Circular Strength Magazine - "Vibe of the Tribe"



Scott Sonnon, known around the world as the Flow Coach, is a former international champion and USA Coach of the Russian national combat sport - SAMBO.  He was the first foreigner permitted to train behind the "Iron Curtain" in their native system of healing and martial arts.  Scott was inducted into the International Martial Art Hall of Fame for pioneering a new brand of personal and social empowerment - RMAX.  His methods touch every corner of the planet; his crowning achievement - the creation of The Tribe - an international online support community to discuss and explore the RMAX approach to personal excellence.

Empire of the Heart

by Scott Sonnon

Recently, I was asked the perennial question of Softwork. The common position of the conventional martial art community is that they,"just don't get it." I realize that some people may initially feel a knee-jerk to tag them a 'troll,' but we need to look more deeply at this phenomenon.

Of course, they don't "get it." To grok what we do, you, by definition, mustexperience it. Transformation is not about information, and so explication pales.

As beautifully woven in the bookEmotional Intelligence, there are two approaches to communicating:to the head and to the heart. One description speaks to the mind, such as explanation and definition, and another to the emotions, such as in the form of analogy, metaphor and simile.

I try to limit the latter, since the classical martial art community has nearly depleted this approach, mutating cliché from what was once useful. Cliché conceals in plain sight what we once were able to communicate despite that the topic transcended language. Every generation re-invents the wheel simply because the predecessors have exhausted 'meaning' from 'sayings'.

Some people, like the example with this above-mentioned individual, request the use of "simple words." More often than not, this is because the rational explanations and definitions (from the "head") don't make "sense" to them. "Sense" here refers to the emotional comprehension of what is being sensed... from the "heart."

We must remember that we all came to RMAX with preconceived ideas and notions. Regardless of the volumes written describing and explaining the "experience," ultimately if you don't resonate with the explanations and descriptions immediately, then you need to rely upon analogies, metaphors and similes. If these don't work then it's time to get off your duff and get to a seminar... or stop complaining.

Softwork - An Empire of the Heart

Compared to the Nation of the Mind, Hardwork, Softwork is an Empire of the Heart. It seeks to directly sophisticate our array of emotional responses. But the empire has been lost, though I could argue it was predictable.

Having classical approaches to Softwork, such as 'sticky hands', amputated from conventional martial arts was an evolutionary necessity. In the past, martial artists (like in fitness) began to mistake the drill (or exercise) for the 'thing.' Martial arts techniques began to be memorized and then rehearsed in combinations with a partner. This 'dead' routine was taken as gospel to predict one's behavior under the stress of the 'real' (an actual attack or combat reality.)

A movement began... lasting decades. Out the other end of that tunnel: Mixed Martial Art (MMA) lay on one side, and Reality-Based Self-Defense (RSBD) lay on the other - both evolved from the attempt to capture the Real through discarding dead rehearsal. Both MMA and RSBD sought to become more effective in the Real. And they were both successful.

But now... as is true with all evolution, the incumbents have deluded themselves that theirs is the One True Way. They are beginning to believe that they are performing "Combat Reality." They are wrong.

Play as a Way

All drilling (like all 'exercise') is "just a game." All martial art is playing at combat - and I include even those who attempt to distance themselves from the phrase "martial art" by using new terminology such as "defensive tactics," "close-quarters combat," "hostile subject control," et cetera. The same is true with fitness - all exercise is playing at life... even by those who desperately attempt to mutate it into "working out" by believing it is seriously 'important' (in the Little Prince sense of the word.)

No one would look at longstanding combat sports such as Sambo, Judo, BJJ or Boxing and call them ineffective. Yet, they are sports which are played. MMA and RSBD in many cases is described as "violent" by observers because these groups often lack the doctrine of play. They cast the illusions over their own heads and hearts that what they are doing is "real" and as a result... they take a dangerous and harmful direction. All of the traumatic emotional tempest of the "real" is imported into an environment intended to be "play."

Can you imagine doing this to our children? (Some people actually do this very thing to their children under the banner of 'tough love.') Can you understand now why children learn faster than most adults? This causes neural static which interferes with what neuroscientists call 'working memory' (our capacity for learning). Why have they abandoned play? Are they "too mature?" Quite the opposite.

Play is used by all mammals as a transformative, sustainable vehicle for learning. Neuroscientists have shown that this is a result of the evolution of neocortical operations - when the rational prefrontal lobe tempers and dampens the reflexive emotional storm of the amygdala. This mammalian ability for play is not found in lizards where upon birth they must flea or risk being cannibalized by their mother.

Seeking greater access to 'reflexive' emotions of the "Lizard Brain" by unplugging rational thought is not only destructive, but infectious. Neuroscientists have proven that acting upon rage for instance is a "sticky" contagion (an infection which lingers).

The more that MMA and RSBD attempts to model the emotional climate of the "real"under the belief that it IS real (and this is the critical point), the farther they travel from sustainable, productive transformation.

It's all play. And the more that one embraces the fact that all martial art is not real by learning more about play and then playing deliberately and completely, the faster, deeper and longer the transformation.

Softwork, like Body-Flow™, is a deliberate and complete embrace of the doctrine of play. Years ago, the movement began to temper the dead routine with a checks and balances system. The pendulum swung too far, and now people mistake the new 'drill' (MMA or RSBD) as the 'thing'. It is not real. They are not... real. I represent this in the Softwork-Hardwork Continuum.

Softwork returns us to "play with a purpose." It is the exercises we sing to improve our range and hear the space between the notes. It is the drawing "outside the lines" to see with new eyes the canvas. It is the gaming with ensemble development and risk-taking in improv which allows us to step within the character in acting. It is the scrimmage with only jerseys and helmets which allows us to experiment with new play ideas.

In every example of our exploration, innovation and improvisation, it is living art, transforming and evolving. Through our pioneer courage, we shall once again retake the Empire of the Heart, and within it again allow a symbiotic relationship with the Nation of the Mind.
Fraternally yours,

Scott Sonnon

© Copyright Productions
NOTE: All of the terminology herein is the sole coined intellectual property of Productions. Coach Sonnon coined the above terms and trademark protected them. Because you read the following does not give you the right to call the terminology or descriptions your own work and misrepresent Coach Sonnon's long history of experience, research and development since 1989. Everything contained herein is Coach Sonnon's SPECIFIC SYSTEM and his trademark protected intellectual property.

ATTENTION: Nothing within this information intends to constitute an explanation of the use of any product or the carrying out of any procedure or process introduced by or within any material.  This site and its officers and employees accept no responsibility for any liability, injuries or damages arising out of any person's attempt to rely upon any information contained herein.Consult your doctor before using this or any other exercise device. Do not use if you have an injury, or are experiencing pain or inflammation in your hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, or shoulders without first consulting your doctor. Use this product at your own risk. Failure to follow instructions and/or using this product in any way other than its intended use could result in injury.

Ryan Murdock has dedicated 17 years to daily martial arts training. It just dawned on him last year that he has now been training for over half of his life. He is the Sr. Editor of CST Magazine, and a longstanding veteran of RMAX. His other main interest is writing travel literature. This has taken him to 26 countries (and counting) including Mongolia, Nicaragua, and North Korea, by Russian jeep, motorcycle, dugout canoe, horse and camel.

Lower Back Rehab with CST's Training Hierarchy Pyramid

by Ryan Murdock, CST

The Training Hierarchy Pyramid™ (THP), the Training face of CST’s Three-Dimensional Performance Pyramid, is the map that we use to program our training. It’s the key to crafting an incrementally progressive program that will get you to your goals in the most expedient manner possible. In this article I’d like to take a closer look at the THP and it’s component parts, and to present an example of what such a progression might look like.

The Pyramid Deconstructed

General Physical Preparedness (GPP) is the level of the Training Hierarchy Pyramid at which we seek to develop the particular energy system to be utilized. Another term for this is Work Capacity. It is here that we build the rounded base that will support our efforts towards a specific goal.

Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP) is the level at which we sophisticate our GPP work to develop the range and depth of the skills that we are preparing. It is also at this level that we train slightly outside the scope of our intended activity to provide a “safety valve” for when movement deviates from the expected. Another term for this is Sophistication. It is here that we tweak our GPP preparations in the direction of our intended goal.

Specific Skill Preparedness (SSP) is the level of the pyramid at which we deconstruct the target skill into its elementary motor components, their practice, and the practice of the movements between these components. This is also referred to as Specificity. For example, in martial arts this is the level of the pyramid where we would incorporate a process of Static, Fluid and Dynamic Drills (which is also the Practice face of the 3DPP).

At the Mental and Emotional Preparedness (MEP) level of the Training Hierarchy Pyramid we seek to develop neural drive and disinhibition, stabilization of autonomic and hormonal arousal, and attentional strength and stamina. This is where we take our Clubbell work into the further ends of density training, where we fight off our Inner Pansy to maintain focus on technique and breathing when the going gets tough. This is also where we confront our fear-reactivity in a movement. This is sometimes referred to as Drive.


That’s a quick explanation of the diagram. To clarify the process, what it means to work a progression up the pyramid, I’d like to offer an example of program design taken from my own training. I crafted this program to address an area of fear-reactivity in my lower back that was causing me to brace (and to experience extreme discomfort) in the Clubbell Swipe.

I suffered a deadlifting injury in 2002 (the most severe in a string of similar injuries) that caused me to be bedridden for several days and that greatly affected my training and my daily life. I got to the point where I had to hold on to the side of the sink while brushing my teeth to prevent the painful spasms and bracing that would otherwise result from bending over unassisted. Strangely enough, this bracing didn’t usually occur while on the mats during martial arts training and my range of motion in that realm wasn’t especially limited, though I did feel a weakness. Perhaps it was a survival mechanism that trumped my fear-reactivity, with a 200lb training partner barreling down on me!

In hindsight I feel that this string of injuries was directly attributable to the power breathing protocol that I had followed for about a year and a half. Under that training protocol I noticed an immediate increase in how much I could deadlift, followed by an immediate decrease in my performance on the mats. Performance impediments included breath holding (whether I wanted to or not) and greatly decreased mobility. And it only got worse from there. As a lifting method it felt stable on the outside, but wobbly on the inside. My training partner noted identical observations. And the power breathing protocol was storing tension faster than our Warrior Wellness and Body Flow work was able to release it. It took us several years, after discovering RMAX, to undo the damage that we had done to ourselves.

But that’s another story. Let’s take a detailed look at how I crafted my first back rehab progression.

GPP (work capacity) – I continued to clean the slate with Warrior Wellness, working incrementally towards those areas that were limited by spasms and discomfort. I also sought the advice of a sports medicine doctor, who referred me to a physiotherapist specializing in sports injuries. I was given a set of progressive exercises that worked the transverse abdominus in isolation. I worked diligently at those exercises and increased my work capacity in each (in terms of gradually increasing the reps and sets). I would then add on the next set of exercises. After about a month and a half I was able to complete all of the exercises that I had been given and I was pronounced ‘cured’. I knew, however, that my work had just begun.

Transition – The transition between phases of the THP should be so incremental as to be barely noticeable. After being released from physiotherapy I took the basic transverse abdominus exercises and began to sophisticate them. For example, one exercise involved lying on my back and bringing one leg up knee to chest. Another exercise involved lying on my back with both knees up and allowing one knee to open/close to the side. I sewed these two exercises together so that I was moving my leg up the outside, then bringing the knee in, then moving down the center to bring the leg flat again. It made a circular motion through one quadrant. I also did the opposite –outside to in, and inside to out. I sophisticated all of the physiotherapy exercises that I had been given in this way.

SPP (sophistication) – In the SPP phase I sought to further strengthen my core, beyond the simple TVA isolation exercises. Inspired by a similar program that Coach Sonnon was working at that time, I embarked upon a cycle of hi-rep spinal rocks. I included all of the variations from Be Breathed, an equal number of each, and increased the amount each session until I reached my target goal of 500 spinal rocks in one session. I also included compensatory motions in the form of static holds of the Shoulder Bridge, Hand Bridge, and eventually the Shin Bridge, breathing into the tension and trying to relax.

SSP (specificity) – It was time to begin practicing the skills involved in the Swipe. I worked on the two component exercises of the Pendulum and the Armpit Cast. They had never caused me bracing in the past. Flare-ups seemed to be a result of the ballistic nature of the full Swipe, and the loading that occurs in the back position at the top. I began practicing the Swipe at a level of Skill -- not enough reps or sets to fatigue too much, just enough to practice the mechanics.

Transition – When my skill practice became comfortable I began a Swipe density cycle. I was very comfortable at the strength range of the cycle, so the transition to the more challenging phases (up around the endurance range) happened very gradually.

MEP (drive) – As I neared the final stages of the density cycle I was forced to confront the fear-reactivity in my lower back that seemed to occur alongside the ballistic loading in the top position. It seemed to get worse when the going got tough – and was partly a result of bracing and dropping into lower levels of breathing. I made it my performance goal to relax into the movement and to breath at a minimum level of Skill. I began by applying a performance exhalation to brace my core and to reassure myself that the position was safe. By the end of the cycle I was able to maintain Expertise level breathing without conscious effort, and the painful bracing had gone. Goal accomplished!

I hope this example gives you a better idea of how to apply the Training Hierarchy Pyramid to your own training!

ATTENTION: Nothing within thisinformation intends to constitute an explanationof the use of any product or the carrying out ofany procedure or process introduced by or withinany material.  This site and its officersand employees accept no responsibility for anyliability, injuries or damages arising out ofany person's attempt to rely upon anyinformationcontained herein.Consult yourdoctor before using this or any other exercisedevice. Do not use if you have an injury, or areexperiencing pain or inflammation in your hands,wrists, forearms, elbows, or shoulders withoutfirst consulting your doctor. Use this productat your own risk. Failure to follow instructionsand/or using this product in any way other thanits intended use could result ininjury.