It was almost 9 years ago that I was at Judo and had partnered with Martin Wheeler to practice a hip throw. I had done this throw thousands of times over the course of my career in Judo and was reasonably successful at it. One of the times I was coming into this hip throw and Martin tapped my hip a little. All of a sudden I found myself on the ground not understanding at all what just had happened.
Being full of myself, I looked at him and said, “Try that again!”
I came into the throw again and once again I found myself on the ground not knowing what just had happened.
I asked him, “What did you do?”
The response came, “I just relaxed your tension…”
I got up and said, “That was pretty cool. I want to learn how to do that!”
That was my introduction to Systema and my life has not been the same since…
In and around the time of that fateful practice I had sustained a severe injury to my left knee and had torn the (ACL) ligament as well as a couple of pieces of cartilage. I was in “recovery” mode after surgery trying to strengthen my legs so I didn’t feel so stiff, sore and prone to more injuries as a result of the left knee.
However, the more Judo I did the more I seemed to “hurt” myself.
I am not talking about big injuries either. I am talking about the pulled muscle in the back or the neck that leaves you unable to really practice for a week or so. Nagging injuries that keeps you from practicing because you know it will just get worse and then who knows what situation you will be faced with.
The only examples I had were the “older” Judo black belts who couldn’t kneel, or had back surgery, or who could no longer do the throws they did when they were younger.
This did not seem like such an “appealing proposition.”
So I began to train Systema and Judo at the same time.
Systema scared the hell out of me. People were punching and kicking each other in all sorts of scenarios (on the ground, standing up, one on one, in a group). Up to that point I had never been involved in a “punching art.” Judo was all about throws, chokes, arm locks, and hold-downs.
However, there was this feeling I had after practice, no matter how scary practice was, where I felt good. Really good. Like I had begun to deal with the fear in my body that held me in such a tense tight place causing all of the pain I was feeling from my knee injury and all the other injuries that had been there for a very long time.
I found that Systema has a number of leg exercises such as the “slow squat” that are designed to both stretch and strengthen the tendons and the ligaments within the knee joint itself. These exercises are done with “circular breathing” (In through the nose and out through the mouth) for a long enough period of time that actually fatigues the muscles in the legs. When the muscles are fatigued and “out of the way,” I was then able to work just with the tendons and the ligaments in the knee, which was directly contributing to my knee pain.
The more I practiced Systema, the less Judo I did, the better I felt, the more fluidly I moved, and my knee pain went away!
The bonus to all of this is all of the great people I have met along the way.
Great people with solid character and values. Great people who are willing to look at their fears and really work on them (of course while they are punching yours out! J) Great people that recognize their own ego and self-pity and use humor to let go of these “crutches.” Great people who show up day after day to practice knowing that Systema is a way to improve themselves letting go of what does not serve them in their lives.
I am so thankful to have found Systema. It has improved my life on many levels physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I can’t imagine my life now without it. I only hope that I am able to carry that feeling of Systema forward and share it with others so I may improve their lives like it has mine.
Bill Parravano is a Russian Martial Art Instructor at Systema Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also an Instructor of a style of body work called Ortho-Bionomy and has just completed an e-Book on knee pain incorporating many of the principles of Systema, “Stop Your Knee Pain Now!”