by Catherine Marien for © 2009-2010.


Systema (Система in Russian) is a realistic combat style of Russian origin. Systema, literally "The System" stands for the interconnection of elements, like the fingers of a hand or soldiers in a battle, engaging the body and mind to further a persons ability in all aspects of life. While it primarily designed as a self-defense and survival system, training is also meant to stimulate awareness, confrontation and mental control.

Because it
is designed to be highly adaptive and practical in real life situations, it has no set stances or kata. The trainer will show ideas or solutions in reality-based scenarios rather than fixed techniques. It is often advertised as being a martial art employed by some Russian Spetsnaz units.

Systema vs. Asian martial arts

Systema is very accessible even for people who are not familiar with martial arts or who are physically not prepared (children, disabled persons, elderly, man and woman alike). Unlike many Asian styles, Systema has no predetermined fighting stances or kata, but trains you to defend yourself against attackers from any position.

Systema is not a compilation of various martial art styles. It is an original self defense and fighting system based on a unique use of the body for defense and attack by
controlling the six body levers (elbows, neck, knees, waist, ankles, and shoulders) through pressure point application, striking and the use of weapons. The techniques involve a unique, high speed, elliptical open-hand striking system, kicks, and ground fighting techniques.

Apart from the highly effective self defense techniques, including the use and disarming of weapons, Systema also covers the use of improvised weapons (umbrellas, credit cards, magazines), as well as defending onself in situations not usually covered in other martial arts such as defending oneself from a seated possition, for example from a chair in an office or while in a car. Unlike many other martial arts Systema has also defined more gentle and non-threatening techniques for situations that do not require ultimate force, for example to control drunken guests or over-zealous colleagues at a party.

Similarly to Krav Maga, Systema can be learned in a short period of time. Unlike the Asian martial arts, there is no special sport setting or material required, no uniforms or belts, no rituals or formalities. The risk of injury is very low because teaching is based on simple mechanics that can be learned by everyone.

The main purpose of Systema is to survice, whichever the situation, setting or circumstances. That's why The System also teaches how to save oneself when injured, turning common items in your surrounding into highly effective tools of protection. Systema does not have the sport component of answering force with force, but teaches you how to find rational solutions to make the opponent put himself out of action.

The History of Systema

Systema is believed to have been developed by the early Cossacks, a highly trained paramilitary society, more than a thousand years ago. Given the extreme climatic and geographical conditions and the successive waves of invaders the Russian warriors acquired a style that combined strong spirit, adaptability with extremely versatile and practical tactics, and effective against any type of enemy under any circumstances. After the October Revolution, the fighting system was further developed by the elite units of the Soviet Special Forces, and became known as Spetsnaz. These groups had unique training and capabilities for working on the highest risk missions within KGB, and other government agencies. With the end of the Communist era, these martial traditions and styles have become available to the West. Vladimir Vasiliev was the first Russian to start teaching the System in the West.

The term is derived from the Russian term Systema Rukopashnii Boi or System of Hand-to-Hand Combat. In the West it has become synonymous with Systema Boyevogo Iskustvo or Russian System of Martial Arts, or short Russian Martial Arts.

The Systema Philosophy

The study and practice of Systema discipline involves a complete system of physical, spiritual and intellectual skills, conditioning and coordination, breathing techniques and endurance in the face of all forms of adversity, including when injured. It disciplines its students to relax while striking, rather than focus to generate maximum power, allowing you to strike at unusual and unexpected angles (compare: Wing Chun), to smile in combat rather than adopt a fierce expression or announce your intentions with a devastating yell. There are no fixed training patterns or combinations of movements, all training is based on the psychology of a confrontation, body language interpretation and the reality that unexpected things happen in combat. The central idea is to survice, not necessarily to expose yourself in an open combat. Your worst ennemies are not your opponents, but fear, tension and shame.

Systema Schools

North America
Systema Columbus (Columbus, Ohio)
Systema Spetsnaz (North Hollywood, California)
Mid-Atlantic Systema (Princeton, New Jersey
Russian Martial Art Toronto School (Canada, Toronto)

London School of Systema (London)
Cutting Edge Systema Academy (Cambridgeshire, Hardwick, )

Melbourne Systema
Systema Australia (multiple locations)

Systema Schule Bern (Switzerland, Bern)
Systema Akademie Augsburg (Germany, Augsburg)
Systema Belgium (Belgium, Kortrijk)
Russian Martial Art Denmark (Denmark, Esb)
Russian Martial Art Finland (Finland, Helsinki)
Systema Norway (Norway, Notteroy)
Systema Spain (Spain, Allicante)
Russian Martial Art Italy (Italy, Reggio Emilia)

South America
Systema Brazil (various locations)

Close Quarter Combat International Alliance (South Africa, Jo'burg)

External links:
Russian martial arts © 2009-2010. All rights reserved.
Photos ©  Gregory Brophy (hand wraps); Gerville Hall (TaeKwonDo girl);
Lucian (Karate fight). Upper left photo © Gerville Hall. Ninja © Gerville Hall. Reproduction strictly prohibited.
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