Monthly Archives: August 2008

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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Seminar Review – Joint Destruction in Pacifica

It was a typical spring day in Pacifica. Cool, to say the least, with strong gusts of wind breaking up the morning mists to let the sun thru. One could just feel the vastness of the Pacific Ocean at our backs. Air doesn’t get much fresher than that. By passing over a thousand miles of open ocean, it was perfect for the breathing we would enjoy so much that day. Comrades gathered, hands in pockets, eager for the day of training to begin. As people arrived warm greeting sounded all around. Returning to this group of ours, wherever it may be, always feel like a family reunion. As with family, it is not that we are all such close friends, but there is a bond that comes from learning and suffering joyfully together. Many of us see each other only on these rare occasions. Conversations are often brief, but it is easy to builds bonds that go deeper than the level of our daily lives. The honest work of giving and receiving training cuts to the core. It was good to be among these brothers again.


Training started with a bearable bit of running, followed by the tension exercises that I have come love as the gentlest transition into work. This is especially appreciated at seminars where travel leaves the body cold and a bit disconnected. Tension work tunes the body to the mind gently, and we were ready to work after a short session.


Then we began, following up on things recently explored in the Dallas seminar and true to the seminar’s title “Joint Destruction”. Now, work on the joints always makes me cautious -and I am sure I am not alone. It is easy to have some serious respect for an arm bar once you receive a couple overly zealous applications. So as we got moving I reminded myself to be careful and mentally set the reaction-to-pain sensors on high alert. Little did I know that by the end of the day we would all receive hundreds of elbow hyperextensions on each side.  It turned out well: there were only a couple that my body remembered a day later, and no one was injured in the two days of training.


Overall, this seminar seemed unique to me in that it was almost entirely centered on this one concept. From seminars I have attended this was the most thoroughly explored of hand-to-hand concepts. This work is so fundamental, so functional and so beautiful. It is easy for the mind to grasp since it is natural and intuitive. An attacker cannot reach out, push, punch or stab without putting their limbs at risk. It requires no strength to take the opponents limb because he freely gives it.. This is true of Systema in general but in this case it is so easy to see and use.


The principle works by fulcrum and lever. The body is moved by the lever if you go slowly and smoothly.  But the body is a dead weight that can’t move fast enough, and breaking the lever if you move the too fast. In the course of training one learns to find the fulcrum and feel the lever very easily. This allows a joint extension to be applied quickly and smoothly.  And this make joint-trapping and hyperextension a very functional part of a hand-to-hand combat system. One can even accentuate the attackers offering with a little tug to straighten him further. Or push the body away gently to start an opposing wave to straighten the arm and make the work more effective.


Joint extension can be adjusted for a variety of results. If one applies it in a small dose it can simply stop a person, or it can be used to move and steer them, like a big lever. And taken abruptly to its extreme, it can destroy the joint and leave them momentarily preoccupied with internal problems. It provides a whole continuum of physical conflict resolution in a single and simply attainable concept. And this works in every dimension. You can work up, down, and sideways. You can work from the floor with someone attacking downwards or standing with someone attacking upwards. It works for head grab, waist grab or attack on the legs. Whatever the opponent reaches for, there it is. And any part of the body can be used for a fulcrum point, as can another opponent, or a nearby object.


Due to the simplicity and effectiveness, It is very appropriate for multiple attackers. A broken arm can occur in a split second, like falling into a hole, almost as fast as you can pass by. This would give almost any attacker something to think about, hopefully eliminating them and quickly reducing the group. Some of my favorite drills were working against multiple attackers. It was very easy to discover greater efficiently: the complexity brought out the skill of applying force with any part of the body, whatever is closest.


We explored joint hyperextension in every variation, ending with a session of knife training using the same principles. I love the way Vlad frequently ends seminars with knife work. It always suits the mood so well, when, near the end, everyone is tired from the work of a two-day seminar.


There is only one thing better than thoroughly satisfying training session like this. That is when Vlad decides to use the material to make a teaching DVD. It is like getting a video of ones vacation. And there is always the fun and sometimes humbling experience of seeing yourself in the production. But the real benefit is being able to fine-tune what one got out of the seminar. We all remember what got into our bodies during that time, then in training that follows we get to plant it deeper. But there are always thing that pass by because we unable to grasp it at the time. Video review can really bring back these fine points. And many times over many years it will bring a different message.


This was one of the best seminars ever. Those who couldn’t make it will surely enjoy this video since it will clearly explain the progressions that lead to mastery of this concept. The work contained within could be a fighting system all in itself…even without the rest of Systema’s storehouse of treasures.

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