During my years of practice in Russian Martial Arts, one of the areas of work that really has become vital for my approach to training and teaching it is the study of biomechanical body work on the ground. In certain Russian schools this type of work is referred to as “lower acrobatics”. Now, this kind of work, in general, is not unique to RMA, but the role it plays in the training methodology there differs to similar areas of curricula in BJJ or other, predominantly grappling, systems.
Namely, in those other styles and systems this field of practice is mainly treated as part of the overall conditioning and physical attributes development. In the Russian systems that do feature this kind of training, the function of the “solo groundwork” is somewhat different. Of course, the study of biomechanics is not limited to the ground work and techniques employed in that phase of combat; the scientific study of biomechanics can be (and is) applied to any human physical endeavor, for two primary reasons – technical efficiency and injury prevention. In that sense, it is also present in RMA, regardless of the “level” of work, i.e. standing (either striking of grappling) or on the ground, usually called “structure maintenance/breaking”, depending on whether you focus on yourself or the partner/opponent.
So, what are the specific features of the lower acrobatics in RMA? Well, for one thing, this is one of those rare instances where one can work on achieving what is commonly known as flow while working solo, i.e. without partner(s). In this case, the goal is fluid transition from one movement to another, with the overall appearance of softness in work. This emphasis also carries over to working from the grounded position against an opponent, i.e. when you are down and he is standing.
The most important aspect, nevertheless, as I see it, is the awakening of the body awareness in the lower section (below the waist), and the control of one’s own movement. Normally, in the daily life practices common for the cultures of the western world, the lower portion of our bodies is rarely moved in a deliberate way, which leads to frequent lack of awareness for this section of our bodies and resulting diminished ability and freedom of movement there. Once we get engaged in the movement on the floor, it requires the new perspective on this part, as well as the related training of the torso, which takes over the guiding role in many of the exercises. Pay close attention to the video below to see an illustration of what I mean.
Finally, the perspective of control. How many times have you heard teachers in all kinds of martial arts talking, or at least mentioning, the need to control your opponent? Do you see the difference between what they mean by that and what they mean by “controlling yourself”. For some reason, controlling the opponent is always physical, while the self-control tends to be in the mental or even “metaphysical” realm. Well, guess what – you need to be able of controlling your own physical expression just as well!
One of the first problems encountered by a practitioner when starting the ground work we are discussing here is the spatial orientation. Over time, you should be able to know and govern your movement in such a way to know which way you want to face upon completion of any individual movement, or the entire chain of those. We start with basic front, back and side rolls and their combinations, and later branch out into more advanced moves, but always with spatial awareness and corporal control. A simple way to test the degree of the control you have is trying to do the exercise as slow as possible and as fluidly as possible at the same time, with proper breathing and without unnecessary strain. A common symptom most beginners experience when doing this is the habit of holding their breath during the rolls (I call it the diving syndrome, as if doing the exercise under water), and consequently difficult breathing afterwards.
OK, let us conclude this introduction here, and maybe I’ll get to some more specific work in a future post.