This happened over 20 years ago in Russia. My friends and I were at Mikhail Ryabko’s class. The format of classes was such that a student could choose absolutely any form of attack and Mikhail would just demonstrate his amazing variety of spontaneous defenses.
We would rarely choose a stick as an offensive tool because it was so painful. But that evening we experienced Mikhail Ryabko’s stick tying techniques when one of the guys who was probably new to the class came at Mikhail with a stick in his hands. After a few moves, Mikhail tied him up with one of his stick tying techniques. Yes, tied him up. The guy was lying on his back holding the stick with both hands, he could not let go of it and could not get up. He was not hurt or twisted, yet he could not move as if he was totally restrained. Stick tying techniques were one of the many small miracles of Mikhail’s classes, and it was so hard to believe that I regretted that this was not recorded.
Years went by and I almost forgot that episode and even thought it might have been my imagination. Then in the year 2000, Mikhail, my close friend and teacher, came to my school in Toronto to teach a seminar. The night before the event, we were talking about the good old days and some fun incidents. And what do you know, the next day at the seminar Mikhail demonstrated stick tying techniques similar to the one we had seen.
One of the participants, a police officer, very experienced and solid man was fairly new to Systema and had some doubts about its effectiveness. He started moving against Mikhail and after a few moves and a bit of contact, Mikhail had him laying on his back in a very odd pose – arms and legs bent and twisted looking awfully uncomfortable. Mikhail stepped aside and there was nothing preventing this man from standing up or from getting into a more normal lying position. The man seemed surprised himself but totally relaxed and content with his strange position. A crowd of amazed seminar participants gathered around. The man on the floor could talk, blink and make some fine movements with his hands, but he was stuck and could not do any bigger movements, his body looked very uncomfortable yet he looked happy and relaxed.
When the people asked Mikhail what is going on, Mikhail replied that the man is “frozen”. He also said that if we leave this man alone now, he would just go deeper into himself and would not try to get up. In a couple of minutes the questions, comments and jokes gradually got the man moving. It seemed that he was checking out his muscles as if finding new ways to move his body for the first time. Mikhail smiled at him and in a total “matter of fact” way went about teaching the rest of the seminar.
Now back to the topic of tying with a stick. Over the years of my military work, I have seen many effective restraining tools rope, chain, belt, etc. Stick can also be used of course but always in combination with a rope or clothing. For example, when the arms are raised to the sides, the stick is put though the sleeves and then tied to the wrists. Or in the sitting position, stick goes under bent knees, the arms go under the stick, the elbows bent, the wrists are up and tied. All this makes sense and works, but imagine restraining someone, without causing any him any pain, using the stick alone. I saw that not too long ago and this time got it on tape!
As you probably heard, in October 2007 Mikhail Ryabko and myself were asked to present Russian Martial Art at the United Nations. The presentation went very well, and while in New York City, Mikhail taught a seminar at one of the Systema schools at Fighthouse, Manhattan. One of the topics of interest was the stick. Since Stick Defense was already covered on the recent DVD, people now wanted to see the Offensive tactics.
And again Mikhail amazed the group. He started with the drills to prepare the hands, fingers and wrists for handling a stick. The fingers and wrists is what control the stick directly, so the exercises should originate there and gradually work through the rest of the muscle groups. In a simple and unique way he showed drills to fill the hands with power without tension and how to tense up only the muscles required for the movement, while keeping everything else relaxed. He did both partner and solo work, fun and practical for using a stick or any other similar weapon such as a sword. There was a progression from simple to more challenging exercises, such as using the wrist alone for subtle and extremely powerful work. Each drill and technique was chosen for a reason to attain the final goal “mastering the weapon”.
During a later part of the seminar, without any special preparation or announcement, again in a completely casual way Mikhail “tied” one of the participants up with a stick. One of the drills was learning to control the opponent when he grabs the stick. The guy grabbed Mikhail’s stick and in a few motions, he was on his back twisted laying on his own bent leg, one arm raised and bent, still holding the stick but completely unable to move. Mikhail let go of the stick and stepped away. The guy was still on the floor one hand holding the stick that laid across his body as if it was pressing him to the floor. In disbelief, he tried to get up a few times, or use his free hand but it was not possible. So he continued to lay there for a while until Mikhail “untied” him by softly kicking his leg from underneath him.
You will see and enjoy this moment in the new DVD Stick Seminars