The Hardest Part of Systema

Push-It is THE hardest part of Systema. In fact, it is the hardest thing to do in any martial arts. Or any venture worth pursuing.

No, it is not taking strikes. You eventually learn to deal with the fear that this evokes. Or you feel the fear and take them anyway.

Nor is it multiple opponents. Once you understand the principles and concepts, this ends up being one of the most enjoyable aspects of our great art.

It is not pushups, leg raises or squats. They are tough, but you learn to grind and then relax your way through them.

It is not shovel strikes, knife work, kick defense, breath work or any of the dozens of other topics.

No, this is much, Much, MUCH more difficult.

The hardest part of Systema is this: “Showing up for the next class.”

In the beginning, as is the case with any new task, the learning curve is steep. For most people, this is enjoyable. You know that the road is long but each beginning class, you learn new aspects of the art. It is like opening up presents at Christmas. You may know now how to use the new iPhone but it is fun learning how.


The hardest part of Systema is this: “Showing up for the next class.”


The steepness of the learning curve cannot last forever, and when it starts to flatten, that is where the biggest challenges come into play. This is the proverbial fork in the road. Who will continue? Who will quit?

It is Monday night and class is at 7pm. . . . . . . . . . . .

The “newness” has worn off.

More is expected from you.

Work is getting stressful and now you have a new boss.

Your wife is reminding you to fix the fence because the dog keeps getting loose.

They are having a “2 for 1” special on Blue Moon at the Ale House and your buddy, who you have not seen in a while, reminds you that a great game is on tonight. 

You are still a bit sore and bruised from the last class.

Starting Systema is easy. Continuing with it is not. Coming to the next class, and then the one after that, is where the greatest challenge comes into play. It is what separates the martial artist from the “hobbyist” (as my Tai Chi teacher, Jeff Sindy calls them).

I have completed 10 marathons and signed up for number 11. People often ask, “Which one was the toughest?” My answer is always the same. “The next one. . . . “

Marathon one, I had no idea what to expect. Everything was new and exciting. I had never seen the course, nor that many people. I had never completed a race, other than one 5K.  Expectations were zero. Excitement was a 20 on a scale of one to ten.

Yes, it was very, very difficult. I was ill prepared, putting it mildly. Wrong shoes. Not enough gels. No hill training. Not enough training miles. The level of pain and suffering was high. I somehow managed to finish (via Divine Intervention I suspect).

Marathon 2 was tougher. The weather was better, about 20 degrees cooler. I was fully prepared this time. My training was so much better. I had on the ideal pair of Asics running shoes and plenty of gels. The challenge here was I already knew what was ahead of me. I knew the level of pain and suffering, and the challenges of running 26.2 miles BEFORE the race began. Marathon one, I played the role of

Marathon one, I played the role of “village idiot.” Marathon 2, I knew better.

Systema is similar. In the beginning, you know nothing. You may have seen a couple of clips or DVD but they are entertaining, not training. Then you start to train.

Now, you have an idea of the physical nature of the art and know what to anticipate in the next class or the next seminar. And the one after that. And the one after that one. . . . .

The only question is this: Do you have what it takes to just show up?!