An `Evil Russian' Trains the Marines: Pavel Tsatsouline, Once an Instructor for Soviet Special-Forces Units That Fought in Afghanistan, Now Teaches Martial Arts to the Corps at the Quantico Marine Base

By Goode, Stephen; Kozak, Rick | Insight on the News, December 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

An `Evil Russian' Trains the Marines: Pavel Tsatsouline, Once an Instructor for Soviet Special-Forces Units That Fought in Afghanistan, Now Teaches Martial Arts to the Corps at the Quantico Marine Base


Goode, Stephen, Kozak, Rick, Insight on the News


Pavel Tsatsouline helps train troops in the U.S. Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, now 18 months old. In the 1980s he was a physical-training instructor for Spetsnaz, the elite Soviet special-forces units, where among, other duties he helped prepare Soviet soldiers to fight in Afghanistan.

Now an American citizen, Tsatsouline has his own physical-fitness and conditioning business, Advanced Fitness Solutions Inc., in Santa Monica, Calif. Marine officers he works with in the martial-arts program jokingly call him "the evil Russian." But it is easy to see the respect that the men and women in the martial-arts program have for him as they avidly seek his advice and follow his suggestions.

INSIGHT watched Tsatsouline work with the Marines one October morning at the Quantico [Va.] U.S. Marine Corps Reservation 30 miles south of Washington. "The evil Russian" explained the exercise he wanted them to perform, then gave the command, "Enjoy!" The splendidly fit young Marines, both men and women, carried out his orders with precision, some of them turning red in the face through exertion but all of them responding by asking for more.

Tsatsouline's approach comes entirely from his training in the Soviet Union and from his own experience. He is the author of several physical-fitness books and videos, and he's a splendid advertisement for the success of the physical-training program he advocates. At 6 feet 2 inches tall and a lean 187 pounds, he moves with the grace he may have learned or inherited from his ballerina mother.

Tsatsouline is a very polite man, an example of what used to be called "old-world manners" or "good breeding." A natural modesty and friendliness rein in but don't conceal his obvious strength and vitality. And certainly "the evil Russian" is a genuinely enthusiastic American: "I really do like it that you can come here, start from scratch and be successful," he tells INSIGHT. Tsatsouline Website is www.dragondoor.com.

Insight: You've trained both Soviet and U.S. troops for special operations. Have you noticed any difference?

Pavel Tsatsouline: No, none at all. Such troops are the same everywhere.

Insight: You worked training the Spetsnaz, the elite special-forces units that were trained in the techniques of infiltration and assassination, among other things. The United States was the Soviet Union's enemy then. Did you foresee fighting Americans someday?

PT: Not really. The Soviet Union had to have an enemy, so they declared America the enemy. But the Russian people have a very long memory, and they remember very well that the United States and the Soviets fought together against the Nazis -- which means the two countries had something going together that other countries did not; so we weren't really planning on fighting Americans, ever.

Insight: Do you get homesick for your native land?

PT: I'm very much proud of my heritage, but I am not proud of the values the Soviet Union established. My father was an army officer, but my family suffered greatly at the hands of the government, and I really do like what America stands for.

It goes back a long way. I'm not really interested in architecture, but when I was young there was an American architecture expo and my parents brought home a brochure. I remember it was during Gerald Ford's presidency. It contained pictures of Chicago with its "corn towers" and its buildings. Somehow that brochure fascinated me and I think that's when I first began to think about America.

Insight: This morning, when you were training with the men and women in the Marine Martial Arts Program, you kept emphasizing that "tension and power are the same thing." What did you mean?

PT: It is the muscle that produces force, and the more tension there is the more force you exert. There are two ways of getting stronger. One is to build a bigger "engine" -- that is, build a bigger muscle.

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