Column: Systema — A real-world Russian personal-protection system



When I first heard about the Russian martial art “Systema” there were only rumors — whispers about new, secret fighting techniques being taught to the Soviet Spetsnaz commandos that were both simple and extremely lethal.

Little did I know that the roots of Systema, Russian for “The System” of course, date back to the 10th Century. While Spetsnaz commandos — including their elite Alpha Group — are devoted practitioners, Systema’s principles work incredibly well for everyday folks looking for a Alexbetter way to defend themselves and their families.

Alex Popeskou, founder and CEO of Berkoot International Protection Agency, has been teaching Systema at his Sarasota office and dojo since 2003. He’s quick to point out it’s much more than a martial art.

“Systema is a lifestyle,” he says. “It’s much more than punching and kicking. You become 100 percent responsible for your own safety.”

Alex served as a warrant officer in a Soviet airborne special forces unit during the 1980s and 1990s. If you’re familiar with Red Army operations during that time period, you know what that duty entailed.

He studied modern Systema directly from one of its two founders, and has has trained hundreds of men and women in its techniques.

To be clear, Systema is not a sport like judo or karate. Instead, Alex says, it’s an “umbrella” of personal protection techniques, which are easily tailored to suit meet each student’s needs.

Some Systema instructors, he explained, focus more on firearms. Alex, who has a background in executive protection/bodyguard work, focuses on teaching his students how to keep themselves safe at home, in their car and at work.

I was immediately intrigued by what the system doesn’t use. There are no katas, bowing, multi-colored belts or exaggerated fighting stances. Movement is economical, fluid and based upon what works in the real world.

Once they’re ready, students train with real knives — sharpened blades — in addition to machetes, hammers, chains clubs and more.Alex2

“Why train to defend yourself against a rubber knife?” Alex asked, which to me makes perfect sense.

The techniques don’t depend on physical strength and they’re effective — very effective. While he preaches situational awareness, deescalation and conflict avoidance, if one of his students ever has to use their Systema, the fight will end very quickly.

Alex offers group classes and private lessons. The latter he tailors for the individual student. If they carry a defensive firearm, he’ll incorporate drawing from concealment and firearm retention into the lessons.

In my humble opinion, Systema can be an extremely effective new tool for anyone’s self-defense tool box. I’m signing up.

Note: The Gun Writer TV episode 19, which we hope to publish later today, will feature a video interview with Alex and a look at his classes.

For more information, go to or

— If we don’t run into each other at the range, you can reach me at (941) 284-8553, by email at or by regular mail, 1741 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You also can follow me on social media at or or watch us on our new YouTube Channel.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The Gun Writer TV episode 19: 'Systema' - a real-world Russian self-defense system - The Gun Writer

Leave A Reply