My Journey From Skeptic to Believer
My Journey: From Skeptic to Believer
By: Neil Franklin
My Journey: From Skeptic to Believer “Val’s message was very simple from when I first met him, he simply said “come and attack me” I asked him what he wanted me to do, he replied with whatever I wanted. The first time I went for him he threw me effortlessly to the floor- the second time I went at him like I was really trying to hit him like literally knock the guy cold and all I remember, and people watching said I seemed to be thrown through the air- and I landed with the finesse of a concrete block. I look up, and Val is smiling, I asked him ‘what on earth did you do’ he said ‘not much’” My interest in martial arts, like many, stemmed from being bullied at schoolseeking a way to defend myself on the playground and never in a ring. In 1975 six years before I ever took my first lesson I received a simple karate book from my step-father from which I’d try and mimic the stances with no concept of actual self defense. The ‘mystics’ of the east have always intrigued me, the idea of a ‘one inch punch’ or a ‘death blow’ showing displays of inhuman strength are obviously the teachings any young student starting out would look to pursue, the reality turned out to be something a lot more simple an a lot less mystic. I started my first real lessons in 1981 with Kevin Brewerton a legend in the sports of karate, who was a real inspiration to me, and really gave me the confidence to start learning self defense. The only thing I disliked about this style of martial arts is it seemed to me like a game of tag- lightly touching your opponent to score points and far from the reality of a street fight. Kevin also took me to the famous boxing gym in London; Thomas ‘A’ Becket- training and watching sparring with some of the stars of the day such as; Errol Christie, Maurice Hope and a young Dennis Andries. Dennis Andries later going on to fight Tommy Hearns who claimed Dennis was the bravest fighter he had ever encountered, although I enjoyed this training I never looked to take it in a ring- but it came in useful for some other situations. Me and Kevin later stopped training together as my business was picking up and he was about to leave for America I was still looking for more- exploring arts such as Thai boxing and kickboxing, which was far from the game of tag I started out training with. Now I was into something much more brutal using shins and elbows effectively to take on an opponent. I interviewed a gentleman to work for me by the name of Floyd Brown who was actually number 2 in the world for kick boxing at the time and took me under his wing showing me a whole new type of training. As a result I lost a lot of weight got very fit and ultimately was introduced to who I think is one of the greatest martial arts legends in the world, Steve Morris. At the time Steve Morris was running a class which wasn’t his own martial art but put into his own style could only be described as true combat, he is an absolute master at breaking down the components of movement and the workings of the
body to generate explosive power. Without a doubt this was one of the most productive periods in my time of martial arts. I had learned to generate this explosive power from punches and kicks, which in all honesty, I couldn’t really control- resulting in me severely damaging my hip by tearing a tendon. As a result of trying to continue training with this injury it got a lot worse and eventually I had to quit my training with Steve Morris. At this time I really lost all contact with martial arts as a lot of it involved twisting and turning, which aggravated my hip and was pretty unbearable so I moved into Olympic weight lifting; to try and maintain my explosive power and at least my hip would move up and down without twisting and hurting. I went through to competeting in weightlifting and winning various titles with no idea the extent of damage I had done to my hip. My true love has honestly always been combat and martial arts and no other means of training really interested me as much. In 2003 after 24 years of martial arts training I came across the martial arts of Russia online. I was intrigued so I ordered the set of videos, I watched this set of videos with Vladimir Vasiliev who while moving like a ballet dancer was dispatching not one or two guys, but three four or five with such ease I thought this was ridiculous. Even though I doubted it and was extremely skeptical my curiosity got the best of me and I called up my old friend Floyd Brown and told him he had to take a look at it, he said straight away it was fake, we decided we would go on a summer course to see what this sort of Martial Arts was all about. We’d both been searching for what we thought was the ‘ultimate martial art’ and would be a good opportunity to explore more foreign practices. Unfortunately I couldn’t go on the trip due to business, but Floyd went to Russia to train and when he returned, he was a completely different guy. He showed me some of the things he had learned which I found completely amazing and he assured me the Russian martial art called Systema was legitimate. I enrolled in the first class I could the second I heard the master of Systema Mikail Ryabko was doing a seminar in London. I arrived and it was something quite bizarre, and I could not understand why people were getting in line to get hi by Mr Ryabko- Floyd explained to me that I had to be hit to understand it. I was watching people falling over like they had been touched and I approached Mikail with all the intention in the world not to go to the floor. I stood before him with the thought in my head, that there is absolutely no way I’m moving- I am not going to, and I’m not going down under any circumstances. He tapped me with a very few light punches so I settled myself gaining confidence that I’d be the one to stay unmoved, knowing my experience could shield any blow. And then… BANG. I was hit so hard. I hit the floor. I couldn’t see. The room went blank.
In a split second I was raised to my feet and he touched me exactly where he had hit me and it felt as though he was sucking the punch out of me. The pain disappeared and I raised my head, regained my vision and I see this big smiling Russian who through an interpreter said “You feel ok?” I replied “Yeah, as a matter of fact I feel great, do it again”. They laughed but what astounded me was the simplicity of his technique and the power he exhibited from it was just unbelievable. That was my introduction to the Martial Art I now endorse; Systema. The interpreter was my friend and trainer Val Riazanov, who taught me all of what the Russian martial art was about, and I realized from that point; Systema is your own form, it’s your own body and your own fight. You must use the relaxed state of Systema to move your opponents body the way you want to, and it’s suited differently to each person, that’s what makes it so effective is its not governed by rules- but by free movement and power. Quickly I learned after attacking Val any way I wanted and each time being effortlessly thrown to the floor, or punched off my feet. Someone facing this has one of two choices: -You could either run, because you can’t handle the reality of this Or -You become a student So I started working with Val and took two trips to Moscow, and the things I saw absolutely blew my mind. One of the first things Val said to me was I was too tense I was like the terminator walking around all stiff. So he put me to sleep, literally. He did this by placing his fingers on the pulse points of my wrists doing simple breathing techniques with me. I was awoken two hours later at the end of the class, and I asked him “where did the lesson go?” he replied smiling “you had your lesson you had to sleep”. My experience of this martial art advises anyone who thinks this is fake to go to a seminar and train with any of the individuals I have named and see for yourself that this is far from a fake art. Although I admit I have seen certain things on the internet which make this system look very fake and pretend but once again I assure you it is not. Like anything the interpretation of an art is not necessarily the art itself. I would not like to take anything away from my previous trainers as they all surely are phenomenal people and fighters in their own right this is just where I have ended up. My journey got me to this stage where this martial arts suited me and my injury and it didn’t involve twisting and turning solid jolt movements, and I’m sure if I could have ended up somewhere else It would have been somewhere else but this for me worked. Not only did it suit my injury it suited the way I lived
my life applying simple techniques and I can say from personal experience it does work. The unique thing about Systema is you are being taught how to deal with any situation without having any prearrange stance or moves, you simply go with the movement of your attacker, every time, that’s how it remains consistent. Russian martial arts firmly believe we are human beings and not animals and doing stances that represent animals are just ridiculous. We do not do crazy moves or high jump kicks- the first thing we learn is keeping a straight form which involves good posture and balance to stop you getting knocked over in a fight. After that we learn how to breathe and then to move and those are the three basic principles of Systema, whereas fighting punching kicking, using knives swords and guns are all luxuries, that come from the basics of learning breathing and relaxation techniques. A key to Systema is moving. It’s much better to be out of the way of an attack and then neutralize it, than trying to neutralize it while still being in danger. One thing I need to point out about the instructors Val, Mikhail and Vladamir is nothing about them is soft, they hit like mules and can effortlessly deal with any weapon and I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Gun defenses that are so rapid they can be preformed even when the shooter is ready with their gun pointed straight at them, knife defenses that simply redirect the force from the attack straight back at them- resulting in the attackers stabbing themselves. There are two types of conditioning for Systema, not only the physical or a fluid form that can adjust and shape to an opponent, but also the psyche of relaxation and calmness to be able to inflict tension and aggression straight back onto the aggressor. A lot of people will see Systema and see it practiced slow and will think why? The reason why is because when you practice a movement slow, any movement, it is embedded in your brain. The movement doesn’t change at any speed, but if you have a slow movement in there when a fast movement comes at you- the result is a quick reaction naturally as you simply resort to what you have trained your body to do- upping efficiency. Let me explain that again- when you watch something happen to you at slow speed, your mind registers that event in your subconscious, and then when you fire that up to full speed if you have practiced the slow speed enough- you will be able to make the movement away from it without even thinking. So when you see people practicing at slow speed, laughing and joking and you resemble that to a fight there is no correlation. They are practicing learning to move away from punches and registering in their mind all of the different angles from which a strike can come, and when to move to return a blow that is hidden. Lots and lots of this practice is done to try and prepare you for any punch at any angle simply because you know the way a body reacts to being struck in certain points when they are throwing momentum at you in a certain way.
This is simply to work your way up to full speed, to eventually simulate a fight the best possible way; when you have no idea what your opponent is going to do but you have to do something back. For this reason of simulation when I went to Moscow, we did not use any gloves or pads as these things do not exist on the street, they are for sport- Systema is for self defense. From this you do get hit a lot, and as a result you find that you can take a lot more punishment than you ever thought possible, simply by being relaxed. The same reason why a large percentage of drunk people live in car crashes because they are so drunk their body is relaxed there is no restriction and their body just falls and moves the way it has to causing minimum damage. If you fight you are going to get hit, there is no doubt about it- you are trying to minimize the damage sustained by hits. If someone comes at you with a knife you are going to get cut, but only slightly if you can and that is what you aim forefficiency in minimum damage and maximum pain. You have to learn your own way, if you have two guys holding you with one punching you in the stomach no one knows how to maneuver your body out of that situation but you, even if you train a thousand scenarios and possibilities it is never enough, when you fight you have to lose everything you have learnt and just go with it, and survive- no matter what, there is no winning in fighting, you win if you live you lose if you die. Remember this is not an art for those who are looking for a bit of fun, this is an art taught to Russian Special Forces soldiers originally especially for Stalin’s body guards. Mikhail Ryabko has been training since the age of 5 in this practice and was sent on his first Special Forces operation at the young age of 15. He has grown up through constant conflict with this martial art, doing various missions and operations- because of Systema he stands an old healthy man, it literally saved his life countless times. This eBook is specifically aimed towards the skeptics among you who do not believe Systema can help you at all. Steve Morrow used to train us in GoJo Karate, which literally means hard soft. I am sure if I would have continued my training with him we would have gotten past the hard and gone onto the soft techniques somewhat like the Systema I have described for you. This is well known in the martial arts world, just concealed to masters and the top fightersthe only difference with Systema is the trainers are willing to teach anyone, without years of predefined stances and techniques, they are ready to teach you the masters secrets now. That is exactly why this form immediately appealed to me. If you look at any of the top fighters, watch them on youtube- in any form of fighting. Look at the looseness in their arms, these are only techniques the great fighters already knew but couldn’t explain it. Watch Mohamed Ali and how graceful his punches are and how he is striking with tendon power and not clenching up his arm- the same for Mike Tyson. Bruce Lee’s one inch punch made simple by a simple twist of the hip and a loose arm I am now capable of doing so. The death blow is just a hit so hard it bursts internal organs where
Systema gives one the power to do so but the knowledge to know how not to which is even more important. There is a lot of doubt in Mikhail’s ability to make people fall to the floor without touching them- I have first hand experience of this, what you have to understand is if you get a young child to walk towards you and raise your hand before its face it will be startled and instinctively move back from it by having the ability to recognize danger. We have forgotten our basic instinct as an adult and believe we have to be taught something to know how to do it, its simple with the ‘no touch work’ the people being taken to the floor are being shown danger that they instinctively move away from, directed into positions from their current movement that are uncomfortable and awkward to the body- resulting in them falling over. You only have to go at Mikhail once, to know you do not want to go at him twice, the harder you go at them the harder you go to the floor, so when you are working with them you are not working to try and fall over you are working to avoid pain. This is nothing magical or mystical but something every body can do if they develop the speed to raise your hand without the opponent seeing it and being startled. The striking also is simple, your arm has weight of anywhere between 6-15 pounds; now, if you throw that at some ones body- it is going to hurt without a doubt. You yourself slow down the strike by having tension in your muscles which not only stop the delivery of the strike but also the effectiveness. On the other hand if you throw the arm as a dead weight you can deliver it far more powerfully. Learning to strike properly is key to stop you from jolting your brain every time you punch which a normal strike creates, even normal bag work can be dangerous for your health if you are allowing the force to hit a bag and travel back into your body damaging it- this art teaches you to allow the force to exit your arm before it repels into the body. On a final note I’d like to tell everybody interested to watch these videos or attend a seminar with these teachers, without an ego and go as who you are and you will leave enlightened. I accept the arts are not for everyone but certainly everyone can benefit from looking at them. Even if you are like me a veteran for 25 years and have a lot of experience it brings out the best of that, you start to incorporate all the techniques you have learnt without thinking and more powerfully. If you can strike from having your hands by your side knocking people to the floor without them seeing it, and be able to move before something comes to you- you have a power you have ability. That power, that ability is what changed me from skeptic to believer -this was my journey- I bet you can’t wait for yours.