Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Let Every Breath by Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev with Scott Meredith, Ph.D.

Based on the teachings of Mikhail Ryabko

Secrets of the Russian Breath Masters. A groundbreaking new manual that reveals the Breathing Techniques of Russia’s traditional "SYSTEMA".

Born in the discipline of Russia’s ancient holy warriors and brought down to us today through the ranks of their military’s most elite modern special forces, these battle-tested principles and techniques are available to you for the first time. Whether you are looking to raise your athletic skills to the next level, or simply seeking to increase your potential and to enjoy life, Systema Breathing is guaranteed to uncover the endless reserve of energy, health and happiness.

This book presents step-by-step training drills given to you in a thorough and comprehensive way. You will learn the unique methodology of Systema breathing including the seven Systema breathing principles that provide the foundation for every physical activity of your daily life.

Easy reading full of entertaining stories and thought provoking ideas.

The most important book you will ever read.

125 pages

I strongly recommend you read this book,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Fighting in the Water (downloadable) by Systema Masters Vladimir Vasiliev and Konstantin Komarov

An instructional film by Vladimir Vasiliev and Konstantin Komarov, of Russia's Special Operations Units

Imagine being held under water while your lungs are pounded with the air-expelling strikes... picture yourself shoved face down to the bottom of the lake as the attacker tramples your back... what if a blade is emerging out of the water ready to slice your throat... This film will show you how to survive such dreadful adversities, and not just to survive - but to avoid panic, to stay in control and handle your opponent no matter how hopeless it gets.

Unprecedented in the martial arts training world, now you can see all this action IN THE WATER:

  • conditioning exercises, 
  • kicks & punches, 
  • escapes from holds, 
  • precision strikes & instant takedowns, 
  • rolls to evade drowning, 
  • knife disarmings, 
  • and the most challenging no-bottom fighting.


  • specialized breath training drills to save your life and rescue others, 
  • maximize the reserves of your psyche, 
  • compress and expand your breath cycle & your internal time scale, 
  • push yourself beyond your physical limit without the stress to your nervous system, 
  • use water to conceal your actions, 
  • build a field sauna, 
  • see water not as a limitation to your moving and breathing, but as the perfect tool to work directly with your Fear, conquer your Panic, master Self-Control and add a new depth to your combat skill and to understanding yourself.

Includes live action training scenes from a Systema survival camp.

Also available in DVD format

61 min.


Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Special Conditions by Systema Master Konstantin Komarov

In today’s martial arts, whatever happens outside of a training hall or dojo is considered “special conditions”. What we refer to as “special conditions” are just those factors limiting our normal movement and perception. Let’s focus on two of these: darkness and water.

Darkness has a tremendous impact on how we perceive our surroundings, while water changes our ability to move. We should get great mileage out of this in our training to help eliminate our stereotypical, “cookie-cutter” thinking.

Here are two useful yet simple exercises for working in “special conditions”.

Getting ready for work in the dark
Try the following sequence while it’s still light outside: Stand in a clearing in a park or woods. Mark your spot with an object such as a rock, stick, or a hat. Pick a tree about 10-15 paces away from you. Close your eyes and try to find the tree and get back to the starting spot.

If successful, pick another tree about 10-15 paces away from the first one. Then close your eyes and from the spot, go to the first, then the second tree and without opening your eyes get back exactly to the starting spot. If you complete the exercise comfortably after 2 or 3 trials, your special orientation is great. This means that the night will always be your ally.

Water and strikes
This exercise is best done with a partner. Pick 10-15 pebbles. Walk into the water until it’s up to your neck. Ask your partner to throw the pebbles into the water, one at a time, landing about 50-80 cm (1.5 – 2.5 ft) away from you. Your job is to catch the pebbles by hand in one move. Your arms and hands stay in the water. Try that and you will quickly get the meaning of shortest trajectory, relaxed body, muscle coordination, and quick reaction – everything required for the development of solid striking skills.

If you were able to catch at least 7 out of 10 pebbles, your strike is going to be unstoppable.

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, 14 February 2015

Fundamentals of Knife Disarming (downloadable) by Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev

Unarmed against the blade... be sure to prevail!

A top combat expert shows everything you need to know for cutting-edge self-defense.

Vladimir Vasiliev, a 10-year veteran of an elite Russian Special Operations Unit, reveals the ancient secrets of SYSTEMA. Benefit from the battle-proven skills of the professional close-quarter knife fighters.

Critics say this phenomenal instructor has written a new page in the history of martial arts.

Why such praise?

No patterns to practice Instinctive moves are the most devastating, so SYSTEMA develops your body’s natural capacity to defend itself in any situation. Vasiliev uncovers complete defense - from all positions, directions and types of knife strikes, slashes, grips and levels of body contact. Learn to overcome knife attacks even without the use of your arms and legs These are military moves that work, the real ones, subtle, quick, direct and deadly. Vasiliev then takes you far beyond technique by revealing movements that are the key to instant personal mastery You must conquer not just a sharp blade, but even greater threats: your own stiffness, vulnerability and fear Vasiliev’s unparalleled energy, power and skill are so inspiring that you absorb the moves just by watching the film. Ideal for beginners, indispensable for pros!

Also available in DVD format

1 hr. 8 min.

I hope this is of use to you,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Monday, 9 February 2015

Deeper Connection by Michael J Gonzales, Systema instructor and U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From time to time, people ask where I first heard or learned about Systema. It’s an unusual story so I tried to avoid it. Now, as an instructor, I am grateful it even happened.

In the early 2009, I was assigned to a security detail in Japan, my employer at the time was an Israeli man that had lived and worked in Japan for over a decade. After work one day, he asked if I would like to train in the dojo that was in our building of occupancy. I agreed, and he went on to show me some grabs and escapes, ground movement and soft work. My brain was trying to understand what was happening, all while my body was experiencing something foreign and fascinating. I was hooked. So there I was: an American, in Japan, learning a Russian Martial Art, from an Israeli man. I can’t make that up. Thank you, Avry. Once I returned to my home state of Texas, I immediately searched the Internet for the closest Systema school; there was one an hour drive away, in Austin. So I showed up one day, a little eager, and a little nervous, not really knowing what to expect. Little did I know, I was about to embark on something so profound and life changing. That was over 5 years ago, I met Gene Smithson and started my training, and to this day, I get the same feeling every time I walk into his school.

So, what is Systema?

This is quite possibly, the hardest question to answer as a student and an instructor. Could it be that Systema is by far the most diverse, complete, and unique martial art in the world? I don’t know. As I continue my training the question gets harder and harder to answer. Shouldn’t it get easier to understand though?

No, it shouldn’t. That’s because each time you train Systema you begin to see “more”, taking you even further down the rabbit hole. When I say, “you see more”, I mean you see more of everything, more possibilities, more options, more entrances, more exits. However, if not careful, this positive skill and knowledge can also initiate growth of ego. This is where the balance of Systema comes in. You also start to see more of your limitations, weaknesses, and bad habits. This is can both frustrate and/or motivate depending on the individual in training. So a balance needs to come into play, to humbly accept what you are not good at, and at the same time not letting your ego get bigger when you become better at something that others are struggling with. Easier said than done, right? Well, that’s all part of your growth as a student of Systema.

In a weird way, one of the best ways to progress at Systema, is to stop trying to progress at Systema! To clean yourself of everything, and I mean everything. Walking into class with no expectations, no thoughts, no preconceived ideas, and no agenda.

This is can be a challenge for many, especially in today’s world. We live in a time where we are the most connected we have ever been (social media, Internet, instant messaging, email, smart phones) but at the same time, we are the most DISCONNECTED we have ever been. We as humans have lost connection with the outdoors, with our families, with our peers, but worst of all… we have lost connection with ourselves.

For example, last year Dr. Emma Seppala, a Stanford Psychologist, gave a speech to employees at Facebook HQ where she stated, “The urge to check social media and Facebook has now surpassed the desire for sex and addictive substance like cigarettes”. Powerful statement if you think about. Research shows that our desire for social connection is one of our strongest needs in life. This social connection is also considered a strong predictor of physical health, psychological health, recovery from disease, and even life longevity. Sound familiar? Most of my students that I have taught or personally trained in Systema have approached me at one time and said, “I started training because I wanted to learn how to fight, now I train because of a much deeper connection”.

This connection is not only with their training partners, but also with their spouses, their children, co-workers and most importantly, themselves. This is something we will never achieve through social media or the Internet, and it cannot be replicated.

When I wake in the morning, I struggle with the desire to reach over and check my phone. This has become a problem for me in the past year. I would wake up, and without hesitation, reach for my smartphone to check my notifications. Now, I have slowly progressed to leaving the phone in a different room while sleeping (whatever it is can wait for the next day). Here is where I started to implement my Systema, from Let Every Breath, pg. 55 “Starting your day”. Vladimir articulates that the body over time can suffer when it’s trying to adapt to “cold starts”. He says that the way the body handles the transition from rest to activity is paramount, so it’s best if we do not rush ourselves and try to begin the first moments of our day rapidly. A better way to begin your day is by slowly waking, remain in the laying position and begin with a breath based warm-up routine. This routine has helped my body and me tremendously. It has also helped me to reconnect to myself. If you have not read Let Every Breath, do yourself a favor and get it.

In these modern times, we are completely surrounded by outside influences, and they are starting to affect our mind, body and soul. The good news is, we all have something much more powerful and special within us, and there is a “System” that can guide and help you find it. It’s up to you determine when that starts.

All the best to you and your training!

About Author:
Michael J Gonzales is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, the founder and chief instructor of San Antonio Systema and is currently pursuing his Bachelors in Psychology at the University of Incarnate Word. He can be reached at:

Saturday, 7 February 2015

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.

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 again for your guidance Vladimir,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Multiple Attackers (downloadable) by Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev

Surrounded. Confronted with multiple attackers. You need to be ready physically and psychologically. 

  • Vladimir Vasiliev prepares you with dynamic drill sets: 
  • Four-opponent warm up, stretch, body control and redirection 
  • Find psychological restrictions in yourself and your partners 
  • Escape from the holds of 4 attackers standing and on the ground 
  • Use of one opponent to escape and control others Push and strike against attackers on the move 
  • Work unarmed against 2 knife-wielding attackers 
  • Face the challenge of knife attacks when every person in the crowd is armed 

Enjoy the demos, study the drills, capture the knowledge and learn to prevail. 44 min. 

I hope you enjoy it,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Systema Manual by Major Komarov

Practical and Fundamental Training Guide

Major Konstantin Komarov is a PhD in Combat Psychology, a commander and pedagogue to military professionals, a highly experienced bodyguard, a mentor to troubled youth and a trainer to numerous Systema practitioners around the world. Konstantin is one of the most knowledgeable and thorough instructors of our time.

In this book, Major Komarov skillfully presents each key Systema concept through: - Clear explanations - Step-by-step practice programs - Remarkable personal life chronicles

Superbly informative and captivating, a true Systema operators manual.

Table of Contents 

Chapter 1
Unique Features of Systema. Methodology for Studying Systema:
Basic Level 1-3
• What is Systema and what separates it from many other martial arts and sports?
• What are the criteria by which one can tell if someone is learning/using Systema?
• How and in what order is it preferable to learn Systema?
• The basic stage of learning Systema
Step 1: Breathing
Step 2: Positions on the ground
Step 3: Sitting positions
Step 4: Standing positions
Step 5: Walking
Step 6: Walking in difficult conditions
Step 7: Moving
Step 8: Dynamic work
• grappling
• strikes
• legwork
• working with objects (weapons)
Step 9: Tactical work
• attack122
• defense
• team work
• free work
Chapter 2 Psychological Systema work
• What I mean by "psyche"
• How the psyche works
• Options for developing the psyche
• Systema methods of psychological work
• Breathing basics for working with the psyche
• Learning to work with attention and body sensitivity
• Learning the basis of psychological training
• Detecting stress of the psyche and addressing it in its early stage
• Studying fear
• The inner "state" and continuity
• Working with peaks of agitation in the psyche and emotions
• Conclusions and recommendations
Chapter 3 Fundamental Systema skills
• Systema knowledge, abilities, and skills
• Basic Systema skills, their importance, and role in the training methodology
• How to develop Systema skills
Chapter 4 Building and strengthening the body
• What is a well-developed body?
• Speed, strength, stamina, flexibility, and agility: important qualities of a well-developed body
• Strengthening our body systems, which ones, and how
• Systema for kids
Chapter 5 Perfecting Systema skills
• The stage of perfecting Systema skills
• Mistakes in learning Systema
• The sequence for correcting mistakes
• How to master Systema
• How to work with instructional video content
• How to train without a partner
• Final words

I thoroughly recommend you get your gads on a copy of this amazing book. It will completely change how you look at, and how you train or teach Systema!!!!!

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Systema Master Vladimir Vasiliev in Black Belt Magazine

The Russian Martial Art is regarded as one of the most effective fighting systems on the planet, and its popularity is largely due to the efforts of Vladimir Vasiliev! 
by Robert W. Young

Spend 20 years in a field you're passionate about—when this issue of Black Belt hits the newsstand, I'll have edited articles for two decades—and it's easy to conclude you've seen and heard it all. It's a fair assumption, but it's a dead giveaway that the person doing the assuming has never been face to face with Vladimir Vasiliev.

The day of the photo shoot that yielded the images you see here will go down in my mental history, for it marked the first time I ever had an exchange like this:

Me: ‘Could you show us the first systema defense you want to demonstrate? That was perfect! Can you do it again for the camera?’
 Vasiliev: ‘No.’
 Me (my eyes bugged out and my jaw no doubt hanging slack): ‘You can't?’ He shook his head, then explained that in systema, everything a practitioner does is predicated on the actions and position of the opponent. If said opponent feeds the systema stylist a slightly different attack or even the same attack from a different angle, the response will be different—sometimes radically.

The Russian summed up his position in perfect-though-accented English: ‘I can't promise to do it again exactly the same way.’

At first, I thought it might be a touch of subconscious posturing, the kind you occasionally get from men at the top of their food chain—which is where Vasiliev has been since 1993, the year he set up shop in Toronto and founded the first systema facility outside Russia. But then, as the day wore on, the pieces fell into place. I saw plenty of evidence that what Vasiliev had explained was an essential component of his fighting philosophy. Before the session ended, I was a believer. The way the Russian and one of his instructors, Los Angeles-based British expat Martin Wheeler, who three days earlier headlined a systema ground-fighting photo shoot, had responded to every attack they faced was completely dependent on the nuances of the attacks.

That's not to say systema asks students to memorize thousands of moves for every conceivable situation, thus leaving them vulnerable to the much-talked-about mental logjam. No, Vasiliev and Wheeler seemed to respond with attacks and defenses that fit the situation—there's no other way to describe it. Nothing fancy, just the perfect choice for a given moment. When you think about it, that's the best any of us can expect from ourselves in a fight.


Training to facilitate the optimal response to an attack makes total sense, especially when you consider the environment in which systema was fine- tuned to function. Its primary practitioners in modern times—spies, undercover operatives, high-level military personnel and the like—couldn't adopt an obvious stance before or during an attack, and they couldn't blast out a kiai in combat. Either could alert an enemy as to what was coming, and either could send a message that makes onlookers think, ‘Hey, that man's a trained killer, even with his bare hands. Let's get him!’ All that isn't to say systema owes its existence solely to Soviet science of the Cold War era. The moves that make it up are believed to date back more than a millennium. ‘Russian warriors acquired a style that combined strong spirit with extremely innovative and versatile tactics that were practical, deadly and effective against any type of enemy under any circumstances,’ Vasiliev writes on his website. ‘The style was natural and free while having no strict rules, rigid structure or limitations (except for moral ones). All tactics were based on instinctive reactions, individual strengths and characteristics, specifically designed for fast learning.’

Systema is big on deleting tension from the self-defense equation. ‘You should use your movements to remove excess tension,’ Vasiliev said. ‘This way,you are always ready and free for your next action.’

Versatile, natural, no strict rules, instinctive reaction, no tension—after the photo shoot, I'd agree with all those descriptors. Apparently, Black Belt contributing editor Floyd Burk is way ahead of me on this one: Two years ago when we asked some of the movers and shakers of the industry to list their top 10 arts for self-defense, Burk replied with this: ‘Most people who observe this Russian fighting style will appreciate the spontaneity with which practitioners can fend off armed and unarmed attacks. It's practical and effective without the nonessentials.’

That's what I was going to say.


Systema places great importance on your starting stance in a self-defense situation. ‘It has to be a natural and straight body position,’ Vasiliev said. ‘As simple as it seems, it is essential [to pose] no threat to the opponent. Your actions will be unexpected, inconspicuous and a lot more effective. ‘There are times when deliberately unusual and less-natural body positions are needed in confrontations, but these would be assumed for tactical and strategic reasons to manipulate your opponent into the behavior you need.’

How are you supposed to know which position is best for a given adversary and assume it in time? The oft-repeated attribute known as situational awareness, Vasiliev said. ‘In systema, we have many exercises to specifically develop awareness of your opponent and your distance from him. You should feel comfortable to act, and there should be no excessive tension.’

I asked Vasiliev to demonstrate how that natural stance works. He stood there, seemingly unprepared for what was about to come his way. The opponent closed the gap and initiated his attack. Vasiliev's response entailed kicking him in the thigh—which dropped him like a sack of potatoes—and landing a punch to the back of the neck on the way down.

‘You kick his quadriceps not to damage the leg but to debilitate the muscle so it can no longer hold up the person,’ Vasiliev said. ‘The kick is not hard, but it's precise so that even in light shoes or bare feet, it will be effective.

‘As with all systema strikes, you must hit unexpectedly so the attacker is shocked but not in pain or anger. Pain and anger can cause him to strike and punch needlessly. If you hit properly, he will be off-balance and will fall onto you. This is very convenient for your further control. You now have a choice of finishing moves—again, not to injure him but to disorient him.’

Another way systema exploits the power of deception was revealed in a self-defense sequence in which Vasiliev dispatched a man who was about to uncork a haymaker. ‘The opponent prepares for the strike—there is no need for you to change your position yet,’ he said. ‘While he approaches, take a small step to the right; this should be done exactly with his movement so he will not see it. Raise your right arm—be sure to choose a trajectory he won't see from his viewpoint. Keep your shoulders down so he won't be able to tell what your intentions are and adjust his strike accordingly.’


That ability to move in a way the opponent doesn't detect enables systema practitioners to intercept attacks before they reach maximum power, and that's one of the smartest ways to fight. Reviewing a sequence of photos after the shoot, Vasiliev elaborated: ‘As the opponent prepares to kick here, you make a small step to the side during his movement. Do not wait for his full kick; as soon as his knee is up, he has collected himself and is concentrating on the forming kick. He is vulnerable; it is a good moment to hit. ‘Hit the muscles not to destroy them but to debilitate them and switch them off temporarily. This way, the leg is no longer functioning to support the body. An accurate hit causes the leg to give. He will no longer be able to kick or strike with his hand.’

The goal, Vasiliev teaches, is to gain control of the assailant using economy of motion and unpredictable techniques. If that fails, however, you'll likely need to be able to take a punch before you can implement a backup plan—which is precisely why systema training devotes so much time to staying functional while you're taking enemy fire.

‘No matter how good you are, you will get hit,’ Vasiliev said. ‘Maybe it's because you didn't see the strike. Maybe it's because you moved into its path. Maybe it's because it was more powerful than you anticipated.’

In a previous interview published in Black Belt, he explained his rationale using an incident he's seen replayed ad infinitum in his schools: ‘A new student joins in. We begin a mass-attack drill, where everyone comes to the center of the gym and is hitting in all directions. Right away, the new guy gets punched on the head, turns to see who did it and gets ready to hit him back. At that moment, he receives a punch from the other side, and, with anger building, he turns to that side, his fist ready to fly in that direction. And then he is hit again from the opposite side. Finally, he realizes that ‘punch for punch' doesn't work in a mass attack, so he exhales and starts punching those who are close by and not those who hit him.

‘Unfortunately, most of us have an almost automatic response: When a strike touches us, we immediately go to retaliate. This is caused by pride. Systema training for taking punches deals directly with this pride.’

The only way to minimize the effect, whether immediate or long term, incurred from a blow is through another unexpected facet of systema, he said. ‘With proper breathing, it's difficult to sustain an injury. And if trauma does happen, the damage is a lot less severe than it would have been otherwise.’

The reason stems from the nature of a strike, which he described as a sudden force or impact that increases inner pressure in the recipient. ‘It's a quick transfer of tension from person to person,’ he said. ‘The tension comes not only from the physical impact but also from your perception of threat and pain.’

Let's say you're moments from getting gut-punched. The fear you feel as you see the incoming fist causes tension, and that tension creates more fear. The resulting fear manufactures even more tension and so on. Breathing, Vasiliev said, is the way to stop that from escalating.

Breathe right and the impact will be dissipated, the tension won't build and there will be minimal bruising, he tells his students. ‘Even a powerful punch will bring no damage physically or psychologically. Breathing helps eliminate the tension and thus removes the pain and negative feelings.’

How it works: ‘Keep your mouth lightly closed so air can move freely in through the nose and out through the mouth,’ Vasiliev said. At the moment of impact, allow the air to exit your mouth. Tensing up and holding your breath when you're about to be hit is the worst thing you can do, he said, because the pressure that comes with a punch or kick will have nowhere to go—which is why it damages tissue.

That's why systema teaches practitioners to take short breaths when the heat is on. A series of short inhalations and exhalations decreases the likelihood that you'll be caught in the middle of one long inhale or exhale, and it enables you to keep your torso in a more defensible condition. ‘If you only breathe with the top part of your lungs, your stomach muscles will remain slightly contracted even after a punch and the punch will remain on the surface,’ Vasiliev said previously. ‘This type of breathing allows you to take a series of punches while staying mobile.’

Learning to do this in a fight, of course, takes plenty of practice under a qualified instructor. If nothing else, my 20 years at Black Belt has taught me that when it comes to self-defense, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing without proper guidance.

And that's precisely why I walked out of the Vladimir Vasiliev photo shoot with one thought: How far away is the nearest systema school?


"I have had the privilege to train under many great martial artists over the decades—men who have honed their skills through determination, rigorous training and full-contact experience. To describe Vladimir Vasiliev as simply the best one of them does him a disservice. His movement, his physical ability, the deep internal relaxation he has cultivated—all are attributes associated with a true legend. But the road he has taken to get there is not one many could have traveled. As a highly decorated member of the Russian special-operations group known as the Spetznaz, Vasiliev trained under such men as Col. Mikhail Ryabko, founder of systema. While doing that, Vasiliev experienced things that would be difficult to justify even within our highest-level military units—of course, in actual combat. Despite those brutal hardships, he is the most gentle of men. He's humble, sincere and filled with a genuine desire to share his amazing art as if it were a gift. The systema he teaches is profound and unique, as much a map of the human condition as a martial art. If I were to say Vladimir Vasiliev is simply the most decent human being I have ever met, I think that would be the most accurate description. His martial art, if you have been lucky enough to experience it, is purely an expression of that."

–Martin Wheeler

About the author: Robert W. Young is the executive editor of Black Belt. For more information about systema, visit

About Vladimir Vasiliev:
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.

Thankyou for your guidance Vladimir,

Justin Ho
Principal Instructor
Systema Sydney Russian Martial Art