Vladimir Vasiliev Russian Martial ArtsA human being is a complete system and for this reason we have to make our training a complete and whole system as well (thus, the Russian word for our training approach is Systema).

Many sports and martial arts assume and presuppose that the person entering the training is healthy. In fact, this is almost never the case. The physiological parameters such as heart rate, blood pressure, lung capacity, posture, mobility and strength of the joints and muscles, condition of the nervous system are rarely ideal. And even less likely is one to have stable and balanced psyche, free of fear and unnecessary emotions.

Having said that, we set out goals:

  • make training a gradual process of restoring the health that we have lost up to this point
  • build the skills properly enhanced and supported by our own physical and psychological reserves
  • help your partner advance his health and his skills as much as your own and you will progress tremendously

Hence, your System training considerations are:

1. Use Breathing as the foundation for everything you do. In class, make sure that both yours and your partner’s breathing continue no matter what. Your will then be able to relax, restore your health and psychological balance (read how and why in “Let Every Breath…”: http://www.russianmartialart.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=88 )

For common examples of breath interruption, imagine a runner that holds his breath on the very last stretch before the finish line or a weight lifter holding his breath on the last repetition. These athletes may achieve the result, but they do real damage to the heart, as the heart has to endure a big strain without the oxygen supply.

All Systema practitioners with at least some experience know that the best way to maintain smooth and continuous movement is by way of breathing. Holding your breath makes you interrupt the movement. If you were forced to stop moving then continuous breathing will lead you into movement again.

2. Maintain the Natural Body Position throughout all movements. Straight back and good posture keep you relaxed and balanced psychologically, help your heart, lungs and nervous system to work effectively. Smooth, calm and natural movements happen when the body is aligned properly. Alertness, attention, sensitivity, reaction time, the entire action potential is maximized and the chances of injuries are reduced. A popular example is the walk of a lion – smooth and mobile on the outside, with power, concentration, and readiness to act instantly in any direction on the inside.

Moreover, any deviation from the natural and straight body position makes it very hard for you to take strikes. And what’s also important, your opponent will instinctively feel that the point of deviation is your vulnerable spot and will inevitably hit you there.

3. Flexibility physically and psychologically will be discussed in future articles.

4. Practice Striking in proper training progression (start with placing of the hands, then progress to pushes, combine all contact with breathing, etc. as we discussed in previous Newsletters). This way you avoid the common fear of hurting your own hand during punches and avoid tensing of your body. Because of this training progression you will see where to strike – where the areas of tension or restriction are on your partner. You will enable him see these areas too, you will help him heal old injuries, get rid of restrictions and fears trapped in his body by way of breathing and movement.

One goal of striking is to break the shell. It has to be done carefully, as when you are cracking an egg, you want to make enough impact to crack, but not to shatter and destroy the contents inside. Such a situation would be extremely difficult to repair. It may seem to you that some people are able to withstand punches of high intensity, but that “endurance” is built by layers of fear that thicken the shell growing towards the inside – taking away from the live and mobile space inside – the result is more injuries and loss of health.

You will soon see some incredible examples of healing, enlightening and altering strikes by the legendary Mikhail Ryabko on the new DVDs titled SUMMIT OF MASTERS.


So let’s try to have a wholesome approach and a finished cycle of training – from your arrival to class, build a foundation, take up activities in the proper progression, restore and support as you are advancing to the next level.

This article was published on October 31, 2006.