What is Sambo
Sambo (Russian: самбо) -- is a modern martial art, combat sport and self-defense system developed in the former Soviet Union, and recognized as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee in 1938, presented by Anatoly Kharlampiev.
The word Sambo is an acronym of САМозащита Без Оружия (SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya) meaning "self-defense without a weapon" in Russian. Sambo has its roots in traditional folk styles of wrestling such as Armenian Koch, Georgian Chidaoba, Moldovan Trîntǎ, Uzbek Kurash, and Mongolian Khapsagay.
According to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), Sambo is one of the four main forms of amateur competitive wrestling practiced internationally today, the other three being Greco-Roman wrestling, Freestyle wrestling and Judo. FILA accepted Sambo as the 3rd style of international wrestling in 1968 until it formed its own organization Federation International Amateur Sambo (FIAS) in 1985. In 1993, FIAS split into two organizations. Both organizations used the same name and logo. In 2005, FILA reached an agreement with one of the two organizations to reassume control over the sport. The other organization claims that the two organizations were reunified in 2006. At present FILA sanctions international competition in the style as does FIAS. Both organizations conduct separate world championships and other international events.
There is no single, universally recognized founder of Sambo. However, Anatoly Kharlampiev is often officially recognized as the founder. Two other primary authors of Sambo were Vasili Oshchepkov (who was shot in a gulag during the political purges of 1933 for refusing to deny his education in Japanese Judo as the first European black belt awarded by Judo founder, Jigoro Kano), and Viktor Spiridonov, who originally developed Sambo as a soft, aikido-like system since he was maimed in his left shoulder from a bayonet wound in the Russo-Japanese war.
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Versions of Sambo
Although it was originally a single system, there are now four generally recognized versions of Sambo:
- Sport Sambo (Borba 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 all types of leg locks, while not allowing chokeholds.
- Self-defense Sambo which is similar to Aikijutsu, jujitsu or Aikido, and is based on self-defense application, such as defending against attacks by both armed and unarmed attackers.
- Combat Sambo (Russian: Боевое Самбо, Boyevoye Sambo). Utilized and developed for the military, this is arguably the root of Sambo as it is now known, and includes practice with weapons and disarming techniques. Competition in combat sambo resembles older forms of judo and modern mixed martial arts, including extensive forms of striking and grappling.
- Special Sambo - developed for Army Special Forces and Rapid Reaction Police (Militsija) teams and other law enforcement formations. The "Special Sambo" version differ from team to team due to different tasks and aims, however the base of any special system developed in that field is of course Sambo.
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A Sambo practitioner normally wears either a red or blue jacket kurtka, a belt and shorts of the same color, and sambovki (Sambo shoes).
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History of Sambo
The founders of Sambo sifted deliberately 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 had earned his nidan (second degree black belt out of then five) from judo’s founder, Jigoro Kano, and used some of the founder's philosophy in formulating the early development of the new Russian 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.
As the buffer between Europe and Asia, Russia had more than ample opportunities to sift through the martial skills of various invaders. Earlier Russians had experienced threats from the Vikings in the west and the Tatars and Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde from Mongolia in the east. The regional, native combat systems included in Sambo’s genesis are 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 styles, Japanese jujutsu, and other martial arts of the day plus the classical Olympic sports of boxing, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling. Sambo even derived lunging and parrying techniques from Italian scherma fencing.
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 jujitsu by Kano into his new style of jacket wrestling.
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, Free style wrestling, and many Slavic wrestling styles. As a “combatives investigator” for Dinamo, he traveled to Mongolia and China to observe their native fighting styles.
In 1923, Oschepkov and Spiridinov collaborated 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 jujitsu and Kito Ryu jujitsu 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 called “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.
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 injury that he suffered that greatly restricted his ability to practice Sambo or wrestling. Refined versions of Sambo are still used today or fused with specific Sambo applications to meet the needs of Russian commandos today.
Each technique for Sambo was carefully dissected and considered for its merits, and if found acceptable in unarmed combat, refined to reach Sambo’s ultimate goal: stop an armed or unarmed adversary in the least time possible. Thus, the best techniques of jujitsu and its softer 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.
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