currently have occipital neuralgia , and I still do sword work. But, I also have hit the back of my head several times. Be careful, and really know your limits. I whirl my sword at really fast rates of speed but nothing as fast as Karimov or Kopylova. I know myself. wear gloves after you earn your blisters....gloves help learning all the fun tricks!
  • Don't set limits-especially time. The worst thing I've done to myself in learning this, is stopping when it's dark. Oddly, the one time I did the most amazing work, was at night and was hardly captured on film. 
  • Think like a warrior-this was something that was told to me in Russia. Don't think of what you look like, but stop yourself in transitions with the sword and ask yourself"how did this provide function back then?". 
  • Be fearless-I had to impromptu perform at the Russia House during Karimov's stay here. Not that I had to, but, it called me. I was told it was one of the most intense, and scariest things people had seen, because I was seemingly in a trance blazing through a crowded room, in heels and a dress. It's not on video anywhere,but...the story made it's way back to Russia, where I was quickly revered as a relentless and fearless warrior. If fear is holding you back during a public performance of any type...reevaluate that situation and work on it. Combatives requires a fearless approach, without self pity or worrying about who you are going to fight and that's exactly what sword work is like.
If you'd like more information on RMA sword work , visit our website at
We're on Facebook at Siberian Cossack Systema, Texas Siberian Cossack Systema and Cowboys and Cossacks.
Quick videos are on instagram @OliviaOverturf 
you can always email or message me at 
Go Train!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Another write up by George Borrelli. This's about me!!And it's not what you may think...

I personally asked George to describe an incident that occurred with the two of us when we trained together for the first time, here in Austin,  Texas. His reaction to working with me was so powerful and strong,that it became one of the most moving experiences I've had in my life. His honesty and candor is something that many men lack in the arts. I value George's insight and work and am honored to know him.(side note: I earned the nickname "Medusa" in many training and one on one scenarios...women harness an energy rarely matched by men. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed by this, as many great female heroines,spies,assassins used their eyes and energy to control a situation. George is one of the very few (2) men that have stopped me dead in my tracks and caused an energy shift. Take note fellas.)

Emasculation in Training
Martial Arts (Siberian Cossack Systema)
November 20, 2015
George Borrelli  Systema Colorado Springs

I have experienced where certain women seem to be able to counter my
Systema martial art work, arresting my abilities to get “control”. In
this discussion, to keep it interesting, we will address sex, love,
fear, your mamma, and finally, dancing like you are Agent 007, James Bond.

After a lifetime of martial arts and nearly five years of Russian
Systema, I'm significantly challenged working with roughly 1 in 100 men,
but I'm challenged with most women! The men I struggle with are not just
the larger and stronger men, it isn't necessarily their size. So what is
going wrong and why?

In the cooperative training, while learning, you need a kind of
commitment or honesty to the charge/attack from your partner. Without
that commitment, most of the concepts and techniques are not of great
use. Additionally you need a kind of “lost in the movement” psychology
of the attacker. If the attacker does Systema very well deceptively in
his attack, then things get evened out, more or less. So that is one of
the challenges. You have to make clear when you want your attacker to
have honest intention or a deceptive Systema deceptive and evasive style
of attack.

In the Systema defense, and counters, as should be in most all martial
arts, you cannot “look down”. You can't focus upon the knife hand nor
the punching hand at the cost of not seeing the entire person and
keeping your head up. You must see everything from an upright, balanced,
structured “dancing position”.  Watching the hand makes your response
too slow as the hand is just too fast to catch up with. We say that the
speeding train already left the station is much to hard to catch.
Instead, you should stay aware of the total person in an upright
position. This gives you a fighting chance to catch the movement.

As important, you must take the subtle lead of the engagement, similar
to the lead role that a man has in couples dancing. That “lead” or
“frame” to the outside observer, is mostly evident by your structure and
poise, where you look, but there is an internal aspect as well.

Certain women are naturals at using psychological warfare. They have a
“gaze” that can cause you to look elsewhere. Their gaze is behind an
intimidating power. That gaze, if it gets you to look away, takes your
power, focus, posture and ability to work well.

I will explain what I think is happening inside the man when this occurs
at the hands of this special woman. If a woman looks at you with
love-dominating power, as your mother, as a lover, as a demon; that
intensity is something we avoid automatically. We avoid the eye contact,
and sometimes much worse occurs in us.

Culturally we men are taught proper behavior with women. We are not to
challenge mother. We cannot have (even feel) love with a woman other
than “the chosen or assigned” woman, our wife, girlfriend, and/or lover.
In part it is fear because we do not trust ourselves. We also feel fear
because we don't trust this woman putting her “spell” on us. We also can
feel inadequate with a woman's strong and powerful emotions as expressed
in her eyes and body energy. As a man, if we cannot be dominant we feel
in trouble, sometimes we feel emasculated. In effect, we “cannot keep it
up” in the face of such challenge. We “go limp” in the face of this
pressure. Please forgive the sexual connotations, there is no real sex
involved. But this is a dance between the two sexes, so the imagery
works here.

I think something similar happens when a very high level male Master is
demonstrating with you, you tend to be dis- empowered in the moment. You
don't want to challenge him. It wouldn't be appropriate, even if he asks
for it, there are many fears that will prevent you. You fall under his

In a similar manner, an energetic, confident, and emotionally strong
woman can “take your breath away” and take your power away in the
moment. She does this with a force from within her. That force may be
the force of fearlessness. I say it may also include “love”. To me, that
state of “love” is a state where there is no fear, no anger, no worries,
but a complete deep absorption of the moment and of you. A woman who is
able to love deeply and fearlessly can have that power. Not all women
are able to be quite this present in the heat of the new attack/defense
against a stronger man. Sometimes the energy works against her.

At my first ever training in Texas at the Siberian Cossack Systema, is
where I first met Olivia Overturf. The first time I trained with her, I
experienced something like a complete “castration”, a loss of my ability
to call my normal levels of power. I was “limp”, and I simply couldn't
do the work. I was unable to look at her eyes and face. Since her face
was “in my face”, I automatically felt a need to look away, and
downwards. Looking downwards took my energy, balance, ability to see her
movement in time. I was beaten by her heart, strength, presence, love
power. She was fully in the moment, and that rocked me. She took the
lead of the dance away from me. As a good training partner should, she
helped me by pointing out that I looked away from her eyes and looked
down to the floor. That was quite helpful.

The next opportunity to work with Olivia, I was very cognizant of her
energetic abilities and the affect it can have. I have “danced” with
powerful women before. When I saw her “fire”, I immediately “shifted”
and “became” like “James Bond”.  In the movie series, “007”, the hero,
James Bond often danced and made love with a woman sent to kill him. He
simply rose to the occasion. He still embraced and danced with all the
poise and correct posture, he still loved her, but at the same time,
took her balance, and played the man's role in couples dancing, he was
the male lead. But remember that this is a softer lead as in dancing
rather than a brutish behavior. A brutish lead has tension and would be
detected and countered. She would not follow.

So when I felt Olivia's powerful gaze this time, I looked into her eyes,
opened my heart fearlessly and “Became Bond”. My energy and my center
was The Center, not hers. I led her about the “dance floor”.

Little did I know and little did I care, that she had a blade hidden
with a premeditated intent to kill, outside of the choreographed
practice. But I was “in charge” - without being forceful, fully aware,
fully present, taking the lead that she had to follow. My having the
lead interrupted her plan, she was stuck in her own OODA (Observe Orient
Decide Act) loop. I would say she was stuck in the first “O”, observation.

The lesson? You must remain centered, no matter what. If you get
attacked by a strong person who can manipulate heart, love, fears,
deeply inside of your heart, your past, your deepest emotions, your past
pain, you must rise to the occasion! The same is true with a physically
and muscularly powerful person, don't let his power prevent you from
being the gentle lead of the dance of self defense or fighting.

Stay centered young man, take charge, become “Bond”. Keep your head up
and your calm awareness working, and by all means be a gentleman … but
lead the dance!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Janice Bishop reviews A.Karimov seminar in Austin ,Texas.

2015 Texas seminar with Andrey Karimov

First of all, I want to thank Olivia for bringing Andrey Karimov to the US. Without her hard work and dedication, none of this would have been possible.

I was so excited to see Andrey's shashka work, especially the videos of his students Natasha and Olivia, because I had finally found something in Systema that I could physically do once again after my forced retirement 5 years ago.*

When Olivia invited me to Texas, I really thought I would have to sit out most of the seminar and just do the whip and sword work. However, like most things in life, my prediction of what I could do was nowhere near the reality. I ended up doing 7 days of training and only sat out for the jump rope work and one other drill.  (The funny part is that I didn't do any shashka work until the seminar was over and everyone else had left.)

Out of all the martial arts seminars I've attended over the years, I think this one is in the top two for the effect it's had on my outlook of life. The seminar and the whole Texas experience was exactly what I needed at this point in my life. I had been aimless and basically uninspired for the past few years. Seeing elite people in action has a much more profound effect than any, "You should..." speech can ever have.

Having worked behind the scenes at other events and seminars, I can state this one was off the charts. I've never seen anyone do that much work for 9 days straight. I was literally falling asleep sitting up during the evenings. I'm not sure when or if Andrey slept while I was here. Olivia slept in until 7 am one morning and I thought she was really sick because I had never seen her sleep in so late.

If there was a motto for the Texas seminar, it would have been,  "Watch carefully, I'll show you how it's done. Now it's your turn." Everyone was challenged to step outside of their comfort zones and given the opportunity to grow. It was left up to each individual to accept that challenge.

I think most people here did work outside of their comfort zones during the seminar but it will be interesting to see who can continue to do so in real life and who will quickly step back into their personal comfort zones and choose to stop their own growth.

Seeing the pictures and watching the video clips from this seminar, it looks like any regular Systema class. Being here was a totally different feeling. (I trained in a skirt one day!) For me, it wasn't physically demanding training but it was mentally exhausting because all of the work required focus and precision.

Andrey's movements are smooth, precise and coordinated. He made it look so easy that my brain kept saying, "Oh, I know that." Right up until my body replied, "I don't know anything."

As an added bonus, there was a lot of individual attention at this seminar. Andrey's ability to keep the work calm affected the participants and helped everyone stay focused. The balalaika music added another whole dimension to training. It controlled the tempo of the class almost subconsciously. I joked that most North Americans don't dance without alcohol but by the end of the week, everyone's movements were much more free as movement and dance stopped being two different concepts for us.

Some of my favourite drills involved using visual references (like your shadow) to ensure you had proper form and movement. The last day, we progressed to using centrifugal movement to control your partner and also how to counter that movement to regain your own balance. That one drill explained why I always had so much difficulty unbalancing certain partners. It was not the size/strength difference, it was that I was not keeping the proper distance. Such a simple concept made a huge difference.

Andrey emphasized throughout the seminar the importance of being a good partner and attacking in a realistic manner. Again, precision and focus were required from both partners. Immediate feedback is vital when training. Your fist or training weapon should connect if your partner doesn't move properly.

Many people have said they don't want to do the dance part of Andrey's work but the dance movements are the foundation of the fighting movements. We spent a lot of time working on coordination and the payoff was immediate. Everyone's movement and timing improved once we started to get our legs and hips coordinated.

Thank you to Andrey and Olivia for an amazing seminar. To all my new friends, thank you for the fun times. I'm looking forward to bringing Siberian Cossack Systema to Canada. Let's go!

* I retired from Systema in 2010 on my doctor's advice. He told me if I didn't stop, I would go blind from glaucoma (from increased pressure in my eyes) mostly due to the jarring motions and being choked. This was (and is) not an idle threat. While I still have physical limitations in what I can do, Andrey's work allows me to train and teach again.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

George Borrelli's review of training with A.Karimov

My experience training with Andrey Karimov, Siberian Cossacks Systema.

George Borrelli of Systema Colorado Springs, 12 November 2015.

I participated in training with Andrey Karimov in Austin Texas, seven days, 31 Oct – 6 Nov, 2015. Training hosted and logistics worked by Olivia Overturf of Cowboys and Cossacks, Austin, Texas. It was my very first exposure to Andrey or Olivia. This essay explains what led me to train with Andrey and the value received.

I'm a lifetime martial artist, having studied numerous styles for decades, starting in Judo at age four. I've spent the recent 4+ years with a focus on Russian Systema. I subscribe to all the Russian Martial Arts (RMA) and have purchased and study scores of videos, books, and pamphlets describing the various approaches. I've been teaching martial arts for many years, it is all that I do. I've had a focus upon developing high level self defense skills, using minimal muscular power. That includes the generation of high levels of physical power in strikes, throws, and take downs.

In searching endlessly for defense concepts for those out-powered, out-numbered or out-weaponed, RMA rises to the top of a crowded number of competing and compelling martial arts. After decades with many/most other arts, I've settled into RMA, specifically the various incarnations of Russian Systema.

Like many others enamored with Systema, E've searched for the very best instructors to relay to us the fundamentals in a clear manner for us to assimilate. I have my favorite instructors in the Vasiliev school and will continue to both train and hold high regard for their work.

As I've trained quite a lot, traveling throughout North America, I find disconcerting symptoms with the approach most common to training Russian Systema. That approach might be described as “allowing” the student to explore, experiment, and interpret in his own way what the Master is attempting to convey. Typically the Systema Master will demonstrate the high-end skills, then let the students explore, mostly on his/her own. Essentially opposite from the Traditional Asian Martial Arts, where every detail is typically described, and endlessly practiced for perfection, from foundational movement including the detailed position and torque of each toe, all the way up to complex fighting skills. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses, and come from seemingly opposite directions. With both approaches it takes a very long time to master. For the majority today, more time is necessary than they can invest. Although the students no doubt gain various values in the training, it takes more time than they have to develop effective fighting and self defense skills. Sadly some drop out and seek a “faster” self defense approach from systems like Krav Maga, BJJ, or even MMA. I've found in most Systema classes and schools, only a few of the practitioners come close to genuine ability to defend and worse several students are lost souls, not being able to quite grasp Systema. I think it's problem caused by a combination of the Systema approach to teaching and the lack of time the student invests in the training. Occasionally it is a lack of mastery by an instructor as transmission can only take place from master to student.

I felt that I needed a combination of personal transmission from masters, with freedom of exploration and details on fundamentals, with foundational drills in specificity. I've been around the martial arts a long time and have been in too many real street fights. I found drills of fundamentals saved me every single time. I put in a lot more time than the average student but even with the time I can put in I lacked a Systema Master close enough to develop my own personal mastery to the level I was after. I found myself spending a lot of time and money traveling to get more time with Systema Masters in the hope that I could fill in the gaps in my knowledge and execution. It takes a lot of time with them to learn in that personal tradition. I also sought intellectual understanding and bought videos and books from other RMA leaders, who spend time explaining the details, such as Kadochnikov, Paul Genge, Val Riazonov, Dmitriy Skogorev, Kevin Secours, Денис Ряузов (Denis Ryauzov), Vadim Starov, and others. Even then I didn't get quite enough, so began/resumed training in TCMA (Traditional Chinese Martial Arts) and FMA (Filipino Martial Arts) as well as some BJJ, Aikido, and jujitsu, where I found many keys that I brought back to my personal Systema.

Knowing I needed ample time exposure to Systema Masters, I looked for and found ways to get more hours per dollar. Cowboys and Cossacks of Austin Texas planned to host a Master from Russia for a full week and possibly up to a month of training and exposure to him. I was in with that concept as it met the criteria and I was ready.

I had already been recording all the Systema concepts in writing as I learned and in turn taught them. High in importance of the core concepts is movement. I learned that movement is life. I learned and proved this beyond doubt in countless empty handed knife defenses. In 100% of the drills, if the guy defending didn't move off line, he died. What was missing for me was in-depth details of the movement and drills of them. There were/are drills but they tend to still contain a lot of the self exploration that goes along with them. I needed more specificity to fill out my personal Systema. I also had pretty good generalized ideas of the waves and figure eights already and the TCMA had convinced me of the importance of the hip movement. But there was still something missing.

I watched many Systema Masters effortlessly throw people. As I watched carefully, I could see uncanny resemblance to Aikido principals, just smaller and tighter. But I wasn't absolutely certain what the keys to success were in accordance with Systema. So I kept looking, trying, and analyzing.

At the Austin, Texas training Andrey Karimov showed us detailed hip and step movement and drilled us for hour upon hour and day upon day these fundamental movements, I knew that finally I was filling the gaps. I now had the “how” to move in great details. But Andrey's teaching goes far beyond this. He also gave me my own missing link to the Aikido concepts of the moving center of balance, and taking his into yours. Andrey's explanation and drills were eloquently simplified. Once we practiced the drills for hours, it was ingrained. I found myself tossing the largest man repeatedly to the ground without muscular battle and without his ability to resist. Andrey added music, similar to the way I see Paul Vunac of Bruce Lee's JKD use beats of the drum. That music is to help you move in waves, rhythmically, in control, and in calm. It helps you find the energy from one movement to launch your next movement. Most importantly it encourages you not to stop moving.

I have nearly zero interest in pure culture, maybe that's my own ignorance showing but I'm in this for the physical defense capability, not for learning how people dress or dance. That said, the training Andrey Karimov provided was entirely, every second of it, designed to make you a better fighter.

What I was realizing in the year or so prior to my exposure to Andrey is that dance-like movements actually make you a better fighter! Dance includes body carriage, structure, power in movement, proper breathing, keeping of your center, going with and leading the partner, moving efficiently and effectively, just to name a few characteristics. Andrey only included dance movement that is the basis of the actual fighting movement. He painstakingly showed us many fighting applications for each and every movement taught. In this way I got the details that I was searching the world for in rounding out my Systema knowledge and providing me with the drills to practice. When I used his three-step to get off line, when combined with loosely raising of the arms, immense power was launched off the the most powerful parts of my body and finally into the arms. If I continued to movement with a supple falling and rising either in reverse or in the circular pattern begun, partners simply fell. The gentle “leading” of the partner out of his “center” and either continued or reversal was one Systema concept I hadn't fully nailed until with Andrey. He helps you fill those gaps!

“Movement is life”. Not only that but the details of the foot work and hip movement are the basis of the Systema wave and figure eight power that comes from the body. Andrey provided us all of that! The power I could generate was incredible, simply following his foot/hip movement drills.

Finally, the model of teaching Andrey Karimov uses is the best I've found to date. It is “total immersion” with plenty of time to build up, starting with fundamentals. The closest I've seen to this is Martin Wheeler's four day Master Class or any one of the long duration Systema camps. Andrey prefers a full month! I found seven days helped me turn many corners in my Systema practice. I think without that amount of time, I wouldn't have had those breakthroughs. His making the training somewhat playful was a key in giving me the strength to last the entire week as it helped to keep me from over-doing and inserted some lightness in an otherwise very serious and productive training with a true Master.

In summary, Andrey Karimov's training is up there among the very best of RMA Masters. If you get the chance, you should give it a go. He's only been to the U.S. once. Should he return, jump on it! It may just make you the Systema Master you have long been striving to become. Further, the value for the dollar is unbeatable. His training is cost effective and his host, Cowboys and Cossacks work very hard to make it an affordable and very worthy investment in your personal training experience.