Last weekend was the second time that I had the pleasure and benefit of being able to train under the guidance of Vali Majd from Roots Dojo – School of Warrior Arts (Denman Island, BC, Canada). First time I met Vali was on his first visit to Auckland a little over two years ago and I can say I’ve been looking forward to his return ever since.

As I am already busy writing a thesis as it is, I won’t make another one of this blogpost, but will keep it short and to the point. What I will say is also no different than what I have said in the roundup following the weekend and comes down to 4 points…

On the first day, on the first exercise and in one of his very first few bits of instruction regarding what we were doing Vali said: “Don’t breathe because you move, you move because you breathe.” The response in my brain was equally succinct… “Right, that’s it, that is good enough for me and how much more can we think about, learn or practice in a weekend. The seminar is over. Thank you. Amazing!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being ironic here at all! I seriously mean it. That little piece of advice/thinking/information/instruction there is so good I cannot even begin to say and there is so much that can be explored with it. Sorry if my explanation sounds cryptic, but at least what Vali said there is actually really simple. But in its simplicity equally lies its depth.

Of course, I didn’t leave after this and it wasn’t actually the end of the seminar. Instead and without fault Vali continued delivering at that level, adding fire to the flame. Much of the focus of the seminar was on ‘form’ as one of the 4 fundamental principles of Systema RMA and the often neglected, yet not at all (!!!) less important sibling of the group of ‘breathing, relaxation, movement, AND form’.

As I have said in the roundup, to me the principle of ‘form’ in a sense ties together and cleans up a lot of the breathing, movement, and relaxation that we work on in Systema. Though not bound to it exclusively, it has a kind of beginning in the simplicity of a natural, relaxed, upright posture. Next, this natural posture is taken along for the ride as we begin to move, rather than giving it up by default when we start to move even though there is no real reason to give it up. Now if we were just practicing how to move around by ourselves that would be ok as it is, but of course we are also investigating martial arts and so we find our natural, moving posture disturbed by incoming forces, ill will, etc., all of which are intended to ‘take us down’. At least in my thinking at the moment, this is a crucial point in the exploration and in fact development of ‘form’ and Vali took us through beautiful progressions for working on this. Simply put, we try to work on keeping form, even under pressure (psychological, physical, …), and build this ability. We move, breathe, relax and keep our form as we are dealing with our attacker(s). The frequently recurring image from the seminar was people moving, pushing, pulling, striking, breathing, sweating and Vali’s voice in the background, ever reminding us to keep our form – “Chest is clean. Chest is clean.”

This emphasis on keeping and developing form is neither stupidity, nor ‘childishly defiant’, but helps us either entirely bypass or at least delay the point at which we might be forced to give it up. If and when we are, of course, that is ok and we readily accept this (!!!) as we get back to the arsenal of three remaining principles we have left – breathing, relaxation, movement – AND work our way back towards recovering ‘form’. I’ll leave the matter of keeping form whilst on the ground and in transition aside here, which is also important and to some extent the real place where form departs more drastically from being merely posture, structure,…, but it might well be somewhat advanced and the above a good beginning (not to be left behind!!). I might well be biased here and my perspective of the seminar and what Vali was guiding us through in regard to form reminded me heavily of some of the work we do in Aunkai that really helped me feel the element of form more clearly in Systema training as well.

Clean, clear and simple is the gist of how I would describe Vali and his movement. Chest is clean, the facial expression clear, no malice and no desire to win/dominate, never doing more than necessary, never complicating things more than necessary, simply moving, simple movements – getting straightforward ‘results’. I’ve always been, and am recently yet again growing more and more appreciate of simplicity. As talked about with Loren during the weekend, good, no, actually great things are (often) simple. And why would they have to be more than that?

Many thanks to Vali, many thanks to Loren for organising, and many thanks to everyone for training together on such a simple weekend. For those wanting a piece of this, join the various regular classes available in Auckland, and if you can make it, Vali offers a huge amount of pretty unique weekend seminars, camps etc at Roots Dojo. If all this wasn’t clear enough, I can thoroughly recommend it and hope to get another chance to learn from Vali again sometime soon.

And yes, sorry, damn it, I’ve written more than I wanted yet again!! But nevermind…

Chest is clean.