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Historical Overview of Systema

Systema expansion in the world has been rapid and vast since it’s introduction to the West in 1993 by Vladimir Vasiliev who first introduced it to most Western practitioners. Possibly as a result of this rapid expansion, unhealthy sometimes there has been some confusion in the budding Systema community as to what Systema is and which type of Systema is the “real” one, order which Master of the System is the “best” one, how many different “types” or “styles” of Systema are there, and – given the supposed absence of forms or styles in the System – how can there be more than one “style” anyway?

The reality is that The System was developed primarily by the Soviet Military which had for a historic period of time essentially unlimited funds and personnel to use in order to study the most effective methodologies of physiological and psychological human functioning under a variety of extreme situations.

Whilst the West (primarily led by America) tends to spend a great deal of money, time and resources on ever more advanced technological hardware, the Soviets (whilst certainly not ignoring this aspect) tended to comparatively spend a lot more time and effort in improving the primary capacity of the baseline weapons delivery system. Which is ultimately the soldier.

Whilst perhaps not true of the overall capacity of your average Soviet infantryman, this certainly applied to the elite special operations units of the KGB, GRU and Spetsnaz. A similar trend can really be seen in Russian culture in general and is also more clearly demonstrable in other endeavours such as for example space-flight, where Soviet hardware was considerably simpler and more of a brute-force exercise, but the personnel involved was measurably more capable than the American counterpart, especially when considering the perhaps inferior technological hardware being used by the Soviets. A similar parallel exists in many aspects of Soviet culture and can be seen not just in the military but also in the arts and sporting fields.

As a result of this, and due to its individualistic nature the top practitioners of Systema as a martial system may have developed different “looks”, dictated by their particular strengths, weaknesses, body types, preferences, psychological outlook and so on, however much of the underlying physiology is essentially the same. Ultimately certain types of movements required of a martial endeavour (especially when applied in real-life combat situations) produce the best chance of effective results only under certain overall parameters (such as muscular relaxation, movement with lack of telegraphed intention, tendon strength emphasised over muscular tension and so on).

In keeping with our philosophy of freedom then, we have no permanent opinion as to whom the “best” or most capable Systema practitioners are. Certainly we can say that Vladimir Vasiliev was most instrumental at popularising Systema outside of Russia and he credits Mikhail Ryabko as his teacher and mentor. And certainly both of these men exhibit a skill in performing the System that is quite legitimately legendary. Certainly also, there are other extremely capable practitioners and instructors around the world and it is our experience that a good Systema instructor should have not only the ability to perform effective Systema in a martial context, but perhaps even more importantly, the ability to pass on these skills to others. We also feel it is important however to also be able to do so not only in a purely martial context, since the principles of Systema can be used for literally any human endeavour.

Of course given its roots it is only natural that the System is marketed and taught primarily as a “martial art” however if the truth be told, these origins should be properly labelled as being a Martial System as its purpose was to increase the survivability of special operation troops and decrease the survivability of their opponents. Nevertheless these principles can be applied to almost anything and though we are passionate about the martial aspects and most practitioners of Systema have come to it from some martial art background, we see the future of this system as being far too vast to be strictly labelled as merely a “martial art”. We feel it is much more than that.