A few years ago, when I was visiting Mikhail Ryabko in Moscow, he demonstrated a slow fist Systema pushup against the wall. I still clearly remember how standing next to him, it felt like a huge beast filled the room, the wall was droning and buzzing under his fists.
Systema pushups are not just exercises for shoulders and chest, they are a comprehensive method to prepare for fighting and strikes. The way Mikhail did it, he had full sensitivity of the surface his fists were on, and he was not just moving his body up and down, he used the points of weight bearing to work through his entire body. The pushing off force moved though the arms down to the feet and back up, smooth, strong and solid.
Fist pushups are great training for punches. When done correctly, they help us learn how to strike without tension in the body. When we learn to do pushups while keeping the body relaxed, using only the muscles we need then we will be able to do the same during strikes that is to keep the body tension-free while delivering a punch. Control of our muscle tension gives us power and precision, it allows us to choose the distance correctly, there is no longer a need to reach, punches become short, strong and accurate. Tension-free punches produce no side effects of straining and fatigue, the recovery time from training and fighting becomes minimal.
When I practiced karate many years ago, before my Systema experience, I noticed a definite vulnerability there. At the point of completing a strike, the body was fixed, in a rigid structure, not moving and tense. I found that this often created a very fragile structure for real confrontations. If the striker was hit right at that moment he was easily injured. A tense body lacks sensitivity and agility, it cannot react, escape and counterattack quickly and smoothly.
So here is how you can practice Systema pushups.
Stand on the fists in the pushup position.
Place as much of your fist surface as comfortable in contact with the floor.
Execute the pushup and continue to feel the ground with the same fist area as you started with throughout the entire range of movement.
In the meantime, watch for any tension in the body. As soon as you feel that part of your fist surface no longer has full sensitivity of the floor you know that tension has set in. In that case, continue the pushups and try to relax through breathing and movement.
Repeat as much as you feel is necessary.
Also, as Mikhail explains, such pushups with tension control have a tremendous health benefit. They ensure that excessive pressure does not go up to the head but instead gets evenly distributed through the body. We know how damaging the excessive pressure to the head can be during striking. Once mastered in pushups, the pressure control will also be occurring while delivering a punch.
I hope to cover this topic in more detail at the upcoming seminars and camps.
This article was published on January 18, 2012.