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In 1929, a Russian officer named Vasilii. Oshchepkov began teaching an evolved form of Judo to the Red Army. He had studied Kodokan Judo, and gained the rank of Master, but felt that it was an incomplete system. He added physical exercises to help strengthen his students. The techniques were drastically altered as well. He removed techniques he felt were weak and replaced them with new, more efficient techniques. Oshchepkov used various forms of international wrestling as his source of new techniques. Strikes from American and European boxing were added as well.

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Another man, Spiridonov, had spent many years "compiling" forms of wrestling from all over the U.S.S.R. Years later, these two men’s work became joined. Oshchepkov had also added many leg locks, which were missing from the art. This conjoined style was titled “SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya,” which in Russian, means "Self Defense Without Weapons"’ They gave it the name SAMBO for short.

The art was designed for military use, but it was given sporting rules to aid in training. The first instructors felt that this was the best way to accurately simulate a real combat situation without risking serious damage to the practitioners. Sambo was given official recognition as a sport in the U.S.S.R. in 1938. In 1966, it was adopted by FILA as the third form of international wrestling, along with Greco-Roman and Freestyle. In 1984, Sambo and FILA parted ways, and FIAS (Federation of International Amateur Sambo) was formed.

Styles Although it was originally a single system, there are now five generally recognized styles of Sambo:

  • Sport 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 and focuses on throwing, ground work and submissions.
  • Self-defense Sambo, which is similar to aikijutsu, jujutsu or aikido and is based on self-defense application, such as defending against attacks by both armed and unarmed attackers. Many practitioners consider Self-Defense Sambo a part of Combat Sambo and not a system unto itself.
  • Combat Sambo. Utilized and developed for the military, Combat Sambo includes practice with weapons, including disarming techniques. Competition in Combat Sambo resembles older forms of judo and modern mixed martial arts, including extensive forms of striking and grappling. The first FIAS World Sambo Championships were held in 2001.
  • Special Sambo – developed for Army Special Forces and Rapid Reaction Police (Militsija) teams and other law enforcement formations. The Special Sambo style differs 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. The term Special Sambo is a relatively new term which refers to specialized versions of combat Sambo.
  • Freestyle Sambo – uniquely American set of competitive Sambo rules created by the American Sambo Association (ASA) in 2004. These rules differ from traditional Sport Sambo in that they allow choke holds and other submissions from Combat Sambo that are not permitted in Sport Sambo. Freestyle Sambo, like all Sambo, focuses on throwing skills and fast ground work. No strikes are permitted in Freestyle Sambo. The ASA created this rule set in order to encourage non-Sambo practitioners from judo and jujitsu to participate in Sambo events.

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