It is no secret that Brazilian JiuJitsu and wrestling are the two most common ground styles used by Mixed Martial Arts practitioners in the sport today. Both styles use takedowns and body positioning to control an opponent on the ground. Brazilian JiuJitsu takes it a step farther, using joint locks and chokes to subdue an opponent. However, there is another ground based art that has recently dominated the MMA world. Enter Russian Sambo. The undefeated Lightweight Champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Khabib Nurmagomedov, uses Russian Sambo to dominate and control his opponents on the ground.
Russian Sambo is a martial art that was founded in the former Soviet Union during the early 1900s. Sambo does not have as long of history compared to some of the Asian styles, but Sambo has roots in several different martial arts, drawing from many of the traditional styles.
The History of Russian Sambo
Sambo was meant to be a combination of all of the different martial arts styles available in an attempt to come up with the most efficient art. Living in what amounts to a bridge between Europe and Asia, the Russian people were certainly introduced to a variety of martial arts styles via contact with the Japanese, Vikings, Tatars, Mongols, and more. The combination of what worked from these styles served as the building blocks to what is now referred to as Russian Sambo.
Vasili Oshchepkov, the Karate and Judo trainer for Russia’s elite Red Army, was one of the founders of Sambo. Like any trainer worth their salt, Oshchepkov wanted his men to be the most proficient of all in hand to hand tactics. With a second degree black belt in judo from Jigor Kano himself, making him one of the rare non-Japanese to hold such a distinction at the time, Oshchepkov felt that he could work to formulate a superior martial arts style by adding what worked from judo to what worked from the Russian native wrestling styles, karate, and more. While he worked on finding these techniques, another man by the name of Victor Spiridonov, who had extensive training in Greco-Roman and other forms of wrestling, was also working on taking only what “worked” in a physical confrontation in an attempt to revolutionize hand-to-hand combat techniques.
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Given his political connections and the fact that he had the ability to stick with the formulation of the art through the early stages into the time when it was named, Kharlampiev is often referred to as the father of Sambo. Along with this, he is the one that truly campaigned for Sambo to become the official combat sport of the Soviet Union, which became a reality in 1938. However, there is evidence to suggest that Spiridonov was the first to actually use the word Sambo to describe the martial arts system that they had all contributed to. Sambo actually translates to “self-defense without weapons.”
In 1981 the International Olympic Committee came to recognize Sambo as an Olympic sport.
The different styles of Sambo
Several offshoots of Sambo have emerged since the art was first established. However, there are truly only five that are recognized by the public at large. These are:
- Combat Sambo: Combat Sambo was made for the military. Thus, it includes weapons usage and disarming techniques. Unlike many of the other styles of Sambo, Combat Sambo also includes a significant portion of striking and grappling.
- Freestyle Sambo: Freestyle Sambo was set up by the American Sambo Association in 2004 to encourage non-Sambo practitioners to participate in Sambo events (practitioners of judo and jujitsu). Freestyle Sambo events allow the use of choke holds and other submissions that are not permitted in Sport Sambo.
- Self-Defense Sambo: Self-Defense Sambo is about defending oneself. Along with this, it teaches practitioners how to defend against weapons and more. Many of the methods taught involve using an opponent’s aggression against them, which is similar to jujitsu and aikido. Along with this, Spiridonov’s influence is strong here.
- Special Sambo: Special Sambo was developed for Army Special Forces and rapid response law formations. It is really only a specialized version of Sambo, designed for the particular unit it is being used by. In that sense, Special Sambo is a lot like Combat Sambo with specific aims, depending on the group.
- Sport Sambo: Sport Sambo is a lot like judo in that takedowns and takedown defense are crucial to winning. The rules of competition allow all types of leg locks.
Characteristics of Sambo
Sambo practitioners are known for three things: takedowns that combine wrestling and judo throws, ground control skills, and leg locks. Depending on the style of Sambo, striking may also be taught, such as in the case of Combat Sambo. However, it is primarily a grappling art that focuses on takedowns and submissions.
Goals of Russian Sambo
The goals of Russian Sambo tend to vary depending on the style. However, Sambo teaches practitioners how to end fights quickly and efficiently. This is often done by taking an opponent to the ground and applying a fast submission hold or strikes.
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