The Approach Certification Training

SONY DSCGoing into the first American Certification Training in The Approach, I thought I knew what to expect. Having trained with Eddie Quinn a couple of times, there were certain elements that were anticipated — extremely high quality instruction, great intensity, lots of hard work and blending of technical with the physical. The bar was set high. Very high.

Little did I know, I UNDER-estimated the quality and intensity of the training.

The short version is this: It was simply the best martial arts training I ever experienced. It is the most devastating self defense method I have ever seen. 

The longer version. . . .

Training started on Friday afternoon, 2pm and went until around 8pm. The focus Friday was on the “traditional” Approach method. I would describe it as a blend of technical and physical. The one aspect that caught me off guard was how detailed The Approach really is. On the surface, it appears to be simple and in seminars, it is taught in a relatively simple fashion. Go to a 3 hours seminar and you have the basics down.

Sort of.


It was simply the best martial arts training I ever experienced.

The Approach is the most devastating self defense method I have ever seen. 


I was taken back by the amount of details that were included. Fist positioning, hip movements, forward thrusting, precise angles to name a few.  This speaks volumes to the originator of the art, Eddie Quinn. The masters always make the difficult seem easy.

Saturday was very, very physical. The topic was the new version, The Approach 360 and it pushed all of us to the point of being drained and exhausted yet brimming with enthusiasm and excitement. For me, the “star of the show” was the groundwork. In the past decade or so, groundwork has been an area of interest and of focus. I have taken many classes and private lessons from multiple teachers on the subject. Each in their own way, was great.

With all due respect, they all paled in comparison to what Eddie taught. His “version” of groundwork was Silat-based, characterized by creativity, flow and continual movement (similar to Systema). There are no set techniques at all, just movement. Attacking, powerful, movement unlike what I had ever seen.  Though it is hard to narrow down my choice, this was the highlight in a weekend filled with highlights.

groupSunday was in many ways, the most demanding. Though not as physical as the other 2 days, it was mentally and emotionally straining. Most of us practice in a pure, “clean” environment. Today, it was stepped up in intensity. Under intense pressure from both verbal and physical attacking, we were to defend ourselves via The Approach. It was one of the most powerful, realistic and rather unnerving situations.

It was also one of the very best. I found myself going to the “dark places” and having to fight from there. I have dedicated the rest of my life trying to shine a light into those dark regions and it was very uncomfortable to say the least, to visit such inner places with regularity and fight and attack with such rawness.

As mentioned, it was the best martial arts training I ever experienced. something special was experienced and I have no doubt that nothing short of magic will spring forth from this.

Words cannot express what a life-changing experience this was. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to Eddie for this weekend, this great gift. I will always be grateful to him for this. . . my teacher, my friend.


Side Notes: Central FL Systema member and Dojo Cho, Neal Hamner attended and did a truly awesome job. He brought honor to Eddie, our Schools and himself. Congratulations on becoming one of the first Instructors in The Approach!

Also, thanks and congratulations to Neal, Dennis Cralley and Bill Clark on their outstanding efforts and achievements. We were friends before, but this weekend left such a deep  impression and a connection between us that will never be broken.

Extra thanks to Bill Clark for setting this up. Much appreciation to Chris Ray for the use of his Krav Maga facility.

Thanks for the emails and texts from my friends and students at Central Florida Systema schools. I appreciated this a great deal.

Special thanks to my wife Lisa for exquisite photography and more so, for her continual support and love in my adventures.


Additional Thoughts: So much of Systema has its origin in The Approach and what Eddie teaches — 6 levels, spin out movements, breathing, flow and many, many others. Not only is it a perfect blend to Systema, but it is allowed me to understand Systema in a much different and deeper fashion. Again, I am most grateful to Eddie for this and look forward to bringing into my schools.

How to Fail. . . Or Greatly Succeed. . . At Running A School

successContrast has always been one of the greatest teachers in my life. Everyone makes mistakes and knowing this truism, tremendous opportunities to learn are contained within each.

Especially the mistakes of others.

Doing so of course, will not make you infallible, but will drastically cut down on the number of errors, blunders, glitches and overall mistakes that we typically make.

I first learned this when I was in practice as an Acupuncture Physician. Having a huge practice had many advantages and one was to observe, contrast and compare those who were “successful” with those who were not (however you define success). Some made great money but were in debt, renting a tiny apartment and had a tough time with bills. . . yet continued to spend wildly. Some were earning modest money and lived like a king or queen in spite of all challenges. Contrast always taught valuable lessons in each instance.

Same is true with running a Martial Arts School. Though I have made 1001 mistakes over the years, it is better than the 5001 that could have been made and luckily, were avoided. Here are the most common errors, in no particular order:

1. Order shirts, pay for a logo and a website, buy business cards etc. . . .before you even have one paying student. Lose money before you make money.

Fancy logos do not make a school. Nor do eye-catching shirts. Great teaching, promotion and going out of your way for others are the things that build a school. It takes time, effort and the willingness to do the unpleasant things that others are not.

2. Open before you are ready. Open the doors or the site, well before you are ready to go.

Let me use the analogy of a website. Want to immediately destroy your new business, with virtually 0% chance of recovering? Announce you have a site. Do heavy promotion for the site and then. . . use these 2 words:  “Under Construction.”

Open your school only when you are 100% ready. Yes, there are always problems that will creep into the picture, but have as much ready to go as possible. Do not advertise a school when you don’t have one or are not ready to go. You will instantly turn off any and all potential students.

3. Complete with other schools, particularly the “McDojos.” Focus your attention on the things that do not really matter.

If you have a less-than-common art such as Systema, it is very difficult if not impossible to compete with the TKD/local black belt mills. They cater to those only interested in the quick fix, the martial arts “hackers” of the world. They are not interested in having their art blended with their life; rather, it is something to check off the Bucket List.

These are not your students. So don’t seek them. No sense competing with businesses that are not part of your niche. Go to places where you would find people like you — dedicated, genuine martial artists.

4. Make no connections in the community. Avoid reaching out to others and you are sure to be closing your doors in no time.

Be a part of the community. This is where your supports and future students will be found. Joe tells Mary who tells Jon who tells Bill and Bill becomes your student. That is the typical sequence.

I received students from local coffee shops, newspaper featured article, restaurant, barber, Sports Authority and book stores. Mostly I receive them via word of mouth.

You just never know. Keep all avenues open.

5. Don’t promote. Do no advertising of any sort. Don’t hand out flyers, do web promotions or anything of this nature. Failure loves lack of effort.

Take risks and go for it. That is how we were featured in the local newspaper and other media outlets. From this, we are being featured in an upcoming documentary. Promotion is the most unpleasant part (at least for me it is) but it is the make/break aspect of your school.

6. Make each person insignificant. Treat each student as an income. Or a non-entity. They don’t matter. . . .said NO ONE who ever ran a successful school.

I have gotten to know each and every student in depth. I do my best to treat each person with respect and teach each in a way that is ideal for their learning style (versus one-size-fits-all). Over the years, we have become a very tight circle where loyalty matters. Those who did not want to be a part of this have left, and that is fine. It makes the Circle that much stronger.

Every person in every class matters to me. I want to help with their Life as much as their Systema. That is why I offer health information, inspirational stories, learning opportunities outside of class and many others. I think people really, really appreciate this. Again, it shows up with a close-knit group being formed, such as ours.

7.  Try to be like Vlad. Watch DVDs or clips and try to imitate the masters like Valentin or Vlad. Do nothing original. Nothing that you can call your own. Surefire way to great disappointment.

Over the years, I have and continue to find my own Systema. I do my best to help others find theirs as well.

I will never be anywhere close to Vlad. Not exactly a big secret here, now is it. But I can learn, do my best and continue to move forward. That is the message I convey to students.

Be you. Everyone else is taken.

7a. Be common. In the same vein, be ordinary. Have each class like every other. Take zero risks, and you too will have a bland, vanilla school.

I have added The Approach, Arnis stick work, concepts from Applied Kinesiology, Oriental Medicine and Dim Mak, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, The Shredder and other “styles” of Systema into the mix at times. Granted they are a tiny percentage of the overall work but nevertheless, it makes it unique and out of the ordinary.

People LOVE this too. I believe it is one of the reasons why our schools have grown so much.

I am reminded of a quote from the late, great Herb Brooks (he of the famous 1980 Miracle hockey team):

“We cannot be a team of common men, because common men go nowhere. We must be uncommon. . . . . . . “

8. Stop Training. Go to seminars or watch DVDs once in a while only. Maybe some clips and try to convince yourself that this is real training. Apply nothing and never grow.

The only way to make steady and continue progress that will last is through regular training. I have said this many times  – If you are not training weekly, you are training weakly.

Have a teacher and connect and train with them regularly. If you don’t have a teacher, go find one and train with them regularly. You have to set the example for your current and future students. If not you, then who will?

Conclusion: There are undoubtedly more on this list, but these are the major ones that I have come across. Most importantly, observe carefully what others who are successful (and those who are struggling) are doing. Implement what is working. Do the opposite of what is failing. Best of all, make your own, your own. Leave your mark.

We are at a time in history when being creative, loyal, determined and other skills are desperately needed. What better way to teach and practice these skills than doing so via Systema, the greatest art ever.






CFLSystema Feature Member: Neal Hamner

NealH1.  My name is Neal Hamner and I am originally from Knoxville, Tennessee but have lived all over Florida for the past 22 years.  I currently am the Regional Director of Busines Development for the Greystone Health Network covering sales and marketing for the Central and North Florida regions.
2.  I really do not have a history of martial arts except for Systema and seminars associated with Systema or other closely related arts.
3.  I got involved with Systema after seeing a special on The History Channel talking about the Russian Spetznaz.  I then discovered a flyer in a local coffee house/restaurant about a local group training in the area and the rest is history!
4.  Systema has had a very positive impact on my life.  It not only builds strength and endurance but also increases confidence and awareness.  This works not only in the training arena but everywhere in life.
David’s Thoughts: Neal (and Gary) are 2 major reasons why Central Florida Systema is here and is successful. Neal has been a long time, hard work and dedicated Systema practitioner. In fact, he was one of the original 4 members. He had the guts and courage to ride out the tough times and now, prosper in the great times.
Neal is one big, strong guy and over the years, he has learned to blend movement and relaxation into his Systema. When he learns to combine movement with even more relaxation, and adding his power, he will be one scary martial artist.
On a personal level, I deeply appreciate Neal’s friendship and loyalty. It is a gift in life when you have a couple of people in the world that you can totally trust and count on. . . .and they will never let you down. I have and for this, I am most grateful.
Neal is the co-Dojo Cho and will be testing for Full Certification in The Approach this weekend. I have no doubt he will pass and excel, becoming one of the first Americans to achieve certification in this deadly art form.

Best Seminar I Have Ever Been To

ValentinSeveral months ago, a handful of us were invited to a private session on a Wednesday to meet and train with Valentin Talanov. It was very good, but with only 3 or so hours, it was an “appetizer.” It certainly caught my attention but did not have a huge impact.

This weekend, the huge impact came, like a meteor.

Two days of very hard, very physical training with Valentin was simply the best seminar I have ever attended. For starters, (unfortunately) there were only 15 people who came. Nevertheless, this worked out in our favor, in that Valentin provided a ton of hands-on training.

(On a side note here, I am not a great seminar fan, particularly of the ones with 80-100 people. Though they are fun and enjoyable, I typically do not learn very much. On the polar opposite are these small ones, where I find myself learning a great deal due to so much hands-on instruction.)

The theme was striking and short work, with a major emphasis on proper form and sequential muscle firing. It was very detailed to say the least, but the 2 things that caught my attention in particular were:

1. This was incredibly powerful. The force generated seemed almost unbelievable, given the short distance. Of course, a slew of bruises this morning are “living” proof of believability.

2. Valentin constantly referred to this as “the basics” or “foundation,” yet it was rather complete and challenging at time. Be it multiple opponents or knife work, the concepts never changed, yet the movements were never repeated.

I loved the way Valentin taught. His style (of teaching) was an ideal match for my style of learning – very sequential, flowing and one section building upon the other.

Big thanks to David Merrell for bring Valentin to Boca, Randall for hosting, Sergey for translating and of course to Valentin for the best seminar I have ever attended.