Stray notes about SYSTEMA
Interview with Mikhail Ryabko
Re:The shashka and the New School
Interviewed and Written by Takahide Kitagawa
Translated by Syuho Osawa
The Hidden Power of Weapons
– In September every year, the annual grand seminar is held here. This year’s theme is “The Shashka as a Key to the Internal Work.” Why did you select this theme?
Mikhail – I’m now developing a new school using the internal work. The shashka makes teaching the internal work easy, and is also easy for the learners to try.
– Is it convenient for you to teach the internal work?
Mikhail – Yes, you can put it that way, but it isn’t a complete answer. The shashka organizes the body, and is necessary to learn the right posture. In addition, the shashka gives power to your hands. The attendants at this seminar (the weekend seminar held at the Moscow headquarters on August 15 and 16, 2015) must have sensed it. The shashka organizes your body and your mind. That leads to the understanding of the internal work.
Since many of the Japanese martial arts are related to the internal work, it must be familiar to the Japanese. Not only ancient martial arts, but also modern ones such as Aikido are related to the internal kind of work.The internal work is hard to teach and understand without the use of a weapon. When the understanding reaches some level, it becomes possible to do the internal work without an object. Whips play the same role. Training with a whip organizes your inside.
Mikhail – You will be able to sense: whether you are moving correctly, moving with least possible force, and so on. When you Japanese learn to use Kanji, first you practice writing slowly, and gradually you learn to write swiftly. You don’t do it consciously; your hands begin to write by itself. It’s the same thing.
During this seminar, you must have noticed that your motion has changed since the beginning. It’s very difficult to describe by words, but it’s certain that you will make progress by practicing.
– Every year when I come here, I practice using the shashka face to face with Mikhail, and the difference is that I notice sooner that I have lost. In the past, when I knew that I had lost, I had been already slashed. Now I know as soon as we face each other that I’m losing in positioning. What does it mean?
Mikhail – It’s very important that you know you are losing in positioning. At first, you should observe your position and modify it. Knowing that your current position leads to your losing is the first step. If you notice you’re already losing, you have a slight hope of reversing the situation. Attacking blindly without knowing you’re losing is an act of suicide.
If you know you’re in an unfavorable position, you can move to a better position, or you can rebuild the strategy. You don’t have to rush in knowing you have no chance. That’s like entering a room full of snakes. It’s wiser not to step in.
– What is a good positioning?
Mikhail – If the opponent has a shashka, you should observe its location and trajectory, and stand out of the way. The direction of the body, the direction of the blade of the shashka, and the position of the hands determine the plane in which the shashka moves. You should get away from that plane, away from the course of the attack.
– Do you have any suggestion as to how to hold the shashka?
Mikhail – There’s no fixed way of holding it. However, you should hold it so as to make your subsequent attack easy. That means you should direct it toward the opponent. When you go hunting, you point the gun at the target. It’s the same thing.
The Difference between Knowledge and Technique
– How did you learn to use the shashka?
Mikhail – I have learned it gradually, by teaching in seminars and classes, and by practicing by myself. That means you are my teachers, too.
– I have read somewhere that ancient Cossacks were given a whip when they were children, and learned to use the shashka through handling the whip. Did you do anything like that?
Mikhail – It’s no use just twirling it. You need a master. Fathers and grandfathers played the role of masters to teach the children the martial arts specific to their families or the Cossacks. Each family had its own hidden teachings, since every person is unique.
– Do you have any episodes of your father and grandfather about the shashka?
Mikhail – Of course I do, but I can’t recall them right now. I will tell you when I remember. (laughs)
– We often see someone showing a technique of twirling a shashka on TV or on the Internet, but your manner of handling it seems much different. Are they related in any way?
Mikhail – You need wisdom. An adult twirling a shashka has no more wisdom than a child doing the same thing. Twirling alone is no better than gymnastics. Handling a shashka is a very profound theme. Twirling is just a small part of it. If we had a one-day seminar on this theme, twirling would take only about twenty-five minutes of the entire day. You don’t expect much value from information that can be conveyed in such a short time. When you handle a Japanese katana, you practice drawing it out and putting it back in. It’s a very important movement, so you might practice it for half an hour or so in the entire seminar. But it isn’t wisdom; it’s mere technique. We often mistake technique for knowledge.
– How is knowledge different from technique?
Mikhail – Knowledge is a voluminous book. Technique is important, but it’s only a part of it. Technique alone is not sufficient. I have seen someone twirling a weapon very beautifully on the Internet, too. It pleased me so much that I clicked “like” before I knew it. (laughs) Nothing more, though. However beautifully you can twirl a weapon, you have to run off when you see a lion dashing at you. So what’s the point? (laughs)
– In addition to your family members, could you tell us any episodes of other shashka masters?
Mikhail – During the Russian Revolution, many Cossacks were killed including children. Also, during the Tataro-Mongol Yoke, anyone taller than the diameter of a wheel got executed. That’s why all inheritances are only in fragments. I collect those fragments from various sources. Unfortunately, few people retain proper knowledge. So you are lucky; you can buy anything in our store. (laughs)The Old School versus the New School.
– I see continual changes in the way of Systema training, such as the introduction of the New School. Where is it heading to?
Mikhail – The so-called Old School trainings, such as breathing and martial arts techniques, are important. They play a valuable role to organize the body and the psyche. On the other hand, the New School develops the ability to sense. The Old School is like living alone, while the New School is like being married. Marriage brings love in your heart. Likewise, the New School enriches your inside.
Many members of Systema Tokyo attended this Seminar held in Moscow. This interview was performed after the seminar in front of all the participants.
– What’s the next stage, when you have a child?
Mikhail – The next stage sees the coexistence of the techniques and the internal works. Each stage requires you a certain determination. You can also call it awareness. Only putting together the two worlds is not enough. Just as a man and a woman unite to conceive a child, the Old School and the New School must merge into one to form the next stage. I never grudge anything; I openly give away all information. That’s because passing the knowledge is my role. I expect you Japanese not to be content with only a part of Systema, but to learn Systema as a whole.
– Thank you.