Older Blogs

Beating a larger opponent

Beating a larger opponent



Unlike combat sports Russian Martial Arts is devised for fighting in real life situations where there is no weight classifications. So how does Systema aim to give its students the ability to fight of larger / stronger attackers?



The development of Russian martial arts has been greatly influenced by the application of biomechanics.   Using research from this emerging science students learn how to move their bodies in the most efficient manner for the situation of combat.  This combined with applying a number of simple machines such as the inclined plain, helix and the three classes of levers allow Systema practitioners to magnify the force their movements so that they have a greater effect on their opponent’s structure. 

This in effect gives them the biggest bang for their buck.  It makes sure that they get the maximum effect for the energy that they expend making a movement and reduces any mechanical advantage an opponent has over them.  However this might not be sufficient to take down a larger and stronger opponent if the difference in strength is too great to overcome in this manner.


Vulnerable points

This is where the targeting of vulnerable points on the body is essential to the effective application of Systema in real situations.  Areas such as the eyes, throat, nose and groin ar actively targeted.  A good method of finding out if a point would let a smaller person work effectively is to place a finger on it and have them push against you.  If your training partner finds this impossible to do it is a good place to be applying pressure during structure breaking. 

Along with the influence of pain vulnerable points can have a physiological effect, take striking the throat as an example. This area contains a number of very vulnerable structures such as the trachea, which can cause swelling or collapse of the airway and result in breathing difficulties. 

Alongside the throat there is the carotid sheath, which contains the vagus nerve, jugular and carotid veins.  These are all very susceptible to being constricted or struck to cause unconsciousness or death.  If trauma to the carotid sheath causes it to start bleeding internally a hematoma cangrow with each heart beat in effect constricting the vital process it contains resulting in damage to them.  The same swelling if untreatedcan also cause the trachea to be squeezed closed.

The vagus nerve transmits signals from the brain to the heart.  Striking this nerve can cause these signals to be interrupted and has been known to cause death.  A blow to the carotid causes a sharp rise in blood pressure being detected by the brain.  As a self preservation method the brain switches of all non-essential functions resulting in immediate unconsciousness. Some people are more susceptible to this than others.  There has been one recorded case of a blow from the tip of a foil striking the carotid during a fencing match killing someone and it is possible that striking this area can cause a small piece of plaque to break away from the wall of the vein and travel to the brain causing a stroke.   

The potentially deadly nature of these points is one reason why fighting should never be taken lightly due to the very serious implications to both your life and that of your opponent if you were to strike them.  Having said that, it is really important that we develop comfort with attacking these points even if we can only do it during slow paced training drills.  


Continual movement

Another factor to working against a larger opponent is to catch their initial inertia so that they are not allowed to come to a standstill and then brace against you.  As Newton’s laws of intertia state a moving object will continue to move unless another force acts upon it. In practice it is easier to redirect a moving object with a small force than get a stationary object moving.  This combined with rapidly switching vectors of pressure make it difficult for an opponent to resist you because they have nothing to brace against. 



Through knowledge of anatomically weak points on the body, efficient movement patterns and the application of biomechanical principles it is possible for a weaker person to defend themselves against a stronger attacker.  Systema students should therefore train with instructors who can not only demonstrate these principles, but also explain exactly what it is they are doing in easy to understand terms.  One resource my students use in the ‘Biomechanics of structure breaking in Russian martial arts’ manual that I have written.  This gives them explanation of the scientific principles and then gives them a number of examples of them being applied.  By trying these they are able to both see, understand and get a feel for the principles being applied and this combination covers the main methods of learning that people have. 

A DVD series will accompany the manual and this will give more examples, greater depth explanations and training methods to assist in this learning process. 



The effects of blows


The Biomechanics of structure breaking in Russian Martial Arts by Paul Genge




For more information on Combat Lab's approach to studying the Science of Russian Martial Arts and learn how to train it for self defence check out our other Systema blog articles and the educational material in our Combat Lab Shop.  Our educational material is unique in the English language.