What Is The Difference Between Sambo And Systema?

Sambo and Systema are both mysterious martial arts that originated from Russia. Their histories are shrouded in mystery. In this article we will explore the differences between Sambo and Systema.

What is the difference between Sambo and Systema? Sambo is a grappling based martial art which focuses on throws and submissions which was created in 1938 and used by the Soviet military as well being turned into a sport. Systema is a purely self defense martial art which was created in the late 90s and incorporates weapons, strikes, grappling, breathing and spirituality. 

What Is Russian Systema?

What Is Russian Systema? Systema is a Russian martial art based on self defense, breathing and Russian Orthodox spirituality. Systema teaches grappling, striking and weapons movements and is focused on natural movements which use the energy of your attacker against themselves. Systema is more than fighting art but a guide to living.

Systema is a Russian martial art, a body of practical knowledge about a person and his life, rooted in the history of Russia and having Orthodoxy as its spiritual basis. The founder of Systema is Mikhail Vasilievich Ryabko.

The main principle of Systema is feeling your attacker through experiencing his tensions and intentions. Systema does not study techniques rather it focuses on using natural movements to interact with the enemy’s “soft power”. The use of Systema should resemble a two-way dialogue.

Systema is practical. The movements are natural, as found in ordinary life. Workouts are carried out in casual clothes and shoes. Demonstration performances in Systema are extremely rare. There are no certifications and exams, competitions. Those involved in the System determine their level of control over their own body and the ability to withstand the enemy by the results of performing techniques and exercises. There are no belts, patches, titles in Systema. A Systema instructor is a person responsible for training students in accordance with Systema’s methodology and personal experience.

Systema does not focus on the center of the body and does not believe energy flows from the center outwards. Instead Systema believes every body part can be a weapon. Systema training is based on interaction with a partner and his tensions arising from this interaction. Particular attention is paid to working with tensions in the partner’s body, working with the partner’s whole body and relaxing your body. Energies in the System are not studied as they are in many Eastern martial arts. Classes are held in the halls or outdoors in comfortable casual clothes and shoes without soft cover.

The first step in Systema, learning how to breathe correctly, overcoming fear of attacks, beat, relax, strengthen the spine, practically all the muscles of your body. As a result of physical activity, your tendons will be strengthened, the work of joints and ligaments will improve. After training, you will feel a great boost of vitality.

Systema’s spirituality is based on the Russian Orthodox Faith. Representatives of all religions can practice Systema, however many of the principles of Systema are built on Christian humility and love. It is no coincidence that in the classroom you can meet priests, from the metropolitan to the monk. From the first lessons, students are told about the traditions of the Russian army, the training of the Cossacks, the modern foundations of army training. The possession of a saber, a whip, a knife, a sapper shovel is studied. Weapons and halls are consecrated by the priest.

Breathing is the foundation of Systema. All workouts begin and end with breathing. Working with breath holding allows you to warm up the body from the inside and develops psychological stability. Unlike most martial arts in Systema, the execution of punches and throws can be performed both on inhalation, exhalation, holding the breath or on continuous breathing. This principle allows you to keep the body relaxed and attack at any point in time.

In Systema, movements are natural, as in ordinary life, the legs are not widely spaced, the legs are placed on a full foot. There are no rotations on the legs, which preserves the cruciate ligaments of the knee joints. To study movements in Systema, various weapons are used.

Forward rolls are performed by placing the shoulder on the floor, a roll back is carried out by squatting on one or two legs, the trajectory of touching with the back passes along the lateral muscles of the back and crosses the spine in the upper part, without touching it. A stable position with legs wide apart is considered to be straining and restricting movement. No left or right side positions, hands out. The back is straight, the shoulders are lowered and relaxed, the fists are slightly clenched until they feel heavy. Slightly perceptible trampling from foot to foot is used to relax the muscles in the back.

In Systema, animal movements which mimic crawling are used extensively and in different ways on their stomach and back, move around the floor on their hands (crocodile), turn over (spider), and roll. These exercises strengthens all of the muscles in the body.

In Systema, the partner is controlled through the tension arising in the partner’s muscles as a result of his attack, and can also be a reaction to the actions of the defender. To manage tensions in a partner’s body, you need to learn how to work with your own tensions, in other words, to relax your body using breathing and special techniques. By controlling the attack of the attacker, you remain relaxed and are able to move easily.

Striking technique is one of the main and interesting sections of the Systema. Before learning to punch, students are taught to take a punch and recover from being hit by breathing. The striking technique used in Systema is unique in that when you strike, you need to have the body as relaxed as possible, all the tension is transferred to the fist. Thus, the relaxed body and natural position of the legs allows you to move in any direction and hit from any position. Strikes and movements in Systema are based on chopping movements like a sword. Strikes are not practiced on bags and dummies. Starting with the correct setting of the fist, the jerks in Systema gradually move to punches and kicks.
The main rule in Systema is to keep the mind calm and the body relaxed. Work with the tensions of the enemy and do not strain yourself.

Here is A Demonstration Of Systema Striking

Fighting in the Systema can be conducted in any style with and without striking techniques. There are no rules or restrictions, everything is like in real life. Systema is focused on survival. Significant attention is paid to grips, strangulation, pins and relaxation through correct breathing. On the floor, as well as in the standing position, Systema will teach you how to work with the partner’s tensions, and not techniques and techniques.

Is Systema A Real Martial Art?

Is Systema a real martial art? Yes, Systema is a real martial art. Ryabko a life long practitioner of martial arts combined techniques from a variety of martial arts and fused these techniques with Russian Orthodox spirituality, specialized breathing techniques and forgotten ancient Slavic fighting systems to create his own martial art known as Systema.

Who Created Systema?

Who created Systema? Systema was created by Ryabko Mikhail Vasilievich who claims to have rediscovered ancient Slavic martial arts. Ryabko was member of Russian special forces for over 10 years trained the USSR Ministry of Internal Affair from 1983 to 1993 was an instructor at the center for operational and technical training.

Ryabko as born on May 6, 1961 in Belarus. From 1983 to 1993 worked in the security service of the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, trained the minister’s security. From 1989 to 1994 studied at the Law Institute of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia. For more than 10 years he served in special forces, participated in combat, the release of hostages, was an instructor at the center for operational and technical training of a special forces. From 2002 to 2006 worked as advisor to the Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation.

From August 1, 2006 to the present time Ryabko works in the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, Colonel of Justice. He has been teaching Systema for over 20 years and has students all over the world. Systema combines the from 150 different martial arts from around the world including wrestling, fighting with weapons and striking. Mikhail Ryabko, on the basis of deep body mechanics, long years of practice in martial arts, constant searches in the historical heritage, restored one of the martial arts areas of Ancient Russia, and this direction was named Systema. Systema’s popularity has been growing, and over the past 15 years. Ryabko has capitalized on the growing demand by opening sports clubs throughout Russia.

Is Systema Effective?

Is Systema effective? Yes, Systema is an effective martial art which can help you improve your ability to defend yourself (striking, grappling, weapon movements), strengthen your body (body weight exercises) and calm your mind (breathing, Orthodox spirituality). Systema is most effective when it is combined with hard martial arts such as boxing and wrestling. 

Here A Demonstration Of Some Different Systema Movements

What Martial Arts Do Spetsnaz Use?

what martial arts do spetsnaz use? Spetsnaz use a combination of martial arts. Spetsnaz train in Sambo, boxing, wrestling and submission grappling. Systema has marketed itself as being used by Spetsnaz however there is little evidence of this.

Russian Special Forces also known as Spetsnaz undoubtedly use Sambo and Combat Sambo in their hand to hand combat training. The Russian army even has regular Sambo and Combat Sambo competitions. Sergei Kharitonov an accomplished MMA fighter and member of Russia’s Airborne Troops learned Combat Sambo during his time in the Army. These martial arts have been proven to be effective in competition and on the battlefield.

There is debate over whether Spetsnaz use Systema. Ryabko claims to have taught many different Russian special forces groups Systema over his years in different Russian agencies. However there is debate over whether this was in an official capacity and whether this teaching was endorsed by the administration. If you believe Ryabko then Spetsnaz do practice Systema and he begun teaching them in the early 1980s.

 What Should I Wear To Systema?

What should I wear to Systema? You should wear casual clothes and shoes. Systema is based on practicality and is meant to mimic real life. This is why you should wear clothes you would wear in your every day life. A t-shirt with athletic shorts or track pants with running shoes is suitable.

Systema does not have any uniform as Systema is meant to occur naturally in their world. There is not meant to be a separation between Systema and your every day life. In contrast Sambo has a very particular uniform athletes must wear. In Sambo athletes wear a jacket similar to a Judogi and with short athletic shorts. Sambo athletes are permitted to wear a red or blue uniform. The Sambo uniform is a fusion between Judo and wrestling attire as it allows athletes to perform throws and wrestling takedowns.

Is Systema A Sport?

Is Systema a sport? No, Systema is not a sport. Systema has no competitions. There are no belts or titles in Systema. Systema is focused on self defense and increasing life satisfaction through control over your body (breathing, fighting) and your mind (Russian Orthodox spirituality).

This is a major difference between Sambo and Systema. Sambo is a well developed sport with regular competitions being and the use of Soviet sport titles such as Master of Sport and International Master of Sport. Even though Sambo can be used for Self defense Sambo is primarily a sport. The Russian government’s goal is to grow the sport of Sambo to one day have it featured in the Olympics.

Are There Rules In Systema?

Are there rules in Systema? No, there are no rules in Systema. In Systema you can use any techniques to defend yourself, this includes takedowns, strikes and weapons. Systema is focused on real life self defense where there are no rules. In Systema you can find techniques from over 150 different martial arts.

While Systema may not have rules, Sambo has strict rules. Sambo is a grappling based sport. Therefore striking is not allowed and many submissions are banned such as chokes. As Sambo is a sport there is an emphasis on safety so moves such as biting, eye gouging and attacking the genitals is also banned.


Systema and Sambo are both Russian martial arts. Sambo is a grappling based martial art which is primarily focused on sporting contests. Whereas Systema is a self defense art where all techniques are used to defend oneself and no official competitions are held. Systema goes beyond just fighting and also incorporates spiritual elements into its teaching.


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