What To Expect in Sambo | A Martial Arts Overview

Sambo is a modern martial art that takes some of the best techniques of all kinds of martial arts. In the Russian language, Sambo is an acronym for “self-defense without weapons”, which is precisely what you’ll obtain if you get into this martial art.

In Sambo, you can expect an all-around grappling system based on practical principles. Sambo is a great choice for grappling and includes both takedowns and submission grappling, including leg locks.

In this article, we will be giving an overview of Sambo and address common questions in regard to the martial art. We will also look into its effectiveness for different types of people to show who should train in this martial art.

A Brief History of Sambo 

Sambo originated in the Soviet Union in the first half of the 1920s as a form of self-defense without weapons. It was developed by the Soviet army of the time to improve the hand-to-hand combat skills of its soldiers. Sambo was intended to combine all of the best techniques from other martial arts. 

The foundations of Sambo can be traced back to two people: Viktor Spironov and Vasili Oshchepkov. The latter spent many years training under the founder of Judo in Japan, which certainly had a significant effect on the fighting style invented by Oshchepkov. 

The fighting styles of both founders were vastly different but were soon intertwined to form Sambo. It was officially recognized as a sport in 1938 and has continued growing ever since. 

Having originated in the Soviet Union and being seen as a ‘Russian sport,’ many sanctions were placed on Sambo over the years. However, in recent times, Sambo has officially been recognized as a sport. Major competitions are held annually across the globe, including the U.S.

What Do You Wear for Sambo?

In Sambo, you wear a top called a sambovka accompanied by a pair of wrestling shorts and belts. The Sambovka is a unique jacket made from a special cotton material to give it a specific texture and style.

The color of the outfit is typically blue or red, and the same outfit is worn whether in training or competition.

For your first class, however, you will likely be allowed to trial a class wearing normal athletic clothing.

Do You Wear Shoes in Sambo? 

You do wear shoes in Sambo. In modern Sambo, it is pretty typical for athletes to wear wrestling shoes alongside their Sambo uniform. Sambo has less strict requirements in regard to shoes worn in many schools, but shoes that provide grip and traction are a must.

Do I Need To Be Fit To Start Sambo?

You do not need to be fit to start Sambo. Even though Sambo is a fast-paced martial art, you can improve your fitness over time and still learn the entire time.

Even though fitness isn’t a prerequisite to starting Sambo, being fit is critical to succeeding in the sport long term. Instructors will make allowances when you start training, but you will need to eventually take your fitness seriously if you want to get the most that you can out of training.

Do I Need To Be Strong for Sambo?

You don’t need to be strong to start Sambo. However, to get the most out of training, you will need to be relatively strong. Sambo, like most combat sports, requires that you are similarly strong in order to compete against similarly skilled opponents.

For example, you having good grip strength and basic strength will be vital to successfully perform takedowns against a resisting opponent. This is a fundamental part of the sport. 

Strength isn’t necessary if you are planning on starting Sambo, but you need to take strength training seriously if you are going to get everything that you can out of training.

Do I Need To Be Flexible for Sambo?

You don’t need to be especially flexible to start Sambo. However, like in most martial arts, you will need a basic level of flexibility to perform at your best. Having basic mobility and flexibility helps you execute techniques at a higher level.

While you do not need flexibility to start, actively building mobility and flexibility are vital as you continue your training.

Is Sambo Good for Getting in Shape?

Sambo is good for getting in shape. Apart from the actual training and sparring where the bulk of the fitness gains happen, you will likely do warm-ups and calisthenics in some amount as part of training.

The better you get at Sambo, the more you’ll notice your physical condition improve. 

Is Sambo Good for Self-Defense?

Sambo is good for self-defense. It was originally designed as a form of self-defense that combined effective techniques from different martial arts. Sambo teaches one to fight in many different ways and isn’t restricted to just one fighting style. 

This allows the trainee to be prepared to fight in whatever circumstances arise. Many professional fighters use sambo techniques today.

What Style of Fighting Is Sambo?

There are three different fighting styles in Sambo: Sport Sambo, Combat Sambo, and Freestyle Sambo. Sport Sambo is the most commonly taught and practiced form of Sambo. It has strong links to Judo and catch wrestling.

Combat Sambo is the form of Sambo that professional fighters use. It includes a mixture of grappling and striking martial arts and many arm lock techniques and chokeholds.

Does Sambo Include Live Sparring?

Sambo includes live sparring. Students are generally expected to do live sparring in every class once they learn the fundamentals. Training live is vital to improvement in the sport.

Are There Sambo Competitions or Tournaments?

There are Sambo competitions and tournaments. The International Sambo Federation is a body that regulates Sambo tournaments on regional, national, and international levels. The World Sambo Championship is the leading international competition and includes different weight categories. 

Is Sambo Dangerous To Practice? 

Sambo can be more dangerous to practice than other martial arts, but it’s still generally safe when training at a reputable school. The injury risk level is somewhere between judo and BJJ, but is wholly dependent upon the school you practice in and what tournaments you choose to compete in.

Is Sambo Hard To Learn?

Sambo isn’t hard to learn as a beginner, but it gets more difficult as you progress. It can take up to a year to learn Sambo fundamentals. If you have a base knowledge in another grappling art like judo, BJJ, or wrestling the learning curve is much faster.

Can You Learn Sambo at Home?

You can’t really learn Sambo at home without a partner. It’s a combat sport oriented martial art with many techniques that you can’t learn without an instructor. You’ll also need to practice these techniques with a sparring partner.

If you learn techniques or specific exercises from your instructor, you can practice these at home to try to master them with a partner, but learning Sambo wholly at home is unrealistic.

Final Thoughts

Sport Sambo which is the most commonly practiced form in the western world is a sister sport to judo, wrestling, and BJJ. It isn’t as widely available as the other grappling martial art forms I just mentioned, but it can be a great activity to pick up if it is available in your area. Otherwise, you can get a similar skillset picking up any of the aforementioned grappling martial arts.


Hi, I'm Andre and I am the author of this website. I currently train primarily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but supplement with other grappling martial arts as well as help to coach my kid's blended grappling program.

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