I was in a martial arts store the other day when someone walked in with a black Systema t-shirt. It certainly caught my attention for obvious reasons. I have the only school in town and did not recognize him as one of our students.

“Where do you train and who is your teacher?” I was rather curious, assuming he was probably from out of town.

“I don’t have a teacher. I ‘video-train” was the reply.

Video train? What the hell is video train? These questions were silently rolling around in my grey matter. It was not the first time I heard this response, though the first time I have heard that term. Unfortunately, it is a growing trend in Systema.

I started martial arts in 1985 and if someone said they “trained” via video or book(s) or anything other than a qualified teacher, it would have been an embarrassment to say the least. I understand that times have radically changed but seriously, how much can a person learn from anything other than a teacher?

I realized the last question – how much can a person learn – has been answered several times, at least in my school (and I suspect, many others). On occasion, someone comes to class who has “seen the clips on YouTube” or bought a couple of DVDs and already “knows” Systema to a degree. 45 seconds into the class it becomes very, very obvious to all, including new person, that s/he lacks the fundaments and has no concept of Systema at all. These are the people we NEVER see again.

Viewing DVDs or YouTube clips can be a small assistance in my opinion, if there is a baseline of hands-on training. More often than not however, they serve as entertainment, not education. There are so many subtle details and internal happenings going on within the clips, that it somewhere between stupidity and arrogance to think anyone can learn an art from a clip. It is challenging learning the great art of Systema from an excellent teacher. It is foolish to think one can learn it from a clip.

There are a couple of other effects from the YouTube “training” :

1. If a person is high ranking in another art AND takes a couple of seminar and watches clips or DVDs, it is surprising how often they miraculously become “expert” in Systema. I see this frequently with aikido in particularly. A 5th dan aikidoka goes to a seminar, checks out a dozen YouTube clips and now they are “Systema Experts.”

It is difficult for some to become a beginner (again), once a person has achieved high rank in another art. Nevertheless, anyone who wishes to walk the Road of Systema has to do empty their cup and become a beginner yet again. Or any art for this matter.

2. “Parroting” Vlad’s movements does not make one a great (or even good) Systema practitioner. Watching YouTube clips and trying to duplicate movements is not even martial arts. It is a cheap imitation of a true master. It is a mockery.

“But Vlad moves this way. . . “ You are not Vlad. You have no idea how he is moving. All you are doing is trying to mirror what you think you see.

Systema is a challenging art. Then again, every art is challenging. It takes time, dedication and a lot of practice. I have had the great fortunate of having an exceptional teacher to work with. Even so, it is very difficult and takes a lot of dedication. There are constant mistakes and if your ego is fragile, you will never continue. There are a lot of failures, errors, mistakes and the like along the road to competency, yet alone mastery of this art. It is the passion for it take keeps us going.

There are no short cuts to anyplace worth going. There are no shortcuts in life — only those we imagine.

Find a teacher. Put in the time. Make some great mistakes and keep moving. Somewhere in there, you will learn the skills to become a Systema practitioner.

You won’t find this in DVDs. You won’t find it on YouTube.

You will find it by putting in the time in a class, week after week, year after year.

Author's Bio: 

David Orman is the founder and Chief Instructor of the only Russian martial arts school in Greater Orlando, Central Florida Systema.

He can be reached at CFLSystema.wordpress.com