Impact of Systema on Professional Training

July 21, 2009 by Brandon Sommerfeld  
I would like to take this opportunity to share with you how Systema has made an impact on the training provided at International Training Incorporated (ITI) in Virginia. ITI, a subsidiary of WSI, trains approximately 5,000 students a year in a variety of disciplines, such as security operations, instinctive and off-road driving, firearms, combatives, protective service operations (PSO), and other specialty courses. Our clients consist of multinational military forces, law enforcement as well as some private citizens. The skill levels of the clientele vary from extremely high level, hard skilled operators to soft skilled professionals, who are working in a variety of high-risk environments.

I have been a student of the martial arts since 1971, and have been designing and developing various combative and defensive tactic programs for the U.S. army as well as in the private sector, since 1983.

In November of 2002, I received a phone call from a very close friend, Dr. Scott Andrews, who told me he had been watching some videos of former Spetsnaz and I should check them out. Now at that time, I had been very fortunate to have trained and witnessed some very talented martial artists and a few genuine masters, and I was regretfully getting to the point where I felt that there was nothing new under the sun. That was until I received a package with the old Knife Fighting and H2H VHS tapes, from my good friend "Doc". Before I finished the first tape I was astounded by what I saw! It was amazingly smooth movement, unconventional styled strikes and take downs, all being done in the incredibly calm and relaxed demeanor of Vladimir Vasiliev. I couldn't believe what I was watching! I watched both tapes back to back, joined the RMA forum and then booked a flight to the next seminar. A few months later I was able to witness another amazing master, Mikhail Ryabko, at a seminar with Vladimir Vasiliev in Toronto, Canada in 2003. I could not believe the level of mastery I was observing from men that young and humble. I was also pleasantly surprised to reunite with some of my longtime friends, who were already training in "The System" or "Systema". Needless to say, I took the Systema plunge, and never looked back.

Three and a half years ago, ITI asked me to develop a combatives program that could meet the array of our client's needs. I was elated, as this was my chance to utilize the principles and concepts of Systema and share them with a wide range of professionals and receive instant feedback. Even more rewarding, was occasionally receiving reports from the field on how this training saved their life or got them out of a dangerous situation.

The beauty of Systema is you can truly tailor the training for mission specific work. Allow me to give you a few examples. Many groups will train in all our major disciplines Sec Op's, Firearms, Driving, and Combatives, anywhere from three days to several weeks. Obviously, the amount of information one can absorb from the one-day class to the five-day class is huge; so all the students receive the fundamental techniques of breathing, form, relaxation, and movement. Most of the students start off feeling that the breathing is the least important aspect of the training, but become quick believers during the Systema drills. Those of us who train in Systema know how the many layers of breath work can help bypass the chemical cocktail our bodies produce during a stressful situation. Our clients get to constantly validate this particular principle over and over again. Watching students holding their breath, while performing an immediate action drill on a malfunctioning weapon or fighting himself or herself while they attempt a one handed reload. Once they take a breath everything they are doing becomes easier and more fluid.

In our driving program we do what is called a surprise drill, which is where the instructor holds a large piece of cardboard in front of the drivers, restricting their field of vision of the road. The instructor then directs the driver towards a series of traffic cones, while accelerating at the speed of approximately 50 MPH. At the last second, the instructor removes the cardboard so the driver can react to the obstacle. I have repeatedly observed the drivers performance improve if they take a full breath, before the instructor drops the cardboard. This result is similar in force-on-force scenarios. This proper utilization of breathing helps the students to expand their security envelope and helps reduce sensory overload if caught by surprise. In the Systema combatives program, there are many more drills, exercises, and scenarios that allow the students to study burst breathing, stretching the breath, holding the breath, as well as, tension and relaxation drills. The evaluations and feedback have been nothing short of outstanding. The only shortcoming is that the clients want more time to train on this material... While many do not receive the full gift of Systema, ITI, along with a few other companies, are planting the seeds of Systema to professionals who go into harms way, to save lives, and attempt to make the world a safer place.

I just want to express my deepest gratitude to Vladimir Vasiliev, Mikhail Ryabko and all of the senior instructors I have had the privilege to work with. It was a dream of mine to incorporate Systema concepts into the ITI curriculum, and for the first time in the twenty-year history of the company, ITI will be hosting a very unique Systema seminar with Vladimir. Held on October 3rd and 4th 2009, "Training Geared towards the Professional" will focus on Confined Space Work with the emphasis on breathing in claustrophobic conditions, Hand to hand short work, both conventional and improvised weapons as well as specialized training being done on our DC-9 plane fuselage, buses, and various makes of vehicles both suv and sedans.

Brandon Sommerfeld Brandon Sommerfeld was a certified Systema instructor under Vladimir Vasiliev, teaching at Russian Martial Art West Point Virginia. He was a combat veteran of the U.S. Army, Special Forces and a Master Instructor.
Brandon passed away January 2013.