I’ve always been too inward looking. I was aware of this when I was about six. I went to a kids party and kept wondering why was it that I was acutely aware of my feelings and thoughts rather than just having a good time like the other kids?
It always seemed so easy for them to just let go and have fun. Why was it so difficult for me?
Oh yeah, I’ve been told that before- just let go.
From around the time of fifteen years of age I became even more inward bound. Throughout most of college and university I barely exchanged a word with anyone.
I didn’t know what to say. When to say it. Or why.
“Is there something wrong with you? Why don’t you talk?”
Oh yeah, I heard that.
There are plenty of reasons that I could give for the way I was. Life at home was chaotic. I felt out of place. I’d been a refugee for eleven years. I never liked bullshit etc but really it’s because being melancholy just came naturally.
In my twenties, the ups and downs got worse. I just couldn’t grab it. I couldn’t find a level of me. One word could set me off. One image. One failure. One joke. One insult. One hope.
I had this dream that somehow my creativity would help save me. Would drag me upwards and keep me there.
I had the romantic notion about self-destruction too. The more I fucked myself up the more creatively brilliant I would be.
Then for some reason I started practising martial arts. I was thirty years old. I’d dabbled a bit when I was younger (karate in school then tai chi in my twenties) but nothing serious. Like everyone, I loved Bruce Lee.
So I began going to private wing chun lessons. Private because I can’t deal with classes of any sort.
My fitness improved dramatically after about six months. Suddenly I could do press ups on my knuckles or on my fingertips. I could move, I was more coordinated. After about a year I felt, quite foolishly, that I would do just fine in a street fight.
And then after about two years I fell out of love with wing chun. It just wasn’t enough for me. Doing endless forms and press ups got a bit…dull.
So I tried out a bunch of different martial arts. It gave me something to do in my spare time.
Around the time of my 35th birthday I found Systema. I went for, you guessed it, private lessons.
With Systema there are no forms. There are no set moves either.
It’s very simple, said my teacher, Glen Robertson, it’s just structure, breathing, moving and relaxation. Very strange, I thought, could this really work for me?
I’m now 37 and Systema is part of my daily life (shout out to Glen for his superb teaching — great teachers are crucial in everything we do). I always practise Systema in how I carry myself and how much tension I choose to impart. I’m always breathing too because tension can arise from forgetting to breathe.
I’m aware of how I move and how I hold myself, whether I’m balanced and whether I’m relaxed.
It’s not about getting into fights. I’m fighting myself and that’s plenty.
I’ve been to a few counsellors over the years — it always helps to share and discuss demons — but Systema in particular has helped me to keep it together. I just feel so confident in my basics. I cannot possibly feel too low or too high because I always bring it back to structure, breathing, relaxation and movement.
Thinking about counselling some more… it does seem very static, inward. I believe counselling works, don’t get me wrong, I just find that martial arts help me find peace almost instantly.
Systema is not simple, it can be very complicated, but the principles are simple and very natural. The more I simplify the better I feel.
And that’s how I aim to live my life.