7 common Misconceptions about Sambo

Sambo. A Russian grappling art gaining traction in it’s popularity. It’s often referred to as ‘Russian Sambo’, similar to how Jiu Jitsu now has the prefix of ‘Brazilian’ in front of it. Sambo’s surge in popularity is paralleled with the explosion of MMA over the past decade. Superstars such as Fedor Emelianenko and now Khabib Nurmagomedov are Sambists who have brought their sport along with them to the top of the fight game. Sambo has been the talk on niche Internet forums, Social Media outlets and blogs for sometime now… Due to the rise in the arts appeal, some common myths and misconceptions have also been tossed around freely. What we’re here to do today is clarify some of these inaccuracies.

Misconception #1

Sambo is not a derogatory term, it’s an acronym

SAMoonorona Bez Oruzhiya meaning Self defense without weapons. Sambo has since evolved beyond its original usage, which was meant to equip the Soviet Red-Army with the most practical hand-to-hand combat skills on the battle field. The goal of Sambo was to utilize the most effective techniques regardless of Martial Art. Pieces of the curriculum from Jiu Jitsu, various wrestling styles, Judo and a few other martial arts were utilized to create the hand-to-hand system known as SAMoonorona Bez Oruzhiya. 

Misconception #2

’Sambo is Russian Judo’ -

Sambo co-founder Vasily Oschepkov was a Judo Blackbelt - true. However, Oschepkov began modifying the art to fit Russian national characteristics. The wrestling aspect of Sambo was influenced by the many indigenous wrestling styles of the various Soviet nations during the time. Over the years Sambo, has developed into it’s own sport. Many of the techniques in Sambo are banned in Judo. The term ‘Russian Judo’ would more accurately be used to generalize the style of Judoka’s from Russia. 

Miconception # 3

‘Sambists have great Leg locks’

This may be one of the biggest misconceptions. The majority of submission finishes in Sambo are by armlock. In modern BJJ, John Danaher’s students have become well known for their leg locks, In the 80’s and 90’s Carlson Gracie Team was well known for their aggressive guard passing, this is a good example of ‘leg lockers’ in Sambo. Specializing in certain techniques or areas often has to do with the influence from the teacher, coach or geographic region. Sambo is a ‘throwing’ sport, which means victory lies heavily in being able to throw your opponent to receive a high score or clean victory. A clean throw will by pass any necessary mat work.

Misconception #4

“Look at the Heel Hooks on that Guy - He must do Sambo”

In connection to ‘Misconception #3’ above, many people believe that all leg locks are legal in Sambo. Sorry folks, don’t shoot the messenger but this however is false. Heel Hooks are not allowed in Sambo. The sport Sambo ruleset only allows straight leg locks, there are no heel hooks or toe holds. With the restriction of twisting leg locks, submission oriented Sambists tend to have solid knee-bars and ankle locks.

Misconception #5

‘There’s no chokes in Sambo’

This is for the most part true. But it depends on what style of Sambo we’re talking about. In Gi based Jiu Jitsu, reaping the leg is illegal, but in the majority of No Gi tournaments, reaping the leg is indeed legal. That’s how it is with Sambo too. In Sport Sambo, chokes are illegal, but in Combat Sambo chokes are indeed allowed.

Misconception #6

Sambo is extremely popular. All Russian kids train in this style. 

Although it’s recognized as Russia’s national prioritized sport (Putin’s bill passed in 2003), some people in Russia still don’t know what it is. Grappling and MMA fans, may commonly think that Sambo is part of the fabric of Russian youth. While there are indeed, Sambo Schools, in which children learn their academics, it is still not as popular of a sport as many westerners would like to believe. 

Misconception #7

Rustam Chsiev is a Sambist

Writing this article, we assume our readers are the ‘Hardcore’ Grappling Fan, BUT if you’re not, and you’re just surfing the vast abyss of the internet, we’ll still fill you in. Rustam Chsiev is an incredibly accomplished Submission Grappling athlete. He is a bronze medalist at ADCC(The most prestigious tournament in Grappling), he’s a multiple time super fight, and expert division champion at NAGA, Grapplers Quest. He holds wins over some of the biggest names in BJJ, World Champions Rafael Lovato Jr, Romulo Barral, and Davi Ramos have all been on the losing  end of matches with the Ossetian native Chsiev. However, Rustam is often dubbed a “Sambo” wrestler. This is a myth, Rustam is a freestyle wrestler who learned the art of submissions. 

Hope you enjoyed our blog post! Stay tuned for more.

Vlad Koulikov