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Systema Spatial Perception

Systema is a complex entirety of many features interacting in total harmony. To my understanding, one of the greatest assets is using natural, relaxed movements in an unnatural combative environment. If mastered, this provides efficiency, calmness and power, while its invisibility leads to confusion and uncertainty on the opponent’s side, opening up many doors of advantage in a conflict.

Another interesting area in Systema is the ‘short work’. It is a very elegant and efficient way to deal with multiple opponents simultaneously and includes many hidden principles in its application.

I have always been very fascinated by multiple attack scenarios, as it incorporates so many factors crucial for good Systema work. One very interesting aspect is the spatial perception we employ in ‘short work’.


Our brain has many different brain maps (pictures of body parts) not only to control our physical body but, for instance, also our immediate environment. Our clothes become part of us as they are integrated into our brain maps. So do tools and equipment that we use a lot. For example, we can easily feel the consistency of the food we are cutting through the knife as if the knife was part of our body.

Brain studies were done on a Japanese monkey, which does not use tools in the wild. When given a stick to hold, this was not integrated into the monkey’s brain maps. After training to use a stick for a few weeks, remarkably, the stick started to become part of the monkey’s brain maps.

We see this same effect when we give students a stick to hold for combat. An experienced teacher can spot straight away if a student is familiar with stick work just by the way they hold and handle this object.

Also, when we drive our car, our feeling includes the whole car perimeter, not just our body inside the car. We can easily pack it into a tight familiar garage. If we now swap cars with similar dimensions but very different shapes, we will find that backing it into the same garage is not that easy anymore. We now have to form new, appropriate brain maps which include this new shape. Then it’s back to normal again.

When dealing with opponents, especially multiple opponents, it is important to do the same, namely, include them in your brain maps. The important part here is to learn to include the concept of an opponent(s) with all his/her traits and emotions.

We might also feel that we control objects such as cars and knives, whereas we do not have the same confidence as our opponents. This, however, is another reason why we need to consciously integrate our partners in training so as to cultivate a habit of inclusion and familiarity rather than avoidance and estrangement.

In essence, we practice not fighting an external opponent but rather include them into our brain maps by making them part of our close environment.

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