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FightClub Donlands

FightClub offers Systema, a Russian martial art taught by owner Emmanuel Manolakakis. When I walk into the gym, he shakes my hand and brings me into his office, a cubicle sectioned off from the main gym, to tell me more about the club and its fighting style.

There are only 3 major Systema gyms in Toronto, and Emmanuel asks if I've ever tried it before. I have, at Vladimir Vasiliev's Systema Headquarters (the first Systema school in Canada). I learn that Vladimir was Emmanuel's instructor, and that he regularly visits the school for training.

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The gym itself is a good sized space. The floor is completely matted, and a fitness area houses free weights and kettlebells. The class size is decent, with enough people to offer partners of every size, but not feel crowded.

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Emmanuel is incredibly friendly and this carries over to his students. Everyone works hard, but I don't feel like anyone is showing off. I get offered advice multiple times, but never feel talked down to.


During class, I don't feel like I'm learning new techniques so much as being encouraged to get more comfortable with myself and my partners. The class offers ample opportunity for this, as partners switch every few minutes, and almost all exercises are cooperative.

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Walking is used as a gentle warm up as well as a break between exercises. Emmanuel's philosophy is that walking is something that you can do anywhere, unlike exercises like yoga or tai chi.

Jogging around the gym, we watch and mimic our partners movements. It takes my mind off of the actual exercise and lets me last longer than I would normally, while improving my awareness and peripheral vision.

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Some drills that I've only seen in Systema include using your fists to walk along the wall or a partner. At first this seems intense, but I quickly learn that the objective isn't to destroy our knuckles (or partners), but to learn how to apply and receive pressure without injury.

We perform some grappling and kicking drills. Both share the same philosophy: attackers use less than full power, and defenders do what comes naturally. Where other styles teach dodging or blocking, Systema teaches to roll and sink with attacks, or deflect with minimal effort. Emmanuel works with a senior student, and while it looks intense, neither is getting injured or even breathing heavily.

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Afterward, students sit in a circle and say what they liked about the class. You can tell that Emmanuel puts a lot of stake in the feedback of his students.

After class, I asked about fees. While Emmanuel told me that he prefers prospective students to try a class before talking price, he didn't make me jump through hoops. Fight Club offers 4 payment options:

  • Taking 1 class/week costs $350 for 6 months or $600 for the year
  • Taking 2 classes/week costs $650 for 6 months or $1000 for the year

As Systema doesn't involve gradings or uniforms, there are also no hidden fees.

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. Writing by Dan Cosgrove. Photos by Jesse Milns

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