Russian Martial Art, The Art of Survival, A Way of Natural Living
Introduction to Russian Martial Art
No rank, no rules, no pre-orchestrated movement, no limitations (except for the “Law of Nature”), Russian Martial Art is a system of education in human biomechanics and the study of human behavior under extreme situations. Students of Russian Martial Art are guided to introspect their vision to explore their full human potential. The learning environment is based upon ease, equality and enjoyment. Movement is natural and free, and acquirement of skill is based on the study of Russian folk dances, Slavic folklore, and natural laws of interdisciplinary kinesiology, biomechanics, and psycho-physiology.
In Russian Martial Art, the main goal of a person is to render the adversary harmless while minimizing losses for both self and foe. Students learn to work efficiently in any situation that requires defense, prevention of aggression, or conflict resolution. This is how the Russian Martial Artist returns to the original Law of the community of life. Learning Russian Martial Art, students acquire great power as fighters, but more importantly as a human beings, increasing ones value for health and life, for both self and others. Both in combat and in life, students treat other creatures with awareness and compassion. When necessary, firm action is issued, but never in a callous or careless manner, and when all other option have been considered. “You life is not your alone; it belongs to your friends, family and community” (ibid. Alexander Ivanovich Retuinskih), or as is said in the Cossack Cadet Code: “The life of your friend is always more valuable than your own. You can die yourself, but rescue your friend.” This is the crux and cornerstone of Russian Martial Art: the preservation and harmony with the community of life.
The folk wisdom of ancient Slavic martial traditions dates to the activity of the proto-Indo-European nomadic warrior-hunters of approximately 5,000 BCE, passed recorded from father to son in families for generations of pre-Soviet Russia, and then only among the elite combat specialist subdivisions (“Spetsnaz”) of the former USSR. Only one Americans in history, Scott Sonnon was inducted as an instructor of this long, noble heritage in the attempt to bring the world together in fraternity. The training system, in America, for people of sound mind, improves quality of life, through Russian health system, sport science advancements, and elite combative preparation. In the year 2000, one of the sportive derivations of Russian Martial Art, named Sambo, will be an Olympic sport.
History of Russian Martial Art
Russian Martial Art has a martial evolution which can basically be divided into four periods of influence. The first period of influence can be considered the period of tribal combat. Predating the advent of recorded history combative sports and grappling contests were constantly being held, particularly during holidays and celebrations. The forefather of Russian Martial Art, these skills were passed on from father to son, and comprised tribal rites of passage, from childhood to adulthood.
Between the sixth and tenth century combative sports influenced the connection between tribal combat and hand-to-hand combat skill due to the incessant attacks from the peoples of the North and the West. In particular, a scholar by the name of Prokopiy Caesarean noted the Eastern Slavs to be fearless fighters, rather skillful in close quarter combat. During this same period, the Gothic historian, Jordan, also wrote about the Slavs being courageous warriors.
Not unlike the Chinese, who had their own patron saint of the martial arts known as Bodhidarma, the Slavs, too, had their patron deity, known as Peroun. Martial contests and games held in his honor, led to the inevitable creation of a Slavic school of martial art. The effectiveness of this school of combat was proven by the victories of both Mstislav the Daring over Rededia, the prince of the Kosog people, and of Nikita Kozhemiaka over a Hercules of the Pecheneg people. It is important to note that these sports were conducted without individual competitive success in mind, but for the mutual benefit of the tribe and for celebration.
Also, not unlike Chinese martial art, which were outlawed by the Chinese government during certain periods in history, so too was Russian martial art denounced, this time by religious groups. Religious prohibition, however, could not uproot the continued development of the Russian martial traditions. On the contrary, it was during religious holidays that brave warriors continued to compete in “Wall-fighting” on the ice, Russian fisticuffs, stick fighting, and other weapons skill.
The second influential period in the evolution of Russian Martial Art, known as the Norman period existed from the ninth to the thirteenth century. This period, with the refinement of metallurgy, saw many developments in the Russian martial traditions. Warriors adopted the use of the kolchuga (mail shirt) for body armor, the myech (long straight sword), the shelm (round, hemispherical iron cap) as helmet, and the long, almond shaped “kite” shield. The evolution that occurred during this period was a direct result of enemy attacks from the Western and Northern peoples. The need to adapt to this particular threat demanded the creation of flexible martial tactics, both in preparation and in application.
With the third period of influence beginning in the thirteenth century, the influencial exposure to an Eastern, Mongol and Tatar influenced style of weaponry began to take form. During this time sabre, the Cossack Shashqa (long sword that is halfway between a 17th century saber and a 14th century shamshir [scimitar]), round shields, and eastern style body armor appeared in general use. A special Cossack weapon was also developed that is terribly lethal against the Eastern threat: the Nagyka (lead-filled short whip). The influence is most certainly the result of confrontations between the Cossacks (the semi-nomadic frontier warriors of Russia) and Ghengis Khan and his Golden Horde. The four hundred-year occupation of Russia by the Horde had tremendous impact on the evolution of Slavic martial traditions.
It must be understood that this was an evolution, not an adoption or internalization of foreign doctrines, which took place during the occupation. For example, the Slavic word, “yar”, signified life’s strength and its manifestation. Considering themselves descendants of Dazhdbog, the god of sunlight, they lived by a solar calendar and in combat they used their “yar” strength or energy, which was manifested in their solar plexus. In eastern martial traditions, internal energy or chi has its own focal point, which is located in the lower portion of the stomach, the dantien. Human biorhythms also followed the lunar cycles. However, this coexistence led to the eventual understanding of the enemy. To defend against an enemy, one must know one’s enemy. Much was learned from this period of occupation.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century the third period saw the gradual introduction of Western influences, conversely the influence of the Oriental styles slowly diminished. The continuing refinement of firearms inevitably led to the exclusivity of Russian Martial Art. The case being that it is much easier to teach someone how to fire a pistol, than it is to teach him how to be proficient with autokinetic movement (human biomechanics). At this point, skills began to be taught exclusively by old families that remained true to the heritage of ancient Slavic martial traditions.
It is interesting to note that in Western Europe, Musketeers were distinguished and separated from spearmen, which resulted in significant disadvantages during battle; one warrior had only a defensive weapon or only an offensive weapon. For the Russian Martial Artist, whose training is based on natural movement, any weapon could be employed for any melee objective. This period served to fortify the exclusivity of Russian Martial Art.
Besides firearms, the Russian Martial Artist possessed an array of diverse weapons; the latter ones, respectfully called “honest weapons,” were preferred over firearms. As Suvorov’s old saying goes, “The bullet is for the fool, the bayonet for the good guys,” and reflected one of the important tactical goals of combat–movements which quickly transfer to the venue of hand-to-hand combat, where the Russian Martial Artist possessed a marked advantage.
The fourth and final period of influence, known as the Global period, begins this century with the advent of the October Revolution and the introduction of the Bolshevik regime. During their regime, the Bolsheviks wanted to repress all nationalistic martial traditions of native lineage. The result of this was the creation of a group assembled by Stalin to develop a combat system and national sport that would unite the Soviet State under one combative tradition and one national sport. The sport was Sambo. Russian Martial Art is the mother of Sambo, but due to the influence of foreign “tricks”, Sambo soon became a mere curriculum of techniques lacking any high degree of depth and substance. At higher levels within the military, among the elite combat subdivisions of the Special Forces (“Spetsnaz”), Russian Martial Art remained in practice under the concealed title of Combat Sambo Spetsnaz. Even though classified with the label of “absolute secrecy”, the training was often referred to merely as “The System”.
The contemporary training of Russian Martial Art, culminating from each of these periods of influence and development, is known as ROSS – “All-Russian Native Self-Defense System”. ROSS is the national training system of Russian Martial Art, approved and recognized by the National Olympic Committee of Russia as the only representative of Russian Martial Art, within Russia and abroad.
The original royal family lines of pre-Soviet Russia, during the century of Soviet oppression, were not without alternatives for their sons. Entering their sons into the most grueling and dangerous military teams in the USSR, the Spetsnaz, allowed them to hide the ancient Slavic martial traditions under the appearance of “Combat Sambo Spetsnaz.” The sons of the royal families continued their training among the special operations units of Spetsnaz in order to select elite, trustworthy individuals with which to share the truth about the origin, nature and characteristics of Russian Martial Art. The difference between Sambo and its mother, Russian Martial Art, becomes easily distinguishable to the experienced practitioner. One family, the Golitsin family, survived the entire lifetime of the Soviet Union. Prince Boris Vassilievich Golitsin, in particular, trained few individuals including the Founder of ROSS, Golitsin’s student prodigy, Commander Alexander Ivanovich Retuinskih. Prince Golitsin attended the induction ceremony of the founding father of the American Academy for Russian Martial Art and Combat Skill, Scott Sonnon, to give special insight and training and to offer his personal blessings to Commander Retuinskih’s decision to induct Sonnon as a student of Russian Martial Art.
The Global period of influence dealt with the nature of combat during this century. Therefore, weapons adopted by the Russian Martial Artist included bayonet-equipped AK47 machine gun, the earlier SKS rifle, even earlier carbine, the spetsnozh (special forces knife/bayonet), entrenching tools (shovels), throwing knives, batons, military belts (used as whips and immobilizing shackles), pistols, sword (European sabre and Cossack shashqa), axe. The many wars and battles of this century are a horrific testimony to the effectiveness and longevity of the Russian Martial Art; its vanguards, the trainers and elite operatives of the Russian Special Forces, waged campaign after campaign with epochal success. This period of influence eventually evolved, once again, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union into a form of civilian empowerment and rejuvinated cultural heritage and pride.
The first non-Russian in history inducted into this heritage in the hopes of propagating this Global period of influence was Scott Sonnon, Executive Director of the American Annex to the Federation (http://users.success.net/karamazov, [email protected]) and Executive Director of the American Academy for Russian Martial Art and Combat Skill (http://www.redrose.net/amerross, [email protected]). Now, a British Annex has been formed in the same hope of introducing Russian cultural martial traditions Great Britain. The legacy in the Americas is gaining potency as Mr. Sonnon continues to spread the message throughout the continent.
Characteristics of Russian Martial Art
A metaphor for understanding martial art may be found in medicine: the two approaches, allopathic and homeopathic. The allopathic approach combats the symptom; the homeopathic approach amplifies and utilizes the symptom in the therapeutic process. The homeopathic approach is seen in very few forms of martial art, for it orients not on attrition, not on conquering and controlling adversary, but on non-resistance and amplification. The homeopathic approach does not resist force (symptom or foe). It does not impose force against force or resist force with subsequent force, but finds alignment with the nature of the conflict, empowers it, and guides it to resolution. Only three martial art forms appear to practice this approach: Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan, and Russian Martial Art.
The acumen of Russian Martial Art, as a result of the homeopathic approach, is based upon a unique amalgam of the concepts of non-violence, cooperation, non-resistance and plasticity.
One could interpret Non-violence as being present in certain esoteric Chinese schools of martial art, in soft, natural movement, as well as in the flowing motion of the Morihei Ushieba’s Art of Peace. In the coordinated search for harmony of Aikido and in the soft, sensitive Pushing Hands of Tai Chi Chuan, one can see indications of the homeopathic approach, of preferring internal force over external muscular power. However, Russian Martial Art differs from both the Art of War, which we have seen above, and the Art of Peace, such as Tai Chi Chuan and Aikido. This should be obvious for War and Peace are corollaries of the same doctrine. Non-violence is perpetually confused with Peace. Peace is the cessation of War; and War exists only in the culture of the practitioners of ad baculum (Might Makes Right). A bobcat killing a rabbit is not violence or warfare, though the doctrine of ad baculum would attempt to convince you so. A bobcat killing a rabbit is seen as violent, and therefore not peaceful, and therefore ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. Since War is seen as an innate human condition, and not as the cultural creation it truly is, survival is misperceived as warfare. Non-violence refers to neither War nor Peace, which were exclusively fashioned by a specific culture of humans, not to be found anywhere else in the community of life. War and Peace are two wheels of the same cart, trudging along unstable in its anthropocentricity, ignorance, and doom.
Non-resistance is often confused with passivity and submission. However, once again, this is the myopic lens of a warfaring people imposing the One Right Way of Might Makes Right upon natural behavior. Also, contrarily, there is the opposite pole, within this culture, that advocate, pacifism (until a “just” war or until an “unjust” crime must be stopped, conditions that threaten the cultural lifestyle, but that were created by it and are inextricably intertwined in it). Pacifism is as abhorrent as aggression, Peace as detestable as War, since both are complementary of the same cultural construct. It is this culture, the Totalitarian Agriculturists, that only when situations are ‘Right’, expresses no need for ‘Might’; or more appropriately, to ensure that situations stay Right there is a silent threat [“Cold War”] of Might, and proactive employment of Might to ensure future Rights. As long as this culture of aggressive/passive is not threatened, or questioned, and as long as all other viewpoints are silent (or better, extinct), there will be Peace. True Non-Resistance is ‘going with the flow’ of life. Non-Resistance does not create force, nor oppose force. In this culture, societies go to War in the name of Peace. In this light, it is easily discernible that Pacifism is not Non-resistance; it is merely another form of resistance: resistance through non-action, the silent caveat of action, and proactive resistance to create a future state of Peace.
Cooperation is thought by this culture to promote singularity, when, in actuality, the true goal of Cooperation is diversity. Cooperation is not done in the name of ludicrous altruism, but simply as a matter of biological necessity. There is no concept of magnanimity, no mercy, nor of vengeance or righteousness. In the absence of the cultural paradigm of War/Peace, a dolphin assisting a human under shark attack is no more and no less noble than the rabbit who, though striving valiantly, gives up his life for the bobcat. Cooperation is only possible when we no longer attempt to conquer, control, and rule the World, imposing upon it the cultural concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. True Cooperation is only possible if we exist as equal members in the community of life. Our life does not belong to us alone; it belongs to the community of life.
Russian Martial Art is distinctly different from all other forms of martial art in the value of complete Plasticity. Not merely the absence of resistance, not merely the presence of cooperation, nor merely the position of non-violence, plasticity is pure adaptability, pure malleability. The concept of Plasticity is the appreciation that combat, like life, is dynamic and comprises infinite variables, both internally (infinite scenario variations) and externally (infinite scenario volume). Logic and research shows that survival access to an exact, appropriate response to a threat requires an infinite number of possible maneuvers. The most accurate, recent studies on functional neuromuscular pathways indicate that approx. 8,500 -10,000 repetitions would be required to ingrain merely ONE non-native or “foreign” bio-mechanic (physical activity not specific to a particular individual) into the muscle memory of a human musculo-skeletal frame. This is only for one “technique” (or called “tricks” in Russian Martial Art). Thousands upon thousands would be required in order for an individual to sustain survivability.
Therefore, Russian Martial Art reminds us that we are capable of spontaneous, innovative, original response to every conflict situation. A master of Russian Martial Art is, as a result, though completely vulnerable, utterly impregnable. Not untouched, on the contrary, the Russian Martial Art master maintains contact until a threat is inoculated (made harmless). The master absorbs blows effortlessly, contorts the body to accommodate the threat, manipulates through sensitivity to the subtle alterations in the application of the threat. The premise is that if one understands how humans function in the under extreme duress (Survival Arousal Syndrome) and if one knows the principles of survival, one can create innovative appropriate reposes to any conflict. “No techniques. Pay attention to the principles,” is the cry of the Russian Martial Art trainer.
As the President of the International and All-Russia Federation states in the field manual of Spetsnaz hand-to-hand combat, “All you must do to defeat adversary is stand there. From any position, any move.” Survival Combat is too organic to compartmentalize it into regions of address. In order to move freely, unadulterated by abrasive designations of static training, one must see no barriers, one must possess no limitation, no impossibilities. Due to this concept, and in contra-distinction to all Eastern Martial Art forms, the center of gravity is not ‘hara’ (located two inches below the navel; called the ‘lunar plexus’ in Russian Martial Art). The center of gravity is the solar plexus, granting greater mobility and plasticity to the practitioner. Stances, as a result, are relaxed and varied, and as are there no fixed stances, there are no fixed “tricks”. No techniques, no stances, no sequences, no kata, no ranges, no rules….
As a result of the natural, homeopathic approach, there is a great disparity between Eastern Martial Art and Russian Martial Art in more than just operational strategy; there are differences in pedagogy and training methodics..
In order to return to the state of non-violence, plasticity, cooperation and non-resistance, the training process is more important than the product. In training, the Russian Martial Artist fights without the aim to “win”. This is a concept misunderstood by both practitioners of the Art of War and the Art of Peace alike. “It is the fight for movement’s sake.” Strategy teaches to align with force, decompose the force, prolongate the application and trajectory of force, and redirect the force. Years of uncoordination and stress is unlearned through the rigorous bio-mechanical exercises of Russian Martial Art. There is no stress or conflict management in Russian Martial Art, nor stress or conflict reduction, but conflict and stress elimination.
A heavy concentration is placed upon learning the principles of survival: the nature and climate of conflict, the doctrine and strategies of survival. Mindfulness is emphasized instead of mindlessness of the Eastern martial tradition (‘mushin’). Mindlessness is necessary in forms of martial art that are limited to specific abrasive diagrams of behavior and movement. Mindfulness is available only to the philosophy that accepts no limitations in behavior.
Due to an early understanding of the principles of survival, the Russian Martial Art student gains an early autonomy and independence from the instructor. The student, from the first day of training, exponentially increases in skill and mental state, for Russian Marital Art is not about Information, but Transformation. Practitioners of the Art of War and Peace react violently to hearing this fact. All of the training in the Art of War and Peace is founded upon practice of specific limited “tricks”, or rather on the monitored paranoia and slow-release of information.
The culture of the Totalitarian Agriculturists is based upon the concept of ‘work’. Created by this culture, this concept states that the harder and longer one struggles, the more noble the person becomes, and more wise and enlightened and happy. The notion of ‘work’ is not advocated in this form of martial art. Natural activity is endorsed, which is our biological heritage. Russian Martial Art does not require the pharmaceutical accuracy of decades of long, grueling “work” because the student does not learn limited tricks, but concepts and bio-mechanics (how to become fully human again). The student is not taught some artificial creation, the student is reminded of the natural motions and natural happiness of children. This level of happiness is held in contempt by the culture of ‘work’. Observation of, or participation in, Russian Martial Art conveys that the training is extremely grueling. However, the curiosity for members of the Art of War and Peace is that Russian Martial Art participants are continually, inexhaustibly laughing, smiling during training: during activity others would perceive as arduous ‘work’.
The most violent reaction of the practitioners of the Art of War and Peace comes when they hear that the goal of the Russian Martial Art teacher is to share with the student how to teach themselves. Every student is an instructor. Every student is a master of their movement (our biological heritage), because it is chosen to be that way. Authority and mastery is not deferred to some external figure. Martial art is not something external to be sought (and ‘worked’), nor a curriculum to be learned, nor secret tricks to be discovered, nor massive brawn to be gained. Martial art is within each creature, natural in some, completely Forgotten in the human culture of ad baculum.
Benefits of Russian Martial Art
This ancient form of Martial Art is the Art of Survival. Students recapture natural athletic and learning capabilities, which the Totalitarian Agriculturists, the ad baculum attritionists, the seekers of power over others, name them whatever, believe to be limited to only the ‘virile youth’ who have not yet been introduced to the “real world”, the world of ‘responsibility’, the world of ‘duty and guilt’, the world of ‘work’. Mental barriers learned over the course of a lifetime are broken down by de-conditioning the mind to impossibility, by liberating the student from the oscillating paradigm of aggressive/passive behavior, by confronting culturally-imposed fears, by refining the natural awareness of the hunter-warrior, and by eliminating the culturally-imposed barriers to happiness, ease, grace, compassion, wisdom and harmony. The results of this training are incalculable, though marked by increased stamina, improved breathing capability, enhanced athletic ability, the elimination of societally-induced stress, the permission to be the authority over ones own mind, the permission to question and to doubt, and the development of a spiritual firmness and strong physical presence that is the birthright of all human beings. Every human is capable of returning to the Law of Nature, Russian Martial Art, the Art of Survival, is one path.