Is Imitation Really Learning?


It may be the greatest form of flattery, but is imitation really learning?

I know without ever turning my computer on, when Vlad has released a new DVD or when someone has gone to a Systema seminar. It is not the new information that gives it away. It is the way the information is performed; that is, I typically witness someone trying to imitate Vlad or one of the other masters they have recently trained with. Whether it be tugging the earlobe or brush the hair or some other trigger mechanism (or personal tic) one of the great teachers have, there is always someone who seems to think THAT is the way to do Systema.

Is it? Is there value in parroting what is being taught?

Perhaps for the beginner, there is a little value. They have no foundation and like learning a language, we repeat what we hear or see. It reminds me of what I was younger and played baseball. Invariably, everyone without exception would attempt to imitate their favorite player. My favorite was George Brett, and I spent many hours trying to adopt his stance and swing, thinking that imitation would lead to George Brett-like results.

As one would imagine, Brett’s stance, swing and mannerisms worked. . . . for George Brett. Not for me. Not for anyone else. Over time, we evolve and create our own stance and swing based upon our physique, speed, strengths and weakness etc. That is the only route to success. It should be in your body, not in your brain.

In Systema, at some point, we have to step up our training and recognize that our movements are unique to us. We are not Vlad and never will be. We can however, take the foundations that he and Michael teach and mold them to our body type. We can make our own Systema. If we don’t, we run the risk of simply parroting movement. We miss the goal of being a true martial artist.

One of my favorite stories which illustrates this point, is from the world of aikido. O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, creator of aikido, was one a trip when a student walked up to him. He said “I have come half way around the world to study your aikido.” O’Sensei replied, “That’s funny. Everyone else is studying their own aikido.”


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