Putin ‘em Away: An Introduction to Sambo
By: Gregg Humphreys
SAMBO: A Short History.
Sambo was created by two men, Viktor Spiridonov and Vasli Oshchepkov. Spiridonov studied the indigenous folk wrestling styles of the Soviet Republics with the most notable being Chidaoba (Georgia) and Kurash (Uzbekistan). He also studied the systems of almost every Soviet Republic as well as Mongolia.
Oshchepkov studied judo in Japan and achieved a Nidan rank( 2nd Degree Blackbelt).
Both these men took what they felt was useful from the styles they studied and combined them to create a style what is now known as Sambo. Sambo is an acronym for Self Defense without Weapons. It became an official Soviet Sport in November of 1938. Oshchepkov was accused of being a spy for Japan under the Stalin regime and was executed in 1937.
During the late 1950′s and early 1960′s the Soviets began entering judo competitions and created havoc with their unorthodox throws and armlocks. Today the Sambo influence on judo is very apparent.
Russian Prime Minister (Former President) Vladimir Putin is a black belt in judo but he actually studied sambo and attained a Master of Sport Ranking prior to his judo training.
Sambo has several different variants: Sport Sambo which is similar to judo, Combat Sambo which is similar to MMA and Military Sambo. I’ll focus on Sport Sambo.
A Personal History
Having a judo background I became fascinated with Sambo during the 70′s and began traveling to the Soviet Union in the late 80′s. Since that time I have trained in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus on a bi-annual basis. During the off years I have hosted a variety of Russian coaches with the most notable being Igor Kurinnoy of Moscow. Igor is a 3x World Sambo Champion, 5x Sambo World Cup Champion, a World Sumo Silver Medalist and an International Judo Champion.
Over the years Igor has become one of my best friends. I’m his North American representative and editor for his Sambo for Professionals Series.
The one thing that I found in Sambo that makes it different is it’s adaptability, practioners today like its founders will take techniques from other arts and use them. Another factor is that rather then force the body to adapt to a certain technique the Russians will adjust the technique to the body. Sambo is not a collection of techniques but rather a methodology and philosophy.
The practices are amazing, often you’ll find the sambo wrestlers training with judoka, sumo wrestlers and freestylers. One common misconception about Sambo is that it is a style that focuses on leglocks. Leglocks are an integral part of sambo, however it is primarily a throwing sport with a comprehensive ground system. In Russian, judo and sambo are regarded as different sides to the same coin.
There are a large number of clubs in Moscow but the most famous is Sambo-70. Sambo-70 is a large sports school with over 1500 members. It has four training halls with another massive hall. On any given day you’ll find 150-200 athletes on the mat. Among these athletes you’ll find past and former Olympic and World Champions, up and comers and new students. The former Olympic and World guys are there not only to train but to help the younger guys improve, the lack of ego was amazing. Igor has three schools throughout Moscow and athletes seek him out to train with him as he is widely regarded as the most technical and innovative coach in Russia.
In closing I would encourage any wrestler/martial artist to study sambo and take advantage of it’s richness of techniques.
Gregg Humphreys is the judo and sambo coach at Miletich Fighting Systems in Bettendorf, IA.