Russian martial arts raw and reality-based

The Chronicle (West Island)
Wednesday, July 6, 2005 by Mike Wyman

Pierrefonds resident Stéphane Beaudin thinks the best way to meet violence is head-on. What’s more, he feels that every member of society should be trained in the fighting arts.

“I think everyone should be taught how to fight and how to use weapons because people who want to harm others will not usually harm people who can harm them back.”

Beaudin, who has a military background and a life-long interest in martial arts, is an enthusiastic practitioner of Systema, a martial art with its roots deep in Russian history. Synthesized from a number of traditional fighting styles,Systema was refined during the Stalinist regime. It became the form of close quarters combat taught to Spetsnaz, the Soviet Special Forces.

“It’s designed for maximum economy of energy,” said Beaudin, explaining that Spetsnaz troops could be called upon to cover a considerable distance under their own power before arriving at the target. “When they get into hand-to-hand combat range they’d probably be physically exhausted and possibly injured. And they might have to ski or run another 30 kilometres to get back to where they started.”

Referred to as a reality-based martial art, Systema has no belts to strive for, no foreign-language phrases to learn and relies on using whatever objects may be at hand as both offensive and defensive weapons.

“Spetsnaz used the military shovel a lot,” said Beaudin. “It has a great weight and balance to be thrown. It can be sharpened and used as an axe. It can be used to do all sorts of joint manipulations and it can be used as a measuring tool.”

Club Nagaika, where training is done in similar conditions to Russia.

Club Nagaika, where training is done in similar conditions to Russia.

In a pinch it can also be used to dig a hole.

Common civilian items can also be put to use, according to Beaudin. “A belt is a magnificent weapon. You can block with it, strike with it, strangle with it. There’s a nifty technique to tie someone up with a belt so that they’ll need someone else to untie them.

“Credit cards, magazines, there are all kind of things that can be used. A bag can be used to block, strike, distract.”

With the breakup of the Soviet Union a decade or so ago, a number of former Spetsnaz members were forced to explore new career options. Some ex-officers decided to take advantage of the free-market
opportunities presented by the regime change and began sharing their training with the public. Vladimir Vasiliev relocated to the Toronto area where he and collaborator Mikhail Ryabko, still a high-ranking officer in the Russian military, have produced a series of videos and conducted seminars around the world.

Beaudin began studying Systema in earnest last August and is hoping to find a few like-minded West Islanders to form a study group. With its reliance on natural movements and the fact that there is no choreography to learn, the presence of a teacher is not a constant need.

“There are very few certified trainers. Most of the people who train in Systema actually train in study groups like the one I’m trying to form. They watch the instructional tapes and train together and try to perfect the biomechanical efficiency that they try to suggest.”

When asked about a minimum number of members required for a study group, Beaudin replied, “One is enough. You can do stuff with two people but with 10 people or more you can start doing drills like confined spaces drills with multiple attackers.”

Club Nagaika students durig ‘Combat in Water’, an annual seminar held in October at Plage Saint-Jacques in Pierrefonds.

Club Nagaika students during ‘Combat in Water’, an annual seminar held in October at Plage Saint-Jacques in Pierrefonds.

He was quick to mention that previous experience was not a requirement.

“Everyone knows everyone and nobody’s going to hit another any harder than they think they can take. It is entirely co-operative. You are both student and teacher. The purpose of everything you do is to learn
and to give the most learning benefit to your learning partner.

“It in no instance relies on any form of strength. There is an emphasis on being completely relaxed at all times. It’s fascinating how helpless someone who is tense is against someone who is relaxed.”

For more information about Systema, call Beaudin at 683-8068 (changed to 514-266-8066).

Figure: Chronicle, Peter Mccabe
Stéphane Beaudin (on top) gives Chris Myers of Plattsburgh, N.Y. a taste of Systema.

© 2005 The Chronicle (West Island). All rights reserved.