The Background, on Joe and Systema.
First, a little bit about Systema, from the ever popular Wikipedia.
Systema (Система, literally meaning The System) is a Russian martial art. Training includes, but is not limited to: hand-to-hand combat, grappling, knife fighting, and firearms training. Training involves drills and sparring without set kata. In Systema, the body has to be free of tensions, filled with endurance, flexibility, effortless movement, and explosive potential; the “spirit” or psychological state has to be calm, free of anger, irritation, fear, self-pity, delusion, and pride.
Systema focuses on breathing, relaxation, and fluidity of movement, as well as utilizing an attacker’s momentum against him and controlling the six body levers (elbows, neck, knees, waist, ankles, and shoulders) through pressure point application, striking, and weapon applications.
From Systema St. Louis:
Our training philosophy is not to be confused with any traditional fighting arts and/or combat sports fighting systems. We are not in the business of taking years to teach a client how to incapacitate or eliminate even the most basic fighter, but rather months, comparable to the time a special ops soldier has to prepare for an operation.
There are just too many aspects of traditional fighting arts and sports-based fighting systems that are life-threateningly impractical and inefficient for the street and actual brutal violence.
Okay, so we’re good on what Systema’s purpose is? It is not about fighting for sport, it is not about scoring points. It’s about surviving, it’s about respect for life, even that of your attacker. This is something you might not be aware of, in the 1960s and 1970s if you were attacked and handed over your wallet or car keys, there was a 65-70% chance they would take the money and go away. Now, the odds are flipped in that if you hand over your wallet or your car keys there is a 65-70% chance they will assault you anyway. There is a huge lack of consideration for life these days. And that nugget my friends, came straight from a St. Louis police detective I know. A good guy, a warrior, you should get to know him. Let me see what I can do about that. He’s a United States Marine, State Department Diplomatic Security, St. Louis Police Department, and also owner of Systema St. Louis, who travels to teach and lecture. I think he has a pretty cool dog too.
I didn’t ask him, but I’m guessing he once in a while sleeps and eats. He will tell you that you don’t let fear dictate the outcome. What? You had in mind more detail than that? Well, I’m your girl, pick me, let me see what I can find out.
S: How did you come to be in the Marines? Was this a goal growing up, did you always feel the need to protect people?
Joe: I come from a family of proudly serving in the military. My Grandfather was in WWII, in the first wave to storm the beaches that had to clear the mess, and my father proudly served his country in the Marines in Viet Nam in the early 1960s. After his time in Viet Nam he continued to serve his country by training the young men going over, teaching them the valuable skills they would need to come home, alive.
It seems preserving life runs in the Mayberry family genes.
After the military, my Dad became a welder. I was blessed when I was still young by being able to spend a lot of time with Dad.
It sounds like a Dad he admired, was proud of and was close to. I can relate to that, I felt the same about mine.
S: So, you were that kid on the playground always protecting the kid that was getting picked on?
S: You were stationed in Israel at the Embassy for three years. You really don’t speak ANY Hebrew? You just forgot? I admitted my astonishment, I’m always trying to learn more Hebrew and get better at it. LIVING there for three years? I’d have been eating that up with my falafel and Israeli salad.
Joe: Well, I might remember a few words, I knew a little back then.
S: Did you ever feel you were in danger while you were there?
Joe: Yes, I did. But I learned to deal with it in a way so that it didn’t affect me negatively. I was there in the late 1980s and it was about protecting good from evil. I saw first hand that if nothing opposes evil it will absolutely succeed. I saw it, up close and personal. While I was in Israel I got to know some Israelis and I had the opportunity to train with the IDF who use Krav Maga. I trained 6 days a week with them, including in the desert. That was real Krav Maga, not Krav Maga for sport or fitness.
Sheila provided links
S: So after you were out of the Marine Corp and back in the states, what did you do?
Joe: The State Department, in Diplomat Security. You got to see more of the world while protecting people and their secrets. You might be standing in the hall by a doorway for 8-12 hours at a time. And while you were standing at that doorway, you are protecting whomever is behind that door. It was after the wall came down, and we began to see people down the hall who had been behind the wall. The Russians began showing up in front of doors in the hall as well. When you’re in those hallways for 8-12 hours you begin to talk to each other. You talk about common interests, things you both know.
(I figured this meant horses of course, apparently, to my shock, no).
Joe: We began talking about martial arts, I had been involved in the martial arts since 1974, long before my Krav Maga education. We discussed each others forms of martial arts and that’s when I began hearing about Vladimir Vasiliev. That would have been around 1994, 1995. Shortly after that I got out of the service. I was very interested in what I had heard about Vladimir, but I couldn’t find anything about him really. Then I picked up a copy of Black Belt magazine and in the back there was an ad for his school in Toronto. I called and talked to Valerie, his wife, and made an appointment to go. The first class with him was very humbling. He just mopped the floor with me. I have been in martial arts since 1974, trained with the IDF and he mopped the floor with me. It was a turning point. And I learned don’t forget the past, utilize it. Begin to think conceptual. There will always be chaos, and your best advantage is to be prepared. My role as an instructor is to help someone develop a useful, workable response to the chaos.
S: How good of shape do people have to be in to learn and do Systema? This had been one of my fears when I went to the first class, that I wouldn’t be in good enough shape.
Joe: Nobody has to be “fit” to be able to defend themselves. When I came back to the US after several years I saw Krav Maga really take off. It had turned into a fitness ploy. It had gone from being military training into martial arts fitness. It was attractive to those not in shape that wanted to learn to be safe. I really didn’t like that fad. They were telling people that if they weren’t in shape they couldn’t defend themselves. They made levels and added a fitness routine giving an illusion. It’s a sport now and not practical. I’m telling you no matter your age and shape you have a G-d given right to live, and to defend yourself.
S: When Scott (Van Kirk) worked with me he taught me about my “Systema happy place”. This involved keeping my energy low and a very neutral demeanor. It’s kind of what you use when working with horses, but does this just come with time and effort?
Joe: Energy, that happy place, has got to be professional to work. It’s about it becoming an ingrained, routine. Like when you get up of a morning, you go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, have some coffee. You can do these things calmly, without great thought and a minimum of effort, it just flows. When you are working Systema it needs to be 100% professional for it to become a smooth pattern with an economy of motion and thought, so much that it almost happens without awareness. Our subconscious takes over with the awareness of patterns. Systema strives to become the smooth pattern of economy of thought and a large part of instincts. The concepts of usage are universal.
S: What do you think is the biggest impediment to that is?
Joe: Internally people have fear. They don’t see their own possibilities. They allow their limitations to stop them. With conceptual martial arts it’s all within the person. If they realize what fears hold them back, they are free to do what they want.
Part 3 will pick up with more on the warrior mindset. Stay tuned, same bat time, same bat channel.
Early weapons of opportunity training, but no cape required.