I'm receiving the impression that Systema (or maybe just certain branches of it?) has some type of force generation by means of internal energy rather than muscles. However, while information on this topic is abundant for far eastern martial arts, I'm having a hard time locating anything for Systema and I'd prefer to learn more before I start spending money.

What are the techniques and philosophy behind Systema relaxed power generation? Although I have no beef with him, at the moment I am not interested in anything discussing merely relaxation as a means of power generation like the type of stuff Mike Sigman teaches. To qualify as an answer for this question, the material has to espouse something "beyond the physical".

  • The information at martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/104/… may be a bit helpful to you. I am not a Systema practitioner, but my impression is that their technique has less to do with an idea of "qi" or "inner power" and more a matter of moving in a steady and relaxed manner to get maximum efficiency, Apr 12, 2016 at 18:13
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    It might interest you to consider that literally everything that exists is physical. That's the criteria for physical phenomena: that it occurs. To ask "how can I generate force through other than physical means" is literally nonsensical. It's an incoherent thought. No answer can be correct because the question is beyond incorrect; it's so misguided that it's not even wrong. Apr 12, 2016 at 20:42
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    @DaveLiepmann I apologize for my poor wording. I am hoping that a person with the information to answer this question would be able to understand my question in spite of it. I used "beyond the physical" because that's the title of a $40 Systema DVD that apparently discusses some of this stuff.
    – sirdank
    Apr 12, 2016 at 20:53
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    Based on the answers and discussion, I think your best path forward is to spend the $40 to buy the DVD and watch it.
    – mattm
    Apr 13, 2016 at 14:41
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    I set up a Meta question at meta.martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/432/…. Maybe we could move discussion over to there? Apr 13, 2016 at 15:10

5 Answers 5


There is no such thing as force generation without muscles. All animals use muscles to pull tendons which connect to joints. That causes the joints to move in a given direction, which causes limbs to move.

What you may mean is that Systema might use "internal mechanics" in a similar manner that other "internal" styles such as T'ai Chi, Bagua, and Xing-Yi use?

Internal martial arts do not avoid the use of muscles. They use muscle power, but they use it in a different way than external martial arts use it.

Some aspects of Systema might arguably be "internal", because proper full-body mechanics is a universal concept shared by many martial arts at the advanced level. And I do believe Systema takes its techniques in part from other martial arts that are considered internal (Aikido being one of them). But from what I gather, there is no formal training in internal mechanics in Systema.

In Systema, however, there is a lot of training in what they refer to as "internal" technique, which to them is more like a mystical / esoteric force. Their definition of internal is more akin to "psychic" kinds of phenomenon: telekinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance, spiritualism, and suggestion / hypnosis. These aren't the same as what T'ai Chi and the other internal martial arts practice.

As for psychic phenomenon, to understand what they do that looks like telekinesis and/or telepathy, you should look into how suggestion and hypnosis works. This particular topic deserves an entire book. Suffice it to say, it's all bogus. It works only on people who are "believers" in their system and who are highly suggestible. It's completely useless as a method of self-defense. As such, it's a waste of time and a red herring.

Hope that helps.

  • Hi Steve, I know we've discussed this before so I don't want to take up too much of your time. However, on this topic we'll have to agree to disagree. I acknowledge that most of that stuff is bogus but, with utmost respect, I am unable to agree with your assessment of Chinese internal arts and your views on 'internal mechanics'. If you are interested in further discussing philosophy and practice of systema "internal technique", I'd love to hear about it. I don't want to waste your time arguing about internal mechanics, however. Best regards, sirdank.
    – sirdank
    Apr 12, 2016 at 18:43
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    @sirdank Yes, if you're looking for a mysterious, metaphysical "force" that isn't explained by known physical causes, I can't help you. Keep looking for it, and if you find it, come back and post about it. We all want to learn. Apr 12, 2016 at 21:04
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    To add to this answer, many martial arts and combat sports have now been studied from a biomechanical view point, and a lot of the mysticism can now be explained as proper application of forces and leverage. When something is too heavy, you use a lever to move it. In martial arts, many techniques use similar principles to use parts of your own body (or those of your opponent) as levers, allowing you to achieve results beyond the traditional application of physical strength.
    – Dungarth
    Apr 13, 2016 at 2:42
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    @Dungarth Indeed. And it might interest you to know that the internal mechanics of styles like T'ai Chi and Xing Yi involve other ways of achieving mechanical advantage and other interesting mechanical phenomenon. One of its most basic elements is the use of the body's structure, using the muscles mostly just to hold the bones in place. It's like how a stone arch works. Pressing against someone who can do this is like pressing against solid ground. Fun stuff. Not hard to learn, with the right instructor. Nothing mystical or non-physical going on, either. Apr 13, 2016 at 3:07
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    @SteveWeigand - When studying Xinyi Liu He Quan, there was a lot of talk with Sifu about "tendon power" vs "muscle power", which he equated to a debate between internal and external arts. Tendon power is structural in nature, but allows for subtle, but intense, power generation. He hinted that much of the mysticism found in internal arts can be explained by this tendon power. In his word, rooting your chi into the ground so it bounces back and reflects into your opponent is fancy talk for proper posture.
    – Dungarth
    Apr 13, 2016 at 13:35

Every muscle in your body pulls and they only pull. They only generate force while contracting and it's the only way your body can generate force. In order for your body to function, every muscle must also have one or more other muscles pulling in direct opposition and under normal usage the muscles are constantly straining against each other while controlling your limbs.

To generate maximum force in a specific direction then it's necessary to contract some sets of muscles while completely relaxing the other opposing sets, and there are a number of approaches to achieving this behaviour. If the opposing muscles are not relaxed they naturally act as brakes, reducing the force applied.

Sports, and martial arts are full of mythology and mental techniques which help the practitioners perform, co-ordinating the muscle contraction/relaxation. The reality is it's whatever works for you, be it Chi, Internal Energy, visualisation, whip techniques, sports science, or whatever. In general you either have to actually believe it, or at least be able to relate to it for the methods to work. You could search for sports psychology for examples of the kinds of things that sports men and women use today. Not necessarily any more effective than the techniques used in the past.

Chi for example may not be the best concept for westerners to use, we don't in general have the cultural understanding that Asians do about what they believe it is and how they can use it. I personally for the most part use visualisation instead to improve performance.

I won't go into the wisdom of maximising forces on relatively delicate parts of the body.


I've had the opportunity to work out with Vasiliev and Ryabko about a decade. I've since retired, not for lack of satisfaction, but was sidelined by a skiing injury, after which I focused more on career and family.

WRT psychic energy, as explained to me (and I was practicing during the time that video was made in Toronto), it's pretty much anything that will make you move or manipulate someone that doesn't involve physical contact.

Some of that work is pretty straight forward : for example, once people get a taste of Ryabko in sparring, they can get a hypervigilance effect out of fear/respect/bafflement, because his strikes have almost no telegraph and are very hard.

This can make them hypersensitive to feints, dive to the floor instead of take a perceived strike threat (not necessarily a bad option in systema where we don't keep score). On the other end of that his advanced students may react to tells that the outsider won't recognize. Ryabko maybe has some tells but you gotta figure that out yourself.

Other concept to exploit hyperagression, present a vulnerability with a counter technique or evasion in mind. Example, Vasiliev exposed his groin to me, then kicked me in the groin as soon as I thought to kick him. (Vasiliev is very good at reading tells).

There was some Men Who Stare at Goats type stuff Vasiliev talked about in this book, but it wasn't about him, just research he'd heard of during the cold war.

Then there is breath manipulation, using the same sort of herd instinct we use for contagious yawning. I won't get too specific because it costs money (buy the vid).

In the video he emphatically claims not to speak to ghosts or do Jedi tricks, it's all manipulation.

Now as far as internal energy, having done some tjq and a some yoga in equal measure (I now just do yoga) I would say systema equivalent to chi study is the study of breathing. There is a yoga like subset of systema (some might argue appropriated by the Soviets) around this. I got as far as being able to manipulate my heart rate with breathing (they have this in yoga too) but there is likely more. It was around here that we parted, for previously mentioned life reasons.

  • Thank you for your contribution, both the personal experience and the actual content of the video in question. Sep 11, 2018 at 11:35

Qi manipulation, psychic phenomenon, and the like are pure hokum. The only internal forces that people can generate to effect the outside world are via our muscle tissue. There may be some subtle techniques for expressing non-linear movement (e.g. a reeling/coiling strike, or a fa jin/explosive strike), but ultimately the energy is being delivered through your conventional musculoskeletal system. The end.

There is a reason everyone laughs at the nonsense that is Yellow Bamboo.

  • I strongly disagree. Your view is very limited. What you say is the equivalent for having 2 big dudes standing still in front of each other just hitting without nothing else involved. This is not at all how a fight goes. 1. Just lifting one arm has a psychological effect, even if you do not actually use it. That in turn, can cause your enemy to be distracted. You have tactical advantage without hitting him. 2. Muscles require fuel/energy. Energy flows differently from person to person, from muscle to muscle. 3. There's also math involved in all of this, which is another part you ignored.
    – Overmind
    Oct 16, 2017 at 8:39
  • "The only internal forces that people can generate to effect the outside world are via our muscle tissue." The statement is completely incorrect, from any physical p.o.v.
    – Overmind
    Oct 16, 2017 at 8:58

Ok, I'll try to answer from perspective of a similar style, Aikido. The concept you mention is similarly defined in both styles - although to be honest, this exists in all styles. Let me explain.

It all has to do with "atemi". In Aikido, atemi is the act of creating a diversion. This diversion is used in order to get the attacker to do something else - usually, something expected so that the defender can defend against the known response. It has other purposes, but for now, I'll just focus on this part.

So imagine your opponent is coming at you (a bear hug, or is reaching for your throat with one hand and in the other he's got a fist or a knife he wants to introduce to your face.) Your atemi is to throw up a strike to the eyes, for example. The idea is to get him to flinch, and even to grab at your hand. (Off topic, but this is where the "here, grab my wrist" syndrome begins. It's legitimate, but there's more. Read on.)

So let's say he flinches, and to avoid having his eyes poked out, he jerks his head backward - to the point he falls down. All because the defender stuck his fingers up toward the attacker's eyes.

That's the theory, anyway. But let's look at what happened. First of all, such a scenario is unlikely to succeed all the time. The attacker is probably pumped with adrenaline, and is not likely to notice your fingers poking toward his eyes; that would require a micro-focus on a relatively little detail that would, in practice, go unnoticed were the esteemed attacker is drunk, high, on roids, mentally unhinged, uber-angered, injured, or overconfident in his size/strength/speed is better than the defenders. Whatever the case, it is likely that this maneuver won't work. At least, not for this specific purpose. It can work, but it's not likely. It is more likely to work in a controlled environment where said alcohol, drugs, steroids, etc is not a factor. In other words, where the pretend-attacker is probably competently protective of his eyes or throat.

What's more is what the outside observer sees. The observer notices that the defender stuck his hand out, and the attacker backed off. (Also off-topic, but this is where the famous no-touch knockout charlatans capitalize and over-dramatize this effect).

What the outside observer has noticed is that the defender used some sort of internal energy to ward off the attack. It's like the shell game which has the observer thinking the defender has this power, when in reality, it is mildly retained in the attacker.

Looking at this objectively, we can readily see that there is no outside force or internal force or whathaveyou. Do you believe that such Jedi mind tricks and dark forces work? Well, don't let me be the one to keep you from your journey to explore that. But I can say that in this scenario, the mistake (remember, there are many, but I focus on the one related to your question) is to attach a wrong explanation of what is seen, and not use one's intelligence to see the situation for what it is: no transferal of energy, but rather, cause one to use his own energy (and fear!) to ward off an attack.

Did I mention this exists in other styles?

Yes, we see this in boxing. It's called a jab, feint, or fake. You know, to get the opponent to lift his guard so that you can get around it. We have the exact same thing in taekwondo, kickboxing, karate, muay thai... it's ubiquitous. We just don't call it "atemi" all the time, and for the most part, it seems only the Japanese have turned the concept into a science. But it is there. Even Sun Tzu talks of it in The Art of War (see examples in chapter 3, "Attack By Stratagem"); and so does Bruce Lee in his Tao of Jeet Kune Do (“Pretend that you are weak, that he may grow arrogant.”)

Don't fall for the invisible force crap. It doesn't exist. Do you believe what you see whenever a magician gets up on stage? That there is a life force somewhere that lifts the assistant in the air without strings? Of course not. Every magician relies on deception. Physical mechanics hidden in plain sight to make you think there is magic. Of course, even the most intellectual among us like to see a good magic act, and know full well that there is no magic. We like to be fooled, knowing we're being fooled. And because our lives (and eyesight) is not in jeopardy, we gladly accept it. But it is no different.

So I said all that to say this: the internal force you talk of is not possessed by YOU. Rather, it is possessed by HIM. It is the no-touch-knockout guy (the magician) that tries to convince you that he's the one with the power.

You utilize that internal force by creating a diversion (atemi, fake, fein, etc). If he were dead, unconscious, blind, or unaware of your presence, then none of this would work, because he cannot see your diversion. If he were high, drunk, or enraged, this would not work, because he does not have the mental faculties to react in a predictable way, or even understand the diversion you've placed before him. Ever try to create a diversion for a dog throwing him a ball? An astute dog doesn't fall for the diversion. A stupid dog falls for it every time.

Ah, and then you mention something about relaxed power generation. The Chinese have turned this into a science, they call it fa-jing. I believe you asked not to discuss this, as it relates to something physical (an explosive state made more strong because the whole of the body can focus all of the momentum in one direction; were the body to be moving, or be stiff or similarly hindered, fa-jing cannot work because the momentum is not channeled into one direction - it is scattered.)

Nevertheless, there are some (the charlatans and magicians) who tout this as some mystical energy created from being relaxed. It isn't. It's the explosive movement from muscles at relax suddenly being directed into one direction.

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