Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Former soldier set to revive UAE interest in Russian martial art

Steven Flaherty wants to start teaching centuries-old combat skill of Systema in Dubai again

Steven Flaherty, right, and another instructor prepare to teach a class during a seminar with Russian Systema expert Vladimir Vasiliev. Courtesy: Steven Flaherty
Steven Flaherty, right, and another instructor prepare to teach a class during a seminar with Russian Systema expert Vladimir Vasiliev. Courtesy: Steven Flaherty

A former British soldier in Dubai wants to revive interest in the Russian combat skill of Systema.

Steven Flaherty, 44, has been studying martial arts since the age of four and was taught by Vladimir Vasiliev, founder of the first school of Russian Martial Art outside the country, and Mikhail Ryabko, chief instructor of Systema Headquarters in Moscow.

Systema is a secretive technique practised by the military and those who seek to live a healthy and disciplined life.

Although no longer taught in Dubai, Systema could be resurrected in the UAE by the military man, who has learnt from the best.

“My dad first came across Systema in a combat magazine article in the mid-1990s,” Mr Flaherty said.

“It was about a Russian man called Vladimir Vasiliev who was the first to bring the discipline to the West.

“Dad contacted Vladimir and he went over to Russia to meet him and learn how to teach it.

“I saw great benefit in Systema compared to other martial arts. It is not technique-based, but more about instinctive movement and a response to how you are being attacked.”

Instructors put students through conditioning drills rather than specific fighting techniques taught in other martial arts.

Defence moves have been developed to counter the weapon of the day, whether that be a sword, stick or another implement.

Its principles focus on movement and how the body reacts to force that can be transferred to everyday tasks.

Systema is built on three foundations of combat skill, strong spirit and healthy body.

A key principle is non-destruction. The discipline dates to the 10th century and has roots in the Russian Orthodox faith. It is also known as poznai sebia, translated as "know yourself".

Historically, Systema was unleashed to repel invaders who used a variety of weapons to try to overrun the Russian people.

The style developed to become a versatile self-defence skill, with no strict rules or rigid structure. It is designed for easy learning, using people’s best assets and instinctive reactions.

Mr Flaherty left the army where he served in the Irish Guards in 2005, moving to work as a security contractor in Iraq until 2010.

It was there he learnt Kravmaga, an Israeli martial art used for close-quarter combat.

Mr Flaherty taught regular classes in Dubai and in UAE schools, before sustaining stomach injuries.

He now works on the health and safety team at LaPerle by Dragone, the acrobatic performance show in Al Habtoor City, Dubai.

“I have been asked about Systema quite a bit, and there is a lot of interest so I’m considering starting a new class,” Mr Flaherty said.

“It helps people to achieve their own potential and I will push people as far as their ability allows.

“There is no ego and I will not accept anyone who is just looking to beat people up. Systema is a martial art, but it is so much more and can improve your immune system and circulation.

“If you attend a class open-minded and immerse yourself in it, you will find huge benefit. It is not for someone who is into mixed martial arts fighting."

Updated: October 16, 2019 03:23 AM

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