Systema Three Dimensional Movement

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Systema Three Dimensional Movement

In Systema, you should be able to use the space around you efficiently and effectively. In order to do this, you must understand that your environment is not only in front, behind, and to either side of you, but that it has depth, which gives you a great deal of freedom when utilized, that ends with the ground. When you understand this, you can work effectively standing, on the ground, or anywhere in between. This is an indispensable skill when grappling in Systema.

Moving in Two Dimensions (Forward, Back, Side to Side)
Many Systema students and instructors, particularly in the Ryabko schools, tend to heavily emphasize using gravity and the ground to move in the third, generally overlooked dimension. They study falls and rolls as the natural reaction to certain forms of grappling or attacks from clubs, bats, chains, etc. As a result, they become too comfortable with using the third dimension and tend to overreact to most contact. They do not develop their movement in other dimensions, resulting in one dimensional thinking. Even though it can be a powerful skill, it is almost entirely useless to you if you are unable to move and think in the first two dimensions.

This can be very difficult, not because moving itself is physically difficult, but because you would be making it more difficult than it actually is. Everything in Systema is very simple, but may be difficult to grasp. There are two reasons for this; your mind thinks in certain terms and may try to define what you see in Systema with its own terms. As a result, you try to do something very complicated when, in reality, it is very simple. You may also be doing more than the movement requires, resulting in an awkward, inefficient motion that is tiring, ineffective, or often both.

The secret to motion in Systema is to not dampen your movement with resistance. When done correctly, your movement will feel smooth and free, almost as if it controls you and you should be able to create or direct it with almost no effort.

A vital idea for this is figure eight movement. This is a fundamental idea of movement that needs to be experienced in order to be fully understood. Spend a few minutes working on this problem. Move your hips in a circle as if you are hula-hooping. Now, change the direction of their motion. Do this without stopping your hips.

If you succeeded, you ended up cutting through the middle of the circle. This is the figure eight principle. Why is this important? Because when you need to change the direction of your movement, it needs to be as smooth and free as any other sort of movement. Everything else you just tried and everything you can imagine requires you to significantly oppose the force taking you in your current direction and therefore is a waste of time and energy you may need.

Basic Low Acrobatics (Groundwork)
Most people use the ground without a thought. They walk, run, or sit and have only a vague understanding of their relationship with it. When you practice these movements, you should never treat the ground in such a way. The ground is a surface, which means it is a neutral plane that will just as easily hurt you as help you. This means you must treat it with the same respect you would treat a gun or a sharp knife. A soft surface, such as a mat, is very forgiving and takes away almost all discomfort, making it easy to develop bad habits in this area of study. Instead, you should and first use a smooth, hard surface such as a polished wooden floor or smooth concrete, and gradually add obstacles and/or increase the friction of the surface. Mats should be disposed of entirely. This will immediately teach you to respect the ground and practice slowly at first and make it easy to identify any discomfort, which, if not identified and fixed early, translate into injuries with the addition of speed and complications.

Rolling - Rolling uses the ground to redirect the body's kinetic energy. With rolling, you can gain momentum, change your position, or instantly get right back up after losing your balance. It is the least intimidating and arguably most useful of the transitioning movements and therefore should be learned first.

Falling - Falling uses the ground to dissipate the body's kinetic energy. These can range from mildly intimidating to a cause of significant anxiety when considered for training. Some can be learned either immediately after or in conjunction with rolling, but most should only be considered once you are thoroughly familiar and comfortable with using the ground as a surface.

Sliding - A slide is a specialized fall in which the practitioner falls from standing, squatting, or kneeling and slides into the prone position. They are useful for learning body dynamics and building confidence, but are generally only practical for use in marksmanship. They are safer on a hard, smooth floor than a mat for the most part due to the fact that a mat provides greater resistance and therefore a greater strain on the body.

Important Skills - Other skills important for using and transitioning from the ground. Knowledge of these movements greatly assists in using the ground in any way. They also help you see and develop some forms of efficient movement you may otherwise overlook.

Vladimir Vasiliev Demonstrating Systema Groundwork

Paul Gene Explaining Fundamental Principles of Low Acrobatics and the Systema Kadochnikova Forward Roll From Standing


  1. Significant contributions to this page were made by Mike, author of Action Heroing Made Easy (blog),, Added - 10/23/14
  2. Kadochnikov Systema Russian Martial Art,, Added - 09/21/14
  3. Systema-Russian Martial Arts,, Added - 09/21/14
  4. Combat Lab - Russian Martial Arts North West,, Added - 09/24/14

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