(originally published on September 28th, 2014)

This one is a long time coming and needs to be written. Flame war, engage. But this is about business, not people or personalities.

As many know from the Pramek Radio podcast, I am not a fan of EFO or empty force methods. I have even said publicly for a decade I don’t doubt such things exist, but as a means of defending one’s self…I think it’s something that should not be taught. That being said, I’ve been innundated with FB and email requests asking me to explain a video.

Let me first say I have never trained with Mikhail Ryabko, Vasiliev, or in Systema. My time in the Russian styles, in the US and in Russia, was on the scientific side. After leaving the Russian styles, I focused on creating Pramek to further scientific application and study in the martial arts and how they are taught. But, my lessons from Russian style have never left me like any student honors their teachers by teaching what was good and avoiding what was bad.

I was sent the below link in an email from someone that read:
‘Is this what you studied in Russia???’

I clicked, thinking, ‘Ok, I’m gonna get Rick Rolled.’
A friend of mine was in the kitchen and came running in, confusion on her face as I exclaimed very loudly, ‘What the hell is this shit?’

I think we all have to ask this to keep a system, style, or teacher honest. A lot of other arts (I haven’t even looked at Bullshido or Cage Potato yet) will ask the question of this video, but those who have ties to Russian styles or study this art have to ask the same. These kinds of videos affect us all, as those who see ‘Russia’ or ‘RMA’ in our resume see these things and judge us based on the popularity of Systema as the predominant Russian style.

Like it or not, the general martial art public, having viewed these kinds of videos, see us in this light.

Anger in the past turned to frustration, and eventual embarrassment, when people brought these kinds of videos up to me. It was hard enough explaining the old videos of Mr. Kadochnikov knocking people down without touching them – but those videos are twenty-thirty years old now and explainable as cold-war propaganda, regardless of what the videos were actually demonstrating.

But, what about this video?

In the parlance of our times, it’s the ‘optics’ that count.

First, there is no translation. I have no idea what is being taught. If people can’t hear a translation of what is taught, they figure the worst if it looks bad or weird. I told myself, ‘Maybe he is just demonstrating and the translation is in Japanese talking about tension, or pressure points?’ But that would not explain what we are seeing since we can’t understand the translation. At certain points there is nothing that could be explained without a term like psychic energy or a student willing to go along with the teacher.  Perhaps someone who has been hypnotized through either years of training to take falls; self-hypnosis of being so impressed with the teacher he truly believes it is working.  Lastly someone else Ms Cleo’d him on the side.

Second, what is happening? When a video has a 2030 shares in social media, a lot of people see it. Systema has forever tried to legitimize itself as a combatives style, with Blackbelt naming Vasiliev as martial artist of the year and asking is Systema the most lethal are in the world. Blackbelt has to be face-palming right now.

It’s demonstration, yes. But of what?

I’m looking for the typical Ryabko ‘flinch manipulation’ to see him swing to the guy’s right and drive him to the hand on the left to throw. It’s not there. Maybe he’s stepping on his foot to trap it and then driving him over…nope. I see some redirection demonstration after 1:39, so that’s what it’s gotta be, but before 1:39 goes beyond legitimacy.  At certain points the guy is just falling down without being physically touched. In my mind’s eye I’m trying to figure out when something like this has ever happened to me. Like any student, I have taken falls on joint locks, throws, certain strikes because I know they hurt and for demonstration’s sake I go with it to avoid injury so the teacher can teach and demo.

But nothing like this.

In the end, I can’t explain it other than either a demonstration of redirection of movement and force, no matter how over-exaggerated, or some weird psychic energy.

What bothered me more than those videos was this:

What the actual f*ck, over.

If you are still reading this having not burned a hole in your monitor, you probably are bewildered. The first video looks like legit stuff compared to this.

Watching it hurt my eyes and made me a little sad.

Sad not for the people in the demonstration, or watching, or sharing. Systema is doing just fine and financially very successful, and good for them. It made me saddened for the rest of us. The ROSS guys trying to teach now and the folks who were in ROSS back in the day like I was, but the organization died after not being able to compete with Systema and fell apart as Scott moved into a new direction. For Kadochnikov’s folks who have tried to come to the US and can’t seem to get here. For the sambo guys who talk a lot about Russia and Russian styles of martial art and the three forms of sambo. For the guys who have left Russian style and started our own organizations blending it’s knowledge with our own and other styles.

Some people will say, ‘You’re just jealous Matt, they got 2030 shares.’ I encourage you to read the share remarks and translations – I would prefer not to get 2030 shares if that’s the response it gets.

Some people will say, ‘You have to be there and work with Mikhail, then you’ll feel it.’ Anyone who watches a Pramek Youtube video learns something – videos get people to products and seminars. Sure, whatever, that’s business. From what I have seen over the years, and in that video, I am happy I never went to a Systema seminar during my RMA time because I saw little to learn or a need to go and feel it. Those videos attract a certain demographic of the martial art world – I’m not one of them.

I care about what the rest of the martial art world thinks when they see ‘Russian’ on mine and others resumes. So, I’m writing this to them, on behalf of myself and a lot of other people out there in the same circumstance:

To those judging: First, let me say I don’t want the magic of martial art to disappear – but I want the magic not to be confused with legitimate combatives. We need the magic to keep our imaginations open. I don’t know what that is in the videos and look at it like most of you look at it. Almost every art has it, and I trust you to have the sense to not throw the baby out with the bath water. I used to hear it about bagua, but atleast in bagua there is an explanation beyond qi. There is a reason a lot of us never studied Systema, or left it, and you can probably guess from these videos one of the reasons among others. When you see the videos, just remember that Dillman one touch knock out and that goofy guy teaching EFO have tons of hits…and why do you click on those? To laugh, or show friends, or learn something not to do, or just to kill time between commercials, class, or on break.

Most arts run from this kind of stuff and we are really no different (ie, this post).

And to those who get the ‘treatment’ when people see Russian on your resume, do yourself a favor – point them in this post’s direction. Be forthright and honest on your feelings. If you think it’s BS, say it…if you don’t, say it. We need to stop saying, ‘I have the utmost respect for _____, but…’ to be nice…say what you truly think. It is because we continue to excuse this stuff publicly that we continue to be painted with the unfair brush of these videos. They might not make it to the videos that hold value within Systema so you need to count on that and react accordingly. If they do, trust they will be so confounded at the weirdness they have seen they won’t see things in a positive light.

So be direct, be honest, disassociate what you have done with what they are doing publicly if you dislike it…forget the trolls, forget the hate, forget it all and just be candid.

And to those who love the video – I understand why you are there, you love it, just remember the optics of what is posted. 2030 shares can often be a bad thing and lead to you being marginalized when you don’t want to be. I hope there is something beyond this video and I have to believe there is because I know some great people in Systema. I can’t judge what you study, as it’s your study, your path, and your life. I don’t mean malice or harm by this post but many of us with Russian backgrounds are tarred by this. I wish to distance myself and my history from this as far away in the public eye as I possibly can because it is a dirty paint brush on a clean canvas for most of the martial art world. The Russian styles have many things to hold – I hope you find them.

I had a laugh at these videos, but that is where it ends…and maybe one day, the laughs at the words ‘Russian style’ will end too as many of us push beyond this publicity and work hard to show that somewhere along the line we learned some valuable things at that rest stop on the path.

8 Replies on That RMA video…

  • Paul Genge says:

    Well said Matt.

    Until the Systema community make a stand and speak out in public this kind of thing damages everyone within their organisation and the extended family they share with the greater RMA community.

    I know of many in their community who have expressed dismay at where things are heading in private and yet they still nod their heads politely and keep paying their money. It is the worst kind of Stockholm syndrome I have seen in the martial arts for a long time and looks set to get worse long before it ever gets better.


  • Rob says:

    If you have not trained with Mikhail or Vladimir, you really have not earned the right to criticize or even comment. It is like some giving their analysis of an Ironman when they have never biked or run even a mile.

    Experience it.

    Then comment. Then and only then do you have the credibility to comment.

    • Paul Genge says:


      Having started started training with Vladimir in 1999 and also trained for years with him and Michael all over the world including visiting Michael in Moscow by your definition I have a right to make comment.

      They are both very good in different ways, but this kind of thing and some of the other material he is releasing under the banner NEW SYSTEMA really is a stage too far.

      If we are not careful we can start to believe in our own super powers. I know I had a tipping point where I was able to do some very crazy no contact work on a few of my students, but luckily I realised it for what it was and smashed the illusion we had created for ourselves. My advice to you is if you like this sort of thing keep at it, but if self defence is your goal please take a realistic look at what you are doing and the way you train. No one needs to burst the illusion bubble when they really need those skills to remain safe.

    • Admin says:

      Thank you for your opinion.

      Completely agree…unfortunately I don’t think anyone will speak out as long as there is as much money and attention attached to Systema as it is now. And God bless them, they are making money and successful, so I don’t blame them. Instead it’ll be up to the other people in the RMA family to call it out as we see it.


      • George Pogacich says:

        Hello guys… Hi Paul, I am familiar with you and have seen you on many videos and seminars with Mikhail and of course I know Matt. Hi Matt. Do any of you think that with all of the injuries that Mikhail has sustained throught his life and his increasing weight as he gets older he’s becoming less and less mobile? Do you think that this may be a contributing factor in this new approach he’s taking? He’s not moving around at all anymore like he used to…Of course when it comes to the wild no contact stuff we see Mikhail doing, there are many other masters that use to be with Kadochnikov doing even more freaky stuff beyond what we see Mikhail doing here. Mikhail is far from the only one showing this stuff so why attach only Mikhail’s name to it?

        • Admin says:

          George – good to hear from you!!!!
          You could be on to something. We all know many masters as they get older begin to be limited in movement and look for more subtlety. As I said in the post, I was waiting to see him lead to sides like he does in many videos I have seen in the past…just didn’t see it. The problem becomes when there is so much of it, with no translation, it begins to reflect on others. Especially as a lot of systems begin to make a break from RMA.
          As for Kadochnikov, Vishnevetskij (the tall dark haired man) was the primary person doing this in the popular videos…by himself and with Kadochnikov. There was a bit of a public phase for this work as Vishnevetskij was the source for a lot of it, and he brought it back from studied abroad and tried to systemize it, which was in the early books about Kadochnikov system, which were not written by Kadochnikov. He didn’t write his own book until the ‘Red’ book (which I am thumbing through as I write this) and it was not listed, nor in any of the documents involved in the patent. There wasn’t a lot of it displayed after Vishnevetskij’s death and it was considered high level, non-public study in Kadochnikov system. This isn’t to be confused with the work on Stansivlavski’s relaxation methods, which is still taught. I have heard of none of it coming from Arkadij now that he has taken over the system. Retuinskih did nothing with it.
          I did mention in the article this past (just not in detail) but it was long ago and explainable.
          The problem for Systema and Ryabko, in my mind, is it’s not explainable like I just explained where Kadochnikov, Lavrov, and others got theirs. There is a lineage of it going back into India and the East through someone, it was systemized and they tried to teach it in a scientific manner.
          I don’t see that in Systema…and for a lot of people, they hear a lot of religious undertones or outright religious connotation, which perks ears up.
          Some people have mentioned Starov, but I don’t consider him to be a master and he was publicly disowned by the Kadochnikov’s, the folks in Krasnodar at the APS and IAPS, and the Kadochnikov Fund, which in the mid 2000’s was the instructor training school in Moscow run and Starov was not allowed there. Starov does a lot of it – but I would not put Starov in the same category of Mikhail.
          In mastery or public persona.
          Mikhail is doing a lot of it and a lot of the martial art, LE, tactical, and military community question it because he is the forebearer of the most popular RMA out there – Systema. When people think of RMA, they think of Systema. When people see RMA on a resume, they assume Systema, and in my experience – it’s the first question. And for many it is. So, that’s the reason for attaching his name…plus, he has the videos that are current of him doing it.

          • George Pogacich says:

            Yes I agree and there is a lot of information posted as fact throughout the years about who Ryabko is and who Kadochnikov is and who they learned from…We (you and I) aren’t even Russian so who are we to say for certain?.. We either read it.. or someone tells us and that is all we got to go by..If they didn’t want us to know we wouldn’t know..According to Vladimir all of this came about during the Stalin years. Stalin was researching all sorts of unconventional means of warfare in order to get the edge,.. The paranormal and psychic were more than just looked into..This info is widely known and (is part of) and was according to our own intelligence…..I think that if information was gathered from some sort of eastern masters it would have to be the job of the KGB to bring that back during those years, more of a group effort military intelligence operation…The president would have to give the go ahead on that one..I don’t know how they’d do it.. Kidnap the master?..The president would have to give the order and it wouldn’t be the work of one person bringing back information, it would be the collective work of several just as it always is. There is no independent research by a single individual. ..We in America have the luxury of independent research..They do not and not at that time..There was evidense of this type of extraordinary high level ability dating as far back as when the Russians battled the Japanese’s samurai and when Hitlers army invaded Russia.. Hitlers soldiers were powerful in this regard too!. .. In fact the KGB stole some of Hitlers military secrets which of course afterwards infuriated Hitler which was a contributing factor among other reasons that Hitler wanted to invade Russia.. I have an old video of Kadochnikov (when I first started with Vladimir back in 1997 or 1998) explaining how accumulating energy and sending it out to attack another is more than possible. It’s been done many times.. It makes sense that Ryabko’s father and Kadochnikovs father and others all worked for Stalin during the time.. If they were that good what choice would they have Right? So then it makes sense that information is passed from family to family just as it is with the Chinese masters. ..Now as we see it’s been passed down to Ryabko’s son who has been helping his father out recently and doing seminars independently……As a Systema teacher I don’t care what Magical impossible things Ryabko does on youtube videos effects me.. I just focus on myself and what I’m doing. I don’t think it has effected people attending my classes in the least..There is a lot of nice bio-mechanical moves demonstrated out there by many.. If what Ryabko is doing at seminars is real people will go there and find out when they ask to spar him like I did and so many have…If he can’t do that than someone will knock him out, but so far he has been proving he can do it easily to any large strong MMA guy that shows…He’s been going all over the world and moving with anyone that wants to fight or test him. It’s been over a decade now…I wish he would explain more than what he’s showing at the seminars so that there is a clear understanding at least in part and there isn’t!,,

          • Admin says:

            Unfortunately, this is an argument that has been going on since the late 90’s when we all started.
            It is a snake eating it’s own tail.
            Pramek is not RMA and that article was posted in regards to people questioning our Russian heritage.
            We have answers for the questions that people ask us to explain Kadochnikov’s videos, all the way to the name of the person it came from, it’s nature, and how it is studied.
            You have conjecture.
            ‘I think that if information was gathered from some sort of eastern masters it would have to be the job of the KGB’ is pure opinion, not names and facts.
            ‘Ryabko’s father and Kadochnikovs father and others all worked for Stalin during the time’ is a statement of pure conjecture, not facts.
            People have for years tried to tie Kadochnikov and Ryabko together – and it doesn’t work because outside of Kadochnikov being requested to demo at a Ryabko seminar, there is no connection. Kadochnikov is very open about where he learned all of this, and it’s from a variety of sources from childhood on, not that his father was some master of martial art working for Stalin.
            This all very publicly stated, as is Alexei’s military background and history.
            The myths and facts of RMA are sometimes indistinguishable, with the facts getting in the way of the myths propagating personalities to gullible foreigner’s.
            I’ve seen you make these arguments since, what, 1999 – and no offense, but they still hold very little historical, factual water. Good stories and opinions, conjecture, not much else.
            I can explain, down to the person, years, manuals where this knowledge comes from in Kadochnikov system, which is part of Pramek’s lineage.
            That is what is important for Pramek.
            The other thing that is important is making sure we publicly state that in terms of Systema and what Ryabko is doing, without proper translation and explanation, it simply makes no sense and we stand in line with those who are highly skeptical of what they are seeing.
            This thread is closed.
            Best of luck with Systema and instructing.
            – Matt

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