Sport Sambo VS Combat Sambo VS Freestyle Sambo: Key Differences and Similarities 


Sambo is a relatively modern martial art sport, which was developed in Russia in the 1920s. Sambo was developed with the idea to equip the Red Army and Soviet NKVD with hand-to-hand combat abilities without weapons. The term Sambo derives from the Russian acronym “SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya” which means “self-defence without weapons”.

The intention of Sambo was to merge the most effective techniques of other martial art sports together into one. Vasili Oshchepkov was the pioneer of Sambo, and Viktor Spiridonov and Anatoly Kharlampley also played key roles in the development of the sport.

Vasili Oshchepkov was an intelligence officer during the Tsarist and Soviet periods. He studied at the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo and became the first Russian to receive a second Dan in Judo. He also played a key role in introducing Judo to the Soviet Union.

Sambo shares similarities with Judo in terms of takedowns and throws, however, Sambo has a strong emphasis on submission- especially leg locks. Just like Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sambo has a strong focus on competition.

Sambo is a grappling based sport as it uses a gi, just as in Judo. Due to the evidently quick growth of the sport, Sambo has even been represented in the cage at the highest levels of MMA with athletes such as Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Combat Sambo

Key Differences

Sports Sambo

The most commonly taught form of Sambo outside the Russian Military is Sports Sambo, so most gyms in Russia offer Sports Sambo. The sport is similar to Judo, but there are some key differences. In Sports Sambo there are fewer restrictions when it comes to grabbing the gi. Also, Sports Sambo uses shorts instead of long pants like in Judo. The reason shorts are used in Sports Sambo is because there’s an emphasis on upper body clinches- in this light, Sambo has a heavy focus on wrestling and close fighting in comparison to Judo.

In Sports Sambo, points are scored for takedowns and sweeps. To achieve an instant victory in Sports Sambo, like an Ippon in Judo, you must either throw your opponent to the floor whilst standing up or make them tap. There are a number of submissions in Sports Sambo that are otherwise illegal in Judo, including achilles locks and kneebars.

Combat Sambo

Combat Sambo is similar to Sports Sambo in terms of points system. However, there’s a major key difference between both forms of Sambo. In Combat Sambo, striking is allowed in all forms, including kicks, punches, elbows, headbutts, and even groin strikes. In some competitions, headbutts and groin strikes are not permitted.

Combat Sambo can be seen as the more mixed and aggressive form of Sambo, in comparison to Sports Sambo which is primarily focused on grappling.

In order to win in Combat Sambo, the same rules apply as Sports Sambo, with a knockout being an additional way to win. However, not all strikes in Combat Sambo contribute towards points.

Due to the strikes in Combat Sambo, athletes will use shin pads, gloves, and headgear in addition to the traditional uniform. Combat Sambo could easily be compared to MMA, only that Combat Samo requires a gi and has slightly different rules when it comes to groundwork.

Freestyle Sambo

Freestyle Sambo was developed in the USA. Freestyle Sambo combines Sports Sambo with strangulations and chokes being added. 

Typically, Sambo doesn’t allow for strangulations or chokes, which is what makes the sport unique. However, in Freestyle Sambo it’s allowed. 

With that being said, Freestyle Sambo and Sports Sambo share similarities as they have a mixture of submissions from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Freestyle Sambo


All forms of Sambo use the same rules when the action hits the ground. Meaning, 7 seconds is given to secure a submission or pin. Some referees may give just 5 seconds. For this reason, many Sambists are trained to throw the opponent into a submission or pin directly.

All forms of sambo use the same uniform, which consists of a gi, shorts, and belt.

International Recognition

In 1938 SAMBO was recognized as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee.

The International SAMBO Federation (FIAS) was officially registered fifty years after the sport’s introduction. FIAS was given the sole right to develop and promote SAMBO worldwide and stage official events.

After aligning its event organization and day-to-day management, FIAS is now recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

FIAS is also recognized by the Association For International Sport for All, World Anti-Doping Agency, Peace and Sport, and International University Sports Federation.

In Conclusion

Overall, you should pick the form of Sambo that best suits you. If you have an interest in MMA and are thinking about venturing to the sport in future, then Combat Sambo is a great start as it will offer a smooth transition into MMA.

If you prefer a less dangerous form of martial art, then regular Sports Sambo may be the right one for you. Sports Sambo has its fair share of injuries as it’s still a tough sport. However, it’s less extreme as there isn’t any striking involved.

With Freestyle Sambo, creative elements are thrown in with added strangulations and chokes- giving more opportunities for submission, but venturing away from the tradition of Sports Sambo.

In conclusion, all forms of Sambo have their fair share of similarities, key differences, strengths and weaknesses. With that being said, if you’re eager to learn takedowns and submissions without having a restrictive framework like there is in Judo, then Sambo is the martial art for you. Even better, do both! Some of the greatest Judo athletes started as Sambo athletes- and they even continue training in both sports.