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Do you know anything about the Russian martial art Systema/Система? I want to make a character that grew up learning a fighting style heavily influenced by it, more towards the hand to hand combat, not the firearms training. Thank you if you can help!

While Systema is a Russian martial art that can be tracked back to 948AD and has a long history of use, the modern form that you’re thinking of is only around a hundred years old. It was put together by the Communists in 1917, but only became available to the general public in the late 1980s. For reference, the earliest school founded in the United States began in 1993. Systema is a very effective killing form and, like all solid elite military training, was very tightly controlled.

It’s also not a form that is taught to children because of the necessary body postures and the maturity of the techniques that are being imparted. And due to the lack of an alternate sport form, there’s no reason to bring a child into it early because it won’t give them an edge. The only people who could teach Systema to this character would be a high ranking Russian ex-patriot, who also happened to be a family member and who wasn’t worried about getting caught either on foreign soil or in their own home country. This is unlikely given how tightly held the information about Systema was during the Soviet era. It would be too high risk for them to begin training the child, because it would end with them and the child being snatched off the street either by the local authorities or by foreign agents.

Also, when looking to develop a long term asset by beginning their training as a child, it’s important not to push them too hard before they are mentally ready for what they’ll be learning. A child doesn’t have the same concept of death or consequence that an adult does, you can break them by teaching them things that are outside their range of understanding. A villain won’t do it because if they are taking the time to raise a tool, they don’t want to have to go back and start all over again. Also, it’s a stupid decision and a villain who knows Systema will be clever enough to understand that. A heroic character won’t do it because it’s cruel and unusual.

You can raise them on a different martial art, like Sambo if we’re keeping with the Russian theme, and then move them onto Systema in their teens when they’re capable of grasping the psychology. Say around 14 to 15 years old. They’ll actually be much more effective long term going this route. Forget comic books and Cassandra Cain for a moment, the only reason someone puts a child into combat and asks them to kill is because they have a surplus supply and are looking to gain an advantage by causing the enemy to hesitate.

You can start training a child to fight as early as four years old (or even younger). But it stays with simple strikes like punches and kicks, simple movements like blocks and bringing it all together into a kata. You can do what they did in Ninjutsu, when fathers inducted in the ways taught their sons how to break into houses, how to go through someone’s things and then leave everything exactly as you found it, and even how to brew poisons by making it a game. That you can do and build them with the rest of the basic stuff they’ll need for later. But Systema has a focus on leverage, joint locks, and pressure points, a child under twelve just doesn’t have the level of muscular control to practice that safely.

I also meant what I said, modern Systema is on the upper end of combat arts. It’s a killing art that’s designed to not look like a killing art, it is beautiful to watch, and it is incredibly subtle with the way it links everything together. But it is doing a lot of very complex things which makes it difficult to write without a basic grasp of the combat psychology embedded in it, a functional grasp of anatomy, and a good sense of how killing styles are supposed to work (especially in comparison to Hollywood and normal sport combat).

Krav Maga or Sambo would actually have been easier choices with more readily available alternatives and probably some instruction on how to teach children. It’s more likely, however, that you’ll see students accepted in their early teens. The reason is that you don’t want to damage the developing tissues, tendons, and muscles in the joints too early because too much strain on an undeveloped body can lead to long term damage. There’s a reason beyond danger and a liability shield for why some martial styles come with a 18 and older price tag.

However, an older form of Systema is present in Russian folk dance. It’s not the form as it’s taught today, you may be able to partially reconstruct a combat form by having your character be raised on those. While most dance isn’t a good way to think about fighting, many of the older folk dances were ways that warriors celebrated and preserved their fighting styles when not in wartime.

So, think about it and check out the books and training videos by the leaders in the field. Try to remember also, that you’ll find Systema only in places with a high Russian immigrant population. The one thing it isn’t is common.


Q&A: Sci-fi Warfare

Sorry, I didn’t want to be specific because I tried to keep it short and to the point. However, I can think of a lot of reasons why guns might fall out of favor. Mostly, it’d come as armor. Kevlar is fantastic against bullets, but has a weakness stabbing. Just take that to 11. Another might be like Dune, a sort of energy shield that stops high velocity impacts, but doesn’t stop low velocity. Anyways, I’m mostly curious what could be modern sword technology, (nano-tech and cryoforge, apparently).

With the caveat that it’s been a few years since I read Dune, a few things stand out: I wouldn’t call the year 10,000 the near future. Dune is, very much, a post apocalyptic setting; humanity is in the process of recovering from domination by autonomous AIs. I’m not sure if this was a jab at Asimov, but, regardless.

And, personal shields are very rare, very expensive, and extremely fragile pieces of equipment. House Atredies is able to afford a few of them. This is one of the most powerful members of the LANSRAD, and an incredibly wealthy family.

So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the combat we see might not be completely representative of warfare in the setting. That said, when actual battles occur, the great houses and the Sardukar have no qualms in breaking out lasguns.

The personal shields can’t handle fire from lasguns, so ranged weapons remain preferable on the whole, and really only work against sword strikes. Hence the whole, “a slow blade penetrates,” because a normal blade strike will reflect off. I can’t remember if the shields could survive normal firearms in the setting, but they certainly didn’t change the nature of war in Dune.

The blade fighting in the novels is, almost exclusively, the purview of dueling, and while houses have “swordmasters”, the actual weapon of choice is long knives.

I will say; Warhammer 40k, Dune, and Star Wars all make for fairly reasonable uses of melee weapons in a sci fi context. Lightsabers have ways to stay effective against ranged foes (so long as they’re backed up with superpowers), 40k is loaded to the gills with things that won’t die from sustained bolter fire and ludicrously lethal melee weapons, finally; Dune has a fairly rich dueling tradition. But, I wouldn’t hold any of those up as justifications for a near future setting.

On the subject of Kevlar, it’s actually been improving at a fairly steady pace. Used to be, 9mm rounds posed a serious threat to someone, and now we’ve gotten to the point where a vest can take an intermediate rifle round at medium range.

The problem with Kevlar is one of the basic constants of the universe, entropy. While a modern Kevlar vest will stop a 5.56mm rifle round, at 50m, when you start getting closer, or taking more fire, the vest will fail.

I’ll add a primer on modern body armor, because this one can get a bit complicated, though fair warning, I’ll probably do that after I’ve done most of my firearms primers. If you want to do some research now, I’d recommend looking into Kevlar, and ceramic inserts. Also if you start feeling too cocky about body armor, look up the history of the 10mm handgun round, and steel core ammunition. If you want a setting where you can use a sword in a gunfight and live, I’d suggest Warhammer 40k. It’s comically over the top, but there’s some coherent world building, and it does present you with the kinds of things you’d need to be dealing with to see swords really return to the battlefield.


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If in the near future, guns were not preferable for some reason, what would a sword made with modern technology and practices look like and what would it be capable of?

I’m sorry, if you really want an answer to this, “for some reason” will have to be a lot more specific. The short version is; I don’t see swords coming back into use anytime in the near future.

The only situation I can think of, in a modern setting, where a sword would be preferable, is if you were dealing with things that could take an inhuman amount of damage without being affected, and where lopping body pieces off is the way to go. I’m thinking classic horror monsters, here. Even then, there are shotgun loads, and anti-materiel rounds for that kind of situation.

If you want a crash course in using firearms to hunt the supernatural, I’d recommend Ultraviolet, (the TV Series, not the film), about modern day vampire hunters, who’ve adapted modern technology to deal with vampires. They strap cameras to the ends of their guns, in order to quickly identify vampires (the whole, no reflections thing), load their weapon with pressed carbon fragmentation rounds (to effect the wooden stake through the heart), use gas grenades designed to respond to the chemical weakness in the old garlic folklore. In short, it’s a very inventive (and at six episodes, very short), look at how one can adapt modern technology to hunt monsters.

If you’re thinking of some kind of apocalyptic event, I’d refer you to Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt. It’s a post apocalyptic novel about a group that sets off from St. Louis into Canada in search of a lost archive of pre-plague books. The main thrust of the setting is that the printing press is lost technology, but firearms remain in frequent use.

The problem being; guns are incredibly easy to manufacture, and basic gunsmithing is common enough, and useful enough, that it’s unlikely to be lost.

On top of that, an apocalyptic event like that would snuff out most of the interesting things we’re seeing in modern forging technology.

If it’s a technology marches on, kind of situation, then there isn’t much that could really negate the bullet without making a sword equally useless.

On what we can actually do right now, the only thing that comes to mind is cryoforging; I suspect that’s a trade name. From what I understand it’s just a tempering process involving liquid nitrogen to quench the blade. It supposedly results in an improbably durable weapon that will keep its edge through almost any abuse you can throw at it. I’d take this with a grain of salt; the only material I’ve seen on it was from a company that was selling cryoforged katanas back around 2002.

On the “in the year 2000” side, it depends on what your setting has, nanotechnology might be an option. Pick your poison on what you want a nanotech blade to do. But it’s worth pointing out that in the real world, nanotech research has gotten mired pretty heavily in patent conflicts, and the entire field is at risk of stalling out.

Carbon Fiber Weave swords are another possibility, basically this is a plastic, but it’s fairly durable stuff. I don’t know if the current iteration of the technology can hold an edge in combat, but edgeless training swords have been around for years.

If you really want to play in that range, I’d say dig up all the William Gibson and Neil Stephenson you can stomach. They’re the architects of modern cyberpunk, and really almost required reading if you want to push the envelope of what can be done with technology. For Stephenson, I’d recommend Snow Crash, and Cryptonomicon. With Gibson, I think Neuromancer is the place to start. If I recall correctly, Snow Crash is the only one of those which really talks about a character using a sword. Still, if you haven’t read them yet, and this is the genre you’re looking at writing in, they’re all worth your time.


Can you guys make a post about using a bow & arrow as a primary fighting weapon and its effectiveness in combat? Note: combat will not include modern weapons such as firearms or anything of the type.

We’re definitely going to do a primer on the bow, this will include both concerns for older styles of combat and modern ones since the weapon still has some very specific uses today and we don’t want to overlook those. We’ll put up an article for it in the next couple of days and one on ammo conservation/projectiles to cover all the bases.