Category Archives: Philosophy


A Description of Systema by Martin Wheeler

Martin Wheeler wrote this years ago when he first became acquainted with Systema. It was always one of my favorite posts from the forum so I asked his permission to reprint it unedited here. Martin is one of the top instructors in Systema. He is in LA and can be reached at if you are lucky enough to live close enough to train with him.

          "I met a master of the art, Vladimir Vasiliev at a seminar
organized by Lee Wedlake and was further encouraged to study it by my friend Al
Mcluckie. After what I saw I started training under him in his school in
Toronto whenever I can. I would have to say I am blown away by the concept of
Systema which is an internal Russian martial art. Vladimir and Mikhail Ryabko,
who I was lucky enough to meet recently, are incredible teachers of the martial
arts. Their concept of the art and teaching methods are quite simply amazing. I
am not even entirely sure how they do what they do, I just know that it works.
In a way I was searching for Systema without really knowing what I was looking
for, the training regiment I was following was telling me to relax, stay in
contact with the opponent , steer away from specific technique, keep in motion,
allow my weapons to follow their own paths and let the bodies fluidity work for
itself while encouraging the mind to intuitively strategize. But saying all that
I think if I had carried on down the path I was taking for the next 20 years I
still doubt I would have learned as much as I did in only my first week of
training in The System under a teacher such as Vladimir.


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What is the "Art" of Martial Arts?

Written by Alex Kostic, Senior Instructor in Serbia: translated by Dragan Milojevic


        We live today in a time where almost every single aspect of our existence is either directly or indirectly conditioned by technology. Moreover, according to many thinkers, the technology dictates the direction in which civilization will develop. Nowadays, man is following the dictate of technology, and not vice versa. Such a situation inevitably leads to a slow imposing of hard frames on thing most humane – the spontaneity and creativity as a feature of wondering. This “wondering”, which is being lost even among the children, is the main instigator of the co-existence between man and the mystery of being, which is discovered, layer by layer, through the wondering and amazement. 
        The ecstasy of discovery is primarily shaped through the “phenomenon” that we refer to as art. Everything else is just utilization and adaptation of the original insight to the daily needs. In order for a man to create a work of art, he must be inspire-d (as in-spirit-ed). We see here that words inspiration and respiration (root – spirit) are of the same origin, same root, which in turn awakes the thought that a man who creates needs to be inspired, i.e. spiritual. This leads us to recognizing some order. Breath…insight…materialization or shaping of “that something”, a phenomenon. That something, which is being unfolded has its hidden side. There is no other way…it would be the murder of the mystery of being. This dance between the concealed and unfolded is expressed (and is only possible) in art. A work of art is unlimited in its interpretations and bears inexhaustible messages and guidelines for each new generation. For example, an old, bent wheel-hub or an old broken battery radio might be witnesses of recent past, but have no use today (besides recycling), unlike Michelangelo’s David or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which does not cease to educate upcoming generations. This is just scratching the surface, as one might add the Bible, various music composers etc. 
         While reading this, someone might ask “what does it have to do with martial arts?” 
         If we accept the art segment of the martial, then we need to ask not where, but how is the art present there. I will attempt to give a short (and direct) answer to that question. In individual being (as opposed to persona). A man is not given, but rather “sketched”. If I can put it roughly, given is an animal body, with all its urges, instincts and so on. What is sketched is a man as a being of love. Someone who is transformed…or even better being transformed… someone who is overcoming his or hers mindless urges and is redirecting own energy towards the refining and modeling of one’s personality (in my jargon, as an Orthodox Christian, it would be called “Christ-likeness”). The context of practicing martial arts (Systema) opens up a possibility for some kind of corporal confession, by working out in the community with other participants. Quicker than anywhere else, we are able to perceive plethora of emotions that permeate our body, from anger, through sorrow to happiness… 
         When we are winning a sparring session, we are celebrating (while the other is maybe angry or sad),  sometimes we get scared from someone stronger or more ruthless. Sometimes we strive for a revenge…to hurt someone on purpose…and sometimes we retreat (we run away from the whole situation). Sometimes, the states are emerging that we haven’t been aware of. There is at the same time the mindless nature of the entire thing, but also material to work with. Like painter has his colors and canvas and sculptor has stone, so we have our body (as the foundation of Being – "body as the temple for the soul”) to work with. 
        To make it possible at all, we need to have a right framework, which means a different relation than the competitive one. What constitutes a man is his relation with others. Without others, which also means without the community, we do not exist as people. The relation with others is what shapes my identity…through interaction with others I am shaped, as an individual and a Personality. In the interaction and caring for each other we grow, become enriched and develop as individuals and as the community. Through the constant competition, what we get is the illusion of power…in plain language, we loot it from the defeated…until one day we get looted ourselves…our power is temporary and short-lived, like a drug. We go through emotional and physical hell to preserve the state…we close ourselves in our own fortresses, made of muscular armor, and there we dwell alone in the spiritual darkness. 
           There is no light without empathy and care for other. Only an open door or window will let fresh air or light into someone’s home. In case of man, it is the openness for the “other”, who is my other “I”. Fighting is always fighting with oneself. In a way, it means overcoming one’s own fears and weakness. The other is there to help us, and not to defeat us. The only thing that needs to be defeated is our weakness and fears that are impeding us from being a new body – a body of light and love. 
         The art in martial endeavor is the “art of transformation” from mindless into minded, through the terror of facing oneself with the help of other. Today, in the world of pragmatism and measuring, we often have the case of martial arts straying from the reality, i.e. avoiding that face-off. Under the excuse of “tradition”, they are hiding before the challenge of reality. On the other side, we have a pure utilitarian approach, which is deprived of humane, and becomes a purpose in itself, where the humane becomes sacrificed (of turning a man into a machine). The encounter of a man with reality in himself and around himself, all that within a community that provides support to overcome weakness and transform into spiritual, Christ-like…maybe that is a direction to follow. The greatest warrior of all times had defeated and brought down himself and not others…for the sake of us all.
Senior Systema Instructor Alex Kostic
Systema Serbia

Alex is one of my favorite instructors and I have heard nothing but good things about the seminar he hosts there every year at a mountaintop resort. The prices are even good. Be sure and check it out on his website.
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Orthodox Christianity and Fighting


Many people who are seriously studying Systema and are trying to understand its spiritual basis, at one point face this question: If Christian Orthodoxy is love and peace, how can it be the foundation of a martial art? Balancing non-violence and acting in self-defense is an issue that every human being has to resolve for himself. So let’s take a look at it.

Compare an athlete fighting in the ring and a warrior defending his homeland. Both are prepared to hurt another human being, but what a huge difference in justifying their actions! The goal of a ring fighter is to show that he is superior to the other fighters, to prove that he is the best. While the goal of the warrior is to save his family, his friends and his country from death and misery. The warrior clearly has a noble goal, at that moment he is close to God. While the main motivation of the ring fighter is PRIDE, the warrior is driven by LOVE, love for his family, friends and country.

Thus, training to be a true warrior is not only justified, but is necessary. How else can we save the innocent people from evil? We have all seen the events in Beslan. How else can children held hostage by the terrorists be saved? Professionals such as soldiers and police officers are trained, armed and prepared for the task of saving lives. They put their own lives on the line with humility and honor.

Orthodox Christianity teaches us that fighting becomes a sin only when there is pride and aggression in it, or if it contains hatred, revenge or callousness, when the causes are greed, vanity, envy, desperation and other such vices. Otherwise, if it is fighting for defense, for rescue – it is a sin not to fight and let your loved ones get hurt or killed or have your country destroyed.

There are numerous examples of righteous warriors since the creation of the world. The first Warrior known to mankind is Archangel Mikhail – God gave him the sword – the power to fight evil; and with that sword He had banished the fallen angels (not killed but banished) from God’s Kingdom, all those who no longer served God, but only served their own pride. It had to be done, so that evil does not take over.

We see the Prophets in the Old Testament – such as Gideon or Samson – they were blessed by God to fight the evil. All the way to our times, when during World War II, many nations had to go up against the evil.

The Word of God in the bible tells us that there is no bigger sacrifice than to give up your life for others. Thus, anyone who prepares to be a true warrior, who undergoes training and takes a weapon in his hand, accepts this possibility of sacrificing his life in the name of love for other people; in essence, he prepares to become a martyr.

The ultimate quality that Systema develops in its practitioners is humility. Training in Systema lets the person see his own egotism and other weaknesses and gives him ammunition to overcome them. A humble person devotes his life to fighting the evil in his heart and constantly asks God to help him with that. In reward for his hard work and resulting humility, God gives him this amazing gift of peace, joy and absence of resentment no matter what happens.

If humility becomes our character, there is no more room for pride, aggression, vanity, greed and envy. Our spirit will always be with God and you will fight only when it is absolutely necessary, only for a noble cause, always causing the least possible damage to the opponents, in a calm, firm, fearless and professional way. We have to do it, otherwise evil will take over.

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