Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Source of Strength and Peace an Interview with Vladimir Vasiliev

The following interview was conducted by Rob Poyton, the head instructor of Cutting Edge Systema Academy in UK and the editor of Systema International publication.

Systema International (SI): First of all can I say congratulations on behalf of everyone here on the 20th anniversary of your school, it’s an amazing achievement! Did you have any idea when you first started teaching in Toronto that you would be in this position, with schools worldwide?

Vladimir Vasiliev (VV): Thank you for your kind words and support. When I started teaching in Toronto in 1993, I had no plans to create something particular. Life takes its course. There are currently over 200 schools and over 500 instructors that teach Systema around the world, over 40 instructional films, regular seminars and camps with big numbers of participants. Of course, I try to put in honest work but have no set goals, I also do not depend on these developments.

SI: You obviously trained in a lot of different things with a lot of different people in the past. What is it that drew you to Mikhail and that now makes him your source of training?

VV: What Mikhail does is always interesting and there is always more to learn. I really like that. Seeing his top level of mastery helps me to continue working on myself.

SI: Systema has grown incredibly over the last 20 years, do you have any thoughts as to how it might develop over the next 20 years?

VV: I believe there is God’s will for everything. I have no predictions for such distant future. I enjoy what we have today – great people and accomplishments. What I can say is that Systema is indeed unique and has very positive effect on the practitioners. It will be great if people continue to benefit from it for the next 20 years and more.

SI: Is there a danger that as people splinter away from the central school that the flavour changes?

VV: There is nothing wrong if people “splinter away”. We do not call for people to join, nor do we hold anyone back from leaving. It is good to explore other options. A lot of people return. Usually the ones that do not need Systema move away, they do not understand it. It is hard to comprehend and take in the whole Systema. Many people take bits and pieces of this style and think they have Systema, this is when it falls apart.

SI: We have seen some military styles become very popular over the last few years, with a very different approach from Systema. Do you think people are surprised by Systema’s military background, given its focus on health and breathing?

VV: A good warrior is a healthy warrior, healthy in his spirit and body. Systema makes people stronger physically and also better, kinder, less fearful and less aggressive. A good warrior that is not fearful or aggressive will do a far superior job defending his country.

SI: A lot of Systema work seems to go against the usual martial arts methods. For instance, you can punch without putting body movement in, you counter tension with relaxation and you look at yourself more than looking at the opponent. How do you best get these ideas across to people from other styles?

VV: Practitioners need to recognize the close interaction between the health and the martial art components. Many martial arts mislead their students. In my opinion, what they teach has no relevance to health or survival. Traditionally martial arts had the goal of preservation of their generations, this is now lost. Systema’s solid and natural approach and breathwork foundation brings back the right way to train, fight and live. The way a person can understand this is just by practicing himself.

SI: People see and comment on how your own level has steadily improved over the years. How do you keep improving and what are your goals in training?

VV: Thank you for these nice words. My goals are to gain deeper understanding of the Systema concepts. Systema is alive, it continues to develop, and this process does not end until we die. There are many examples of Systema instructors whose skill keeps growing steadily, such as Valentin Talanov in Russia, Jerome Kadian in Paris, Brendan Zettler in Toronto and a large number of others.

SI: How do you balance being challenged and safety in training? How do you judge how much a person can take?

VV: This is a great and very relevant question. This is a real challenge. If you punch hard or apply a decisive action to the opponent – he and others complain. If you do not act decisively – they do not believe you. It is a testing for any instructor, especially because in Systema we work on the move. It is easy to show a convincing technique while fixed and stationary, while it is a real skill to deliver just the right dosage on the move and see to what extend your partner will let you work. As for judging how much the person can take, this is easier and comes with practice.

SI: Do you have any stories you could share of your time training in the army of with Mikhail? VV: This is a whole story in itself, perhaps we can address it sometime in the future.

SI: Could you give some words of advice to:
- people new to Systema
- people training for a couple of years
- people who are teaching others

VV: An advice to all practitioners is to have patience. Learning Systema is an extensive process, there are challenges and rewards every step of the way. It is very exciting because new discoveries await you all the time and the profound joy of following the right path is always there.

SI: Despite all our technology - or perhaps because of it! - there seems to be just as much uncertainty and bad events in the world as ever. Do you think Systema has a role in helping people in difficult or “interesting” times?

VV: I am sure that it can and will help. Systema has so many applications if it is studied as a whole and not by fragments as we discussed before. Systema training reduces stress and fear, provides health and clear thinking. It really can be the source of strength and peace. To quote Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

SI: Vladimir and Valerie, thank you for your time today and also for all your work over the last 20 years – long may it continue!

About the Author:
Rob Poyton is a Professional instructor. He has been training in Systema since 2000 with Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev. He is the editor of Systema International publication:

For more information visit Cutting Edge Systema Academy:

Thankyou Rob and Vladimir,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Ancient Russian Systema Practices - 4 Ways to Achieve Optimum Health by Vali Majd

There are many different health and fitness trends and gadgets that appear on the market every season with the promise of giving tight abs or slim waist. Along with new year resolutions come memberships for the gyms or fitness clubs. Some will plug into yoga or Pilates others will decide to take up running or walking. And many will go on a diet. It is a frenzy, a craze.

But feeling good and healthy is simple. No membership required. No gimmicks. No gadgets. Achieving and maintaining health should not be an activity. It should be part of your every move, every decision and every action. Then it feels good...all the time.

Here are 4 Ancient ways to become and stay healthy. They are free, require no gadgets, and on top of that will save you money.

Interact with Cold Water
One of the best ways to fully engage your circulatory system and to get rid of viruses and bacteria is by interacting with cold water. The ideal way to perform this water dousing is to be naked in your yard (or tub), bare feet, with a large bucket of as-cold-as-possible-water. As you inhale through the nose, lift the bucket above your head, and on the exhale you slowly, very slowly empty the water on your head, face and neck. It is important to allow the water to reach the arm pits and groin areas. Do not hold your breath at any point as you perform this. Avoid freaking out, stay calm and move slowly. Do not rush to dry up. Take a moment to breath and enjoy what beauty is offered to you. Maintain healthy, positive thoughts throughout the whole process.

If you find the dousing difficult for whatever reason, at least find one way or another of interacting with cold water. You can finish your hot shower with a cold blast, or go for a dip in a snowy creek.

There are many folds to this ritual.

On a purely physical level, when done right, the shock of the impact of cold water on your body will create a "mini internal explosion", somewhat of a short term fever, where the body increases its temperature rapidly to counteract the cold. This sudden change of temperature kills many viruses and unwanted bacteria. It also eliminates sick and dying cells.

On a more internal level, this practice is a battle between our internal voices. One devil on a shoulder whispering to forget about this "cold water stuff"... "just stay in bed, it is nice and warm...", while the voice of reason, of health, calmly reminds you that it is good for you.

The choice is yours.

Cold water will teach you to listen to your better Self. It will also toughen you in many different ways.

Fasting is an ancient practice. Once a week, take a break from eating and drinking for 24-48 hours. All animals do it occasionally, either by choice or by circumstance. Again, on a physical level, it is very good for the internal system to get a break. Weak and dying cells get eliminated and organs get to purge. On an internal level, again it becomes a battle of will. Ideally, you should retain your daily routine, work, sit at the table with your family, play with the kids, dance or train. But seek no medal nor praise. Don't brag about it, or complain- in fact, avoid bringing it up. A bit of hunger will teach humility. Overcoming it will bring strength and willpower, failing it... calories and a bruised ego.

If going without food for 24 hours is too difficult (in fact, the first 24 hours are the most challenging), then try 18, or 12 hours. If you find that too hard, then try do remove an ingredient out of your diet, typically meat, or dairy.

Push ups
The push up has been around forever. And this simple approach takes all the guessing out of it. Ideally you want to perform your push ups with a good form. The back should be straight, the body planked. Depending on whether you do them on your fist or the palms of your hand, your chest should get within inches of the ground. Try to do as many push ups as you can in 3 minutes. Take breaks as needed. Do not sacrifice quality for quantity. If you cannot do anymore push ups, but time is not up yet, at least hold the push up position until the end. As a guideline, 70-80 well executed push ups in 3 minutes is very good. Make sure you breath- in the nose, out the mouth.

There are many benefits to the push up. Remember that we are not trying to build muscle mass. Instead, we want to maintain healthy, connective tissues. If you find your back slouching, you may need to work on your core strength. There are many physiological changes that happen to the body when you are on your fours for an extended period of time. The internal pressure on organs, along with heightened neurological functions are partially responsible for this. The push up, or any variations of it, remains a rather obscure field of research and needs more attention.

You do not need to be religious to pray. This practice recognizes that we can seek inspiration, strength and guidance outside ourselves. Prayer allows us to free ourselves in many ways by recognizing forces and powers beyond us. All 3 previous practices may require you to pray. But ideally, one should not wait until "the boat is sinking" to start praying. It is a great practice to take the time to pray. This can be done in the morning, as you wake up, or in the evening, before sleep. However, many maintain prayer throughout the day to much benefit. To a large extent, not unlike fasting, prayer teaches humility and fosters community, both being integral to our health.

These practices come from traditional Russian martial art known as Systema.

Seek a doctor's advice prior trying any of these practices.


valiheadshot2Before being named as Founder and Chief Instructor of Roots Dojo, Vali Majd, since 1996 had been, and still is a student of traditional Ryabko – Vasiliev Systema. Vali Majd brings along an army of talent and could be considered honest and dependable; his lengthy exposure to the art, along with his abilities to practice, to teach, to demonstrate and to clearly articulate subtle concepts of Systema makes him and his dojo worth visiting.

2009-Founded JTFCanada
 2002-Formed Comox Valley Systema 
1999-Founded Pacific Coast Systema (now Roots Dojo)
1995-Started at Russian Martial Art HQ, Toronto

Vali is a Medical First Responder and a Firefighter with the Denman Island Volunteer Fire Department.

For more information visit:

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Structure of Combat by Systema Master Konstantin Komarov

As a teenager, I witnessed an incident that made an unforgettable impression on me, and to this day makes me think. I was 13-14 years old - just the time to "assert one's place under the sun". These were troubled times in my hometown with constant crimes and fights happening between gangs and street thugs. It was unsafe to even walk across town - either you'd be robbed of your pocket money or humiliated or beaten up. In short, very unpleasant, and surely I wished to learn how to counter any such offenders.

And here is what happened. It took place on a summer evening in a park near a nightclub. My friends and I were running across the park to see a movie. My shoelace came undone and I had to stop for a moment. And then I saw that an old man was walking along a side alley (he seemed like an old man to me at the time, now I think he was not more than 60). He was skinny and small, his back very straight and his hair all gray. Just taking a walk, hands behind his back. Light jacket and cloth-cap on, a war medal ribbon on the jacket. You could see the man was just relaxing in the park. All of a sudden, two big ugly thugs, half-drunk walked up to him. Sleeveless shirts on, full of tattoos and gold rings, typical repeat offenders with a long record. They blocked the old man's path and told him: "hey oldie, let's have your light".

I got very scared for the old man. I was thinking that now they would hurt a war veteran, ignoring his age and his medals, he did not even measure up to their shoulder level. But I could see the man was not concerned at all, he came right up to the muggers, looked up at them very closely and said: "Guys, didn't your mother ever teach you to respect the elders?" Suddenly he raised his right hand so quickly that I could not even see what happened. Then I saw one of the thugs grasping at his own throat with both hands, his mouth wide open and falling down onto his knees. The old man then moved his left hand and the other mugger bent in half holding onto his groin and moaning. The old man stood there for a while observing the situation and then said quietly but very clearly: "if I come across you one more time I will kill you both". Next he placed his hands behind his back again and continued his walk.

It was highly unusual that these two did not even rush after the old man. They recuperated only a few minutes later, and distressed, made their way out of the park. This surprised me as well, because the 'tradition' was for the one beaten up in a fight to shout and threaten, especially if one was a criminal. Those would never get humbled, but would always go to the end. I ran down the alley to take a closer look at the old man, but I could not find him.

I caught up to my friends and they were also impressed with the story. We could not explain it at the time. This was different from all the skills we knew, all the scraps we saw and experienced, all the street and knife fights. What was different first and foremost was the total calmness and confidence in the actions of the old man. As if he was just opening a bottle of beer.

Years later, when I was analyzing the incident, I got reconfirmed in the understanding that the key in a confrontation is the psychological condition. But how does one overcome the natural fear? I could not understand it then. This fight was for many years a great and unattainable example for me. The effectiveness, simplicity and utilizing the situation to such an extent is only possible given full calmness, confidence and control over fear. It was all there. I saw it with my own eyes. This was my first encounter with true mastery, and my first realization that the skill lives not in the body but in the psyche, in the spirit. Such a person can be killed, but cannot be defeated.

The basis of any confrontation is timing, precision and simplicity. And the foundation of this trio is calm and even psyche, clean and steady spirit. How does one attain that? There are many ways - through the body to the psyche, or the other way around and then back; or straight to the spirit. Each person chooses his own way. But in order to choose one, you should learn what they are, try them and test yourself. This will be a part of our training program when we meet in August 2006. Each of the instructors will present a variety of ways. Each of the participants will 'choose the sword to fit his hand', and get a chance to test and understand oneself.

About the Author:

Konstantin Komarov is a Major in the Special Service Police Force having worked in Russian Military Reconnaissance and holds a PhD in combat Psychology. He has been a Professional Bodyguard for Moscow's Elite, and is one of the master instructors at the Systema Camp held regularly in Canada.

Thankyou Konstantin,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Monday Night Systema Classes to Move into the City

Great news everone. As of 4 November 2013 we are relocating our Monday night classes to Surry Hills, in the City. The new place will be just a 2 minute walk from Central Station and classes will run from 7:30pm to 9:00pm at Ace Dance Studios (see below).

Ace Dance Studios is currently in the process of completing a few extra renovations, however the place looks perfect for Systema training as you can see below.

Remember Monday Night Classes Start here as of 4 November 2013

Click here for Systema Sydney Class Information


Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Fighting, Faith and Modern Combat: An interview with Vladimir Vasiliev and Konstantin Komarov

At a Systema seminar in Phoenix, Arizona, ICSA Founder the late Brandon Sommerfeld and his senior combatives Instructor Kwan Lee seized a rare opportunity to quiz two masters of Russian Martial Art SYSTEMA - Vladimir Vasiliev and Konstantin Komarov. Brandon and Kwan caught up with these fascinating masters of combat during some seminar downtime and they generously agreed to wax lyrical on everything from faith and fighting spirit to the changing face of modern military combat. Enjoy.

Brandon (B): Thanks for agreeing to the interview - I’ve been looking forward to it.

Vladimir (VV), Konstantin (KK): Our pleasure.

We have ten or so questions for you. The one I’d like to start with is: what would you consider to be the most important virtue of a warrior? 

VV: Calmness and faith, connected together. If you believe, then you are calm. If you don't then you are full of haste.

B: Okay. Now what would you consider to be the most important skill or attribute of a warrior?

VV: If you have spirit, then skill will come. You cannot focus on skill alone - if you do, it will be empty, incomplete, and not productive or practical in reality. But if you have real substance and spirit, then skill will just be built naturally upon it.

KK: I would add the skill of knowing why you're doing what you're doing - what it is for. You have to understand the underlying principles. The real skill is in understanding yourself - then things become clear.

VV: It is very difficult, because soldiers should not think too much, they just need to do.

KK: But thinking is one thing, and understanding yourself is quite different.

VV: This is true. A soldier needs enough skill and understanding to carry through his mission and come out alive. That's it - just protect the country and stay alive.

B: What are some of the changes you have noticed, if any, in comparing modern-day military combatives with those of the past?

KK: Before, it was more shoulder-to-shoulder, fighting together. Now people are further apart, it becomes more difficult. People used to love their motherland more in the old days. You cannot fight for money, only for an idea. If it's for money, you're not willing to go to the end, you're not willing to die. (or, who's going to enjoy the money that you earned..?)

KK: Now it's different also because of the development of technology. It used to be more face-to-face; now it's ever more distant. You shoot, and you don't really see the person. Before, in the old days, if there was something rotten inside your fellow soldier, it would show immediately during battle. Now, with technology, he can live with this rotten approach for a much longer time.

B: Were you initially attracted to the combative arts, or was it something you were simply assigned to? 

KK: I liked them from childhood.

VV: I always liked it, my whole life. It was a true calling!

B: What do you consider to be the major difference between military combative arts and civilian martial arts?

VV: You can't even compare - they're not even standing next to each other.

KK: In military arts, you have to achieve your goal in the shortest amount of time, with the smallest amount of means, whereas with civilian arts it's a whole process... it's very long.

VV: In the military, you learn to kill. The whole idea is to kill. Not to "fight" - that's different. Special Operations Units, they study more. Even within these Special Ops Units, people usually come with some sort of background in boxing, grappling, ground fighting, and they use this. But to give the solider the idea to "fight" is wrong. It's completely wrong. He cannot fight. It's impossible. If he's "fighting", it means he's not ready. If he's not ready, it means he will not survive.

KK: Sometimes Spetsnaz has both. It has the ability to perform a variety of work. For example, when the special units have to capture the opponents alive and do specific work with them.

Kwan Lee (KL): Specifically for hand-to-hand combat, at what point is the soldier or operative expected to come up with his own way of fighting?

KK: If there’s a need for it. First, you need to look at the question of why do you need an army? It’s not to defend the motherland. The army is needed so that a young person matures. So that he stops being infantile and grows up. And you have to understand this; otherwise you get a weird view of the purpose of military training. Hand-to-hand combat is needed not to solve problems, but to make a person into a person, in the full sense of the word. So that a man becomes a man. That’s a more global and complete challenge, compared with just beating someone up.

KL: So ideally, they should be working to better themselves and to develop themselves from the very beginning… But I was thinking more of the military combatives that we’re trying to drill into the lower-level soldiers. There’s a certain point, you have said before, when there’s a need to transcend the basics and move to more advanced work.

KK: In Russia, the way the military structure was built, it was not important to have these things – it was more for bringing people up. The army is just an excuse to make men go through this “manly” training. Of course, you also learn things, and become more capable to defend the motherland. But that was secondary. Only when a man matures can he develop his own style and techniques.

B: How important is faith for the warrior?

VV: It's the foundation.

KK: In challenging times, you must have faith. And there are different levels of faith. There is faith in God - that's the highest one. Then faith in your country, then maybe faith in your commander would come next... it's different for every person, but you must have it.

VV: It is the fundamental point of origin, this faith. Sometimes you will lose it. You know, in Russia, during communism, people lost it. But there was a point that connected even people who didn't formally accept faith. They still had that connection, because they were ready to die for their motherland, or for their loved ones. And that's close - it connects to God.

B: I like the saying that "there are no atheists in foxholes". You know, that's true. I know I've seen it in myself - and in other people - when it's time to go to war, they all start praying every day. I know I did. Every day, right away... Okay - next question: what makes Systema unique compared to, maybe, Combat Sambo or to other fighting arts around the world?

KK: All the other martial arts have a specific goal: achieving victory in a certain competition, or achieving a certain technique or level of skill. Systema is very wide - from Systema, you can go into any martial art. It's like you're up at the top of the hill, and you can go down in any direction. But notice that it's a going down process.

VV: It's hard for people to understand or accept Systema sometimes. Because the primary thing is to work on yourself, and people don't usually like that. It means facing their laziness, pride, and other things.

KK: First of all, Systema is victory over oneself. When you can overcome yourself, then you can fight other people.

B: Systema places a huge emphasis on proper breathing. Why is this so important?

KK: Because the internal processes of the body cannot be controlled by any other means. We cannot consciously control our internal organs. There is no other key to our subconscious and nervous system, other than through breathing. And if you cannot control your nervous system, you cannot do effective work.

B: My last question - where do you see the future of Systema heading?

VV: Well, we're building a new, website with enhanced training opportunities and have moved to a new headquarters gym. In a wider sense, strong people should be holding Systema. Unfortunately, there are not too many of them. Weak people take Systema apart, bit-by-bit. If strong people could hold the whole thing - that would be ideal.

KK: We can talk about ideally where we'd like to see Systema, and then realistically where it's likely to be. Systema carries within it a fundamental background for any athletic preparation, and that's where we would like to see it. Also, Systema has huge potential for working with youths - especially difficult, challenging youths. I have been working with groups like these for a while. Also, Systema has huge potential for helping ordinary people deal with everyday stress. Really, Systema can answer all of the challenges a person faces in everyday life, because it makes a person calm, able to think clearly, and able to see things clearly. But here is the challenge - and this goes back to what Vladimir said about strong people - not everybody is able to make the sacrifice, accept it, and work on themselves. It's a big thing to digest. So here we are, working from an ideal situation and facing reality...

B, KL: That’s it from us. Thank you very much. Those were some great answers.

VV, KK: You had some great questions! Thank you.

About the Authors:
Brandon Sommerfeld was a Systema Instructor certified under Vladimir Vasiliev. Since 2002, he had been training with Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko and teaching Systema at his school, Russian Martial Art West Point located in Virginia. Brandon Passed away 13 January 2013. Rest in Peace Sir.

Kwan Lee ( is one of the most experienced instructors of Systema trained by Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko. Kwan is a structural engineer for military aerospace. Currently residing in Seattle, Washington, he teaches classes and seminars for professionals as well as the general public. This article was published on April 19, 2011.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Lessons from Camp (DVD) with Vladimir Vasiliev

What does it take to study and excel in fighting? 
By Vladimir Vasiliev

First, the training must be profound, challenging, diverse, and fun. Second, the instructor should possess exceptional knowledge and skill along with a gift for teaching others.

Vladimir Vasiliev is one of the most highly-regarded martial arts instructors in the world, known for his mastery in combat and talent in teaching.

Lessons from Camp put you AT FULL RANGE, presenting the defining elements for optimal response to any attack, including:
• Subtle escapes from holds, both in the field and in the water
• Unique knife disarms in the forest
• Strikes that relax, briefly switch off muscles, and debilitate attackers
• Intercepting single and multiple opponents on the move
• Smooth, effortless and precise hand-to-hand work on uneven terrain
• Vasiliev’s famous and deceivingly simple Short Work
• And much more…

Witness the power of spontaneous and unbeatable moves… And learn it yourself. 

1 hour 30 min.

OR for your convenience, the 2 Format Combo of both DVD and Downloadable for $5.00 off

To Purchase Visit:


Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Thoughts From Class by Systema Instructor Gary Bernier

“Do your own work.”

This is something I have heard over and over during my years of training in Systema with Vladimir Vasiliev. To be honest, it is something I have struggled with especially when presented with something new to try. While working with my students, this idea became much clearer: don’t worry about what the other person is doing to you – just do your work.

Consider how seeing many positive options is far superior to being undecided.

Right now you are saying what does that have to do with Systema.

So my question back to you is – when your training partner starts moving towards you, is the voice inside your head saying:

A. What should I do now? How can I possibly perform the task when my partner does…?
B . I can do this move or I can do that action or I am able to do this move first and that next?

If you picked A, then most likely you held your breath, stopped moving, became frustrated with yourself and struggled to do the job. If you chose B, then most likely you felt like you had lots of time, you were relaxed, your breathing was normal, and you enjoyed doing your own work.

It is simply a choice of focus – “What should I do…?” or “I can do …!” So if you focus on doing your own work well, you can start seeing many options and stay relaxed.

About the Author: Gary Bernier is an experienced Systema Instructor teaching regular classes at his school Systema Georgetown in Ontario, Canada. Gary can be reached at +1 647-401-1532 or

Thankyou for your insights Gary,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 27 September 2013

Are you really training? by Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev

Have you ever noticed this about yourself.

Your partner does an unfair move towards you, for example, he responds to your light strike with a hard and painful one. And then you get angry.

Or your partner is a bit arrogant or slow to learn, and you get irritated.

Then again, your moves work very well, and it makes you proud of yourself.

Or someone praises you and vanity starts to creep in.

I see this happening every class. In this case, your real training time might be only a few minutes out of the entire session.

Technique is relatively easy to learn; you can break it down into parts and grasp it. It is specific and with some practice - you have got it. The focus of Systema is different - you need to understand yourself. What does that mean? Watch constantly what is it that interferes with your calm, objective and continuous movement.

Uncontrolled emotions are detrimental to effective work. These feelings come in a subtle way and unnoticeably begin to dominate and eat away at your strength. We must be vigilant. Step one is to be aware of these weaknesses; step two is to try to overcome them through breathing, understanding, changing the attitudes and the movements. Then we gain true strength and skill.

At that point where you feel angry, annoyed, resentful or self-important - you are not longer perfecting your movement or breathing or doing other tasks, instead you are dealing with a petty conflict. If you succumb to your emotions you can be easily controlled and manipulated. While taken by emotions, you can no longer have clear judgment and swift decision making - and that is destructive for your training and for your life.

I recommend, throughout the entire class for you to try and identify what are your limitations that prevent good work. Whether you are learning or teaching, always observe your emotional condition. As soon as your emotions are unstable - you are not really working any more.

When we come to class - we come to train, that is the foundation. You might be disappointed in yourself or something in class could be disagreeable. No matter what happens in a session, it should all serve its useful purpose.

The work of recognizing and facing our pride and weakness is much more difficult than polishing techniques, but it is much more profound. As we know, memorized techniques often let you down in real unrehearsed confrontations, for example, if your arm is broken or if you are in a confined space. Whereas, if you can control your emotions and study movement, you will be capable of solving any problem in a multitude of ways. I know from experience that such work is extremely rewarding, it creates true skill and allows us to survive and succeed.

-Vladimir Vasiliev

About the Author:
Born in Russia, Vladimir received intense training from the top Special Operations Units instructors and is the top student of Mikhail Ryabko. Vladimir's work spans across 10 years of extensive service with the Special Operations Unit. He also served as trainer for elite units, SWAT teams, and bodyguards. Vladimir moved to Canada, and in 1993 founded the first school of Russian Martial Art outside Russia - Systema Headquarters. He has since personally trained and certified well over 300 qualified Russian Martial Art instructors and schools worldwide, and has provided an Award-Winning instructional film collection.

Thanks Vlad,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 20 September 2013

Finding Your Voice by Systema Instructor Joe Mayberry

This was written shortly after the Mastering Systema Seminar Series at Systema Headquarters Toronto with Vladimir Vasiliev in August of 2013

Over the five days, participants from literally all over the world descended unto Toronto to learn from Vladimir Vasiliev. The diversity of individuals that entered Systema Headquarters would make even the United Nations look paltry by comparison. Some were established instructors involved in Systema for decades and then there were those introduced to Systema for the first time.

The following is my observation of one of the many lessons that I took from the tremendously informative course. When starting down the path of Systema, some people are unsure of their bodies. They see that they cannot move freely and they may give up or get frustrated. In most martial arts, students will watch their instructor and imitate his movements to the letter. Hand and foot placements are carefully scrutinized. Katas are practiced for years to perfection. And in the end what you have are facsimiles of the instructor. For some people, that is a very easy and dogmatic route to follow. Learning by rote.

One of the first things I will tell new students starting Systema is to not get frustrated and find their voice. My meaning is that everyone is different. Old, young, short, tall, fat, skinny, athletic or couch potato. No two people are the same and we all have strengths and weaknesses. But in order to begin to develop The System in themselves, they must find their own way of doing it. They must discover their own Systema voice.

No one I have ever met in my life moves like Vladimir Vasiliev. That is because Vladimir moves like Vladimir. He does not mimic others. It is his own voice that he speaks with. It is his own Systema and no one else’s. Trying to imitate Vladimir might not work when we watch in amazement of his skill, but do not realize that what we are seeing is one man’s expression of an entire system of life.

Everyone has Systema in them. It is there from infancy. Over time we mask or forget the God given ability to breathe fully and to move freely. Pride, ego and misinformation will smother the traits that Systema exalts!

During the course of the Mastering Systema seminar, Vladimir demonstrated a wealth of different movements and exercise. But never once did he say that we should do it like he did. He instead simply told us to breathe and relax. From that we will find our own movements, escapes, offenses and defenses. But we first must find it in ourselves through breath and absence of tension.

During the first three days of the seminar, Vladimir prepared each participant through profound breathwork. From there he released us to do our own individual work. Our base was strong as long as we followed our breathing. It was the foundation of everything else that occurred. No one cared what they looked like or how they were perceived to be. The breath led the way and they worked from that. And no one would care because everyone had their own voice. My thanks to all my fellow instructors, participants and friends who took the journey to Mastering Systema with me. I also want to thank Maxim Franz and Adam and Brendon Zettler for assisting and giving personal attention to anyone the required assistance. But finally thanks to Vladimir and Valerie Vasiliev for presenting, coordinating and executing a most profound training experience.

About the Author: Joe Mayberry has been intensively training and teaching Systema since 2008. He is a USMC Veteran and Detective with the St. Louis Police Dept. Joe has extensive martial arts experience and currently teaches Police, Military and Security personnel. Joe’s school has recently been awarded the best Self Defense Program in St. Louis.

Thanks again Joe :)

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 13 September 2013

Master's Push Up by Systema Master Valentin Talanov

At Systema Camp 2012, Valentin Talanov started the week with this story.

“This incident changed my approach to Systema and to training in general. It happened in 1980’s at the home of Mikhail Ryabko. Visiting our instructor at his apartment was a common thing to do in Russia. There were three of us, Systema students, coming to talk to Mikhail that day. All experienced in other types of fighting, we were fairly new to this training and had our doubts about learning Systema. We actually told Mikhail straight out that we will no longer practice Systema because we do not understand it.

Mikhail was very calm and positive about this announcement. He said “doubt prevents understanding”. Then he asked us to do a couple of simple exercises. First, push yourself up from a push up position, clap your hands under your chest and land back on your palms. We easily did that. Second, from the same position, push yourself up and do one clap over the head and one under the chest and land back onto the palms. After some deliberation, we were able to do that. And finally, from the same push up position, all in one shot, push off and clap under the chest, then over the head and then behind the back, landing right back on your palms.

Mikhail said that we are not to leave his place until it is done. We were laughing and making jokes about this impossible exercise. Mikhail said that it is achievable and people have done this, and while we are doubting we will not be able to accomplish this. For about 40 minutes, we continued making fun of this situation. At last, the emotions subsided and we started to try…

Eventually, we were all determined to complete the task, believed in the possibility and all three of us succeeded! I remember doing a very high amplitude push off and finishing the third clap a split second before my hands hit the floor.

This was a great ‘hands-on’ experience of how Faith leads to Success, Success opens Understanding, and Understanding grants Confidence. Moreover, I realized that Systema is the thing I love and I started to practice it regularly and diligently. Now about 25 years later, I am very thankful to Mikhail for his unique teaching methodology and for the gift of Systema. It has truly changed my training and enriched my life.

Thank you to Vladimir and Valerie Vasiliev and Systema HQ Toronto for hosing such an amazing Camp and giving me the opportunity to share this gift with so many people!

About the Author:

Valentin Talanov is one of the top Specialists, Instructor and Trainer of Systema since 1982 under Mikhail Ryabko. He is an experienced street and tournament fighter, health and conditioning trainer of world class athletes and KS master of boxing. Valentin’s amazing power and skills are featured in his DVD Breathwork and Combat:

Thankyou Valentin,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Short Route of Knowing by Systema Master Konstantin Komarov

To me, the essence of Systema is learning to deal with any unfavorable environment, which means increasing the chances of survival. One cannot account for every possible negative scenario that we may encounter in life. Therefore, we cannot prepare for each possibility separately. Instead, we need to prepare for all at once. Thus in Systema, the specific techniques and methods of work are not as important as the changes occurring in the student’s body and psyche.

My service in the army also taught me to overcome any negative impacts. The thing is, I had to learn differently, through overcoming myself. Over the course of four years of study at the military school, by running I have probably circled the Earth. We would run so much daily, morning, day or night, in freezing cold and sweltering heat, always wearing boots and uniforms, often with weapons and full gear, sometimes on skis, through obstacle courses, through the woods, across fields, on- or off-road. I hated running with my guts. I would ask myself – “at the age of cars, IVFs, APCs and all kinds of armored vehicles why, oh why do we need to run and march on foot so much?” Back then I could not answer that question.

In addition to that, physical training was also a part of other disciplines such as tactics, firearms, topography, defense from weapons of mass destruction, or military vehicles. This “PE component” included many miles of walking or running with weapons and gear, often wearing personal protection equipment; timed getting in and out of vehicles; loading / unloading ammo; mounting and taking down weapons, among other “pleasures”. In short, during the first two years I moved about exclusively by either marching or running. I kept asking that same question “Why do we need this?” even in my dreams!

Suddenly, after the graduation and getting to my first assignment, I got it. I knew why I had suffered. My commanders and teachers had helped me develop a stable psyche and stamina – the two qualities that determine one’s readiness to withstand negative impacts, and therefore survive. As the old military saying goes “what does not kill you makes you stronger”. Indeed, by overcoming yourself, you can tap into inconceivable powers! I realized that I had this internal strength, and so did my subordinates. Otherwise, they would not have followed my command.

So, the army taught me well to overcome myself, while Systema teaches self-understanding. In the army I shaped myself through a variety of drills, while in Systema I can develop myself directly. Under a good Systema instructor, this is a shorter route. Yes, there are drills, but I know exactly how each one changes me and why. I can build myself from the ground up, discover and correct my own shortcomings and strengthen the qualities I need. Systema is a marvelous, subtle instrument of self-development, which helps build a sound foundation for any movement, any activity. And not so much through overcoming but more through understanding yourself. Trust me – this process is faster and much more enjoyable.

Try a little experiment. Watch a video recording of a relatively simple dance (modern or folk) and try to copy the moves for a minute. If it is working, you are on a right Systema path. See, Systema training gives your body freedom to easily repeat any unusual and complex moves.

Would you like to take the challenge of overcoming yourself and reap the benefits? Try crawling without the use of arms or legs, non-stop for 20 minutes and up to 90 minutes depending on your fitness level. Then, in a class, do some wrestling with a partner or practice simple strikes, grabs and escapes on the move. Those of you, who succeed in overcoming yourself, will get an amazing, outstanding long-term result. This happens because we do most activities with our arms and legs, while the trunk is less capable of movement. But this approach is not for everyone. At Systema Camp this summer, I’d like to share with you the tasks that are easier, more engaging, and more fun. Together we will master most interesting things! See you there!

About the Author: Konstantin Komarov is a Major in the Special Service Police Force, PhD in Combat Psychology, one of the master instructors coming from Russia to teach at Systema at Full Range Camp 2012. Enjoy the short route to knowledge at SYSTEMA CAMP 2012 with Vladimir Vasiliev and Konstantin Komarov and Systema HQ instructors, August 13th through 19th.

About the Author:

Konstantin Komarov is a Major in the Special Service Police Force having worked in Russian Military Reconnaissance and holds a PhD in combat Psychology. He has been a Professional Bodyguard for Moscow's Elite, and is one of the master instructors at the Systema Camp held regularly in Canada.

Thankyou Konstantin,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 30 August 2013

Rolls and Falls by Senior Systema Instructor Emmanuel Manolakakis

When you talk about rolls and falling one must first consider their many aspects and applications. A roll or fall can be done by choice, but usually results from a reaction to something. They can also be used as an offensive move but are more commonly a defensive one.

A typical urban street is a hard, uneven surface with lots of little stones or debris. It is not a place you would want to land. On a conscious level this would explain why most people hate going to the ground. On an unconscious level people love or hate the ground because of their training. A wrestler loves this area while a boxer may not, this comes from their training and the psychology around their particular sports.

In SYSTEMA rolling or falling is just another skill that you can call upon when you need. Just like a punch, kick or grab, it is a movement like any other. You don’t need to love or hate the ground, just become friends with it. If you need to go there go, if not don’t. Your situation will dictate more what is possible.

As I often mention to my students, your chances of falling, slipping or tripping on something during the course of the year are more likely then you getting into a fight. Hospitals are full of people having hurt themselves by falling. Injuries are common to the hands, arms, back and head. Practicing this aspect has an application beyond the martial art.

Training on hard surfaces is preferable to mats. An old Russian saying is “a hard floor is like a good friend, a soft one is like a bad one”. Your focus should be on blanketing the ground, not slamming into it. Contact is made only on the soft tissue, not the bones. A good indicator would be the amount of noise from your roll or fall. No noise is excellent. Banging would indicate bones are contacting the ground and could possibly be damaged.

You begin a roll with your hands stretched out in front of you. This is an instinctual position for your hands. They come forward to brace or stop a fall – this is the body’s way of trying to protect itself, so start from here. Rotate the arm from the hand so that your shoulder rolls forward. You will be rolling through the shoulder and the back, on the soft tissue and muscles, not on any bones. The legs will come around and land carefully, not slamming into the ground. Using the momentum of the roll and not fighting it is essential.

Now that we can get to the ground safely let’s talk about ground fighting. There are two main perspectives – survival or competition based. You must make decisions when you train about which path you will follow. A lot depends on your personal goals, aspirations and wants from martial arts.

I have done both in my years and can safely say that survival based training is much more practical, efficient and safe. By focusing on survival you more easily build creativity and awareness skills. These two attributes are vital for any real life applications.

SYSTEMA starts by having students simply move on the ground – crawling, sliding, shuffling and rolling. No negative stimulus is initially applied. This gives a student room to discover and learn his or her movements. Following this you can start to progress and have someone walk towards you while you’re on the ground. Your objective is to simply move out of the way safely. This simple drill can get very interesting when your training partner starts to run at you and you are forced to move quickly. Add to this the many other students surrounding you in class doing the same thing and the person running is just half the problem. The progress has no limits, you can have your partner start to step or kick you while you are on the ground or have them use a stick or knife to strike you with, the objective is still the same – just move out of the way. The offensive applications come from the movement chosen by each student. Anything is possible, the only limit is the students creativity.

Time is also spent in the more traditional forms of wrestling – where two people are locked or engaged physically. Students are shown how to use the ground to their advantage and how to work with their movements. They learn first hand what works and what does not work for them

Author :Emmanuel is the Owner & Chief Instructor of the Fight Club Martial Arts and Fitness Centre in Toronto. Emmanuel has spent the last sixteen years focusing on Systema under the tutelage of Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko. Information can be found about Emmanuel and the Fight Club at: 

Thanks Manny,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Systema in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine: Technique Workshop August 2013

This August we are once again featured in Blitz Martial Arts Magazine in their Technique Workshop: Defence against a jab and a low round kick.

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 16 August 2013

Memory, Tension and Striking by Senior Systema Instructor Martin Wheeler

I know when I first started training with Vladimir I was overwhelmed by the fact that I seemed to be giving away such huge swathes of mental and physical information about myself that I felt practically naked in front of the man. If I moved he countered, if I prepared to strike he struck, if I did land a shot it was all but laughed off. And when I was hit, just how devastating the effect of the strikes were (and are).

But for all my efforts, even though frustration was a huge factor, eventually through soft training, gentle coaxing and a monumental amount of patience on Vladimir’s behalf even the most dyed in the wool martial artist will finally get the point that far more is going on here than the simple or even sophisticated techniques employed by most fighting systems.

Now I am often assailed by the same questions at seminars of training sessions that I asked of him- mainly how do you see the tension and make use is it?

We are born and we eventually die, an over simplification of life I know but the only framework that I have to work in. In between those events are our lives, and everything we learn, love, hate and achieve, every event from suckling a breast, to being punched for the first time, to driving a car and taking our second to last breath are irrevocably writ into physiology, psychology and movement, and in turn can be read by a practiced eye (I use eye in the metaphorical as well as the physical sense here).

The reason your own eyes are scanning these words the way they are, the way you are sitting to read this, the way your hand is moving to either scroll down further or shut this crap off and flip to Youtube has been learned by your body through a series of trials and errors which allow you to exist in your environment in the most comfortable way possible.

Nobody does anything to be uncomfortable, no one intentionally walks awkwardly, intentionally throws a ball well or poorly (if they are genuine in their purpose to do it well), or fights you in a way which is uncomfortable to the individuals mechanics or psyche. Even through these actions may be born out of stressful situations no-one intentionally makes themselves more uncoordinated or clumsy than they naturally are or have trained themselves to be. They will work in the most efficient a way that their memory, subconscious or conscious, and mechanical physiology allows for.

The inevitable tension created by the muscles and tendons that must fire to coordinate these movements are linked to the memories and experiences of our life, whether those experiences have been good or bad, right wrong or indifferent. When someone moves they are showing you far more than just their movement, the body is essentially a book of the mind, it is the physical manifestation of the individuals whole life experience.

When someone moves they are showing you their life, all of it up till that point.

The tension points that you are attempting to seek and feel through the soft work employed in Systema training could be considered as layer upon layer of memory bound experiences that are literally holding the person up not only physically but also mentally/spiritually stable, allowing them to they perceive the world and their spatial awareness in it, and not independent of their experience of it.

This is why when striking the effect of (positive) striking can have a far more devastating effect on the receiver than the usual method of blunt force hitting employed in many martial systems.

Not that blunt force hitting doesn’t have its merits and effectiveness, ask any poor sucker-punched sap or highly trained MMA fighter waking up from the effects of a well placed shot, but that is not what I am attempting to unravel here.

Systema striking should at its most fundamental level be a deep level of touching, essentially no different from the lightest level of contact employed by the fingertips, soft but deep enough to release the memories bound in the movement at a subconscious level. At the point we have literally invested ourselves at that moment.

I think back to the fights I have been in for ‘real’ or ‘training’, the ones I have won and the ones I have lost, each its own unique and intimate learning experience and each a moment I would swap for no other in my life, but as I look back on them for all their unique components there was always the commonality of having someone to fight.

No matter who the opponent, from some ‘dude’ to various top level professionals in multiple arenas, they always gave me someone to fight. The more and the harder they hit me, threw me, choked me.. The list goes on… the greater my desire to defeat them in some way if I could. The harder they came the more navigation points they gave me to direct my will at. Give me someone to fight, whether I win or lose, I will fight them. I’m pretty sure many reading this will have shared this feeling at some point.

I then think back to the times in my life when I have been reduced to a quivering husk of a man unable to even stand on the legs right under me, for whatever personal reasons that I am not prepared to go into at this time suffice to say I am also pretty sure that most of us have experienced the same emotions; the loss of a loved one, the thought of a desolating event befalling us, the apprehension of news we know we are simply not prepared to handle at this very moment in our lives, etc.

My point being that often the only things that we cannot face are those locked deep inside of us, those things that take us out of our level of comfort and force us to confront our greatest and darkest fears of the unknown, and until competently guided, the unknowable.

That is, to my mind, is one of the reasons why the strikes work so effectively. Skillful intuitive placement of deep level strikes/touches releases untended memories and experiences into the individual- giving the ‘opponent’ no one to fight other than themselves. This creates an almost insurmountable wall for them to climb, a flailing sense of loss as the familiar navigation points of perception and experience are skewed, if not totally removed.

Strangely enough this is also the healthiest thing that can happen to the person being struck if they are indeed being struck by someone with skill and positive intention. As those fearful memories and experiences are expunged and faced and replaced by a positive, healthy and ultimately survivable experience.

Author: Martin Wheeler is a highly experienced Systema Instructor, certified under Vladimir Vasiliev. Martin is teaching regular Systema classes at the Academy Beverly Hills, California and at international seminars. He has over 30 years of various martial arts practice, teaching and training in Systema since 1998. Martin is contracted to teach SWAT teams and Special Operations Units and is also a produced Hollywood screen writer.

Thankyou for sharing your experience with us Martin,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 9 August 2013

Check Your Gauges by Senior Systema Instructor Emmanuel Manolakakis

Our bodies are equipped with countless hidden gauges, providing us with critical information on our well being. All too often we ignore them. Imagine a race car driver ignoring his speedometer and tachometer - instruments vital to the success and safe operation of his vehicle. Ignoring them would not fare well for the driver and vehicle.

I often see people ignoring they’re bodies speedometer and tachometer while training. This results in sloppy and careless work, while also leaving them out of breath.

Watch the hands and feet of those that have mastered this system - they are in complete control of their speed, power and breathing. There are many simple things you can do to start to build this awareness and understanding for yourself.

How to begin...

1. Sit or lie quietly with your eyes closed.

2. Inhale through your nose and make your body completely (100%) tense for 10 seconds. Exhale through your mouth and make you body completely (100%) relaxed for 10 seconds.

3. Inhale through your nose and make your body (50%) tense for 10 seconds. Exhale through your mouth and make you body (50%) relaxed for 10 seconds.

4. Inhale through your nose and make your body (25%) tense for 10 seconds. Exhale through your mouth and make you body (25%) relaxed for 10 seconds.

5. Repeat with push-ups, squats, leg / body raises.

* Similar things can be done with speed and breathing, just remember to stay focused on what you are developing. It becomes easy to cheat so have a friend watch you or videotape yourself.

When you’re ready, apply this during training.

1. As your partner grabs, punches, kicks or stabs – Use a 100% of your effort to put them down. Be careful.

2. As your partner grabs, punches, kicks or stabs – Use 50% of your effort to put them down.

3. As your partner grabs, punches, kicks or stabs – Use 25% of your effort to put them down.

* Feedback is critical, so talk to your partners. Ask them if they felt any difference in the work? Look at the difference in your partners reactions? Look at the difference in you reacted?

What I find useful with this work:

1. It allows me to explore one of the key principles in Systema; ‘Using the least amount of effort to control a situation’. By working with minimal effort it allows me to limit the disturbance and irritation to my own and partners psyche.

2. Gives me the option of hiding my abilities; something that you might find necessary in certain situations.

3. It allows me to focus on what needs to be done rather than what I want to do.

Author :Emmanuel is the Owner & Chief Instructor of the Fight Club Martial Arts and Fitness Centre in Toronto. Emmanuel has spent the last sixteen years focusing on Systema under the tutelage of Vladimir Vasiliev and Mikhail Ryabko. Information can be found about Emmanuel and the Fight Club at: 

Thanks Manny,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 2 August 2013

Fists and Punches by Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev

A few years ago, when I was visiting Mikhail Ryabko in Moscow, he demonstrated a slow fist pushup against the wall. I still clearly remember how standing next to him, it felt like a huge beast filled the room, the wall was droning and buzzing under his fists.

Pushups in Systema are not just exercises for shoulders and chest, they are a comprehensive method to prepare for fighting and strikes. The way Mikhail did it, he had full sensitivity of the surface his fists were on, and he was not just moving his body up and down, he used the points of weight bearing to work through his entire body. The pushing off force moved though the arms down to the feet and back up, smooth, strong and solid.

Fist pushups are great training for punches. When done correctly, they help us learn how to strike without tension in the body. When we learn to do pushups while keeping the body relaxed, using only the muscles we need – then we will be able to do the same during strikes – that is to keep the body tension-free while delivering a punch. Control of our muscle tension gives us power and precision, it allows us to choose the distance correctly, there is no longer a need to reach, punches become short, strong and accurate. Tension-free punches produce no side effects of straining and fatigue, the recovery time from training and fighting becomes minimal.

When I practiced karate many years ago, before my Systema experience, I noticed a definite vulnerability there. At the point of completing a strike, the body was fixed, in a rigid structure, not moving and tense. I found that this often created a very fragile structure for real confrontations. If the striker was hit right at that moment – he was easily injured. A tense body lacks sensitivity and agility, it cannot react, escape and counterattack quickly and smoothly.

So here is how you can practice pushups.

  • Stand on the fists in the pushup position. 
  • Place as much of your fist surface as comfortable in contact with the floor. 
  • Execute the pushup and continue to feel the ground with the same fist area as you started with throughout the entire range of movement. 
  • In the meantime, watch for any tension in the body. 
  • As soon as you feel that part of your fist surface no longer has full sensitivity of the floor – you know that tension has set in. In that case, continue the pushups and try to relax through breathing and movement. 
  • Repeat as much as you feel is necessary. 
Also, as Mikhail explains, such pushups with tension control have a tremendous health benefit. They ensure that excessive pressure does not go up to the head but instead gets evenly distributed through the body. We know how damaging the excessive pressure to the head can be during striking. Once mastered in pushups, the pressure control will also be occurring while delivering a punch.

About the Author:
Born in Russia, Vladimir received intense training from the top Special Operations Units instructors and is the top student of Mikhail Ryabko. Vladimir's work spans across 10 years of extensive service with the Special Operations Unit. He also served as trainer for elite units, SWAT teams, and bodyguards. Vladimir moved to Canada, and in 1993 founded the first school of Russian Martial Art outside Russia - Systema Headquarters. He has since personally trained and certified well over 300 qualified Russian Martial Art instructors and schools worldwide, and has provided an Award-Winning instructional film collection.

Thanks Vlad,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Friday, 26 July 2013

On Fear and Courage by Systema Master Konstantin Komarov

Recently we started talking about fear and courage. It got me thinking about my own childhood: for as long as I can remember, I was always striving to be brave.

To overcome my fear of darkness I would crawl into dark cellars or venture into the woods at night. To conquer my fear of heights, I’d jump down from roofs or dive from cliffs. Despite being afraid to fight, I’d pick fights with stronger opponents or go to boxing practice. The list goes on and on.

For some reason, even as a little kid, I instinctively knew that if you succumb to fear, it would grow into a huge monster that you cannot get rid of. I also knew that you can’t hide from fear. The problem is that it lives inside, and you can’t hide yourself under a blanket or on a pretend “home base”. So for me, there was only one way out: to meet fear full-on, face the scary situation, and overcome myself. It was always tough but it always worked. The second time around it was not as hard to overcome the fear, and the third time it felt almost easy.

Now I understand that many of my crucial, far-reaching life choices were made subconsciously, while striving for courage. Yet during our early years, we tend to make important decisions without thinking too much why we make them…

During the war it was different somehow. I don’t mean the training missions but in real combat, dealing with tough and dangerous situations. It was understood that an officer could not show his fears because his soldiers would always watch and imitate him, following the key principle: “Do as I do!” which applies to war and life in general. Well, all of us were kind of fearless, sometimes borderline reckless. Yet this fearlessness was based upon a few very specific things: · Unshakable belief in our comrades · Confidence in ourselves · Confidence in our weapons

The ordinary, mundane fears sort of faded into the background. For whatever reason, we never thought of death. Everyone was prepared for possible injuries and pain. However, some new and previously unknown fears surfaced. It was not until now that I can verbalize them; back then they were held deep inside, sometimes breaking out and getting in the way of my decision-making. The fear of letting down our comrades was at the top: things like not making it in time, straggling or getting lost in a combat zone. The second was the fear of helplessness: being unarmed, captured, or losing control over a situation. These were not just my personal fears, but rather universal among my friends.

Once in South Ossetia, while resting on the base, we got a garbled radio transmission from our convoy. The operator could only make out the words “…we’re pinned down in the city…” then the transmission ended. About 10 seconds later the emergency response unit was off while everyone else abandoned their dinner, jumped onto the vehicles and anxiously waited for the ‘go’ signal. That’s when I saw fear on everyone’s faces. No, it was not the fear of combat because everyone was eager to fight. We were not afraid of what might happen to us. It was the fear of what might happen to our comrades: what if we can’t find them? What if we’re late? Well, that time everything ended well: we found them and got there on time.

I will never forget the expression of fear on my friends’ faces. The best remedy from this kind of fear was our combat brotherhood and “Perish yourself but rescue your comrade!" as said by Suvorov (a great Russian general who has never lost a battle). It worked!

Speaking of other fears, one thing I remember distinctly is carrying a hand grenade in my pocket wherever I went. It was not just me. Almost everyone did. Was it inconvenient and dangerous? You bet, but somehow it was comforting. No one ever asked why. No one ever talked about it or had to explain it to anyone. This means there was a common reason, a silent understanding.

For about ten years afterwards, I had the nightmares of not getting to the meeting point on time, or running out of ammo, or realizing my gun got jammed… I would wake up sweating, short of breath, my heart pounding like crazy…

These feelings still come up once in a while. Thanks to Systema, now I quickly recognize these emotions as they appear and no longer allow them to control my actions.

Thank God, during my service I never let down my comrades even once. Yet, I experienced the full-blown fear of helplessness twice. First, being alone, practically unarmed, in the midst of a war-torn, enemy-controlled city. A few years ago, I already wrote about this experience in the story called “The Final Argument”. And the second episode was falling down in a helicopter jam-packed with people. Let’s talk about the helicopter incident.

It happened in early spring of 1992 in mountains of Armenia.

The military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh area broke out and the fighting was very close. The 46 of us were flown in by helicopters to our base, which was surrounded by more than 500 Armenian guerrillas. A day before, the guerrillas had assaulted the base and taken its commander and 10 officers hostages. In exchange for their lives, the bandits had demanded that we relinquish all the heavy weapons located at the base, including artillery and ammo for ‘Grad’ and ‘Uragan’ rapid-fire systems.

We did our job. How we did it is a different story. It included repelling another attack and completing the mission in the surrounding territory. In a few days, all hostages were brought back unconditionally. However, there was still a very real threat of attacks.

The next shift was flown in to replace us. As we were leaving for the mainland in four MI-8 helicopters, we decided to take along the wives and children of the officers. The load in each helicopter was more than double the permitted weight. People were sitting tightly on the floor and on their packages. High elevation and rough weather conditions (wind, snow, and darkness) only added to the complexity of the mission.

Our pilots were top of the line. All crews went through Afghanistan. They knew very well that there would be no other chance and tried to pick up everybody. It was risky, but the risk was well calculated based on the capabilities of the pilots and the equipment.

My chopper was second in the first pair. There was only a small area for the take-off, so we could not gain speed by running like an airplane (a maneuver often used by helicopter pilots in high mountains). I stuck out the barrel of my gun in the window on the left side and watched how the leading helicopter, swinging heavily from side to side, took off after three attempts. It veered to the left, narrowly missing electric poles and trees, but regained its balance and started ascending.

Immediately, our chopper started shaking violently. There was the roar of the engine as we started taking off… Then I felt it diving down and bouncing heavily off the ground… Another take-off attempt and one more dive with a thud… Our chopper was bouncing like a ball. Then again, lift-off, going up and a sharp right – all I could see was the sky… There was someone falling off the bench, a piercing shriek of a woman, yelling, something crashing, sounds of metal scraping, another crash, then deafening roar of the engine, and jittery convulsions of the chopper… I don’t know how long it lasted – more than likely, it was only 3 or 4 seconds but it surely felt like eternity. Out there, in the twilight zone between life and something else, there is no sense of time. It felt like everything inside of me shrunk and froze, my limbs got weak, my breathing stopped. There was this sudden, acute awareness of how helpless, fragile, and useless everything was…

Somehow we took off. We made it. Our flying aces pulled it off. I can’t thank them enough. Unfortunately, we could not properly thank them – right after dropping us off on an impromptu landing spot they flew to their home base. That was the last time we saw them alive – in two months they crashed high in the mountains and we had to get their bodies from the snow slopes at an elevation of over 11,000 ft…

Later on, people from the second helicopter pair told us that during the take-off we were blown smack into a two-story headquarters building, a wheel and chassis support got stuck and tore off the water spout and a piece of the roof, the propeller blades chopped off the antennas… It was a miracle that the pilots pulled it off.

Anyway, as soon as we started steady ascend, my fear was gone and I dozed off. We flew through the night. I remember how a sharp sideways jolt woke me up; what I saw through the window looked like chains of lights streaming towards us from the darkness. My sleepy interpretation was peaceful: maybe those were fireworks or simply a faraway train down there… As we were getting off, I noticed bullet holes in the helicopter’s body.

It’s been many years since that night, but I still vividly remember the fear. I also remember making a promise to myself to try and avoid any situations where I had no control. Now I understand that often I could not keep this promise.

With the foundation of strength and security in Systema, it is easy to reflect on your life (both past and future) and discover many things about yourself. I believe this is the only healthy way: through calm training, unraveling your own memories, impressions and thoughts, gradually figuring out your fears, tracing their roots, and learning to live fear-free today! This is what recognizing your fears and mustering courage is all about. I hope that during the upcoming Systema Summer Camp, we’ll have enough time for both.

About the Author:

Konstantin Komarov is a Major in the Special Service Police Force having worked in Russian Military Reconnaissance and holds a PhD in combat Psychology. He has been a Professional Bodyguard for Moscow's Elite, and is one of the master instructors at the Systema Camp held regularly in Canada.

Thankyou Konstantin,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Register Online For Daniil Ryabko's Systema Seminar in Sydney this November 2013

This November Daniil Ryabko returns to Sydney to share with us The Secrets of the Russian Masters

Dates: 23 & 24 November 2013 (Saturday and Sunday)
Times: 10:00am to 4:00pm both days
Place: To be Announced
Topics: Strikes and Knife Work
Price: Early bird special of $340 before 30 September 2013, then full price of $400 from 1 October 2013 onwards. Please note that all payments are non-refundable.

It’s really simple to pay online, just take a moment to set up a Paypal account to pay by credit card.

Alternatively to arrange to pay via bank transfer contact Justin by e-mail on

Daniil Ryabko is the son of Systema Founder Mikhail Ryabko. Daniil has been training in the Russian Martial Art, Systema, with his father since a very young age and is today one of the most experienced Russian Martial Art instructors in Moscow. He has also served and trained an elite unit of the Spetsnaz.