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Sport Sambo vs. Combat Sambo: What’s the Difference?

Sport Sambo(left) vs Combat Sambo(right)
Photo by Хоружий Юрий Александрович (left) Bruno Schmitt (right)

Sambo is a Russian martial art created in the 1920s as a military combat system. There are two main styles: Sport Sambo and Combat Sambo, which many people need clarification on because they both seem very similar.

Sports sambo is a rule-based style where athletes compete using grappling throws and submissions, excluding any forms of striking. In contrast, Combat Sambo is a combat style designed for the Russian military based on a hybrid mix of striking, grappling, and brutal self-defense tactics.

This is just a brief answer to the differences between Sport Sambo vs. Combat Sambo, so be sure to read this article to learn more about it.

What is Combat Sambo?

Sambo was first developed in the 1920s in Russia. At the time, the Russian military was searching for a hand-to-hand combat system to enhance its personnel’s fighting capabilities and sought to create its own Russian fighting system.

The result of their work was a hybrid self-defense system called “Combat Sambo Spetznas” when it was first created, according to Bruno SCHMITT, a world-renowned sambo coach, who informed us at MMAchannel.

The system is a mix of various grappling styles such as freestyle, Greco-Roman and folk style wrestling, and Judo. It also includes submission grappling techniques from Japanese jujutsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When it comes to striking, Sambo adopts the principles of boxing, Savate, and Kickboxing.

But on top of that, Combat Sambo Spetsnaz also includes dirty and dangerous tactics for self-defense. Students learn how to apply painful strikes to the groin and throat, head butts, and eye gouging. It enables them to do anything to protect their lives against armed or unarmed attackers.

In 1990, a modernized, safer combat version of Sambo was born in France without all the deadly military techniques. This tamed Sambo was created to allow Sambo practitioners to test their combat skills against each other safely under rules like MMA. This French version of Sambo was named “Sambo Global.”

But in 1991, when the USSR regime ended, the Russians sought to change the name of “Sambo Global” and instead promoted it as “Combat Sambo.” At the same time, the Russians also renamed their “Combat Sambo Spetsnaz” to “Combat Sambo” by dropping the word “Spetsnaz.”

As a result, notably, Combat Sambo has two different versions. One version is for sports competitions that the French started. The second version is for the Russian military self-defense, similar to Krav Maga, with deadly techniques banned in competitions.

Combat Sambo (competition version)
Combat Sambo (military version)

What is Sport Sambo?

As its name indicates, Sports Sambo is a sports variation. Sports Sambo focuses only on grappling and is very similar to Judo and wrestling, but striking is not allowed. 

Instead, the emphasis is on explosive takedowns and throws, and there are few restrictions when it comes to grips and holds. It also enables athletes to submit each other with various leg locks and joint locks, while chokes are not allowed.

Sports Sambo is also the only Sambo style recognized by the International Olympic Committee but has yet to be accepted as an Olympic sport.

Sport Sambo

The Key Differences Between Sport Sambo and Combat Sambo

Sports and Combat Sambo share a lot in common in terms of grappling techniques. But these two also differ a lot in many other areas, notably when it comes to striking. Here is a list of all the key differences:


Sports Sambo is a bit “limited” compared to the Combat version as it includes only grappling techniques. There’s no striking in Sport Sambo. It teaches different skills from various arts, such as wrestling, Judo, Jujutsu, Bokh(Mongolian wrestling), and Chidaoba. The rules allow leglocks and armlocks, and neck cranks, while chokes are not allowed.

Combat Sambo includes a much broader range of techniques. The learning curriculum consists of striking with kicks, punches, knees, elbows, and even head-butts. Practitioners also learn how to grapple using wrestling takedowns, and Judo throws, and submit each other on the ground with both chokes and joint locks.

Objectives and strategies

Sports Sambo is a variation in which athletes train to compete in matches. The learning syllabus is designed to be in line with the official rules. Students train to develop skills to beat their opponents under strict rules and win matches and titles. They rarely do any advanced self-defense tactics, but this varies between schools.

Combat Sambo differs significantly because the main focus is on self-defense and actual combat. It is designed to prepare you to combat violent situations in the streets or on the battlefield, where there can be armed or unarmed attackers. It enables you to do anything in your power to protect yourself without any restrictions.

Rules of competition

Sports Sambo:

  • Fighting area: Open mats that are between 11x11m and 14x14m in size
  • Match duration: 5 minutes
  • Gear: Sambovka (uniform), shorts, and boots
  • Points: 1–4 points for throws, and 2–4 points for pins
  • Ways to win a match: Have more points at the end of the match, achieve 12 point lead, perform a perfect throw, and submit the opponent

Combat Sambo

  • Fighting area: Open mats that are between 11×11 and 14×14 in size
  • Match duration: 5 minutes
  • Gear: Sambovka (uniform), shorts, boots, headgear, gloves, mouthguard, groin guard, and shinguards
  • Points: 1–4 points for throws, and 2–4 points for pins
  • Ways to win a match: Knockout, submission, have more points at the end of the match
Judo vs. Sambo – The Fundamental Differences

Sport Sambo or Combat Sambo for self-defense?

Combat Sambo is a better option and a more realistic style when it comes to real combat and self-defense. Though both styles are effective, the concept and teaching methods of Combat variation are more in line with the type of situation you may face on the streets.

Sports Sambo is limited in certain areas due to its heavy focus on competition. However, students still develop strong fighting instincts, automatic reactions, timing, etc. In addition, they learn valid grappling techniques such as throws, takedowns, and how to subdue the attacker on the ground. Sport Sambo emphasizes being explosive in their approach, making it hard to defend against.

However, Combat Sambo includes everything from Sport Sambo and adds even more. First, it emphasizes the self-defense program. Next, it trains you how to attack and defend using all limbs as weapons to strike with kicks, punches, knees, and elbows. It covers all ranges and places which makes it really effective in any type of freestyle combat.

It also introduces dirty and lethal tactics to defeat the attacker with brutal headbutts, groin strikes, and throat strikes. Though brutal, these skills work really well on the streets and may save your life.

Last but not least, the combat style is more realistic as students spar and do various fight simulations on a daily basis.

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Sport Sambo vs. Combat Sambo  – Which one is more difficult to learn?

Overall, Combat Sambo is more difficult as it is more versatile in terms of techniques. It is also physically more demanding and takes longer to master. Here is a detailed comparison.

More techniquesCombat Sambo

Combat Sambo is more complex as it includes both grappling and striking. The sports style, on the other side, focuses on grappling only. Next, the Combat style has more submissions, and also covers various aspects of the self-defense program.

Takes more time to learn — Combat Sambo

As a more versatile style, Combat Sambo also takes longer to master. The exact number of years is based on many factors, such as your individual talent for sports, fitness level, dedication, etc. On average, students need close to 10 years to master Combat Sambo, and a bit less for a sports style.

Safer to trainSport Sambo

Sports Sambo is not as hard on your body as Combat variation. It doesn’t include striking with kicks, punches, knees, and elbows, which are the biggest contributors to injuries in martial arts. Next, it is less intense as the emphasis is on competition and learning how to “fight” under the rules.

Sport Sambo vs. Combat Sambo  – Which one should I learn?

Combat and Sports Sambo share a lot in common. The good news is that most Sambo schools teach both styles, making it easier to find out which style suits you better.


Most beginners start by learning sports sambo in order to develop a strong base. This style has fewer techniques and is easier on the body, which makes it ideal for beginners.

Later, you can always switch over to Combat Sambo after you have already developed a strong grappling base from Sport Sambo. You can expand your skills by adopting striking techniques and submissions that are left out in sports variation.

However, you can do it the other way around and join the Combat classes from the start. This should be your approach if you want to improve self-defense skills, or if your intention is to develop the skills for MMA.

Both of these styles include a strong competition community, different organizations, and tournaments where you can test your skills against other practitioners.

The only major downside is the access to Sambo schools, as Sambo is not that popular outside of Russia and the former Soviet Republics. For this reason, finding a good Sambo school in your area may not be easy.

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What is the difference between Combat Sambo vs. Krav Maga?

Combat Sambo and Krav Maga are two separate combat systems designed for military purposes and real combat. Here is a list of all the major differences:

Combat SamboKrav Maga
HistoryCombat Sambo emerged in the 1920s in Russia. Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli military in the 1950s.
ConceptSambo is a hybrid mix of grappling and striking techniques from: Wrestling (folk, Greco-Roman, and freestyle) Jujutsu, Judo, BJJ, Boxing, KarateKrav Maga is also an all-around combat system that consists of different striking and grappling techniques from:  Aikido, Judo, Karate, Boxing
ObjectivesThe main goal is to develop an all-around set of skills to defend yourself in different self-defense scenarios. 
The main objective in Krav Maga is to become one with the physical and mental aspects of real combat and learn how to rely on skills, aggression, and explosiveness to protect yourself against the attacker or multiple attackers.
CompetitionBoth Combat and Sports sambo include competitions where they can test their skills against other students.Krav Maga doesn’t include competition as the system entirely focuses on self-defense. 

What is the difference between Combat Sambo vs. MMA?

Combat Sambo is a self-defense system designed for the Russian military, while MMA is a combat sport that later evolved into a combat system on its own. Here is a detailed look at all the other differences.

Combat SamboMMA
HistoryDeveloped in the 1920s in Russia. The modern form of MMA emerged in the early 90s with the birth of UFC promotion. 
ConceptAn all-around hybrid mix of grappling and striking techniques from: Wrestling (folk, Greco-Roman, and freestyle) Jujutsu Judo BJJ Boxing KarateA hybrid mix of only the most effective and battle-proven striking and grappling skills from: Wrestling Boxing BJJ Muay Thai
TechniquesKicks, Punch, Knees, Elbows, Takedowns, throws, Sweeps, Chokes and joint locks, Dirty tacticsKicks, Punch, Knees and elbows, Takedowns, Throws, Sweeps, Positioning, Joint locks and chokeholds
ObjectivesSelf-defense combat system where the main goal is to develop skills for a real combat you may encounter on the streets or on the battlefield. MMA is a combat sport where athletes compete under strict rules. The main objective is to win a match, world titles, money, and global fame. 

Why is Combat Sambo so effective in MMA?

Combat Sambo is more in line with the concept of Mixed Martial Arts(MMA). It covers just about every segment of MMA and represents a strong base on top of which you can add more techniques.

MMA is a sport where contestants compete in all three elements of freestyle combat – standup, clinch, and on the ground. They strike using all limbs, are allowed to clinch, score takedowns, submit each other and even strike on the ground. Combat Sambo resembles modern MMA as it meets all of these requirements.

Through hard training, you will develop all-around skills, and be prepared to compete in cage fighting. Of course, you must be careful not to utilize prohibited techniques such as head-butts and other dirty moves from Combat Sambo. But apart from that, everything else is fine.

Apart from techniques, what makes Combat Sambo really effective is the aggressive and explosive approach to fighting. Since Sambo matches are short (5 minutes in total), the emphasis is on getting a fast finish without wasting any time with more urgency.

That’s why Sambo fighters in UFC like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev are so relentless inside the cage because they have trained in Combat Sambo, where they are so used to fighting at a fast pace.

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Related questions

Does Sambo have submissions?

All styles of Sambo have submissions such as joint locks and chokeholds, as Sambo is rooted in Judo and Japanese jujutsu. However, the types of submissions practitioners are allowed to use differ between the styles.

In Sport Sambo, they can use different types of leg and arm locks and neck cranks, but can’t use chokeholds to strangle the opponent. In Combat Sambo, however, they can use all types of submissions, including both chokes and joint locks, without any restrictions.

Is Combat Sambo effective for a street fight?

Combat Samo is widely regarded as one of the most effective martial arts for self-defense, and it is easy to see why. It is a system designed for the Russian military to improve the hand-to-hand combat abilities of its soldiers. While most other martial arts cover just one segment, striking or grappling, Sambo is a hybrid mix of both.

As a concept, it covers most of the places and scenarios you may face on the streets and teaches you how to defend in the most efficient way possible. You will learn how to strike at all ranges, grapple, fight on the ground, and even apply or defend against dirty tactics.

Training is realistic and brutal, and students do a lot of fight simulations 1 on 1 and against multiple attackers.