FAQ for Martial Artists New to Systema

Many people come to Systema after training in other martial arts. Some have taken a break and are looking to try something new; others are looking to add Systema on to their current martial arts practice. Regardless of the motive, people coming from other types of martial arts have questions about Systema. I’ve tried to address the most common questions I get from other martial artists.

Do I have to stop my other martial arts training in order to study Systema?

  • That is entirely up to you, we will not kick you out or treat you differently if you continue to train in another style. Some people find it difficult to maintain their training in both Systema and another style, especially if the other style teaches conflicting principles. Other people do just fine studying more than one style. Regardless, it is ultimately your decision whether or not you stop training in your other style; we will not demand that you choose one or the other.

What will I find different about the class?

  • If you are coming from a traditional martial arts school, you will notice that we do not have many of the formalities typically seen in a martial arts school. Adult students will usually be on a first name basis with the instructor right from the beginning. There is no bowing or special terms of address for senior students.
  • There are no belts, uniforms, ranks, or testing, and everyone from the newest beginner to the most senior student train together. We also smile and laugh a lot; it’s possible to train seriously without taking yourself too seriously. Our one formality is that we sit in a circle at the end of class to talk about the class and ask questions.

What will I find different about the training?

  • This depends to some extent on what other styles you have studied, but these are some of the common differences. First, there are no set techniques. Systema is based on principles, and each person who applies those principles to themselves will display different movements. Since each person is different (in height, weight, gender, speed, fitness, etc.), there is no “one size fits all” set of techniques.
  • Since there are no set techniques, there are also no kata (forms). We don’t memorize set sequences of movements to perform as an individual. The majority of our training is hands on, working with one or more training partners.
  • The scope of Systema is very wide. We study hand-to-hand, ground fighting, defense against knives, sticks, and chains, and the use of improvised weapons along with work on relaxation, breathing, and massage.

Why does it look like people are taking dives or letting themselves be taken down by a movement or strike that doesn’t look like it was enough to actually be effective?

  • There are a variety of reasons why it may look like people are taking dives. The first possible reason is because some people actually do. We don’t support this behavior; it’s detrimental to honest training, but sometimes people still do it. These folks are the rare exception in our normal training.
  • Some drills we do call for a compliant training partner. Often, when we study body mechanics, the compliant partner allows his training partner to study by not resisting the movements.
  • It’s also possible that you aren’t seeing the entirety of what is going on. Even with video, it’s easy to miss subtle movements, and a person’s body may be in the way of seeing everything that’s going on. So, what my look like nothing may be something, you just may not be able to see it.
  • The most likely reason it looks like a person is taking dives is simply because Systema doesn’t rely on big, dramatic movements. Movements may be subtle or small, but they are precise, and developed to move the body with as little effort as possible. We generally aren’t trying to just knock someone down, we are trying to take away their balance and then let the person fall from their loss of balance. If you haven’t experienced this type of approach to martial arts, it will look odd, but once you’ve felt it, you’ll understand how easy it is to disrupt someone’s balance enough to make them fall.

Is everything I’ve learned in my prior training useless in Systema?

  • Not at all. While you will likely need to set aside many habits developed in your former training, especially in the beginning, you may find other skills that fit into the structure of Systema movement very well. Personally, I still use some joint locks and kicks from my prior training in Japanese martial arts, but I now use them in a way that fits within the principles of Systema.

Can I study just the fighting aspects of Systema, and not worry about all the breathing stuff?

  • Systema is a system, and you can’t separate one piece from the others and expect to reach competence. Breathing and relaxation are a critical part of the martial art, and you cannot study one without the other.

Have a different question? Let me know in the comments and I’ll answer your questions in another post.