Over the course of history, Russia’s prominent role in the world and encounters with nations all over brought forth an eclectic amount of knowledge in various forms of martial arts. From such influence and a desire to master their skills in hand-to-hand, close quarter combat, the Soviet Red Army developed what is now known as SAMBO – a system for ‘self defense without weapons.’

A Brief History of Sambo


The early developments of Sambo are credited to two researchers of martial arts and Merited Master of Sports of the USSRVasili Oshchepkov and Viktor Spiridonov. Oshchepkov’s history with martial arts began in his youth, where as an orphan, he was sent to Japan in 1905 (due to the transfer of South Sakhalin to Japan). During his time there, he learned judo and received a black belt by 1913. Not long after finishing his studies, Oshchepkov returned to Russia where he would immediately organized circles of Judo.

By 1929, he acted as a teacher at the Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism and it was here he trained many representatives from the USSR. Through his encounters, he noticed what the USSR combat system was lacking and the struggles in applying martial arts for effective fighting purposes. Looking deeper into the issue, Oshchepkov began his journey into eventually creating the basis of Sambo.

Viktor Spiridonov volunteered into the military at an early age and served as a second lieutenant in the Russo-Japanese war. During this time, he had received a wound from a bayonet that resulted in his left arm being inept. It was this injury, however, that helped add the fluid grace in sambo, since his contributions to sambo were more about utilizing the opponent’s strength against himself. His training in Greco-Roman wrestling was also a major

Through Collaboration Comes Creation


The martial art of Sambo may have been created by two individuals, but it has been recorded that neither Oshchepkov or Spiridonov had worked together to create what we currently know as the Russian mixed martial art. Instead, most of what is taught has been a mix-match of various students of both men throughout the USSR.

During their research, Anatoly Kharlampiev and I.V. Vasiliev, other researchers and Russian martial artists joined in on the contribution to help develop a greater combat system for their country. It wasn’t until 1938, however, where the Sambo became an official combat sport in the Soviet Union – a move made and pushed heavily by Kharlampiev. It was for this reason, and the connections he had, Kharlampiev has sometimes been closely linked as the father of Sambo.

Combat & Sport Sambo

While there are various styles of Sambo, the one used for the military has come to be coined Combat Sambo. In this, students learn how to use weapons, as well as techniques on how to properly disarm opponents. There is also heavy emphasis on striking and grappling, compared to other forms, since it was largely used by Soviet Union police officers, military personnel, and other enforcement officials.

By 1981, Sambo had become recognized as an official Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee. Unlike its counterpart style, Combat Sambo, there are no use of weapons and much of what students train in are takedowns. Sport Sambo requires practitioners to focus on leg locks, ground grappling skills, and wrestling maneuvers. Students train to be agile, since the central aim in a competition is to make the opponent submit fast. This is done by quickly taking down an opponent and working around them to apply a surefire submission.

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