Read our latest interview with Systema Bristol Instructor Karl Durrant

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interview systema bristol

Phil: Thank you very much for coming in and talking to us. Just to start with can you tell us about your background in Systema.

Karl: My background in Systema started about 3 years ago, after doing 9 years in Aikido training at Templegate Aikido in Bristol.  I met an instructor called Mat Hill who I was fortunate enough to go out on a woodlands course with. We stayed out in the woods and he taught me some Systema.  Reliability new to the UK, it’s a very different way of learning a martial art from the ‘traditional arts’.  Three years have gone by and I feel very lucky to have a  instructor Like Matt on my doorstep. He’s really supported me in my training and in January this year I came up with an idea of setting up my own marital art platform, which is called Katalyst martial arts the home of Systema Bristol.

Its been steady progress, foundations have been laid within Bristol working with The Park Centre Knowle and we are looking at expanding even further. Systema itself is so diverse and every year I have met martial artists from all different backgrounds and that’s the beauty it. It does not live in a box, it is for everyone.

Phil: What makes Systema different from other martial arts?

Karl: One of the defining features of Systema Bristol is that it helps you reveal tension in your own body and it helps discover what you are scared of. It has tools and drill exercises and you can raise up at your own level and you can find where your panic lies and were you tension lies in your body. You can learn lots of techniques, drill them over and over again, but if you don’t know how to deal with yourself or don’t know how to deal with a confrontation, it can be difficult to execute them. Systema Bristol’s key point is to prevail and survive, there are no winners and losers. It really helps dissipate anger and aggression in a self defense environment.

Phil: Like physiological training?

Karl:There’s a lot of psychological training involved throughout the basic levels and move advance levels where you start doing training in water, press ups under water, things like that. You learn how to relax your body under that kind of pressure, one of the key instructors who has a school in Toronto he talks about how Systema is 99% relaxation, breathing movement and structure, 1% is combat and that 1% helps test all of those things under pressure, but there are other things that you can do in a class structure that help people reveal what they are actually scared of. In Systema Bristol there are no gradings,  the only grading is going through instructorship but if you don’t feel confident to do it, you can just learn and learn and learn, its all about self validation, nobody gives you that validation, you just get it yourself.

Phil: Excellent, do you find that Systema Bristol is more akin to a certain type of person or do you think it has something for everyone.

Karl: If you scour the web You will see a lot of guys in combats knocking lumps out of each other but the holistic side of the art is becoming into peoples conciseness. My key influence in martial arts such as Matt Hill and Jamie Robson (Jamie Robson Academy) provide a unique balance of holistic health and combat . I have been to seminars where there are elderly people there where we haven’t done any combat.

When you see a 70 year old person with they are doing rolls at the end of a 4 hour session, because they have managed to free their body up by recognizing their tension is very eye opening. I meet a lot of people from the harder martial arts when they get into their 40’s and 50’s start coming over to Systema because is more revealing. Harder martial arts are very good when you are young, fit and healthy, but after a lot of time on the mat the body starts to wear out. Systema Bristol taps into the central core and postural muscles of the body, keeping these healthy keep us mobile for a lot long.

Phil: Interesting, I have to admit, this is most I have ever heard about Systema

Karl: Most people haven’t heard of it. I first heard about it about ten years ago, a friend of mine who traveled a lot with his job, he met teachers in Europe and Australia and he showed me some of the stuff he can do and it scared the life out of me. Rolling and falling on concrete accepting punches all look a bit out out of my skill set.

In a lot of ways, it teaches you to be comfortable under discomfort, so you develop a personal resilience.

Some training session outdoor I’ve done have been in water, and training session in a car park because that help us look at ways to assess self defense situations, its good to practice in the places where there can be danger. It allows you to deal with different lights, sounds, all these things are encompassing in Systema practice. It turn you instinct into self knowledge and that into skill.

Phil: You said your background in Aikido, did you find a lot of the skills transferable or did you have to learn techniques afresh

Karl: In Systema Bristol, there are no set techniques to learn its just movement. I found the transition from Aikido to Systema relatively easy in one sense but difficult in another.  This is just my personal journey but I found trying to force a technique on someone when they are not moving that way doesn’t work. I would find tension rising in my body.

When I was teaching kids aikido the children responded very well to Systema teaching methods as to them it was just play in movement. Additionally kids find it easier as they have not accrued that same tension as we gather as adults.

The first hour or our Systema Bristol classes before we even touch combat, we are looking at that kind of freedom of movement not putting the body under any kind of stress. Systema is instinctual in the way it is taught, and demonstrated. When someone is learning a kata or form in a martial arts, you develop the over years and years and then they become fluid and they would happen instinctively under pressure, but Systema is built as a warrior art designed to get soldiers ready for battle, quickly. Systema dates back to the 10th century in Russia and while  defending their borders different cultures such as,  Kazaks, Arabs, Chinese Mongols, etc  provided the these ancient warriors with the ingredients of this revealing martial art.

Phil: Tell me about what it might be like in a first class of Systema Bristol

Karl: The only things we explore are breathing, movment, relaxation and structure. This means every class will provide a different Lens to explore these through.

Beginning with breath work we look at using breath holds to discover tension in the body while using movement to break up tension. Breathing in through nose and out through mouth is also practiced a lot as nasal breathing is key in control all the systems of the body. <

We also look at body weight exercise using your own and other people body. In ancient time people only lift heavy thing when they had to, warrior had to this a lot when carrying brethren from the battlefield or animal carcass back to camp.  A martial artist we deal with body, and these drill also help discovery of leverage points and our own ability to move our self , under pressure.

The combat section of the class we generally move through topics such as striking, kicking, weapons, knife, ground work , all in different environments . Systema Bristol covers a lot of bases.

Learning the psychology being hitting and getting hit is core in Systema. Striking start of as light percussive massage allowing the both feeder (hitter) and receiver (victim) understand the fear attached to these. Psychology here is raised slowly.

Overall the session help reveal where you are now, with your mind an body provide guidance on how to discover more without adding more tension. Using Systema principles to understand the self allow us to recognize the tension in others with empathy and compassion. This acceptance provides the recipe to live a safe and fulfilled life.

Phil: Could you tell us a bit about your train, where it is

Karl: Currently Tuesday evenings at the Park Centre, Knowle, 7pm-9pm and also on the summer evenings there is an outdoor session, at Greville Smyth Park Bristol 7 – 9pm on Wednesdays, details are on the website. Accessibility to the classes are a primary aim of Systema Bristol people of all age, ability and background are welcome.
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Phil: Thanks for your time and thanks for coming in and telling us about Systema Bristol