Systema Brings Russian Martial Arts to San Antonio


PUBLISHER NOTE: Russian martial arts has arrived in San Antonio! Most readers likely have no idea that there is a form of martial arts that originated in Russia, but now they can learn and experience this unique form of physical and mental training at San Antonio Systema. We asked Michael Gonzales, owner of San Antonio Systema, to share more information about Russian martial arts.

What exactly is Systema Russian Martial Arts?

Systema is a unique martial art that began on Russian battlefields in the 10th century. It is actively taught and used in the top levels of Russian special operations forces. As taught in the U.S., it is a non-competitive self-defense and fitness system that men, women and children can practice.

How is Russian martial arts different?

Systema Russian Martial Arts is based on real-life training concepts, laws of motion and sensitivity to the moment. There is no “technique” and no “forms” to perfect, so the learning curve is generally shorter. Also, when many people think of martial arts, they think of uniforms and stances and belts and lots of expensive equipment. With Systema, there are no uinforms to buy, no equipment, and the training does not emphasizes stances or include “war cries.” Throughout all training, the primary focus is on performing each movement to the best of your body’s ability; we also focus on relaxation and breathing techniques, which are important for maintaining strength and managing fear.

You refer to Systema as a “mindful martial art.” What do you mean by that?

Our practice sessions usually include a series of drills, with some occasional freestyle work. Most drills are done at a slow speed. Slow study creates a fearfree environment that allows the body and mind to learn thoroughly. These are some of the tools Systema uses to maintain an energized and creative state that allows free-flowing and appropriate work. Unlike sport fighting, life is vastly more unpredictable and may demand effort for an extended period of time. One beautiful facet of Systema is that it is designed to work when one is tired, injured or weak.

Tell us about the new Systema classes for kids. Why should my child participate?

I think most people would be surprised at how similar the San Antonio Systema youth program is to our adult program. We teach children ages 6 to 15 many of the same things that we teach in our adult classes.

With our training for children, we focus on fitness, breathing, movement, both on the ground and standing up. We also teach rolls, going to the ground safely, relaxation, escape from grabs, takedowns, wrestling, stick evasion and how to escape from one or multiple attackers. In addition, there are the “soft skills” of focus including discipline, listening, respect, self-confidence and courage.

Systema emphasizes breathing and breath work. Why is that?

Learning to work in a relaxed manner using the breath reduces tension and therefore reduces stress, anxiety, injuries and pain. Systema breathing techniques also create more awareness in your daily life.

What are some of the physical and psychological benefits of Systema?

Systema promotes health by increasing strength without injuring the body. It emphasizes proper breathing and relaxation, which leads to a decrease in injuries and huge gains in stamina. Systema exercises are typically isometric in that they are designed to increase tendon strength and teach proper breathing. Relaxation is also a large component of Systema training. Learning to relax and calm the mind, even in a chaotic environment, has many benefits. Another important aspect of Systema is that it is very compatible with spiritual living, with spiritual living, and with balanced, controlled living. Finally, fear management is a significant benefit. Fear can be one of our largest barriers, and learning to control our fears can improve many aspects of our lives.

Why have Americans not heard of Russian martial arts before?

It wasn’t introduced to North America until the early 1990s. Before that it was reserved for Russian special forces. After the fall of communism in 1991, it became more widely known. Slowly, Russian martial arts is becoming more widely known, and we are excited to share it with the San Antonio community.

Michael_GonzalesMichael Gonzales owns San Antonio Systema, located in Roots Fitness, 2334 Jackson Keller. For more information, including available classes, visit or call 210-789-3009.

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