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From Russia with locks.

"If sambo was easy, it would be called jiu-jitsu."
Khabib Nurmagomedov

Sambo (acronym for an expression translated as "unarmed self-defense") is a Russian martial art and combat sport. It is a direct offshoot of Judo mixed with several Eurasian wrestling styles, and as such, it is based around throwing the opponent to the ground and/or lock him with wicked joint locks and chokes, combined with minor striking. It was originally created as a military hand-to-hand style in the vein of Krav Maga, but very unlike the latter, it has adapted very successfully to sports competition, being a semi-popular fixture of Professional Wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts. It also had the Working Title of "free-style wrestling" but decided a name change was necessary so as to not confuse it with the English wrestling style with the same name.

Practitioners of it are sometimes called sambists, but this not usual because that is also how practitioners of the Brazilian music style of samba are called (the very similarity of the names is an endless source of confusion and bad jokes in real life). Equipment in sambo consists of shorts, a loose jacket named kurtka (also called "sambovka" to a lesser extent) and special wrestling shoes named "sambetki" or "sambovki", as well as a number of protective gear pieces depending on the kind and level of competition.

The whole thing was the brainchild of two military hand-to-hand experts: Vasili Oshchepkov, an apprentice to Jigoro Kano and judo teacher for the Red Army, and Viktor Spiridonov, an expert in many forms of traditional wrestling who developed an interest in Japanese concepts due to a crippling war wound. Independently from each other, they started elaborating their own versions of a grappling style that would contain all what they knew and could find about how to wreck people. Added to the efforts of avid sportsman Anatoly Kharlampiyev (and to a lesser degree Ivan Vasilievich Vasilyev), a disciple to Oshchepkov who had the political connections to get it done, what is known today as sambo took a recognizable form in 1938, becoming the official fighting style of all of Russia and its native badasses. Ironically, and because this was USSR, Oshchepkov ended up accused of being a Japanese spy and executed after being arrested by a squad of his own trainees; he was posthumously declared innocent many years later, but by then it's not like he cared anymore.

In the sports aspect, despite looking more like judo without pants than wrestling, sambo was recognized as a wrestling style by Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (now United World Wrestling since 2014) in 1968, after which it spread to the whole world. It actually seemed on the way to be an Olympic discipline for a while, but politics intruded again in its way, and due to the 1980 Olympic boycott that rose after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, sambo stayed firmly out of the Olympics, which many people regard as a good thing overall seeing what happened to judo and its infamous Olympic rule changes. Also, being still technically a hybrid of judo and wrestling mixed with striking, sambo also helped to make the Russian fighting scene a closed-knit circuit, with many wrestlers, judokas and even boxers and kickboxers often cross-train with each other in a regular basis; most sambists in Russia also compete as judokas or wrestlers, and vice versa.

As it happened with Catch Wrestling, sambo became surprisingly popular in Japan, where it was introduced mostly by Russian-Japanese master Victor Koga. He taught its techniques to legendary pro wrestler Satoru Sayama, who introduced them in the style of Japanese pro wrestling named "shoot-style" and contributed to shape it as a fighting style full of leglocks and spectacular wrestling. Another shoot-stylist, Akira Maeda, traveled to Russia and recruited a bunch of sambo champions for his RINGS promotion, a pro wrestling circuit that evolved over time into mixed martial arts, also creating the first Russian MMA camp in the process. Therefore, just like shoot-style used to be the usual background of Japanese fighters, sambo is nowadays the background and main fighting style of most MMA fighters from the former Soviet Republics, as opposed to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that dominates the sports everywhere else. Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov are good examples.

In competition, sambo is divided in several styles.

  • Sport Sambo, Sambo Wrestling, Traditional Sambo, Classic Sambo, or International Sambo: the most well known ruleset with very few changes over the years, with competitions now under the authority of the International Sambo Federation (FIAS). It is fought with little to no protections and over a circular wrestling mat. It is primarily a submission wrestling competition where most throws, takedowns and locks are allowed, with the notable exception of chokeholds, neck cranks, wristlocks, hammerlocks, toeholds, heel hooks and all standing submissions as they can only be applied when the opponent is grounded (the attacker can remain standing, but the grounded opponent cannot apply submissions on a standing opponent in turn). Closing guard is considered a form of stalling and thus more or less forbidden too, and deliberately pushing the opponent out the mat is weirdly discouraged as it is also considered a form of stalling unlike most wrestling styles. It also bans using the knees and elbows to push down on any part of the body of a grounded opponent (meaning no knee-on-belly). Sambists can win by submitting the opponent or by scoring points, which are earned through throws and pins (the cleaner a throw is, the more points you will receive, and a picture perfect throw leads to "total victory", sambo's equivalent to judo's "ippon").
    • Sambo Free Wrestling, Free-style Wrestling Sambo or Soviet Free-style Wrestling: the original ruleset created by Vasili Oshchepkov in 1933. It was described as basically just judo (at least before the leg lock ban in 1916) with kurtkas and shoes as it still allowed chokes and standing submissions, which is why some refer to it as Oshchepkov‘s Judo or Free-style Wrestling Judonote . Unfortunately, it had to be replaced with the rules modern sport sambo in order to make it a separate art from judo as the Soviet government was cracking down on foreign influences at the time.
    • Freestyle Sambo: a ruleset created in 2004 by the now defunct American Sambo Association. It could be described as sport sambo with less grappling restrictions, allowing all the submissions described above.
      • Rdojo Sambo: a ruleset created by Reilly Bodycomb for a nationwide network of ranked in-house sambo tournaments dubbed the Rdojo Sambo League which ran from the end of 2016 to mid 2017. It was basically a modified version of freestyle sambo as it replaces of the 'total victory' throw with an 8-point throw, only allowed twisting leg locks like heel hooks and toeholds in "play-off" events and since these events were held in gyms with padded walls it was allowed to continue against the wall for 7 seconds. Competitors were permitted to wear a gi top, non-matching shorts, and wrestling shoes if they don't have kurtkas and sambo shoes.
    • Combat Sambo - Wrestling or WCSF Sambo Wrestling: a ruleset created in 2015 and used by the World Combat Sambo Federation (WCSF, for more see below) and is its version of sport sambo. It is actually very similar to freestyle sambo due to its lesser restrictions compared to the rules under the FIAS, but one main difference is that shoes are optional.
    • Sambo for the Blind and Visually Impaired or just Blind Sambo: a ruleset that is the sambo equivalent of Paralympic (Para or Blind) Judo created in 2017. Since the competitors are blind/visually impaired, they hold each other by the sleeve and lapel of the kurtka at the start of the match and have to wear custom combat sambo helmets that also cover their eyes. Other than that, it mostly keeps to the rules of sport sambo.
    • Sambo Parter or Sambo Par Terre: a newer and weirder ruleset developed by Ivan Vasylchuk in 2019 that exclusively focuses on the ground game. Matches start with fighters sitting with their legs out and with their backs towards each other, then immediately turn around and go onto their knees when the match starts. Aside from a slightly different point system, it mostly keeps to the rules of sport sambo except throws can only be done when on the knees and allows for one minute to finish a submission and ten seconds beforehand to secure it. It also allows chokeholds (except for those that can be turned into neck cranks like guillotines (unless it's arm in), headscissors, or no-arm triangles) and a recent rule change now allows closed guard (though intentionally pulling guard is still a no-no and it doesn't allow squeezing the legs together, only hooking the feet together is acceptable).
    • No Kurtka Sambo (also known as No Jacket Sambo or Bez Kurtka Sambo): basically the No Gi version of sport sambo, though it is not very widespread. One variant used by the Sambo League USA does seem to be a No Gi version of freestyle sambo.
      • Professional Combat Sambo - Wrestling: basically the No Gi version of the WCSF-style of sport sambo.
  • Combat Sambo (popularly known as Commando Sambo in Japan and sometimes referred to as Sport Combat Sambo to differentiate it from the style used in self-defense, police and military training): essentially old Brazilian vale tudo with protective gear and quick-draw rules. Its competitors fight with gloves, helmets and shin protections, which comes in handy for a ruleset that effectively allows throws, submissions (including ones on standing opponents unlike sport sambo) and strikes (though strikes don’t earn points, however, a knockdown resulting from strikes is regarded as a throw). Unusually for a combat sport, combat sambo is perfectly fine with headbutts, soccer kicks and even low blows; the only real techniques it forbids are pulling guard and sitting on the mat, as it is usually done in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as wrist locks. Unfortunately the original ruleset seems to have been made extinct (or at least rarely used) due to rule changes made for safety reasons, though thankfully the changes have been minimal... so far.
    • International or FIAS Rules: a newer and slightly more restrictive version of combat sambo in competitions under the FIAS. It originally only removed soccer kicks and punches to a grounded opponent when the attacker is standing (though it still allows the grounded opponent to strike the standing one), neck cranks, heel hooks and toeholds and surprisingly even open hand and palm strikes, both standing and grounded, though more recent rules changes have removed low blows and ground-and-pound to the head when using elbows and headbutts.
    • Light Rules: an even more restrictive version of the FIAS style used by some smaller regional organizations, most notably the British Sombo Federation. It farther removes headbutts and elbows altogether, along with knees to the head. Additionally, all strikes to the head are removed from the juniors division and below.
    • WCSF Rules: a version of combat sambo created by the Russian Combat Sambo Federation established in 2001 and now under the authority of the WCSF (established in 2004) for international competitions, both of which are organizations that are separate from and have no affiliation to the FIAS. Since these organizations and their affiliates are a lot smaller than the FIAS and its affiliates, their competitions are mostly limited to Russia and a few other countries in Euroasia like Ukraine, Kazakhstan, France, Moldova, Tajikistan and Iran. The main difference between this version and the others above is that it does not use the helmet (unless one has a condition that requires one to compete), which also means headbutts to the head are banned (but the every other legal part below is free game), also shoes and shin guards are optional. It also bans low blows, soccer kicks, and ground-and-pound with elbows (though still allowed to the head when standing), but allows wrist locks (or at least does not mention them). It is mostly held in wrestling mats, but can also be contested in either a boxing ring or a MMA cage.
      • Professional: basically WCSF Rules just without the kurtka.
  • Beach Sambo: Yes really. Compared to the others above, the rules are modified in that the combat lasts three minutes and are held only in the standing position making it a throwing-only sport, basically turning it into beach wrestling with kurtkas. Victory is awarded after a throw or when the opponent falls on the sand on any part of the body other than the feet. The kurtkas are also slightly modified and ankle wraps are used instead of shoes.
  • ARB (acronym for a term meaning "Army Hand-To-Hand Fighting"): a weird style invented in the 1970s by the Soviet Airborne Troops. While some of its practitioners will deny any relation to sambo, it is very clearly an offshoot of combat sambo, although it uses a tatami instead of a wrestling mat, judogis instead of kurtkas (though military uniforms with martial art belts are used instead in military competitions), fights only have a time limit of 3 minutes with no additional rounds, grappling is limited beyond throwing and submissions which can only start and end on the ground and it seems to only allow armbars and leglocks that are not wrist locks or foot locks. Instead, its rules favor punching and kicking (it never actually mentions elbows and knees in its rules, but there seems to be a sort of gentleman’s agreement to not use them), making it vaguely similar to Karate and Taekwondo, though for some reason it bans kicks to the inner thigh, headbutts are only allowed while both fighters are standing, soccer kicks and ground-and-pound are legal, and has a time limit of 10 seconds to either strike a grounded opponent or put on a submission which adds an additional 20 seconds to finish the submission.
    • DRB (acronym for a term meaning "Dynamo version of Hand-To-Hand Fighting"): An offshoot of ARB, created by the KGB and the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) members of the Dynamo Sports Club in the 1980s. It was actually introduced to the Russian public before ARB and is probably the one that is seen outside of Russia and known internationally as Hand-to-Hand Fighting and is commonly mistaken for ARB. Almost everything about it is the same as ARB except it is fought in either 3 or 5 rounds of 3 minutes, bans upkicks, “straight” kicks to the head, open hand and palm strikes, most leglocks, ground-and-pound (though it still allows soccer kicks), and headbutts, clearly states that elbows and knees are illegal, but allows chokes that don’t use the legs (triangle chokes and gogoplatas and anything else like them are banned), allows pinning, and it only allows 5 seconds to set up a submission on the ground and 20 more seconds to try and submit the opponent. It also contains two stages with the second being the fighting. The first stage is where fighters must do a demonstration of self defense techniques against armed and unarmed opponents, with the techniques being assessed on a 10-point scale, any errors reduce the score.
    • URB (acronym for a term meaning "Ukrainian Hand-To-Hand Fighting"): an offshoot of DRB that is used in Ukraine. It has two divisions; one which is the same as DRB, while the other is called "Light Contact", where fighters instead wear boxing gloves and sashes instead of open finger gloves and belts along with knockouts being banned.
    • PRB (acronym for a term meaning "Full Contact Hand-To-Hand Fighting"): a style created by Sergey Borisovich Ermakov who had been developing it since 1976 and presented it internationally in 2003 as Full Contact Fighting (FCF). It is fought more like combat sambo just without the kurtka, helmets, and shoes and it originally had fighters wear judogis, gloves, and shin guards only and it doesn't allow headbutts, elbows, and forearms to the head (but are allowed on the body), low blows, and kicking to the inner thigh, while also only having a 20 second limit to apply and finish submission holds, making it look like a sort of Russian version of Full Contact Ju-Jutsu. It eventually began using a No Gi version (though originally it was conceived as the pro division and was fought in gi pants instead of fight shorts and shin guards were still worn) known as Full Contact Fighting MMA (FCF-MMA), which eventually became the more used and favoured ruleset used by its host federation; the International Federation of Full Contact Fighting. This newer version even got a pro division with competitors removing the shin guards and just wearing fight shorts and gloves, while also allowing elbows and forearms to the head and kicking to the inner thigh. Matches are held on a traditional wrestling mat, not a cage or ring like normal MMA fights. The older version is now separately organized under the International Association of Amateur Full Contact Fighting which is based in Ukraine and headed by Anton Kulebiakin, who interestingly is also the president of the International Full Contact Ju-Jutsu Federation (not to be confused and is not affiliated with the Ju-Jitsu International Federation nor the Combat Ju-Jutsu International Federation) and the founder of Zenryoku Ju-Jutsu.
    • New ARB (acronym for a term meaning Absolutely Real Combat): a simplified variant of ARB that was created in 2020 by Denis Yurievich Batsun, mostly so that children from ages 8 to 17 can compete in it unlike regular ARB, though it also has adult competition. It differs from regular ARB as it allows an additional round of 40 seconds if the fight is ruled a draw, bans headbutts, but allows knees and chokes. It even has a No Gi version which allows pinning, which is why the style is also known as ARB-MMA.
  • Samboud (acronym for an expression translated as "unarmed self-defense... by strikes"): another weird but very obscure style developed in 1970s, first at the Dzerzhinsky Military Academy (which currently goes by the Peter the Great Military Academy of the Strategic Missile Forces) and later at the Moscow University of the MVD as UPO (acronym for a term meaning "Shock Disarming Techniques") and was also said to have been taught to the Belarusian military. It was described as combat sambo with a heavy emphasis on striking instead of grappling, which was very limited as only strikes were used to finish off opponents and believed to be ineffective when dealing with multiple opponents, which made it vaguely similar to karate and taekwondo even more than ARB, especially in its competition form as it resembled Bōgutsuki Karate (full contact with all-round protective gear). Aside from training manuals published by its creators, there is very little information about the style as it never received official recognition by the Soviet army (which probably just classified it as either combat sambo or ARB) and some believe it was actually just a form of karate due to the USSR's 8 year ban on karate in the 1980s, during which several so-called "hand-to-hand fighting" styles popped up, which were actually karate groups that tried to get away with practicing karate under acronyms like NAPIZA ("attack and defense"), ZAINAPA ("defense and attack"), NAZABO ("unarmed attack and defense"), etc. Furthermore, many former practitioners later became karate and taekwondo practitioners, with one of the most notable being Georgiy Mikhaylovich Astaf'yev, the guy who brought Kyokushin to Siberia and Novosibirsk and was also a former "absolute" champion in Samboud among officers and cadets of the KGB of Novosibirsk in 1977 and 1978. Currently there are no official schools for this style and is mostly known as a curiosity among people interested in Russian martial arts, self-defense and hand-to-hand fighting, but if it is still taught, it would most likely be as a form of combat sambo or some kind of modified ARB.
  • Samoz or Sam (acronym for an expression translated as "self-defense"): a style that was used before sambo was officially created and was a major part of its development. Created by Viktor Spiridonov who as listed above was a co-creator of sambo, his style was described as vaguely resembling Aikido due to its focus on stand-up grappling with emphasis on wrist and elbow locks above throws, sweeps and trips, though it did contain striking from arts like boxing and savate, as well as leglocks, head and body scissors and even spinal locks should the fight go to the ground and unlike modern aikido had randori-like training as he believed competition is the highest degree of training and the last stage of a fighter’s improvement and held the first competitions in 1929 at the now famous Dynamo Sports Club (of which he was among the founders), with them being described as mostly being a form of jacket wrestling. While the style in its original form no longer exists, aside from sambo and its derivatives listed here, it also formed the foundation of what is now famously known as "Systema" and all its own variations.
  • Universal Fight or Unifight for short: another weird style that came about in the middle of the 1990s, originally called Russian Fight. It was originally a Soviet military training regime that somehow got turned into a combat sport by Novikov Sergey, then got international attention when he started to promote this sport in a Russian television show program. It consists of two consecutive stages of physical challenge; the first requires the completion of an obstacle course that includes firing an airsoft or paintball gun and throwing a knife at a fixed target with the two fighters starting at the same time on parallel paths, the one who comes first gets one point though one automatically wins the match if the opponent cannot clear the course within a large enough margin, while the second stage is a one-on-one full contact fight in the ring or tatami mat in kurtkas and special cut long pants to match with headgear, gloves and footwear can consists of either special made shoes, foot guards or they can just go barefoot, the fight commences one minute after the first stage is completed with 3 to 5 rounds of 2 minutes, whoever knocks out or submits their opponent automatically wins the match. Techniques allowed in the second stage are actually quite similar to the DRM above, though it bans soccer kicks. If the fight ends in the time limit victory is awarded to the fighter who scored more points in the biathlon. Tournaments are usually ten person elimination style with rest periods of at least 2 hours between two matches a day. It is broken down into three different divisions.
    • Classic: basically the division that uses the rules mentioned above.
    • Light: this division changes the fighting stage to basically jacket wrestling, with only throws being allowed and a clean throw wins outright.
    • Pro: this division is kind of an anomaly as it is removes the obstacle course entirely and only includes fighting. Fighters wear short sleeved kurtkas and either long pants or shorts with gloves but without headgear. It allows striking on the ground, but only clean strikes are scored.
    • Child: a version made for children from 10-13 years old in both Classic and Light divisions. It makes modifications to the obstacle course such as replacing the knife throwing with throwing tennis balls at a target instead. It also adds extra protection like chest protectors in the fighting stage and are fought in 2 rounds of 1 minute with the finals being 2 rounds of 1 minute and 30 seconds.
  • RBM (acronym for a term meaning Russian All-Round Fighting, which is what it is known as internationally): another weird style that mixes the modern combat sport approach and military fighting techniques of sambo with those of historic Russian folk styles of combat. Developed by Maksim Shatunov since 2003, it comprises of various styles of unarmed fighting, grappling, stick, bayonet and knife fighting, all of which are put to the test under full contact sparring. It features an "octathlon" of competitive fighting rules, with tournaments spread among two days; the first day features the first four events and the second features the last four. Fighters wear a jacket that sort of resembles a dobok from taekwondo, martial art belts, black gi pants, and shoes in every ruleset, headgear and gloves when striking and weapons are involved, shin protection when kicking is involved, chest protectors depending on age of competitor when striking is involved and always when weapons are involved, and a body armor jacket when stick and bayonet fighting. The events in order are;
    • 1) Bayonet Fighting: fighting with a fake bayonet on wooden carbines, 2 minute time limit, first to 5 points wins, points are score by pushing the opponent out of the area, disarming the opponent, knocking down the opponent, and stabbing the opponent on protected parts of the body. Fighters are not allowed to striking with other parts of the carbine except for the bayonet blade, along with cutting blows with the bayonet, piercing blows with the bayonet on unprotected parts of the body, and any strikes or grappling with their own bodies are banned.
    • 2) Stick Fighting: is actually fought more like saber fencing as the "stick" has a hilt and guard like a sword, 2 minute time limit, first to 5 points wins, points are score by pushing the opponent out of the area, disarming the opponent, knocking down the opponent, and hitting the opponent on protected parts of the body. Fighters are not allowed to stab with the stick, and any strikes or grappling with their own bodies are banned.
    • 3) Knife Fighting: 2 minute time limit, first to 5 points wins, points are score by pushing the opponent out of the area, disarming the opponent, knocking down the opponent, stabbing or cutting the opponent on protected parts of the body. Fighters are not allowed to strike with the knife handle, and any strikes or grappling with their own bodies are banned.
    • 4) Wrestling: divided into three types each with 3 rounds of 2 minutes;
      • 1. Belt: both hands always on opponent's belt, victory comes from putting opponent under oneself either on their back or side.
      • 2. One-Handed: one hand is always gripping the collar of the jacket, but allows for the other hand to get an additional grip to complete a throw, victory comes from putting opponent under oneself either on their back, side, or knees.
      • 3. Freestyle: the style's version of sport sambo, though it also allows standing submissions and chokes. It is possibly based on Vasili Oshchepkov’s original ruleset for sport sambo.
    • 5) Kick Fighting: instead of just using the legs to kick and block, it interestingly allows clinching, leg catches and arm grabs (but all of those are only allowed with one hand, for no more than five seconds), kneeing, blocking with the hands, kicks from the grounded position, even soccer kicks and stomps (ones to the head of a prone opponent is considered a technical knockout).
    • 6) Fisticuffs: based on traditional Russian bare-knuckle boxing that allows all sorts of punches (above the waist of course) like backfists (spinning or otherwise), hammerfists, elbows, forearm, shoulder, open hand and palm strikes, rabbit punches (punches to back of the head), fibbing (grabbing the headgear, the jacket's collar, or the back of the neck of the opponent, then pummelling them with the other hand), clinching and arm grabs (all three for no more then five seconds), and even ground-n-pound.
    • 7) Hand-to-Hand Fighting: the style's version of ARB. It mostly focuses on striking with grappling limited to clinching, leg and arm grabs (for no more then five seconds), while soccer kicks and stomps to the head of a prone opponent is considered a technical knockout.
    • 8) Storm Fighting: the style's version of combat sambo. Bouts are held in 3 rounds for beginners, 5 rounds for juniors or 7 rounds for adults with each round lasting 20 seconds.
    • It also has another competitive format in the form of a Pentathlon; the first event is a 3km cross country run. The second is firing an air pistol from three different positions (standing, kneeling or sitting, and lying down). The third is a 100 or 110m obstacle course which features 10 obstacles that include logs, rope, fence, snake, ladder, burrow, window, wire, ditch and wall, and can be completed in any order with only 4 attempts are allowed, at all 10 obstacles, if the competitor makes a mistake for the fourth time, he is removed from the stage and doesn't score any points. The fourth is knife throwing which features throwing three knives in a row from stationary targets at 3, 5, and 7 meters away with the thrower having 10 seconds to hit the chest area. The fifth and final event is a 2 minute no holds barred fight. Fighters start standing opposite each other at a distance of 3m, with a wooden club in the middle of that distance that can be used as a weapon against each other. Fighters wearing helmets, MMA gloves, shin guards, shoes and groin cups. Almost all fighting techniques like punching, kicking, headbutts, elbows, knees, throws, sweeps, and submissions are allowed except targeting the spine, low blows with the club, biting, small joint manipulations, throwing the opponent on their head and twisting submissions. Winning is done by submission, knockout, kicking or stomping on a grounded opponent in the head, striking with the club to the head of a grounded opponent, striking 3 blows with the club on the opponent's head in the standing position, hitting 3 kicks to the opponent's head in the standing position, throwing or knocking down the opponent to the ground while remaining on his feet 3 times, based on points or judge's decision.
  • Stenka: another weird style developed in the late 2000s by Valeriy Maistrovoy. Like RBM above, it is based on Russian traditional fighting sports, modernized by the influence of sambo and gets its name from one called "Stenka na senkou", which involves two teams of people linking up to form "walls" of themselves and fighting the other team to break up the other team's wall. Competitors wear kurtkas over customized camouflage shirts and gi pants, and can also go barefoot or wear shoes. There are three main rulesets for international competition;
    • 1) Bor'ba: wrestling, throwing-only rules.
    • 2) Sam na Sam: one-on-one full contact fighting, though it is just wrestling that also allows kicks and bare handed open hand and palm strikes, victory is earned by forcing the opponent to the ground, either though knockdowns, throws or sweeps and trips.
    • 3) Stenka na Senkou: elimination style team fighting, teams usually consist of either 3 to 5 fighters in competitions. Before the fight begins, teams will first have their fighters stand in formation facing the other team, once the fight starts they can separate and attack any other member of the opposing team, with all members of both teams fighting at the same time and even allows gang ups on single fighters. Eliminations occur when fighters are forced to the ground by either knockdowns, throws or sweeps and trips. The fight ends when all members of one team are eliminated, with the survivor’s team winning. Techniques allowed are the same as Sam na Sam above.
    • There are also several minor rulesets that are usually used in regional competitions and/or training sessions;
      • 1. Bor'ba Za-vorotok: one-handed wrestling, competitors have one hand gripping the opponent's kurtka at all times, allows switching of hands gripping the kurtka though previous hand must let go immediately after, victory comes from unbalancing opponent till part of body that isn't the feet touch the floor or forcing them out of the marked area.
      • 2. Odin na Odin: the style's version of ARB, fights lasts 2 minutes, victory is earned by KO or forfeit, only punches, kicks, knees and throws are allowed, as well as ground-and-pound (but not soccer kicks) with competitors also wearing open handed gloves and shin guards.
      • 3. Stenka Tsepka: team fighting mostly for training and recreation purposes, the standard version has two teams compete against each other in a close row, teams at minimum have two people each, though for fun and training, depending on the space of course, teams can also consist of twenty or more people as long as there are the same number on both teams. Team members will hook themselves by intertwining their hands at the elbows with the fighters standing next to them and form a tight formation together like a wall or a chain. Fighters have their the left feet in the front, while raising their arms as high as possible (since their hands are grasped at the elbow of their comrades) to protect their faces and grab their opponents with any free hands. Once the fight begins, both teams will move towards each other and to earn victory, must either attempt to break the other team's formation, force at least one member of the other team to touch the ground with any body part that is not the feet, or push the other team out of the marked area, with at least one member's foot enough to count. Another version has teams wear caps and to win the teams must take the caps off the heads of the opposing team.
  • Aquathlon: not to be confused the multisport race consisting of continuous run and swim elements. Also known as Underwater Wrestling, it is another weird Soviet wrestling style created by Igor Ostrovsky in the early 1980s, possibly inspired by Suijutsu, the Japanese martial art of combative swimming. It takes place in a 5-metre square ring within a swimming pool, and is made up of three 30-second rounds, with a fourth round played in the event of a tie. Competitors wear a swimsuit, a diving mask, fins made of rubber or polyurethane, a water polo cap and two ankle bands to which 2 coloured ribbons are fixed, with the goal being to take possession of the opponent's ribbon fixed on the ankles or grab the opponent's ankles, and bring it above the surface to win the round. Also competitors are first positioned on opposite sides and within the first 6 seconds of the round, the competitors must enter though a ring gate that is fixed in place, for this they receives 1 point, but can be prevented by the opponent from go though it and whoever does not let the opponent into the ring within 6 seconds wins the round. The winner is the one with the most points after 3 rounds. There are three referees in the water, one head judge and two line judges. The judges usually wear flippers, a diving mask and a snorkel. It now has five competition rulesets;
    • Classic: the original format, with competitors being prohibited from striking each other, using submission holds, intentionally tear off the opponent's equipment, tearing off their our ribbons, and to snatch back the ribbon from the opponent's hands.
    • Freestyle: almost the same as classic though flippers and diving masks are not used and competitors are instead positioned in the middle of the ring, two meters apart between them, disregarding the ring gate from classic, with the only way to score points is to take possession of the opponent's ribbon fixed on the ankles or grab the opponent's ankles, and bring it above the surface.
    • SCUBA: competitors wear a diving mask, a 10kg weight belt, and diving cylinder with a breathing valve and they are positioned in the middle of the ring two metres apart between them, and feet touching the bottom of the pool. The goal is to push the opponent outside the ring area, which earns 1 point, which stops the clock to reposition and repeat until the round is over.
    • Combat: takes place in not only underwater, but also afloat, above the water surface, both with or without diving gear, utilizing dummy weapons like rubber knives, bayonetted rifles, etc. and barehanded fighting, combined with grappling, choking and submission techniques in order to neutralize or submit the opponent allows intentionally tearing off the opponent's equipment. It is used in the training of rescuers and special forces soldiers.
    • Gymnastics: underwater gymnastics and acrobatics exercises, as well as exercises on special underwater simulations.

Appearances in media

Anime and Manga

  • The High School Exciting Story: Tough manga features some practitioners of sambo based on real life wrestlers.
  • Kengan Omega features Tokumichi Tokuno'o (or Nitoku), a Brilliant, but Lazy Japanese fighter who learned and mastered sambo at 20 when he went to study literature in Russia. Despite being one of the best fighters in the world and could have a fortune by fighting in the Kengan tournaments, he is a Starving Artist, as he only fights for the bare minimum money to continue writing and publishing his books (which were all flops).


  • Nikolai from Undisputed II: Last Man Standing is all but stated to be a former sambist. Sambo is also implied to be among Yuri Boyka's martial arts.
  • The incredibly grappling-rich John Wick series stars an eponymous character played by Keanu Reeves whose main fighting style is a combination of sambo grappling and Center Axis Relock shooting. Throughout the movies, he disposes of innumerable mooks with a combination of Gun Fu and grappling moves, and at one point in the first movie gets to take part in a full-fledged grapplefest with a Dark Action Girl. The third film reveals that he's a Belarusian sambist.
  • In the third Never Back Down film, a Russian PRIDE veteran is brought to train Brody in sambo leglocks. Only that he's actually a mole sent to cripple him.

Live-Action TV

  • Jason Chambers and Bill Duff of Human Weapon traveled to Russia to train in various styles of sambo, with their trip culminating in Bill going up against a fighter handpicked by MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko.

Video Games

  • Tekken features Sergei Dragunov as a Spetsnaz agent and combat sambo practitioner investigating the events of the games in Japan. His fighting style is a rushdown powerhouse with a lot of throws, strikes and takedowns.

Professional Wrestling

  • The Japanese Universal Wrestling Federation and its many derivatives had many sambo fighters doing pro wrestling for them, starting with renowned Dutch champion Chris Dolman. Its outshoot Fighting Netork RINGS had entire teams of those, with names like Volk Han and Andrei Kopylov standing out in its Russian branch.
  • New Japan Pro-Wrestling mainstay Hiroshi Hase learned sambo in the USSR and used several of its moves. His trainee, Kendo Kashin, got a lot of his moveset from the same place.
  • The late Fumihiro "Sambo" Asako was a sambist turned wrestler in FMW.
  • Goldberg had some sambo influence on his moveset, including some rolling leglocks he learned in tapes.
  • Tom Howard, an American wrestler with a sambo background, made usage of his sweeps and leglocks in Ultimate Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling ZERO1.
  • Kaientai Dojo junior Makoto Oshi also had a background in sambo, and uses its suplexes in the ring. He even used to go under the name of Sambo Oishi.
  • Boris Alexiev, the old shooter gimmick of Santino Marella, was billed as a practitioner of sambo (and several other styles).
  • After he was moved to WWECW, Vladimir Kozlov started wearing red robes and gear reflecting his real life sambo background, although he used little actual sambo in his wrestling style.

Western Animation

  • In the The Clone Wars, the clones' hand-to-hand fighting style was patterned after sambo, including the signature Victor Koga Roll entry.

Tropes associated with sambo

  • The Ace:
    • Alexander Fedorov, a legendary sambist who won gold at the first European and World Sambo Championships.
    • The half-Japanese, half-Russian Shoichi "Victor" Koga, who is said to have never been beaten in competition.
    • Murat Ruslanovich Khasanov, the only male 11-time world champion in the heavyweight division in sport sambo and is additional an 8-time World Cup Winner, a 7-time European champion and a whooping 19-time Russian champion. Considered to be one of the greatest practitioners of Sambo, was captain of the Russian National Team in Sambo for over a decade, he did not suffer a single defeat from 1997 to the end of his career and is now a member of the FIAS Hall of Fame.
    • Irina Rodina, the only female 11-time world champion in the women's heavyweight division in sport sambo, making her the most titled female practitioner in the sport and is a member of the FIAS Hall of Fame.
    • Svetlana Galante, a 7-time women's world champion, 8-time winner of the women's World Cup in the 72 kg division and another member of the FIAS Hall of Fame.
    • Vyacheslav Vasilevsky, the most prolific FIAS Combat Sambo competitor as a 6-time world champion.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: For many years the official story of sambo's creation was solely credited to Anatoly Kharlampiyev and while he has made legitimate contributions to the sport such as the current ruleset for sport sambo and established it as a sport since 1938, etc, he left out the influence of his trainer Vasili Oshchepkov's own system based on Judo and Viktor Spiridonov's Samoz which inspired the name of his sport. It took the collapse of the USSR and extensive research by sambo historians to uncover the truth, though some have theorised that Anatoly had to cover up history in order to legitimise sambo as the USSR had his trainer jailed and executed under the belief that he was a spy for the Japanese and the government was cracking down on foreign influences at the time and would have never been approved as a sport unless he covered up the judo influence.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game:
    • Chris Dolman was a Dutch judoka and student of the great Jon Bluming himself, who never even heard of sambo before his first tournament which was the 1969 World Cup. He processed to win it and then went on to win the World Championships in 1985, the first non-Russian to do so. It is also reported he relied on his judo and amateur wrestling expertise and whatever he could learn in sambo tournaments until the 80s and since there were no sambo competitions in The Netherlands until the 90s, he spent that time competing in Israel (though he also made a short detour to the USA) where he formally trained in the sport under Israeli pioneer Josef Roytman and cleaned house.
  • Clothing Combat: Like judo, the kurtka is a weapon. Its lapels and sleeves can be used to choke out either the wearer or his opponent. Subverted in sport sambo since it bans chokes, but other formats like combat sambo allow them.
  • Girl-Show Ghetto: While sport sambo had women competing in it since it became an official sport, combat sambo competitions for women only began in 2015.
  • Handicapped Badass: Like judo, sambists rely on sensing their opponent's weight through their limbs rather than on sight, so visually impaired people can enjoy the sport with only slight modifications to the rules (contestants must remain gripped up at all times). Official competitions for them only started in 2017 though.
  • Martial Artists Are Always Barefoot: Subverted, like amateur wrestling, sambo mandates the use of shoes in competition. The World Combat Sambo Federation does however allow fighters the option to either wear shoes or go barefoot under their rules.
  • Mirroring Factions: In 1993, the FIAS split into two organizations, both of which used the same name and logo, and the two groups were often referred to as FIAS "East" (under Russian control) and FIAS "West" (under US and Western European control). This split mirrored the last days of Cold War politics of the time as well as the recent break-up of the Soviet Union and held separate competitions. In 2005, FILA reached an agreement with FIAS "West" and re-assumed sanctioning over sport sambo (but not combat sambo) in the west. However, in 2008, FILA again discontinued sanctioning sambo and with FIAS "East" gaining full control of its Western branches to become the official and only FIAS today.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Ivan Vasilievich Vasilyev, another student of Oshchepkov and the father of Combat Sambo, does not get mentioned as much as Spiridonov, Oshchepkov, and Kharlampiyev in most tellings of the history of sambo.
  • One-Hit Kill/Instant-Win Condition: Has its own version of Judo's Ippon throws, which is translated into English and known as "Total Victory", the main difference from judo's version is that the thrower must remain standing.
  • Rival Dojos: Sort of, before its official creation, contrary to popular belief, the co-founders of sambo Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov never actually developed the fighting system together or even met. In fact Spiridonov opposed Oshchepkov's methods and objected to the police and militia being taught this version of self-defense and even tried to have Oschepkov's instruction program shut down, with some speculating that he may have been the one that got Oshchepkov arrested. It was also reported that a few students of Oshchepkov beat a few of Spiridonov's in sparring and when Spiridonov heard of this, he forbid his students from further interactions with Oshchepkov's.
  • Rolling Attack: Sort of, sport sambo popularised the use of rolling in takedowns, since submissions can only be done on a grounded opponent.
  • Use Your Head: Combat Sambo allows headbutts as long as the helmets are on both fighters. Subverted with the version used by the World Combat Sambo Federation as they don't use helmets.