SYSTEMA / New Zealand


Reflections on Dave QUAILE Seminar August 2010-08-23

Posted by systemanz on August 24, 2010 at 5:48 AM

Ay Crew,

I’ve just returned to Auckland from a weekend seminar held down in Christchurch. My mind is ticking over with thoughts from the work we did and the lessons learned – some of them very confronting, but more on that shortly.


Teaching was Australian instructor David QUAILE. Dave is from the school of thought that believes that the work should not be shortcut. He is a firm advocate in slow, hard and conscientious effort. Although a hard taskmaster, he is also a compassionate and thoughtful instructor who’s only demand is that we look to better ourselves through adherence to the four base principles of the System – Breathing, relaxedness, Structure/Form and Continuous Movement.

On the breaks, Dave was also very open to questions and even a bit of healthy debate on a number of subjects – something that I enjoyed very much.

I won’t get too involved in explaining the specific details of the drills we went through. Suffice to say that we worked on the ground a lot, against grabs/holds, against punches and multiple attackers. I’ll touch on these drills as needed but my aim here is log some of important points Dave touched on and how they affected my own work.

Working Slowly –

While working the ground with a partner, Dave continually instructed us to slow things down. After a number of times being told to slow down, I was excited when Dave said to me ‘That’s your optimum learning speed.’ And, I’ll tell you what – IT WAS A LOT SLOWER THAN I WOULD HAVE EVER IMAGINED!!

At that moment I was quite shocked, I had thought I was doing rather well at ground movement! However, through my rushing, I was relying on my limbs to do the work that my body should have been doing. This had the effect of adding unnecessary tension to my body.

I was not feeling the ground, myself or my partner/opponent. I was missing openings. Through slowing and softening myself I began to develop sensitivity to, and awareness of, opportunities to begin working against my partner in a less hurried, calm and overall more functional way.

In the end, through slow work, my body began to ‘think’ for itself. Physically, my movements took on a worm-like contraction and expansion. (Thank you Alex for pointing this out and helping me understand how to work with this!! Believe me, there is still a lot of work to be done in this area, and I think learning to listen to our body is one of the most important things.

Using the Body –

Dave was adamant that we use the body in all our endeavours, whether standing or on the ground. Just this aspect has a number of factors to consider – keeping the structure, working from the core, being ‘relaxed’.

Each time Dave has come over he has explained a bit more about what structure and form is. He explained that although our optimum body position is upright, shoulders over hips, that there are times when we may not be able to maintain this.

Dave stated that we should think about ourselves as if we were a steel sphere.

No matter what how we would be pushed we would still remain the same shape.

Further, he explained that good form means that we are engaged at all times. This allows us to move where and how we need to, when necessary – with no breaks, i.e. continuous movement.

A number of questions were asked about moving from the core. With a laugh, Dave said that we’re not talking about ‘six-pack abs’ when we’re talking about the core. The core in the System is the tendons and ligaments. These are what we are trying to strengthen in our conditioning drills – push-ups, squats, etc. They are the springs that give us tremendous power if we can learn to activate and harness them.


Blair brought up a good point on one of the breaks. He stated that in Tai Ji they refer to this as ‘steel wrapped in cotton’, the idea that the muscles should be soft and the tendons activated and strong.

During the same break we discussed the spring. Dave had a great point that a spring is just a spring – there is no tension there. It works as needed when pressure is applied to it whether that force is compression or expansion.


There is no change in the form or level of tension in the spring itself, the only change is in the outside forces applied to it. The spring remains ‘relaxed’.

This is what we seek when we work towards ‘relaxation’. We need to work with what we have. We all have to work from where we are, seeking to improve as we can. As for myself, as I work towards flexibility and control, I need to work with my tension – acknowledge it, manage it, find ways to overcome it.

Again the only way to find and acknowledge tension is to work SLOWLY.

Funny how it’s all linked together, ay!!

Further -

As I read over this, I think that the way to sum it up is the old adage – ‘Know Thyself’. This is the work........through all our drilling and conditioning we look within ourselves and seek ways to improve.

It starts with the breathing, develops through adherence to the principles and is kept on going through conscientious work – careful exploration of our psyches, physical limitations, and spirit.

To end, I’d just like to say thank you to Dave – he definitely has a way of provoking questions within me. Sometimes this stirs up the emotions but it’s all part of the training, right!?!

A very big thank you to Mike for working through the logistics of the event. He met with a few stumbles on the way but persevered and came out smiling in the end.

To all those that came out for training, it was pleasure to see old faces and meet some new ones too. Big shout out to the Sydney crew who travelled over to support Dave and the System here in New Zealand. Thanks everyone for their effort, it makes the training all the better.


As I go over my notes I’ll try to get another piece together about what I term the paradoxes of the System........more questions stirred up over the weekend.....thanks Dave!!

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1 Comment

Reply Justin Ho
3:07 AM on September 1, 2010 
Nice one Loren! It was good catching up over the weekend. Massive thanks to Mike and all the other Kiwi's who made it a fantastic weekend!