FightClub Testimonials


I always thought great teachers made great students, but Emmanuel showed me that the reverse is true: great students make great teachers.  Seeing him offer master lessons in his smartly humble way through exuberant revealing of his own daily practices and deep grasp of Systema principles as his Way of Life.  His teaching inspired guts and grit as much as laughter and delight.  A superb expression of ‘mastery’ where these best lessons blended precise words into exact teaching by doing!

Gregory Malszecki, Ph.D

York University, 

School of Kinesiology and Health Science

Dear Emmanuel,

Thank you for ANOTHER great seminar at Eric’s! We learned so much from you again this year. We really like the progression from last year to this year and now we can’t wait for next year’s seminar!

Bev and I will now start going through the whole weekend’s seminar by watching all the video clips we shot and make notes to train from. Between using the seminar videos, the training notes, and working with Eric, this is going to be an AWESOME year of training!

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, and just as importantly, HOW you share that knowledge. You make everyone you work with feel special, like you are trying to bring out the best in them. You are a gifted teacher and we are blessed to know you.

God Bless,

Jack & Bev Gustafson

Hi Emmanuel I am taking this opportunity to thank you on behalf of our team for the very caring and informative session on Saturday. It is hoped that the boys will remember your teaching for a very long time. Your team building was excellent and it reminded me very much of a team building session I had many years ago, which was hosted by Imperial Oil. If I wasn’t almost 73, I would love to learn under your teaching. It would have helped me in my hockey playing and coaching, not to mention my mental attitude.

Again we thank you very much.

Coach Bob Belbin
East York Bulldogs AAA Baseball Team 2017

An amazing school. Emmanuel – the owner and head instructor – is a treasure. If you are in the Toronto area, you owe it to yourself to check out his school. I live in Virginia, otherwise I would be fewer face there. I cannot stress enough, people travel to train with Manny. He is a very highly skilled martial artist, and an even more skilled teacher. Go, train, change your life

Mark Day

FightClub has been like a second home for both myself and my kids for the last six years. Manny’s lessons are life lessons and apply to so much more than self-defense. Whether you’re at work, or school, or out and about you can apply all the ideas you’ll learn to everything you do. And on the off-chance that you do need self-defense… you’ll be ready! From the daily classes, to the specialized seminars, we are very fortunate in Toronto to have the opportunity to study Systema at FightClub. Thanks to Manny, his instructors, and students that attend!

Daniel Lui

When I trained in Toronto, for many years I used to leave class wondering if my skills were sufficient. I often felt that If I were to get into a violent situation I wouldn’t actually know how to handle myself, despite the training. Some days, maybe because of it, overthinking would occur, I’d lose initiative. Being of smaller frame I always simply assumed a stronger angrier opponent would mow me down just by force of intention if nothing else.

I’ve lived abroad for several years now and haven’t had the occasion to train regularly with other Systema practitioners, so I’ve made do with MMA gyms instead. Mixed martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have a particular reputation for being supremely functional and practical in a way that many of the traditional martial arts are not. I’ve always been curious as to how their training methods stacked up against ours. I finally have some feedback.

Now I’m generally not a big fan of comparing styles as it often misses the point, a good teacher is a good teacher, and everyone internalizes different skills in different ways so I think these kinds of comparisons are usually pretty one dimensional. But I’m very curious about teaching concepts and how this prepares us for the world’s diversity. In the past year, I’ve gotten a real sense of the contrast between our training and other forms of martial arts.

In MMA gyms, I met a lot of very fit, very skillful practitioners. There is certainly a beauty and power in the efficiency of a well executed system of techniques. And it is certainly a practical skillset that are taught here. But as soon as we would start sparring or doing more free form training, a certain lack of sensitivity and became apparent across the board, and this was true in several gyms I trained at. The overall mentality was that of trying to execute techniques properly within a competitive framework. I’m by no means a masterful martial artist, but this mentality has a tunnel vision to it that I was able to exploit time and time again against otherwise superior opponents.

Take for example a simple grappling exercise. Each partner has one hand on the back of their partner’s neck, and the other hand rests on the partner’s bicep. From this starting point we try to jocky for position and throw the partner if the right leverage is found. There are a number of moves and responses to those moves that can get the job done, typically we’ve spent the last 20 minutes learning them. Now we’re trying them out in a free form situation.

As we sparred, while I was sometimes outpowered, or simply ran out of stamina before a fitter opponent, but overall I was surprised at how well I held my own against some much larger, stronger, or fitter opponents. I credit that success to the most fundamental aspects of our training. While I was not great at memorizing complex sets of movement, and was often a hapless Newb during the technique drills. But none of this mattered in sparring scenarios. very simple footwork and knowing my distance and posture often was enough to cancel my partner’s initiatives.

We train from feeling. I understood how to constantly shift my position in subtle ways to maintain my sense of freedom or comfort. It’s become instinctual. I understood how to fit into spaces. I knew my distance. If I lost ground and had to take to the mat, I did it comfortably.

But the holes were more apparent in open ended sparring sessions (which I really had to talk coaches into letting me try, they were often very hesitant to do so). My experience of sparring with MMA types, is that of an exchange of a shared set of memorized techniques, so whoever is stronger or more technical takes the exchange. In the right hands, this approach has a deadly efficiency, there is no doubt at all in this regard. But in the meantime, there is a total loss of creativity, unseen opportunities everywhere. If I was sparring with a partner and we ended up in the above mentioned grappling situation, they would go straight to the various arm techniques to try and get leverage at the chest and shoulder level, because that’s how you’re taught to do grappling. Instantly I had some advantage if focused on my legs instead.

I think the takeaway for me is to appreciate just how in Systema, we’ve developed a deep understanding of movement as communication, not simply self defense, or combat sport. We’ve been taught this from the first class, we did not have to wait ten years to begin to appreciate this fact. I always thought this was a beautiful aspect of the training, but since my exposure to other clubs and different schools of martial arts, I’m beginning to realize that it’s not just pretty philosophy, it’s supremely practical.


“As a person and as an instructor he [Emmanuel] is TOP NOTCH and I recommend that anyone who has the chance to visit his school or one of his seminars goes. It will definitely be a life changing experience.”

David Strachan
US Navy Special Boat Team 20 Training Dept LCPO

“Without doubt, the fight skills that you are able to equip your students with are both incomparable, effective and a real world practical line of self defense”

Joseph Gulesserian, MBA

“I’ve never stabbed anyone before. But feeling the heft of a Russian bayonet in my hand, I think maybe this will be my first time. After all, the small, sturdy guy keeps taunting me. “Just try to stab me,” he says. I’m the one holding the razor-sharp knife. So I lunge. But he grabs my wrist, bends it backward and painfully redirects the knife back toward my gut. I’ve lost the fight, but learned a lesson at East York Fight Club, a different type of martial-arts gym, where there are no white uniforms, no black belts, no kanku katas, or tournament trophies. Just fighting. Lots of it.”

Rob Shaw, Reporter – TORONTO GLOBE and MAIL

I have a lot to thank for the Fight Club and the System, it has helped me feel as a though I’m a better person and given me the ability to “see” the good in people, and the bad in people as well, and how to deal with them (the good and bad). It still amazes me after doing this for one and a half years that even though I still get pummeled with strikes how humble it makes me feel. I guess humility does bring out the best in everybody.

What I’ve learned so far in my year and a half journey is quite simple: No matter how big, strong, fast, or powerful you may be, you are just as fragile as anybody else. And when you realize that you get a better appreciation for this grand gift that our parents have given us called life. Or at least I did.

So, in closing I’d like to thank Emmanuel for opening the FIGHTCLUB, through you I not only gained an excellent instructor, but also a good friend.

John Katsavos

On the weekend of 3-4 Dec 06, I went to a Systema seminar taught by Emmanuel Manolakakis in New York at the Fighthouse. I hope that I can find the right words to describe just how amazing this seminar was. I have been to seminars taught by Vladimir Vasiliev which were very powerful and moving in the way he teaches and the way he is with people. Emmanuel’s demeanor is similar to that of Vladimir’s in the way that both are very friendly and have a calmness about them that brings a sense of inner peace before you even start to train. Emmanuel teaches similar but yet different in his own way. As it goes when you learn Systema or so as my understanding has it, you do not learn specifics as in this is what you do and how you do it. Rather you learn generalities in the way of the principles, concepts, and movement which when you further break those down for yourself to your own specifics you make Systema part of you.

Everyone is able to have their own ownership in Systema which makes it so diverse and never ending. Emmanuel has learned and continues to learn Systema from the best and has made his own interpretation of the System that stands out. He never said nor appeared to portray greatness even though his movement and ability to teach and share his knowledge seemed great to me. He is a very powerful man in mind, body, and spirit yet he is such a humble man that it was such an honor and humbling experience for me. Emmanuel has a subtle approach of teaching and at helping you to relax so that you may understand and perform at your best.

During the two days we covered ground work, knife, striking, kicking, and multiple opponent work. He would start with exceptional warm ups that prepared you directly for the upcoming training. The drills started at a very basic level and logically grew from there continually prepping you for the next event. Everything was in simple terms but if there was any misunderstanding, he was easily approachable and eager to help you find the right path. He would continually interact with the students and assist them or help them to grow further if they were ready. As a person and as an instructor he is TOP NOTCH and I recommend that anyone who has the chance to visit his school or one of his seminars goes. It will definitely be a life changing experience.

Very Respectfully & God Bless,

David Strachan
US Navy
Special Boat Team 20
Training Dept LCPO

In December 2004 my wife Petra and I took a plane from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Toronto. The reason: training at Vladimir Vasiliev’s Russian Martial Art school. During his European seiminars I had already the opportunity to work with Vladimir, but some force pulled me to Canada. Anyway, during the first training session on Monday morning, Vladimir suggested that I’d also go and train with Emmanuel, so I could train more. Well, o.k. but who’s Emmanuel? During that training session, a short, strongly build guy with the looks of a Southern-European (Italian, Greek, Spanish) joined the class. I recognized him. He was on some of the video’s which Vladimir produced. “That’s Emmanuel” and Vladimir pointed at this man. During the class I worked with Eammanuel and that felt very good. After class Emmanuel gave us some information and we could come already the next day for the morning class.

So the next morning we took the subway to down-town Toronto and after a short bus drive we arrived at Coxwell’s FIGHTCLUB. At first it reminded me of some typical American martial arts schools, e.a. the entrance, a small office, some picture on the wall and behind that the training room. But there was something different. I felt welcome and at ease, where in most American gyms you get the feeling to have to prove something. But not here. Vladimir’s school has that same atmosphere, so the teaching of the ‘master’ were heard by the ‘student’. And also Emmanuel’s students where listening to their ‘master’s’ teachings. All in all it created something which learning theories based on neuroscience call a “positive emotional learning climat”. For the record, brain based learning considers this as one of the most cirtical conditions for learning. People do not learn when they don’t feel at ease at first. It is something of which I think Russian Martial Art as thought by Vladimir and Mikail. And Emmanuel understands this concept very well. As soon as the class started I saw that this guy knew where he was talking about. I experienced Emmanuel as being very creative with combining training drills and concepts of Russian Martial Art.

Therefore, next to all the classes at Vladimir’s school I also attended all the classes I could at Emmanuel’s FIGHTCLUB. This created for me a top of the top learning experience in the time I could spent in Toronto. Emmanuel showed me the more ‘technical’ concepts of the Russian Martial Art, where Vladimir worked with me on the more psychological or emotional concepts.

So thanks to all the students of FIGHTCLUB and we could work with and special thanks to Emmanuel, who’s fighting and teaching competences are only exceeded by his modesty and helpfulness.

I’ll be back (soon)!
Dr. Jan Bloem

Human Movement Scientist, Psycho Motor Therapist
State certified (level 5) martial arts and self-defence instructor level
Teaching and advising position at the Higher Institute for Sports studies Advisor to Ducth Olympic Committee concerning
instructor courses of Dutch martial arts organisations (state certificate)

Special guest instructor for the Dutch Police forces and their instructors

This weekend Emmanuel Manolakakis came from Toronto’s Fight Club to teach the Bear Creek Systema Study Circle, as arranged and hosted by the Circle’s instructor, Brian King.

It was a beautiful jewel of a weekend! Emmanuel distilled the very best of Systema down into a 2-day, 4-hours-per-day format. We covered extensive and incredibly creative forms of “warm up” (actually this is extremely advanced energetic cultivation work, in the disguise of unbelievably varied. surprising and fun “physical” challenges). That segued smoothly into coverage of every point on the Systema spectrum – defense against knives (which is the base paradigm of all Systema defensive movement work), extensive groundwork, all kinds of work on escape from holds, releases and attacks, body guard and “door” work types of scenarios and on and on and on our cup runneth over as it says in the Bible.

And with all the many training weeks I’ve spent in Toronto and Moscow and all seminars I’ve taken over four years, well, you always think maybe there can’t be anything “new” but there was! Much new stuff, and all very fun.

Hey – these seminar reviews can get dull right? “It was so great blah blah blah… ” You-had-to-be-there syndrome is kicking in, isn’t it? OK, so let me dish you out just ONE “take home” game for your own work. Something – (just one of many) “new” things (to me) that were incredibly fun and educational. Here’s a freebie, courtesy of Emmanuel.

Very simple. Two partners on their knees or sitting, one has a knife. Now the one with the knife throws it to the other. The receiver needs to catch the knife and roll immediately, as part of the catching motion. The pitcher needs to throw it out of range so the catcher needs to really dive for it! Dive, catch, roll – GO ! It was SO fun!

The version I have provided you here is actually just one arbitrary variation I’ve randomly selected from a whole family of knife catch-and-avoidance drills that Emmanuel taught. It was so great, what can I say?

Now you got your hard-cash “take home” freebie, so you can forgive the rest of my generalized raving in this note.

Satisfied? Still not enough? OK one more… Grab a stick and thread it through both sleeve holes of your t-shirt, from the back so it lies across your bare shoulders Eric Hansen (another attendee) wittily observed that anybody who can thread their own stick with no help from a partner will be automatically awarded a Black Belt in Systema. Anyway, then roll (start from knees) backwards, forwards, hands in “cuffed” position back and front, etc. This teaches you to roll softly over hard junk that could be on a surface, such as stone that could break vertebrae. It was a new one to me!

Way too many to write here.

Well, all I really want to say is that to me, Emmanuel embodies the highest teachings of Systema. His approach to his students reminds me so strongly of the way the highest senior students of Mikhail work with us in Moscow. They work so gently, smiling, soft-spoken, but with incredible power – for just an instant, when needed. Now you feel, it now you don’t. You’ve heard of the “Velvet Revolutions” in Eastern Europe? Emmanuel is Velvet Systema – just the way I think Mikhail wants it to be!

We thank and thank and triple thank Emmanuel for taking his days, trekking across the Continent, doing it for us. And we thank Brian King for making it all possible.

At the end, we all basked warmly for a minute in Emmanuel’s praise for our little fledging local Systema scene in this scenic backwater of North America.

Emmanuel – we loved every minute of it! May you live long and prosper. My thanks to you, my teacher.

I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the training you have given me at “The Fight Club” over the last year. Being the President of a Consumer Product and Brand development firm, your invaluable expertise has given me a constructive release from the demands of my professional workload, while learning a system of defence that could save one’s life.

Without doubt, the fight skills that you are able to equip your students with are both incomparable, effective and a real world practical line of self defence. As well, this system that is taught to the “Russian special forces” moves the student up the learning curve quickly and effectively.

This being said Emmanuel, what sets things apart and makes it a pleasure to come to your club is the genuine passion, interest and patience you have for teaching this incredibly creative and effective art.

At the same time, what I would like to bring to light for both current and prospective students, the intrinsic qualities in the Russian system that can touch one’s life in such a positive way. While learning to fight, one learns patience, respect, humbleness, resiliency, confidence, inner peace and the intricacies of the human spirit, hence, fostering qualities that will serve one well, both on a personal and professional level.

To this end, it is not one particular aspect that resonates with the system you teach, but the totality of the offering. For anyone who is interested in learning an un-rivalled system of self defence, while at the same time learning about themselves, I most recommend this art.

In the meantime, I want to thank you again for your teachings and wish you the finest of continued success.

Kind Regards,
Joseph Gulesserian MBA

toronto systema training

401 Donlands Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 416-200-0200


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