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Systema Decision Making - How To Train Fast And Keep It Safe

Decision making under pressure and at full speed is an essential skill to develop in Systema.  Working at slower paces is OK for starting learning this skill, but for it to develop to the point where you can subconsciously choose the correct movement when you only have a fraction of a second to do it we need to look at how we train.

‘Speed’ is it important in Systema?

The brutal answer is yes.  I say brutal because there are those that believe that working at one pace no matter what you are doing is the most effective method of learning.

Sports coaches recognise that starting the skill development phase at a slower pace can often be a useful practice, but quickly you need to try to apply what you have learnt at real world speeds.  The reason that this is the case is that even when making small technical mistakes because of the increase in speed you are learning realistic timing, application and decision making.

Any fool can learn to work against a full speed attack when they know what is coming and that is why full speed work needs to be against varied attacks so that the subconscious can learn to pick up on the subtle queues given off by your opponent’s movements and body positions.  It is this that allows a tennis player to return a 100mph serve by simply being in the correct spot on the court at the right time and is no different for a fighter trying to defend themselves from an attacker.


How to increase the speed of Systema training

I do not believe in adding other methods of moving taken from sports fighting to cover when our Systema fails at speed.  I know some have added material from MMA and boxing with the Russian Martial Art community in both the West and Russia, but that is not my goal at this point in my own development.

Other Russian Systema styles such as IZVOR seem to have managed to strike a balance by introducing headguards with face protection into their training and this is something that I have emulated in my own training.



Therefore my goal is to find ways that allow me to improve how quickly my students and I can choose an appropriate movement pattern and then perform it with the timing needed to nullify the attacker.  To this end I have adopted a couple of training ideas that I have had good success with and continue to use:


1. The 30% rule -  The idea of this is that as the attacker you push the defender sufficiently that they perform adequately only 70% of the time while the other 30% of the times they try to defend themselves things do not go well. 

The reason for this is that it gives the attacker a very clear role in the exercises.  Their goal is to keep the other student performing at these levels and it stops them either going to slow to produce improvement or too fast and crushing all confidence as they fail every time they try to act. 

Another method of manipulating the difficulty of defending is to leave speed the same and increase the complexity of attacks instead byusing feints, etc.

2. Protective equipment - The next method I employ makes use of protective equipment and can be combined with the 30% rule.  In this work students will use a variety of methods to allow them to make every effort to hit the defending student or protect themselves from his responses when they do. 

Particular favourites of our group are foam covered training knives, a padded children’s baseball bat, mma sparring gloves and a head guard fitted with a clear plastic face guard.


Remember our goal for these sessions is to learn to apply Systema at full speed by improving our decision making process.  To do this our attackers need to attack honestly and this is such a big responsibility.

I have been in sessions with my own students when it appears I have developed some sort of magical force field.  If this happens stop the session straight away.  Not only are you not getting anything from the drill, you are in danger of learning poor timing and decision making too.  This is because there will be no feed back when you move inadequately and fail to get out of the way of the attack, if the attacker swerves the strike to make it miss.

In this clip shot at last nights class at Combat Lab HQ I teach how using padded weapons allows us to develop decission making skills safely and effectively.



For more ideas on how to structure your Systema training read our ebook ‘The Encyclopaedia of Systema Drills.’