On the origins of Systema
Systema is a martial art native of Russia. There are many arts from Russia that contain the word Systema, at Club Nagaika, we teach Ryabko style, named after the founder, Mikail Ryabko.
The history of Systema is poorly documented and the subject of some controversy. Deductive reasoning leads me to this portrait.
At the historical root of Systema, we have the traditional styles of the Cossack and Slavic peoples. There was a very large variety of these styles, often fragmented into family variations. During the Soviet period, the drive to establish a truly Socialist culture drove most local cultural manifestations underground, and much of the variety in traditional Russian martial arts was lost. A revival of these traditions can be seen, for example in Buza.
During this period, traditional martial arts where replaced by Sambo, a hybrid of multiple disciplines of diverse origins. This was mainly the work of two men, V. Oschepkov and V. Spiridonov. Sambo is still very widespread in the republics of the ex-Soviet Union, used in many military units and very popular as a sport. V. Spiridonov, however, also developed another art, called Samoz, based mainly on the traditional Russian fighting styles. The initial purpose of this work was to create a martial art Spiridonov himself could use after suffering a crippling injury, however, it soon was adopted by the Sokoli Stalina (“Stalin’s Falcons”, the personal bodyguard unit of Josef Stalin) because of its exceptional effectiveness and low energy expenditure.
After Stalin’s death, the Sokoli Stalina where disbanded, and its members where used as the core cadre of the new Spetnaz units. Mikail Ryabko’s biography indicates he is the adoptive son of a veteran of the Sokoli Stalina, and was trained from the age of 5 in his adoptive father’s martial art skills. These skill undoubtedly include Samoz, and may also include other influences. Mikail Ryabko became an active member of a Spetsnaz unit at age 15.
During the same period, A. Kadochnikov began work, possibly also based on Samoz, developing a martial art with a foundation of traditional Russian arts, but optimized by a thorough application of scientific principles. Kadochnikov, a physicist and mechanical engineer, created an art (known as Systema Kadochnikova or sometimes K-Sys) known for a very rigorous, sometimes very technical use of physics to obtain optimal results. Most modern practitioners of Russian martial arts, including Mikail Ryabko, acknowledge a significant influence from Kadochnikov’s work.
Ryabko style is distinctive, based on a high degree of emphasis on intuition, as well as on methodical self discovery. Preference is given, while training, to creating a path for students to create solutions for problems, rather than offer them solutions. This can be quite baffling to students from other arts where techniques are emphasized.
While there is very little in terms of rankings in Ryabko style Systema, 3 people hold the title of Master.
Mikail Ryabko himself, as founder. He is a veteran of 36 years in the Soviet, and then Russian special forces. He currently holds the rank of Colonel, and is a special advisor to the Russian minister of Justice. He also teaches Systema in Moscow.
Konstantin Komarov was an officer in the reconnaissance units of Soviet military intelligence (GRU) Spetsnaz. He retired with the rank of Major. He also holds a doctoral degree in psychology, specializing in the field of combat psychology, a subject he has taught in military academies. He has also served as a bodyguard for high profile clients in Russia.
Vladimir Vasiliev is probably the first man to teach Systema outside Russia. A veteran of special warfare units so secretive they do not even fall under the Spetsnaz designation, he has received some of the most advanced and intense combat training offered anywhere in the world. He currently teaches in the city of Toronto.