Tag Archives: systema

“Practical” Combat

Let’s talk about “practical” for a second. In the world of martial arts, and really everything associated with combat, “practical” is a loaded term; it refers to any style or weapon that’s intended for actual combat. It’s distinct from sport or non-combat martial arts, like Tai Bo. In the case of weapons it distinguishes between actual combat weapons and display weapons, like the rainbow knife on my desk.

So, if you’re asking, what’s the most effective combat style, then, whatever fits. There are plenty of active combat forms available to civilians, and military or police characters will know their organization’s hand to hand form. It’s not uncommon for police to actively start looking into other martial arts as a result of their training. Similarly, as I recall (and I could be wrong about this), it’s fairly common for military personnel in overseas postings, to pick up local martial arts and bring them back.

Generally speaking, practical styles split into two families, with a lot of crossover; subdual and lethal. Subdual styles involve restraining the opponent, and holding them in place, usually via joint locks, throws and holds. Most police hand to hand forms, and almost all self defense training are focused on subdual.

Lethal styles are ones that involve quickly breaking someone so they stop screaming and thrashing. Almost all military styles fall into this header. Some exceptions are Chin Na and modern Systema, which borrow heavily from subdual techniques. Where most subdual forms are content to lock a joint, lethal styles will frequently follow with a break.

If your character is a civilian, then you’re probably looking at any of the modern self defense schools. It is probably the most prolific, practical martial style today, and easy to explain in a character’s back story.

If you’re looking for something slightly more obscure, then Krav Maga or Muay Thai are both options. But, Krav Maga is about a decade out of date from the actual military form, and Muay Thai is technically a sport form. Granted, that sport involves tagging someone in the kidneys until they piss blood and die, but still.

If your character is in one of the few places in the world where they can get training in it, Systema’s also an option. In its modern form, it looks more like a subdual form, but it is quite lethal. Unfortunately, it also means your character needs to have come from someplace with a large Russian population. If the character is American, that means : Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Seattle, or Miami.

Finally, if you’re willing to do some research on your own, there are a number of Ninjitsu schools in the US. Functionally, it’s not really that different from any other Japanese form, except that it hasn’t been defanged into a sport form yet. Just make sure, if you go this route, to make that completely clear to the reader.

-Starke

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.

-Michi

Hi, I just found out something rather obvious that there are different fighting styles for different cultures. What would a Russian fighting style look like?

Well, believe it or not, there are actually quite a few of them.

The two big ones used by the Russian Military are Systema which translates to “The System” and Sambo. Sambo comes in a few different flavors, such as the variety used for sports and the version used by the Russian Military. Systema is military only, though you can find a few schools in the United States that teach it as a form of self-defense.

Systema is more about joint locking and screwing with someone’s body.

Sambo is more about grappling.

Neither of these martial systems were inspired by their southern neighbors. They are unique to Russia.

-Michi