Review: ‘Systema Basics’ by Cutting Edge
While it is of course true that one cannot endeavour to effectively learn a martial art or combative system from videos and books, such material can prove invaluable when supplementing existing training, or if you just want to learn a few new concepts to add to your training. This was precisely my aim when buying the ‘Systema Basics’ set from Cutting Edge (you may know them as Perten from YouTube). You can buy all of the DVDs here.
So what is Systema?
(Information from here and here.) Systema (Системa, to write it properly) literally translates to ‘The System’ in Russian. It can be thought of as a general title, similar to the Chinese Kung Fu in that it encompasses multiple different styles and systems. It has been adopted for some high-risk Special Military Operations Units in the спецназ (Spetsnaz) and the ГРУ (GRU) among others after Stalin’s death. Its more extended history and roots are unclear, and multiple conflicting theories exist as to where it came from and what its influences are. Its general characteristics that seem to be consistent throughout different practitioners’ styles are ones that are integral to my teaching in the CSPS; some of which I implemented before knowing about Systema and others I adopted to my training and teaching after finding out how effective Systema is. Here are a few main ones:
A profound appreciation of the importance of breathing
Abstract, concept-based training rather than technique-based training
A lot of emphasis on understanding tension and relaxation
An appreciation of the body as a whole system, and a holistic view of training and health in general
Psychological training pertaining to fear and relaxation
Flowing motion and the resulting efficient transfer of kinetic energy
Robert Poyton of Cutting Edge states that Systema is, in its purest form, ‘a system of breathing and movement’.
In the following sections I have included links to the pages on their website where you can purchase the DVDs, and embedded their trailers from YouTube.
Systema Basics Volume 1 – Falls and Rolls:
This DVD covers one of the most important aspects of training – how to safely fall over without injury! I don’t need to tell you why this is essential knowledge, whether you train combatively or not – consider falling off your bike, or tripping over, or even falling down the stairs! With the right approach to training, all of these can be much less dangerous events than they would otherwise be, which can never be a bad thing! According to this DVD, rolling also teaches us to work against impact (with the floor), how to move safely in dangerous situations while helping us to overcome psychological barriers like fear. There’s also an introduction to takedowns and throws. I thoroughly enjoyed the approach this DVD has to mobility techniques like these, and the mechanics of rolling exemplified in this video are both tactically sound and biomechanically viable. I completely agree with their teachings in this DVD, and you know that means a lot coming from me, because I am extremely picky.
Systema Basics Volume 2 – Ground Mobility:
Building on perfectly from the previous DVD is this one on ground mobility training. Aside from the obvious tactical benefits in a combative situation, the kind of mobility training in this video offer phenomenal core strength training, and are very fun too. When I’m bored at home (which isn’t that often these days – always something to do…) I often have a roll around just because it’s so fun! I get funny looks from people at home, but we shouldn’t let that bother us! A note to parents and instructors – kids love this stuff! I have the honour of co-instructing at PHDefence, and I often get the kids there flopping around on the floor like this, and they absolutely love it! I would recommend that everybody, whether you’re interested in combat and self-protection or not, give this kind of training some thought, as it’s invaluable and highly enjoyable.
Systema Basics Volume 3 – Wave Movement:
Wave moment, a key theme in Systema, allows for a ‘free and natural response’, allowing for both the absorption of and delivery of powerful strikes. This DVD goes through all of the basic concepts necessary to assimilate wave motion to your own movement – breathing, tension and relaxation. In addition to this, there are drills to aid with achieving a full range of motion in your joints, which is of course essential. There is work on using the hips to increase striking power, and also an introduction to what Cutting Edge call ‘Figure-Eight’ striking, which is (as with everything in Systema it seems) both effective and fun. Basically this DVD is about the effective coordination of the different parts of your body which allows for a much more natural motion in combat and training. I have yet to find an aspect of training or combat that the wave motion is not useful for, and that includes rolling, headbutts and even weapon work – it’s an extremely powerful concept to play with, which I would recommend everyone take a look at.
Systema Basics Volume 4 – Health:
Don’t skip over this one! If you’re extremely pragmatic in your training mindset, it’s perhaps understandable to think: ‘What’s this got to do with self-protection?’ The answer is that it has everything to do with self-protection! If you’re ill, or have a weakness in your body or even your mind, then you are unable to defend yourself effectively. Consider this – how much thought do you give to self-protection from pathogens and infection? If not, why not? Is it any less an assault on your person than a human attacking you? This DVD covers use of sticks, concepts regarding posture and balance, cold water dousing (very good stuff) and massage. Take it from me – this is fantastic information that you will regret missing out on.
Systema Basics Volume 5 – Groundfighting:
More fun stuff! Working on principles instead of the more standard MMA-style techniques, Robert Poyton’s different approach is both refreshing and fascinating. Breathing, movement, striking from the ground and escaping compromised positions are all included on this video. I’ve found their approaches to be very useful concepts that are worth assimilating into any training system or martial arts style.
Systema Basics Volume 6 – Takedowns:
This DVD’s pretty simple to explain – it’s stuff you’ll find useful if you’ve got someone standing up, and you want them on the floor! Systema takes a very efficient approach, concerning itself with the structure of the opponent’s body and how to break it rather than set throws and takedowns. An understanding of posture, support and how to work against tension is what you’ll get from this video, which is fantastic knowledge for beginners and experienced combatants alike.
Systema Basics Volume 7 – Movement:
Posture, footwork and movement in general is the focus of this DVD, and it is a sound addition to any training you already do. The drills in this video will help you get yourself in the right place at the right time much more readily than one without this understanding of how to move would be capable of. Again, I heartily recommend it as a great addition to your combative collection!
Systema Basics Volume 8 – Breathing:
As you all know, breathing is central to everything in Systema, as it is in ESP. It underpins literally everything you do, whether it’s exercises, striking, dealing with being struck or anything else. The particularly interesting section of this for me was breathing through physical discomfort, which I have found extremely useful – using these concepts, whether it’s stubbing your toe or accidentally letting a punch slip through your guard, you can make things a lot better for yourself through simply being aware of your breathing. If you’re into meditation (I am) then this DVD will be especially interesting.
Systema Basics Volume 9 – Biomechanics:
Please note that this title is no longer available (as of 29.10.2013).
‘The body is a marvellous machine and in some ways can be manipulated as such.’ This quote from their website speaks for itself! Paul Genge in this one explains how the principles of levers, cogs, spindles and wedges can be used in combative situations. An awareness of these principles is extremely helpful in all situations, and this DVD could well be the most important of the lot if you’re new to this kind of training. The mix of diagrams and examples works especially well for the left-brained among us, but the way it’s all explained makes this an extremely accessible and yet highly informative video.
Systema Basics Volume 10 – Kicks:
It is what it says on the tin really – a DVD about how to apply Systema principles to kicking! After going through some stretches and exercises, the DVD shows how to deal with kicks as well as dish them out, which was the particularly interesting bit for me. Sometimes training can focus too much on kicking pads, and not enough on what to do if someone else is kicking you – don’t let this happen with yours!
Systema Basics Volume 11 – Solo Training:
This is the first one I saw, and it was a great place to start with this series. The DVD goes through a wealth of information regarding exercises you can do alone, working with sticks and knives, breath work, ideas for ground mobility and how to adapt the basic exercises to develop new ones. At the end is a guided breathing exercise which takes you through a tension and relaxation routine, which is great for those who are interested in stress relief or meditation. This DVD is the perfect one to get if you’re not sure whether you want to commit to buying the whole set in one go, and want to get an idea of what’s in it first as it gives you a great introduction to what Systema is. This one might be my favourite DVD of the set because it’s so useful, whether you want general fitness and health benefits or combative training. If you get any of them, make sure you get this one.
Systema Basics Volume 12 – Drills:
Similar to the previous volume, this is another ‘bits of everything’ video. The last in the series, it draws together all of the concepts from the other DVDs and expands on how to develop your own drills while also developing natural movement. It explains abstract ‘no technique’ learning, how to structure a training session (useful information that all instructors in particular should consider) and sparring drills, among other things. It’s a brilliant ending to a brilliant series.
The Bottom Line – Pros:
An extremely informative and detailed introduction to Systema training.
Concepts anyone can take on board, adapt and use for many aspects of life.
Informal and entertaining delivery.
The Bottom Line – Cons:
In all honesty I can’t think of any! I thoroughly enjoyed this series and though I wasn’t completely new to Systema, I learned a lot from it. I was going to say I would like more elaboration and depth, but then I remembered the title – ‘Systema Basics’.
The Bottom Line – Conclusion:
I would recommend that everyone with even a passing interest in these topics would benefit from this set. It works. That’s all I have to say really! Enjoy.
Don’t forget – there’s a discount for buying in multiples. Check out the Special Offers section for full information.
Founding Instructor, ESP