I've been a keen karate student for 16 years, Shukokai and Shotokan, but there still seems to be no shortage of things to learn and explore. I'm hoping this blog will allow me to share my experiences and hear other martial artists thoughts.

James Bond’s Systema

I recently finished reading the new James Bond novel ‘Carte Blanche’ by Jeffrey Deaver, which is well worth a read. In it Bond gets involved in a few hand to hand scrapes and it’s mentioned that Bond has learnt Systema. In the book it’s described as a combat system originating with the Russian Cossacks and then refined by the Russians.

In this post I don’t want to get bogged down in the details of Systema what provoked a bit of thought that the book describes it’s purpose as being to evade and block the opponent’s strikes with the aim of tiring them out and then to take control when they have exhausted themselves.

Now I accept what I’ve read is fiction when the author can enjoy creating something for entertainment safe in the knowledge that the hero is in actual danger, but still I found the approach interesting.

I don’t position myself as having any great knowledge about self-defence but what I’ve read from those far more educated than myself is that such encounters are frenetic, messy affairs and far removed from the more controlled to and fro of sparring in the dojo. I can’t imagine that it would be a good idea to prolong such an encounter by aiming to tire an attacker by seeking to successfully block each of their strikes. The odds of doing so against a determined attacker probably don’t stack up well.

So perhaps it’s an approach worth trying out in sparring. I know when I trained in Shotokan Karate there was a strong focus in sparring of not being wasteful, not throwing technique after technique that wasn’t troubling the opponent. Sparring bouts were much more cagey affairs and almost felt as exhausting mentally as physically because you were guarding against an attack that when it came would be serious in it’s intent.

Recently in my current club we’ve had a few sessions which have included sparring and as a more senior student we pair with the juniors and work with them to improve their confidence and techniques. Generally I would allow them to attempt to strike me more and so would spend more time blocking than striking. As a result after a couple of minutes I would have I’ve exerted myself less than them through this more defensive approach. So the Systema approach mentioned in the book seemed to ring true as a fighting strategy.

I have the benefit of being fairly tall so in sparring if I can keep my opponents at a safe distance they really have to work hard to land a telling strike. Perhaps as a result I think I do tend to have a more defensive style of fighting. But it still feels that I’m controlling the flow of the sparring by enticing them to commit to attacks.

I’m interested to try this approach more next time we have some sparring in training. Sometimes there can be a tendency to fall into a very polite you attack then I’ll attack kind of rhythm. Against opponents who do have a tendency to try and execute quite a few techniques it could be useful to let them tire themselves.



  ericgchristenson wrote @

I found the idea behind that martial art interesting as well. But after a few minutes of light internet research, it seems like real Systema doesn’t match up with the description from the book. Do you know where I could find more information about the style from the book?

  ericgchristenson wrote @

I also thought the Systema described in the novel was interesting. But after a little bit of online research it seems that the description from the book doesn’t match up with actual Systema. Do you know of anywhere I could find out more about what’s described in the book?

  nwukshukokai wrote @

Hi Eric, I think I had a little scan around the web myself when I wrote the post and didn’t find a great deal. It’s not a martial arts system I’d heard of before or seen referenced in any magazines or books. I have a good reference book on Martial Arts, Chris Crudelli’s ‘The Way of the Warrior’, and it has the following entry about Systema. ‘Systema is a Russian martial art taught to military Special Forces that aims to give practitioners a framework of self-defence techniques that are easy to apply and remember. It has roots in the numerous wars to have taken place in Russia and in the ancient fighting traditions of many Russian tribes. No uniforms are required for training and. although the art has close associations with the orthodox Russian Christian Church, being religious is not a prerequisite of training.’ Cheers for the post and hope life is good with you.

  ericgchristenson wrote @

Thanks! Yeah, that actually just sounds like a Russian Krav Maga. Your post was an interesting read, though. I suppose Bond’s Systema could be considered a style one could apply to any martial art.

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