Russia had to deal with a variety of invaders throughout its history (Vikings, Scythians, Samaritans, Mongols…).
Every single one of these peoples used their own arms and combat strategies, making it necessary for the Russian soldiers to adapt and be versatile. Moreover, from a geographical point of view, Russia has everything from planes, to mountains and deserts. Furthermore, its climate can be very extreme, from very hot summers to extremely cold winters. This variety of opponents and conditions is why the soldiers developed a martial art that was adaptable, polyvalent and multifunctional at the same time.
Systema has first been heard of in the 10th century AC. Both professional soldiers and citizens mobilized in times of war used and developed it. The latter returned to their civil lives once a war was over. In fact, learning how to fight was an integral part of every Russian boy’s education and whenever there were big festivals, you would find competitions where men fought with arms or their bare hands against each other. These competitions were a means for the men to train their skills in times of peace.
When communism took over in 1917, national traditions were done away with. The art of Systema was classified as a secret defense technique and became inaccessible for ordinary people, who were given “Sambo” instead, a Russian martial art and combat sport that was less threatening to those in power. Nevertheless, the Systema tradition was clandestinely perpetuated by certain clans and especially inside the military by the special forces known as “Spetsnaz”.
It was Mikhail Ryabko who introduced a modified form of the martial art of Systema to the general public and founded his own school, “poznaj sebya”, which means in English “discover yourself”.
In 1993, Vladimir Vasiliev, Ryabko’s senior student, emigrated to Toronto (Canada) and opened the first Systema academy outside the former USSR, the Russian Martial Art Systema Headquarters. Today, more and more schools and trainings groups emerge throughout the world.