Spetsnaz Training – Mikhail Didenko

Russian Spetsnaz: “I request an airstrike to my location!”

Who can defeat a suicider? When you fight you usually don’t plan a heroic death, you think about a win, right? Even if you are a counter-terroristic squad member you think about a successful completion of an operation, and about your family who waits for you at home. You want to stay healthy and alive, and death is not a desirable variant. But when you are a suicider, then you don’t care whether your body will be damaged or destroyed. You can let your enemy to break your hand, but to bite his throat. Or even let him to stab you with a knife thus coming closer to his throat again. Does that mean these suicidal terrorists are undefeatable?

No. For example, Alexey Prokhorenko, died a hero after requesting airstrikes to his own location, when he was surrounded by terrorists in Syria. This incident was widely discussed by media. The Russian officer claimed to be a member of famous Russian Spetsnaz (Elite Special Forces). Was that deed a unique thing? Or maybe a result of Spetsnaz training? Let’s get deeper into the Russian history and Russian Elite Forces training.


Officially Russian Spetsnaz was established in 1950 and was included into the mysterious GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff), but technically the special squads of scouts and raiders existed long before that date. They could have different names, but their structure and training were similar (and the differences were dictated by the tasks). Say, Elite Forced of the Soviet VDV (Airborne Forces) would prepare a ground for landing by “cleaning” it, when the GRU Spetsnaz would make a raid or do reconnaissance.

Anyway the main structure of the training was the same (besides experimental groups). It based on the common army NFP (Physical Training Regulation), but any commander could also include his own practices and techniques, sometimes extreme. One of such methods will be discussed in this article.
Main parameters of the NFP-2016:
– Individual Training
– Gymnastics and Acrobatics
– Hand-to-hand Fighting
– Obstacle Zone (Conditioning Course)
– Running and Athletics
– Skiing
– Military Applied Swimming
– Sports Games
The NFP uses point rating system depending on age and other candidate parameters. However we can give an approximate average acceptance test as an example of specific figures.


  • 1. Chin-ups – 25
  • 2. Push-ups – 90
  • 3. Abdominals (flexion/extension) – 100
  • 4. Running 100 meters (Shuttle run 10×10) – 12.7 sec (25 sec)
  • 5. Cross-country race 3000 meters – 11.00 minutes
  • 6. Bench press (equal to own weight, but not more than 100 kilos) – 10
  • 7. Hand-to-hand fighting
    – Demonstration of techniques (punches, kicks) – 2 minutes, using the boxing bag
    – Freestyle sparring including throws and submission holds – 3 fights 3 minutes each
  • 8. Jumping squats (leg changing) – 90
  • 9. KSU (complex power exercises) 8 sequential sets: 10 push-ups, 10 abdominal exercises, 10 squat position-push-up position, 10 burpees. 8 sequential sets without a pause.

All exercises are performed without a pause.


Mostly education consisted of two things: running and shooting. As the Soviet Army saying goes, You must shoot like a cowboy and run like his horse. Of course the soldiers would run with full backpacks. The hand-to-hand fighting was not a main part of the training program. Still the program was so packed that those people were actually undefeatable later in their street conflicts, and some of those masters skills seemed to be fantastic until you saw with your own eyes.

No wonder – only a gifted person with a sports background could be called to Spetsnaz. Plus it should be a smart, intelligent person. Somebody who is a good boxer and a chess player at the same time. Have you met many of them in your life? We also should mention that training supposed to strengthen the morale spirit of soldiers which is the core, the main thing to win.

So, stamina was first and most of these guys didn’t look like Schwarzenegger (or even Rambo). Especially if such a person was also a spy – a regular man needed, who was not easy to notice in a crowd, who didn’t look suspicious. Tall guys were usually selected to “storm troopers” squads when you didn’t need to hide. And a “Conan the Barbarian” cannot run for hours with munitions and weapons on his back. However, it depended on a situation. As one of the Spetsnaz leaders said, The main weapons of Spetsnaz are intelligence and will. So if you would see some of the legendary Russian Elite Forces members on a street you would never recognize them. They don’t want to look like commandoes, they want to be considered real professionals – and they are.


One of the training main parts is obstacle zone (conditioning course). We all know how usual military obstacle zones look like (standard one is of 200 meters long according to the NFP). Usually a prepared soldier can go through it in seconds (especially if attractive girls from magazines make pictures of him). Unlike it the Spetsnaz obstacle zones are longer and more difficult. The distance can be much longer than a kilometer and it takes more than an hour to go through it. Remember, we talk about prepared people who train every day, so a civilian person would finish it in a day or more (if would).

One of the GRU obstacle zone’s length was more 15 kilometers with depressions, elevations, wooded areas (with windbreak), water areas and a lot of engineering structures. Two battalions of soldiers (approx. 700 men) and students of the officers school (approx. 50 men) could train there by weeks without even noticing each other.


Now we will know about an extreme training method which was not an common obligatory thing (it depended on a commander again):

– Naked soldier enters the little room where a rat is waiting for him. A rat driven into a corner is a dangerous thing. A soldier should kill it with bare hands.
– A soldier should eat a frog alive.
– A soldier is put into a coffin with common water snakes (they are not poisonous) for a couple of hours
– A soldier is throttled with a plastic bag after a sparring – of course not to death.

The main education principle is simple as you can see – training should be at least as hard as real situation (of preferably even harder).

Is that the reason for Russian soldiers to die non captured, to direct airstrikes to their own locations? No. The ability to die at war is the common and popular Russian tradition which is described in many films and books. It was used for centuries, and is used nowadays. As the saying goes, Russians don’t give up. Unlike terrorists Russians want to live, but a heroic death (self-sacrifice) is very honored in the Russian tradition. It is difficult to say when this tradition appeared, but it is ancient enough. Maybe it appeared simultaneously with Russia itself. Maybe this is the part of the Orthodox Tradition: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), King James Bible.

VV MVD (Interior Ministry Troops) – their main tasks are riots repression, hostage release and criminals detention.

VDV (Airborne Forces) – their main tasks are air assault, liquidation of enemies, gaining a beachhead
The soldiers in these films are not from Spetsnaz, still you can learn something about the Soviet training.

Universal Principles of the Russian Martial Art – Mikhail Didenko

The Russian Martial Art is based not on techniques, but on the so-called principles. A principle is a versatile formula, a matrix, and a general rule that can be used not only in combat situations, but also in many other diverse encounters. Principles are algorithms that are ready to use.  More than this, principles develop our independent thinking whereby a person or practitioner evolves into a leader. However, this is not an occasion, but a target of the Russian martial art. To win a fight, your style must be unpredictable. You can achieve this by deploying principles that make your mind and movement free. In addition, you can find a way out of any situation not only because the principles are universal, but also because any person is taught that life is a fight in and of itself.

This article explains how to simplify a structure or a process and use this knowledge in self-defense, project promotion, negotiations or even carpentry.

The general principle is to prefer a simple structure over a complicated one and to get rid of any mediators.

For example, try to punch with a palm heel instead of a fist. It makes your strikes safer for you, because you cannot hurt your wrist or metacarpal bones while fighting. Our fists (ossa metacarpi) are too fragile. In the anthropological sense a human being is not supposed to punch, our hands are designed for grabbing things and doing a million of complicated operations. Thus, the metacarpal bones are thin and breakable, because if the bones were solid, we couldn’t use our hands the way we do it now. Writing, molding or platting would have been impossible. So, if you fight in a street and you have damaged your fist against somebody’s forehead, it makes you unable to use this hand for some. But if we exclude the fist and hit with the palm heel you we cannot hurt our hand; thus, we can win. The fist is an unnecessary link here. Our hand consists of three major joints: a wrist, an elbow, a shoulder – 3 joints altogether. Eliminating the fist and immobilizing one joint makes the whole “system” more reliable, as we all know that complicated systems are easier to be brought out of operation or broken.

Before: the wrist (1st link) – the elbow (2nd link) – the shoulder (3rd link).

Now: the elbow (1st link) – the shoulder (2nd link).

Some people study karate, wushu and they are trying to harden their arms, but you cannot cheat the Mother Nature. It would take you at least five years to achieve good conditioning and still nobody could guarantee that you wouldn’t break your hand against somebody’s skull. Palm strikes are not so swift, but they are safe. It can be crucial if we are talking about a street fight where you need to deal with multiple attackers. When we slip and fall down we a support with palms, because we are not afraid to hurt them. At the same time a lot of people are afraid that they can hurt fingers, knuckles or metacarpal bones in a street fight, especially if they have hurt them before. In the Russian Special Forces systems they don’t strike with knuckles by another reason. For example you hurt your arm against your enemy’s helmet, and then your hand turns into “a bulb”, or your index finger is broken. That’s it as you cannot pull a trigger, you cannot use your gun.

Palm strikes are easy to use in darkness, or when you are blinded by blood, or sand, whatever. We can feel where the opponent’s face is when we stand nearby. If we can touch the opponent’s arm, we can “calculate” the location of their face. We don’t need to aim to hit the chin directly. We can smash the face and it hurts anyway. If we punch with a closed fist, we should deliver the direct hit, otherwise the punch is useless and if we talk about real self-defense, one second can be vital.  

Historically fist punches were used in the traditional fights which were a rite, a symbol of the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, Day and Night, Spring and Winter, For example, fights during fertility fests known among Slavic nations.  Later these sacred symbolic fights evolved to sports, like boxing or traditional forms of fist fighting. Such a form of fight has never been used for self-defense. Two guys from one village could fight each other, but they couldn’t use real combat techniques, because they could harm each other seriously, and that would not be accepted, as they were from one clan, one community.

There were fewer people in the Middle Ages and any member of a community was appreciated, especially the ones who could fight. At the same time people wanted to take it out on somebody they had a conflict with and fist fighting was a “safe” way to do it. Also, it was a “safe” way in the medieval Russia to train youngsters (although sometimes people died in such fights). However, they didn’t use it in real fights, when your life was a prize. In a real combat you’d better use other techniques, like a low blow to a groin, which is not permitted in boxing. It won’t be correct to say that boxing or fist-fighting are useless in a street fight. Many times in my life a couple of boxing punches were enough for an opponent, but I had other techniques in my stock like knee strikes, throws, and so on and could help myself if the punch would miss the target.

Yes, masters study all techniques including fist-fighting and palm strikes, but we talk about a usual self-defense situation, and a usual person involved in. It’s better to use palm strikes, because they are effective, simple and do not take long time to learn.

Now let’s progress and talk about the business application of this principle. If you want to present your project to someone (e.g. a potential investor) you’d better to evade dealing with their deputies or assistants, because they are an unnecessary link here. They can steal or misinterpret the conception you want to offer. Try to avoid mediators where possible as they can make it worse sometimes. Communicate directly. Seek the unnecessary links in any system you deal with. The lesser joints, the better.

There is one Russian children’s game which is called “The broken telephone”. Rules are the following: kids sit together in a row and the first one whispers a phrase to his or her closest neighbor. The neighbor transmits the phrase to the next kid, until the last one gets it, and then the last kid should tell it out loud. Usually the phrase is so corrupted due to whisper, that it causes common laughter. This game is a perfect illustration of this principle.  

My Story:

Once I decided to organize a Russian fist-fighting group in a college belonging to Russian Orthodox church… They already had some classes there, but I had some new ideas (some exercises and techniques they didn’t know). Instead of talking to the “big boss” I decided to talk to one of his subordinate teachers, who was younger. I thought we could communicate better.

After our conversation he told me he would call me. But he never did. I called him myself to find whether he passed my suggestions to the main coach. The answer was negative. However, I found out through one of my teenager “spies” in his group that he started to use my ideas without notifying me. When I called him again and told him I knew it he was astonished and had nothing to say. I learned the lesson.

After that case I’ve always contacted to the “big boss” directly – when I’ve first met Mikhail Ryabko, I asked his personal phone number to have a possibility to contact him directly.

Let’s see how it works here:

You (1st link) – an assistant (2nd link) – a boss (3rd link).

Number two is an unwanted mediator, a dangerous barrier. They can do anything – misunderstand your idea or even borrow it.

We can also add one more usual unnecessary link – a receptionist. So, the “system” now is even more unreliable:

you (1st link) – a receptionist (2nd link) – an assistant (3rd link) – a boss (4th link).

As we’re all humans we can say that the receptionist might forget about your message. It happens, doesn’t it?

The perfect “system” is next: you (1st link) – a boss (2nd link). Without a hitch.

“A Spanish speaking bandit held up a bank in Tucson. The sheriff and his deputy chased him. When they captured him, and the sheriff, who couldn’t speak Spanish, asked him where he’d hidden the money. “No sé nada (I know nothing),” he replied. The sheriff put a gun to the bandit’s head and said to his bilingual deputy: “Tell him that if he doesn’t tell us where the money is right now, I’ll blow his brains out.” Upon receiving the translation, the bandit became very animated. “¡Ya me acuerdo! Tienen que caminar tres cuadras hasta ese gran arbol: allí está el dinero.” (I remember now! You should go three blocks to that big tree, the money is there)

The sheriff leaned forward. “Yeah? Well..?” The deputy replied: “He says he wants to die like a man.”

The translator was the excessive link in this story. If the gangster knew English, he could talk directly to the sheriff and save his life.

The same principle also works in communication between friends. If you want to piece up a quarrel with somebody, you’d better not involve any negotiators. It seems to us that everybody thinks like we do, but in fact everyone is a different Universe and such a negotiator can make things worse.  

At the same time if you are a mediator of such a kind you should not to be excluded. For example you have some ties with a person who has enough money, and then another friend offers you to unite to make a project together and to introduce him or her to the potential sponsor. So you should remember that afterwards your friend can think that you are the “unnecessary link.” It’s better to keep the information and never disclose your contacts, and to be useful.

You can use this principle in carpeting, making structures of wood. You can use it in welding, in construction. It depends on what you need: beauty or reliability. A complicated structure is often not reliable; simple structures provide more endurance.  

You can use it just everywhere, including establishing a company or forming your team. For example, if there are too many ” links between a person who takes decisions and a staff member in your company, it might not be reasonable. Say, there are some troubles at the staff  level. The staff member addresses his or her superiors, they pass it on, and finally the information is on the top-manager’s table. What if it’s too late? What if the speed of transmitting the information is too slow? And vice a versa – even if the top-manager solved the issue and took the right decision, it would take some time to be communicated to staff. Time loss results in performance or business opportunity loss. Sure, if your company is global such links are inevitable, still it’s never late to think how you can eliminate the extra “buffers”.

The same method worked at battlefields since the ancient Romans – smaller, but well-trained squads with good interaction defeated large, but disconnected barbarian armies where communication between the units was hard and insufficient.

So, from the battlefields of the past to the modern office the same principle applies: simplify what you do and try to deliver it direct, whether it’s a strike or a business proposal. Polishing this skill takes certain time and requires a good level of observance, but the results will be beneficial.


  1. ‘Boxer’s Fracture (Metacarpal Neck)’ by Clifford R. Wheeless, III, MD
    http://www.wheelessonline.com/ortho/boxers_fracture_metacarpal_neck_1, ‘Boxer’s Fracture’ by Manuel Hernandez, MD http://www.emedicinehealth.com/boxers_fracture/article_em.htm
  2. ”We may conclude, then, that, if this is the better way, and if Nature always does the best she can in the circumstances, it is not true to say that man is the most intelligent animal because he possesses hands, but he has hands because he is the most intelligent animal. We should expect the most intelligent to be able to employ the greatest number of instruments to good purpose; now the hand would appear to be not one single instrument but many; it is, as it were, an instrument for instruments. Thus it is to that animal which has the capacity to acquire the greatest number of arts that nature has given the most useful of instruments, namely the hand”, Aristotle, PA IV, 10, 687a15-23.
  3. T. Agapkina, ”The Myth and Poetic Bases of the Slavic National Calendar” (Indrik, 2002), pages 175, 176
  4. “In spite of those strict rules combats sometimes had deplorable results: fighters could get permanent injuries or even die. – See more at: http://russia-ic.com/culture_art/traditions/1078#.VjJpWvnhDNM”http://russia-ic.com/culture_art/traditions/1078#.VjJpWvnhDNM

Russian Chavs – Mikhail Didenko

Editors note.

Whilst it all depends on a situation Russian chavs (white trash) are very aggressive, but they are usually bluffing. When encountering a really tough guy they will usually back off once they realise they have bitten off more than they can chew. They differ from real gangsters who are serious people – chavs are not wolves, they are jackals. At the same time they are the most frequent opponent the person in the street will come up against.

They are like an Bollywood movie fight – a lot of blah-blah-blah, and minimum of action. Chavs try to impress you telling you scary stories about themselves and trying to look cool, it is certainly a case of style above substance and the style is debatable too. They want to suppress you, to break your spirit, thus winning without a fight. However, most of it just an imitation.

When dealing with them it is important to stay cold-blooded and don’t listen to their bedtime stories, which would make Martin Scorsese envious, most of them are just hoodlums, street punks, so if you beat them it wouldn’t have any consequences as long as you do not get caught that is but let’s try to avoid that. Strangely though, were you to take ‘direct action’ they would just respect you, because you proved yourself, stood your ground, such is the world of the chav. But you never know – some of these bad boys can go to a police station and snitch, trying to squeeze some cash from you, it is never all over until it is over as they say.

According to their pseudo-criminal mentality, Russian chavs cannot beat or rob you right away. Usually they need a formal reason to do, they will try to set you up and reel you in like a fish. For example, you talk the wrong way and they just want to have a little ‘compensation’, you have failed to show them respect and need to pay the fine for this crime, once they ‘explain’ the error of your ways and you are frightened enough you give them your watches or purse by your own hands, in their minds this is then a gift from you to them, not a robbery. They think that would make them more innocent if questioned  by the police and even in the court, because you gave it of your own free will!!

Knowing how they operate, like jackals, is the good news because when you understand the situation goes like this, you have some time to make a decision – to fight, to counter-bluff, to run or something else. Whilst the urge to give them a beating may be strong most of Russians are not that cruel and you can turn a conflict into a handshaking conversation. Just tell them that you respect Russia, and you respect your opponents, you know their game and see the funny side (even if there is not one). Maybe they would invite you to drink with them and you would become ‘best friends’ in a minute, remember Vodka is a great equaliser. Treat them as equals and don’t show your fear. Bluff works for you too.

While an average tourist will not come into much contact with our Russian chavs, they are best avoided with a polite ‘spasibo ne nado’ (thanks I don’t need it) as they can easily switch to your friend to your enemy, a chav can put on the friendly approach, but when you shake hands, he would grab your hand starting to punch you with another fist, most likely with assistance from his sidekicks. So don’t let them to touch you, especially not to embrace, to put their hand on your shoulder, because you cannot control distance in this way, and if they start fight you cannot move or run away. Be calm and careful and don’t relax until your opponents disappeared around the corner, then you can change your diapers.

When you encounter a Russian person in a street conflict, forget all that tolerant pacifistic stuff. Unfortunately, due to GULAG and anarchy in 90-ies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of Russians follow the pseudo-criminal codes of behavior and they have the corresponding mentality. Only two variants are possible: 1. A victim 2. A predator. If you prove you are a predator, it’s OK. It is not necessary to fight, just show you have guts and the intenton to follow it through.

Of course, it depends again and a Russian chess or a violin player is not like that, but we are not talking about average people, poverty has created an underclass here and they need to feed off somebody, like a jackal they choose the easiest mark. Also, remember that these chavs can be in their 30’s or 40’s, but they are still behave on a teenager bullies level, their lack of sophistication both a strength and a weakness for them.

Due to this criminal mentality Russian people always have to be alert, they don’t feel safe and tourists to Russia need to be on their guard too if they stray into the wrong areas. Often ordinary Russian people may seem to be unfriendly and unsmiling but they are warm people once you get to know them, it is just an inbuilt defence system learned over many generations and helps prevent becoming the  victim of any occasional chav. In the Russian society, one cannot show weakness, anywhere, in a street or in an office.   

So if you come to Russia, and please do, but you meet a Russian chav, stand your ground, treat them as equals and remember they can easily turn to be your friends from your enemies and drink some vodka together, PRIVET!! (Cheers).



Street vs. Mat Russian Style – Mikhail Didenko

Here is a brief introduction to the differences between street and mat conditions from a Russian perspective. This will translate for most of you too I guess as violence is an international language. So I will highlight  5 main differences that are important if conflict management goes physical and your previous training has all been on the mat.

1st difference of street self-defense from a sport fight

First of all this is the quantity of opponents. You have only one opponent in a sport fight, and usually there are multiple attackers in a street. And the quantity of opponents is the root problem and difference from a sport fight: different techniques, different tactics, different vision, different mental setting (let alone the street extreme situation which is different as well). Try to analyze your style or school – would its tactics and techniques help you to fight the multiple attackers? If not, I’ve got some bad news.

2nd difference of street self-defense from a sport fight

Then we should pay attention to a surface – can you fall on a concrete with no harm to your health? What if you fall down? What if your opponent is a wrestler? Street pavement is usually made of bitumen which is really hard. Try it if you don’t trust. There are no comfortable mats or tatami. Please be honest – could you harmlessly fall down on a hard pavement? Let alone possible glass fragments or rusty cans which are possible even in a wealthy countries. Could you feel comfortable in a ground fight? Could you easily stand up?

Besides if you fall down you would lose direction for a second at least. At that moment you would be a helpless victim. But if you trained you are OK even in the very moment of falling.

The Russian Martial Arts start from this point – at first we learn to fall (frontwards, backwards, leftwards, rightwards and other directions). Then we learn to do rolls, etc.

3rd difference of street self-defense from a sport fight

Do you think that the biggest guy is the most dangerous one? Sorry to disappoint you, but that is not true. Folks pump iron trying to look cool, but a big biceps doesn’t make you to be a great street fighter. Yes, weight matters in a sport fight – that is why they made weight categories, and a big boxer most likely will do a smaller one. But big muscles can be your disadvantage in a street fight. Why? Because they use weapon in a street, dude! And then everything changes – a smaller, but dexterous person has a chance to evade from a knife, while a heavy, bulky person most likely will be cut. Yes, you can punch or even knock-out your opponent, but he will recover, and you might not.

Some martial arts practice taking strikes or kicks – they harden their bodies to stand the pain. This habit, this reflex can be good in a sport fight, but then such a fighter can reflectively do the same block against a steel bar or a knife…

The legendary Cossacks were dexterous, they didn’t use armor. Instead they evaded from enemies swords and spears and could get anybody at the same time. The Cossacks were the warriors nation. Unlike the Russian peasants they didn’t like to take strikes even in a fist fighting, because as we said before it can make a reflex to take anything from your opponent. If a peasant could afford it as he would never go to war in his lifetime (even if he would, he would go as a simple minuteman), then a Cossack warrior couldn’t afford it.

There is a traditional Russian competition when two persons stand close to each other, and they strike each other in turn. They cannot move their position, they should stand at the same place. They should take all the strikes. The winner is the person who lasts longer. Usually they do it with a naked torso, so everyone can see a damage on their bodies. Well, Cossacks would never play this game. Guess, why.

See the difference between a fist fighter and a warrior.

4th difference of street self-defense from a sport fight

Fighting with multiple attackers demands different vision. In sport combats you can concentrate on one opponent only, but in a street fight you need to check several opponents simultaneously. Central vision doesn’t work here. You need to use peripheral vision and the method of defocusing which was described in the previous chapters. That would help you to see the 180° of 360°, but what about other half? Unlike movies enemies try to attack you at once, preferably from the back.

These are not all possible variants of visual checking of a situation, but we cannot talk about it in this book.

5th difference of street self-defense from a sport fight

In a sport fight you use ‘linear’ techniques, tactics, vision again… You have only one opponent and there is an imaginary line between you. But in a street geometry changes. In a street you are in a circle of multiple attackers. And the sport fight techniques and tactics supposed for a single combat doesn’t work here. In a street you better use hooks, backfists, while constantly moving and rotating at the same time. (Yes – movements are also different.) It’s like you make a protective sphere with your arms. You don’t let to grab you, you block punches, you punch yourself.

Sport techniques and tactics are the best for a sport fight. It wouldn’t be reasonable to rotate in a sport fight, though they use backfists even in MMA sometimes. But why do some folks think that sport techniques and tactics would be good for a real street fight?

Any exercise, any technique is good for a particular situation and for a particular person. Medicine for me can be a poison for you. The Russian Martial Arts make a person to think. Guess you already understand that we better think not only about exercises or techniques, but about life situations and clichés as well.

The Russian Style techniques depend on the following parameters: targets and condition. That is why the Russian Style techniques are difficult to define – it is different all the time.