Introduction to sambo
Written by: Mike Bailey
Art by: Grappler
Sambo originated in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s. The word “Sambo” is actually an acronym for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya, which literally translates to “self-defense without weapons”. The Soviet army used this system to train their soldiers, which was intended to be a combination of many other styles of martial arts.
Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov are most responsible for developing Sambo into what it is today. They each developed different styles but later blended them together to create modern Sambo. Oshchepkov’s system was called “Free wrestling”, a form of catch wrestling. Oshchepkov also learned judo from Kano Jigoro while living in Japan and incorporated much of what he learned into his own technique. Spiridonov’s style was softer and required the practitioner to use less strength.
There are two major forms of Sambo: Combat Sambo and Sport Sambo. Strikes are not allowed in Sport Sambo, which is the principal difference between the two. In Sport Sambo, the focus is more on grappling with your opponent. While you can’t do any form of chokehold, you are allowed to submit using various leg locks. Throwing your opponent using judo or wrestling techniques is also encouraged.
Combat Sambo is more akin to MMA. Opponents employ a combination of striking and grappling to score points. The sport is seen as brutal, because they allow headbutts and groin strikes in addition to elbows and knees.
A Sambo practitioner will have to wear either a red or blue kurtka or sambovka, along with wrestling style shoes and shorts to match the color of the kurtka. Unlike some other martial arts, there is no belt ranking system. Ranking is entirely up to various sport organizations, depending on experience level.