Why SAMBO is a Judo style when...

I probably will be much better off not writing this page... I better won’t, but...

It’s a lot of bad blood spilled in the fight of words among different SAMBO federations and fractions about what is constitute S A M B O and why only their own way is the God Given Truth and the others should be ostracized and forbidden to exists under Law of God (as no other law can govern this subject).

By touching the topic of SAMBO classification in the wider world of combative sport and martial arts, I’m placing myself into the cross-hair of multiple sharpshooters…

It’s not to say that it’s no reasonable, intelligent, and knowledgeable people in the SAMBO world. Quite an opposite is true based on my own experience. However, voices of those people aren’t heard as much in the laud argumentative yelling: they have their own business to mind and their short entries into discussion giving it positive spin, but not changing much on the ground. Those are the people I would like to give me feedback.

To be objective, those people usually don’t have much stake in the discussion. They don’t make living out of it. They just want to satisfy their desire to know and state the truth, to avoid punishing good deeds, and to see the World of Tomorrow as a better place then World of Today.

As of my own position… I don’t have much at stake ether. I even can’t clam to be a researcher on the subject as I don’t have access to original documents (not many do).

However, I'm fascinated by world of SAMBO, Judo, and Martial Arts today as much as I was 30 years ago. I can see a plenty of current publications and complete mess-up in it. Western, non-Russian speaking, Judo world has very little exposure to this inner-SAMBO fight (even giving that part of this fight is conducted in English and French in the arena of international federations) witch is a good thing. But this world also doesn’t understand the nature and place of SAMBO and, at large, sees it as semi-magical art of mysteries Russians.

On the page devoted to SAMBO on this site, I outlined its origins and development history. On this page I want to address different questions:

 Why SAMBO is a historical style of Judo and not a system of its own     (as why Judo itself isn’t just a style of jujutsu, but its own system     derived from jujutsu)?

 What is constitute difference between been a style vs. been system of     its own?

Similar questions also addressed on the Judo , jujutsu , and Aikido pages. However, the SAMBO classification is more divisive and less understood.

First, I would like to re-state why jujutsu is not just a fist fight of prehistoric people and why Judo isn’t jujutsu.

While human social structure evolved into hierarchically organized communities, people started to see things around themselves as worth organizing in a similar way. Fighting skills were one of such things. They gradually evolved into specialized arias: in case of Accent Greece it was fist fighting (I would hesitate to call it boxing even it’s often done as such), wrestling, and pankration . This specialization went by the lines of emphasizing primary physical and mental skills that help success with particular fighting style. Till nowadays the primary division in combative sport and martial arts are laying between strike-based and grappling-based systems.

When jujutsu came about in 15th – 16th centuries AD on the foundation of accent Japanese fighting skills with infusion of Chinese influence (regardless of what jujutsu foundation legend you’d prefer), it distinguished itself into a new system with the following:

 Introduction of asymmetric warfare: schools are clan based secret and     not exposed to strangers.

 Kata is the only way of training while mostly accidental, even expected     due to social environment, fights are used to rectify katas.

 Katas are defining element of a school.

This was a significant departure from prior models of ether Japanese Sumo or Chinese wushu where competitive fights were accepted and opponents expected to possess similar skills.

When Judo came along on the waves of Meiji Revolution it distinguished itself from the jujutsu by

 Introduction (re-introduction) of the limited free-fight randory training     while retaining formal kata training.

 Adding educational and pedagogical elements to the base definition.

 Removing notion of asymmetric warfare as it became widely     introduced into high school physical education curriculum, training of     military and police.

When Vasili Oshchepkov’s Judo of Kodokan breed transferred into SAMBO (initially under name of “Freestyle Wrestling”) the two most significant changes that been introduced were

 Removal of the formal kata training.

 Changing definition of randory rules from fighting using permitted Judo     techniques to fighting using techniques that aren’t forbidden.

Let asses the value of the changes.

Removal of the formal kata training added no value to the system, but only severed its remaining visible link to old jujutsu.

Changing definition of randory rules from fighting using permitted Judo techniques to fighting using techniques that aren’t forbidden is much more significant as Judo is based on Kodokan codified technical set with explicitly forbidden as well as known, but not accepted(!) techniques. This was very significant, but not new(!) for Judo, concept change. As Dr. Kano performed canonization of Judo techniques, he did it to keep newly introduced randory training in line with kata training by keeping randory limited to the set of techniques that trained in kata as well (the opposite isn’t true: not all kata techniques permitted in randory – atemi is the prime example). So, as Russian branch of Judo changed its name, affiliation, and stated to include non-Judo ‘folk’ techniques, it was very natural to drop any reference to Kodokan canon of Judo and to state its all-inclusive ‘catch-as-you-can’ principle. However, this catch-as-you-can principle was all the time in the old Japanese jujutsu as in combat version of Judo because no effective combat system can be any different . It worth to mention that many techniques that gave Kodokan upper hand in the Metropolitan Police Bujitsu Contest in late 1880th, never made it into Kodokan Judo Canon.

While I know the first hand the big add-on value in this last rule change, that eventually let SAMBO to evolve into highly potent and diverse Judo style, its not constitute, in my opinion, defining a new system as radical as it was in defining Judo (even its took more then half century for the casual crowd to stop using Jujutsu name for Judo – Judo was seen as a name of very particular school of jujutsu, but not as a different system as it is).

It worth to mention as well that incorporation of “Freestyle Wrestling” with Spiridonov’s SAMBO under one combined style in 1946 de-facto re-introduced kata back into SAMBO because training of combat techniques (such as standing joint locks, weapon defense, etc.) was conducted in the demonstration forms. Over many years and countries I lost my copy of 1988 “Unified Sports Classification System of the USSR” where (by my recollection and survived notes) Combat SAMBO ranking requirements up to the Master of Sport defined as based on form demonstration while having active presiding rank in any officially recognized combative sport (as for the Master of Sport it should be Candidate to the Master of Sport in Freestyle or Greek-Roman wrestling, or sport SAMBO, or Judo, or Boxing). By contrast, ranking in hand-to-hand combat (up to Candidate to the Master of Sport) was win-record based (in restricted military and law enforcement competitions) the same way as in sporting disciplines of wrestling, boxing, or Judo.

The other reason not to cut off different Judo styles from Judo (such SAMBO and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) is to be in line with a general history of sport and the history of boxing in particular: while boxing technical sets of James Figg, Daniel Mendoza, and Muhammad Ali varied more than any two styles of jujutsu, all three of them belong to the same International Boxing Hall Of Fame .

Saying all this doesn’t mean that any and all styles of Judo, be it SAMBO or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, can’t have their own institutions, federations, rules, championships, etc. And with this you can refer to words of Max Weinreich: “ A language is a dialect with an army and navy ”, but in case of martial arts the “army” and “navy” is the organization and it's in large defined by your own actions. This I will address on Aikido page.


This page discussion is about understanding history and nature of SAMBO and Judo and not about any practical things on the ground. From this perspective, based on the known facts, I don’t see reason to separate SAMBO into a system of its own, but to see it as the style of Judo dispute all the clams in the foundation legend to contrary.

Home Judo Styles Judo SAMBO