Mikhail Ryabko

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My first exposure to Systema, the Russian Martial Art popularized by Mikhail Ryabko and Vladimir Vasiliev, came in April 2001. I was in attendance at the formal presentation of a Shindo Yoshin-ryu Menkyo Kaiden to Sensei Toby Threadgill in Dallas, Texas. At the party following the ceremony, a group gathered in the living room to watch martial arts videos. At least 20 of us--mostly seasoned martial artists with decades of training experience--watched parts of videotapes of several styles and eventually got to one on a Russian martial art that most were seeing for the first time.

The tape featured a certain Mikhail Ryabko conducting a seminar in Russia for a group of visiting foreign martial artists. Mikhail. a recently-retired colonel in the Russian Army, is a short, stout man with incredible sensitivity whose movements seemed more "aiki"-like than what goes on in most aikido dojos. The husky foreign students on the video were obviously strong, experienced people and Mikhail easily dispatched them in a way that might look faked to the untrained eye. We all were captivated by Mikhail's skills and some very nice compliments were offered by those present. I made a mental note to check out this Systema more in detail at some later date.

A few months later I received an enthusiastic call from James Williams of Bugei Trading Company who had visited Toronto to attend a Systema seminar taught by Mikhail Ryabko and hosted by Vladimir Vasiliev. James, as is well-known to many Aikido Journal readers, has an extensive background in both empty-handed and weapons-based arts and is not easily impressed. He was effusive in his praise of Mikhail and Vladimir and went on to say that he had never seen a teaching methodology that could develop skilled students so quickly. Shortly thereafter, I purchased several Systema tapes featuring Mikhail and Vladimir to take a closer look for myself. What I saw was truly impressive! The scope of the curriculum and sophistication of the techniques were remarkable. Not only did I want to try Systema myself, but I got to thinking that cross-training in this art might be of great benefit to aikidoka so compatible were the two systems. It was a natural jump from there to proposing to James that Systema might fit very nicely with the theme of Aiki Expo 2003. James liked the idea and, on my urging, extended an invitation to Vladimir Vasiliev to join our group of seminar instructors at this year's Aiki Expo. Vladimir seemed pleased at this invitation coming from outside of the Systema circle and accepted.

Since I still had no first hand knowledge of Systema, I talked with James about going to Toronto to meet with Vladimir in person. James, whose enthusiam for Systema had redoubled after traveling to

Threadgill Menkyo Kaiden

Moscow to again train with Mikhail, seemed to be looking for a good excuse to go a second time to Toronto.

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