Stealth Systema and Mirror Neurons

It is interesting to see, how keen observation of human behavior can be translated into extremely efficient and deceptive fighting principles. What I am about to discuss is essentially nothing new to the experienced Systema practitioner. In fact, we have heard Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev talk about these principles over and over again. What is fascinating, however, is to see these principles verified by current research in neuroscience.

Understanding in simple terms how things actually work (or might work) in the nervous system can help us to be more specific and successful in our training.

Have you ever wondered how we can sense other people’s movements, intentions and emotions? How we read facial expressions or can control expressing our emotions? Can we really trust our gut feelings? What makes our movements visible or invisible and how does conscious thought and tension interfere with intuitive subconscious action? Where does fighting originate in us? … In other words, what makes Systema such an effective combat art?

All of these questions have something in common, namely Mirror Neurons – MNs (neuron means nerve cell).

Until recently, it was always thought that we would figure out the opponents’ intentions and movements by doing the following. We first observe them, then create a mental picture and evaluate their movement and expressions through intellectual thinking based on our experience and acquired rules. The discovery of MNs has shown us that our brains have much more elegant and efficient ways.

In short, when we observe another person, our brain will mirror or immediately perform this person’s actions using MNs in our own “brain programs”. This happens without us activating our muscles and without our conscious awareness. However, everything else is as if we were doing it for real. Our brains will activate hormones and link up emotions and feelings as well as memories just as if we were moving ourselves. The only conscious experience we may have of this mirroring is a “gut feeling”. This elegant method allows us to immediately figure out an opponent’s intentions via our own intentions that we would have, if using those movements, facial expressions, etc.

We can see that when Systema practitioners execute natural and non-threatening movements, it will be confusing for an adversaries or even invisible until it is too late. Thus, their reactions to our actions will be inappropriately delayed. This is what makes our actions invisible and effective. Good Systema actions are simply invisible in the context of their meaning and since the brain sees things instead of the eyes those actions can be literally invisible to the brain!

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