By Cathy Richey, the Cathy Factor
Sambo (also called Sombo in the US and sometimes written in
all-caps) is a modern martial art and self-defense system
developed in the former Soviet Union. The word Sambo is an
abbreviation meaning "self-defense without a weapon" in Russian.
There used to be two Sambo forms – the sport and combative
Sambo. Combative Sambo stands separately from the sport of Sambo
because it includes kicks and punches.
There is no single recognized founder of Sambo.
Traditionally, Anatoly Kharlampiev is considered as a founder of
Sambo – his bestselling book "Sambo wrestling" was republished
many times in the USSR.
Sambo became a sport on November 16, 1938. The sport was
recognized by USSR National Committee of Physical Culture and
Sambo was born of native Russian and other regional styles of
grappling and combative wrestling bolstered with the most useful
and adaptable concepts and techniques from the rest of the
Each technique for Sambo was carefully considered for its
merits, and if found acceptable in unarmed combat, refined to
reach Sambo’s ultimate goal: stop an armed or unarmed adversary
in the least time possible. The best techniques of Jiu-jitsu and
its softer cousin, Judo, entered the Sambo repertoire. When the
techniques were perfected, they were added into Sambo
applications for personal self-defense, police, crowd control,
border guards, secret police, dignitary protection, psychiatric
hospital staff, military, and commandos.
Nowadays, women are widely involved in all these services, so
they must manage hand-to-hand combat techniques. And, learning
Sambo techniques allows every woman to become proficient in the
self-defense art. Sambo is very popular sport and self defense
system among women.
Although it was originally a single system, there are now three
generally recognized versions of Sambo:
Sport Sambo - is stylistically similar to amateur wrestling or
Judo. The competition is similar to Judo, but with some
differences in rules, protocol, and uniform. The differences
which catch the eye are the following: a Sambo practitioner
wears either a red or blue jacket with "wings" and slits for the
belt, and shorts rather than pants. Plus special boots. And the
mat in Sambo is round rather than square (as in judo).
Sambo allows all types of leglocks while not allowing
chokeholds, whereas judo is the other way around. Also, judo and
Sambo have very different score counting systems.
Self-defense Sambo- which is similar to Aikijutsu, Jiu-jitsu or
Aikido, and is based on self-defense application, such as
defending against attacks by both armed and unarmed attackers.
Combative Sambo- Utilized and developed for the military, this
is arguably the root of Sambo as it is now known, and includes
practice with weapons and disarming techniques. Competition in
combat Sambo resembles modern mixed martial arts ("no-holds
barred"), and includes extensive forms of striking and
It is not a big deal for a skillful Judoka to retrain for Sambo.
According to a prominent Russian female sambist and judoko, the
difference between Sambo and judo is not significant. Because of
the similarity, many female wrestlers participate in both sports
(as Irina Nodina does). Many judokas take part in Sambo
tournaments, spending just a few days for the additional
training. Although, in the future they perhaps will be more
separated and specialization will increase as it is happening in
men's judo and Sambo.