What is Russian Martial Arts
The Dinamo Project
Russia covers approximately 6592800 square miles and an incredibly diverse population made up of a number of distinct ethnic groups who all have their own martial traditions. During the 1920’s the Soviet regime organised a study into martial arts. Researchers travelled through Russia and further afield to other countries that had a strong martial culture with the intention of producing an official combat sport for the State and a training method for its military. This project, known as Dinamo, culminated in two very different approaches.
The first was called SAMBO (SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya), which was further divided into sporting jacket wrestling for civilians and military Combat SAMBO. The military style of the style included material for fighting against both armed and unarmed opponents along with punching and kicking techniques.
The second approach was mainly influenced by V.A. Spiridnonov. This approach became known as SAMOZ and was reserved for Special Forces units and military personnel. Inspired by an injury that prevented him from wrestling, Spiridonov’s intention was to devise a method of self defence that an injured or weaker person could use.
Not unlike many other areas of cultural or historical study the study of martial history is never clear cut. Due to the large number of people training SAMBO and SAMOZ there was quite a bit of cross pollination between the two groups. Also instructors of other systems integrated principles from both arts in an add hoc fashion to their own arts. This accounts why today there are some combat SAMBO groups with a distinctly Spiridonov feel to their work and others that do not. jokes
The creation of modern Russian Style
A student of Spiridonov style and various other combative systems, Aleksey Kadochnikov is widely acknowledged as the father of modern Russian Martial Arts. Having learnt a number of combat systems including the trench fighting method of Stalingrad, a number of traditional folk styles and the work of Spiridonov, Aleksey formulated this material into a cohesive survival method that applied the laws of physics and engineering to the problems of combat. This method is widely referred to in Russia as KGB style because the work was funded by the security services.
Influenced by the work of N.A Bernstein, his experience in the military and his education in science and engineering Aleksey’s systema included material on survival in hostile environments, hand to hand combat, combat shooting and a range of other military topics. This style is recognised for its unique teaching method that uses theoretical knowledge of biomechanics to give its students the information needed to create their own techniques instead of adhering to a ridged list of attacks and defences against them.
It was this group that initially used the term Systema (The system) to describe their method though it is now used to describe a number of the modern Russian Martial Arts groups that are emerging from Russia.
It is safe to say that the work of Aleksey Kadochnikov has been the influence in the creation of a number of over modern Russian Martial Arts. The most recognised of these is the ROSS (Rossiyskaya Otechestvennaya Sistema Samozashchity) is the creation of General "Alexander Retuinskih. Master of sport in both Judo and SAMBO, Retuinskih has applied the biomechanical based material from the Kadochnikov School to both military and sporting martial arts styles. These include SAMBO, Judo, Boxing and bayonet fighting.
The Kadochnikov and ROSS styles initially spread through certain military units and clubs for Police officers. It only became available to the general Russian populace once the Soviet regime collapsed and it is safe to say that the influence of Vladimir Vasiliev has increased its exposure and popularity in Russia as well as the rest of the world.
A number of other martial artists have created their own systems based on their exposure to the work of ROSS, Kadochnikov and a lesser extent Ryabko schools. These include the Siberski Viun (Siberian Bindweed School) and ISVOR group who promote a full contact training method combined with the material seen in other modern Russian Martial Arts.
Also a number of traditional family styles continued to survive in Russia despite the efforts of the Soviet regime to discourage traditional cultural practices. These included Skobar which is a martial art preserved and taught by Mr A. Gruntorvskii in St Petersburg.
Russian Martial Arts in the West
During the 1990’s two schools of modern Russian Martial Arts became available in North America. The first was ROSS which was promoted by an American, Scott Sonnon. The second was taught by a Former Russian soldier, Vladimir Vasiliev, who had immigrated to Toronto in Canada from Russia.
Credit Alex King
Having spoken to a number of sources in both the ROSS and Systema Kadochnikova schools it appears that Vasiliev initially learnt Russian Martial Arts from a school in Tver that combined karate with Kadochnikov Systema. He also attended a number of seminars by the ROSS organisation. On moving to Toronto he founded what is now known as the Systema HQ and taught an often brutal military based Systema influenced by his training with Kadochnikov and ROSS styles. Towards the end of the 90's Vasiliev started to soften his training methods. He stated that most people were not ready for the rough military style of Russian Martial Arts and there is no doubt that the influence of Michael Ryabko had part in this transformation. As Vasiliev’s training methods became less rough his school has grown to become the largest and most well known brand of Systema in the world.
ROSS continues to flourish around the world though Scott Sonnon ceased to represent the school and went on to set up his own martial art and physical training method funny pictures RMAX that puts a greater focus on SAMBO and physical conditioning methods than the Spiridinov based material in ROSS.
Kadochnikov Systema also took a foot hold in North America and was represented by Mat Powell. This was during what was a quite a turbulent time in Russian Martial Arts history in the West. All three groups were pushing for position in the martial arts industry. Law suits by the ROSS organisation over a book released by Vladimir Vasiliev and various internet arguments soured relationships between the various groups.
To get away from this and so that he could develop his own training methodology Mat ceased representing Kadochnikov Systema. Instead he chose to work on his own ideas based on the knowledge that he had gained from his time studying in Russia. The result of his labours he named PRAMEK and it is now taught at a number of schools around the world.
During later end of the 90’s Vladimir Vasiliev released a DVD entitled ‘The Master of Fighting.’ This was shot during a field trip to Russia with a group of his students. Whilst on this trip they were taken to two different groups to study. For the first week they lived and trained with a pagan cult called Lubki. During the second week they moved to Moscow and trained with the man that Vladimir stated was the founder of his Systema, Michael Ryabko.
The Master of Fighting video put Michael and his unique approach on the map. Concentrating on heavy strikes and developing instinctual movements through free play drills. This martial art also has a heavy influence from the breathing and spiritual practices of a form of Russian Orthodox Christian tradition called hesychasm.
Through the promotion of Vladimir Vasiliev and his student’s, Michael Ryabko is one of the most recognisable instructors claiming to be teaching Systema in the West. However when he was first promoted by Vladimir Vasiliev other Systema instructors from both the ROSS and Kadochnikov Schools had not heard of him. Having trained extensively with Michael Ryabko and other Russian Martial Arts instructors it is my opinion that what he teaches, though using the name Systema and possibly influenced by it, is a completely separate fighting art and should be considered as such.
The Vasiliev / Ryabko School fragments
Like the Kadochnikov and ROSS schools before them the schools of Vladimir Vasiliev and Michael Ryabko have a number of instructors that have split from the main school and gone in their own directions to form their own styles.
The first to do this were Alexander Kostic and Kevin Secours. Alexander a Serbian national was one of Vladimir Vasiliev’s earliest students, assisted him in the running of the Toronto HQ and the annual summer camp in Toronto. During a number of research trips to St Petersburg he was able to get instruction in Kadochnikov, Storm fighting, ROSS, Skobar and many other Russian fighting arts. This along with his training in MMA and Krav Maga combined to produce one of the most quickly evolving martial arts instructors I have had the pleasure to train with. Alex calls his art Sistema Homoludens Integrated Martial Arts. It has two distinct streams of training. One is aimed at competitive MMA whilst the other is based on Russian Martial Arts and his unique approach to teaching and testing.
Kevin Secours split from the Vasiliev School and set up his style Combat Systema in 2010. It promotes a no fuss approach to training for combat and is heavily influenced by Kevin’s time as one of Vladimir Vasiliev’s top international instructors. He has used his knowledge as an educator to form a structured curricullum for his students to follow. This organisation is rapidly growing in popularity and has clubs in a number of countries. It also maintains close links with Alex Kostic’s group based in Serbia and some of Vladimir Vasiliev’s senior instructors.
Andrea Kamirov grew up in Yekaterinburg, Russia and studied SAMBO. He later moved to St Petersburg, where he was exposed to Systema, which he studied for three years at a club for military and Police personnel. He later became one of Michael Ryabko’s lead instructors in Russia and represented him abroad. Recently he has put his knowledge together to form his own system that he calls the Siberian Cossack style.
As this article clearly shows the creation of new groups by re-organising the structure of Kadochnikov systema material or adding it to ideas from other martial arts is part of the normal evolution of Russian martial arts. It also appears that this tradition is now starting to occur in both the Ryabko and Vasiliev schools too.
Combat Lab is part of this evolution. It draws predominantly from Ryabko / Vasiliev, Kadochnikov and Sistema homoludens schools, but adds its own research and unique teaching to continue its development. This is not designed to become a worldwide organisation and will always be a cottage industry of small groups exchanging ideas and material with each other and the wider martial arts community. This website is part of this process.