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Martial Art Shows You Cant Beat the System

Published: January 23, 2013 (Issue # 1743)



  • Mikhail Ryabko (l) demonstrates exercises during the Systema seminar in Moscow.
    Photo: melinee prochasson / spt

  • Ryabkos style is a system of relaxation.
    Photo: melinee prochasson / spt

Its the middle of a December afternoon, and in a spartan hall in northwest Moscow, a group of men and women of various ages are lying on the floor, while others are defending themselves from opponents wielding whips. This is not some sado-masochistic ritual, but a seminar devoted to a form of the Russian martial art Systema.

Originally developed as a military practice for Russian special forces, Systema remains a relatively unheralded practice. Nowadays this training is also employed in the form of an education based on self-knowledge and control of others through the practice of defensive hand-to-hand combat.

There are several branches of Systema, each following a different pedagogy. The seminar in Moscow is taking place at the school of Mikhail Ryabko, founder and developer of one of the most popular forms of Systema, known as the Ryabko Style. Ryabko, a Special Forces colonel who has been involved in combat training since the age of 15, has seen his passion blossom into what is now a network of 200 affiliate schools around the world.

The main principles of Ryabkos Systema are an absence of rank and precise techniques and an emphasis on improvisation and playful exercises. No physical protection is worn in this contact sport, in which breathing technique is a major focus.

Genius things are simple, and I think that Systema incorporates the God-given principle of power and energy at minimum costs, said Vadim Yusupov, a 24-year-old Ryabko Systema adherent who has practiced boxing for two years and Shotokan karate for nine years.

You can come to [Systema] with a rich experience of other martial art classes and with strength of body and good knowledge. But from this moment, everything is going to change: You come not to get additional information and techniques, but to cut out unnecessary things in your life. You will discover with amazement how great your power is. This power sits in harmony with nature, simple natural motions and relaxation, he added.

The origins of Systema are difficult to assert, but it is believed to have grown out of various foreign-influenced martial arts that existed in imperial Russia and that practically disappeared after the Revolution.

Some things are true, others are basically unverifiable, said Vladimir Vasilyev, a former student of Mikhail Ryabkos school and now an instructor in Toronto, Canada.

The changes in government in Russia [during the last century] didnt help to conserve a trace of what happened, he added.

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