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Literally translated as “the system,” systema is a Russian martial art notable for its hand-to-hand and close-quarters-combat ways. It is the system of choice for many Russian Spetsnaz which is a catchall term for Russian special-forces units. In fact, one of the most prominent practitioners of systema today is Mikhail Ryabko from the early Spetsnaz era. He learned systema from one of Joseph Stalin’s personal bodyguards.

It was during the 400-year Mongol occupation of Russia that systema evolved. Created by the Cossacks in A.D. 948, systema is thought to have originated from Hun and Mongolian martial arts. It is also a conjecture that it may have been influenced by Chinese martial arts. After the warring periods between the Mongolians and Huns, the systema weapon nagaika, which is a lead-filled short whip, was created by the Cossacks to be used specifically against Eastern threats.

Today, systema focuses on hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, grappling and firearm training wherein the six body levers—neck, shoulders, elbows, waist and ankles—are the primary targets for striking, pressure-point attacks and weapon applications. Systema is the progenitor for Russian sambo.

  1. The Russians Are Coming! Systema Seminar Planned for Los Angeles

    The Russians Are Coming! Systema Seminar Planned for Los Angeles