To Toronto with James to meet Vladimir

Vladimir Vasiliev

On October 10, 2002, James and I boarded a plane for Toronto to spend the weekend training with Vladimir and his students. We scheduled a time to meet with Vladimir privately to conduct an interview and to explain in greater detail the concept behind Aiki Expo 2003. I had high expectations about Vladimir based on what James had told me and my viewing of the Systema videotapes. Vladimir didn't disappoint. He is one of the finest human beings I've ever met and a credit to the kind of person that Systema develops. His skills are astounding and in perfect consonnance with the philosophy of aikido. He never opposes an attack, but blends and leads the attacker into a fall or submission. Vladimir is humble but with complete confidence born of his many years of training and exposure to life-and-death situations.

Out on the mat I found the training in Systema to be very rigorous. It includes lots of pushups, situps, varied breathing exercises, and body strengthening exercises. Since it is so demanding, anyone who seriously trains will become very fit quickly. The techniques themselves are applied with wave and spiral-type motions which can transform into a cascade of follow-up movements depending on the reaction of the attacker. An important part of training time is devoted to light, sparring exercises that are quite enjoyable and constantly challenge you to resist the temptation to use power. Systema techniques performed at the highest level use only the minimum amount of energy and operate largely on a mental/psychic plane. Also, the variety of training scenarios is vast ranging from empty-handed attacks, to the use of various street and military weapons, multiple attacks, car-jackings, bodyguarding work, etc.

You name it, Systema has a body of techniques to deal with it.

Vladimir has produced a series of more than 10 videotapes featuring Mikhail Ryabko and himself that are highly recommended.

James and I and two other visiting Americans were invited to Vladimir's house for lunch on Saturday afternoon. His gracious wife Valerie and their three girls comprise the other members of the close-knit Vasiliev family. We had a chance to talk at length and I found Vladimir to be a deep thinker and, by nature, very spiritual. He also has a terrific sense of humor. Although not at liberty to discuss most aspects of his military career, he did relate a few episodes that underscored the life-and-death nature of some of his assignments.

Like Mikhail Ryabko, Vladimir is also a religious person. From visiting his home it was apparent by the prominent placement of Russian Orthodox icons that religious observances are a daily part of his family's life. Having an intimate relationship with the Creator is an essential tenet of the Systema philosophy. Here are some quotes from a booklet he published a few years ago that touch on this theme:

Religion is [also] important. Realizing that, despite your skills and experience, you are still below God is essential. Humility must be served. Staying in contact with your "good" side and regular prayer are essential to a true master of the Russian Martial Art...

Vladimir Vasiliev

Certainly, not everyone who practiced these arts became good and respectful of God and nature, but the best masters did. When you reach a very high level of training, you come to understand that there is something beyond you. This understanding brings you to new levels of ability.

From The Russian System Guidebook, by Vladimir Vasiliev

Quoting Mikhail on religion during our conversation, Vladimir also related this semi-humorous and very perceptive remark: "[Mikhail] says, 'There are no atheists in the trenches. Soldiers think of God 'just in case.'

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