luni, 15 noiembrie 2010

Ukemi Practice

Ukemi Core Training

Basic Ukemi Progression: Forward Rolls to Standard Breakfalls

USF Back Feather Breakfall Instruction

Forward Solo Feather Falls

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miercuri, 3 noiembrie 2010

Slow Movement with Awareness: Better than Exercise?

Slow Movement with Awareness: Better than Exercise?

How you move is as important as how much you move

Cardiovascular exercise is now known to be essential for health and well-being. If exercise is your only form of movement, however, it is not a very balanced diet. There is mounting evidence that slow movement, with body sense awareness, has astounding health benefits by itself and in combination with regular exercise routines.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles times, there are a growing number of pain clinics and integrative medicine centers that offer slow movement, awareness-based therapies (like hatha yoga and tai chi) for pain in a wide variety of conditions including "pain caused by cancer and cancer treatments, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases and conditions." Throw away the pills? Stop getting injections? Scrap the pain management therapy groups? Stop the sweaty workouts? Maybe not entirely, but regular slow movement classes are increasingly seen as having essential "nutrients" for the body.

Compared to a standard care control group, people with chronic low back pain who took 12 weeks of hatha yoga classes had less pain, depression, and disability and reported greater overall improvement in quality of life. Similarly, 12 weeks of tai chi has been shown to relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including less pain and stress, more body awareness, and more confidence in moving. A literature search on Google scholar turned up many more studies like these.

Some pain clinics have been sufficiently impressed with these findings to fit some kind of slow movement practice into their treatment protocols. But why do they work? It is difficult to argue that the general benefits of cardiovascular exercise for health and well being extend to slow and deliberate practices like hatha yoga and tai chi. Some experts suggest that these slow methods instead increase the parasympathetic relaxation response which in turn reduces the stress response, promotes immune function that inhibits inflammation and stimulates healing.

This is all correct but there is one element missing in these accounts: the role of body sense. As I have written in this blog and elsewhere, links between parasympathetic and immune systems are amplified and strengthened via neural circuitry that connects peripheral sensors and effectors in the body with brain-based limbic-prefrontal-sensorimotor networks for embodied self-awareness (body sense) and self-regulatory prefrontal areas. Moving slowly and with awareness promotes all of these benefits. Cardiovascular exercise with body sense has more benefits than exercising while otherwise preoccupied. Interval exercise, with frequent rest periods giving time to pay attention to the body, has benefits over and above long workouts. Slow movement is like Slow Food in which all acts related to eating - shopping, preparing, ingesting, and digesting - are done with awareness and presence.

Paying attention to the body is like shining a direct spotlight on areas of pain. Not such a great idea, to focus on pain? Actually, it is the best cure for pain because the attention spotlight helps to direct the body's own healing resources to the affected areas. Body sense is medicine. It is nature's perfect blend of psyche and soma in which the practice of attention regulation promoted by slow movement practices combines with the body's readiness to direct its resources toward healing. It can only do that if we reduce stress, slow down, and pay attention.

Aside from the legacy slow movement practices of yoga, tai chi, qi gong, aikido, and others, there are many movement practices, a few of which are mentioned here, that were developed in the 20th century and that also lend themselves to similar psychophysiological effects. Moshe Feldenkrais invented a system of body movement education-the Feldenkrais method-that reawakens, develops, and organizes capacities for kinesthetic (sensorimotor) learning. Whereas children before the age of three learn movements by relying on their sensorimotor experience, older children and adults in technological cultures often behave according to social expectations, distancing themselves from their bodily feelings. Feldenkrais "Awareness through Movement" classes teach moving with awareness and ease.

The freeform movement of Modern Dance, and observations of infant movement, inspired other movement disciplines, and modern dance classes are readily available for novices as well as experts. Bodymind centering, created by dance teacher and physical therapist, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, is a method of movement awareness in which adults perform exercises based on the normal stages of infant sensorimotor development. In this way, clients can reconnect with their body sense and possibilities for self-discovery that may have been lost as they grew up.

Marion Rosen developed a method of movement awareness that is also based on physical therapy and modern dance approaches . A Rosen Movement class involves a series of gentle movements done to music. Some of the movements and postures are done with people standing in a circle, either with or without holding onto their neighbors. Other movements are done sitting or lying, or walking across the floor, sometimes with and sometimes without partners.

Other exercises allow a person to move their arms up and down, for example, while a partner gently touches their shoulder blades, enhancing the body sense awareness of how the shoulder blade moves in relation to the arm. Rosen Movement increases flexibility, opens the posture for co-regulated engagement with others, emphasizes embodied self-awareness and the joy of movement, and teaches about finding comfort and enjoyment in touching and moving with other people. Feldenkrais, Rosen, and Cohen also developed hands-on bodywork methods that are similarly meant to enhance the body sense.

NIA, or Neuromuscular Integrative Action, developed by Debbie and Carlos Rosas, is more active than the other practices mentioned here. It combines a cardiovascular workout with movement awareness and is done barefoot to music. NIA uses elements of tai chi, aikido, modern dance, Feldenkrais, and yoga, among other methods. Using the sounds and silences of music, students experience feeling the sense of joy in movement in a way that encourages an embodied self-awareness of agility, mobility, stability, flexibility, and strength. NIA teachers encourage students to actively listen, feel, and observe their bodies in motion.

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luni, 1 noiembrie 2010

Overview of Systema and its Relevance to Aikido - by Stanley Pranin

Overview of Systema and its Relevance to Aikido

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by Stanley Pranin

Published Online

Seeing Systema for the first time

Mikhail Ryabko
My first exposure to Systema, the Russian Martial Art popularized by Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev, came in April 2001. I was in attendance at the formal presentation of a Shindo Yoshin-ryu Menkyo Kaiden to Sensei Toby Threadgill in Dallas, Texas. At the party following the ceremony, a group gathered in the living room to watch martial arts videos. At least 20 of us—mostly seasoned martial artists with decades of training experience—watched parts of videotapes of several styles and eventually got to one on a Russian martial art that most were seeing for the first time.

The tape featured a certain Mikhail Ryabko conducting a seminar in Russia for a group of visiting foreign martial artists. Mikhail. a recently-retired colonel in the Russian Army, is a short, stout man with incredible sensitivity whose movements seemed more “aiki”-like than what goes on in most aikido dojos. The husky foreign students on the video were obviously strong, experienced people and Mikhail easily dispatched them in a way that might look faked to the untrained eye. We all were captivated by Mikhail’s skills and some very nice compliments were offered by those present. I made a mental note to check out this Systema more in detail at some later date.

James Williams
A few months later I received an enthusiastic call from James Williams of Bugei Trading Company who had visited Toronto to attend a Systema seminar taught by Mikhail Ryabko and hosted by Vladimir Vasiliev. James, as is well-known to many Aikido Journal readers, has an extensive background in both empty-handed and weapons-based arts and is not easily impressed. He was effusive in his praise of Mikhail and Vladimir and went on to say that he had never seen a teaching methodology that could develop skilled students so quickly.

Shortly thereafter, I purchased several Systema tapes featuring Mikhail and Vladimir to take a closer look for myself. What I saw was truly impressive! The scope of the curriculum and sophistication of the techniques were remarkable. Not only did I want to try Systema myself, but I got to thinking that cross-training in this art might be of great benefit to aikidoka so compatible were the two systems. It was a natural jump from there to proposing to James that Systema might fit very nicely with the theme of Aiki Expo 2003. James liked the idea and, on my urging, extended an invitation to Vladimir Vasiliev to join our group of seminar instructors at this year’s Aiki Expo. Vladimir seemed pleased at this invitation coming from outside of the Systema circle and accepted.

Since I still had no first hand knowledge of Systema, I talked with James about going to Toronto to meet with Vladimir in person. James, whose enthusiam for Systema had redoubled after traveling to Moscow to again train with Mikhail, seemed to be looking for a good excuse to go a second time to Toronto.

To Toronto with James to meet Vladimir

Vladimir Vasiliev
On October 10, 2002, James and I boarded a plane for Toronto to spend the weekend training with Vladimir and his students. We scheduled a time to meet with Vladimir privately to conduct an interview and to explain in greater detail the concept behind Aiki Expo 2003. I had high expectations about Vladimir based on what James had told me and my viewing of the Systema videotapes. Vladimir didn’t disappoint. He is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met and a credit to the kind of person that Systema develops. His skills are astounding and in perfect consonnance with the philosophy of aikido. He never opposes an attack, but blends and leads the attacker into a fall or submission. Vladimir is humble but with complete confidence born of his many years of training and exposure to life-and-death situations.

Out on the mat I found the training in Systema to be very rigorous. It includes lots of pushups, situps, varied breathing exercises, and body strengthening exercises. Since it is so demanding, anyone who seriously trains will become very fit quickly. The techniques themselves are applied with wave and spiral-type motions which can transform into a cascade of follow-up movements depending on the reaction of the attacker. An important part of training time is devoted to light, sparring exercises that are quite enjoyable and constantly challenge you to resist the temptation to use power. Systema techniques performed at the highest level use only the minimum amount of energy and operate largely on a mental/psychic plane. Also, the variety of training scenarios is vast ranging from empty-handed attacks, to the use of various street and military weapons, multiple attacks, car-jackings, bodyguarding work, etc. You name it, Systema has a body of techniques to deal with it.

Vladimir has produced a series of more than 10 videotapes featuring Mikhail Ryabko and himself that are highly recommended.

James and I and two other visiting Americans were invited to Vladimir’s house for lunch on Saturday afternoon. His gracious wife Valerie and their three girls comprise the other members of the close-knit Vasiliev family. We had a chance to talk at length and I found Vladimir to be a deep thinker and, by nature, very spiritual. He also has a terrific sense of humor. Although not at liberty to discuss most aspects of his military career, he did relate a few episodes that underscored the life-and-death nature of some of his assignments.

Like Mikhail Ryabko, Vladimir is also a religious person. From visiting his home it was apparent by the prominent placement of Russian Orthodox icons that religious observances are a daily part of his family’s life. Having an intimate relationship with the Creator is an essential tenet of the Systema philosophy. Here are some quotes from a booklet he published a few years ago that touch on this theme:

Religion is [also] important. Realizing that, despite your skills and experience, you are still below God is essential. Humility must be served. Staying in contact with your “good” side and regular prayer are essential to a true master of the Russian Martial Art…

Certainly, not everyone who practiced these arts became good and respectful of God and nature, but the best masters did. When you reach a very high level of training, you come to understand that there is something beyond you. This understanding brings you to new levels of ability.

From The Russian System Guidebook, by Vladimir Vasiliev

Quoting Mikhail on religion during our conversation, Vladimir also related this semi-humorous and very perceptive remark: “[Mikhail] says, ‘There are no atheists in the trenches. Soldiers think of God ‘just in case.’

About Systema

The Systema that is being taught today to the general public has been refined by Mikhail Ryabko and disseminated by several of his students in Europe and North America. Mikhail Ryabko currently resides in Moscow and is an advisor to the Minister of Justice in Russia. In addition to his military duties and teaching assignments, Mikhail also hosts groups of foreign students who come to him for intensive training in Moscow.

Vladimir Vasiliev is one of Mikhail’s top students and relocated to Canada in 1993. He spent some 10 years with a Special Operations Unit of the Russian Army Special Forces. Vladimir operates a successful school in Toronto and teaches mainly in Canada and the USA.

The antecedents of Systema go far back in Russian history and much of the credit for the preservation of these traditions is due to Russian Orthodox monasteries. Following the Russian Revolution the military coopted these fighting skills and taught them to elite troops. Mikhail states that he received his training from one of Stalin’s bodyguards starting from boyhood. He further refined the knowledge transmitted to him eventually developing Systema into its modern form.

The technical curriculum taught to the Spetsnaz forces is extremely rigorous and designed to eliminate the fear of death in the trainees. Many of the drills inflict tremendous pain and suffering among the men in an effort to harden them for the battlefield and dangerous special missions. The training develops the trainees’ intuition to a high degree and teaches them to act spontaneously when in harm’s way.

Vladimir in action
In reading a description of some of the training exercises these men are put through, one is both shocked and fascinated at the same time that human beings can endure such treatment and maintain a state of mental equanimity. It’s hard to imagine anyone more prepared than these men for the kind of dangerous operations they carry out.

Vladimir Vasiliev’s training philosophy

Here are a few quotes from the above-mentioned booklet that will give some insight into Vladimir’s personal training approach which has been adapted for teaching to the general public:

… [I] try to keep the training sessions fun and urge you to do so, too. You should be serious on the inside, but on the outside look so as to relax your opponent. Again, I must make this point: If you’re serious when there is no threat, when a threat really does arrive you’ll be left with nothing in reserve. You’ve used yourself up and left no more room to make the transition from civilian to warrior.

… to master this system you must also be able to move so that your appendages and the rest of your body can move in different ways simultaneously. It’s a kind of 3-dimensional movement of the body.

All movements should be dynamic and multi-functional. You should never move just for the sake of moving. And at any moment, the whole body should be perceived and used as a complete system. Though one part of the body may be moved while others relax, they should never be cut off or physically or psychologically separated from the actions of the other parts.

… it is also essential to learn what your natural response is so that you can guard against it when in situations where it may be harmful…. awareness of your own body and identity along with what’s going on around you is essential to mastery of the Russian system.

Russian Health Method

Vladimir also practices a Russian health system that was developed by a philosopher named Porfiri Ivanov. This method was also a part of his training while serving in the Special Operations Unit in the Russian Army. The premise of this approach is to anticipate physical problems before they occur and stimulate the body’s immune system to ward off disease. Great care is taken to prevent the body and mind from reaching a state of exhaustion. Special breathing exercises and daily cold-water dowsing are used to energize the body and are important parts of this health method.

Systema and Aikido

Soon after getting my first serious glimpse of Systema, I began thinking that many of the principles and training methods employed by Mikhail and Vladimir might be highly relevant to aikido practice. As you know, the theme of Aiki Expo 2003 is “Realizing Aikido’s Potential.” Basically with Aiki Expo 2003, our hope is to bring to the forefront the martial aspect of aikido that has become rather neglected in the modern forms of the art. I believe Systema can play a significant role in this regard. We hope to have serious aikidoka reevaluate their training approaches and consider bringing their current practice more in line with the techniques and philosophy of Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

Ueshiba O-Sensei was heavily influenced by the Omoto religion during a turbulent time of Japanese hisotry. He emphasized both the martial and spiritual aspects of aikido and considered the two inseparable. Systema was born out of centuries of technical refinement on the battlefield as Russians repelled a multitude of enemies under vastly different combative conditions. It has had strong ties to the Russian Orthodox Church historically, a tradition that continues with Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev. With its dual emphasis on the martial and the spiritual, Systema shares much common ground with aikido. Aikidoka looking to revitalize their training will find in the techniques of Systema a powerful, energizing example. Systema will find in the aikido world a large community of serious-minded and ethical people desirous of impacting society in a positive, moral way.

I am certain that Systema will impact Aiki Expo 2003 in a major way that special weekend of September 19-21. I am equally sure that the interaction between Vladimir Vasiliev and the other Expo instructors and participants will result in the blossoming of lasting friendships and important interactions that will reshape our thinking and practice of aikido.

Stanley Pranin
February 2003

Those interested in more information on Systema and the relevant products we offer at Aikido Journal are encourage to click here.

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