Russian martial art revived,
Systema, a lost martial art that travelled from Russia to Dubai with the help of a man called Vladimir, could be a hit once more.
As the UAE rolled out the welcome mat for Russian President Vladimir Putin – a judo lover – a former British soldier is poised to revive interest in a combat skill born in the post-Soviet era.
Systema is a secretive fighting art practised by the military and others who want to live a healthy, disciplined life. The discipline dates from the 10th century and has roots in the Russia’s Orthodox Christian faith.
It is also known as poznai sebia, which translates as know yourself.
Steven Flaherty, 44, has been studying martial arts since the age of four and was taught by Vladimir Vasiliev, a leading Russian martial artist and Mikhail Ryabko, chief instructor at Systema’s headquarters in Moscow.
Although it is no longer taught in Dubai, Systema could be resurrected by the military man, who has learnt from the best.
“My dad first came across Systema in a combat magazine article in the mid1990s,” said Mr Flaherty, who lives in Dubai.
“It was about a Russian man called Vladimir Vasiliev, who was the first to bring the discipline to the West.
“Dad contacted Vladimir and he went over to Russia to meet him and learn how to teach it.
“I saw great benefit in Systema compared with other martial arts.
“It is not technique-based, but more about instinctive movement and a response to how you are being attacked.”
Instructors put learners through a series of conditioning drills, rather than a set of specific fighting techniques taught in other martial arts.
Defence moves have been developed to counter the weapons of the day, whether that be a sword, stick or other implement.
Its principles focus on movement and how the body reacts to force, a technique that can be transferred to everyday tasks.
Systema is built on three foundations – combat skill, strong spirit and a healthy body. It is designed to be easy to learn, utilising an individual’s best assets and their instinctive reactions.
Historically, Systema was used to repel invaders who used a variety of weapons to try to overrun the Russian people. The fighting style developed to become a versatile self-defence skill, with no strict rules or rigid structure.
When the Bolsheviks took power in 1917 many national traditions were suppressed, with Systema reserved for military special operations units.
Mr Flaherty left the British army, where he served in the Irish Guards, in 2005, moving to work as a security contractor in Iraq until 2010.
It was there that he learnt Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art used for close-quarter combat.
Mr Flaherty taught regular classes in Dubai and in UAE schools, before suffering a series of stomach injuries.
He now works on the health and safety team at La Perle by Dragone, the acrobatic performance show in Al Habtoor City, Dubai.
“I have been asked about Systema quite a bit, and there is a lot of interest so I’m considering starting a new class,” he said. “It helps people achieve their own potential and I will push people as far as their ability allows.
“There is no ego and I will not accept anyone who is just looking to beat people up.
“Systema is a martial art, but it is so much more and can improve your immune system and circulation.
“If you attend a class open-minded and immerse yourself in it, you will find huge benefit. It is not for someone who is into Mixed Martial Arts fighting.”
Former soldier Steven Flaherty, centre, learning the Russian combat skill Systema on Jumeirah Beach in 2016