Systema Questions

Xue Sheng

All weight is underside
Jan 8, 2006
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North American Tectonic Plate
I am impressed by Systema and its views of fighting but I have a few questions. Also understand these questions are coming form a guy that once was doing tuishou outside in a thunderstorm (and thought it was cool) so I probably shouldn’t say anything :D

A while back I got the book “Let Every Breath” and then I went and got the associated DVD (good combo by the way). With one of those I got this small chart, sorry I can’t post it because it is under a copyright. If someone wants it PM me and I will see what I can do.

It appears to be the Systema (Russian Martial Arts) view of what goes into or influences your ability to fight. I was looking at it again over the weekend and I have a few questions.

It appears that the ability to fight is influenced by or dependant upon survival, affliction, stress factors and geographical location. And survival is the ability to or influenced by hand to hand combat.

Part of my question is about is it dependant on or influenced by or both?

Also is it believed that one needs to train under all these conditions? If so I think it would be real hard and not all too safe to attempt to train while suffering form some of the things listed as well as not all that responsible either. However I am assuming (hoping) that this is just to make it clear that one must consider that a fight does not generally happen under ideal conditions and you need to be aware of that. I pretty much figure that is what the whole Geographic conditioning branch is about but I also feel that one should train under some of these conditions since a fight is less likely to happen in a nice air conditioned school with a perfectly clean flat floor that it is outside in the conditions listed. Heck I even do the taiji long form outside on uneven ground because of that.

Now the Survival branch is interesting but it is pretty self explanatory as is the stress factor branch. But again I am hoping here that most of it is to make you aware and not a suggestion that you go out and train while suffering form these stress factors although if you train for real and long enough sooner or later you will train in pain (I am not by any means suggesting anyone do that it is just the reality of the game).

Now I get to the Hand to Hand combat section and to be honest it, like most of this chart makes since to me. However there is one bit I simply do not understand and maybe someone else can explain this to me

What does “Forms of existence of matter” mean, what it is about and why is it listed as a factor in hand to hand combat?

Also one more under "hand to hand combat"; "Rules of combat" what is this about? As far as I can tell there are no rules (other than survival) but I am equally willing to admit I am missing something here.


Purple Belt
Oct 28, 2003
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New York, NY
I am surprised that no-one has responded to your question about the "Ability to Fight" chart (which is included with some purchases from the official Systema site). So I will take a shot at it:

Part of my question is about is it dependant on or influenced by or both?
I'd guess both but if I had to stick with one, I would say "influenced by." For example, should we say that ability to fight is influenced by stressors like physical pain, or dependent on them? "Dependent" implies a clear-cut relationship - my carrying an open umbrella over my head is dependent on whether it's raining. But it's not so clear-cut with the ability to fight. People have survived seemingly impossible situations. You might say the ability to fight is dependent on being conscious or being alive, but there are few other factors that are so conclusive.
Also is it believed that one needs to train under all these conditions?
It's good to train under different circumstances, but extreme training isn't necessary for everyone. For example, I don't need to experience escaping from a building that's engulfed in flames to know what to do in case of fire. But for a firefighter, such training might be essential. We would expect that firefighters have some training with real fires to be prepared for the demands of the job. I guess you have to balance your own well-being with the purpose of your training. No-one would suggest cutting open an artery to practice fighting while you're bleeding out. But you are quite right in remarking that fights don't happen on perfectly level ground with opponents facing off neatly. So it's good to mix it up a bit - train when you're a little under the weather (but not contagious, of course), not dressed properly, or outdoors in inclement weather.

It's funny you mention 'forms of existence of matter' because I always wondered about that, too. It sounds so metaphysical in comparison to the rest of the chart. Perhaps it refers to the physical qualities of those engaged in combat - many or few, tall or short, dogs or people (!)... well, that is a flimsy explanation, I'll admit. 'Forms of existence of matter' has always mystified me, too.

'Rules of combat' aren't rules such as in point-sparring; we know that Systema does not have such rules. Nevertheless sometimes there are other kinds of rules. For example, in military situations, a particular person might need to be captured alive, even though this might prove much more difficult. In police situations, certain rules, e.g. laws, dictate what sort of restraint can be used. Here in New York, police are forbidden to use "air chokes." Even in individual self-defense situations, there may be moral rules, such as a need to protect your children superceding the need to protect yourself. Situations may be less straightforward than they appear to be because of these limitations. So that's how I interpreted the 'rules of combat.'

I don't believe the 'ability to fight' chart is intended as a training guide, but more as an explanation of various factors that affect survival in physical conflict. Most of the factors illustrated on the chart aren't surprising, and yet how many times have I read statements like "the bigger/faster/stronger/male person always wins" or "Style X practitioner will always prevail over Style Z practitioner." The chart is a handy reminder that the outcome of physical conflict is never so predictable.

I hope this helps.

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