Introduction To The Russian Combat Art
This combat system goes by several names. Generally, it is called Systema which means the system in Russian. The system is the fusing of health and fighting together unlike most other martial art programs. The movements this system uses to strike also provide health to the body. It is also referred to as the Russian martial arts or Russian combat arts.
I chose the title Russian Combat Arts (RCA) to help remind people that this art is about combat. The word martial refers to what is suitable for war. Originally, each martial art was created to give soldiers an edge in combat. Eventually, these arts went public. In the public sphere, when a person fights back against an attacker it is called self-defense not combat. This is merely a play on words. The art is composed of various families. The family with which
I am associated with is the Kadochnikov family. Each family teaches the same core values of the system but at various points, they begin to differ in the application of striking. This is why this system is called Art not Arts. To understand why, a person needs to understand this art. The art is eclectic and at least a thousand years old. Over time it was recognized there were certain values which were the heart of this method. Yet, the art is flexible so that those who practice it can use the core values while modifying its peripheral aspects. The following are the four core values upon which everything else in this system is built.
Breathing is considered as the foundation of this art. As you read this you might be thinking that everyone breathes. Not necessarily! We have all heard of sleep apnea. This is an extreme example where a person does not breath at night. I would argue “apnea” happens more often than most people realize. In this case, a person does not need medical equipment to deal with the issue but awareness.
I remember when I first began to study this art, I began to be more aware of my breathing while doing every day activities. I was surprised how often I stopped breathing during the normal application of my day. I am sure there were times which I missed. Try it! You will be surprised.
Breathing is the key to both health and fighting. We will talk about tension later. Nevertheless, there is good and bad tension. When tension is used properly in training it is beneficial. Yet, tension can be harmful to the body as well and inhibit your ability to fight. Breathing properly permits us to control the tension in our bodies.
There are three forms of breathing. The first is exhaling and inhaling through the nose. The second is inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the slightly opened mouth. The third is breathing as the second but in a more rapid session. These forms of breathing are practiced daily with the four core exercises which are pushups, squats, leg lifts and sit ups in different variations to prepare for combat.
Yes, in our training for and in combat we breath as we move and strike. Breathing permits us to control the tension in our bodies and by so doing, our bodies are more relaxed. We can move freely, strike heavier, attack with more precision and outlast our attacker.
Obviously, movement is a part of the martial arts process. In RCA, there are various forms of movement for various applications.
In this art, we use less muscle relying on the kinetic energy produced by the movements of our bodies. Even as we stand still our bodies are in motion as they react to gravity to maintain a stance. The key is to produce this energy at the time needed. The different ways in which this energy is produced is called the wave!
The wave is produced by movement of each body part in a series by which kinetic energy is produced from the feet, through the body in various ways and out the object used to strike the attacker. As the body moves the greater the increase in the kinetic energy being passed from section to section.
Eventually, this kinetic energy is passed through the object used to strike into the body of the attacker. The object used to attack can be any part of the body like a fist, finger, elbow or such like. The student of RCA can be trained to manipulate the energy to do the most damage to the attacker.
To train the body to wave, we also use the circle and figure eight. The circle is considered half a figure eight and the figure eight is considered the more advanced movement. These movements are used both in training and combat as well as offensive and defensive actions. The key to producing the wave motion is the use of the Shaska and Russian dance.
In training these movements loosen the joints providing mobility, releasing the stress that binds up the movements and health. In combat, the same movements allow us to strike three-dimensionally keeping the attacker off guard.
The result desired is less stress in the joints, greater health, less muscular interaction and an expanded freedom of movement. A body in this condition can move effectively, breathe properly and constantly and can strike more heavily.
When conflict seems possible, the student of RCA begins to move even if the movement cannot be seen by the naked eye. Within our movement, we strike using various parts of our bodies attacking sections of tension on the attacker’s body.
We do not strike once or twice and then stop. We continue whether it is the attacker’s front side or back. We move around the attacker, striking as we go to “screw him into the ground.” Nevertheless, we do not stop merely because the attacker is down. The fight is not over until the attacker is incapacitated or eliminated.
Understanding structure is important for two reasons in the RCA. This art does not use artificially created fighting stances or Katas as seen in most other arts. In the RCA system, the stance used for fighting is the same used for everyday movement.
Our fighting stance is simple. The crown of the head points up. Our shoulders go up, over then are dropped down by our rib cage. In other words, our shoulders go north, west and south along the axis of our body. The back is straight while the hips are placed under the shoulders with a slight curvature where the spine meets the hip gridle. The knees are slightly bent and the feet are flat placed under the shoulders. The posture of the skeletal structure is supported by the body’s ligaments and tendons.
There are two ways to determine if your stance is correct. First, you can place a board or rod vertically. Place one end on the floor next to your foot. Place the other end near your head’s crown. Examine the body to see if it is as straight from crown to foot as the board. Secondly, you can back up against a wall. Place your heels, buttocks, shoulders and back of the head against the wall. Then walk away from the wall without changing the stance. This is the stance you ought to be using to walk and fight.
This structure helps the body to be free of bad tension, the kind of tension that inhibits our ability to move properly and becomes the object of a strike or cut. The body can move freely in any direction. The body’s movements can be used either to move it out of the way of an oncoming strike or to generate the power to deliver devastatingly heavy strikes to any part of the body and in any direction.
Additionally, we study the body’s skeletal system to learn how to also destroy an attacker. In many martial arts muscle is a very large part of the system. It is often believed that the more muscle you possess the faster and heavier your strikes will be and the more difficult it will be to bring you down. This is not necessarily true.
In the RCA we do not fight muscle against muscle although muscle is an object of striking. No matter how muscular an opponent is, if you bend, twist and screw his skeletal system properly he will go down. I did say that we do strike muscle. Muscle holds tension and when an area of tension is struck it enhances the effectiveness of the strike.
We do not necessarily learn the bones, joints and muscles of the body by name. Rather, we practice moving an opponent’s body by pushing with the hand, a stick or strike to see what effect it has on the body. The effect we are generating is skeletal movement.
By practicing and observing, we learn two things. We learn what strikes will move the body and in what direction. Secondly, we learn how the body moves in relation to these strikes so we will be able to rotate the opponent’s body to screw him into the ground.
To accomplish this, we learn to strike with purpose. The purpose of each strike, in the RCA, is to put an antagonist into a position we chose which will lead to another strike. The end-result of this process is to screw his body into the ground ending the conflict.
So, part of the daily routine of training is to learn how the body moves, in what directions it can, the use of joints and position of muscles. Students study the tactical importance of the light-heavy sides, points at which the body can no longer maintain its balance, the third-leg theory, question-mark, triangle and the theory of striking.
Today, probably in the past as well, the world has a lot to say about being relaxed. I doubt there has ever been a time when life was not stressful. What creates the stress definitely changes but stress in life does not. Fighting can be stressful as well. Not so much in the RCA.
A relaxed body is not a limp body. At the very least, the skeletal system needs ligaments and tendons to hold its structure and this creates tension which fights against relaxation. Of course, muscles enter into the picture as well increasing both the tension and stress.
The greatest amount of relaxation then demands the least amount of muscular interference. It is a matter of quantity. In RCA, we use the least amount of muscle necessary to accomplish what ever task it is that we are doing. Generally, speaking most Система schools argue that a combatant ought not use more than 25% of their muscle in combative situation.
Reducing the amount of muscle we use will also reduce tension, friction and areas of striking. Bad tension is any tension that hinders our body’s movement and therefore, its health. The body is hindered because the muscle in which the tension is located becomes “hardened.”
It is the same as what happens during a body-building contest where each participant flexes his muscles by putting tension into a specific area of the body. When the muscle is tensed, it is difficult to move. Watch how a body-builder walks or runs. You could try this experiment yourself. Tense your whole body. Do not leave any part of the body free. Now try to move. In a fight, you want to move as easily as is humanly possible. Tension is your enemy.
Friction is a part of life. Our bodies fight friction and gravity due to the way our earth was created. We cannot eliminate either, but we can reduce their effects on our bodies and therefore, on our ability to fight. In the RCA, we fight on the move. As mentioned earlier, one of the foundational principles of this art is to always move.
The enemy of movement is friction and gravity. Daily, we work to expand our joints through mobility exercises to reduce the amount of tension trying to hide in us specifically in the shoulder and hip areas. These areas control much of or ability to move and strike.
In an untrained person, almost all, if not all, movement will create areas of tension. A knife strike, a punch or a kick is usually a muscular activity. Muscular activity involves tension and hardness. In the RCA, we do not block a strike as in other arts but rather we move around the strike so that the body part will maintain its trajectory and therefore, its tension.
These tensed areas are prime spots for striking. The effect of the energy released by a near muscle-less strike can be devastating but when it is released into a hardened muscle it is debilitating. So, in the Russian art in our movements we move the antagonist’s body in ways which allow us access to his body’s existing tension into which we release the energy of our strike.
Thank you for reading. If you should have any questions or observations, please contact me. Bo