Systema Breathing

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Ryabko Systema Breathing

Breath work is a fundamental principle of Ryabko Systema as well as the glue that holds it together. It allows a person to operate at a higher level of efficiency and awareness as well as remove pain and tension and allow for internal movement, the most important quality of anything in any Systema. As well as enabling the proper study of Systema, breathing is a very healthy practice on its own that can reduce stress, improve endurance, and increase the lifespan of anyone who practices it.

In order to use Systema breathing, you must first understand that when you breathe, you don't just pump air in and out of two bags in your chest. Every system in your body is involved in respiration, and Systema uses them all. Your mind, body, and spirit are combined by the act alone and your respiratory and circulatory systems immediately respond.

There are seven principles to Ryabko Systema breathing. It is important to understand why these principles exist, so you should practice breathing by respecting the principles and occasionally violating some of them to see the difference.

  • The Nose to Mouth Principle - You should inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  • The Principle of Non-tension - You breathe in order to remove tension, so your breath should not be a source of tension itself. Every breath you take should be relaxed and as full as possible without creating tension. When you breathe, you will feel an energy sort of flowing across you and almost penetrating down into your muscles. This is your circulatory system acting with your respiratory system. Do not interfere with it; allow it to relax you and your body will find proper positioning on its own.
  • The Principle of Sufficiency - When you breathe, you will tend to take a full, deep breath. This is a mistake. If you breathe too fully, the size of your inflated lungs will interfere with your work and your body will tense up and be much less efficient. To solve this, breathe in only until you start to feel tension. This point will be closer and closer to a full, deep breath as your body relaxes with your breathing. Every time you practice breathing, this effect will become more and more immediate.
  • The Principle of Continuity - Your breathing should be continuous. This does not only mean that you should never stop breathing, but that it should always penetrate into your entire body as described above in the principle of non-tension. If a body part is sick, injured, or tense, your breath may not penetrate into it. In this case, continuity is broken and you must focus your breathing by inhaling into the area to "grab" the tension and exhale to take it away. You may wish to speed things up, in which case you could use burst breathing, a technique in which you forcibly inhale and exhale into the area to break up the tension.
  • The Pendulum Principle - Imagine a pendulum; it swings back and forth and each time it reaches the top of its swing, it seems to hang in the air before it falls back down. When you breathe in, this is like the pendulum swinging upward; you should pause as you reach the end and hold it until you start to feel tension. Then, you exhale which is similar to the down swing. You would find this out very quickly by breathing naturally and observing the principle of non-tension.
  • The Principle of Independence - Even though it drives your motions, your breath should be independent of them. Imagine you have an opening to strike a person and defeat them completely, but you know it will last only about as long as your inhale. If you practice your striking only on an exhale or, worse, a particular part of your exhale, you will not be confident enough or your strike may not be able to get the power it needs. When you exercise or practice, you should do everything the same number of times on an inhale as on an exhale.
  • The Principle of Leading - When you perform a movement, you should begin your inhale or exhale first and your movement after a very brief lag period. Imagine a train with a sliding coupler. In order to move the train, the locomotive needs momentum. The sliding coupler allows it to get moving before it starts to pull the car behind it. Each car is pulled with a series of sliding couplers until, eventually, the entire train is moving.

The following drills should provide a strong foundation for strengthening your breathing. In each of these drills, the breath alone is primary.

Sedentary Drills - Drills to increase awareness of your own body.

Stationary Breath Conditioning - Drills to improve your ability to breathe effectively to do work.

Running/Walking - Drills to improve your ability to breathe effectively while moving.


  1. Significant contributions to this page were made by Mike, author of Action Heroing Made Easy (blog),, Added - 10/23/14
  2. Russian Martial Art, Systema-Russian Martial Arts,, Added 9/4/2014

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