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The Russian Martial Art of Sambo


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Sambo is a grappling martial art with origins in all 15 of the different republics of the former Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was known for having varying forms of folk wrestling and needed a way for the different republics to compete against each other without having different rules and techniques. They combined the various forms of folk wrestling and created the martial art of Sambo. Sambo was also used as the main self defense training for hand to hand combat in the Soviet military. Much like the many other martial arts in the world today, Sambo is practiced in a few different ways. The most popular form of Sambo is sport Sambo which is more or less a submission grappling style more geared towards competition. Sambo is also still taught as a means of self defense known as combat Sambo.

The ranking system varies from school to school and unlike other traditional martial arts, Sambo tends to shy away from awarding belts. A rank is given to each student primarily based on their accomplishments at competitions. If a Sambo school is an official member of the United Federation of Russian Sambo (UFRS) they will comply with the rules and regulations set fourth by the FIAS which include no belt rankings. Sambo is considered the official martial art of Russia and the tournaments in that country have reached quite a large audience. Sambo is now coming out of obscurity in North America as there are many clubs opening daily and quite a few competitions.

In Sambo a uniform is made up of shoes known as sambofki, a kurtka or Sambo jacket, belt and shorts. For a competition you would need to bring all of these articles of clothing in both red and blue. A Sambo match consists of one 6 minute round at the senior level. A match can be won in several different ways. If you are able to complete a perfect throw or submit your opponent this is known as a total victory. You can also win by technical superiority when you have a 12 point advantage over your opponent. Lastly much like other martial arts, the competitor with the most amounts of points at the end of 6 minutes is rewarded with the win. If there’s a tie there will be a one minute overtime period.

There are two different ways of scoring in a sport Sambo match. You can hold your opponent down for 10 seconds and score 2 points or you can hold them down for 20 seconds and be rewarded with 4 points. You are only allowed one hold down per match. The second way to score points is to throw your opponent. A throw is considered successful when one opponent is able to break the balance of the other and take them down in one continuous motion. As stated before if this throw is completed perfectly the match is ended.

Sambo and Judo share many similarities and many of the elite Judo fighters tend to translate well into the sport of Sambo. The martial art of Sambo is not well known outside of Russia but is a very effective self defense system. As many clubs are opening up worldwide we’re beginning to see Sambo become a much more popular martial art and hopefully after reading this you’ll have a greater understanding and appreciation for this martial art.

Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to Martial Arts

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  • Posted On December 30, 2006
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