Systema: the Combat Ergonomics – Mikhail Didenko



Systema (aka the Russian martial art) is the hand-to-hand combat style which includes healing practices and influenced by  Orthodox Christianity and Russian tradition. It has schools in 44 countries of the world, including Japan, Taiwan, Korea… how come you might ask? The following might answer this question.

Systema is the art of common sense in movements. Most of martial arts practise ergonomics, but when it comes to the Russian Martial Art we can say that if something is not reasonable – it is not Systema, equally if it is Systema, then it is reasonable in techniques, tactics and teaching method. Systema is noted especially for its teaching method. But before learning the higher art you need to be trained in two ways, moral and physical, as we contemporary people, are burdened with sedentary lifestyles, stresses and psychological blocks.

Who is your worst enemy?

Mikhail Ryabko, the founder of Systema, says that before winning opponents you need to win yourself – overcome your fears, aggression, and tension. Before being inconvenient for your opponent you need to become convenient for yourself. Your fears and aggression prevent you to assess a situation correctly, and your psychological blocks and tension prevent you moving swiftly and accurately. A tense person cannot be spontaneous,which is extremely important in the Russian Martial Arts, and physical tension is a tremendous energy leak.

Clench your fist and in a minute you will be tired. That is an obvious source of muscular tension, but what about mental tension? And what about a tension which never ends? A tense attitude prevents you from having a good life and relationships, because you see enemies all around you and produce only passive-aggressive reactions.

Mikhail Ryabko says, in older days people lived in villages mostly, and they had to earn their living with various physical labor since their childhood which was a good training for adult responsibilities. The traditional culture (dancing, singing) helped them to be mentally healthy and stable, thus they were prepared for a martial art as well, (Ryabko grew up in the countryside himself).

Today we need create some time to correct our bodies and minds, most of us are tensed, we are irritated (especially in big cities) and have got used to reacting aggressively when somebody maybe bumps into us in a street – even if it was an accident, because we have got used to the concept of “pay back”. Sometimes it is even worse when we pay back in advance – for example you were humiliated or beaten once and then you decide that nobody ever would do the same to you. The pain is so strong that since that day you are always tense and prepared for aggression. Your temper itself can be influenced by this pain, let alone your pride.

What is the solution?

A lot of martial arts would pump you with more and more aggression which is fire-fighting with the help of gasoline. Unlike them Systema helps you to get rid of the tension, fears and pain. Systema has the good teaching principle, “From simple to complicated”. Here you will see only a part of this method, as the best way is practice, not reading. As they say in the Russian Martial Arts, “You can explain the taste of a water-melon with one way only – give a piece to an asker”. Here are a few examples of how this happens in the Russian Tradition.

  1. One student lays on the floor, two or three students lay on him preventing to breathe thus introducing some stress and causing fear. That you can feel the tension doesn’t help you. You need to feel in what parts of your body the fear is located. No wonder those are the most tensed muscles. Then you need to relax them with the help of breathing. When we exhale we relieve pressure or get ready to do something. It is very simple and effective at the same time. So you need to relax while constantly breathing and throw them off.
  1. One student starts to strike, pinch another student to make him angry. This practice has an goal to find spots of fear and aggression in our bodies and get rid of them with the help of breathing and relaxation. Another goal is self-control. To keep calm when somebody irritates you for example.
  1. One student stands his back against the wall, another one is pressing him. The first one should relax and try to feel the empty spaces which would help him to get out. This is the inner development as well. (There is a ground fighting variant of this exercise when one student tries to submit the second one, while the second student seeks for opportunities to get out.)
  1. A student takes a sword or a saber and starts to lift it and move in various directions trying to feel the moments when our muscles or blocks prevent us making the movement to be uncomfortable. We learn to move in comfortable, most convenient ways in this exercise. At first students do it in upright position, then laying on the floor, then sitting on the floor, and standing again.

In a fight your movements should be convenient for you and really inconvenient for your opponent. It is the highest level of art when your opponent(s) prevent themselves from fighting. Usually martial artists come to this level after many years, especially when the practicioners  physical conditions is not so well as in their younger years, and they have to compensate strength with skill. Systema, arguably, allows you to do this earlier.

Before learning any martial art a student should prepare both physically and mentally to get rid of psychological blocks and tensions. They should strive to become healthy and equally developed including training to become become ambidextrous.

Systema provides simple and practical methods to achieve such a condition. Maybe a student choose not  to study a martial art after that, because if you are not tensed and passive-aggressive anymore you can live the life you want. But to achieve such a condition training is  necessary and Systema offers a powerful solution.

Leave a Reply