N A M I -R Y U- A I K I -H E I H O

A School for Training in Ancient Samurai Military Arts
instructor- -schedule- -corporate training- -tactical training

Slow Sparring Game Of Russian Martial Arts

Arthur Sennott


One of the unique and most important training methods of Systema is the use of a slow motion type of sparring. This sparring game is perhaps the primary physical training device that leads us to combat proficiency, as it allows us to integrate our individual skills, while learning to utilize them in coordination with an opponent. It is an incredibly useful and powerful training tool, but like any other training device, drill or practice, it must be done correctly, in order to instill the desired skills and abilities. Though the aforementioned game is practiced in slow motion, it has several aspects that can be difficult for beginners to deal with. The majority of difficulties stem not from an inability to play the game itself, but from a misunderstanding of its principles and goals. This article will clarify those issues and discuss the primary keys to making correct use of the slow sparring game.

The Premise

The basic premise of the Slow Sparring Game (SSG) is to create an environment where all technical aspects of hand to hand combat can be explored in relative safety, while providing the body a chance to execute and cultivate true spontaneity. To facilitate this, the SSG must be viewed as a slow motion representation of combat.

One must forget that they are in slow motion, movements and reactions must be made as though the participants were moving at full speed. This requires a certain amount of "play acting" on the participants parts. It is important however to realize that this acting, in contrast with the common association with the word, creates more reality, rather than less. When moving at a slow speed, movement and balance will manifest differently than they would at full speed. This should be readily apparent to anyone who has ever driven a car. A sharp corner that can be navigated safely at 30 MPH would surely flip the car at 80 MPH. As it is with cars, it is with humans. When playing the SSG, we must always keep that in mind, and commit to moving "as if" we were going full speed. All movements should be made as if you were on videotape at full speed, but played back in slow motion.

Keeping It Real

When playing any training game, whether it be at full or slow speed, it is vital to keep it as real as possible, while still abiding by the rules of the game. You must commit the "attack" as if it were completely real. You must act with an intent to really hit your partner. You must follow through trying to put power into the blow. You must make all the same physical and mental actions that you would if you were really determined hurt your opponent.

There is an innate tendency to want to try to help your training partner. This is in itself good, but unfortunately it can lead to several behaviors that are a hindrance to training. In an effort to subconsciously help their partner it is common for people to punch off center, or not follow through with their strike. While this may indeed help one's partner avoid being hit in training, it will not teach him about defending himself. All attacks must be made accurately, with intent, and full follow through. If safety is a concern, then the speed can always be lowered so as to create a higher safety control.

In contrast to the subconscious need to help your partner, there is a complementary tendency and inner desire to thwart him as well. You should be on guard for this in yourself. Remember, the attacker's role is to play the part of an opponent who wants to hurt the defender. The intent to attack, and the intent to foil, are two very different things. Each of those intentions creates its own set of movements and relationships. Make sure to give your opponent the appropriate intent for the training exercise you are doing.

Altered Physics Cheat 1

Increasing the speed of an attack is a common cheat, which people sub-consciously resort too. It can seemingly wreak havoc on the defender, giving an illusion of the attackers success. Of course he has not really succeeded in anything but fooling himself, and undermining his partner's confidence.

One simply cannot speed up anymore than they can go at their fastest speed. So when participating in training exercises at lowered speeds, one must maintain the same general velocity they begin their movement with. If the attacker were moving at full speed, he could not have suddenly increased the speed of his attack. The tactic is not existent at real speed, and must therefore be avoided in slow motion.

Likewise, moving quickly and then suddenly slowing down, is less than realistic and should be avoided. It generally causes the same problems in the SSG, and only serves to retard progress.

It should be noted that in real speed combat there are ways of changing the speed of your attack, but these are specific skills that are different from merely taking advantage of the slowed pace. At a more advanced level it is expected that partners will make use of pace changes, but they must always be in accord with the laws of physics as applied to full speed movement.

Altered Physics Cheat 2

In addition to simple changes of velocity, another frequently made mistake is unrealistic changes in trajectory. Remember that our rule is "anything that happens in slow motion, has to be indicative of reality." Therefore, any change in the attack line a participant makes, must be possible for that person when moving at full speed.

When moving in slow motion, it is theoretically possible for me to start my motion on one plane along a specific trajectory and then radically and abruptly change direction, approximating a "zigzag" effect. This can create quite an intimidating fake or feint. However, a movement such as this is not consistent with reality and the laws governing fast motion. It must therefore be removed from the SSG.

At full speed, one would have to make use of elliptical paths to change the trajectory of a strike. For our game to be of benefit, this same limitation must be inserted into the slowed movements. In other words, we must "act" as if it is impossible to move in a zigzag manner. When training in slow motion, everything has to be reflective of that which you can do in reality. Otherwise it's a false training habit. It's false for you, and it's false for your partner.

Altered Physics Cheat 3

The last common "physics cheat" that frequently occurs is when the defender moves faster than the attacker. When participating in SSG, it is very easy to simply move faster than your attacker. After all, he is moving in slow motion. However, doing this, is of course taking advantage of the artificial part of the game, and thus renders the game invalid. The reality is that many real life attackers may and probably will be faster than you. Building your technique around the idea of being faster than the opponent will only serve to decrease your chances of using your art in a real confrontation. We must always train to beat the superior opponent, and thus train in a way that assumes our opponent has better attributes and abilities than we do.

Therefore, if one partner is defending, and the attacker initiates at turtle speed, then the defender must react at turtle speed, or even slower. When he's moving full speed, I'll be moving full speed, and I can't rely on speeding myself up even more so as to deal with his attack. Remember, you "cannot move faster than you can already go."

Therefore, your "technique" must not be based upon speed, but angle, sensitivity and an understanding of the opponent's capabilities. If I can defend against him no matter how fast he is going, and I can move slowly, while he's doing that, then I'll be able to defend myself no matter how fast my opponent is.

Slow Movement As A Training Aid

When training, one of the primary things that we want to do is move at a speed where we can learn. In the process of trying to improve, we want learn new things and develop new skills. We don't want to just regurgitate old things that we already know. This is especially important to those who have previous martial arts experience, before coming to The System.

Whenever engaging in any type of freeform training, it is all too easy to revert back to that which we already know. If that happens when you come to Systema class, all your doing is practicing your old art. Systema class is of course, for leaning, and practicing Systema. So we need to make sure that is what comes out.

This is done by moving slowly enough, that your stress response does not engage. You need to train only as fast as you can, while still eliciting Systema responses. Once non-Systema responses come out, you are moving too fast to make further progress. At that point you are no longer learning, and are thus, no longer training. It is imperative that you recognize that point and immediately slow down to a level where you are once again truly training.

In essence we want to achieve what has popularly become known as "the state of flow." The state of flow is a zone in which optimal mental and emotional experience takes place. When in "the flow," learning increases, performance increases and joy from the activity is experienced. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of "Flow Theory," to achieve a state of "flow," the task must be easy enough to be accomplished correctly, but sufficiently difficult to require concentration and effort. The smaller the window between these two criteria, the more pure and powerful the flow experience will be. This narrow window is where optimal training takes place, and is therefore the state you wish to aim for in playing the SSG.

Slow Motion As Vision Enhancement

In addition to training at a pace where Systema responses come out, you should train at a speed where you elicit new Systema responses. If you find yourself repeatedly doing the same movement in response to a given attack, you need to once again slow down. If you find yourself reverting to the same type of movement repeatedly, you are no longer being creative and spontaneous; you are resorting to "technique" and are thus, not practicing Systema.

It is important that you train in a way that allows you to constantly see new opportunities. Learning to see opportunities is one of the things that will allow you to constantly improvise and adapt, making it possible to deal with whatever an opponent might throw at you.

Each time a punch comes in work slowly enough that you can see how your partner is off-balance, how he can resist, what he can attack with next. Allow yourself the opportunity to see what you can do to make him fall down, or what you can do to hit him where he cannot defend himself. By working in this manner, you will gain and see improvement. You will get better, and gain new skills.

If you work any faster than that, at best all you will accomplish is to cement in the skills, reactions and possibly fears that you already have. In the worst case scenario, you will make yourself less effective. Don't let your training lead to regression, rather than progression.

Copyright 2000 Arthur Sennott, All rights Reserved