Combat Sambo: Rules, History, and How To Get Started

combat sambo fight

When you first witness combat sambo you might not be able to tell the difference it and MMA. This is understandable seeing as how these two sports are very similar. Many great combat sambo competitors have also become world champions in the UFC. 

Combat Sambo is a mixed martial art of Soviet origin that includes strikes, punches, takedowns, and submissions. Like MMA, it’s a multi-dimensional, internationally recognized fighting sport covering all fighting techniques.

Today I’ll be looking at Combat Sambo to find out whether it’s a sport that is right for you and if it can be effective for self-defense or a street fight. We will also cover the history and background of this great combat sport. 

What Is Combat Sambo?

Combat Sambo is a fighting technique rooted in the Russian military. Like MMA, it includes aspects of striking and grappling. The fighting techniques also include punches, kicks, elbows, knees, soccer kicks, headbutts, throws, holds, chokes, and leg locks.

Combat Sambo is derived from the Russian term SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya, which means “self-defense without weaponry.”

It is a dynamic sport since it offers a wide range of skills in both standing and ground positions. The sport is not widely spread globally but make no mistake; Combat Sambo is an efficient martial art fighting system. 

To illustrate Combat Sambo’s effectiveness, Khabib Nurmagomedov is a renowned former unbeaten UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) champion whose fighting techniques included MMA and a background in Combat Sambo.

Another combat sambo fighter that some consider to be the greatest of all time is Fedor  Emelianenko

Origins Of Russian Sambo 

Many martial arts have had military affiliations at some point in their history. Combat Sambo’s fighting style may be traced back to hand-to-hand warfare in the 1920s. It was invented by the Soviet Red Army to overpower the enemy quickly and easily.

The founders are Vasili Oshchepov and Viktor Spiridonov. They both had advanced knowledge in martial arts, and throughout the 1920s and 30s, they analyzed and merged various techniques such as jiu-jitsu and judo to develop a unique fighting technique.

Sambo was on the verge of extinction even before it began. Tensions between the Soviet Union and Japan were rising in 1937 and the Soviet Union’s leader, Joseph Stalin, was petrified of Japanese spies.

As a result, Oshchepkov’s intimate contacts with Japan placed him in a gulag on spy charges. At the same time, Sambo’s usage of Japanese martial arts principles made the fighting style questionable, in Stalin’s opinion.

Sambo was saved thanks to the efforts of a third man, Anatoly Kharlampiyev – Oshchepkov’s student. The All-Union Sports Committee of the Soviet Union recognized the martial art as an official sport in 1938.

What Are The Rules Of Combat Sambo?

Combat Sambo has several rules. First, striking is permitted though it does not earn you any points. However, a knockdown resulting from strikes is regarded as a throw. Also, you can punch, kick, and use your knees, or elbows while in a standing position as well as from the ground.

Sambo Fighters have limited ground time but they are allowed a few seconds to fight while on the mat. Still, you are not allowed to throw elbows at your opponent when dragging them by the sleeves. You also cannot stop them from taking you down by kneeing their head.

Combat Sambo vs. Sambo (the Grappling Sport)

Combat Sambo and Sambo sound almost similar, but they have some differentiating features. 

The primary difference between Combat Sambo and Sambo is that the former allows strikes and punches while grappling Sambo only allows subduing techniques like armbars and leg locks.

Additionally, Combat Sambo is a very balanced system of various integrated martial arts. It’s ideal for those who want to enhance their self-defense skills.

Here’s a more detailed side-by-side comparison between Sambo and Combat Sambo:

 Combat SamboGrappling Sambo
Attire/EquipmentCompetitors wear jackets, boots, head and shin guards. The red or blue uniform is called kurtka/sambvoka.Fighters wear boots and gi (uniform similar to Judogi)
Fighting StrategiesSimilar to MMA. Integrates strikes, elbows, and punches borrowed from jiu-jitsu, boxing, judo, and wrestling.In the 1920s, as an extension of Sports Sambo for Soviet armed forces. It aimed at taking down the opponent as fast as possible
OriginsSimilar to MMA. Integrates strikes, elbows and punches borrowed from jiu-jitsu, boxing, judo, and wrestling.In the 1920s from a combination of folk wrestling styles
Match venueOn a mat, 5 minutes each roundOn a mat, 5 minutes each round
Style Combat sambo is both a striking and grappling styleRussian Sambo is strictly a grappling martial art

Is Combat Sambo the Same As MMA?

Combat Sambo is not the same as MMA though it’s pretty similar as they both incorporate various martial arts to come up with one technique.

Their key difference is that MMA emphasizes resilience and being able to stand up to any situation while Combat Sambo focuses on pins and takedowns.

However, in MMA you can also choose to try and keep your opponent on the ground and control them. In combat sambo, your time on the ground will be limited. In other words, MMA has fewer rules than combat sambo in how you choose to fight.

Differences Between Mixed Martial Arts(MMA) and Combat Sambo

In theory, MMA and Combat Sambo are nearly identical, but a deeper dive reveals some differences.

The main differences between MMA and combat Sambo are evident in the rules, attire, emphasis, and origin. Combat Sambo is originally from Russia, while MMA combines various martial arts that exist worldwide.


Some of the popular  MMA martial arts include boxing, wrestling, Muay Thai, and Jiu-Jitsu. In addition, many MMA fighters come from a Sambo background as well.

MMA is less specialized than Combat Sambo and more adaptive. It encourages techniques including but not limited to kicking, grappling, and striking. However, head-kneeing, head butting, groin attacks, hair-pulling, and heel hooks are prohibited during international tournaments.

The common techniques used in Combat Sambo include a combination of judo, wrestling, and grappling. Strikes, Sambo casting punch, kneeing, elbowing, and leg locks are some of the common skills developed. Combat Sambo is quite specialized and emphasizes ground fighting and catch wrestling.

Both arts have a lot to offer; hence most fighters train in both disciplines and incorporate all techniques during fights. Some trainers even use Combat Sambo as a base for MMA training. 

Typically, Sambists (combat sambo fighters) practiced MMA before the sport became as popular as it is today. 


MMA is vastly more popular than Combat Sambo and has a global following. It’s easy to locate a gym to train in regardless of where you reside. In contrast, Sambo is not known as much outside the soviet countries.

Additionally, trainees with a background in Combat Sambo find it easier to transition into MMA than MMA practitioners who try to train in Combat Sambo.

Tournament Matches

When it comes to tournament matches, Combat Sambo fights are usually five minutes long, while most MMA matches last anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five minutes long, depending on the fighters’ expertise.

The scoring techniques in MMA include effective striking/grappling, effective aggressiveness, and fighting area control. The point system in Combat Sambo is similar to that of sporting sambo. 

That said, strikes are not awarded points, but knockdowns, pins, and submissions are.

Which One Is Better?– MMA vs. Combat Sambo

Combat Sambo is ideal if you want to learn how to attack and grapple using all your limbs as weapons, with the possibility of eventually transitioning to MMA. MMA is much more versatile in this aspect.

The better option between MMA and Combat Sambo may vary depending on your preference and goals. Whether you prefer MMA’s chess-like strategies or Sambo’s powerful subdue-based moves, ensure you go for a sport that makes you happy.

Every MMA fighter has a unique style since the components of their system may be personal preferences or they may be significantly influenced by their training. The biggest advantage MMA has over combat sambo is availability. 

Finding a place to learn combat sambo in many countries is either very rare or there is simply nonexistent.

Is Combat Sambo Effective?

Combat Sambo is a compelling martial art as it was invented around real life-threatening situations often seen in combat. It’s a hybrid art that’s extremely fast, explosive, technical, and competitive. It also discards less effective techniques for more efficient ones.

Combat Sambo is very effective in a real street fight. This is evidenced by the fact that Sambo fighters often dominate their opponents in MMA.

There are no prescribed grips or formal stands in real-life combat. Just think back to gym spars or bar brawls. Every bout ends with grappling on the ground after a few blows.

Combat Sambo Training

Almost everyone can start Combat Sambo training. However, like most martial arts, physical training and fitness are essential before the lessons begin. Additionally, Combat Sambo does not have a belt system like BJJ or other martial arts.

Generally, a training uniform isn’t required for training, but this may change depending on your school. During tournaments, fighters may sport a red or blue gi with extra head and mouth guards.

The Pros of Combat Sambo Training

Here are some of the reasons you should consider Combat Sambo Training:

  • For self-defense. Sambo is the art of self-defense rather than offense, empowering you to protect yourself effectively without resorting to excessive aggression. The skills learned can help you protect yourself even against physically stronger assailants.
  • It enhances physical fitness and body strength. The high-intensity Combat Sambo interval training burns body fat after the session. Combat Sambo also blends many fighting disciplines like judo, wrestling, and grappling into an unexpected technique that will get you in the best shape.
  • It fosters better relationships. Training brings you into contact with a close-knit group of people. It creates and promotes a “spirit of partnership” for practitioners.
  • It promotes discipline. The art teaches you how to make goals, focus on your mental and emotional resources, get in shape, and how to get along with others. You’ll learn that discipline and respect are the foundations of your training.

How To Learn Combat Sambo

To learn Combat Sambo, trainees must be agile and flexible. Additionally, they need to master various throws, joint locks, blows, kicks, and submission skills vital during fights. Learning the art requires years of practice and dedication because it necessitates reasonable control of all your abilities.

To master this sport, Sambo players must go through a tough training program. Typically, Sambists must be able to strike and grapple. The game also necessitates a high level of aggressiveness.

So what are the requirements needed to start learning Combat Sambo? Well lets start with finding a place to learn which is often the hardest part. 

Find a Competent Combat Sambo Trainer/School

To begin training, you’ll need to enroll in classes or find an accredited instructor.  In many places in the world finding access to a place to learn is hard if not impossible.

You also need to regularly practice your newly acquired abilities. You can train and compete at a high level if you have the necessary passion and skill.

Check the internet for gyms, dojos, or clubs that provide fighting or martial arts classes. You can also find out if any martial arts classes incorporate both striking and grappling.

If there are no classes near you, a great option may be training judo, wrestling, jiu-jitsu,  and striking separately. But then again you are pretty much just doing MMA at that point. So in many parts of the world simply learning MMA might be a better option. 

Buy the Right Equipment

Combat Sambo’s equipment is quite the same as that used in MMA. Practitioners wear various protective gear, such as helmets, gloves, and guards. 

During a fight, the sambovka and belts are worn as part of the uniform. Other gyms will only require you to wear gym shorts and a T-shirt.

If you’re training at home, find and position a platform at least 2 to 5 meters (6 to 16 feet) wider than the practice mat. The mat’s surface should be covered with a coverlet composed of sturdy, soft cloth or synthetic material with no rough seams.

Enroll and Attend the First Class

Call to book your first class once you find an ideal practice gym or school in your neighborhood. 

Explain that you are a beginner, and they will guide you appropriately. The first classes will introduce the sport, and what’s required, and you may also do a few fun techniques.

Practice Regularly

Ensure you train consistently to enhance your memory of the techniques. Additionally, mastering a few takedown techniques should be one of your goals. 

Takedowns are awarded points in the Combat Sambo scoring system. Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect.

Study Combat Sambo Online 

The YouTube and internet age comes in handy today, and you can learn anything, anywhere, at any time. Keep studying Combat Sambo online to see if it is the right sport for you.

Check this YouTube video below that explains more about Combat Sambo.

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