Systema Article in Journal of Asian Martial Arts

Kenpodoc

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There was some controversy on this article over on Kenponet. Please find my respnse to this below. I am not a Systema student and would appreciate your responses. I like honest, I'll survive brutal comments.

"Russian Systema Flow training"
Journal of Asian Martial Arts Volume 13 number 4 2004
This is a remarkably well written introduction to Systema. By their very nature magazine articals are generally superficial but this article manages to present the essence of systema without the Hype. The History section is brief practical and does not make unreasonable claims. I found the sections "The science of survival" and "Understanding Combat stress" to be readable and consistant with my knowlege of the subject. "The power of the flow" presents the concept of slow training incorporating natural responses. It points out that "the old adage "practice makes perfect" is simply not true." As Mr. Parker said Practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. The Systema solution (also followed by many in Kenpo) is to start slowly "in a mindful deliberate manner." What follows is a good introduction to slow training with full intent. The article ends with a discussion of the dangers of operant conditioning and combat stress. It is difficult to fully appreciate the effectiveness of this art without experiencing it but this article gives a good introduction to the philosophical basis of systema.
The pictures are another story. Unlike Kenpo, Systema does not have set techniques. Each interaction is unique and this makes taking representative pictures difficult. Allow me to respond to Mr. Robertson's questions.
"...the problem is that in this case, the pictures are very clear. And particularly in the case of the knife technique pictured last in the article, they violate very basic kenpo rules...like a) allowing a knife hand extended completely across the lower torso with absolutely no checks whatsoever, and b) completely ignoring where that knife's going to go once the attacker gets hit in the head."
Checks are in place here. In this case this is a still photo of a dynamic situation. The proximal portion of the attackers forearm is against the defenders upper arm. The Attackers momentum is forward while the defender closes the distance. The check takes advantage of the third hand principle and momentum. In order to withdraw his hand the attacker must either pull his body backwards or bend at the elbow. The defenders chest and arm prevent the ability to reflexly withdraw the arm and cut. The head shot has caused the attacker to hyperextend his neck and start to extend his back so his arm will either travel up as he falls or rotate away from the defender as the attacker rotates.

"It's particularly a problem, given that the article contains long sections discussing a) reflex moves, b) taking advantage of 'startle,' responses."
I'm sorry but I'm not sure that I understand this question.

"What's clearly being pictured, in other words, is a situation in which you will inevitably be cut, and cut bad, and cut bad on an arc that runs from your right lower quadrant, up towards your right armpit, through all the way to your left side. Included in that arc are your armpit, your chest, your face and your neck..and let me emphasize again: while this is beginning, your left arm is folded flat UNDERNEATH their knife arm, and your right hand is travelling on a big, wide, looping arc (kept at least a foot from your torso the whole time) to their left temple."
In order to cut the attacker needs to reverse his arm motion. Either he must bend his elbow which is checked off or he must reverse his momentum which is atleast partially checked by the attacker closing the distance. I agree the Right hand punch is a big looping punch but we have those in Kenpo also and with borrowed distance as the opponent closes this punch will occur fast enough. The Left arm folded flat is likely a function of the static nature of the picture and likely moved in some manner.

"No lower-case checks are pictured or described."
Yes they are but the arm is checking rather than the hand.

"In another illustration, there's a sort of seated defense, from the ground, against an attempt to kick you in the face. Now first of all, I'd like to see the person who's going to be able to make the pictured response--a sort of slapping parry with both hands to redirect the kicking foot while you're sitting up, on the ground--work against a guy I know named William. And second--as anybody in kenpo who'd worked through the orange belt endings (let alone the Purple ones) would see, why would an attacker bother kicking you in the face right away, when there are two lovely, lovely, sets of feet, ankles, legs and knees directly under their feet?"

Once again this series of pictures shows the difficulty of demonstrating dynamic movement with still photos. Much of the ground work involves using the opponents momentum and not directly opposing the attack. I believe the seated position shown is also a baiting technique to try to draw the kick to the head and torso. The system also deals with kicks to the feet, etc. I have no idea if this will work against William but that would be another topic.
I believe that there was another specific question but cannot now find it.
Ultimately I'm reminded of the joke -
"I am reminded of a story of 2 Kenpoists watching a Systema guy work.

The first Kenpoist turned to the other and proceeded to tell him how mny rules the Systema guy just broke.

The second Kenpoist responded with, "And yet it still worked.""
- Dougie
Mr. Robertson, I am neither an expert in Systema nor Kenpo. I study Kenpo as my primary art and have been very pleased with it. Kenpo works, but so does Systema and when it seems to violate our conventions and works anyway that is when I learn the most.

Respectfully,
Jeff
 

Brian Jones

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A good analysis of the article. I usally steer clear of cotnraversies, but at least this one forced me to go read the article. I think you hit hte nailon the head with the word "dynamic". It is difficult to freeze frame movement so that the uninitiated can see what is going on. I seem to remember an excellent article done by Ed parker Jr. in "Black Belt" where the angle of the picture (which was necessary to illustrate his point) made him appear to block a club with a rising block to the stick. It was deceptive.
All that being said, I thought Mr. Robertson had a good question. His point seemed to be "since the technique appears to violate kenpo prinicples, how does the tech. work?" Unfortunately, yours was one of the few who answered his question. Still don't like that big looping punch. Kenpo really doesn't do "big looping" movements. In the AKKI we hear "structure governs function" quite a bit. That punch appears structurally unsound.

Brian Jones
 

Furtry

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Disclaimer up front, I know the person who wrote the article and know the people pictured. The pictures actually show some mistakes from a Systema perspective if we were to only look at them as part of a static situation. But the mistakes are of form not of effectiveness. So the critique of the knife defense are erroneous IMO.
The movements demonstrated have been tested and are as effective as any other comparable movement.
The article is very well written and taught me a few things, I appreciate that very much.
 

Furtry

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Furtry said:
Disclaimer up front, I know the person who wrote the article and know the people pictured. The pictures actually show some mistakes from a Systema perspective if we were to only look at them as part of a static situation. But the mistakes are of form not of effectiveness. So the critique of the knife defense are erroneous IMO.
The movements demonstrated have been tested and are as effective as any other comparable movement.
The article is very well written and taught me a few things, I appreciate that very much.
After giving it some thought, I would like to add that it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of an art that one has no knowledge of through a few pictures.
Also after reading some of the posts by the kenpo practitioners regarding Systema I was reminded once again why I walked away from the traditional structured technique based MA's, such as kenpo and Karate in general. Their hubris for all things not parker kenpo is astounding.
 

psi_radar

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Furtry said:
After giving it some thought, I would like to add that it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of an art that one has no knowledge of through a few pictures.
Also after reading some of the posts by the kenpo practitioners regarding Systema I was reminded once again why I walked away from the traditional structured technique based MA's, such as kenpo and Karate in general. Their hubris for all things not parker kenpo is astounding.

I said so much on the KenpoNet, and recently posted something inflammatory enough that it was removed fairly quickly. The gist of it was, don't criticize something you know nothing about. Kenpo has never been a knife art, or an anti-knife art for that matter. Some may disagree, and if that is the case I'd be happy to argue them. If Robert (who will probably read this) wanted a fair rejoinder concerning this article, he should have posted it here, to Russian Martial Artists. Rather, he launched this anti-Systema attack on the Kenponet, in my opinion to discredit the art when he knows very little about it, and has experienced none of it.
 

Brian Jones

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Well sure you are going to see soem hubris amongst kenpoists. And aikidoists, and systema practioners. We all love and support what we do. That's why we do it. But be careful not to pidgeonhole every one by the remarks of a few.
I don't think Robert's remarks were to discredit systema. Although now that the thread has been deleated on Kenponet, that might be hard to prove. I do agree the heading was a bit inflammatory but I think that was done just to get people to read the thread. Not what i would have done, but so be it.
The question was, given what we beleive to be true regarding the principles and concepts of martial arts, how does systema work when it seems to violate those principles. It wasn't posted here, I assume, becuase you maynot know Kenpo principles and concepts. perhaps if there had been less "my dad can beat up your dad" and a little more explaining how it all works the original thread would still be there.

Brian Jones
 

NYCRonin

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Since I did not read the article mentioned, nor the commentary there; it is rather hard to explain 'how' Systema works -- particularly is comparing it to Kempo as practiced by the members of the site mentioned.

Perhaps specific questions might be posted, and the Systema practitioners here could try to give some info.
 

Klondike93

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NYCRonin said:
Since I did not read the article mentioned, nor the commentary there; it is rather hard to explain 'how' Systema works -- particularly is comparing it to Kempo as practiced by the members of the site mentioned.

Perhaps specific questions might be posted, and the Systema practitioners here could try to give some info.

wouldn't do any good, from what I read they'd already made up their minds that what was shown violated too many Kenpo rules to be effective :rolleyes:


:popcorn:
 
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Kenpodoc

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I tried to answer the question but I'm not really a systema guy. (I do respect Systema, however.) Most of the stuff is over on Kenpo net and I'd love it if some Systema guys mixed it up but it may not be worth your time.

Here's Robert's question:

To go back again to what I originally asked about and STILL haven't gotten an answer to, how exactly does it work to a) "catch," an attacker's knife hand with your forearm and chest; b) maintain a wrist -lock alone on an attacker who has a knife pointed directly up towards your armpit; c) deal with the attacker's probably reaction, which is to yank their arm back; d) prevent getting smacked in the head by their left, which is unchecked and completely out of contact?

How exactly does it work to keep a right knife-hand that is extended completely across your own body from cutting you when you punch the attacker in the head, given that a) you have NO lower case on them whatsoever; b) your own left arm is positioned UNDER the attacker's arm, palm DOWN, with no control of their elbow; c) your right hand is making a big, looping orbit to strike the attacker's temple?

How, exactly, does this work? Why? Apparently, asking the question has to be translated into some big attack on Systema and on people I've never met--even though in my first post on the topic and in almost every post since, I've mentioned that a) I liked the article, b) I admired many things about Systema training; c) I found a lot of common ground with kenpo concepts and principles in what I read.

I'm being stubborn about this because I don't see why the heck nobody seems able to offer a straightforward explanation. I can certainly--and I think most posters on Kenponet also can--take you in detail through a kenpo defense against a knife and discuss in some explicit, clear detail why it works or doesn't work, what the possible issues might be, what the basic principles are, etc. I don't have to fall back on saying, "Well, you just need to go work out with {insert BIG NAME here}, " rather than explain. So what's the big deal? I'd thought we were supposed to be discussing this sort of thing, rather than mystifying the hell out of martial arts...

Any help?

Jeff
 

Brian Jones

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Jeff:
Saw your reply on Kenponet. That is what I was talking about. It's always easier to say "Well I am not going to expalin it becuase you wouldn't listen any way." It's not about convincing someone that you are right and they are wrong. We are free to do what we want. Now maybe some systema folks will chime in and let us know if you hit the mark or not with your explaination.

Brian Jones
 

Brad S.

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As a 20 Year Kenpo student/teacher, a certified Systema instructor and colleague of Kevin Secours, author of the article in question, I am one of few people currently discussing this issue qualified to relate to everyone and possibly shed some light on this series of pictures as I am familiar with the principles of both arts.

I took a quick glance at what is causing this confusion and the defense seems self-evident. I am not sure how these Kenpo practitioners perform Glancing Salute but that is the exact same pin on the hand, using the forearm and chest that is in the picture.

So, as to how you keep the arm from coming out once it is trapped the answer is simple. A very simple experiment was done with monkeys who had to reach into a hole in which their hands could fit and grab a piece of food. Once they made a fist they could not pull their hand out unless they dropped the food. (poor monkeys got really frustrated and very hungry) The simple fact is that the arm gets really small toward the wrist and then big at the hand. I learned this basic principle in Kenpo 20 years ago when learning to seize a wrist. It worked then and it works now.

As to how to deal with the person who wants to pull his arm out, this is a What If Phase question and has no place in what people are calling the Ideal Phase in the pictures. These Phases-Ideal, What If and Formulation are Kenpo ideas. Systema has no Ideal Phase-it does not even speak the same language because nothing is ever repeated the exact same way twice. One simple answer is that a Systema practitioner would just move with the arm. This is so obvious to Systema people that the question seems a bit absurd to them.

How to prevent from getting smacked in the head. Here again is a fundamental difference in approach. Systema people dont prevent people from taking any action that they want to like punching with the other arm. Rather, they welcome it and use it against the person. They expect the person to keep moving and attacking in completely unpredictable ways until neutralized. Systema practitioners are trained to be fully aware, what Kenpo people call Black Dot Focus. They learn to be able to sense intention and movement from the least bit of body contact, and the better ones, without body contact. Changes in density and muscle tension are sensed to react to any further attacks.

This second group of questions is a bit unclear but looking at the pictures there is no way to transfer the wave-like motion that Kevin could not show in pictures. The wave creates the whip-like strike of the right arm as the left deals with the knife-arm. This happens all at once and would be better seen in real time on video or in person. Usually when done at full speed the knife is immediately dislodged.

By no lower case if the question is referring to the legs then this concept is absent in Systema for good reason. The lower body contact that is supposed to check action actually gives the attacker support. Support is a Systema principle that for our purposes you can just see as not holding the other person up or giving them something to work against. (There are, however, plenty of leg strikes and attacks to the legs in Systema as in Kenpo)

As for no control of the elbow Systema people dont really care about that because they work very well without worrying about what the elbow is doing. Just like they do not worry about trying to grab the thumb pad to do a disarm (oh yeah, I have had about 15 years in Escrima as well) and yet they disarm knives in plenty of other very effective ways.

As a lifelong teacher in other areas in addition to martial arts, there is a truism that all good teachers know. That is, the questions a person asks reveals his knowledge and experience levels. What this means is that a certain person will ask a question that another person with more experience would not ask. A certain question asked will show that a person has no experience with methods employed successfully by others.

Systema people take things for granted, such as the principle that every body part is taught to defend itself from any position at any time and that any defense flows out of that. Of course this takes training. Systema people also learned experientially, watching, having other advanced people work them over and experimenting for themselves. This is the same process that babies use to walk. It is a natural process to Systema people. It is for this reason that Systema people always encourage people with questions to seek out a teacher, not to be condescending, but because that is how we learn.

Systema people see others struggle with Systema all the time because they break the 4 Principles of Breathing, Relaxing, Moving and Keeping Form. These 4 Pillars always answer everyones questions, especially when they are understood in the context of self-defense. Systema people cannot tell you why something would not work in the future because everything is only in the present-what is happening now. They could tell you why something did not work in the past, however--because you failed to breathe, relax, move and/or keep your Form. Simple really. Systema is not hypothetical because no one was ever attacked by a concept, they are attacked right here, right now by this particular person just like you experience the rest of reality. (Yes, I have a philosophy degree and Systema lives and breathes the best of all the worlds philosophy).

I am sure that people may disagree with some of the explanations and that is cool. Systema people are too busy training to argue-actually arguing is not a Systema principle either.



P.S. I was the one who posted the recent post about hanging with Wheeler on Kenponet. I don't know why it was listed as "anonymous." I don't like that because I have nothing to hide.









 

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Well, Brad -- all I can say is 'Wow'!
Although Kenpodoc did write the 'questions' from the other site - having not seen the pix in the article, I was having quite a time picturing what the movements were. And since Kenpo is not in my background to any great extent -- I could never have formulated the answers you wrote above....you, Like Martin W.; are perhaps the only ones who have the shared Systema/Kenpo background that could have provided the total post above. I hope it answers the questions raised to the satisfaction of those that are of Kenpo community and have read Kevins article.

I enjoyed reading your post, and thank you for the time it took to write it. Eventually, I might also find Kevins article in my grubby lil mitts -- I think I will find that very interesting as well.

As I am very poor with names....comes with working with a few thousand people a year....or a by-product of age.....I ask myself if we have ever met? If we have, then I regret not insisting we take some time to share the work...and/or a cold one or three afterward. If I am lucky enough to have the pleasure of your company or Kevins, in the future; the first rounds on me!

On a slightly related note:
I fully understand why many martial students have a certain difficulty with trying to 'see' Systema through their understanding of their chosen art. In fact, I myself had alot of difficulty with this, in my early exposure to this art. I first saw Vlad on the old TRS tapes, many years ago -- and my first few viewings did bring out the reaction of 'This crap cant possibly really work'. It took an an actual attack from an inmate on Rikers to change my mind abit. For whatever reason, my body did an open hand strike I had only viewed on those tapes....and it was never really something I had ever practiced with a partner...the opleucha just 'did itself'. One strike, and the conflict was over...minimal damage done. Then, I found out that Vlad was doing his first NYC area seminar -- and I threw everything at him that I knew was reliable...including the kitchen sink! 30 plus years of training, almost 2 decades of 'action profession' experience - and VV didnt break a sweat. Handled it all with a smile on his face and a chuckle. (AND - I am not claiming I was one of those 'deadliest martial artists' at that time...but, I was fully capable of holding my own and then some).

This experience literally shook my previous 'knowledge' to its roots. I knew I was entering a strange new world...and never looked back.

Systemists are pretty much the 'odd man out' in the general N. American martial community -- by choice and inclination. Most of the best dont even visit web forums...even Vlads site might rarely receive a post from them. We Systemans know what we have....and although we do tend to be open and sharing....we really prefer to do so in real time. Overall, most of us dont care what the web thinks about the art -- we all have spent considerable time, money and effort to 'be there' -- and kinda expect the same commitment from those that are asking questions best answered face to face. Early in 2001, I led my first NYC Systema seminar -- rented a local dojo -- and worked with almost 20 interested folks from many arts and walks of life. I had such a good time, that I returned their training fees....so 'teaching' cost me a couple hundred $$$. I was so pleased with the experience of sharing this with others that I contacted the wife of my teacher (a truly wonderful person) -- and told her about this. After consideration, she mentioned an old proverb "Be careful when you give away something priceless, for some will mistake your gift as being something worthless". This has proven itself as truth over the last 4 years. Still, I made a commitment to be 'here' as this sites moderator -- and do receive 'give back' from doing so. It is my small way of returning the gift VV has given to me and so many others....others who made the effort to see for themselves.

Those that do have the desire to share on forums, particularly the older crew and certified guides; tend to be a rare bird. It takes alot of consideration to word a post -- almost as though one is trying to grasp the fistfull of water. Brad S. - your post above was just such a fistfull - at least to me. Very cool, and very refreshing as well.

First round is on me, Brad.
 
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Kenpodoc

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Brad,

Thanks for the excellent response.

The anonomous on Kenponet hap[pens to us all, but knew it was you.

Jeff
 

Brian Jones

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Thank you Brad:

That was a great post explaining the technique. I don't know about others, but that was all I was really looking for. I do think many Kenpoists do respect systema, especially when you have the likes of Kenpo people such as Lee Wedlake and Martin Wheeler vouch for it. The truth is, many of us haven't seen or experienced Systema, so in depth explainations such as yours really help.

Brian Jones
 

erich

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Brad - righteous.

I have met you, 2000 in Denver when you had long hair and last February at the excellent seminar you hosted in Longmont.

I apologize for not thinking of you when I referred the Kenpo fella to Martin in that other thread. You are obviously uniquely well qualified to comment on these areas.

Rob - Brad gets some good air-time in supplemental material of the new knife defense dvd. He appears separately with both Sonny and Alex. It is Brad's knife that Vlad puts through Sonny's sub-esophegial notch.

good stuff!
thanks
Eric
 
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rmcrobertson

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Thank you all for the discussion, which I hadn't known was here.

I remain interested in Systema; I remain respectful of what I've read about approaches to training. However, in much of this I don't see real differences from kenpo--why would I go study how to take advantage of my own more-or-less natural responses, like flinching, when I study an art whose oldest technique--"Intellectual Departure," relies on flinching naturally away from a kick?

I get the points about flow, about different approaches to strikes, etc.--and I certainly understand that there're people far more-advanced than myself--but nonetheless, there is some of what I'm reading that I am not buying.

Just one point--yes, if the attacker happens to be the kind of guy who won't let go, you're in trouble. But what if he ain't? What if he comes forward anyway? What if he yanks that arm back? What if he ducks and takes that pounch to the temple on top of his head? And that wrist-lock with the knife pointed up into your own armpit--I can think of six folks I have to train with, offhand, who will make you pay immediately for such an arrogance.

Yes, I understand that Systema folks just go on to the next thing. But what I find bothersome is that that "next thing," has a sort of assumption of invulnerability built into it--there're no checks, no "failsafe," components to the pictured reactions to attacks. Maybe Mr. Wheeler can make this work--but it looks too risky; it looks built on too many assumptions about what an attacker "must," do.

Kenpo, instead, goes with what das Clyde calls, "even if." With a sort of middle road approach that doesn't rely on everything going right every time, and doesn't require the perfection that can only come (if ever) a long way down the road...and kenpo argues (sorry to anthropomorphize) that even then, somebody really skilled will avoid having to be so all-fired perfect.

(And yes--I get the idea that this development of techniques and strategies is what the article calls for transcending.)

I have to add, too, that we all--let me repeat, we all--need to be a little careful about reasoning from authority, about magical thinking, about replacing analysis with slogans, etc.

Anyway, thank you all for the discussion. I'll certainly think about it--but when I get too decrepit for kenpo (sometime next week, it feels like today), I'm afraid I won't be going on to Systema. Good T'ai chi, if I can find it...
 

Jackal

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I just picked up the article, looked at the pictures in question and, in all honesty, am not sure what the fuss is about. The pictures just looked like a snapshot of opportunity. Man happened to be standing there - stab happened to be coming this way - man did what was quickest and most convenient given the relative positions of both people. I can understand the concern from the Kenpo perspective if the pictures were meant to illustrate a reproducible technique but they aren't. It's kind of like when people say "what if" about an event that has already occurred. There is no "what if", there is only "what happened".

Maybe I haven't read enough to understand what the confusion is about.
 

carmstrong

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Hey Robert,



Im a Kenpo guy, as you know (and a very green one at that). Ive only read about Systema and had a brief demonstration of some ideas while standing on a friends front porch and seen a ton of video clips that Ive downloaded from the web. And the thing I notice in all the clips is: These Systema guys never stop moving. They strike, parry all the while moving to a different orientation with their attacker.



So maybe the confusion comes from we, as Kenpoists, who will often do techniques wherein we may stand in one place and deliver several strikes before moving up the circle to deliver some more strikes. So, from a Kenpo perspective, we might interpret the picture with the overhead looping strike against the knife as something that is delivered from a (momentarily) fixed position and thus might be in danger of still being in that position to be struck by a recoiling arm.

However, in all the video clips I have of Systema guys working, they never stay in one place. Theyre continually moving (very much like in aikido techniques). I think this may have some bearing on a Kenpoists interpretation of a static, frozen-slice-of time, photograph of a dynamic Systema encounter.



Chris
 
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Clive

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Hey I just saw a picture of art(x) and now I'm gonna rubbish it because it tells me everything about that art. Next.

:iws:
 
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WillFightForBeer

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You guys are kidding, right?
Go train Kenpo. We'll do our thing.

-Ilya
 
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