SYSTEMA / New Zealand

SystemaNZ - Hamilton Workshop March 2011



Use pyramid breathing pattern (1 step inhale/1 step exhale, 2 step/inhale/2 step exhale, 3 step inhale/3 step exhale, etc up to 7 or more.......)

Use box breathing (as above but add in breath holds - example: 3step inhale/3step hold/3 step exhale/3 step hold, etc......)

Another variation: mix up numbers (example:  3 step inhale/8 step exhale)

Add in:  holding the arms in various positions (above head/stretched out in front of body/held behind the body/hands resting on the shoulders - elbows hanging)

Can use different stepping - forwards/backwards/cross stepping/lowering the body

Smooth out the breath, make the breath audible - don't be shy!!


Pick a distance - walk half the distance inhaling/half exhaling.  Inhale full distance/exhale full distance.

Hold breath - on inhale or exhale, go full distance.  Walk or sprint.  If sprinting, walk back to start point - use this time to calm yourself and bring yourself back to natural state.

***The work is to identify your limit, possibly expand these.  Pay attention to any tension - first identify it then work out how to deal with it/get rid of it.

***During these breathing drills, a common feeling is a creeping tension to the base of the throat/upper lungs - accept but do let this tension infest the rest of your body.


Stretch your body in various positions - feeling should be of just waking from sleep in the morning/don't put too much into it/change often - stretching should not be static.

Stretching can develop into flow work of rolling or Four Exercise (Push-up, sit-up, squat, leg lift).

Pay attention to yourself - are you calm, is your movement smooth, are you rushing through certain movements, etc?

This drill helps with developing body structure and posture - it teaches our body to be engaged in all positions.

*** Good structure = having a body (and mind) that can work/move in any direction at anytime

***Key-point = How can one expect to develop flow with a partner (under stress/under attack, etc.....) if one cannot flow while solo?


(Drills taken from TALANOV disc - Breathwork and Combat)

While lying prone (on back, on side, on front - try to lay in position that allows for greatest amount of relaxation and a minimum of tension), exhale about half way and hold your breath.  When you can no longer hold your breath - breathe using burst/recovery breath.  Continue until your breathing slows down to a 'normal' pace.  Relax and repeat.

Recovery breathing = shallow short breaths, in through the nose/out through the mouth.  You're looking for a rapid exchange to take place.  The breath should naturally come back to its 'normal' state.

This breathing should not tense you up - but rather lead to you being very relaxed.

This breathing style should be brought into play whenever the body/mind is under stress and finding it difficult to cope.


Partner lays prone (face up/face down - either way)/The other partner begins to walk his fists on the other's body.  This can be done from the knees or in the push-up position.

To progress the drill, the prone partner can begin to roll and move slowly.  The other partner is looking at fist placement - working out good places to put his fist, the structure of his own 'striking' hand.

For the very keen, this fist walking can be changed to the 'body walk' - where the partner literally walks on his partner as he is moving/rolling on the floor!!

This work sees to help the partner learn to relax (and BREATHE!!) under pressure.  It also acts as a massage to the muscles and nervous system.

Work should be completed very mindfully - paying attention to the partner under pressure - listen/watch their breathing and body responses.  Be a good training partner - lighten the work as needed, compound the work as needed.  Although we are taking care of each other - we should be looking to edge one another out of our comfort zones.

For further contact you can roll on your partner and body surf (lying on your partner with a lot of body contact as he moves).



These drills should be looked at as 'ground movement' not 'ground fighting'. There is cross-over of course but we are specifically looking to develop movement at this point - the ability to fight on the ground comes from learning to move comfortably on the ground first.

Also, if you can move well on the ground, you will be able to move well on your feet.  The ground provides restriction so once on your feet/without that restriction, this should translate into freer movement standing.

Cossack Squat

  • From the squat, tip one leg inwards, bring your knee to the ground in front of you.
  • Your leg then extends to the side with the outside of your foot facing upwards.
  • Keep your weight on the other leg to protect your knee.  Work to be comfortable.

Hunter Squat

  • From the Cossack, keeping the toe of the extended foot on the ground, roll the foot and leg - bringing your body along so you are now sitting on your foot (the foot should now have the in-step facing upwards).
  • Bring your other foot in close to the other leg's knee (how close it comes in will depend on your flexibility). Work to be comfortable.

Shin Square

  • From Hunter Squat, the 'kneeling' leg comes backwards so it is lying flat with the knee next to the foot you were sitting on.  This causes you to take the weight off the foot you were sitting on and place your bum slightly behind that leg.
  • Your shins should look like a half of a square - one leg out in front, the other to your side.  Work to get comfortable - you may have tension in your hip or knee, slowly adjust to release as much tension as you can, the position will loosen up as your flexibility grows.


  • From a kneeling position, hands resting on your knees, bend forward, bringing your chest as close to your knees as possible - use a circular motion.  This will bring your arms very close to the ground - screwing them into the ground. (If the right leg is extending out, the left arm should be right down to the ground.)
  • As the weight moves forward, extend one of your legs out behind you. Begin to turn over, 'following' your leg - you should now be facing up.
  • Now the extended leg moves up to a tucked position towards your chest and the other leg extends out.
  • You are still rolling over which now brings the second leg back in towards the body - this should be a circular motion (A linear motion is too taxing on the body).
  • You should wind up in the same position you started in - kneeling.
  • There should be a compression and expansion to the work.


  • Lying flat on the ground/facing up, your left leg raises slightly from the ground (forming the 'eye of the needle') - the hip should start moving also.
  • Your other leg (the 'string') threads its way thru the 'eye of the needle'.  This has the effect of pulling your hips over and then the rest of your body - you should now be facing down.
  • This is the basic concept - use your creativity, backwards, forwards, can the same be done with the arms, can you work out a drill involving a partner(s).
  • There should be a compression and expansion to the work.
  • Stay very low, use a minimum of energy.

Handcuff drills/crawls

  • Nice and simple - clasp your hands behind your back, simulating that they are handcuffed or bound (or better yet have someone actually tie them there!!)
  • Now, go to the ground and then back to your feet.
  • Progress this to moving on the ground - try switching from your front to the back.  Give yourself a goal to crawl towards.  When going to the ground, try going down on your front.  Bridging.  Again, be creative - this can be made very challenging by putting an obstacle in the way to negotiate your way over (maybe your partner.....)


Work as partners or group.  One on the ground, the others - 'zombies' walk at the person.  Partner on the ground moves away.

The 'zombies' walk straight lines, they do not track.....when they've taken a few steps past the partner on the ground they turn, lock in on target and walk through again.

Begin slowly, as the person becomes comfortable with the drill then speed can be increased - speed can be taken up to a jog.....

Partner on the ground works to become comfortable, no rushing - they should work to the speed of the 'zombies' or even slower.  This is a chance to access the ABCs and link movement together into a flow.

Work towards efficiency - think about what is needed to complete the task, do we need to make large movements (rolls) all the time, can we allow the 'zombies' ro be very close and still complete the goal of the drill (getting out of the way), etc.....

Add in:

  • Connect with the 'zombies' - as they walk past, lay hands/feet/limbs on their bodies.  Nothing should have changed, meaning that the drill is still - get out of the way.
  • Get to your knees/feet/standing.
  • Affect the 'zombies' - target the knees/hips/etc, seek to cause disruption, redirect, etc.....


While seated, fall backwards - you must figure out a safe, relaxed way to get to the ground.

Pay attention to your head - find its' natural breaking system.  The head should not be held with tension.

Work to stay away from/protect your spine - try to get the meat of the back to contact the ground first.

When getting back to the seated position - be relaxed, do not rush.

Next, sit side by side with your partner - he pushes to your chest, you relax backwards as above.  When you sit up, you push your partner to the ground, back and forth.

Same process is done from the kneeling position and low squat.  The pushing partner directs the movement - he does all the work, you just respond and go to the ground softly/relaxed.  The partner's pushes should be nice and long with good intention.

Progress to getting some type of contact with you r partner during the transition phase - legs/arms/etc.....Nothing too much in the beginning.....just contact.

A further progression - now the pushing partner comes in for the 'attack' and you do not let him touch you.  Fall away as in the previous part of the drill - soft/relaxed.  You can then think about adding in - getting to the feet, rolling away, etc.....


Standing - allow your partner to put you to the ground.  Work the same as above - softly/relaxed.

Think of a building under demolition - they are not tipped over (classic break-fall) but taken apart piece by piece.

Work on getting you legs to bring the mass of your body as close to the ground as possible.

To progress the drill - work with your eyes closed as you go to the ground.

Another variation - as the person goes to the ground, the other partner walks towards him, he has to get out of the way, stand then switch roles.


Gather the group (this drill can also be done with just a partner or two) - link hands/go to the ground.  One person controls - calling out, 'sitting', 'front', 'kneeling', etc.....the whole group works to get down into the designated position - then back to the feet.

Add in:  Changing from seated to laying on front while still connected with your partners, then back to sitting and to your feet.

As the drill progresses - change the point of contact.  Join elbow, arm around the shoulder, hook the leg, etc.....


This drill puts together the previous work.

Working on the ground allow your partner to push you around - respond to the contact only, relieve the pressure, stay close to the partner.

Progress slowly through - pushing with the fist, then to - punching.



Stand with your partner - his role is to just relax (at this point).

Take your partner's arm/hand and begin to move it around.  Pay attention to how each of the joints work and how they connect with the rest of the body.  Look at how certain movements affect the rest of his body.

Work slowly - mindfully.  Help your partner to see what the extent of the range is in his joints.


  • Work through the whole body/from head to feet.
  • Work on the ground, do the same process with the legs.
  • Work the arm or leg trying to completely relax it while trying to put tension in the other limbs.
  • For added pressure - have another partner push/strike to your body.


This drill can be done standing or on the ground (easier to start on the ground).

Take your partner's hand/limb - begin to twist/extend/compress.  You are working to see what it takes to 'lock'/control his movement.  Use one hand then two.

Your partner works to see how he can escape (or just cope!!).  Again work slowly so your partner has a chance to explore freeing himself without fighting to do it.

To progress the drill - you as the 'locker' begin to pay attention to how his body is affected and how you can prevent him from escaping.  Use the body, legs, feet, etc.....

As the person being 'locked' - you are once again looking to use the breath to cope with the pressure, looking at how although one part of your body maybe locked that the rest maybe free to move - slowly explore your limitations and open yourself up to new movement that will help you escape.


Partner up.  Your partner stands with his hands resting at his sides.  Approach and using subtle movement take up one of his hands.  Use one hand to start with.

Approach from different directions, grab the hand, grab the fingers (A trick - have your hand in an uncomfortable position, grab - then turn your hand into a comfortable position.....this has the effect of twisting the partner into an uncomfortable position).

In the beginning, just look to get some type of movement from his body.  The movement doesn't have to be large.  Your movement should not be large either - work subtly.

To extend the drill - now work with two hands.  Expand your targets - move up the arm to the elbow and the shoulder.  Play.  Work lightly in the beginning.

As the work goes on - really start to move the partner around.  Get his feet going - if his feet are moving his problems compound significantly.  Now his brain is in numerous places at once - this we look to take advantage of.

Pay attention to what is opening up on him - what targets are presenting themselves.....what gifts are ready form the taking!! And as Vlad says 'Don't be greedy, leave something for him." - (Please read: fist......ha!!)

This can be progressed to targeting and lying hands on.  This of course goes further to strike work, free work.  Don't rush to get there though - let things progress naturally with your partner.  The more mindful the work in the beginning the more you can push one another as your comfort/confidence levels are reached.


Results come from proper practice:

  • Slow down
  • Work mindfully
  • No rushing for results
  • No competition
  • Look out for one another

Help yourselves - Look for the easy way.  The way you feel IT is by going SLOW.  If you rush, it is just momentum that took you over/through and you've learned nothing from your body.  You need to go SLOW and feel - where's your tension, where aren't you controlling things, how can you adapt, change. move.  It all happens only if it is slow.  (Paraphrasing Adam VOUNORIDIS (Melbourne Systema))

On the surface some of the drills may not have apparent tactical purpose - some are designed for you to explore/discover and access your body, mind and movement.  However, that said, look closer - we can never know what we may face in the future.....



Play - have will learn faster.

Always stay a student.


Thanks to all the participants - great effort from all and great to see everyone supporting one another!! Here's to next time. 

Thanks to Valdimir for inspiration and the senior instructors I've had the chance to train with at seminars (most of these drills come from them.)  Also, thank you to Dave QUAILE who has helped me to come to a better understanding of this work.  Then finally thanks to all the instructor and students from around the world - we are working on something very special here - so......cheers to that!!