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Systema ( Russian : Система, “The System”) is a Russian martial art . It is designed to be highly adaptive and practical, training using drills and sparring instead of set kata . It focuses mainly on the six body levers (elbows, neck, knees, waist, ankles, and shoulders), while also teaching pressure point application and takedowns. Systema is often advertised as being a martial art employed by some Russian Spetsnaz units.

A brief history of Systema

There is no historical “real name” for these arts. In many cases, it’s common to simply see “Russian martial arts” used, although that can lead to some confusion. In a sense, the name “Systema” (the system) can be thought of as a generic title comparable to ” Kung Fu ” (“one who is highly skilled” or “time” and “effort”).

At least in Mikhail Ryabko ‘s Systema , “The System” is a reference to the various systems of the body ( Muscle , Nervous system , respiratory system , etc) as well as elements of Psychology and the Spirit .

Because there have been and still are a number of different fighting styles common throughout the Russian military and special forces, like Alpha, GRU, Vympel, several other names and nicknames are commonly mistaken for Systema. For example, some troops and special forces personnel train in “boevoe sambo” (combat sambo ), which is a separate art. Also, troops would refer to whatever was taught as “rukopashka” ( Russian slang for “hand to hand”), or “machalka” or “boinia” (Russian slang for “fighting” and “beating”). The name “Combat Sambo Spetsnaz ” was coined by the Soviet government to misdirect Systema’s relation to Sambo , and there is little relation between the two styles.

Joseph Stalin ‘s personal bodyguards were practitioners of Systema . Ryabko’s “uncle” was one of those bodyguards and was his first instructor in Systema. After Stalin’s death, Systema became the style of fighting employed by some Special Military Operations Units for high risk missions in Spetsnaz , GRU and other government facilities . There were and are a number of different combat arts trained throughout Russian special forces units other than Systema. It is due to the Soviet Union ‘s strict ban on non-sanctioned traditions, and the sensitivity of special forces training, that it was not until after the cold war that Systema became known. Systema’s pre-Soviet Russian heritage is only recently being rediscovered.

Some practitioners claim that Systema’s Russian martial arts heritage dates back to the 10th century and was practiced by the Bogatyr ( Russian heros / knights ) .

Another theory claims that modern Systema is one product of the intensive research and development project carried out by several generations of hand to hand combat instructors at the Dinamo training facility in Moscow between roughly 1920-1980 . If so, that would place Systema in the same stream of military close-combat training as combat SAMBO and related styles.

It has been claimed that one or both of Ryabko and his student Vlad Vasiliev created the art based upon their experiences.

It is likely that the roots of Systema are lost in ancient and family arts, changed by military and contemporary needs and rediscovered and adapted by each instructor and practitioner.

Contemporary Systema

Systema is counted alongside a number of pre- Soviet traditions which are being actively cultivated by the Russian government. In 2004, the Dinamo Sports Center played host to a demonstration and celebration of martial traditions.

It is still a relative unknown, but Systema or relatives to it are being taught by several practitioners inside and outside of Russia. Of particular interest is that different people from different backgrounds were taught subtle variations of Systema.

Furthermore, since practitioners train in their own preferred manner and with their individual understanding, their style expressed in their art is unique to them. This is most readily seen with senior students and other high-level artists.


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