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Russian Martial Art of Systema

The Russian martial art of Systema focuses on the use of the neck, shoulders, elbows, waist, knees and ankles as levers to strike body pressure points of opponents, and to make use of weapons, including firearms, in combat. Unlike many martial arts, training for Systema does not adhere to a set kata (choreographed pattern of movements), but involves drills and sparring between opponents on more of a freestyle basis.

Rather than referring to a system of combat, Systema, refers to the systems of the body such as the nervous system, muscular system and respiratory system. It also includes elements relating to psychology, or mind-set, and the human spirit. It has been noted that because of the freestyle element of Systema, subtle variations may come about as a result of the training methods used by individual instructors.

Systema has gathered a following in countries beyond the borders of Russia, and can be found in Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, some European countries, Australia and South Africa, where it may be promoted as the style of fighting developed by the Spetsnaz – Russian special forces.

The history of Systema (meaning the system) is unclear, as it has elements similar to a number of different fighting styles and has evolved over time. Some even claim that various forms of the modern-day Systema were practiced by medieval warriors, known as the Bogatyr, back in the 10th century. The most commonly accepted classification of Systema is that which was devised by Mikhail Ryabko, a Colonel in the Russian military who served in the Special Forces and has experience in traditional Russian martial arts. Ryabko reportedly learned his skills from one of Joseph Stalin’s personal bodyguards, all of whom were experts in Systema. Following Stalin's death, Systema was introduced as a combat style employed by some of the Special Military Operations Units involved in high risk missions. Upon the demise of the Soviet Union, Systema became popular as a Russian martial arts discipline, and it is only in recent years that some of the history of this style of combat has become known. It is considered by the Russian government to be a pre-Soviet tradition and is counted among the celebrated Russian martial arts.


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