Is Systema Better Than Krav Maga? (Complete Comparison)

Systema and Krav Maga are two popular self-defense systems. The former has its roots in Russia, while the latter originated in Israel. But is Systema better than Krav Maga?

Systema is better than Krav Maga because it is not focused on technique and instead relies on eliminating excess tension in the body and allowing the body to respond naturally to an attack as opposed to being locked into specific movements or techniques.

But there’s a lot more to know.

I’ve practiced Systema (among several martial arts) for almost 9 years, although I admittedly have not done Krav Maga.

Read on to discover if Krav Maga is similar to Systema and whether Systema is effective in a street fight. We will also explore if Krav Maga is the deadliest martial art.

Let the fun begin.

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Is Krav Maga similar to Systema?

Krav Maga is similar to Systema in the sense that, unlike traditional martial arts, both are devoid of rigid rules and unnecessary movements. They are both self-defense systems originating from the military and are concerned with subduing an opponent as quickly as possible.

But, there are substantial differences.

Krav Maga is more technique-oriented, while Systema is more fluid; it’s principle-oriented. Systema also has several styles, while Krav Maga has two main flavors: one taught to the civilians, while the other is taught to the military.

Systema originated in a Russian Orthodox Christian environment, while Krav Maga is a product of Jewish culture.

Krav Maga is about how to use aggression and the most effective technique to quickly crush an opponent. Systema, on the other hand, is more about balance and being alert to the most opportune time to unleash a strike.

Systema’s approach is similar to Aikido’s when it comes to focusing on how to use minimal energy to achieve maximum effort. And the goal in Systema is not necessarily to kill or be killed.

In fact, in the Russian military, they saw significantly lower incidents of PTSD due to the practice of Systema and its focus not only on self-defense but also on healing.

In Systema, the goal is not to rely solely on brute force but to act as a lever and leverage the opponent’s momentum and energy against them.

It’s more strategic and holistic than Krav Maga.

Is Systema effective in a street fight?

Systema is very effective in a street fight. This is a program that is used to train the Spetsnaz (Russian special forces) to be deployed when they have to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Elbow strikes, knee strikes, headbutts, joint-locks, choking an opponent, and more are all fair game.

But really, it’s about having so little excess tension in your own body that you’re more sensitive to your opponent and where they are placing their tension.

Then, in a fluid and natural way, you simply execute a strike where they are holding the most tension. That could be in a forearm, thigh, or along the IT band on the outside of the legs.

Systema originated in a country that is known as tough.

Striking, punching, grappling, takedowns, and how to disarm an opponent are taught. Some styles also teach how to handle weapons.

Systema practitioners are taught how to use their bodies efficiently and are likely to have an edge in a street fight because they have learned how to be calm and thoughtful even in the face of grave danger.

It’s about accuracy, fluidity, and relaxation.

Because they have learned how to control their breathing and move swiftly and effortlessly, they can easily evade the opponent’s attacks and launch counterattacks.

When you launch at a practitioner, because of the training on how to move their bodies, they often simply guide the hand or leg away from them gracefully.

Systema practitioners do not make fancy (but wasteful) Kung Fu moves but are intelligently trying to subdue an opponent at the most opportune time. This could mean waiting until an assailant is close and headbutting them!

Some moves are so deceptively simple but super effective. One of such moves is to stand firm as an assailant is about to hit you.

You’re focused on their face as they throw the punch, you pretend as if you’re going to block it, but your aim is not to block it, but rather to trip them or kick their shin, and then punch them as they fall!

Why does Systema sometimes get a bad rap?

Systema sometimes gets criticized for looking “fake” in YouTube videos, where practitioners seem to do very little to get dramatic results. But most who criticize it have never trained it and know very little about its principles.

Online, especially on the Instagram page for McDojo Life, you often see Systema criticized.

They might show a video of Mikhail Ryabko, largely considered the founder of modern-day Systema, and he appears to be doing very little while sparring partners fall around him, dropping like flies.

Now it is true that some Systema practitioners see him in such high regard that it’s akin to hero-worship. And they may well do whatever they need to do when working with him to make him look good.

But that does NOT mean Systema doesn’t work or that he’s not incredibly skilled. McDojo Life also likes to pick on him for being overweight.

But really, because Systema doesn’t use specific techniques or choreographed movements the way other martial arts do, it’s much harder to learn and grasp unless you’ve worked directly with a Systema master.

I was fortunate enough to work with Systema teacher Gene Smithson who is fantastic.

Is Krav Maga the deadliest martial art?

Krav Maga is deadly. However, strictly speaking, it is not a martial art but a self-defense system. Its guiding philosophy is: “whatever works.” It is about leveraging fast-acting simple techniques to incapacitate an attacker. There’s no consideration shown for the attacker.

Krav Maga was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, who was into wrestling and boxing. He developed it originally to help Jews protect themselves against antisemites if they were physically attacked.

The Israelis, as you know, regularly get embroiled in conflict. So, they had to adopt a super-effective form of defense, or they may not survive.

There’s hardly any other form of self-defense that has been, and that is being actually tested in battles.

Practitioners of Krav Maga don’t have the luxury of trying to live in harmony with folks who are trying to kill them.

Krav Maga was developed by the military, the Israeli Defense Force, and is being used by many military forces. That should tell you something.

It’s a system that has incorporated techniques from a variety of other systems such as Boxing, Wrestling, Karate, Judo, and Aikido. It’s a deadly mix.

Consider, for example, that groin kicks are a part of what you’ll learn. It doesn’t look nice or harmonious if you ask me, but you’ll agree that it’s deadly in a real fight.

It’ll instantly “cripple” your opponent. The goal is to quickly neutralize the opponent by focusing on weak points in their body. You’ll agree that a kick to the groin would do that.

Many people are not familiar with this form of self-defense. You’ll see a lot of contests and competitions on Judo, Karate, and the usual suspects, but not on KM because the techniques are lethal!

It’s not like the neatly choreographed and fun martial arts we enjoy watching. It’s focused on how to fight real-life contests with one or more assailants, armed or without weapons.

Interested in knowing more about how deadly Krav Maga can be?

That’s the theme of a recent article where I explored it at a more in-depth level and delineated some of the differences between it and Systema. But I also revealed if Krav Maga’s aim is on how to kill!

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Does the Spetsnaz use Systema?

The Spetnaz uses Systema. Spetnaz is the counterterrorism group of Russian special forces. Because there are different styles of Systema, the variant the Spetnaz uses has been modified for its purposes and is naturally different from other styles.

While based on self-defense methods, it also involves modern combat applications, meditation, and breathing techniques. It’s focused on efficiency and not just aggression.

As such, its ideal is that 75% of internal energy is combined with only 25% of physical energy. It lacks the dramatic flair we’ve come to associate with martial arts.

It’s about smartly, calmly subduing an opponent.

The roots of Systema dates back to the Cossacks, who, not surprisingly, were warriors. It’s fitting that the Spetnaz would embrace and refine Systema. In addition to equipping practitioners with combat skills and how to be in better shape, there is also a focus on self-development. As such, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of the practitioner is taken into consideration.

What if you prefer Krav Maga, can you do it with a bad back?

Check out a recent article I published. In it, I explained whether you could start it after a disc herniation and if martial arts are good for back pain. But I also revealed if you’ve got to be fit before you can learn Krav Maga.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Is Systema harder to learn than Krav Maga?

Systema is much harder to learn than Krav Maga. Krav Maga focuses on a small number of simple but deadly techniques to incapacitate an attacker, whereas Systema focuses on using breathwork and internal awareness to release tension and does not have specific techniques.

Krav Maga can be learned in a few months. Systema, on the other hand, requires lifelong learning.

It’s a bit counterintuitive because it’s unlike Krav Maga, where aggression is a dominant drive, and you’re expected to decimate an opponent as quickly as possible.

Systema is more balanced.

Practitioners are calm and strategic as they’re trying to find the most efficient way to subdue an opponent. Most of us easily equate fighting with aggression.

So, it would probably feel unnatural and time-consuming before we can maintain a calm state even when we’re faced with danger.

One other reason Krav Maga is easier to learn is that it does not cover as much as Systema.

Systema also includes learning how to make more efficient use of one’s body through relaxation and constant movement. Breathing, body positioning, movement, and relaxation are some of the areas practitioners learn about in Systema.

And practitioners are also trained on how to handle weapons and disarm opponents.

Systema is a holistic training program. It’s more involved and more subtle than Krav Maga. Consequently, it’s harder to learn.

Say you decided you’ll learn Krav Maga, by how much would the classes set you back? 

Check out a recent article where I shared how much KM classes cost and why they’re expensive. But I also revealed the equipment you’ll need.

Just click the link to read it on my site.


In the article, we explored if Krav Maga is similar to Systema.

And we looked at whether Systema is effective in a street fight and why it sometimes gets a bad rap. Then, we also checked whether Krav Maga is the deadliest martial art. We found out if the Spetnaz uses Systema.

Lastly, we wrapped things up by considering if Systema is harder to learn than Krav Maga.

Photo which requires attribution:

Esquive kick systema by DanFernbanck is licensed under CC4.0 and was cropped, edited, and had a text overlay added.


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