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Frequently Asked Questions

1.  What is Systema?

Systema is martial art developed in Russia.  It is designed to be highly adaptive and practical, having no specific predefined techniques or moves.  Instead, Systema practitioners learn to respond to attacks at a reflexive level, essentially “developing” responses to attacks as they occur.   These responses eventually evolve into a system of fighting that is customized for the attributes of each practitioner.

2.  How old is Systema?  Why haven't I heard of it till now?

Systema actually dates back to the 10th century.  Various Russian ethnic groups, such as the Slavs and the Cossacks, developed their own native fighting styles.  Over time, these styles eventually combined and evolved into the art now known as Systema. When the Communists came to power after the October Revolution of 1917, the practice of these fighting skills was prohibited, except by the elite units of the Soviet Special Forces (Spetsnaz).  Only after the end of the communist era in 1991, and the subsequent immigration of Systema practitioners, did Systema become known in the west.


3.  I’ve seen some videos of Systema.  It looks a lot like Aikido, Kung fu, Wing Chun, (insert your martial art here…)

Systema can look similar to other arts depending on the practitioner.  Each Systema practitioner develops his own style of fighting.  This style is influenced by several factors such as the practitioner’s physical attributes and past martial experience.  In addition, Systema does have some principles in common with other arts (people move in only so many ways after all).  As a result, Systema can look like other arts, but doesn’t necessarily have to.


4.  Does Systema have a ground fighting component?

Yes, Systema principles can be applied to wrestling/ground fighting.  However, there are substantial differences between Systema’s philosophy of fighting on the ground and other popular ground fighting styles such as Brazillian Ju Jitsu or SAMBO. Systema does not attempt to engage in submission grappling, or prolonged one-on-one wrestling matches on the ground.  Rather, Systema practitioners generally only go to ground when necessary, and return to their feet as soon as possible.  This is largely due the street reality that many attacks are not one to one fights, and getting tied up with one opponent in a wrestling match leaves you vulnerable to the second attacker.


5.  Is Systema the same as SAMBO?

No, Systema and SAMBO are both Russian fighting styles, but the two differ considerably.  Systema was developed from fighting styles from various Russian ethnic groups and eventually evolved into a style of instinctive/reflexive fighting.   In comparison, SAMBO (SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya) was developed from the many folk styles of wrestling that existed in the fifteen republics of the former Soviet Union.  SAMBO is very technique specific, prescribing set attacks and counters for various fighting situations. Although both systems are in use with the Russian military, fundamentally and philosophically, Systema and SAMBO are at different ends of the fighting spectrum.


6.  I’ve seen several videos of Systema on Youtube which look unrealistic?  

Systema is taught using a number of creative biomechanical exercises, and challenging psychological and physical drills, which are designed to re-educate the body at a kinesthetic level.  These are designed to elicit various degrees of sensitivity and awareness in the practitioner.  Without an accurate explanation of what the drill is trying to accomplish, a third party observer often takes the drill at face value and makes the assumption that the drill is supposed to simulate reality.  Taken out of context, the drills seem unrealistic.


7.  What’s with all the slow speed training?

Slower speed training develops a proper understanding of the many things involved in the complex realm of combat, thus resulting in a calmer emotionally detached way of functioning in real life combat situations.  In time, this methodology develops a different mentality in the practitioner, accepting the reality of a confrontation in an almost casual fashion, without fear and its byproduct hyper aggression.  At a higher level of proficiency, speed and power are increased.  Work flows from soft to hard, seamlessly adapting to changes in the situation.


8.  How old do I have to be to train in Systema?

Due to the fact that Systema is tailored to the practitioner, generally speaking, Systema can be taught to people of any age. Children often pick up Systema quite quickly, since they typically carry less tension and do not carry with them the assumptions/expectations of how fighting should be.


9.  What kind of shape do I need to be in?

Again, due to the fact that Systema is tailored to the individual, you do not need to be in top physical condition to begin training.  In fact, people of nearly every body type can train in Systema.  That being said however, Systema is still a martial art, and certain degree of physicality is involved.  Being strong and fit is not necessary, but having superior attributes will create greater options. Fitness, though not necessary, is certainly preferred.


10.  What kind of equipment do I need to begin training?

Systema requires very little training equipment.  The only things initially required to train are the following:


A rigid training knife (for knife work)

A pair of clear safety glasses (for knife work)


As time progresses, you may wish to purchase these additional pieces of equipment


Training gun

Spetznaz Shovel


11.  What type of uniform do I need?

Systema has no belts, uniforms, or ranking systems.  You may train using any type of non restrictive clothing.  Experience is shown through skill, rather than rank insignias.  A pair of shoes may be required for outdoor sessions.


12.  Is there anything else I need before I start training?

The most important thing to have when attending Systema training sessions is an open mind.  Systema is different from most other martial arts in both principle and practice.  The desire to explore new possibilities is vital to learning the system. Systema is actually developed by the practitioner, for the practitioner.  Since no technique is actually dictated, it is the student’s responsibility to take advantage of each and every learning opportunity and apply himself/herself with 100% effort. Enjoyment is best found in the process, not in a predetermined goal.  Finally, basic manners, open communication, and concern for others are needed to create a positive and safe training environment.


13.  What are training sessions like?

Typically, training sessions are performed using various drills and exercises to encourage the practitioners to move spontaneously and naturally to solve difficult survival situations. Students learn through a process of good motion (surviving) and less than good motion (not surviving). Doing things incorrectly is an important part of the learning process.  Repeating a motion long enough with negative results eventually teaches the body what NOT to do. Hence the training drills used are a process to teach the body how to move, and how not to move. Over time, this training method re-educates the body at a reflexive/kinesthetic level, allowing the practitioner to respond to attacks in real time with little or no conscious thought.  


14.  What subjects are explored during training?

Listed below are some of the topics explored during training sessions:

Breath/body motion coordination

Dynamic strengthening and flexibility

Rolling and falling

Complete breathing method

Understanding of posture breaking, balance breaking and throwing skills

Escape and evasion training

Strike training using all parts of the body

Strike absorption training

Knife defense

Disarming of weapons

Restraint and joint techniques

Pain compliance techniques

Ground survival

Mass attack training

Psychological methods and understanding