Systema Special Article 1:Mikhail Ryabko talks with Japanese Martial artist Yasue Kunio
translated by Syuho Osawa, Peter Shima, Takahide Kitagawa (Systema Tokyo translation team)
Jesus Christ’s “Power of Love”
Mr. Yasue founded the “Kankoji-Shimpo”, a system derived from the Catholic monastery, and practices a vitalizing method based on love. Mr. Mikhail Ryabko teaches that, prayers give power to martial arts. Today, we’d like you two to talk about what prayers and love has to do with martial arts.
Yasue: My Kankoji-Shimpo has its roots in a vitalizing method practiced by a Spanish priest Father Estanislau as a secret method of Catholic monastery. I was taught this method and decided to call it “Kankoji-Shimpo”, and since then trying to master it through thinking and practice. “Kanko” means a circle of light above the head of a saint, and “ji” means a place for religious trainings. Its practice methods are very similar to Systema, and also like Aikido. Its principle is based on Jesus’s words “Love your enemies.” That is, if you sincerely love your enemies attacking you, they will fall down, repent, and cease to do evil. That’s what I heard from Father Estanislau.
Mikhail: Unfortunately, in reality, enemies will still be enemies even though you love them. Jesus, for example, loved all, but some people did harm to him. Jesus prayed to God “Father, please forgive them,” but finally got hurt. So the attacks will not necessarily vanish. But, in my view, love is right because, if you love somebody, you will not do unnecessary things, even when opinions and philosophies differ. You can refrain from harming others in a situation when otherwise you would harm them. I believe that, if you harm someone’s heart, you will lose your own heart. You should never lose your heart in any situation. Soldiers kill people in their profession, but of course they are not doing so willingly. I have talked with many Japanese martial artists, some of them much like Samurais, and yet they told me that they were happy to live in this age because they are not forced to kill anyone. Even ancient Samurais did not always kill people out of their own will. It was their profession. So, even when you do as a profession, you should never let anger or evil sentiments come into your heart, otherwise you will lose your heart.
Yasue: Mr. Ryabko, I have seen a picture of you in your home, praying before an altar of the Russian Orthodox Church. Do you do it because you are a Christian, or because it is necessary for the martial art?
Mikhail: I do it because I’m a Christian, but naturally, prayer is necessary for martial arts. The question is very interesting to me. To believe in God and to rely on God, the meaning will differ from one person to the other, but for me, it means that I wish to be liked by God, I wish God may love me. It’s very important for me to think like that.
Prayer and Breathing, Rhythm
Yasue: When you pray in a church, a chapel, or home, do you sing or read aloud some hymns or psalms, or something like that?
Mikhail: Yes. Not always, but I often do. As Jesus said, I devote my sixth day to God and go to church once a week. I read some prayers every day, and when I can, I read the Bible in the morning and at night. Like Samurais, who spent every morning with a renewed state of mind, according to their Bushido, we Christians have our Christian-do, if we may call it so. The Russian Orthodox Church is said to be rather aggressive and historically closely related to the military. For example, in some eras, there were wars in the name of Jesus Christ. In any country, fighters have their own rules, and naturally Russians are no exception.
Yasue: Among Japanese martial arts, Aikido is said to be the most similar to Systema. Its founder Morihei Ueshiba was a profound believer in Shinto. When he practiced, he was always saying prayer words of Shinto as he was moving. I think sometimes he said them aloud and sometimes just in his mind. Anyway, that’s why god liked him and made him capable of doing things ordinary people can ever do. Something similar must have happened to Mr. Ryabko, I presume?
Mikhail: I‘ve heard that Mr. Ueshiba fought with the Russians and…got captured?
Yasue: Yes, he was captured by Manchurian mounted bandits.
Mikhail: Mr. Ueshiba may have had a new point of view when he came back to Japan after that war. I think that the Russian Orthodox Church may have had an impact on him. Of course, every martial art can utilize an existing prayer, or create its own. Either one will produce a power if it is backed up by strong faith. Mr. Ueshiba was a man of such a talent, so if he saw something, he must have been able to digest it and express it in his own way. But I’m afraid he might have failed to convey his Aikido in its genuine form to someone else. I’m possibly mistaken. It may be that someone has inherited genuine Aikido but I just don’t know that.
Yasue: Mr. Ueshiba was aware of the power of belief, a power enabled by the merger of psyche, I suppose.
Mikhail: When you say the prayer words, aloud or in your mind, your biorhythm changes, and that gives good rhythm to the human body. For example, in Systema we say, “Every breath plays a role.” That means, breathing properly to enter into a certain “zone” or “state” makes you strong and capable of doing marvelous things. That is a common idea between Aikido and Systema. We certainly have inherited teachings related to prayer, but when we teach Systema, we rarely talk about those kind of things in public.
Yasue: Is it a secret?
Mikhail: No, not a secret, but it is not widely known. Since it belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church, we don’t force everybody to join our religion, but practice it only among those who opt to do so. Like the story of Aikido and the Shinto prayers, I’m very surprised that Mr. Yasue talks about martial arts and religious principles. Mr. Yasue is certainly smarter than the people around me. It’s no flattery.
Yasue: Spaciba (thank you). (Laughs)
Faith and Martial Arts
Mikhail: We can get power from two kinds of sources. One is God, and the other is, not exactly the Devil, but what we Russians call “the dark.” Which shall come depends on the words we use. Alex, please come here.
Alex: Yes, here I am.
Mikhail: Here he comes, because I called him. (Laughs) So it matters what kind of prayers we use.
Yasue: (Laughs) Father Estanislau would chant some old Gregorian chants to invoke God’s good power, to form the basis of his arts. Mr. Ueshiba would always chant Shinto prayers to invoke Shinto God’s. Do you have any inherited methods or techniques to keep off the evil in the Russian Orthodox Church?
Mikhail: I carry the cross with me. The cross protects me from evil. There are different kinds of martial arts, some are like sports, some are like cultural activities, some are like performances, and some focus on fights between psyches. The father who chanted Gregorian chants must have been a man who tried to fight by means of his heart.
Yasue: That’s exactly what my teacher told me. He made this cross himself and gave it to me. It’s the only thing I have to remember him.
Mikhail: When we struggle to understand something and pray, God comes and gives us wisdom. Why then don’t I share that knowledge with everybody else? It is because I don’t want Systema to be a martial art centered on the Russian Orthodox Church. Today, people of different backgrounds practice Systema, like Shinto or Buddhism. What would happen if we required them to get baptized to learn Systema? I believe in the freedom to choose religion or God, so I don’t want to embarrass them for that matter. This is the sole reason. I would very much like to talk to everyone frankly and equally, but those who are not baptized simply may not understand fully what I’m saying. But remember, being baptized does not mean that you become superior to other people. You remain the same as others. Even God once became a man just like ourselves, but no one noticed it at that time. The only reason I don’t share that knowledge is that I don’t want to insult or hurt anybody when I explain the connection between the Russian Orthodox Church and the martial art. Well, if it were not with Mr. Yasue, I probably would not have talked about such kind of things.
Yasue: I’m glad to hear that.
Mikhail: I can see clearly what Mr. Yasue is trying to say or to ask. Everybody is in some way fighting against the ego inside himself. I assume that Japanese people may not understand fully what the “sense of sin” means. Most Japanese are used to having rules in their lives, so they may not take “sins” as their own issues. Japanese are generally simple and straightforward by nature. That is a great characteristic, so if they get baptized, their advance will be very rapid. Russians tend to over-think and over-doubt, so their advance is rather slow compared to the Japanese. For example today, a lot of Japanese people have come to know the existence and the depth of the Russian martial art. In Russia, on the other hand, many people are still saying, “Russian martial art? I don’t believe in that.” They won’t believe even if I actually demonstrate it to them.
Yasue: So they won’t believe that the Russian Orthodox Church stands as the background of the Russian martial art, either.
Mikhail: Exactly. Most people do not know that yet. Japanese people have pure hearts, so when they have faith, they will make a very strong country. They have a natural tendency to abide by rules, so if they try to keep God’s rules, everything will go exceptionally well.
Yasue: I hope so, too.
Martial art to unite body, heart and psyche
Mikhail: When I come to Japan, I often go to Nicholai-do (Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo). There I pray, “Japanese saints, please save me, who have committed numerous kinds of sins.”
Yasue: That is very similar to the prayer used by Shinto believers. They call it Misogi (ablution) or Harai (purification), and the founder of Aikido was praying to his god just like that as he practiced. However, when he decided to spread Aikido around the world, he noticed that the existence of a Japanese local religion in front of the martial art would hinder its prevalence, so he cut off the religious parts and only taught the techniques and movements. That helped Aikido to spread all over the world, but the real Aikido was more than just a martial art. It was a system to merge with God, with the help of the prayer words of Shinto.
Mikhail: That is precisely what I meant when I said he failed to convey Aikido in its genuine form. We cannot get the whole picture if we are only shown half of it. Perhaps it’s the same for many martial arts.
Yasue: What are left today are all the halves, although other martial art teachers may get angry to hear that.
Mikhail: They may well be angry, but we should not be afraid to tell the truth.
Yasue: That’s right. And I personally hope that you teach more often, the parts of Systema derived from the Russian Orthodox Church, or at least in a closed circle.
Mikhail: I have a belief that religion is an integral part of martial arts. Everyone has a body, a heart, and a psyche, and those three elements unite to form the martial art. Lack of any one of them makes it incomplete.
Yasue: I agree totally. As Mr. Ryabko said, missing religion, faith, or love, the desire to get stronger and to defeat others will cause evil power to come inside. This is especially true for martial arts. This why we should have faith and love, to receive the power from God. This is what I understood from the words of Mr. Ryabko today. Finally, could you tell me what you plan to do in the future to spread Systema further around the world?
Mikhail: As I cannot understand everything, with my humble knowledge, I continue to pray to God. God knows better than I. I cannot tell the future, but I intend to teach esoteric knowledge only to believers, because only the most intimate people will be able to understand the most important things, while I keep Systema open to anybody, regardless of religion. For example, when you pray in church, people who are not baptized can come in, and they can pray with us just the same. They can start from there and go further. I hope that the martial art to unite body, heart, and psyche will spread gradually this way.
– Thank you very much.