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Interview by Anna Kravcova

Eastern culture has always been a subject of particular interest and attention to those in the West. As the centuries went by, the East remained covered with an aureole of mystery. Oriental people were keeping their precious knowledge secret, so that no one could use it against them. As a result, still, despite the good intercultural relations, mass media and Internet, we know very little about this part of the world. Yoga, Buddhism and Kung-Fu are only the tip of the iceberg. In reality there are very many schools of thought which still remain undiscovered. One of these schools is Syrsanat, the secret art of Genghis Khan’s bodyguards. There is only one real master in the West that possesses complete knowledge of Syrsanat – Grand Master Alexander Akilov – and he is living in Israel. There are only several people taught by the Grand Master, and one of them is living in Riga.

Yuri Friedman-Sarid, born in 1953, graduated from Saint Petersburg National State University of Physical Education. He has practiced all kinds of martial arts – Karate, Combat Sambo, free-style wrestling and Viet Vo Dao – for thirty years. Yuri started to learn the art of Syrsanat 19 years ago, and presently he is one of the few scholars of the Grand Master who is allowed to teach Syrsanat to others.

The Baltic Times sat down to discuss the mysteries of Syrsanat with the master.

Could you explain what Syrsanat is, what is the idea behind it?
Syrsanat is the “secret craft, art, science,” its meaning in Circassian. According to the Western state of mind, it has three components: philosophy, medicine and martial arts. In Eastern understanding these three notions are inseparable. It has a completely different division: the art of protecting the soul, feelings and body. The knowledge of martial arts is 3,000 years old, while medicine and philosophy are even older. It is considered that this originated in India and then travelled to Tibet, Inner Mongolia (the Republic of China) and Central Asia. Masters of this martial art guarded the caravans along the Silk Way. Genghis Khan’s bodyguards, the so-called “thousands of the furious,” also practiced this art. Syrsanat is divided into two parts. One is available to teacher’s apprentices, and consists of the practical knowledge necessary for everyday life. It helps a person to be successful in all the areas of modern life, to not make typical mistakes which can ruin his happiness. The other part is still kept secret. It contains its own understanding of God and the universe. Traditionally, the Grand Master can pass it on only to his heirs.

Why was it kept secret for so long?
Any knowledge is a powerful weapon, and it is very important for it not to fall into bad hands. On the basis of Syrsanat rests medicine, and the science of acupuncture. One and the same points in the human body are at the same time the points of cure and of killing. One can use it for both good and evil purposes. Thus, Syrsanat became a family secret, a kind of profession which was passed from one generation to the next.

Does it have anything to do with religion?
Although Syrsanat has its own understanding of God, it has very much in common with all the world teachings, such as, for instance, Suphism and Kabala. Syrsanat also has its own code of ethics and rules of conduct. However, it does not support any dogma. The notion of life after death is perceived only as a hypothesis, since none has yet returned from it to prove it. According to Syrsanat, we must be skeptical of any knowledge. It has to be tested by seven feelings. In addition to the commonly known five feelings, in Syrsanat there are two more: mother wit and time. Thus, if your five feelings are saying that this knowledge, teaching, is good and truthful, and if your mother wit and time prove it, only then can you leave your skepticism aside and believe in it. Knowledge is also classified into three sub-groups: true, false, and true but unnecessary. Since human life is relatively short and limited, Syrsanat teaches not to acquire the last two.

In what way is it different from other martial arts?
It has several significant distinctions. Firstly, this art is based on the natural movements of the human body. There are no artificial movements, such as a high leg stroke, which is difficult to perform. The main principle of Syrsanat is harmony. Every person has its own harmony. For this reason it is the only martial art that does not have any criteria for performing techniques. The only criterion is your own comfort. Secondly, male and female techniques differ. Women’s nature, both physical and mental, is not the same as man’s nature. For instance, it is unnatural for a woman to hit with her fists. Even training must to be organized separately. Men and women cannot practice in one room, since they will not focus on fighting, but will think of impressing each other instead. Finally, Syrsanat does not separate hand-to-hand and armed fighting, as other martial arts do. The technique of movement for both fighting is the same. This system is universal.

Do you have any competitions?
There can be no competitions with this type of art. Classical sparring of any martial arts, such as karate or kung fu, is conventional. Syrsanat cannot be conventional. This is the real fight, the ultimate purpose of which is to escape danger, and neutralize the enemy. It has no rules or limits. For instance, one is allowed to hit the assailant in the eyes, or below the belt, which is unacceptable and too dangerous in friendly sparring. The other reason why it is impossible to organize any kind of competition, or, in another words, fake fights, is because every blow here foresees a certain reaction by the opponent. If there is only imitation of the blow, no reaction follows.

Do you think that it would be good if Syrsanat was more popular, as are other martial arts, such as karate and kung fu?
Syrsanat is quite popular in certain circles. However, it will never gain such public fame because there are no beautiful dresses with hieroglyphs, colorful belts or other fascinating attributes.

What is Syrsanat’s medicine like?
It is the synthesis of ayurvedic, Tibet, Chinese and Avicenna medicine. However, some aspects differ. For example, in Chinese medicine there are five elements: fire, water, air, metal and wood. In contrast, in Syrsanat there are three basic elements (fire, water and wind) and four combinations: fire and water, water and wind, fire and wind, and the sum of all three together.

What areas of life does Syrsanat touch?
Syrsanat touches all the areas of life, starting with rules on how to run a business, select a partner, raise children, and ends with how to die.

Is there any guidance to correct nutrition?
There are certain rules. It very much depends on the physiological type of a person, his age, the climate in which he lives in, etc. Generally, breakfast should take place in the time period from 9 to 11 a.m., and it must be the most substantial meal. Lunch follows in seven hours, and it must make up only 50 percent of breakfast. Dinner, in its turn, should make up half of the lunch, or there should be no dinner at all. Similarly to modern diets, it is advised not to eat before sleep. It is allowed to eat in the evening only in case you cannot sleep because of hunger, since good sleep is more important than diet. According to Syrsanat, every food can be both a cure and poison.

What does your teaching say about friendship?
There are seven friends. Firstly, it is true knowledge. Secondly, it is health. If you do not possess the first you may lose the second. Then money. We are living in a material world, and one cannot deny that it offers very many opportunities. Friend number four is martial arts. Number five is a dog. This is the most devoted friend, one which will never betray you. Furthermore, it is a friend tested by time, money, women. Finally, your mother.

How do you find your scholars?
There is a Chinese proverb which says that when a scholar is ready, the teacher appears. I do not find my scholars, they find me. I do not have any special selection. However, there were cases when I refused to teach several people. It is strictly forbidden to teach those people who have mental twists or a tendency to sadism. Time has proved that I have been right in my decisions.

Did you have an opportunity to implement your skills in a real fight?
One of the main rules of this teaching is that you should avoid fighting whenever possible. One of the sections of Syrsanat contains different psychological techniques, which teaches how to calm the opponent and remove aggression. There were cases in my life when people wanted to attack me, but I was very successful in implementing these techniques.

What would you recommend to people who happen to be in danger, in a street fight, for example?
First of all, I would recommend not to provoke such cases yourself. One should always try to avoid fighting, or escape from it. If it is still impossible to avoid, the main rule is not to be afraid. Fear is enemy number one for you, which is more dangerous than your assailant. Then, if someone attacks you because of a robbery, and there is a danger to your life, do not be sorry to part with your belongings, since no treasure can be more precious than your life and health. Finally, use all the objects around you to protect yourself.