Throughout its history, it was a rare year that Russia was not involved in a conflict with its neighboring countries or those abroad. Through their engagements with the varying methods and weaponry used by these enemies, Russian warriors developed an instinctual way of combat, based on the natural movement of each individual, and capable of adapting to unknown situations.
Since maintaining a standing unified army in those times was not practical, people in townships and villages were called to battle, then allowed to return back to their homes as regular citizens. Warriors who fought and survived returned to their families to work, live, and train for another day.
Gradually, a style of martial arts was developed that allowed the warrior to train on a consistent day-to-day basis without incurring serious injury and requiring long recovery times. The ability to adapt to the unknown required complete comfort with a person's own body and psyche. It also called for skill in improvisation--something that is better developed through attributes training and not memorization. With no prearranged forms or techniques to memorize, the traditional Russian Martial Arts provided a way to be fluid and relaxed in motion. We call this state Freedom of Movement.
Similar styles arose across different regions of Russia. Some focused on methods for foot soldiers and reconnaissance troops (like BUZA), while others focused on personnel on horseback. Yet, all styles incorporated the basic principles of flow and adaptation, based on natural human movement and reaction.
The System . . .
Over time, the traditional Russian Martial Arts were honed through successive generations of one-to-one relationships and through traditional games and festivals held by the communities. With the advent of firearms, the traditional styles had to evolve to incorporate a new paradigm of combat. Still, the principles of movement held true.
When the Communists took power after the Revolution of 1917, all traditionally Russian practices were banned. Since evidence of such practice often yielded severe punishment, the Russian Martial Arts fell into obscurity, only practiced secretively from father to son or master to select pupil. Some monasteries, spared from destruction, continued harboring the martial practices as well. An interview with a founder of modern Systema gives a deeper history of Systema's role in ancient and modern Russia; it can be found HERE.
When the Soviet government found the need to arm their most specialized soldiers with advanced personal fighting skills, they sent representatives abroad to research and return with the most effective systems of various countries.
The units that tested these systems were the Special Operations Units within Spetsnaz (Spetsnaz is short for special purpose, similar to the generic designation in the U.S. for Special Forces). The SOU were only used for the highest risk missions. The units that were directed to use the traditional Russian Martial Art immediately found that the capabilities of this old style far exceeded others on many levels.
The Soviets thus began working the old principles into modern applications, such as close protection of high-level officials and various classified works. This body of knowledge became known simply as Systema or The System.
Ancient Knowledge for a Modern World . . .
The breakdown of the USSR in the early nineties allowed some previously closely guarded secrets within the Soviet Union to be filtered into mainstream society. Some individuals with the knowledge of Systema found that it was now possible for them to teach this Art openly to the public. One in particular was Vladimir Vasiliev, a former SOU instructor and currently the chief representative of Systema in the Western Hemisphere. Trained in part by legendary Master of Russian Martial Art Mikhail Ryabko, as well as other unnamed masters, Vladimir developed and refined his own distinct style of Systema through many years of teaching and personal research.
In addition to the Vasiliev and Ryabko systems, several other variations are in practice today.
Systema represents the direct experience of many generations of warriors, reflecting the diverse combat history of the old and new Russian cultures. It is still used today by professionals around the world and those who just want to better protect their families and themselves in everyday situations.
"An incredible and truly humbling experience." ~Travis Y. (Intel Scientist) "Finally, a fighting system that I can grow old with." ~John H. (Former Cage Fighter) "No rules. No belts. No nonsense. The System - a fighting art without all the needless baggage." ~Black Belt Magazine