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Systema: Unified Theory


Systema: Unified Theory
Original Poster: Wilhelm von Wänkensteïn
Forum: Russian Martial Arts
Posted On: 15-08-2004, 23:47

Orginal Post: Wilhelm von Wänkensteïn: Any Systema practitioners out there? dcohen? I was wondering if you could explain more to me about the unified theory of systema, especially with regards to groundfighting being looked upon as standup with altered gravity. This is a concept that intrigues me and I would definitely like to research more into it.

Post: dcohen:

Sure! I’ll have time to write something this weekend, we’ll see what I can pull out of the gray matter upstairs.


Post: Wilhelm von Wänkensteïn:

Thanks Dave!>

Post: EvilScott:

Unified Field Theory?

Is Systema physics based? Is this something Steven Hawking invented? :mrgreen:

j/k btw im kinda drunk>

Post: Gong||Jau:

Scott, you’re quite the post whore while inebriated :wink:>

Post: EvilScott:

Post whore? Phah!

I was making valuable contributions last night.>

Post: Gong||Jau:

That’s ok, I’ve done the same thing – hence the avatar :mrgreen:>

Post: dcohen:


The question “what is Systema” has been asked of me over and over again, and frankly I don’t
think that there is any good official description of what exactly it is. But because of my
unconquerable stubbornness, and a few requests, I’ll write what I know so far. I won’t get into the history of the art because frankly I don’t care, it wouldn’t matter to me if it was handed down by aliens that were big green blobs from mars. The fact is that it works. It works for me, it’s worked for people I know. I’ve
come out of a 1-on-3 fight where the 3 definitely had the intention of putting me into a hospital, were waiting for me a few yards from my house, and decided to attempt to beat me to a pulp. People I regularly train with have used it to take knives from people who were about to start gutting them, to disarm guns which were about to blow a bullet through their heads, and to relax in situations (such as motorcycle accidents) where it saved their life.

To be frank for one last time (and I promise that’s the last), it works, and I don’t care what other
people say about it. This article is being written purely for the development of my understanding and to help out others who are seeking knowledge about the art while I’m at it. Bottom line – blind faith is bad. Go try it for yourself.


Systema is an art that is based on, and therefore relies on, natural movement. Natural movement is what everyone is born with, a good chunk of which is simply forgotten when the topic of “martial systems” comes up. I say this because I’ve observed people suddenly becoming
stiff, inefficient, and generally stupid from a logical point of view when combat, whatever type,
starts. What causes this shift in “what reality is?” I honestly don’t know…it makes NO sense,
even to me, who has been part of the McDojo martial arts crowd in the past, and who has accepted
lies without further inquiry or doubt. I was getting out of fights from a pretty young age on, my
first “fight” being halfway though the second grade. Sometime during the fifth grade, I started
taking martial arts – lo and behold, my fighting actually got worse. I felt like a sitting duck
when a situation turned violent, and found it nearly impossible to revert back to that ‘natural
movement,’ unless I was in the direst of circumstances, where I honestly thought I was going to
die. Which barely ever happened (usually I was quite wrong about being close to death). So, for
getting rid of this “sitting duck” feeling alone, I owe Systema quite a few bones and tendons, if
not my life.

Natural movement, which by default is the easiest and most efficient way to move, does not
work on a linear plane in human beings. Ask yourself, why do tired/drunk/injured people who
have little energy to spare for dealing with their opponents throw supposedly ‘wild’ haymakers?
They’re easy to throw, have the benefit of tending to move around tunnel vision that results from untrained (or trained)
individuals fighting under the influence of massive adrenaline dumps, drugs, or alcohol…oh,
and they give your brain quite a bump when they actually hit you. Haymakers are a very simple
and obvious form of natural movement. There is very little joint adjustment compared to a
linear strike, and the resulting loss of raw power is therefore prevented. Not quite all I’d be
using in a fight, but haymakers happen to make a great example. As with anything, excelling at movement is a skill that can be learned, built, and improved like anything else. The higher types of natural
movement utilize ‘gear’ action instead of levers or muscled forcing. They move
on three-dimensional, elliptical planes, which is something that the human body’s muscular
system cannot resist against.

So apart from letting you find your way back to natural movement and in the process learning a
good deal about useful martial anatomy, what is Systema all about? To quote my teacher,

“Rather than trying to impose a new movement pattern on students, we have them reawaken,
and take advantage of their natural reflexes…In accord with this naturalness, Systema conforms
to the individual, rather than asking the individual to conform to it. This allows people with
differing abilities, and what some would call disabilities, to excel. The individual develops
movement and technique which is not only suited to their apparent deficiencies, but stronger
because of them!”

No two people move the same way. The way someone moves is, in my experience, less
dependent on body type, and MUCH more dependent on personality, talents, and past
psychological trauma (in the case of people who have been seriously injured or psychologically
crushed in a fight or in combat before). Therefore, I, at 6’1″, 188 pounds, move quite a bit
differently than one of my female classmates, who is 5’6″ and weighs CONSIDERABLY less than I do.


The art is based around four core principles – (Constant) Movement, Breathing, Relaxation, and

Constant (yet not predictable) movement implies many things, the better you get, the more it
means. At its most basic, it means that standing still in a fight is never good. Then, it can
evolve into ‘always have movement, whether it’s internal or external’ so you can strike from any
body position because you’re already in motion. In addition, this implies that it’s good to make
your movement elliptical, so you never get to the ‘end’ of a strike or step. If you strike someone
with your hand for example, after you hit, fold your elbow in and strike with that, then rake
down the back of your hand to keep it going. This is also good if you hit obstacles such as hard blocks or someone trying hard to resist – a built-in
backup plan. There’s more but it’s for figuring out.

Breathing is important for more than the obvious reasons. Breathing right helps prevent an
adrenaline dump, though personally I’m only at the point of delaying the dump until after the
fight. Still, massively ahead of where I was a few months back. In addition, an interesting
instinct that humans have is to subconciously match what they hear. If you breathe in loudly in
the middle of someone’s commited strike, there’s a good chance that they will start breathing in
hard as well. Interesting to play around with, and there are myriads of practical applications for
it. Also, important for recovery from or resilience through pain. Next time you get the ‘wind
knocked out of you,’ try closing your mouth, standing up straight and taking a big breath in
through your nose. That not only stops your diaphragm from spasming (which trying to breathe
through the mouth only makes worse), it “resets” those muscles and allows the pain to
ultimately relax them instead of breaking them in their tense and vulnerable state.

Relaxation…well, it’s the reason it’s so hard to put joint locks on drunk people to escort them ;). It’s metaphors
are some of the most important concepts of the art that I know of – going with the flow/around
resistance, instead of fighting it with more resistance. When someone starts to wrestle you
down, give them a little resistance and then suddenly take it away. VERY practical, whether
you’re sparring or in a real situation. Relaxation prevents/lessens tunnel vision, allows strikes
and other manipulations to do less damage to you, and results in less energy being expended in
unnecessary places.

Form – last in this description but just as important as the others. Form simply refers to a
straight spine, shoulders back, hips slightly tucked, head straight forward (no chin tucking, this
breaks your form and creates tension in the neck and down the spinal muscles), hands at your
sides, and knees slightly bent. “Good Form” allows your body to use your skeletal system to its
full advantage, and places the least stress on your muscles. Also it makes it much easier to
transfer power through your body, no matter what the intent of the motion (striking, moving
around, drawing your weapon, etc).

It’s important to see how these ‘four pillars’ all play into themselves, i.e. – good FORM (not
being bent over) allows your lungs to work properly (breathing), your muscles to be as relaxed
as possible (relaxation), and your movement as efficient and unpredictable as possible
(movement). Good BREATHING allows for properly initiated movement, muscular relaxation,
and balances out your form if you need it. Movement and relaxation equally play into all the


Because there are no prearranged attacks or responses, there is no unnecessary, universal
point-A-to-point-B movement or false confidence in “the most efficient way to do everything”
instilled. Sometimes, it is quickest, most efficient, most effective, and easiest to muscle/force
something to happen. This is the case in very few instances, of course, but it still exists and
those who get locked down in any extreme mindset will inevitably be wrong in some instances.
Adaptability is key. Back to basics, however – if you get out of the way of an attack by whipping
the targeted part of your body back and catching up with your legs in order to escape when you
are unexpectedly charged with a blade, your ‘most efficient movement’ will be quite different
from someone who throws both arms forward with his ‘protect the eyes/head’ instinct and
crouches down. The System conforms to you, individually. All movement, including movement with the intent to become something offensive, will somehow
have defense incorporated into it. This, of course, spawns the much-asked, and equally often-
answered question of “if it’s only defensive, how can I attack preemptively if I see the need to do
that? If a few high-level Spetsnaz and KGB units used the System, wouldn’t there be a need for
purely offensive movement within? *scoff*” This, if course is true – though the way we see it,
movement is movement – the intent behind it is irrelevant to the actual movement through
space. An example, because this concept was quite hard for me to grasp at first – I came from a
quite short martial arts background that had still painted a big, fat line between ‘offense’ and
‘defense’ in my mind.

For the sake of the analogy, imagine a hard karate block in response to some kind of attack.
The arms of the attacker and defender make an X in the air between their bodies…freeze time.
Got that? Now, tell me – who attacked? Can you honestly look at that frozen-in-time X and tell
me who attacked? No! If you throw a punch and it’s intercepted, just “defend” around whatever
is preventing it from getting to its target by rolling and rotating around your point of contact,
while still keeping it constant – it doesn’t matter that you ‘attacked.’ Your inertia, the inertia of
your opponent, your combined center of gravity, your point of contact – it’s the same in relation
to itself, no matter who actually initiated the movement.

Make sense? Perhaps a different point of view, but I find it infinitely more applicable and
efficient than anything else I’ve encountered.


As for how we actually train, this varies, though training from a ‘disadvantage’ is essential and
incorporated into pretty much everything we do. If you can start defending yourself from a
lying position, after being tackled, or with the wind knocked out of you, or with a knife to your
throat, or while being picked up in a bear hug with no ground contact while two people run
towards you with knives…well, then the “one on one, standup sparring” BS that so many
unfortunate people think is what a real fight is like, is essentially child’s play to deal with from a
psychological/physical standpoint. Since we train against weapons such as knives (training and
real), guns (blue guns, Airsoft guns, or BB guns, depending on your level of skill and
preference), and other weapons, individual movement has to be modular. If the way you defend
against someone pushing into you with hard punches is different from your initial movement
against a knife…well, when that small blade comes out and you don’t have a chance to see it
before it’s coming for your throat, then you are, so to speak, up shit creek without a paddle.

Another facet of this modular outlook is expressed in the fact that you can use a given
movement to do different things according to the situation and your place in it (assume that you
face the exact same attack twice…which is pretty unlikely). For example, you could use this
given movement to initially attach to the opponent, then snap his neck, let him accidentally hit
your knee with his face on the way down, and move on to complete your given objective while
hoping not to exchange noisy gunfire with anyone. The same movement could then be minutely
modified as you see fit (we have no ‘moves,’ nothing is assured or predictable in a fight and
therefore you simply work with what you have, and don’t try to set anything up), to put the same
attacker down in an arrest situation with the barrel of your gun, proning them and securing
their hands with your cuffs. Or, if you’re a bodyguard, you could use the exact same basic
movement to painlessly and quickly drop a client without wasted time while you pull your
weapon and protect the person who is now safe on the ground. It’s up to you. The principles
stay, the applications differ. This is, in my opinion, an important reason why we have such a
large percentage of police, security personnel, exec protection, and military practitioners.

Part of our training work is the “Slow Sparring Game.” Basically it’s nice for newbies who aren’t
used to anything but Gi and sparring gear. The game is sort of a slowed-down version of
sparring that still simulates real physics while being slow enough to let the practitioners get out
of bad habits, while going just fast enough to present a moderate challenge. After a few
months, you’re of course doing it at 5 times the speed you started out as, which is about 70 or
so per cent the speed of a real fight. Practitioners can quickly progress to full speed sparring this way, and additional training then comes from moving slower than your opponent (who is still moving at full speed).

There is full speed work right from the beginning, but only as much as the student can take. A good idea is to videotape this “before” full-speed work, and after a few months of slow sparring game, comparing it to another full-on sparring session.

Two reasons nobody usually gets hurt – We start blow absorbtion work right from the
beginning, taking light hits and getting used to relaxing and letting them move us, even if
everything else is stressed out and going to hell. The other reason is that much of the actual
“punches” are designed to hurt people as a second objective, and move them as the primary
focus. Once you’ve let someone manipulate themselves into the position you need to end the
fight, it doesn’t matter if they were bouncing off of your knees, elbows, hands, and shoulders on
the way there. If you can end a fight with slip, push, push, SNAP, then that’s preferable to just
whaling on whatever body part you can get your fist on while trying to get yourself even more
angry. I’m not attacking that agressive mindset, but for the people that used and modified this
system around in Russia (and for me as well, I’m finding), a calm look at the fight while
manipulating bodies is preferable to destroying things with a blind rage. Still – a 25% power
Systema punch from my teacher is without a doubt harder than anything I’ve ever, ever, ever
been hit with in a real fight. The boxers we train with tend to think so as well (a good
percentage of them come through to learn our striking, which I suppose is powerful with a glove
as well). And I have taken a good amount of ‘losses’ and beatings that probably felt worse than
they were because of their psychologically devastating value (“I’m not superman – wait…maybe I
can never be good at this”). About our punches, though -I have gone into relative detail in
other posts, but it might be better to just find a class near you and ask for a punch. Punches
are free, last time I checked, and so is watching a class (even though you might want to

During the flow drills/Slow Sparring Game, things such as punches that would crush the
windpipe or manipulations that would break fingers or knees, are only trained as pushes. Hard,
nonetheless, but still we don’t kill each other in training. Same with neckbreaks and dropping
someone with their spine onto your knee if you’re going to the ground. Sometimes it is also
better in real life when you don’t kill the first guy who tackles you from behind by breaking his
head off or crushing his vertebra. For all you know, it may be your girlfriend.

Most of us have used this stuff in real fights (not to mention that most of us come from or still participate in SOU training,
Arnis, AMOK!, Krav Maga, Escrima, Silat, Kali, Wrestling, Wing Chun, boxing, and some other
pretty effective systems that have also been deployed by the practitioner in real altercations).
In these real situations, the pushes turn into punches and the neckbreaks are for real. Although I haven’t lately
had to snap anyone’s spine in twine to neutralize a violent threat…

The people who’ve been doing it for a little more than a year or so train with BB pistols, live
blades, simulated clients or children they have to protect and drop without hurting if there is a gun
threat, the whole deal.

All in all, this is a basic outline of the principles the System employs. Yes, some of us love groundwork,
we sometimes kick, we sometimes use our knees, our elbows, our chest, our back, the inside of
our elbows, forearms, fists, hips, etc to strike. We fight against conventional weapons and learn
to turn ordinary items that most people carry on them every day into weapons. Pens, umbrellas,
clothing, credit cards, hair clips, change, briefcases, etc. We do water-fighting seminars where
the power generation principles that many people are used to simply doesn’t work anymore.


No two classes are the same, rather, the instructor tailors it to what students need at the
moment. Usually you’ll see ‘rotations’ every few weeks – i.e. – a little gun work for two or three
weeks, connected with how the movement relates to empty hand work, knife work, fight/
combat psychology, etc.

At my club, each class is scheduled to be two hours long, though we go over most of the time.
We’ll come in, do some excersises (slow squats, 30-second pushups, slow situps, etc) to get
into the mindset. Sometimes we’ll start mass grab/choke/punch drills to get moving, but most
of the time there are no stretches or warmups as such, the reasoning being that in a real fight,
you will not have time to stretch, be warmed up, etc. Fighting ‘cold’ is an important thing to
experience and train.

After we have all stopped chatting and screwing around, working on small unrelated things,
we’ll get into the theme of the class. It’s up to the students to figure out what it is, as the
instructor is seen more as a “guide” than a ‘boss.’ It is important to figure everything out for
yourself, because discovery is a great way to understand things. It also drastically adds to retention time. The drills we use are all
designed to uncover whatever the student needs to uncover, and to spark the applied learning
process. The same underlying theme is, throughout the class, applied to different kinds of
work. We’ll start with empty hand or knife, for example, then move to pistol work, folding chair
work, soda can work, etc, whatever we want to translate it into. People are encouraged to ask
questions or attempt to prove something else when they don’t understand why something works. The people who come through training
for competition ask how you can modify it for the ring, the people who are police officers want
to see it adapted to police guidelines/situations, etc.

The key is to know what the underlying ‘thing that makes it work’ is. Then you can go and apply
that idea to any kind of combat.

The class usually finishes up with some more fun movement drills, maybe the same drill that
was started with, so students can see how they improved on it. Also, this is a great time for
mass attacks/mosh pit type fun. To end class, we sit down in a circle and each person
(including the teacher) puts one positive thing into words, describes how it helped him/her, how
their understanding of things changed because of the work done in class, ideas and analogies
they liked, etc. This helps manifest a deeper understanding of the principles by getting them
from an idea into words, and by calling other students’ attention to something they might have
missed or forgotten.

Then we ‘roll out’ backwards as silently as possible, get up, get our shoes on, chat for a while,
and leave.


Try it. See if you like it. Talk with the instructor and throw what you have previously learned
about fighting at him after class. Perhaps (with his agreement, of course) attack him with
a friend or two if you don’t believe multiple attackers can be quite simple (though a bit harder
than it looks). I’ve never seen my teacher turn down such a request, as a matter of fact he
encourages it. After having your ass handed to you repeatedly, it becomes a lot easier to trust
your teacher’s advice and cease cynicism. Someone who follows blindly and never
understands WHY the stuff he does works, will never become as good as he can be. In the end it
is all up to you.

Don’t take this as a cheap shot at converting you to my art, I’m simply doing my best to explain
with my limited knowlege. I hope this offering helps those on the path of knowledge and
eventually action. Comments are welcome. I realize that many people are skeptical, and you
can read as much as you want and watch as many videos as there are – the only way to truly,
without a doubt find out if it actually works against everything you have to offer or train for is to visit a
teacher and ask to do some work with him.

-David Cohen>

Post: dcohen:

If any of you are interested, I could write a small thing (I promise it will be smaller than the previous thing) on how we like to generate and apply power. It really boils down to the fact that the higher level systema is an internal art…its power comes from relaxing things into your opponent instead of tensing them for a small, pinpointed impact.


Post: FHATODude:

yeah i’d like to see how a systema straight punch or hook punch works as opposed to that of other styles.>

Post: confusingDot:

hey, i read taht you said that no moves are pre arranged before it happens… so does this mean, you don’t look at how someone else fights, and try to see how to get around it… how ot modify your style to thier style for it to be the msot effective?>

Post: Wilhelm von Wänkensteïn:

Thanks for the primer, Dave! Systema is very interesting and, while I may never pick it up as a whole package (don’t know for sure yet – someday, my next-door neighbour might turn out to be a an ex-Spetnsnaz CQB instructor, so who knows? :mrgreen: ), I certainly would like to research into the principles behind the system (System?) and see how they can be applied to other arts.

Please do go ahead with the write-up – I’m eager to know more :mrgreen:>

Post: Umy:

Great thread bro!

As a boxer I would also be interested in seeing how you generate and apply power in systema. Especially for punches, maybe it may benefit my game, who knows :roll:>

Post: CreativeFighter:

[quote=Hammerhead (don’t know for sure yet – someday, my next-door neighbour might turn out to be a an ex-Spetnsnaz CQB instructor, so who knows? :mrgreen: ), [/quote 

I have an interesting story to go along with this…..

I became interested in Sytema a while ago, and started doing some research. I talked to Dave’s instructor and he gave me the name of a R.O.S.S. (very similar Russian Martial Art) in my area. Turns out it’s my old camp counselor 😆

Now I train R.O.S.S. and I go up to NYC/NC every once in a while for seminars on Systema. Its a great art, I love it.

An interesting sidenote: They have a variation of the one inch punch called the “no inch punch”. The way my instructor does it is to put his fist up to your chest and isolate his left side in a wave movement starting from the shoulder and ending with a sudden explosion knocking you backwards, much farther than a “one inch punch” has.>

Post: Blade:

Very nice article, its funny to see many things shared by wingchun and systema.>

Post: CreativeFighter:

Ehh….not so much shared. Trust me, for one thing, Systema is nothing like you’ve ever seen before. The movement looks unnatural, when in fact, it is very natural. At first you sit there and think “what the hell is this” and then you get hit by it and there’s a lightbulb moment: you finally understand.

People can relate between Systema and their other arts, but they are rarely anything alike. Movement, strikes, everything is…..unique….

Get hit by a Systema punch…’s VERY interesting. It goes behind the muscle….It could very well be considered an internal art.>

Post: dcohen:

Well, as far as being an internal art – I think the higher level stuff IS. Lower-level, “i need to learn how to fight RIGHT NOW IN THE NEXT WEEK,” is more similar to many other arts, utilizing lever and lots of wave movement. Levers and powerful waves, though, are exploitable, of course, so the more a student learns, the more they figure out ways to minimize that kind of movement. After a while of training, you’ll see a student usually sticking with unpredictable tension-release footwork combined with small, nasty waves and power generated by tissue compression and bounceback (equalizing tension throughout the body…this is much harder to exploit if you’re working with someone who can release waves you’re building through your body, and shoot you across the room with your own power when you try it…think Xingyi and Bagua type waves).

The contact mechanics (depending of course on the situation…sometimes it’s easier to simply apply a neck crank or elbow-break fulcrum with pure strength) tend to focus on gear-type movement. Gears, unlike levers, do not only amplify power that is used, but also redirect and make use of the other guy’s power so you can do even less.

An example of the varied uses for a simple machine as ‘lowly’ as the gear:

For punching: In a boxing stance (think right cross), wind a small wave starting at the hips, through and out the arm, making it wind back and then catapulting it through the opponent. The natural relaxation will make a fist-like shape out of your hand on impact, so there’s not much to worry about at this basic stage. Yup, that’s right. It hurts. Cue the next layer of complexity: with a loose fist, throw the same punch. Instead of just penetrating in straight, let your fist penetrate a muscle for about an inch or so, and then turn your fist, scraping it to the side and down (still going through the opponent). Important: this is not a twist of the wrist or arm. It is an actual turn of the fist, a change of vector and it is not going straight anymore.

You’ll find that if, for example, you’re contacting your opponent’s abdomen, your fist will penetrate and “lock in” to his muscles (ESPECIALLY if he is tensing them). When you then change your fist’s vector, his muscles go with you. In essence you are turning his abs into a gear, and his entire body into something that is essentially helplessly connected to its own tension.

A beautiful little clip of this can be found at

Using the gear for absorbing strikes that you can’t avoid:

Okay, so you’re fucked. Someone tackled you, and you dealt with him on the way down. The problem NOW is that his buddy (who you didn’t see coming either), who is angry that you made his best friend unconcious, is kicking you with full-blown soccer kicks to the ribs, throat, and head. This could get weird, but we have a cool little gear to use for surviving.

This is assuming you are not closing your eyes, going fetal, or otherwise asking for the beating to continue. WATCH what is happening. Look at who is kicking you, and internalize the timing groove they are getting into with their attempts (if there is one). Now, the gear – to do any kind of damage, an impact has to penetrate through you. A massive impact which moves through your ribs, lungs, heart, and repeats the same on the exit path is a little bit different from one that moves through your upper tricep and then scrapes along your chest, even if they have the same power.

Using the gear to move WITH the impact while redirecting it and dispersing the energy you are taking from it starts getting pretty important when you want to stop getting stomped. The example we’ll use is a soccer kick from three or so feet away, while you are lying on your back or in a similar-facing manner. Step 1: turn towards the attack. This not only lets you see what’s going to happen so you can have a little bit of timing for your evasion (which is nice, but not necessary), but the twist it creates in your body makes tension which you can release to effortlessly twist BACK when impact begins.

So, you’ve had a split second to prepare; lucky you. Make it count. The impact, for the sake of the example, begins on the side of your arm. Make your arm a little gear by twisting it in, so the impact slides along the top. While you’re doing this, you make ANOTHER gear with the rest of your body, twisting away in the same manner, just on a larger scale. Still ouchy? If the guy kicking you has ever kicked the shit out of anyone before, it will probably hurt, but you’re giving yourself a good shot at not being dead, unconscious, or crippled for a good long while.

Enough examples, on to clearing up some other stuff about the art that I didn’t include in the extra-large writeup.

Footwork – your feet (usually – i.e., unless you’re leaping behind someone for cover or a similar purpose) take small steps without crossing, and are for transport/positioning in addition to power generation. They serve largely as a transportation system for the upper body, which tends to be our “weapons platform.” Again, higher level practitioners will not be thinking about it like this, but I think it’s a neat analogy for someone who has never seen the stuff or had it used on him.

As we fight, we’ll step so that tension is created somewhere – in our hips, down the side of a leg (or both), up our back, etc. That tension drives the next step, so there is no conscious thought being devoted to combat movement. In addition, when the tension is released, we “shape” it as a wave through some part of our body. It then exits into the opponent as a strike, or through the air as a redirection, or out the feet as a kick or step (not much difference in Systema).

This method of power generation is supplemented with gravity (just heavily dropping an arm can hurt someone pretty well), dropping your knees and weight down (not into the opponent in most cases, as this is inertia someone skilled can use against you), etc. There’s a million ways to augment these things, but in the end it sort of ends up being a whole that is just silly to pick apart, though it’s fun to do.

Another method of getting power you can use is by using the other guy’s. Just imagine him, getting all riled up and working so hard to beat the shit out of you…that’s a lot of energy to let go to waste. In its simplest form (and I won’t go far beyond this right now), this translates to fucking up your evasion and getting hit. If you’ve never been in a fight before, this is the part where you realize that it’s not half as bad as people make it sound…if you know what you’re doing, that impact is energy you can use. Impact is a transfer of energy, and the energy keeps going. It does not get used up and dispersed unless you let it create damage by tensing up or trying to “blow through” it.

So, in the name of recycling, you get hit, channel that impact much like you’d channel the release of a tension-wave through your body, and then use it for something. Whether that is getting a step closer to that AK-47 which is starting to look really good, or letting the impact cycle your arm around so you can belt the other guy in the throat or use his gun sling as a garrote…well, those things are up to you.

Lots of words, but it’s all really simple. This is stuff you can experiment with and learn the basics of in a week’s time. Much of it can be used the second it’s understood, such as the gear-evasions.

Whether useful or not, I’m enjoying the writing.

Hammerhead, I’ll get to how we look at and apply groundwork stuff in a short while hopefully, but I think this will be useful to your understanding of “what it is that dcohen does.”

Feel free to come up with more questions or comments, though there is only so much I can say in words. Creative is right…once you get hit by that first punch, it kind of starts a new chapter in your martial life ;).

Hope this explain some stuff.


Post: dcohen:

[quote=confusingDot hey, i read taht you said that no moves are pre arranged before it happens… so does this mean, you don’t look at how someone else fights, and try to see how to get around it… how ot modify your style to thier style for it to be the msot effective?[/quote 

Good movement is good movement. But I certainly don’t have time to fuck around if I get attacked. The movement has to be there, and it has to be YOURS, so there’s no remembering or copying or seeing how he fights. That’s a boxing fantasy, not what happens when you’re ambushed.

If you’re talking about training, though, then yes – if you like something that someone does, provided they can remember what exactly they did, recreating it and seeing how it “feels” can be a useful thing.


Post: CreativeFighter:

Well, I suppose I’ll just pick up the role of the less knowing servant….

Dave put it beautifully. Systema encompasses a lot of knife work, impromptu weapons, gun work, everything. However, to really do it well you have to give up a lot of things. The following slow Systema down:

Bag work
Weight training
Any contradictory martial arts.

Of course, that’s only for the Purists of the art :)>

Post: Wilhelm von Wänkensteïn:

Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. I’, still trying to wrap my brain round it comfortably, but I can see why they call Systema an internal martial art at its higher levels.

Question to CreativeFighter, though – why does bag work and weight training clash with Systema? Pavel Tsatsouline, ex-PT and Systema instructor to the Spetnsnaz is a maniac for fitness training, including and especially with heavy-arse kettlebells. If you mean weight training like a bodybuilder, though, I can understand, as that conflicts with just about anything else physical that one does :P>

Post: confusingDot:

i know that when i fight, ti’s quite useful. cause my friends fight in wierd styles. he fights with his right hand based behind his left arm’s elbow… so i keep swiveling to his left, and keep swiveling to my right, so he can’t use his right hand anymore. plus whenever we have opposite feet facing together right to left, then i swivel to the same direction of my foot, so that it still makes it harder for him to use his recessive hand. If they’re stand up, then i’ll do a grappling game, and if they’re doing a a grappler, then i’ll do alot of hit and run, and maybe grapple. yeah, i think there are alto of simple things to do.

this is doesn’t ahve to be because you’re ambused, b ut you see someone you need to protect, ro any number of those situations. yah know… there will always be situations in which you have an opportunity.>

Post: CreativeFighter:

Pavel is also an advocated for bodyweight only training. Bag work clashes with Systema because there is no part of the human body that is perfectly round like that, nor is the weight distribution practical. When you’re working on the bag you’re taught to keep your wrists straight, but that isn’t the case in a real fight. You can punch with your wrists bent.>

Post: dcohen:

Actually a really neat thing you can do with a bag is to hit it as hard as you can without having it move. The point is to gain skill in directing your impact down (which is an idea also used in higher level Krav Maga)…it weights the opponent’s legs into the ground as he gets hit, so he can’t run away before you finish doing what you want to do. Definitely a more agressively applied skill to have, but quite useful nonetheless.

So, instead of making the bag swing big from the impact…aim to tear the chain out of the ceiling. Fun to do for a while until you have the skill down and feel like hitting real people instead :-D.


Post: Wilhelm von Wänkensteïn:

You know, that’s an interesting thing because Chinese internal arts have the same concept of striking either up or down to use either an opponent’s weight or the ground reaction force thereof to ensure that as little of the impact as possible is lost through imparting motion to an oppponent. Many internal martial arts seem ostensibly to favour hitting upwards, breaking an opponent’s root and sending him flying, but I understand that this is a ‘mercy’ application, since it merely sends an opponent flying instead of pulverising his internal organs on the spot, but many famous exponents were also known for doing just that and using an opponent’s weight force to catch his organs in a hammer-and-anvil – not a pretty picture, oh no 😈

Fascinating discussion – keep it coming 😀

Edit: Forgot to add this last night. One true killing application of the above principle involves directing the force downwards, as taught in Systema, the idea being that it catches an opponent’s organs between your own force and the reaction force from his dantian, which was just another way of perceiving the ground reaction force of an opponent’s weight. Absolutely fascinating how the creators of Systema rediscovered this principle, particularly if they did it on their own, with no outside input.>

Post: Umy:

Actually a really neat thing you can do with a bag is to hit it as hard as you can without having it move

We call that hitting the bag dead in boxing, something my coach often tells us to do.

btw great discussion guys keep it coming :wink:>

Post: RobNyc:

I like this. David since you’re the man here of Systema you know of any good schools in NYC?>

Post: CreativeFighter:

Haha! I’m glad I can help!

RobNyc, by the way, I am also a “systema man”.

Check these out: with Edgar, good teacher
or with Rob Green, an established favorite.

I’d suggest Rob for more of a direct combat related approach, but by all means, Edgar is also very very good.>

Post: RobNyc:

😆 Thanks>

Post: RobNyc:

so how many of you guys train in systema?>

Post: dcohen:

I’m one of a tiny crowd here, and probably the only one who is actively posting.

Most of us who are on the internet hang around at the official Systema forum, or the Russian Martial Arts Community forum,

You’ll have better luck finding a big community there.


Post: RobNyc:

Thanks 8)>

Post: Italian Monk:

Great thread … many thanks for the links and thought stimulation. Very interesting how I have found some of the things I have been training on my own are indeed a part of application in Systema…

Funny, one of my grappling ‘instructors/partners’ asked if I studied Systema because of the way I flowed and absorbed alot …

Definately looking forward to researching this ‘System’ more …

Many thanks,


Post: MA dude:

Wow great thread! Its interesting to see how the people on this thread have changed. I have been training in sambo and its interesting to know about other Russian and former soviet arts. Checking out some vids on ROSS and Systema I find quite a few things similar to the combat aspect of sambo. I have met with some Systema people and have found them really knowledgable about the principles of there art. I would suggest anyone interested in Systema type in Systema on google and you will find some great sites with interesting video clips. But realize some of the things that look strange are just training drills. It seems most people of that criticize systema never have trained it but see a training drill online and mistake it as something else. Its interesting how many famous people train Systema. I recently found out a world champion muay thai fighter was training it and thought highly of it. Also check out the video tapes and Systema guide book.>


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