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