Systema! (The System) – Special Forces Art

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Try out our ongoing Systema class Thursdays & Saturdays.  Or sign up for the Introductory Self-Defense Course right here!

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Do want to know how to defend yourself but aren’t  interested in learning long sequences or testing for belts?  Well, the Russian military elite train in a scientifically designed martial art that is incredibly effective.  It is called “The System” or “Systema” in Russian (Система) and is more of a collection of principles and concepts than a collection of techniques.

Systema classes follow a natural progression and caters to ALL levels of skill. The class material is delivered in a way to challenge the student by nudging them out of their comfort zone.  All training is done on a gradient scale so that you will learn without being ridiculed or intimidated.  Also, those studying other martial arts and sports will benefit from the methods of Systema and will find the information readily applicable.

Private sessions are available for you and your group to learn this art in a more focused manner.  Click here for more information.

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More Russian Martial Art Information

Designed for use in their Special (Forces) Operations Units only, this art is based on the physics of levers, inertia, and timing.  It has been pressure tested on the battlefield and in private protection since 1920.  But its actual roots go way back to the 10th century!

This art does not require belts, uniforms or ranks.  There is no cage to fight in like MMA (mixed martial arts-sports).  Or trophies and belts to chase like Kickboxing or Tournament Karate.  It is effective enough to actually count on to protect your life and that of your loved ones.  It was not designed for sports application, its only purpose is to develop workable, life-saving skills fast! Real self-defense can be gritty, appear clumsy and violence can occur almost anywhere.  It is in those moments when you’ll be glad that you prepared for it.  That being said, the training sessions are still done in true FMAC style -fun and exciting.   It is actually the Systema tradition to have fun in your training and to take care of your comrades.

So the training will certainly be enjoyable despite the seriousness of the subject matter.  The best way to study a serious subject is to not be too serious about it.  Talk to any emergency service professional and they’ll tell you the same thing.  You can expect to learn at your own comfort level how to roll safely on any surface, not just pads, you will learn how to defend yourself from the ground, against knives, chains, sticks, multiple opponents, strike like a sledgehammer and even defend yourself with your hands tied. We will all push ourselves beyond our limits to new levels of self-control and abilities.  This is very exciting indeed.  Get started and call right now!

Systema FAQs

What is Systema, what does it mean or represent?

Systema simply means the “The System” in the Russian language.  And ultimately it means to know yourself, your body and how it interacts with the physical world and with others.  It is a complete martial art with a host of benefits outside of its incredibly effective self-defense applications.  It is called The System because it is based on principles and concepts that fit together to help you find a way to best express yourself and your natural movements in life and self-defense.

It’s not like other arts that have rigid patterns called Kata that must be memorized and adhered to.  And it’s not the type of martial sport that focuses on fitness and athletic prowess for effective application.  Systema has no sports application whatsoever and it has no techniques, per se.  Instead of trying to force you to think and move in a certain way, Systema shows you how to flow naturally.  A good analogy might be made with music.  If you learned how to play by reading sheet music only then you would have trouble freeing yourself from the sheet music.  If you learned to play by ear and could “feel” the music once you learned your basics, then you would always be able to play with anyone or create your own songs easily.  Systema’s unique training methods allow you to learn the basic concepts and principles easily and then you actually understand how to operate your body correctly.  Since its movements are based on the science of physics, you will learn how to overcome your opponents muscle advantage with a mechanical advantage.  The same way a crowbar or wheelbarrow allows you to exert more force or carry more than you could without those tools.

Using this same music analogy, if a person trained with sheet music only was told that they had to play and keep up with someone that had years of experience over them and that this person was not going to use music sheets and will be changing the songs unexpectedly, how would they do?  What if they were told that their life depended on their successful music playing and that it could happen at any time?  With this added pressure it would be very difficult for such a person to be ready and adapt quickly and fluidly or even survive the encounter.  With this in mind, you may be able to see the value of principle-based instruction versus robotic memorization or sports arts that require speed and strength to work.

So what can I expect to learn in a training session?  What will I actually do in a class?

Every Systema class is different and every instructor may deliver a lesson differently. The four main areas of focus are breathing, form (as in body alignment), continuous movement & relaxation. Since all physical movement follows the physical laws of motion, the classes focus on understanding how to move your body efficiently. We slowly add ever-increasing combat stress on a gradient scale. But to give you some idea we will do breathing drills especially while stressing the body or putting the muscles under a load like squats or push-ups. Learning to operate your body under stress and remain calm is the core secret of any true martial art. Without this, all of the techniques “collected” over the years will go out the window during a self-defense situation -regardless of what martial art a person has studied.

In time you will learn how to roll safely on the floor and how to move your body around avoiding other people.  This eventually leads to defending against punches, kicks, knives, sticks, chains, multiple opponents, fighting on the ground, against the wall, with your hands tied and more.  It is important to know that you will go at your own pace and you can always tell your partner to speed up or slow down.

This sounds good but I’ve never done anything like this, is there a Beginners Class –I’m a little concerned?

Systema does not separate into beginners or advanced.  In fact, there are no belts or ranks in Systema.  No classes are alike and each one is delivered like a mini-seminar.  Another important concept used in Systema to encourage the student to grow and improve their ability to confront danger is to avoid traumatizing or damaging the other person’s psyche.  So you are always in control of the speed and intensity of your drills.  You may be asked to do things that you’ve never done before and find that you can do them.  A fight or vicious attack can be very traumatizing, we want to help you handle or even avoid a situation like that –not cause one.  By training on a gentle gradient of speed and reality you will eventually be ready to confront any type of attack.

Does it really work?  Has it been pressure tested in the real world?

Yes.  Systema is reserved for the Russian Special Forces and has been in use since 1920.  Its roots go back to the 10th century, and it has been pressure tested effectively in the real world for hundreds of years.  This is why there is no sports application to Systema.  This is why many law enforcement types and bodyguards are attracted to it.  Sambo is the martial art of choice for rest of the Russian military.  The Russian Special Forces needed something that was very effective and easy to learn, that’s why they reserved Systema for their military elite. Now with its release to the general public just over 20 years ago, anyone who wants to learn realistic self-protection can learn Systema.

You said that there are no uniforms, what should I wear?

You can wear sweatpants and a t-shirt.  Anything that will allow freedom of movement and comfort.  You can wear socks or just go barefoot.  When we train indoors on the mats no shoes are allowed.

You said that Systema is not fitness based but will I get any exercise doing it?

Systema is a complete martial art, so you don’t have to try to be a triathlete or Olympian to do it.  In fact, you can even be overweight and out of shape still defend yourself effectively.  But many of the drills in Systema are designed to increase the strength of the tendons and flexibility of the muscles.  We want functional strength, not movements based on sheer size or brute force.  It is part of reorienting yourself to operate your body properly.  Some of the drills are tougher than others, but you just go at your own pace.  Taking care of your body is always a good idea and another form of self-defense if you think about it.

I’ve trained in various martial arts, is there anything in Systema for someone like me?

Yes, but it depends on what you’re looking for.  Systema is not only an excellent self-defense art it also teaches people how to handle stress better.  Many new students comment on the general ease of operating throughout the day comfortably as they learn to apply the concepts and principles.  If you are looking for a seamless, flowing and natural martial art, then yes.  If you are happy with collecting techniques, patterns and ranks or chasing trophies then no.  This art will cause you to access your actual martial skills, confront your weak areas and grow your abilities to new heights.  Systema is ultimately a body-work system much like Yoga or Feldenkrais -it just happens to be an incredibly effective martial art.

Are there any women in Systema?  I see more men than women in the videos.

Most martial arts tend to have more men than women in general.  Perhaps it has something to do with being willing to confront the possibilities of an attack.  Many people will avoid thinking of the possibilities much less actively prepare for them.  Perhaps it’s the military origins or brutal videos on the Internet that keep some people away?  However, the women that do train in Systema find it very rewarding and fun.  Unlike other martial arts that teach you to fight like a man, Systema teaches you how to use your body naturally and effectively.  In many ways women have a head start over their male counterparts by not being conditioned to out-muscle a problem.  And the natural finesse and grace that most women have, needs to be cultivated in a man.  And as for real-world application, there is no martial art that prepares you better for the variety of possibilities you may encounter.

What is that “No Contact” stuff all about?  Is that real?

Systema was modernized by an engineer studying the underlying principles in martial arts techniques.  The physics of levers, angles, pulleys and weight distribution to name a few.  All aspects were studied, dissected and duplicated.  That being said, the mind (of an attacker) can be confused or startled using the principles studied.  In short, people will move out of fear of injury or by misjudging the distance or speed of an object.  This aspect only represents a small portion of the Systema applications and takes a while to develop.

I have heard reference to Orthodox Christianity with regard to Systema, do I have to follow this as well?

Russia has a strong influence from Christianity, therefore you can expect that many parts of its culture would too.  But you don’t have to be Christian to practice Systema anymore than you would have to be a Buddhist to study Kung-Fu.  Having a strong moral background is an important part of understanding the ethics of combat.  And having a religious or spiritual base is a good start.  However, this is more of a personal choice and is left up to each individual to decide.

How do I start?  How will I know if Systema is right for me?

Just start.  Try out a class or two to get a feel for it.  Remember, you will always be in control of the speed at which you train.  The only way to really get to know it is by actually participating in a class.  Call us today and we’ll schedule you for the next training session.

Follow this link to locate other qualified Systema instructors and class times in the Bay Area.

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Off of North Dutton Ave, between College Ave and Guerneville Rd.
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