Systema Explained

Posted February 28, 2008 by celticsystema
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I’m asked many questions about Systema. How and Why does it work? How can you have a martial art without any forms? Why isn’t there any predesigned stances in Systema? etc etc..

So over the next few days I will be posting some questions I have been frequently asked, the answers will hopefully give you some background into this innovative and fascinating martial art that I love. First i’ll start with a very brief history of Systema.

Mark Winkler

What is Systema and how did it develop?      

Systema (or The System) is a Russian martial art whose origins go back to the 10th century. Records refer to it as early as 948 AD.Over the centuries Russia’s borders were breached by many different invaders and battles were fought in widely differing climates and terrains against enemies with very different combat systems. To overcome the invaders Russians had to develop a fighting system which was flexible and could be easily adapted to different battle conditions. The techniques which eventually formed the basis of Systema were often preserved in Russian Orthodox monasteries. (Thus it developed dual aspects of both martial and spiritual traditions, similar in some ways to Ueshiba’s Aikido.)    

When the Communists came to power following the October Revolution of 1917 many cultural treasures, including the Russian martial arts were banned and combat methods only taught to elite troops.     

With the advent of the Cold War the teaching of the combat techniques of Systema were confined to Special Forces such as Spetsnaz (the Russian equivalent of the SAS.), the KGB and bodyguards protecting senior communist leaders.  Following Perestroika, knowledge of these techniques has gradually spread to the West, and although Systema training groups have spread through Europe and the USA, as a martial art it is, at this point in time, nowhere near as well known as the traditional Japanese, Chinese and Korean martial arts.      

An alternative view of the development of Systema is that it was the result of intensive research and development carried out by several generations of unarmed combat instructors at The Dinamo Training Institute in Moscow, who between 1920 and 1980, sent instructors to many eastern and western countries to study the most effective combat techniques which were then synthesized into what now forms the basis of Systema.

If you would like to find out more about Systema and the Systema classes I run please click here! There are quite a few video’s i’ve put up for people watch. Vladamir Vasiliev website is also a good source of information

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 Are there different types of Systema?

Currently, the two branches of Systema that have found their way to the West are;

      (1)  Systema based on the teachings of Michail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev.

Michail Ryabko began his training in Systema with an “uncle” who was a member of “Stalin’s Falcons” (his private bodyguard) at the age of five. He subsequently underwent military training, taking part in special operations at the age of fifteen. He currently works with counter terrorist and hostage rescue teams and is an advisor to The Ministry of Justice with the rank of General.

Vladimir Vasiliev served as a member of The Special Operations Unit and as an instructor in close quarter combat for Spetsnaz, the KGB and Swat teams. He emigrated to Canada in 1991 where he set up a school to teach Systema in Toronto. He has produced numerous videos/DVDs, and travels extensively giving seminars in Europe and the USA.

      (2)  Systema based on the teaching of Aleksey Kadochnikov.

This is a more military based Systema and concentrates more on biomechanical principles of leverage, etc. Kadochnikov teaches mainly in Russia but has also traveled abroad to conduct seminars often accompanied by his son.

 How does it differ from other martial arts?

If you had some previous knowledge of Japanese/Chinese martial arts and you were to watch someone like Michail or Vladimir demonstrating their skills in Systema, you would not immediately find it an easy task to say which martial art it most closely resembled.Techniques often seem idiosyncratic and have a novel, often unexpected feel to them. Sometimes they are so subtle that very little seems to have happened, yet the opponent is overcome.

Some have likened it to a form of “Russian Aikido”, in that attacks are never directly opposed head-on, but rather the Systema practitioner goes with the attack and leads the opponent. Also, breath control, as in some styles of Aikido, is an important component in the practice of Systema.

Others will see elements of Wing Chun, Ju-Jitsu or Ninjitsu in some of the techniques, again reflecting the diverse origins of this art.

Whilst there are no flashy techniques such as high kicks or large throws, Systema techniques often possess a surprising subtlety which makes it look as though very little has actually been done. However the system is also capable of generating powerful and unpredictable strikes, rotations, leverages, manipulations and misdirections.