What Does Steve Vai Have To Do With Systema?

vaiSteve Vai is a legendary guitarist, having been with such bands as David Lee Roth, Whitesnake and Frank Zappa. He is one of the most respected and popular musicians around.

A few years ago, Steve Vai came to the Orlando area to teach a seminar. I mentioned this to my wife, who is a musician and passionate guitar player. I was sure she would want to attend and even began making “solo plans” for the day.

Her answer was both short, surprising and enlightening. “I have absolutely no desire to go.”

“What?? This is Steve Vai! I even know of Steve Vai.”

Some answers go beyond the actual question posed, and penetrate right to the heart of Truth.

“There are 100 other people going. I will have to spend a couple of hundred dollars watching him, maybe learning a little here and there. He is a name. A great player, but you know how many one-on-one lessons I can get with Pete (her guitar teacher)? Besides, those 6 hours in the seminar. . . . I have to practice during that time.”

WOW! It took be a bit of time to fully digest this one. In the end, I just had to smile. She was right. Usually is. . . .

As time has gone on, I have applied this principle to my own training. I make sure I get to W. Palm regularly and unless a hurricane is coming, I won’t miss.

W. Palm is not pretty (I am referring to the school, certainly not the city). It is blacktop, often sprinkled with shards of glass or nails. It is a rough neighborhood and will never win a prize for aesthetics. Nevertheless, it is the best Systema training I have ever had in my life. Bar none. Period. End of story.

It is a grind — long drive, long hours of training, lots of “corrections.” Lots and lots of “corrections.” It lacks the glamor of major cities or the “big names.” It is not the Steve Vai of Systema. It is just the best.

Some people are enamoured and starstruck by the surrounding. They will spend a fortune traveling from name to name, exotic to exotic, in the hopes of learning what they could learn in their backyard. It is not the place that matters. It is the training and the willingness to endure the grind of continually correction, continual mistakes and continual practice that leads to progress.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could go to a seminar, spend a bundle and be able to play guitar like Steve Vai? Of course, it would also be fun to have a pet Unicorn and a beer with a real Viking, but such is not the case.

In an era of shortcuts and hacking, there still nothing that replaces rolling up your sleeves and working hard.

Not even an afternoon with Steve Vai.