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Systema Training Concepts & Curriculum

'Concepts' are general ideas or thoughts. The following four concepts are intertwined throughout the FIGHTCLUB curriculum. These concepts are meant to help each student reach his or her true potential. It should not be deemed as basic because it is loaded with complexities that need to be felt or lived to be truly understood. Everything taught at the FIGHTCLUB has one ultimate purpose, to enhance one's life.

Know yourself.   This is the ultimate goal of training. There are three levels of ability that each of us possesses; physical, psychological and spiritual.

A true warrior looks to develop, trust and understand these abilities. Each one of us has strengths and weaknesses, and training will provide you the best environment to see yourself in relation to these abilities. As a result, training begins with your worst and most difficult opponent - you. In other martial arts, the focus of training is geared towards an opponent, which leads you to see them as the root of all your problems. In life this type of thinking will make you weak. You need to believe and truly grasp that you are in control and what happens around you and not other people or situations. The better you know yourself, the better you live.

Have fun while you train.   Any teacher will tell you students learn, absorb and show signs of increased level of creativity when they have fun. Fighting and self-defense is serious enough on its own, we need not make it more so in training. Smile, laugh and play outwardly but be serious and focused inside where it counts. Aggression has one ultimate goal - destruction, and has no place in training. Allowing students time to play, explore and develop things that they learned during training is an effective way of internalizing the deployment of skills. Our students engage in physical conflict without the danger and potential injuries associated with a competitive bout.

Breath is life.   The most basic of human abilities, life begins with an inhale and ends with an exhale. It controls countless bodily functions. Inhalation should travel through the nose and exhalation through the mouth. A person should never hold their breath unless it is done so deliberately because it places great strain on the body's systems. Good breathing will impact and improve every aspect of your life. If you have breath, you have life, and if you have life, you can move and if you can move, you can survive. This principle is important not just for the martial art but for overall health and well being.

Movement is paramount.   The body is in constant movement, even when you believe it to be still. Blood is moving and organs functioning, slowly shifting the body. The world is also in constant movement, even though one could swear it's standing still. Training focuses on understanding movements versus techniques. The ability to move your body in an efficient and safe manner is of extreme value. Everyone has a unique form of movement, as unique as their own written signature. Many friends of mine have noticed me in a crowd just by my walk. Training, therefore, begins with an array of drills and exercises geared towards a student coming to terms with their own movements and understanding others.

Now that we have identified the some of the important concepts, we can explore a little bit of the FIGHTCLUB curriculum. Given the size and scope of this article I have grouped together eight common martial arts categories to accomplish this, but could have easily added more.


Body weight exercises and drills are favored over machine and cast iron weights. A large array of conventional push-ups, squats, leg raises or body raises are used in conjunction with unconventional ones. Keeping good body alignment and posture allows breathing channels to operate properly and to strengthen the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems of the body. The breath is incorporated and should drive the body's movements.

Building strong tendons and ligaments is favored as opposed to big muscles. The theory is that muscles rob the body of energy by requiring a lot of oxygen to function properly resulting in fatigue and limited mobility of the person. Tendons and ligaments give the body energy, require less oxygen to function and therefore the body does not fatigue as quickly, and mobility is not compromised. Strong tendons and ligaments stay with a person longer. Big muscles actually damage and stress the body unnecessarily and ultimately limit the body's natural ability to protect itself.

Flexibility training focuses on increasing your range of motion. Therefore dynamic stretches are favored over traditional static ones. This is not to say static ones are not good, just limiting. The goal is to build functional flexibility. A stretch is not held but is kept in motion from one position to the next. As you begin to stretch in a single direction and reach the end of your flexibility, simply change the angle and start another movement in a different direction. Stretching the body in this fashion allows you to see and feel what range your body has with movement and stretches the little 'hidden' muscles in the body.


If you cannot control your breathing, life will not fair well for you. When you consider how many bodily functions are regulated though breathing one can never emphasize its importance enough. It keeps the mind calm and focused, regulates core body temperature and supplies much needed oxygen to the body. Its importance to self defense is no different and its relevance can be seen in every class or seminar.

Breathing begins by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Here are a few simple examples of how this is applied: when walking or running, take a step and inhale through your nose, then take a second step and exhale through your mouth. You can keep repeating this cycle or increase to 10/20/30 steps inhaling and 10/20/30 steps exhaling. The number is not that important, the focus is on connecting the breath and movement.

The same idea can also be applied to exercises like push-ups, squats or leg raises. For downward movements you inhale; upward movements you exhale or vise-versa. Once again, you can keep this cycle or increase it. I have seen students that can complete 20 push-ups inhaling and 20 exhaling with less than one year of training. The concept is to be aware and in control of your breathing, no matter what you doing.

The ultimate application comes when breathing is incorporated with the drills and movements in a martial art context. Inhaling as the attack happens and exhaling in putting the person down. Exhaling as a punch lands, inhaling as the punch goes. Obviously it is a little more complicated but the idea is what I am presenting.

Another important component to breathing is the rate of breath. Your body takes many cues from your breathing rate. If breathing speeds up the body becomes more alert, while a slow breathing rate makes you calm. As a situation changes so must your breathing, if you're interested in getting the most out of your abilities. It is like an engine of a car, if you want the most out of the engine you must be in the right gear. However, the right gear changes as the road or situation does. Similarly a situation (road) will dictate the proper breathing (gear) rate. Your training must be diverse enough to allow this to happen. The reality is that a common day for most people may involve many different breathing rates. No one is right or wrong, until you know the situation.

The same is true for martial arts.


There are many tactics and strategies but seeing as we have no specific situation to refer to, I will mention the more general ones.

The main focus should always be on survival and safety. Whatever tactics or 'set of maneuvers' you use, the end result must limit or never compromise your survival or safety to achieve an end.

- Keep moving. Given the option, people would choose to strike a still target as compared to a moving one. A moving target is more elusive and requires more skill and confidence. This is one easy and effective way of passively protecting yourself.

- Keep good posture. This position will allow you great visibility, portrays confidence and keeps the body free to respond appropriately from all directions.

- Remain calm on the outside, even smile. It's hard for people to be aggressive towards someone who is smiling. On the inside be serious and ready for anything, this is where it counts!

- Conceal your skills by doing what the situation calls for; not what you want to do.This will frustrate your opponent, limit the level of emotion involved and not turn a bad situation worse.

- Offensive applications should be efficient and safe for yourself. For example a properly placed low line kick can be just as effective as a high kick and drastically safer. Excessive reaching or stretching will leave you vulnerable. Keep the body alignment and structure together.


Evasion skills are a large part of the training curriculum. Favored over blocks, evasion techniques are efficient and keep the hands and legs free for more offensively minded work. The body is taught to move from the line of attack before or after contact is made.

Evasion is generally made up two specific distances: moving before contact or moving after contact is made. Each distance has its own unique application. Your skills, situation, and environment will dictate which one happens. Regardless, you need to understand how to evade from both distances.

Training begins with students learning how to remove themselves from the line of danger without contact. A partner simply walks towards you and you step out of the way. The objective is to move the body as a complete unit. This simple drill can progress in so many ways and here are just a few examples: by adding more partners walking towards you; rolling out of the way instead of stepping; adding a kick, punch or grab as you walk towards your partner; or beginning from the ground instead of standing. It sounds so simple but it is amazing to see how many students leave parts of themselves behind as they move, saving the body but sacrificing legs or arms. Drills progress to putting the attacker down or strikes of sorts. During the whole process students start to build great observation skills, an important part of self defense. If you look closely all the signs that someone is attempting something are all there, you just never noticed the movement.

In the same fashion students learn how to move from the 'line of danger' after contact is made. One partner pushes the other - upon contact the body moves away. You can use a fist, hand, foot, elbow or any array of weapons with this drill. Just wait for contact and move after you feel it. As your skills and confidence grows increase the intensity, speed or add more attackers. Learning how to defend yourself from this distance is a great skill to have in your arsenal.


When you talk about rolls and falling one must first consider their many aspects and applications. A roll or fall can be done by choice, but usually results from a reaction to something. They can also be used as an offensive move but are more commonly a defensive one.

A typical urban street is a hard, uneven surface with lots of little stones or debris. It is not a place you would want to land. On a conscious level this would explain why most people hate going to the ground. On an unconscious level people love or hate the ground because of their training. A wrestler loves this area while a boxer may not, this comes from their training and the psychology around their particular sports.

Rolling or falling is just another skill that you can call upon when you need. Just like a punch, kick or grab, it is a movement like any other. You don't need to love or hate the ground, just become friends with it. If you need to go there go, if not don't. Your situation will dictate more what is possible.

Systema Rolling

As I often mention to my students, your chances of falling, slipping or tripping on something during the course of the year are more likely then you getting into a fight. Hospitals are full of people having hurt themselves by falling. Injuries are common to the hands, arms, back and head. Practicing this aspect has an application beyond the martial art.

Training on hard surfaces is preferable to mats. Your focus should be on blanketing the ground, not slamming into it. Contact is made only on the soft tissue, not the bones. A good indicator would be the amount of noise from your roll or fall. No noise is excellent. Banging would indicate bones are contacting the ground and could possibly be damaged.

You begin a roll with your hands stretched out in front of you. This is an instinctual position for your hands. They come forward to brace or stop a fall - this is the body's way of trying to protect itself, so start from here. Rotate the arm from the hand so that your shoulder rolls forward. You will be rolling through the shoulder and the back, on the soft tissue and muscles, not on any bones. The legs will come around and land carefully, not slamming into the ground. Using the momentum of the roll and not fighting it is essential.

Now that we can get to the ground safely let's talk about ground fighting. There are two main perspectives - survival or competition based. You must make decisions when you train about which path you will follow. A lot depends on your personal goals, aspirations and wants from martial arts.

I have done both in my years and can safely say that survival based training is much more practical, efficient and safe. By focusing on survival you more easily build creativity and awareness skills. These two attributes are vital for any real life applications.

FIGHTCLUB starts by having students simply move on the ground - crawling, sliding, shuffling and rolling. No negative stimulus is initially applied. This gives a student room to discover and learn his or her movements. Following this you can start to progress and have someone walk towards you while you're on the ground. Your objective is to simply move out of the way safely. This simple drill can get very interesting when your training partner starts to run at you and you are forced to move quickly. Add to this the many other students surrounding you in class doing the same thing and the person running is just half the problem. The progress has no limits, you can have your partner start to step or kick you while you are on the ground or have them use a stick or knife to strike you with, the objective is still the same - just move out of the way. The offensive applications come from the movement chosen by each student. Anything is possible, the only limit is the student's creativity.

Time is also spent in the more traditional forms of wrestling - where two people are locked or engaged physically. Students are shown how to use the ground to their advantage and how to work with their movements. They learn first hand what works and what does not work for them.


By first having students rotate, move and manipulate a partner's joints one at a time they get a first hand feel for how they work.

Care and caution must be taken to not cause physical or psychological injury. The concept is to first build a working knowledge of how the joints in the body work. With the variety of body types, and past injuries people have sustained, it is quite a different experience every time this drill is done. It's also a great warm up for the joints, further reducing the likelihood of injury.

The progression leads into exploring any and all types of joint locks. General principles of leverage and how to effectively apply pressure are explained then applied. One student places a lock on you, while the other studies some possible escapes from it. As students become more confident, their understanding grows as does the level of intensity in the lock. The main focus is to find where the body has freedom if one area is restricted. You see joints operate a certain ways when they are isolated and in other ways collectively. For example, if your wrist is locked by simply rotating your elbow and shoulder the dynamics of the lock are changed and you have a chance to escape.

Throws are essentially a body lock. Training principles are very similar to what I have just mentioned. Students study basic body leverage points and apply movement through them. Using body weight as a counter mass to aid in an efficient throw, students are directed and shown how to remain relaxed to reduce tension and injury while being thrown and throwing someone. Throws are not favored one way or another, it is more of a situational and individual preference.


The goal of a strike is to apply a direction of force onto someone and have minimal force or 'recoil' coming back into you. Consider a strike as a movement, just like walking or running, albeit more calculated, at its core it is still just a movement. A strike should not compromise your own movements and abilities. It should be performed in a relaxed manor. Tension will ultimately rob power and mobility. This is especially true for the shoulder and hip area. Think of a baseball pitcher throwing a ball or a golfer swinging a club. They are completely relaxed as they go through their movements. It is one true way of achieve maximum force. By remaining relaxed and you will also find that your reactions will be much quicker and power much greater.

Good placement of your strikes and proper body position and alignment is also critical to a good strike. Keep a good upright posture and look for forgiving spots on the body to strike. Learning to place your strikes onto the body is just as important as generating power. Training in this fashion is important and will help avoid injury later on when more power and movement is added. With such a variety of strikes and movements available this aspect of training is quite in depth. In short, a strike should fit onto a person like a key goes into a key hole.

Some fundamental concepts about striking are:

- The whole body or any part of it can be used to strike, not just the hands, feet, elbows or knees. Don't favor a particular strike - your situation will tell you which to use;
- Avoid reaching or stretching to land a strike, simply move closer or be patient;
- Know how to strike from as many possible positions, not just straight in front of you; and
- Use the weight and movements that have been given to you.

Following these concepts will develop powerful, functional and efficient strikes.

The importance of taking and giving strikes is seen as vital in the development process. No padding or protection is used when training. The belief is that it will create false sense of safety and ultimately weaken the student. Training on heavy bags or using equipment to practice strikes is also not favored. The belief is it only builds the ego and does not allow for the consideration of the other to develop. Its usefulness is seen as limited and does more harm to the body.

The goal of strikes while training is to ultimately build a good fighting spirit. It also helps students overcome the fear of contact and build trust with each other. In this fashion students learn to train hard and help each other at the same time.


Weapons can be a great training tool and are commonly used in classes. What I always enjoy is how awareness and survival skills come alive when using weapons.

Systema Knife Training

Regardless of the weapon there a few steadfast principles that students learn. If using a weapon don't be a 'slave' to it. You have legs, arms and a mind that can also work.

If defending, remember it is not the weapon that works against you but the person. All by itself the weapon will just lay there.

Do not be preoccupied with the method of attack or weapon. The body's survival skills kick in and clear the direction or line of attack spontaneously.

When you consider the speed of most weapon attackers there is not much time to think things through. I will discuss how this type of training is incorporated and utilized further. For the sake of simplicity and in keeping with the scope of this article, I will refer to a knife as the weapon of choice.

Some warm-ups with a knife:

- Hold the knife in your hands and find which grip feels the best. Then spend time just walking with it in your hands calmly. You can pass it from one hand to the next, change grips, even starting to run a little.

- Put the knife on you somewhere, preferably a place you might commonly carry a knife. Start to walk, run, crawl, roll or even jump, just begin to feel this as part of you, not something foreign.

- Once again hold the knife in your hand. This time start to outline or trace you body with the knife. The focus should be on not touching yourself, while still remaining very close to the surface. Stay within a few inches. This builds awareness.

- With a partner, begin to push each other with the 'safe' areas of the knife. The butt end, sides or handle are quite good. Simply move out of the way as contact is made.

It is important to note that a knife is a tool, not just a weapon. It can be used for many things. Historically most weapons began as tools, and then became weapons out of necessity. These types of soft drills are very deep and important in preparing students psychologically. A knife can easily overwhelm a person with its energy. If your training does not prepare you psychologically, it will be difficult to defend or use any weapon. Learning how to carry, conceal, use and defend any weapon is of great value.

There are three main distances for knife attackers. Training firstly begins from contact - with the knife touching the body. The main reason for this is to keep the body calm. If you were to study knife defense from a distance, the body would tense up in anticipation and would not be able to work as effectively. A knife is held and placed on the body, once a direction is detected the body moves from the line. The idea is simply to move first and then start to build your offensive skills.

The second distance is the knife coming towards you but has not made contact yet. See the movement and clear the line, then mount your offense strategy.

The last distance is when someone is walking towards you with a weapon but they are not yet close enough to reach you. In reality this is a very tense moment because you are dealing with many possibilities and options. Some are within your control and some not.

Some training drills with a knife:

- One partner attacks with a knife the other defends. No preference is given for the style of attack. Students can work which ever way they feel. The goal is to disarm the partner.

- One partner attacks with a knife the other defends - from the ground. No preference is given for the style of attack. Students can work which ever way they feel. The goal is to disarm the partner.

- The partners stand side by side and throw the knife in front of them on the ground about two or three meters away. When you say "go" have them race to get the knife. Whoever gets to the knife first attacks, the other defends.

- You can add a third or fourth partner into any of the drills I have mentioned above. It adds yet another dimension to training and skill development.


FIGHTCLUB offers a unique form of martial art training that is highly adaptive and diverse. It recognizes that each individual possess the abilities to defend oneself and the curriculum helps to foster those abilities. Emphasis is placed on building proper ability and survival skills as compared to displaying techniques and competitive skills. A premium is placed on using creative ways of defending oneself.

It places great value in our collective differences. Each new student brings their own perspectives, forcing those that are training with them to adapt. This helps students to check their skills and understandings against the average person, not someone with the same teachings, further validating what works for them and what does not.

Ultimately, through training each student will acquire an understanding of themselves - their limitations, likes, and dislikes. They gain an understanding of proper movement and of the body's mechanics as well as the importance of breathing. This is all done in an atmosphere that fosters a good fighting spirit, not one that is based on aggression. The individual is not required to conform but rather make a choice of what works for them.

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