Systema to me is all about testing yourself - testing the body, mind and opponent. It is also about confrontation – confronting fear, pain and self-doubt. So I was glad when Vincent proposed spending a night in the woods. What better test is there than confronting what nature can throw at you?
The place selected was the same area where we had participated in a 4-day seminar with Konstantin Komarov last year. That seminar was a combination of non-stop training, sleep-deprivation and freezing. This time it was just going to be a bunch of six guys spending some time in nature. The rules were no tents and no gas stoves. We were going to build our own shelter using what was available and start a wood fire to cook food and stay warm.
We reached the rendez-vous point in the Jura mountains and got out of our cars. We had a one-hour walk to the woods which were spent examining and commenting on each others’ camping equipment. Some of us came fully prepared while others were travelling light. The one hour walk was consumed in conversations about Bear Grylls of Man vs Wild fame, survival manuals and surplus army gear.
We reached our pre-decided spot and took a diversion from the road towards the woods. The terrain was covered in snow, in some places waist-deep. We began exploring for a place to camp. I had decided beforehand to build a surveillance shelter on my own while the others would construct a base camp for themselves. I chose this option as I wanted to mimic a survival situation and see what I could do by myself. Books, online forums and YouTube videos can never substitute first-hand experience.
We chose our spots and started building our shelters. I chose a design I had seen on this website, as I wanted an insulated shelter that would trap as much heat as possible. I was not planning on keeping a fire alive all night to stay warm. Once my shelter was ready, I started a small fire to boil water for my Cup Noodles dinner. It was a delicious, warm meal .
As it began getting dark, I joined the others at the base camp to chat and down some vodka shots beside the enormous fire they had going. It was a cold, clear night. The snow reflected the moonlight and the pine trees framed the starry night sky. I was having a good time. The conversation was flowing and everyone was connecting with the experience of being in the wilderness.
But there was one problem – I was getting too comfortable. It was time to walk back to my solitary shelter. I bid the others good night and returned to my shelter. Now I was truly alone. I crawled into the shelter and closed the opening with my backpack. All was quiet. Occasionally I would hear the “thud” of snow falling from tree tops. I was tired but could not fall asleep. I could smell the fresh pine I used as bedding insulation. I remember thinking about the artificial pine fragrance they put in toilet cleaning fluid!
I fell into a pattern of sleeping for 1 hour and staying awake for 1 hour. It was not the most comfortable night. In hindsight I should have invested more time in making my shelter as comfortable as possible. Basic stuff that nobody can teach you. Stuff you can only learn the hard way. Like how to absorb a punch.
I would recommend this experience to anyone who wants to test themselves and confront the unknown. You will have learnt something from your own life and not just the lives of others. This type of learning mirrors the beauty of systema where each practitioner draws on personal experience and develops their own unique style that suits them.
More on Anand's experience on his blog: click here.