Category: Training


Being Relaxed During Training


Trying to find tension is easier said then done, first off, the majority of us, don’t really even understand what tension is. So it needs to be discovered first, within yourself, within your training partner and within the drills. We may often hear, “your too tense” or “relax”…..Only to think ….”I thought I was already relaxed!”

But this is only on the surface. A true relaxed body in Systema doesn’t mean just being soft and making fancy wave like movements to evade your training partner. It’s much more then that actually. The body and mind both need to be calm, un-agitated and free of any preconceived thoughts or emotions. Woah! That’s deep. It is deep actually, deep within yourself…..You mean I have to be “present” while I am training? Yes! you must be present while your training.

Just like a yogi must be present when pulling themselves into a deep stretch, just like a painter must be while completing his masterpiece. We must be present first to find the tension, and to truly be relaxed. As the drills progress we and if lucky, we all find ourselves in a present and relaxed state, THEN the true training begins…. our what I like to call “Platonic Fighting”.

“Training Hard” by Toby Cowern – British Royal Marine / Survival Professional

The maxim of many an Army and a familiar phrase to most. I want to explore this concept a little though, as I look and see, so often now, varying viewpoints in what ‘Training Hard’ constitutes, and also the fact this is becoming one of the ‘throwaway’ phrase that many like to use, but few actually understand and apply (Same as, “It is better to be judged by twelve, than carried by six”)

From my perspective a lot of the modern Martial Arts/Self Defense and even Survival (Think ‘Boot camp’) training focus is purely on the physical. Now it can be said that arduous physical training has a psychological side to it, but you tend to find once the initial ‘psychological barriers’ have been conquered repeating set physical sequences either requires the same (mental) effort or becomes easier over time as habitulisation and familiarity set in. In fact with a good training regime, ‘hard’ workouts become something you look forward to as opposed to feel any trepidation about. Now while I am a big believer in maintaining a high standard of physical fitness, I do think ‘Training hard’ must go beyond this and incorporate far more of the mental and emotional aspects for us to truly be prepared for ‘Fighting Easy’ (This is why we are training, is it not?)

One of the huge advantages of delivering survival training, is we are working far more in terms of training for hours and days, instead of the more fitness and defensive orientated training that tends to work in seconds/minutes and hours. With this expanded timeline we can get far more into the deeper training cycles that really start to push mentally and emotionally than just physically.

Caveat – Please note, I am not saying it is not possible to stress someone in short term training, just that it is far less likely to be done and to a lesser overall effect than being exposed to extreme stimuli for a longer time.

It is my plan to delve into this subject in far more depth over a series of articles, but here I will do some brief conceptual introductions and provide some examples so you can look to incorporate some of these aspects into your training straight away. Before I do so, I would highlight this type of training is aimed more at people that have a SOLID grasp of foundations, an understanding of their own bodies and are prepared and willing to push themselves further and accept the residual risks in doing so.

On the psychological side of things we need to introduce discomfort and/or increased physical duress, on the emotional side exposure to situations we find intimidating, unpleasant or traumatic. I would highlight, I personally am firmly subscribed to this type of training and will give a brief summary of some of my training goals at the end of this article.

In my progressive model of Survival training, some of the earlier stressors I introduce to students are; sleep disruption/deprivation, denial of food and rationing of water (Not necessarily all at the same time!) To be able to function, think and act clearly, when tired, hungry and dehydrated is ESSENTIAL in a wilderness scenario, but being clear headed when physically compromised also carries over exceptionally well to ‘defensive’ type training as well.

Introducing this training aspect outside of attending courses is very simple (but that does not mean it’s easy) Try setting a repeat alarm for a random time one night every week or so (wake up every 87mins and do 5mins of exercise, then go back to sleep)

Fast one day a week. Yes, don’t eat for a 24hr period, if that is too hard, start with 12hrs and buildup 2 hours extra every week. Within 6 weeks you’ll be at 24hrs. In the beginning go easy, but eventually you want to be able to complete at least your regular daily work load while fasting.

Every couple of weeks limit your fluid intake for a day. Start by only drinking water, remove all of your regular coffee/tea, sodas etc. for one day (You will be amazed at what this will do to some people!) Once you’ve accomplished this successfully a few times in a row then start to limit your water intake. See and feel how distracting and degrading dehydration can be, then appreciate there are many scenarios where this could be the ‘normal’.

These are just some brief examples to get you off to an ‘easy start’ once these are mastered then you can look at some of the deeper techniques in subsequent articles.

What about the emotional side of things?

This obviously is very subjective to the individual, and everyone’s definition of things they find “intimidating, unpleasant or traumatic” is different, so start by listing those. Sit down for 10minutes with a pen and paper and write. I would actually separate these into 3 distinct columns:

Intimidating Unpleasant Traumatic

And write lists in each. For instance you may find ‘Public Speaking’ intimidating. Watching a video of an animal being beaten unpleasant, and confronting a family member about their manner of talking to you as traumatic

It could be more developed for some. In which case, visiting a known problem area could be intimidating, talking to a victim of significant physical violence could be unpleasant and butchering an animal (especially a pet type) could be traumatic.

I should highlight here, you and you alone are responsible for your own safety and only you can decide how far you will push yourself in training (and what training courses you will attend) But starting with your list will highlight emotive areas that have the potential to be worked on.

Now I would highlight, DON’T cheat yourself here. Be brutally honest on the things that bother you. I had student once that clearly and confidently told me that ‘If the time ever came’ she would have ‘no hesitation to kill someone’. Later that day I invited her to kill and butcher a rabbit. She refused. I did it and she was reduced to tears for an extended period from watching the activity. She refused to eat the meat that evening and went into quite the diatribe about how cruel and horrible a person I was for killing the animal (While the butchery was a planned part of the course it nicely coincided with the lesson for her) I highlighted if this is how she felt about a rabbit, having just SEEN it killed, how confident was she now she could end another human’s life…? It was quite the change in perspective for her.

Caveat – I take no pleasure in killing animals on courses, but do feel it is such a valuable lesson it is one that must be incorporated, but is always done in a respectful and swift a manner as possible.

Back to the list. Once you have written your list, you can decide what stimuli you can expose yourself to, to try and surmount the concern or ‘harden’ or inoculate yourself to it. Repeated exposure to events, assists in conditioning to not be as stressed by them. Again, I highlight, you and you alone are responsible for the consequences of this, I am merely highlighting in this article what constitutes a LARGE training gap for many people. Start with these basics, then further examples and practices to follow.

I mentioned earlier I would share some of my personal training goals, so here are a few I am working on:

I am a firm believer you can never have too much first aid/medic type training. However training is no substitute for practice. To gain the most experience but also to push the psychological and emotional boundaries I plan to do one or two weeks’ worth of volunteer ambulance work in S.Africa in inner city areas. Here they have exceptional numbers of patients, massively limited equipment and resources, and being in a different culture and climate it will give me significant physical duress as well, so this is a very well rounded exercise/experience.

I will focus on sparring with bigger, heavier, more experienced partners. Going into training where you know you can’t ‘win’ and that hurts more than normal will be interesting.

Some of my regular scheduled harder work (e.g. moving, splitting, piling wood for my stove) will be done on my ‘fasting days’. This is physical hard and with significant residual risk as you are working for prolonged periods with axes etc.

I have many more plans in mind, but will share those another day. What about you? How do you ‘Train hard?

Contentment, Time and Icy Water

This past week made me think about two things mostly: Contentment and Time. How are these two related to health and wellness? Well, first, you have to be happy with yourself and know you are a good person that is doing good things for your health, if you truly want to keep positive and on track (Contentment). Secondly, you need to understand what time truly is! This is a major factor for health and wellness, especially in today’s society. How many times in our life have we caught ourselves saying, “I don’t have time” for this, or that? Just think: time was here before we were born and it will be here once we are long gone, so why sweat it?


When it comes to our health and wellness, sometimes it seems we don’t have time for it. We tend to say or think we are too busy to go to the gym or workout on our own. So this year I am going to change my  “Philosophy of Health” to understanding time and contentment. I am happy with myself, but I know I need improvement in some areas. I am now 34 years old and just now realizing I am happy with myself, my weight, my body shape, my height. For once in my life, I am not striving to be someone else or like someone else. Each day we are inundated with movies, pictures and internet videos of these models and people with amazing physiques. These images get into our heads and lead the masses to believe this is who we should be—NO! You should be yourself, and you should be happy with yourself. If you cannot be happy with yourself, how can you possibly live a happy life in the first place?


Now, back to time. Since I stopped looking at the time, my phone, or my watch, and stopped trying to “squeeze in a workout,” I am seeing more physical achievements, more gains, and more success. This was not easy for me to do. I’m a Marine Corps veteran and we were always taught to be 15 minutes early for every meeting and make sure we are always on time, causing me to constantly check my watch. What I didn’t realize was that by me always checking the time, I was making myself neurotic and anxious (not good for your health). So by trying to do something productive and ahead of the game, I was actually ailing myself without realizing it.


If you think you don’t have time to work out or commit to a physical activity, then you should reevaluate your priorities. That being said, I want to go into this New Year without hesitation (less talk, more doing). Too many times I find myself talking about what I am “going to do” or “what my plan is,” but nothing ever materializes, ever. When I was in the Marines, I remember an older Marine telling me “hesitation kills,” after watching me balk on something during a live fire training exercise. Well, the same goes for physical fitness. You either train, or you don’t; nothing about it is rocket science. But battling excuses and fighting with hesitation always seems to sneak its way in somehow, only to be followed with some chocolate-covered guilt later on.


For the past three months, I have been Cold Water Dousing quite regularly. This procedure seems psychotic to some and intriguing to others, depending on what your concept of the two are. So twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, I walk out to my backyard and slowly pour five gallons of icy water over my semi-naked body. Then I grab a second bucket and do it again. Nothing I have ever done in my life comes close to the feeling I get afterwards. It’s like five hours of silent mediation was compressed into one minute of time. This practice helps me physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Physically, because I am feeling the blood flow and increase its vascular flexibility. Psychologically, because I have to defeat my own thoughts of backing out, quitting, and just trying to put the whole thing off until another day. Spiritually, I feel a little different each time. Sometimes, it’s just me standing there in silence and trying to listen to my thoughts and feelings. Other times, I feel as if the water has just washed away everything and anything negative that I had been carrying around with me, giving me a fresh start. Dousing has absolutely nothing to do with health and wellness, and at the same time it has everything to do with health and wellness. Let that marinate for a minute.