Guayaquil, Ecuador. Unable to correctly pronounce the name of Ecuador’s largest city, I boarded a plane for my first trip to South America. I was joining experienced Systema Headquarters Instructor Frank Arias as well as Josh Fabia on one leg of their recent South American tour. For me this was both a journey to a new country and the first time I would be assisting in the training of newcomers to Systema.
When I was a student in elementary school, my father used to tell me that the best way to learn something was to try and teach it to someone else. In addition to my assigned homework, I would regularly sit down with my father and “teach” him what I was learning in school. In the beginning this was very frustrating, mainly because my dad would play dumb and make me explain things to him in several different ways. I quickly discovered, however, that it was a very effective way to learn.
Having trained in Systema under Vladimir Vasiliev for the past three years, I began to look for opportunities to share Systema, both as a means to improve my own skills and understanding of Systema through teaching but also to introduce the joy of Systema to others.
My excitement for the trip slowly turned to nervousness with a few outright moments of fear as the date of my departure for Ecuador drew closer. I began to worry that I didn’t have the necessary skills to teach anyone Systema, or that I would mess up in a demo and look ridiculous and worst of all that those who came to learn from my partners and I would leave the seminars without experiencing the many benefits of Systema because of something I did or didn’t do.
The day before I left, I knew I needed to do something about the state I was in if I were to have a good trip. My mind immediately went back to an experience I had at the recent Summit of Masters Camp. Each morning we had been instructed to go for a dip in the lake after our exercise session. On one particularly cold morning, I kept telling myself that the water would surely be very cold and I didn’t really want to do this as I walked from my tent down to the lake. I must have stood on the dock for three or four minutes staring at the water imagining how cold it was before I finally jumped in. To my surprise, the water was quite warm, especially compared to the cold air that morning. The walk back to the tent was enlightening as I reflected on how much energy I had wasted and how much fear I had generated just by thinking about how cold the water would be.
One of the greatest lessons I took away from camp were from the sessions taught by Maj. Konstantin Komarov. He spent a considerable amount of time teaching us the importance of a stable psyche. Unnecessary thoughts are an obstacle to maintaining an optimal state for our psyches, we were taught. We were also taught to remember how we felt when we were operating in a stable state and to use those memories to return to a clam and even psyche. I used these techniques, along with some breathing and exercise to calm myself down for the trip. I decided I wouldn’t worry about how cold the water might be; I would just jump in and find out then.
I am very glad I went through this process before the trip because it turned out that the whole adventure was a very positive experience. In Ecuador we trained and did demos for numerous different groups from a Commando unit with the Ecuadorian Marines, a top unit with the Policia Nacional, members of the national Olympic Judo team, and regular citizens as well.
In each case, my experiences were both confidence boosting and humbling. I was very pleased that we had been so well accepted at the same time humbled. I knew that in the cases of the police and the marines what we were sharing could very well be used to help those individuals survive in combat and violent confrontations. These individuals were not new to violence and many were hardened veterans who work daily in very dangerous conditions. They had already had serious training for their work, but they were not free of tension and many of the fears we all experience. The fundamental principles of Systema, from breathing and relaxation to simple movement and correct form showed them that we had something very important and special to show them, and I felt that they were genuinely appreciative of that.
None of the things I feared before my trip came to be and all those we trained with left each session with big smiles on their faces and expressions of gratitude for what we had shared with them. I returned that gratitude for I feel that I learned as much or more from my experience of sharing Systema. I learned that you can’t really teach Systema, you can only show it and help others discover it within themselves. This was an important lesson for me. It taught me that I don’t have to be tougher, stronger, faster, or more technically skilled than someone to be able to show them how much Systema can help them. I learned the importance of a stable psyche and how crucial that is to my own work in Systema and in everything I do.
I would encourage all students of Systema to share what they have learned. I am very grateful to Vladimir, Mikhail, Konstantin and all of the other instructors I have trained under at Systema HQ for all they have shared with me. I am also thankful for each and every training partner I have had over the years for everyone has taught me something important. Finally, I would like to thank my travel partners for taking me on this trip, for their friendship and mentorship.
About the author
Jason Priest has been taking regular classes and seminars with Vladimir Vasiliev at Systema HQ in Toronto for the past three years. He has recently been certified as Systema Instructor-in-Training. Outside of Systema, Jason runs an Investment Management and Consulting firm. His wife, Irene, is the famous Systema baker whose cookies, bread and treats are often enjoyed at HQ after seminars.