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What is Sambo?

Sambo was invented by the Soviets during the time just after the Revolution in Russia, and was seen as an example of the Socialist dream to reinvent traditional arts on a scientific model. Sambo is similar in many ways to Judo and Jujutsu, but is also said to incorporate traditional Russian wrestling techniques as well. The man generally credited with teaching and introducing Sambo in Russia was Vasili Oschepkov, who was also one of the first Russians to learn Judo. Oschepkov taught these techniques to Russian Special Forces and Commandos during the period between the two World Wars.

The name “Sambo” derives from an acronym in Russian which means “combat without weapons.” These techniques were used by soldiers initially and gradually formed a sport sanctioned by the Soviet Union as beneficial to the people’s movement and a shining example of Socialist advances. The Soviets promoted the sport Sambo through Eastern Block sporting events in the manner that Judo was being practiced competitively internationally. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the sport retained its popularity and tournaments in Russia, and began to have more of an international influence, as its teachers were then able to freely travel and teach Sambo abroad.


  • Sambo is one of only four forms of wrestling practiced in international competitions, the others being Freestyle Wrestling, Greco Roman Wrestling, and Judo.

  • Sambo is a combination of many traditional Russian wrestling styles collected from across the former Soviet Union and Asia.

  • Some of the best international Freestyle fighters and kickboxers study and practice Sambo.

  • Sambo was used by elite Soviet troops and KGB agents in the Cold War for hand to hand combat techniques.

  • Russia’s President Vladamir Putin is a master of the art of Sambo.

Sambo is categorized in Russia and internationality by the environment in which the martial arts practices are used. In this way, there is “Self Defense” Sambo, which is learned by individuals for personal protection in the social environment. “Combat” Sambo is practiced by Special Forces and elite troops during training for hand-to-hand battle techniques in warfare. The “Sport” Sambo is the variety found in competition in Russia and internationally. It has its own rules, uniforms, and officials that make it similar to wrestling or Judo as practiced competitively. “Freestyle” Sambo is without the rules of the sport variety for competitions that are created as a new category by the American organization of Sambo players. There is also a “Special” Sambo in Russia that is learned and taught by KGB agents, police, and army soldiers in the Special Forces. All of these varieties of Sambo are derived from the teachings of Vasili Oschepkov and are often fused with training in Judo, Jujutsu, or other martial arts. Sambo was recognized as an Olympic sport during the Moscow Olympics in 1980.


  • Distance is measured though five categories in Sambo to prepare mans of approach and attack simultaneous with defense.

  • Catches seize the opponent bodily in a manner that is firm, based in motion, balance, and leverage.

  • Throws are conducted to drop the opponent to the mat in a manner for application of a pin.

  • Joint Locks are applied to an opponent for immobilization and submission.

  • Pins are achieved when an opponent has been immobilized and signal the end of the match.


  • Combat Sambo is based on close quarters combat in industrial settings.

  • Combat Sambo include means to immobilize attackers with knives, guns, and other weapons.

  • Combat Sambo uses holds and joint locks, as well as throws, for defense and submission of an enemy.

  • Combat Sambo includes training in defending against attacks from multiple attackers, as in Aikido.

Sambo’s rise in international popularity is generally linked with the other Martial Arts, and found in fusion styles in Kickboxing, Freestyle Fighting, and Wrestling. Professionals such as soldiers, security, and law enforcement train in Sambo for alternative methods of throwing, locking, pinning, and submission of violent adversaries. Russian trainers have passed the style on to numerous masters in other countries, and training centers can be found internationally in countries such as America, Japan, Brazil, and others.


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