By Cathy Richey, the Cathy Factor
This Russian styles of martial arts date back to the 10th
century. Throughout the history of this huge country, Russia had
to repel invaders from the north, south, east, and west. All
attackers brought their distinct styles of combat and weaponry.
Battles took place on different trains, during freezing winters
and sweltering summer heat, with the Russians often greatly
outnumbered by the enemy forces.
As a result of these factors, Russian warriors acquired
styles of fighting that combined strong spirit with extremely
innovative, versatile, and sometimes gruesome tactics.
Systema ( Spetsnaz), is the combat, movement, and
conditioning system taught to elite Russian Special Operations (Spetsnaz)
units. It is a fast growing martial arts in the USA - exploding
in popularity after being featured on Spike TV's Deadliest
Warrior: Green Berets vs Spetsnaz, the Discovery documentary
Secrets of the Secret Service, and the Richard Gere spy thriller
Created in 1974 to act independently of the Red Army,
Spetsnaz once epitomized the menace and power of the Soviet
State. It was the U.S.S.R.'s secret weapon during the Cold War.
Spetsnaz helped the Soviets overthrow the government of
Afghanistan in 1979 by storming the national palace in Kabul and
gunning down President Amin and his family. In 1985, when
terrorists took over the Soviet embassy in Beirut, a Spetsnaz
strike team infiltrated the embassy, abducted four of the
terrorists and sent one of their decapitated heads in a bag to
the terrorists' leader.
Even today, Spetsnaz is perhaps the most exclusive and most
secretive military unit in the world. Comprised of snipers,
explosives experts and close-quarters combat specialists,
Spetsnaz handles counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, sabotage,
and reconnaissance missions. They operate in Chechnya and the
Russian breakaway republics, and there are rumors of Spetsnaz
operators in Afghanistan that were helping with the hunt for
Osama bin Laden. A March, 1999, Time magazine story about
Spetsnaz soldiers freelancing as muscle for the Russian Mafia
called them "a sinister force" and the "perfect killers."
There are stringent standards required of anyone assigned to
Spetsnaz. Potential warriors must be secondary school graduates,
intelligent, physically fit, and "politically reliable." Upon
induction, they will be asked to sign a loyalty oath in which
the inductee acknowledges death will be his punishment for
divulging details about his service. After induction, a few will
be selected for an arduous, six-month-long NCO school. Those not
selected for NCO school receive training in their units. In
addition to basic military training, they will be trained in the
following specialized skills:
- Martial Arts: Hand-to-hand combat, silent-killing
- Sabotage using explosives, incendiaries, acids, and
- Infiltration techniques, including defeat of locks and
- Foreign language and culture.
- Foreign weapons, tactics, and vehicles.
- Reconnaissance and map reading.
Spetsnaz are not well known within the Soviet military, they
do not publicize their existence and capabilities. Russia has
denied it even exists. Their uniforms are not distinctive, with
ground forces Spetsnaz usually wearing airborne or signal
troops' uniforms and naval Spetsnaz wearing naval infantry or
Their ethnic makeup is likewise not distinctive and to some
degree reflects the ethnic characteristics of the intended
target. For example, Spetsnaz units in the Far East are alleged
to have available North Koreans and Japanese from Manchuria and
the Kuril Islands.