CUTTING EDGE SYSTEMA Fitness   -   Health   - Self Defence
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People tend to have an idea of what a typical martial arts class is about:

Students will all be wearing an Oriental style uniform

Students stand in rows and follow the movement of the instructor

The instructor must be bowed to and called Sensei or Sifu

There are different grades in the class

Students learn sets of movements, called forms or kata, consisting of a range of stances and techniques

Students practice the applications of the movements in routines

Freestyle sparring may be practiced, involving anything from non to full contact.

Students have to break wood or bricks as part of the grading

These are some of the typical views that people haveabout martial arts training. To a greater or lesser degree they will apply to most schools


Systema comes from a Russian / European background. This means that are many differences from the approach of Oriental styles such as Karate or Kung Fu.

The most immediate difference that people will notice is that there is no bowing and very little formality in the class. Training is usually done in a circle or a group rather than in lines. The teacher has no special title and there is no foreign terminology. Classes tend to be relaxed in attitude, although focused in intent.The second major difference is that there is no training in form or kata. Aside from some of the exercises all training is done either with a partner or in groups of three or more. Our philosophy is that rather than practicing one particular technique, which is then applied into a situation, you are put into the situation and see what movements you can develop out of it. On the face of it this may sound daunting - "how will I know what to do?". In practice we find that everyone does something! We can then take that natural reaction - e.g. ducking a hook punch - and build a defensive strategy around it. This means that there is no need to learn new movements, merely to adapt what your body already does and knows.

This approach also means that there is no "syllabus" as such. You are not expected to learn certain moves in order to progress or to go through gradings. How do we measure progression? You will measure it yourself, by finding certain things easier, by becoming more efficient and effective in your movements, by becoming a fitter and healthier person.

The third difference is that all training is carried out at full contact. Once again, this sounds extremely daunting to the beginners - "Will I get injured?". The answer is no - kicks and lunches are not pulled, but the work is carried out at different speeds. It is very important in the initial stages that students work slowly. This has several benefits, including:

- it allows us to work at full contact without risk of damage

- it gives students time to analyse their response

- it means that students can focus on the correct principles of breathing and movement

At this initial skill acquistion phase most of the training is failry slow, to facilitate the learning process. Of course, as skills develop training becomes more intense, with more speed and resistance added in.

The fourth difference is that there are no sporting aspects to the System. This means that there are no forbidden targets or methods. The aim is to survive an incident by whatever means possible, with evasion being the priority in most cases of course. This does not mean we look down on competition - we have former and current sports people training with us and many of the training methods, particularly the exercises, will help in preparation for competition. However it is not our main focus.

The fifth difference is that the instructor will spend very little time "correcting" your technique to look the same as his. In fact one of the bedrock principles is to encourage creativity and free-thinking in the student. This does mean that Systema is not to everyone's taste - we will not "tell" you what to do, but we will put you in a situation where you can learn for yourself. This means you can play to your own strengths and weaknesses. It also means you spend less time worrying about doing something "right". Of course the instructor will give you plenty of suggestions and always work to correct your principles, but your methods are your own - part of you.

The sixth difference is that as a general rule, every class is different. By this we mean that there is no progression of techniques from simple to advanced, there is just less efficient and more efficient. It also means that you will be exposed to a wide range of training methods and exercises over a relatively short space of time. This may sound confusing initially, but the important thing to remember is that our aim is to train principles - so whatever form your training takes, be it solo, on the ground, against a weapon, against multiple attackers - you are always working those key principles. This keeps the training fresh and exciting for all concerned, prevents complacency and also adds a touch of uncertainty to the class. This is important, as being "prepared for the unexpected" is an important mental trait in self defence.

The seventh difference is that at the end of class, the whole group sits together and everyone gets a turn to pass comments on the class. This allows any questions to be asked and answered and we often found brings out insights that can be shared with the whole group. It also gives the instructor some feedback for future reference.

Of course there are things that Systema has in common with other arts - morality, respect and discipline both in and out of the class are vital components of the arts. Detailing our differences here is no way to be taken as criticism of other methods - we strongly believe that every art taught with sincerity and respect has something to offer.


Our syllabus covers a broad range of training. For newcomers, the important initial steps are in learning to fall and roll correctly, working with correct posture, breathing and movements and learning to cope with punches, kicks, grabs and holds. From this base the training can spread into many areas. All our methods are underpinned by specialized heath and fitness exercises developed by the Russian military.

On a general self defence level we teach response to attacks from all types of attack - robbery, sexual assault, mob fighting, etc - in all types of situation. Emphasis is on evasion and de-escelation where possible, or to develop a positive response where necessary. We also teach defence against the most common types of weapon, along with the use of improvised weapons. The legal and psychological aspects of conflict resolution are also fully covered.

We also teach more specialised methods for law enforcement personnel, other professionals, or those with an interest in these aspects. These include restraint and control, close protection, weapon skills and so on.

by Robert Poyton