Systema is a form of Russian Martial Artsthat is based on the principles of body mechanics, good movement, form and breathing.
It has its roots in the warrior life of loth century Russia and was passed down through geneiztions from teachers to students The following article traces the history of Systema to its modern form. Systema, or The System”, is a form of martial arts and self defense that gets its roots from the eady Bogatyr or Russian knights of loth century Russia.
The country had a long history of having to defend against invaders like the Vikings, Scythians and Mongols from every direction, so they had to adapt to protect themselves against the various weapons abilities and fighting styles of all these invaders. Battles took place in freezing winters and sweltering summers, and the enemyforces usually outnumbered the Russians. Therefore. the Russians’ unique combat skills developed with a mix of instinct, adaptability and versatility, and their moves were often deadly and effective against any type of invader.
At the time, there were no rules or rigid structures smith the only limitations being mom! ones. Combat was more about instinctive reactions and individual strengths, and warriors could leam the skills quicHy. The warriors were not just focused on the physical aspect of combat. By the loth century, Orthodox Christianity began to take root and some former warriors gave up their way oflife to establish monasteries where theytaught men and women the principles of spirituality. The warriors embraced the teachings and maintained a deep awareness of themselves and their way of life.
The Cossacks were highly trained in a related form of frontier military comb-at aS far back aS 948 A.D., but many Russian regons in those days could not afford to use them in their defense systems, so they relied on their OW11 Allagers’ martial skills to protect them. Because of this, the “System of Russian Martial Art” was developed, and warriors that were trained in it were highly sought after, not just in Russia but even bythe Roman Empire.
Once the Communists of the Soviet Union rose to power in 1917, only KGB bodyguards and Soviet Special Forces or “Spetsnaz” were allowed to practice the skill, while the rest of the country was banned from doing so, just as all non-sanctioned national tizditions were banned. Anyone caught practising Systema was severely punished. Instead, another form of combat called Sambo, which did not involve the use of weapons, was established. At this time, Systema seemed to have vanished from public life.
Joseph Stalin’s bodyguards were trained in Systema, and it was after his death that it became more prominently used along with a few other forms of military combat. It was exclusively employed bythe Spetsnaz in some high risk missions During Soviet rule, the Spetsnaz further developed the Systema combat skills of the early Russians by adding more weapon disarming, kicking, striking and submission moves to their arsenal. The skill became systemized based on advances in technology and sciences related to medicine, mechanics psychology, pathology, physics and geography. It was all about the various systems of the body and stages of life. This highly evolved form of martial arts is what is practised by Slavonic Systema followers today.
However, unlike other eastern martial arts fomls, iris difficult to find historical documents detailing the system. Skills were passed doval from teachers to students through the ages and the censorship during Communist rule meant that learning happened in private for manyyears.
The Spread of Systema It Was only after the fall of Communist rule in 1991 that Systema began to be knovol in the rest of the world along with other Russian heritages. Two ex-Russian army officers spread the word about Systema, and one of them, Mikhail Ryabko, was trained by one of Stalin’s bodyguards. Ryabko had a student, Vladimir Vasiliev, v,/ho eventually went to Canada and started the first Russian martial art school out of Russia.
Another blanch of Systema training can be traced to V.A Spiridonov and generations of instructors at the Moscow training facility, Dinamo, between t900and 1980. This style is closer to Sambo and other styles of national martial arts.
Systema is still relatively unknovol outside Russia, but it is being taught by several highly skilled practitioners both inside and outside of the country, with the training also including the philosophy behind it. Those familiar with other eastern martial art fomls will see how different Systema is in training methods and principles.