Vladimir Vasiliev




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Nota: urmatoarele 2 articole sunt luate de pe www.martialdevelopment.com , respectiv www.russianmartialart.com si sunt elocvente pentru aceasta tema. Am reprodus continutul lor in intregime, nealterat.

 

Vladimir Vasiliev was the first Russian to start teaching the System in the West about 15 years ago, and it has been gaining momentum since. Vladimir, who resides in Toronto, taught his first seminar in UK in 2000, creating huge interest in Systema, and a small but loyal following that now numbers in hundreds.

Unlike many oriental instructors Vladimir was quite open about explaining the concepts of Systema and encouraged contact with the source of Systema, his teacher, Mikhail Ryabko.

Through training in the martial arts, we begin to pay more attention to aspects of experience that might have seemed peripheral, if not hard to believe before. We begin to start noticing and giving more credence to experiences such as meeting someone for the first time and instantly liking them or disliking them without knowing anything about them. We like their vibes, we can tell if someone is staring at us and when we look up (what makes you look?) we feel we know what they are feeling or that something is going to happen, the phone rings and we know who it is before we answer it. As we allow ourselves to develop new sensitivities, we begin to view the world quite differently.

Training in Psychic Energy

Vladimir Vasiliev is a Master in The System [Systema] and he has an outstanding command of its use. Though he is so humble, I’m sure he would be the first to deny it! What I will relay now is on his personal account of the Psychic Training he received while he was with the Special Operations unit in Spetsnaz. In his own words:

The goal of the training was to make you multi-functional. You were to be able to work effectively in any kind of situation and never fear it. Perhaps more importantly, you were expected to learn how to be creative and act spontaneously. Divergent thinking, being able to come up with unconventional and unusual responses and decisions in different situations was an absolute necessity. You had to be totally adaptable to survive in the unit.

The key to this adaptability was the Psychic Training you received. You were expected to go well beyond the mere physical and psychological mastery to a point where intuition and that sixth sense, that we all have but seldom use, became a part of your daily life.

Awareness, or tapping into your sixth sense, was a focus for many of the exercises. Training classes could run for five hours and in some, you’d be blindfolded for the entire time. You’d have to follow what was going on, do your exercises and come to an understanding of the principles the instructor was teaching without the use of sight.

While sparring, the instructor would also walk around the class looking for trainees who weren’t paying attention to the total environment they were working in. If he thought you weren’t aware of his presence, he’d hit you with a stick over the head, this taught the trainee very quickly to be aware of where everyone was at all times.

At other times, we were brought up into pitch-black rooms and had to guess how many people were in it, if any. We’d also be blindfolded and have to identify colors just by touching colored blocks of paper. Again, awareness was to extend far beyond the normal five senses into the area of the psychic.

Some instructors who were skilled at passing psychic energy would take a few glasses of water and charge them with energy. This was a charge grounded in a psychic form of energy. It was much like touch healing. They’d concentrate on the water and send energy into it through their fingers without touching it. The trainee would then have to come into the room and tell the instructor which classes had been charged with the energy. The purpose behind this exercise was to teach the trainee how, on a mission, to tell if their drink was poisoned. Poison has a much stronger energy than regular water and that energy is discernible to those who have learned to access and use their psychic abilities.

 

Excerpted from How to Fight Like a Man by Barret Hooper

Sitting across from me, away from the practice mat where he’s spent the last 90 minutes beating up his students, Vasiliev doesn’t look like a killer. You could sit next to him on a bus and not notice him. That’s what made him the perfect choice for Spetsnaz. “They try to pick someone who was average-looking, who could blend in, who would not stand out and could do the missions, someone who didn’t look like Arnold,” says Vasiliev, pointing to a photo on a desk of Schwarzenegger and Valerie. “You must be able to disappear in the woods, in a crowd, disappear in empty room.”

Vasiliev grew up in Tver, an industrial city 200 kilometres northeast of Moscow. His father was a general in the Red Army who died when Vasiliev was a boy. He has a sister and a brother in Russia, although he can’t say what his brother does because, like much of Vasiliev’s background, it’s classified.

Spetsnaz Training Methods

Vasiliev had studied karate and boxing, and trained with a mysterious 70-year-old fighter he calls Uncle Peter, whose style “developed out of dealing with samurai warriors. It had to be instant reaction and you only let your opponent do one move.” But the Spetsnaz training was beyond rigorous. His instructors beat him every day and gave him electric shocks to toughen him. He had his arms bent behind him “until you started screaming because you couldn’t take the pain any more,” and then he would be jabbed with a knife. “They wanted to see to what extreme you could go before breaking. They also used this exercise to teach you how to relax under pain and open up new personal potentials for endurance.” There were cold-weather swims — there’s an SOU saying that “the water is too cold for swimming only if it’s ice” — and he was forced to fall on to huge anthills and let thousands of insects bite him. He was taken to morgues and serious car crashes and forced to carry dead bodies to make him less sensitive to the “gore and pain.” The aim, he says, was to create a soldier “immune to the psychological torment of battle. They wanted their elite special operations units not to fear death.”

Vasiliev eventually became an instructor, teaching the System to Spetsnaz soldiers, KGB agents, government bodyguards and police officers. But after more than 10 years in the military, Vasiliev was ready “to see the world without machine guns.” He left the force in the mid-’80s and moved to Toronto in 1990.

As I’m cooling off after class and examining my arms for cuts or bruises, Vasiliev comes over. He notes that I need to develop my psychic energy. I immediately flash on The Amazing Kreskin, but Vasiliev has something more practical in mind. “People think it is some kind of Jedi mind trick or that it’s about seeing dead people,” he says, laughing. “But it is more about making the mind as clear as possible, no distractions, no thoughts.” In perfecting your technique, you eventually evolve to a point where technique no longer exists, Vasiliev says. “You stop thinking and the body reacts spontaneously to an opponent.” Call it the sixth-sense approach to self-defence, where intuition takes over.

 

How To Fight Like a Man

by Barret Hooper
Saturday Post - January 2002

Examples of Vladimir Vasiliev's instructional videos. (2 photos shown)


Glenn Lowson, National Post


Glenn Lowson, National Post


Courtesy of Vladimir Vasiliev

Vasiliev (third from right) with his Spetsnaz unit in Russia, 1978;...


... Russian military insignia hanging in the foyer of Vasiliev's school.






Vasiliev's students from North America at the annual training trip in Russia.


From the video "Improvised Weapons" (5 photos shown)





Glenn Lowson, National Post

Vladimir Vasiliev instructs a group of students in Russian Martial Art at his school in Thornhill, Ont. (3 photos shown)


The word I'm fixating on is exsanguinate. Exsanguinate. Between exquisite and exsert in the dictionary, meaning to drain of blood. It usually results in death. You'd expect to find it in an autopsy report or a vampire novel, though I heard it on The X-Files.

With a six-inch blade pointed at me, it's no wonder I'm feeling a little anemic. One slip as the knife arcs beneath my chin, and it would slice open my throat. Of course, it's not the bleeding I should worry about. It's the damage to my muscles and tendons and ligaments, rips and tears that will leave me like a puppet with its strings cut.

The human body has more than 650 muscles and 100 joints, held together by ligaments and tendons -- soft spots, weaknesses. And my attacker, Vladimir Vasiliev -- Vlad the Impaler, I call him -- knows them all. "It is important to understand how to work upon the points of the body," he says in a thick Russian accent. Unlike what you see in the movies, knife fighting is about knowing where to attack to "unfold" a person, because "there's no winning in a knife fight, only surviving."

Vasiliev is the chief instructor at the Russian Martial Art School in Thornhill, north of Toronto, which offers "no holds barred and quick results." I found him in a martial arts magazine, between advertisements for something called the Dim Mak Death Touch and an "earn your karate black belt in 10 easy lessons" video. I probably wouldn't have noticed the ad at all if it hadn't been for the Toronto-area phone number and address for ordering videotapes. His ad was for the Russian Martial Art, or Systema, a "unique, practical and devastating defense from any form of attack," based, it said, on "the training of the Russian Special Forces."

Russian Special Forces. Voiska Spetsialnogo Naznachenia, or simply Spetsnaz. Created in 1974 to act independently of the Red Army, Spetsnaz once epitomized the menace and power of the Soviet State. It was the U.S.S.R.'s secret weapon during the Cold War. Spetsnaz helped the Soviets overthrow the government of Afghanistan in 1979 by storming the national palace in Kabul and gunning down President Amin and his family. In 1985, when terrorists took over the Soviet embassy in Beirut, a Spetsnaz strike team infiltrated the embassy, abducted four of the terrorists and sent one of their decapitated heads in a bag to the terrorists' leader.

Even today, Spetsnaz is perhaps the most exclusive -- and most secretive -- military unit in the world, more elite than the U.S.'s famed Navy Seals or Delta Force. Comprised of snipers, explosives experts and close-quarters combat specialists, Spetsnaz handle counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, sabotage and reconnaissance missions. They operate in Chechnya and the Russian breakaway republics, and there are rumours of Spetsnaz operators in Afghanistan, helping with the hunt for Osama bin Laden. A March, 1999, Time magazine story about Spetsnaz soldiers freelancing as muscle for the Russian Mafia called them "a sinister force" and the "perfect killers."


Vladimir Vasiliev is a 10-year Spetsnaz veteran, a "spec-ops warrior" right out of a Tom Clancy novel, a special operative, in fact, who trained other soldiers. And he has offered to use his martial arts background to turn me into a lean, mean killing machine.

Vasiliev's gym is next to a dance studio at the rear of an industrial building in Thornhill. A handful of wrought-iron steps lead to the only door, and a sign in the window states: Russian Martial Art -- The System.

Inside, the walls of the visitors' area are covered with newspaper clippings about the school and inspirational photos: a sniper taking aim, an assault team rappelling down a building. A bookshelf displays Vasiliev's instructional videos -- Defense Against Mass Attacks, Russian Mega Fighting, Knife Fighting and Throwing, Gun Disarming. There are magazines, too, with Jet Li and Jackie Chan on the cover.

The practice area displays large flags of Canada, post-Communist Russia and Spetsnaz, with its black bat-like symbol on a light blue background. Pads used for punching and kicking are piled in one corner along with an assortment of sticks, knives and swords. Bare fluorescent bulbs and a few tiny windows provide the only light. It smells like a high school locker room and you can see your breath in the air.

When I come in, a class is already in progress and it looks like a scene from Fight Club. There are about 20 students, all men, all lean and athletic-looking, dressed in T-shirts and army pants, attacking each other.

Vasiliev stands with his hands on his hips, calmly observing. I had expected to find someone more like Dolph Lundgren, who played the Russian boxer in Rocky IV, somebody bigger and, frankly, more chiselled, machine-like. But Vasiliev looks remarkably ordinary. Of medium height and build, he has short dark hair with a touch of grey at the sides, and an open, friendly face with laugh lines in the corners of his eyes and mouth. When he walks over to greet me it's with a slight swagger that strikes me as distinctly military, and Russian. He smiles brightly as he introduces himself. "Feel free to ask questions," he says before returning to his class.

Systema, or the System, is the next big thing in self-defence. It's the new ninjutsu (the deadly stealth art of feudal Japan's black-clad assassins made popular by Hollywood in the early '80s).

And it's earned Vasiliev quite a reputation in internationl martial arts circles. He's been profiled in such magazines as Combat and American Survival Guide. He was quoted in a story in Maxim about the world's elite commando units: the Rambo-like Green Berets, the British Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers -- and, of course, Spetsnaz. His version of Russian Martial Art (RMA) -- there are offshoots, such as sambo, which is more sport-oriented -- has been broken down and analyzed by self-defence experts from magazines like Inside Kung Fu and Black Belt.

Systema is a one-of-a-kind hand-to-hand combat style that dates back to AD 900. For centuries, Russia was attacked by invaders from across Europe and Asia: the Varangians (Vikings), Scythians, Volga Bolgars and the Golden Horde, an army of Ghengis Khan's fiercest Mongol warriors, to name a few. Over time, Russian warriors developed an instinctual fighting style that was extremely practical and effective against any enemy under any circumstances. It doesn't involve following a prearranged pattern of moves, such as a karate kata, or imitating animals, like tiger or monkey-style kung fu. When the Communists came to power in 1917, the Bolshevik regime suppressed all national martial traditions. But authorities under Stalin recognized the potency of RMA and reserved it for its elite military units.

For decades, the training was shrouded in secrecy, like the mythic art of Shaolin kung fu, until Vasiliev set up shop, becoming the world's first -- and foremost -- practitioner of the Russian Martial Art outside his homeland.

Today, there are 26 schools in countries around the world, certified by Vasiliev to teach the System. Students, both men and women, from a variety of backgrounds, come to Thornhill from as far away as England and France to train with him. Most have some prior martial arts experience. Some want to further develop their training or to "street proof" themselves. (One Aikido black belt from the U.S. had planned to move to Japan to train with the Tokyo police force until he discovered Vasiliev's videos.) There are wealthy businessmen wanting bodyguard-type training and a number of people with police and military backgrounds -- U.S. Marines and Army Rangers, members of the French Foreign Legion and British Army, and at least one bodyguard for the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia.

In this class, I watch as a student attacks Vasiliev, pinning his arms behind his back. Vasiliev winks in my direction and with only the slightest ripple of movement, slips free, trapping his surprised student's wrist and elbow in a painful joint lock. I have no idea what he did to escape. I'm not sure the student knows.

Vasiliev then invites a handful of others to attack him. Unlike in the movies, where bad guys attack one at a time, they circle him warily for a moment, then strike in unison from every direction. They punch, kick and grab, but he moves effortlessly, twisting and ducking and redirecting their blows, glancing them off jaws, heads, thighs, walls, floor and each other.

In between, he points out pressure points and angles; he explains how "shoulders can be pulled apart like a chicken wing." (Self-defence is the ultimate goal behind the System, but the old sports clich�, "The best defence is a good offence," is a truism in Vasiliev's class.) "Movement is key," he notes, "not the strike." Unlike in karate, he says, there's no "defending the air." Punches and kicks are blocked very close to the body. "Bring the opponent to you, don't go after the opponent." Kicks are rarely delivered higher than waist-level. "It's more efficient to kick the shins, the knees and ankles," Vasiliev says. "It takes less energy and is faster, and it's harder for them to attack you."

Occasionally, a student will try something fancy, a kick toward Vasiliev's head, or a spinning backfist -- many have blackbelts in other martial arts. "No Jackie Chan stuff," he scolds, deflecting the attacks deftly.

As with the Brazilian martial art of capoeira, many of the moves in the System can be found in the traditional dances of Vasiliev's homeland, which explains why at times Vasiliev moves as though he's dancing a Ukrainian hopak to music only he can hear. "It's almost ballet-like. It transcends," a student will tell me later. Other times he looks like a breakdancer, rifling off short quick blows accompanied by his own vocal comic-book sound effects -- BIFF! BAM! POW!

His defences can look kind of lame at first: The students seem to be co-operating too easily as Vasiliev ducks and weaves and entangles their limbs. But then I start to notice subtle flourishes in Vasiliev's movements.

This, I discover, is one of the unique aspects of the System. It teaches students to escape incoming attacks by keeping the body very fluid and moving only that part that's being targeted. Jacob Goldblatt, the Aikido black belt who moved here six months ago to train at the school, recounts a story Vasiliev told him. Vasiliev was standing on a train with some Spetsnaz colleagues when the train lurched and an elderly woman was thrown toward them. "Instead of reaching out to catch her, like you would normally do," says Goldblatt, "the soldier nearest her automatically shifted his body to deflect her hands. She fell to the floor."


When the class is over, Vasiliev and I move into a cramped office to talk. Sometimes his mind moves quicker in Russian than his mouth does in English, so his wife, Valerie, joins us to translate. She's a physiotherapist who immigrated to Canada in the early '80s from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). They married in 1992, and have two young daughters.

Sitting across from me, away from the practice mat where he's spent the last 90 minutes beating up his students, Vasiliev doesn't look like a killer. You could sit next to him on a bus and not notice him. That's what made him the perfect choice for Spetsnaz. "They try to pick someone who was average-looking, who could blend in, who would not stand out and could do the missions, someone who didn't look like Arnold," says Vasiliev, pointing to a photo on a desk of Schwarzenegger and Valerie. "You must be able to disappear in the woods, in a crowd, disappear in empty room."

Vasiliev grew up in Tver, an industrial city 200 kilometres northeast of Moscow. His father was a general in the Red Army who died when Vasiliev was a boy. He has a sister and a brother in Russia, although he can't say what his brother does because, like much of Vasiliev's background, it's classified.

Military service was compulsory in the former Soviet Union, so after high school, Vasiliev enlisted. Along with a handful of recruits who showed promise, he was selected for advanced training by Spets veterans acting as informal talent scouts. (Soviet Olympic athletes, particularly those in martial-oriented sports like shooting and wrestling, are also said to have been a recruiting pool for Spetsnaz.)

"The saying used to be that you either went into the Spetsnaz or into prison," a former Spetsnaz officer is quoted as saying in Time. Vasiliev often got into fights. "In Russia, street fights are common," he says. "People are always ready to go. It is normal for our culture. Fights happen in restaurants, bars, everywhere."

"When I fought, it would happen so quickly, people would be lying on the ground and I couldn't remember what I had done."

At Spetsnaz, Vasiliev was groomed for one of the Special Operations Units (SOU), an elite group so secretive most members didn't know they belonged to it until months or years later. Only the highest-ranking military officers were aware of its existence.

The SOU were used in the highest-risk missions for the KGB and other government bodies. In the parlance of the intelligence community, they handled "wet works," assignments where things often got messy, such as kidnappings and assassinations.

Vasiliev had studied karate and boxing, and trained with a mysterious 70-year-old fighter he calls Uncle Peter, whose style "developed out of dealing with samurai warriors. It had to be instant reaction and you only let your opponent do one move." But the Spetsnaz training was beyond rigorous. His instructors beat him every day and gave him electric shocks to toughen him. He had his arms bent behind him "until you started screaming because you couldn't take the pain any more," and then he would be jabbed with a knife. "They wanted to see to what extreme you could go before breaking. They also used this exercise to teach you how to relax under pain and open up new personal potentials for endurance." There were cold-weather swims -- there's an SOU saying that "the water is too cold for swimming only if it's ice" -- and he was forced to fall on to huge anthills and let thousands of insects bite him. He was taken to morgues and serious car crashes and forced to carry dead bodies to make him less sensitive to the "gore and pain." The aim, he says, was to create a soldier "immune to the psychological torment of battle. They wanted their elite special operations units not to fear death."

Vasiliev eventually became an instructor, teaching the System to Spetsnaz soldiers, KGB agents, government bodyguards and police officers. But after more than 10 years in the military, Vasiliev was ready "to see the world without machine guns." He left the force in the mid-'80s and moved to Toronto in 1990, where he worked several odd jobs and eventually met Valerie.

When I ask Vasiliev what his Spetsnaz missions involved, he answers in Russian. "Counter-espionage," Valerie says, "to remove something, to steal a piece of information or an object. Or to kidnap a person or to kill."

"Were you ever involved in kidnapping or assassination?"

Valerie looks to her husband and Vasiliev gives a slight pause before answering in English. "You can say I know about that," he says. "I was very close to that."

Knowing Spetsnaz's reputation in Afghanistan, I ask if he's ever been there. He smiles and shrugs. "I cannot say. If I could say, I would say, but I cannot."

I recall a comment one of his students made after class: "They should have had Vladimir on one of those planes in New York." The students often joke that when Vasiliev flies it should be announced to the passengers before takeoff that he is on board. Only, they're not kidding. "For me it would be easier, I know, to do something," he says, without a trace of John Wayne machismo. "Terrorists are not usually alone. You have to figure out who's in command; the leader will be more relaxed, that helps tell who is the more dangerous. And then you go."


In Toronto, Vasiliev stumbled into his current occupation by chance. While exercising at a local community centre, he demonstrated a few System moves to a friend, attracting an audience and eventually a few students, whom he taught in the basement of his home. In 1993, he opened the first school of Russian Martial Art in North America. Within six months, he had more than 100 students and had recouped the initial $10,000 investment.

In 1996, he made his first instructional video, Knife Defense, which claims to contain "over 35 absolutely unique and truly effective techniques of defence against ALL POSSIBLE knife attacks." Ranked by the European Knife Fighting Association as the best film of the year, it included step-by-step demonstrations of how to defend against everything from pool cues and baseball bats to nunchakus and ninja swords, and of course, knives -- pocket knives, hunting knives, butcher knives, throwing knives. (Knife fighting is a Spetsnaz specialty: The knife was a symbol of a man's honour in Old Russia, and soldiers are trained to throw two knives at once striking two different targets, wield a shovel like an axe, and spit razor blades into the eyes of the enemy.)

Since then, Vasiliev has produced 13 videos, from Defence Inside a Car (should you find an assailant in the backseat or become victim of a carjacking) to Improvised Weapons, in which Vasiliev uses a belt to disarm an attacker and trap his arms, and a comb's bristles as a blade.

They are sold through martial arts supply stores and magazines and on Vasiliev's Web site, along with other Russian Martial Art merchandise such as T-shirts ($19.95), Spetsnaz shoulder patches ($5.95) and dog tags ($9.95), and training knives with maple handles ($19.95). While the production values for the tapes are very low -- often it's just Vasiliev and a training partner demonstrating techniques for a hand-held video camera -- they cost between $39.95 and $69.95 each, and he sells close to 1,000 copies of each in the first year of release.

Vasiliev now travels several times a year to give seminars across North America and in Europe. He has just returned from a weekend instructional camp in New Jersey. "Commando training -- strangulation, how to creep through woods, sneak attacks, stuff like that," he says.

He also sponsors annual training sessions in Toronto with Mikhail Ryabko, his own instructor at the Spetsinstitute, the top-secret training facility in Moscow. Trained in the System since the age of five by one of Stalin's personal bodyguards, Ryabko was recruited by Spetsnaz at 15; he is currently the tactical commander of hostage-rescue teams and counterterrorist operations for the SOU. It's through him and other contacts within the Russian military that Vasiliev receives authorization from the Russian Interior Ministry to bring as many as 30 students -- those who can afford the (US)$3,000 cost -- to Moscow every spring to train with members of the counterterrorist and hostage rescue units of Spetsnaz.

The week-long event, a kind of tourist boot camp, offers "authentic military training" on a secure Special Forces base. Students are given an official Spetsnaz uniform and put through a series of drills: hand-to-hand combat training, live-fire exercises, tactical field combat techniques and a ride on an armored personnel carrier. The fee includes sightseeing excursions around Moscow and visits to Red Square, the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Ballet.


Back in the less exotic locale of Thornhill, the gym is filled with grunts and groans as we practice with our partners; the mirror that runs the length of one wall is covered with steam. "Remember to breathe. If you breathe, you feel alive," Vasiliev calls out. "And don't wrestle. You don't want to go head-to-head. It is not about who is stronger."

Far from being an ironhanded taskmaster, Vasiliev is more like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, guiding his students by example. He makes jokes when an attack or defence does not go as planned, gently chides them for their mistakes and provides encouragement whenever a familiar look of puzzlement crosses a student's face. "Some of you," he says, after a particular exercise, "some of you ..." He pauses as he scans the faces of the expectant students. "Look very bad," he quips. There's a video camera in the corner taping the class and he mugs shamelessly for the lens, flexing his arms like Charles Atlas and grinning broadly.

Nonetheless, the training is gruelling, and entirely real. There are no punching bags, no hypothetical exercises. "In many martial arts classes, too much time is spent on learning unrealistic poses and classical moves," says Vasiliev. "It doesn't prepare students for a real fight." Here, we do push-ups while being lightly kicked in the stomach, chest, back, shoulders and legs. "It's good to get used to being hit," Vasiliev explains. (Strangely, the blows help to distract me from the pain in my arms.) At one point, after taking a swing at my practice partner, I find myself thrown hard to the floor, the wind knocked out of me. Pulled to my feet, I glance down and see the Russian Martial Art logo from the back of my T-shirt clearly imprinted in the rubber mat.

Then we move on to knife techniques. Less-experienced students like me use wooden knives while the more advanced students arm themselves with dull-edged steel. Over time students learn to work with a "live" blade. The knife is a way to heighten your awareness, Vasiliev says. "You can be good against the punch, but the punch can be obvious. With a knife, the movements are short and quick and dangerous. There's no time to be lazy."

The size and shape of a knife often determines the kind of attack. Vasiliev believes it can also tell you a lot about the individual using it. "When you see a person with a straight and simple knife he is more likely to have a healthy and balanced psyche and to be a more straightforward and reasonable kind of person," he writes in his The Russian Guidebook. "Any deviation from that basic knife shape" -- curved, serrated, angled, especially long or short -- "indicate a personality digression, [an] offensive or aggressive nature, reserved or sombre character, [a predisposition toward] violence or quick temper." (Of course, one can be forgiven for wondering if carrying any kind of knife isn't a hint of an aggressive nature.)

Vasiliev admits his classes could draw criminals and other undesirables. He says he usually spots them within one or two sessions, and while he's never refused to teach someone, he has advised such students to pursue a different activity. I can imagine an argument from him would be persuasive.

As I'm cooling off after class and examining my arms for cuts or bruises, Vasiliev comes over. He notes that I need to develop my psychic energy. I immediately flash on The Amazing Kreskin, but Vasiliev has something more practical in mind. "People think it is some kind of Jedi mind trick or that it's about seeing dead people," he says, laughing. "But it is more about making the mind as clear as possible, no distractions, no thoughts." In perfecting your technique, you eventually evolve to a point where technique no longer exists, Vasiliev says. "You stop thinking and the body reacts spontaneously to an opponent." Call it the sixth-sense approach to self-defence, where intuition takes over. "It's like the vibe -- positive or negative -- we get when we first meet someone or the feeling we get when we know we're being watched." To teach his students to fine-tune this ability, he sometimes has them wear a blindfold during class. (In his own training, he claims, he was taught to identify colours on paper by touch, and sense whether a glass of water contained poison without tasting it.)

Before I go, I have a last question for Vasiliev, one my friends have been asking me: "Can you teach me how to kill someone in three seconds?" (All those special forces types could, couldn't they?)

Vasiliev laughs. "People do come looking for that," his wife says. "He does get people challenging him, especially at seminars. People come up and try something different to see if they can catch Vladimir off guard, punch him or choke him from behind, testing him."

"That's a problem," Vasiliev agrees. "But they're afraid to get hurt themselves so it's not a real challenge."

I ask again: "But can you teach me to kill a man in three seconds?"

Vasiliev stops smiling. He pauses. He looks me in the eye. "Sure, why else you train if you cannot do?"