What To Expect in Systema | A Martial Arts Overview

If you’re looking for a martial art to learn and Systema has caught your attention, you’re probably wondering what it’s all about. It can be hard to find information about this martial art since it’s relatively new to the public eye and not popularized in western countries, so I did some research.

In Systema, you can expect to learn practical self-defense and combat skills. This martial art focuses on preparing students to defend themselves in survival situations by teaching them to remain calm and focused under stress and execute self-defense in those conditions.

If a martial art that will teach you practical self-defense skills and prepare you for a fight intrigues you, Systema may be a good fit. Read on for an in-depth review of Systema’s history, requirements, benefits, and what to expect out of it.

A Brief History of Systema

At its core, Systema is a survival-focused martial art developed and taught in the Russian military. It teaches you not just how to fight as an art form or sport, but rather how to survive and kill. Therefore, it can be brutal.

This brutality also makes it a rather secretive and uncommonly practiced martial art. Until recent years, not a whole lot about Systema was public knowledge. Now it’s much easier to research or even pick up a class for, assuming you can find a willing and able teacher.

While there are multiple variations of Systema, all developed by different people, one of the most well-known and oldest is Ryabko’s Systema.

This style is named after Mikhail Ryabko, a Russian colonel who currently runs the Systema Headquarters and claims to have been taught the martial art by a member of Joseph Stalin’s personal bodyguards. 

According to him, Systema is based on hun/Mongol martial arts and originates from the Cossacks. Since then, it has been adapted by Russian special forces and used for combat and general survival training.

What Do You Wear for Systema? 

You can wear whatever you want for Systema. Since this martial art is built around practicality, there are no particular clothing requirements. However, it’s best to wear clothing that is comfortable and won’t get in the way of your movements when training.

If you’re training with a martial arts school, you may be given a uniform or clothing regulations. This will vary depending on the school and could be something as simple as a T-shirt and jeans.

Do You Wear Shoes in Systema?

You typically wear shoes in Systema, but should follow footwear norms for classes at your specific school. Some schools will have their students train barefoot, and some will have their students train wearing shoes.

Generally speaking, schools that teach Systema on martial arts mats indoors will tend to be trained barefoot, and schools that teach classes outside or on hard floors will tend to be trained in some sort of shoe.

What Equipment Is Required for Systema?

No equipment beyond wearing comfortable athletic clothing is required for learning Systema. It can be a good idea to include simple safety gear like a mouth guard or an athletic cup, but these are not required for learning Systema.

The safety gear requirements can also vary depending on the school. Therefore, it’s best to ask your specific school about these requirements beforehand.

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Systema?

You do not need to be fit to start Systema. Learning Systema is easier if you are more fit, but it is not a requirement. You can be in any shape to start learning, and the training will help you get into shape as you learn.

Systema involves building both physical and psychological preparedness so some level of direct fitness training will be involved and can help to address any fitness shortcomings in a student.

Do I Need To Be Strong for Systema?

You do not need to be strong for Systema. Systema focuses on techniques that don’t necessarily require a specific physical strength. You’ll naturally become stronger as you train up to a certain point. However, all fighting techniques are more effective with better physical strength.

Even if you do not need to be strong to train Systema, building up basic strength is a good idea for any athlete, fighter, or martial artist.

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Systema?

You do not need to be flexible to practice Systema. You’ll also gain some mobility and flexibility as you train. However, building up flexibility and mobility does help in many ways. It can give a better range of motion and fluidity of techniques and is generally good for your body anyway.

It is a good idea to build up flexibility and mobility if you want to get the most out of training any fighting system, but it isn’t really specifically required to train Systema to an effective degree.

Is Systema Good for Getting in Shape? 

Systema is good for getting in shape. Systema training directly addresses physical preparedness and thus typically involves physical exercise by default. Depending on your instructor, fitness expectations might be explicit and you could be given workouts as part of the training.

Therefore, if you’re looking for a martial art that will help you get in shape, Systema can be an excellent option.

Is Systema Good for Self-Defense?

Systema is good for self-defense if practiced conscientiously. Systema was originally made to help soldiers survive the deadly environments and combat in war. Some techniques can be brutal, but getting some form of live sparring can take your Systema self-defense to the next level.

This martial art is used by elite Russian soldiers, such as the KGB and Spetsnaz, which should be testament enough to its usefulness in self-defense situations. It also teaches more than just defense and is used by trained killers.

One thing to keep in mind is that Systema can also be a brutal form of combat, somewhat similar to Krav Maga in this respect, so using some techniques can be infeasible in sparring.

What Style of Fighting Is Systema? 

Systema is not one specific style of fighting. Students are taught a variety of armed and unarmed fighting techniques as well as general survival skills.

In essence, Systema is supposed to be an adaptive art that is more than just a codified style of fighting. The goal is to teach you to survive deadly scenarios, including all forms of combat.

Does Systema Include Live Sparring? 

Systema does include live sparring. While this depends on your school or instructor, there will often be live sparring of some kind. Systema students are expected to be able to practice their fighting techniques and maintain calmness and be relaxed.

Are There Systema Competitions or Tournaments?

There are no Systema competitions or tournaments. Systema is not considered a sport, and as such, there are no official competitions for it. Until recent years, it was difficult for civilians to even learn this martial art.

Is Systema Dangerous To Practice?

Systema can be dangerous to practice since it’s made to do harm. As long as you’re seeing a teacher or school who has safety in mind, you will not be in danger. In order to stay safe enough to train, certain techniques and activities will be restricted for students.

Systema is a martial art designed to kill, so getting practice at that level is not doable for obvious reasons. However, when used properly, Systema promotes maintaining calm in a fighting situation even when danger is present.

Systema is really meant to be dangerous and brutal, so full contact practice is not something that really happens since you could seriously hurt someone if the practice is not deliberate and made safe.

Is Systema Hard To Learn?

Systema is not hard to learn because it focuses on psychological preparation. This martial art is considered beginner-friendly when taught correctly. It focuses more on teaching a mindset than any specific combat moves that would need to be memorized. 

What this means is that Systema teaches you how to stay calm and operate under stress. Learning how to fight is part of the training, but it is not the core of Systema, and actual fighting techniques will vary between teachers. It takes time, practice, and discipline, like any other martial art.

How Long To Learn Fundamentals in Systema?

It can take at least a few weeks to learn the fundamentals of Systema. As Systema includes a mix of mental and physical training, it can be time-consuming to learn the martial art. However, this greatly depends on the school and teacher that you choose.

While Systema is not considered difficult to learn, it can be time-consuming. You will likely undergo a mix of mental and physical training, as well as lessons in a wide variety of combat techniques.

Therefore, it can take a while to grasp the basics, even if Systema is considered easier to learn than other martial arts.

How Long To Reach Black Belt Level Mastery in Systema? 

It can take several years to master Systema in a way that equates to a black belt in other martial arts. Mastering Systema is a long-term goal and there is always more to learn and improve upon. Since mental preparedness is foundational in Systema this will always require work.

There are no belts or medals in Systema. Building up your abilities is ongoing and involves mastering oneself alongside your ability to execute in terms of combat.

Can You Learn Systema at Home?

You can learn Systema at home to an extent. However, you will still need ways to practice and apply what you learn. While you can learn the basic techniques and fundamentals, you have to have someone to practice with and apply the skills you learn.

While it’s possible to learn Systema at home, you will still need a training partner to apply the skills to and practice. If you want to learn from home, it would be best to hire a personal Systema coach for this, primarily for safety reasons.

Learning in a dedicated Systema class is really the ideal way to learn the system and get the most benefit possible.

What To Expect at Your First Systema Class?

Systema is a decentralized martial art, so there are no set rules on what you’ll get out of a training course or first class. It would be best not to have any expectations at all because of how much the training can vary between teachers and students, but there are certain things you can still expect to see.

At your first Systema class, you should expect a training routine with lessons on adapting to various situations, specialized training to bring out personal strengths, and various mental and physical exercises meant to make students prepared for survival situations.

What to expect at your first Systema class below.

1. Training Various Situations

As Systema focuses on both physical and mental training, the classes won’t be as structured or consistent as you would expect. These classes will include lessons on staying calm and adapting to any type of situation.

2. Training To Personal Strengths

Systema is a martial art form that anyone is capable of doing. Therefore, the main focus of Systema is on bringing out each individual’s personal strengths and using them in survival and combat situations. In class, you’ll be expected to use these personal strengths to your advantage, and learn how to survive with them.

3. Mental and Physical Exercises

Systema wants to build mental and physical capabilities for many situations. These capabilities are built through developing mental discipline as well as physical exercise to build physical capabilities.

What Does Systema Cost?

Systema classes cost between $50 and $100 a month, which is in line with the cost of most martial arts offerings. However, this greatly depends on the area where you live and the specific school or teacher’s prices. Most schools will let you drop in for a free trial class.

Is Systema Good for Kids?

Systema is good for kids. There are child-friendly courses designed to be more structured and fun while still providing the same practical self-defense skills.

This martial art can be dangerous when trained at an adult level, but classes that are geared towards children will omit any dangerous techniques.

Systema teaches calmness in the face of danger, and a good instructor will teach a child to look for ways to deescalate a situation before resorting to violence.

Is Systema for Physically Smaller People?

Systema is a good choice for physically smaller people. This martial art is for people of all sizes, as it teaches adaptability and focuses on building up a person’s specific strengths.

Since the core principle of Systema is adapting to and surviving different situations, it doesn’t depend on you fighting a certain way or relying on certain physical abilities.

Is Systema Good for Women? 

Systema is good for women. This martial art is good for both women and men, as it will help students develop mental discipline and calmness alongside giving them the ability to defend themselves flexibly through mental and physical preparedness.

As with size, gender makes no difference in Systema. Its purpose is to help you defend yourself to the best of your ability no matter the situation, regardless of who you are.

Final Thoughts

The modern interpretation of Systema that is available to the general public is a relatively safe form of training that helps to develop students in terms of both mental and physical abilities. It promotes self-development in a healthy way and does not include dangerous forms of training in most schools, while still teaching combat in a flexible and efficient way when it comes to needing to fight in a survival self-defense situation.


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I have always been fascinated with martial arts and train them as often as I can. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and train judo and wrestling as secondary martial arts. I help to coach a kid's grappling program that blends all three martial arts. I hope that you find the value that you are looking for in the articles on this website.

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