On Systema by SSgt. Nate Morrison (reprinted from Dragon Door Forum)
I do study Systema as well as the old Samurai arts. I come from a background in Ninjutsu. (I have also done a good bit of grappling and MMA with various SEAL and SF teams who really liked it.) All three are very much alike in many ways. One should not be so foolish as to think that there is any American influence such as American Kenpo anywhere in the mix. Once you have been around this for a long time you will understand this.
History wise, Systema has very close ties with the Russian Orthodox Church, though the dates have been lost in the struggles of history. There are some very interesting bits of information in the history. One must also understand that in Russia like in Japan, there are many different systems of training. There are basics and similarities among all of them. These items are not the property of any one system but rather a cultural constant. Therefore, understand that there were several systems of training under several men. Kalashnikov (AKM designer) had a system, as did Retinuski (sp?) who Sonnon learned from. Ryabko learned yet another system that predates these. He was taught by his uncle who was one of Stalin’s bodyguards, and they were the only ones allowed to know this “system”. It is in fact a matter of speculation of weather this was even known to Stalin or not though. The necessity for secrecy is much like that that existed in Japan centuries ago. It is interesting that we are seeing those conditions play out now in the near present.
So, does it work? Yes. Can you learn it from a DVD? No. Will the DVDs help a student of Systema, Ninjutsu, Tai Chi, or other arts? Yes.
What are you seeing on the videos? I can assure you that the camera does not lie. There is no one pulling any punches or taking any falls. There is no overcompensating Uke. What you are seeing is very very real and very very painful. Being loose is the only way you will survive without damage. It is actually common for practitioners to walk away with contused lungs, heart and abdominal organs. It looks funny, hell, it even looks fake. That lasts right up until you get hit and then your world crumbles very quickly. It isn’t hard to learn, but one has to get rid of the idea that the key to hitting hard has nothing to do with pure untapped and applied strength. Even Tyson will tell you this. I have known many very good boxers, two that went pro. They will tell you it all comes from the hips and that the upper body is loose. Their point is that you will never make it through 10 rounds if you are not loose. If you have not learned yet that power generation comes from body movement, you are on the wrong forum. I must also stress that Systema practitioners are far from weak! Physical training is a massive component of the training and is quite brutal. A good Systema practitioner has amazing control and strength in the core. These men are able to manipulate individual sections of their spines and maintain a perfectly vertical spine all the way into a rock bottom squat. This is not possible without extreme strength and neural control of the core. Those of you who were at the RKC Level-2 saw Steve Cotter demonstrate this amazing strength skill. It is from these amazingly well tuned core’s that much of this power comes from.
When it comes to striking in Systema there are many reasons to strike, but almost all of them have profound effects on either your structure or your physiology. Strikes to the torso are almost always aimed at the spine and so the energy tends to rock you pretty well. I cannot stress just how powerful these strikes can be, but it is certainly possible to incapacitate a man with one blow with almost no energy expenditure. Intent and necessity are a big factor here. A strike is proportional with the situation.
Some comments were made about police and jails. My father was a Sheriff and then a corrections officer for over 15 years. He never knew Systema, but he applied the same principles daily. Interestingly enough he was the one who warned me first about not grappling and going to the ground. It got around rather quickly that when my father was around, don’t start any trouble. He has since watched some of the Systema DVDs and rather likes them. The suppleness of it makes it ideal for police and corrections.
On the ‘psychic’ issue, one must understand that it does not mean that you are telling the future or anything particularly mystical. Like Ninjutsu it is simply a matter of seeing psychological events manifested physically and structurally. If you understand what you are looking at you can see what is coming and head it off even before it begins. The result is people looking like a funky chicken on camera. What is really happening is that every move you intend to make is headed off and so you are desperately trying to find a different avenue. However, it never seems to work out. It’s alot of fun though a little scary as well.
As with anything, one must never approach anything new and immediately discount it. Systema is actually the most combat tested art of recent times. The units this was taught to saw some very heavy fighting in Afghanistan as well as in the interior of Russia. There is no other ‘martial art’ today that has this volume of true combat experience that Systema does across the spectrum of human conflict. I am refering to hundreds, perhaps thousands of missions carried out by the tier 1 Spetsnaz units in the 1980s. This is a very powerful body of experience. Those who have not studied things in any detail would be wise to do so first before making statements to the international community about it.
Finally, I have now had the privilege of training with Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko. I can say that these two men are perhaps the two most generous and warmest human beings I have ever met. They are as honest as it gets and they live in accordance to what many may call Universe Law. They hold back nothing in training except to spare injury or death according to your experience and ability.
For those curious, find an instructor and train. Then and only then make your opinions. This goes for all things.