The English veterans of the Shanghai Municipal Police used their experience of gangster fighting to train commandos in hand-to-hand combat during World War II. They set the foundations for modern martial arts discipline. Since then, Krav Maga has sprouted in Israel, Systema in Russia, and Sanshou in China.
There is a gap of 900 years between Krav Maga and Systema’s origins. Both have gained popularity amongst martial arts enthusiasts due to their efficiency in self-defense against assailants. However, the two disciplines employ varyingly different approaches to subdue threats in close encounters.
Each of these martial arts styles has its roots in established striking and grappling disciplines. They have absorbed different principles from various techniques for application during hand to hand combat. There are overarching overlaps but differences in philosophy, tactics, and styles. In the rest of this article, we will focus on two of the more famous combat styles, the Systema and the Krav Maga. Let’s start!
What Is Systema?
With origins in Russia, the Systema combat system can call itself a millennia-old. It prides itself in not having strict rules and is adapted from person-to-person. This is because Russian warriors had to fight in various climates and terrains against contrasting invaders over the centuries.
Systema tactics are designed for fast learning and hone in on fine-tuning reflex actions and individual attributes. The ideology is to eliminate tensions and stresses while invoking personal endurance and movements for maximum impact. It cannot be practiced under the influence of emotions, and the individual has to be calm.
In philosophy, Systema shares a lot with aikido but differs in technique. The moral code defines the practitioner as a professional who uses the art to defend rather than inflict unnecessary damage to the opponent. It requires one to rid of elaborate ruses and asks to embody precise and efficient movement for maximum impact.
With its moral code ingrained in every aspect, a trained individual is titled as a True Warrior, strong in combat skills, at peace in mind with a healthy body.
What Is Krav Maga?
Compared to the Systema, Krav Maga is a relatively new fighting system. Developed for the Israeli security forces, this art is adopted by Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Israel Police, Civil Guard, Shabak, Mossad, Military Intelligence, Emergency Services, Israel Prison Service, and Knesset Guard amongst others.
It is focused on modern real-world situations and renowned for its principles of extreme efficiency. Imi Lichtenfeld gave birth to Krav Maga utilizing his training in boxing and wrestling along with street fighting experience. It began with the training of Jewish immigrants to Mandatory Palestine.
Krav Maga is interdisciplinary in approach and teaches simple techniques that can be picked up rapidly to military conscripts. Over the years, the different arches of the Israeli military have derived their own variations to the basic tenets.
Its philosophy is one of aggression, physical and emotional. It does ask the practitioner to avoid conflict at all times but in a situation where it cannot be circumvented, the individual is not to suppress his emotions. Krav Maga trained personnel are instructed to act quickly and end the confrontation as quickly as possible.
Be sure to check out our article that explains how good Krav Maga is for self-defense in detail.
What Equipment Is Needed for Systema and Krav Maga?
An individual cannot prepare for unforeseen events where they have to utilize their specialized training. With both Systema and Krav Maga used in self-defense, one has to condition their body for such events.
During training, arm guards, gloves, groin guards, head guards, mouth guards, shin guards, pads, and shields are employed to perfect striking and become self-aware of pressure behind attacks.
Systema has evolved over the centuries and teaches a person self-defense in all conditions against all threats. From empty-handed combat to keeping adversaries with knives, rods, and guns at bay, it encapsulates a wide range of threat avoidance. While Krav Maga is still in its infancy, it borrows heavily from traditional forms of martial arts. The equipment can be interchangeably used.
During the course of teaching, learners are trained with blades that they can carry. Training blades of different materials are suggested. Any substance that can bend should be avoided, for this reason, one should steer clear of rubber blades as they do not increase one’s spatial awareness. BladesUSA has knives, swords, and sai that can be used. Similarly, short and long sticks are also used for single and double hand practice. The GoSport padded stick is a good starting point. Whips, canes, swords, and chains are also used to hone in one’s instincts in combat.
Differences Between Systema and Krav Maga
The origins of Krav Maga and Systema have one thing in common, they are designed to keep the attackers at bay for the survival of Israel and Russia, respectively. The two are hybrid combat arts but this is where the similarities end. They are different philosophically, tactically, and stylistically.
The biggest difference between Systema and Krav Maga is in their philosophical approach. Systema is centuries old and its focus is not just self-defense but an individual’s improvement as a person. Combat training is a part of a Systema practitioner; it does not embody his/her whole existence.
One proficient in this Russian discipline learns to control his instincts, his reactions are reflex but it is all a spiritual exercise. It is a violent act but instructs the actions to cease once the rival has been subdued. This is why it is stressed that one is calm and devoid of emotion in an altercation. It is reactive in nature and not proactive.
Comparably, Krav Maga is a military exercise. Its workouts are based on threat elimination. One has to subdue the exigency as soon as possible. It prefers a proactive response to ‘completely’ incapacitate the opponent. Krav Maga was born out of necessity, in a time where compassion was a matter of life and death during anti-Semitic riots.
Systema does not use pre-defined techniques as it is dependent on an individual’s logical movements. The reflex actions are trained for maximum efficiency in subduing threats, to the individual or to the assailant.
The techniques that are taught are designed to improve movement in the learner so that when the time comes, he can use them based on his best judgment. Modern Systema borrows heavily from the Cossack fighting methods in spatial awareness that allows a quick win.
On the other hand, Krav Maga has a wide range of punching and kicking techniques that one can learn and employ in standard situations. There are ideologies on stances, neutral and agitated. A variety of punches and hand strikes techniques are used to disarm and incapacitate the attacker. There are defense techniques as well as efficient ways to fight on the ground.
While Systema is adapted to the situation, Krav Maga requires one to take matters in their own hands. One has to be proactive in the Israeli martial arts while the Russian methodology preaches conflict resolution through psychosomatic patterns.
Herein lies the big stylistic differentiator between the two practices. Action and reaction. Watching Systema makes one wonder about the movements of the person, the logic for each is dependent on their body’s responses.
While Krav Maga allows fluidity in choice, the approach is defined. It uses the most efficient mannerisms from aikido, boxing, wrestling, judo, and karate to subdue a threat.
Both are used for close encounters but with varyingly different approaches. A Krav Maga practitioner has a range of moves to choose from for his defense. On the other side of the coin, a Systema student has a range of movements that are personally suited for him to address a situation.
It is also interesting that their origins are similar in that their origins are similar, coming out due to the need of the time. While Systema became a living philosophy for the Russian residents, Krav Maga is following a similar trajectory.
All Israeli nationals are taught its basic tents, with some techniques limited to the defense forces. The Systema practiced by Russian armed forces has a strict regimen but is very secretive and not taught to people outside the military. However, the Israeli Defense Forces Krav Maga manuals along with instructors have made this martial arts discipline popular amongst the masses.
The difference between the two can be summed up with an analogy of two fighters. One is akin to a naturalized street-fighter, guided by his instinctive reactions with movements that favor his body and ingrained reflex actions. Conversely, you have another street-fighter who is proficient in a range of moves that he has practiced for close combat defense.