Systema and Special Forces

Systema and Special Forces

Or Does Walter Mitty Dream of Systema,

Or Choosing where to train.


We are faced with multiple choices almost every second of our lives- what programmes to watch, what restaurant to go to, what to order from the menu, what gym to attend, and of course, the ultimate question, “what religion (or martial art) is best?”

I have received yet another letter from an enquiring mind today. The letter said- I’m interested in Systema. Can you please provide proof that it is effective. For example, is it used by police or military? I get many inquiries like this, and no matter what you answer, the author never turns up in class. (That’s not a judgemental statement, but rather statistical)

First, if you want to study what the USN SEALs, British SAS, or Russian Spetznaz study- go and join those units. They are given the tools for solving very particular problems that you are unlikely to encounter in your corner of the universe. In regards to hand-to-hand combat training- they get little, because their job is not to enter fighting competitions. Their job, when faced with an opponent and use of a special tool (like an air strike or a sniper shot) is not possible- is not to fight, but to neutralise instantly. So you see, for them, to study all aspects of Systema (aikido/judo/sambo/boxing/silat…) is simply not necessary.

Second, for some reason, people think that military and police get the best everything- best toys, best training, best medals. Those of you that served know different.  In fact, many professionals that I know go to the civilian market to enhance their kit, and their training.

If you want to compete (and maybe have aspirations to win) in a MMA tournament- you gotta go train MMA. If you want to win Olympic medal in judo, you’d be mad to train krav-maga, or archery. If you want to be a killer- go join an army, it’s what they do. Everything else is against the law.

Now, for the martial arts:

People have found their religion. Converting them is remarkably difficult. If someone loves Boxing, converting them to BJJ is a thankless task. If people are deep into aikido, dragging them to silat is quite a challenge. There is no style that is best for everyone, just like there is no song that everyone loves, or no food everyone adores.

Go and try a few things, you will find something that makes sense to you.

Why study martial arts at all?

Most of us come to martial arts through fear. And after a few lessons we are faced with a different choice: do I study so that I can kick everyone’s arse? Or do I study because I want to change myself?

Both choices are valid. But one is much deeper than the other. And Systema is mainly about getting to know more about yourself, using movement with a partner as tool for this exploration.

Choosing a school and a teacher.

There are some very skilled fighters out there. Not many of them are great teachers- teaching skillset is quite different from that of a fighter. Your choice of a teacher will undoubtedly be influenced by how famous the teacher is- we all want our picture taken next to Mike Tyson or Keanu Reeves, because they look cool on TV! But please consider, both Tyson and Reeves studied from the guys who were not very famous… So- are you there for the pics and the likes on your Instagram?

Has the school been open for a while? This is somewhat important, though not very. Often the students leave their school and set up their own shop because the pride gets in the way of their progress. Same happens to car mechanics, marketers, plumbers- they go through their apprenticeship and they decide they can do better. And very often, they do ok. School that has been open for a while tells you that at the very least, the instructor shows up. And continues to grow himself. And quite likely, the instructor got over the childhood illness of “Everyone, look, I’m a martial arts instructor”

For me the choice of the school is easy: does the instructor know the material? Is he able to teach it? Is the material of interest to you? And most importantly, is the instructor kind? You will see and feel this after the first visit to class.

How long does it take?

Depends on your goals. You can learn specific physical skills after about 20 hours of training. The police get significantly less hours, btw. Or you can study as long as you want discovering more and more things about yourself. Your questions change too. You move from “how do I hit harder” to “how do I hit more effectively”. From “what’s the best place to stand”, to “how do I sense the intent”, from “how can I heal the person attacking me”, to “what does my tribe need to know to survive”.

Get off your arse, put the phone down, go do something. And to keep things light, and to help you decide if you want to study a military style, here is a short video of an army test.

See you in class!

David Kirillov