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Systema Up Against the Wall!

November 19, 2002 09:36 AM

Walls are a simple bit of universal architecture -functional, unassuming, and humble in their supportive role. For strength, health, mind, and body training, walls can add a dimension of fun, honesty and supportive reality. We'll survey just a few of the
ways you can work walls into your training.

But first, a little background. In Systema, all training functions on multiple levels. There is no concept of a pure strength exercise, or obsessive muscle isolation. All work promotes simultaneous growth on the physical (strength, flexibility), psychological (perception, understanding), emotional (confidence), and intuitive levels. Wall training
serves these deeper purposes as well, and it can be incorporated into many of the foundational drills of Systema, fostering both practical preparation for combat as well as a psychological and energetic transformation of the student. All these exercises, in
the words of the Chief Systema Teacher Mikhail Ryabko, 'must be perfected to make you not only a superior fighter, but a better, healthier and calmer person.'

1. Finger wall walk

First, let's consider exercises that particularly develop your fingers and hands. We want fingers and hands that are not only strong, but also 'smart', meaning they are aware, sensitive, and flexible under all kinds of unusual pressures and positions.

Face the wall, standing about one or two feet out from it, feet spaced a bit beyond shoulder-width apart. Now lean onto the wall, contacting it with your fingers only, as though doing fingertip push-ups, with one third or so of your bodyweight supported with hands. You can rise to the balls of your feet. Now, begin to 'walk' with your hands all over the wall, continuously shifting your hand positions along the surface, up and down, back and forth, even crossing your arms under one another. This exercise tends to free up your mind and body, leaving you feeling extremely comfortable.

When you are ready, twist your whole body as you reach behind with one arm, reversing your direction and facing outward from the wall, but still supported as before, by just your fingers on the surface. Now, leaning backwards, 'walk' with hands all over the surface, up and down, back and forth, just as when facing the wall. Reverse again, to your original position.

2. Wall-and-floor fingertip push-up

The hands, arms, and shoulders can also be 'worked' using your wall! For example, you
may know of ordinary fingertip push-ups, but consider this interesting variation.

Assume a push-up position and turn you body parallel to the wall, (as if you are laying on your side) with one arm on the wall and the other on the floor, supporting yourself with the fingers of both hands. Your feet are near each other, slightly out from the wall. Now, lower yourself into the push-up. When you feel you cannot lower anymore without collapsing, hold your position a bit longer, and shuffle your feet backward, keeping up with your fingers working backwards along the wall and floor as well.

3. Shoulder wall-walk

Wall training can also be used to highlight certain possibilities of movement with unexpected areas of the body. All such unconventional movement develops your body and brain.

Face out from the wall; let your upper back contact the wall. Use your shoulder blades and upper body to 'walk' across the wall surface, back and forth, up and down, and shift your feet as needed to keep it interesting. You may wish to stand on the balls of your feet, rather than flat-footed, for greater mobility. This work emphasizes the shoulders and back, two areas whose extension and movement potential is often overlooked.

4. Raising your body with your palms

Hey, as long as we are talking about relaxing, why don't we just lie down? Near the wall, of course!

This is a very difficult exercise indeed. Lie on your back at a 90-degree angle to the wall, your head up against it. Now, place your palms on the wall behind you, and simply attempt to walk yourself up, using your hands or fingertips. This one is a little tricky, because if you don't relax your abdomen, it will turn into an ordinary sit-up. So, you
need to make sure your whole abdomen is relaxed, and that the hands and fingers are doing all the work. The same exercise can also be performed while lying in the
same orientation to the wall, but on your chest.

5. Foot wall-walk

And as always in Systema, every variation implies its own reversal, so we also can try the following.

Lie on your back at 90-degree angle to the wall, with your feet up against it. Now, using only your foot and leg power, begin to climb up the wall. You can scoot yourself forward using your back muscles as needed to accommodate your rise. This can also be done on a tree, using your legs to grip around the trunk as you 'climb' yourself straight up.

You will find that all the exercises above tend to make you, or your body, 'think' as you work them, as they offer unfamiliar angles and challenges. Furthermore, when we work against the wall in the kinds of exercises described above, the development of the tendons is emphasized. The development of the tendons, as the crucial link between bones and muscles, in turn yields energy, strength, and health benefits to the entire physical system. Try the work above, smile as you sweat, and enjoy yourself!

Scott Meredith is a student and assistant instructor of Vladimir Vasiliev. For more information on the Russian Martial Art instructional materials and training call Vladimir Vasiliev at (905) 881-4711 or go to