Sambo (Russian: самбо—also called Sombo
or Cambo and sometimes written in all-caps) is a relatively modern martial art,
combat sport and self-defense system developed in the Soviet Union and
recognized as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee in 1938,
presented by Anatoly Kharlampiev.
The word "Самбо" (Sambo) is an acronym of САМозащита Без Оружия (SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya), meaning "self-defense without a weapon" in Russian. Sambo has its roots in Japanese judo and traditional folk styles of wrestling such as Armenian Koch, Georgian Chidaoba, Moldovan Trîntǎ, Tatar Köräş, Uzbek Kurash, Mongolian Khapsagay and Azerbaijani Gulesh.
The founders of Sambo were Vasili Oshchepkov (who was executed under the orders of Stalin during the political purges of 1937 for refusing to deny his education in judo under its founder Kano Jigoro) and Viktor Spiridonov. They independently developed two different styles, both with the same name. Spiridonov's style was a soft, aikido-like system developed after he was maimed during World War I.Anatoly Kharlampiev, a student of Victor Spiridonov, is often officially recognized as the founder of Sport Sambo.
There are three generally recognized competitive sport variations of Sambo
(though Sambo techniques and principles can be applied to many other combat
sports). Sport Sambo (Russian: Борьбa Самбо,Bor'ba Sambo) is stylistically
similar to amateur wrestling or judo. The competition is similar to judo, but
with some differences in rules, protocol, and uniform. For example, in contrast
with judo, Sambo allows some types of leg locks, while not allowing chokeholds
and focuses on throwing, ground work and submissions.
Combat Sambo (Russian: Боевое Самбо, Boyevoye Sambo). Utilized and developed for the military, Combat Sambo resembles modern mixed martial arts, including extensive forms of striking and grappling where (unlike Sport Sambo) choking is legal. Competitors wear jackets as in sport sambo, but also hand protection and sometimes shin and head protection. The first FIAS World Sambo Championships were held in 2001.
Freestyle Sambo - uniquely American set of competitive Sambo rules created by the American Sambo Association (ASA) in 2004. These rules differ from traditional Sport Sambo in that they allow choke holds and other submissions from Combat Sambo that are not permitted in Sport Sambo as well as certain neck cranks and twisting leg locks. Freestyle Sambo, like all Sambo, focuses on throwing skills and fast ground work. No strikes are permitted in Freestyle Sambo. The ASA created this rule set in order to encourage non-Sambo practitioners from judo and jujitsu to participate in Sambo events.
A Sambo practitioner normally wears either a red or a blue jacket kurtka, a
belt and shorts of the same color, and sambovki (Sambo shoes). The Sambo uniform
does not reflect rank or competitive rating. Sport rules require an athlete to
have both red and blue sets to visually distinguish competitors on the
In Russia, a competitive rating system is used rather than belt colors like judo and jiujitsu to demonstrate rank, though some schools around the world now institute belt colors as well. The rating system is called Unified Sports Classification System of the USSR, with the highest athletic distinction known as the Distinguished Masters of Sport in Sambo.
Examination requirements vary depending on the age group and can vary from country to country. The examination itself includes competitive accomplishment as well as technical demonstration of knowledge. Higher level exams must be supervised by independent judges from a national Sambo association. For a rating to be recognised, it must be registered with the national Sambo organization.
Origins and influences
The founders of Sambo deliberately sifted through all of the world's martial arts available to them to augment their military's hand-to-hand combat system. One of these men, Vasili Oschepkov, taught judo and karate to elite Red Army forces at the Central Red Army House. He was one of the first foreigners to learn Judo in Japan and had earned his nidan (second degree black belt out of then five) from judo's founder, Kano Jigoro. Oschepkov used some of Kano's philosophy to formulate the early development of the new Soviet art.
Sambo was in part 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 world.
Over the centuries, the inhabitants of what is now known as Russia had had ample opportunity to evaluate the martial skills of various invaders: from the Vikings in the West and from the Tatars and Genghis Khan's Golden Horde from Mongolia in the East. The regional, native combat systems included in Sambo's genesis are Russian fist fighting, Tuvan Khuresh, Yakuts khapsagai, Chuvash akatuy, Georgian chidaoba, Moldavian trinta, Armenian kokh, and Uzbek Kurash to name a few.
The foreign influences included various styles of European wrestling,catch wrestling, Japanese jujutsu, French savate, muay thai and other martial arts of the day plus the classical Olympic sports of amateur boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling. Sambo even derived lunging and parrying techniques from the Italian school of swordsmanship.
Sambo's early development stemmed from the independent efforts of Oschepkov and another Russian, Victor Spiridonov, to integrate the techniques of judo into native wrestling styles. Spiridonov's background involved indigenous styles of Russian martial art. His "soft-style" was based on the fact that he received a bayonet wound during the Russo-Japanese War which left his left arm lame. Both Oschepkov and Spiridonov hoped that the Russian styles could be improved by an infusion of the techniques distilled from jujutsu by Kano Jigoro into his new style of jacket wrestling. Contrary to common lore, Oschepkov and Spiridonov did not cooperate on the development of their hand-to-hand systems. Rather, their independent notions of hand-to-hand combat merged through cross-training between students and formulative efforts by their students and military staff. While Oschepkov and Spiridonov did have occasion to collaborate, their efforts were not completely united.
Each technique was carefully dissected and considered for its merits, and if found acceptable in unarmed combat, refined to reach Sambo's ultimate goal: to stop an armed or unarmed adversary in the least time possible. Thus, the best techniques of jujutsu and its cousin, judo, entered the Sambo repertoire. When the techniques were perfected, they were woven into Sambo applications for personal self-defense, police, crowd control, border guards, secret police, dignitary protection, psychiatric hospital staff, military, and commandos.
In 1918, Lenin created Vseobuch (Vseobshchee voennoye obuchienie or General Military Training) under the leadership of N.I. Podovoyskiy to train the Red Army. The task of developing and organizing Russian military hand-to-hand combat training fell to K. Voroshilov, who in turn, created the NKVD physical training center Dinamo.
Spiridonov was a combat veteran of World War I and one of the first wrestling and self-defense instructors hired for Dinamo. His background included Greco-Roman wrestling, freestyle wrestling, many Slavic wrestling styles, and Japanese jujutsu. As a combatives investigator for Dinamo, he traveled to Mongolia and China to observe their native fighting styles.
In 1923, Oschepkov and Spiridinov collaborated (independently) with a team of other experts on a grant from the Soviet government to improve the Red Army's hand-to-hand combat system. Spiridonov had envisioned integrating all of the world's fighting systems into one comprehensive style that could adapt to any threat. Oschepkov had observed Kano's distillation of Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu jujutsu and Kito Ryu jujutsu into judo, and he had developed the insight required to evaluate and integrate combative techniques into a new system. Their development team was supplemented by Anatoly Kharlampiev and I.V. Vasiliev who also traveled the globe to study the native fighting arts of the world. Ten years in the making, their catalogue of techniques was instrumental in formulating the early framework of the art to be eventually referred to as Sambo. Here, Oschepkov and Spiridonov's improvements in Russian wrestling slipped into the military's hand-to-hand-combat system.
Kharlampiev is often called the father of Sambo. This may be largely semantics, since only he had the longevity and political connections to remain with the art while the new system was named "Sambo". However, Kharlampiev's political maneuvering is single-handedly responsible for the USSR Committee of Sport accepting Sambo as the official combat sport of the Soviet Union in 1938—decidedly the "birth" of Sambo. So, more accurately, Kharlampiev could be considered the father of "sport" Sambo.
Spiridonov was the first to actually begin referring to the new system as one of the "S" variations cited above. He eventually developed a softer, more aikido-like system called Samoz that could be used by smaller, weaker practitioners or even wounded soldiers and secret agents. Spiridonov's inspiration to develop 'Samoz' stemmed from his WWI bayonet injury, which greatly restricted his (left arm and thus his) ability to practice Sambo or wrestle. Refined versions of Sambo are still used today or fused with specific Sambo applications to meet the needs of Russian commandos today.
As an Olympic Sport
It is often stated that Sambo was a demonstration sport at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, USSR. Youth Sambo was demonstrated in the Games' opening ceremonies; however, Sambo was not formally recognized as demonstration sport. This common error in history books is noted in several sources including History of SAMBO by A. Makoveski and Lukashev's History of Hand-to-Hand Combat in the First Half of the 20th Century: Founders and Authors . Furthermore, the official documents of the 1980 Olympic Organizing Committee do not mention Sambo as a participating sport in the Games.
In 1968, the FILA accepted Sambo as the third style of international wrestling. In 1985, the Sambo community formed its own organization, Federation International Amateur Sambo (FIAS). In 1993, FIAS split into two organizations, both 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. In 2005, FILA reached an agreement with FIAS "West" and re-assumed sanctioning over sport Sambo. However, in 2008, FILA again discontinued sanctioning sambo and sambo is now notably missing from the FILA website. At present, FIAS sanctions international competition in sport and combat sambo.
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