Originated in ancient Russia, it is a unique, diverse and complete way of self defense training and the way of life that makes one a Warrior. A true Warrior is skilled at defending himself and others, is healthy and powerful, capable of leading the battle in his own heart – and turn pride, aggression and fear into humility, courage and strength.
…2010 Austin, Texas. An experienced police officer developed a serious hand tremor while on his job. Every time he had to put handcuffs on a suspect, this officer’s hands would shake so much that his partner was convinced serious medical attention was needed. After some Systema training, the officer learned stress-related breathwork and relaxation and the tremor completely disappeared. The officer could proceed with his duties with new calmness and clarity. Grateful, he shared this with his Systema instructor.
…2001 Manhattan, New York. The day of 9.11. Full panic at a secondary school a few blocks away from the collapsing buildings. Students screaming and running aimlessly. An 18-year-old boy began to do Systema breathing that he learned in class. Suddenly, he calmed down, could see exactly where to go and how to calmly lead a few other students along with him to safety. Overwhelmed, he called our Systema Headquarters school in Toronto to share the details.
Examples such as these are numerous in Systema practice.
Called Systema, the Russian word for “the System”, for its complete and wholesome approach to a human being, this style of self defense and health training enhances every part of the body and spirit.
Our goal is NON-DESTRUCTION. Many martial arts claim that, but Systema is the only martial art known today that actually fulfills that goal both physically and psychologically.
Let’s briefly look at the physical aspect. In Systema, there are no strikes, kicks, blocks or throws that destroy the joints. When Systema students practice, biomechanically, the body is always positioned so that the joints and muscles are never twisted or overstressed, but always in their natural positions.
Dramatic high kicks, spins, splits and jumps from movie screens do not work in real fights and, in fact, do irreversible damage to the entire musculoskeletal system. All Systema moves are done by keeping every joint in its natural position and in balance with the rest of the body. Simple, subtle and, therefore, powerful.
Another fundamental aspect of Systema is BREATHWORK. Why is it essential? No matter how good someone is fighting in a gym, when a real confrontation happens, fear makes most people freeze for a moment–freeze physically and mentally. That moment is usually when the attacker takes control. The only sure thing that prevents fear from dominating us is breathing.
Systema students practice specialized breathing exercises and learn to maintain continuous and uninterrupted breathing no matter what they do. This continuous and adjustable breathing allows one to keep moving, thinking and, therefore, to survive. Moreover, it helps to restore oneself from the effects of stress or injury after the stressful episode.
Breathwork is done in every Systema class. These specialized exercises combine different breath patterns with muscle work and produce outstanding effects. Our respiratory system is directly connected with circulation while every blood vessel in turn is closely connected with nerve endings. Thus, breathwork has calming, stabilizing and healing effects on the entire nervous system.
In Systema classes, people of any age become calm, stable and strong individuals. If something unexpected happens, they do not panic or get angry or get traumatized by stress. If they need to act they are able to act swiftly, calmly and decisively; no needless damage to themselves or anyone around.
In Systema, there are no stances because any deliberate stance is an expression of fear. A stance makes the body prepared for only one direction of attack, it can be detrimental in case of multiple attackers or unexpected drawing of a weapon. Stance is a fixed pose and it makes the body rigid and tense, therefore, slows the effective reaction.
What Systema students learn instead is NATURAL AND SPONTANEOUS movement. Nothing is pre-rehearsed in our classes, just as in a real confrontation – no attack is pre-arranged. Students master the real freedom of movement; they are comfortable on the ground and standing, kneeling, rolling, running, striking and avoiding strikes on the move, drawing a weapon while falling, working with a limitation of using only one arm or one leg, and much more. They are ready for an unpredictable attack, apply instant divergent thinking and effortless movement to control the threat.
Another fundamental purpose of training in Systema is to AVOID TENSION – tension in the muscles, in internal organs and psychological tension. Every exercise or movement practiced in class is done with proper breathwork, at the right speed and in natural positioning. There is no pressure for the child to prove that he is the best and, therefore, no internal tension. Tension destroys effective self defense movements and completely destroys the person’s health physically and emotionally. We usually neglect to control tension in our lives, while in Systema this is a focal point. The results are amazing – at the end of class the students feel more energized; not wound up, but full of energy in a calm, peaceful and happy way.
There are unique practices in Systema training such as massage, relaxation techniques, gentle visceral pressures. Under close guidance and supervision of the instructors, students learn how to apply that to their partners and to themselves. This is the most valuable skill to acquire for a lifetime of health – it allows a person to heal the effects of stress, disease, injuries in himself and in others, and it doubles and triples the potential for any athletic activity, work and emotional stability.
Closely related to reducing tension, is yet another essential aspect of Systema: NON-AGGRESSION. Most disciplines talk about controlling aggression, but Systema goes deeper – it simply produces good-natured children. Let’s examine this serious issue. What causes aggression? The answer is fear. Aggression is our way to deny, compensate, hide and mask the fears inside.
Needless to say, aggression destroys the body and the psyche of a child and can also cause excessive damage to the opponent in a confrontation. Systema deals with the core – it helps children understand when, why and how fear sets in and they work with it directly. Systema students are not afraid to get hit because they know how to remove strikes from the body. They are not afraid to fall because they are comfortable with rolls and takedowns. They are not scared to make a mistake because they know how to learn from it. There is no fear of failure since there is no competitive pressure.
Systema training is one of the best ways to develop analytical skills. Through both play and serious work in class, each child is always analyzing the movements of his partners and of himself. Since there are no ready-made moves to memorize, a child is constantly evaluating his own strengths and weaknesses. He is faced with his biggest asset and challenge: himself. This undoubtedly is one of the most valuable skills to have in life. It provides young people with true confidence. We should be very careful when we emphasize confidence in our kids. So often it is based on praise, ranks, and a sense of being better than others. Such confidence would be fake and fragile. Only strength from within gives true confidence, founded on humility and on walking the right path.
Based on battle-tested skills of ancient and modern warriors, everything is practical in Systema. There are no uniforms because we do not walk around in uniforms on the streets. There are no memorizations of patterns because it just does not help in real confrontations. Natural and spontaneous movements keep the art alive and never boring. There are new movements and elements every single class. This always keeps the challenge and the interest going.
Psychological benefits of Systema are profound. There are no belts or ranks in Systema because these breed unhealthy competition and pride. We clearly do not wish for our children to focus on things that are superficial, vain and destructive. The non-competitive setting develops friendships, helpfulness, and shifts the focus of training towards building personal qualities, to attaining achievements that are not necessarily displayed, but are internal – such as overcoming impatience, laziness, envy, egotism. Prevailing over the unwanted traits builds the qualities that are permanent and real.
Systema offers specialized strengthening exercises that combine various speeds of movement with breathwork. These exercises are designed to align the body properly and to develop tremendous endurance. Moreover, these practices serve to teach young people to detect and remove negative emotions. They learn how to handle fear, irritation or self-pity in simple and reliable ways.
In 2007, Systema Founders Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev received a personal invitation to demonstrate and explain Russian Martial Art at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan. This presentation was a great success and Systema was stated to be “the most humane martial art of the modern times”.
In its very origin, Systema is structured to build individuals that will be healthy, active and skilled at self defense until their old age. Systema training creates very special young people. Due to the huge reserve of health, it is a guarantee that people who practice Systema seriously will not be a burden to society when they grow old. They will be able to react to stress and danger in a calm and professional way; they will know how to restore themselves from injury or disease; they will have strong families, good jobs and be a positive force in their communities. This is the ultimate goal of any solid education program for our youth. At our times of imposed realities and clicking buttons, more than ever we need a program that is non-commercialized, is real and complete, natural and alive – Systema is that program.