The True History of Combat Sambo

Scott Sonnon Practicing Sambo

The Timeline of Sambo’s Evolution
This history of Sambo matches Winston Churchill’s description of Russia as a “riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” I spent well over a decade researching, traveling and studying it’s many onion layers. What you read of this history may not be the ultimate truth, but it is the most sensible collection of convincing lies that no one to date has been able to accurately debunk. Only a decade ago, no information could be located anywhere. The new generations weren’t alive for the “Cold War” and the phenomenon of clandestine subterfuge that it had institutionalized Sombo. I hope to fill that void by sharing my version of the story. Sambo (Russian: самбо but also called Sombo in the US and sometimes written in all-caps SOMBO) is a modern martial art, combat sport and self-defense system developed in the former Soviet Union, and recognized as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee in 1938, presented by Anatoly Kharlampiev. The word is an acronym of САМозащита Без Оружия (SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya) meaning “self-defense without a weapon” in Russian. This grappling style has its roots in traditional folk styles of wrestling such as Armenian Koch, Georgian Chidaoba, Moldovan Trîntǎ, Uzbek Kurash, and Mongolian Khapsagay but also in the martial traditions of the West and of the Far East. How those three veins pump from the same heart is the moral to the story I wish to share with you.

The Three Patriarchs: Spiridonov, Oshchepkov, Kharlampiev
The founders of this style sifted deliberately through all of the world’s martial arts available to them to augment their military’s hand-to-hand combat system. Their distinct concentration, their unique perspectives and their individual discoveries resulted in three divergent flavors. The primary founder was Vasili Oshchepkov, a Russian who at age 19 was admitted into Japan’s Kodakan by Professor Jigoro Kano in 1911. In 1913, Oshchepkov was the first Russian, the fourth European in history, to receive a black belt ranking in Judo (eventually earning his nidan; second degree black belt in 1917 out of then only five degrees). In 1921, Oshchepkov served in the Red Army as a commander traveling covertly for special purpose missions into China where he studied Wushu. Oshchepkov had observed Kano’s distillation of Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu Jiujitsu and Kito Ryu Jiujitsu into what he named Judo. Oshchepkov recognized Kano’s genius in distilling Jiujitsu into a deliberate, educational process. When he returned to Russia, he taught judo to elite Red Army forces at the Central Red Army House. He used Kano’s philosophy in formulating the early development of his new Russian art. Sambo was in part born of native Russian and other regional styles of grappling and combative wrestling, bolstered with the most useful and adaptable concepts and techniques from the rest of the world. Its early development stemmed from the independent efforts of another Russian, Victor Spiridonov, a combat veteran of World War I, to integrate the techniques of Jiujitsu into native wrestling styles. His “soft-style” was based on the fact that he received a bayonet wound during the Russo-Japanese war which left his left arm lame.

In 1918, Lenin created Vseobuch (Vseobshchee voennoye obuchienie or “General Military Training”) under the leadership of N.I. Podvoyskiy to train the Red Army. The task of developing and organizing Russian military hand-to-hand combat training fell to K. Voroshilov, who in turn, created the NKVD physical training center, “Dinamo.”

Spiridonov was one of the first grappling and self-defense instructors hired for Dinamo. As a “combatives investigator” for Dinamo, he drew from Judo and Jiujitsu, Greco-Roman wrestling, American Catch-wrestling, non-sport British pugilism and Dutch Silat, and many Slavic wrestling styles.

Both Oshchepkov and Spiridonov hoped that the Russian styles could be improved by an infusion of the techniques distilled from Jiujitsu by Kano into the new “Judo” style of grappling. In 1923, Oshchepkov and Spiridonov collaborated with a team of other experts on a grant from the Soviet government to improve the Red Army’s hand-to-hand combat system. Spiridonov had envisioned integrating the entire world’s fighting systems into one comprehensive style that could adapt to any threat. Oshchepkov focused on creating a consistently successful competitive fighting format for teaching the various departments within the Soviet military.

Their development team was supplemented by Anatoly Kharlampiev and Ivan Vasilievich Vasiliev who also traveled the globe to study the native fighting arts of the world. Ten years in the making, their catalogue of techniques was instrumental in formulating the early framework of the art. Here, Oshchepkov’s and Spiridonov’s improvements in Russian wrestling slipped into the military’s hand-to-hand-combat system.

Kharlampiev is often called the “father of Sombo.” This may be largely semantics since only he had the longevity and political connections to remain with the art while the new system was called “Sambo”. However, Kharlampiev’s political maneuvering is single-handedly responsible for the USSR Committee of Sport accepting it as the official combat sport of the Soviet Union in 1938 – decidedly the styles “birth”.

Spiridonov, however, was the first to actually begin referring to the new system as Samoz, short for “Samozashchita” or Self-defense. Samoz was a softer, more aikido-like system that could be used by smaller, weaker practitioners or even wounded soldiers and secret agents. Spiridonov’s inspiration to develop Samoz stemmed from his injury that he suffered that greatly restricted his ability. Refined versions of the style are still used today or fused with specific applications to meet the needs of modern Russian commandos.

Each technique for the style was carefully dissected and considered for its merits, and if found acceptable in unarmed combat, refined to reach Sambo’s ultimate goal: stop an armed or unarmed adversary in the least time possible. Thus, the best techniques of Jiujitsu and its more competitive cousin Judo, entered into the the styles repertoire. When the techniques were perfected, they were woven into applications for personal self-defense, police, crowd control, border guards, secret police, dignitary protection, psychiatric hospital staff, military, and commandos.

In 1929, Oshchepkov was invited to Dinamo, where he took the sportive form of SAMOZ, coupled with the Randori (the competitive act of applying techniques against fully-resistant, non-compliant, uncooperative partners who were attempting to equally apply techniques) concept of Judo and the physical education conditioning of Wushu to form the style.

Oshchepkov was enamored with the principle of force-on-force training with a fully resistant partner to experience the requirement of timing and rhythm to apply techniques. He regularly conducted competitions between Leningrad and Moscow gyms in order to field test his theories and techniques. Oshchepkov’s study of physical training, early kinesiology and biomechanics, from pioneers such as Muller, Buk, and Suren was just as important a contribution as the Randori methodology of training techniques under resistance.

The Leningrad Sport Committee abolished Oshchepkov’s competition between Leningrad and Moscow fighters. The Soviet State regime did not want to recognize the part Japanese Judo played in the new freestyle fighting (not yet officially named.) The State insisted on eliminating every reference to Judo. Oshchepkov sent harshly critical letters to the All-USSR Sport Committee, Army’s Inspection of Physical Culture and Sport, in Moscow, Leningrad, Ukraine and Beyond-Caucasus Institutes of Physical Culture.

In 1937, the entire country was under the pressure of nightly arrests. The slogan “better to arrest ten innocent than to miss one spy” was the basis for the inner security service of that year. The criterion of criminal unreliability was very simple: a man would be arrested if he made foreign travel or had relatives or friends in other countries. As Oshchepkov lived in Japan studying directly with Kano, he belonged to this category. On September 29, 1937, the decree read: “Oshchepkov Vasili Sergeevich is sufficiently unmasked as Japanese spy… citizen Oshchepkov is prosecuted due to clause 58 article 6.” In the night of October 1, 1937 he was arrested in his home. Although a staunch patriot wrongly accused of being a Japanese spy, ten days after his arrest, Oshchepkov was led to a Siberian Gulag and subsequently shot in the head for his fraternization with “Japanese imperialists.”

Sambo would have disappeared at this point, if it weren’t for the political savvy of one of Oshchepkov’s students, Anatoly Kharlampiev, who used cunning diplomacy to revise the history of the art. Kharlampiev redefined the style to be a compilation of techniques from various Soviet Republics, an exclusively Soviet State-centric combat system and sport.

In 1938, Kharlampiev’s Sambo’s history was acknowledged, unsurprisingly by the All-USSR State Sport Committee as his creation based upon Soviet training methodologies and heritage. From this point forward, it would be known as the fighting art of the Motherland. Its adherents and promoters surrounded it with all of the patriotic nationalism associated with the former Soviet Union.

In 1942, a covert special military operations school prepared professional assassins named Volkodav (wolf-killer). The 18 trainers at the school were under the management of two time “Hero of the Soviet Union” and Captain of Marine Reconnaissance, Nikolai Leonov, the sworn enemy of Adolph Hitler. Their training was informally called as “a system of survival in extreme conditions” (sometimes just “the system” or Systema and sometimes just “survival” or Vyzhivaniya). It was intended strictly for the officers of Soviet Army GRU Spetsnaz.

One of the best graduates of this school was Alexsei Kadochnikov, often referred to as “Grandfather” and a legend among Soviet Spetsnaz. As direct schooling from the Spiridonov’s tradition, Kadochnikov inserted his academic engineering into this biomechanical perspective. He established the principle of efficiency as the primary emphasis of all training. The style of hand-to- hand fighting, designed by Kadochnikov, is a direct descendent of Spiridonov’s school.

In the 1970s, the Russian art flooded the international Judo competitive scene and revamped the entire perspective of what it meant to grapple. So strong were the Soviet Sambists in Judo competition and so successful, that rules changes were made to limit the use of their unique strengths and skills.

In 1980, Sambo was a demonstration sport at the Olympic Games in Moscow, Russia. However, due to boycotts, it failed to bring sufficient numbers for continued inclusion as a participatory game. That was nearly the death-knell for the discipline, as in less than 20 years, the Soviet Union would fall, and with it all of the State sponsored athletic programs, including the Russian fighting art.

According to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), it is one of the four main forms of amateur competitive wrestling practiced internationally today, the other three being Greco-Roman wrestling, Freestyle wrestling and Judo. FILA accepted it as the 3rd style of international wrestling in 1968 until it formed its own organization Federation International Amateur Sambo (FIAS) in 1985.

In the mid-1980s, Combat Sambo competitions began to be held. These “no-holds-barred” mixed martial art competitions invited any fighter of any background to compete in their win by knockout or submission only competition. Although called barbaric, this ushered in new life into the art.

My Entry into the Timeline
In 1991, I began training with Andrew Bachman, Sambo World Bronze Medalist. With him, I fought on the USA SOMBO Team, and was elected as USA National SOMBO Team Coach for the United States SOMBO Association. Andy introduced me to his coach, who happened to by an US Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler alternate, five time World Sambo silver medalist, a Class A gymnast and the only man to ever defeat Havalia Hussein – known as “The Great One” in Sombo. He received his Master of Sport rank directly from Evgeny Mikhailovich Chumakov, the training partner and advisor to Anatoly Kharlampiev. Chumakov, the USSR Champion of Sombo, was the author of the famous “100 Lessons of Sombo.” Unfortunately, despite this man’s incredible fighting abilities, he is now a convicted criminal and I don’t want to give him any energy by publishing his real name. During this time, I was introduced to Josh Henson, one of the most significant figures in Sombo’s history, President of FIAS, and international promoter of the sport. Mr. Henson and I worked together for quite a few years, and although we had a rocky relationship, I learned a great deal from him. In 1992, I was appointed as the President of the association in charge of American Combat SOMBO. I was appointed with the task of creating the American SOMBO Belt Ranking System. I became very well acquainted with Kharlampiev’s Sombo through this experience, but my quest demanded that I look deeper into the history. Inconsistencies and blatant disinformation caused me to push further. My investigations caused me to be named “unpatriotic” for studying with Russians and former Soviet coaches and athletes. And I became the “black sheep” of American SOMBO for many years, until I basically out-lived the involvement of those incumbent officials.

In 1993, I began working with Michael Galperin, whose teacher was one of Oshchepkov’s students and Kharlampiev’s partners, Ivan Vasiliev. Mr. Galperin honored me with as an honorary lifetime member of his organization, the United States Combat Sombo Association. From Mr. Galperin, I came to learn more about Oshchepkov’s Sombo, and its distinction from Kharlampievan style. Those discoveries spurred me deeper into my studies, especially when I stood right in the middle of a huge political eruption in Sombo…

In 1993, FIAS split into two organizations. I was there. But I was still too young in Sombo to understand what had happened and why it was so monumental. To me, it just seemed like an argument, a vote, and people storming out of the meeting. The content, the controversy, is irrelevant. It’s arguable that all martial arts that get to the level of popularity of Sombo, will face this… Both organizations used the same name and logo. I actually made the mistake of trying to mend the two organizations together by agreeing to be on the USA National Coaching Staff for both. I suspect that I only managed to focus their arguments on me rather than doing any good.

And although in 2005, FILA reached an agreement with one of the two organizations to reassume control over the sport, the other organization claims that the two organizations were reunified in 2006. At present FILA sanctions international competition in the style as does FIAS. Both organizations conduct separate world championships and other international events. By the time you read this, it’s likely that more political changes may occur.

But then… July 14, 1995, at the 6th tournament of a new so-called “noholds- barred” sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championships® (VI), a two time Russian Sombo Champion astounded the world: Oleg Taktarov. “Sombo is not just a style,” observed Mr. Taktarov, “But rather a combination of all the best techniques in any self-defense, martial art, and fighting style.” Oleg was not only a Russian Sombo champion, but also the four time full-contact Euro-Asian Jiujitsu Champion. He demonstrated, and more importantly stated, that Sombo was an evolving strategy. I observed his fighting style adapt with each new opponent he faced, and became reinvigorated in my investigation and practice.

What is important is how the above time-line merges next, and how the different lineages converged in my training.

In 1996, I received an invitation from Alexander Ivanovich Retuinskih, a Red Army commander, who was a student of and eventually partner to Alexsei Kadochnikov from 1976-1982. Mr. Retuinskih was a former USSR Sombo and Judo Champion, Distinguished Master of Sport in Sombo and Judo, Distinguished Coach of Russia, and the founder of “Systema” R.O.S.S.

Alexei Kadochnikov followed Spiridonov’s SAMOZ closely, since Kadochnikov was also a professor of engineering. When Retuinskih began to improve upon his teaching, Kadochnikov partnered with Retuinskih in co-research and development. It was at this point, where relations between Kadochnikov and Retuinskih became pressured. Kadochnikov believed that competitive resistance did not help improve fighters for combat. It is important to understand Mr. Retuinskih’s history in order to appreciate the different path his training took from Mr. Kadochnikov.

When Alexander Retuinskih was 7 years old, he began learning specialized gymnastics/acrobatics, that later formed his interest in biomechanics and psychology. At the age of 12, he began studying boxing; at 14, Sombo and Combat Sombo; and at age 19, Judo and hand-to-hand fighting. He became a Master of Sport in Sombo and Judo and a champion of different competitions in Russia and the USSR. In the 1980’s, he began researching Russian Martial Arts. From 1982-1989 he was an Instructor of hand-to-hand combat for the police of Krasnodar and Krasnodarskay oblast. It was in 1991, that Mr. Kadochnikov and Mr. Retuinskih finally split and went different ways.

Beginning in 1991, Mr. Retuinskih was the organizer and leader of the International and All-Russian Training-Practical Seminars on RMA. Beginning in 1993 he became Chairman of the Russian Combat Sombo Committee of the Russian Sambo Federation and Vice- Chairman of the International Combat Sombo Commission of FIAS (International Sambo Federation) and the General Director of the RETAL (Russian Combat Skill Consultant Scientific & Practical Training Center).

Soviet special forces training held the condition of “absolute secrecy” – so the nebulous designation of “Systema” – or plainly, “the system” – was assigned to special forces combatives training – another prominent reference call-sign was “Combat Sombo Spetsnaz.” During the fall of the Soviet Union, many trainers were left in the field to fend for themselves. As a result, we saw the emergence of a diverse amount of styles appear such as Vyzhivaniya (”Survival”), Rukopashni Boi (”Hand to hand combat”), Kulachni Boi (”Hand to hand fighting”), as Kadochnikov’s Systema, Vasiliev’s Systema, Ryabko’s Systema, etc…

In 1995, Alexander Retuinskih patented Rossijskaya Otechestvennaya Systema Samozashchity or in acronym, R.O.S.S., “Russian Native System of Self-defense.” He did this to create a sense of Russian identification and pride, to create an understanding of Russian Martial Art as an entire System. But he also did this to differentiate his System from others, so that people would understand Retuinskih had devised a unique system of combative education based upon his unique study and experience, and that of his research and development team. The ROSS educational system was patented as “Know-How” (registered with the State enterprise “Informpatent” Committee of the Russian Federation by patent and trademark on April 4, 1995).

Beginning in 1997 he became the Chief of the Department of Hand to Hand Combat for Cossack Military. He was ranked as a General of the Cossack Military. With his interaction with the Cossack population came a large influx of interaction with the Cossack folk styles of martial art, such as Sploch.

In 1998, at St. Petersburg State Academy of Physical Culture, the Department of Bayonet Fencing and Russian Martial Art ROSS was opened. Now, Mr. Retuinskih writes dissertation at the Department of Hand-to-hand Combat of St. Petersburg Military College of Physical Culture. The Subject of the dissertation is “Methodic ‘ROSS’ used in teaching”. In February of 2000 Retuinskih was awarded the highest award in sports, the “Distinguished Coach of Russia.”

In 1998, I began working with Boris Shapovalov, Distinguished Master of Sport in Sombo, President of the Ukrainian Federation of Russian-Style Martial Art (Kadochnikov System) and Chairman of the Police Sombo Commission for FIAS. With Mr. Shapovalov’s guidance, I coached the first in history USA Police Sombo Team, competing in the 1999 World Police Sombo Championships in Lithuania. From Mr. Shapovalov, an expert in both Mr. Kadochnikov’s “Systema” and Mr. Retuinskih’s ROSS, I came to understand the actual pedagogical differences between the systems of Retuinskih and Kadochnikov.

I also had the honor of training with the last of the royal line of pre- Soviet Russia, the late Prince Boris Golitsin, who in the Great Patriotic War received a maiming bayonet wound to his right shoulder. He composed a fighting system based upon his father’s teaching of “Golitsin family-style” (a pre-Soviet, Russian Martial Art) to accommodate his “disability” – though after training with him, I would hardly qualify it as a disability, since with one mostly paralyzed arm, I saw him bayonet fight three men, and have personally felt the pain of his whack. However, this was an independent line having only recently collaborated with ROSS (in the past 10 years).

Mr. Retuinskih studied extensively with the famous Alexander Mikhailovich Krivorotov, the first in history Distinguished Coach of Russia in Sombo, direct student of Viktor Oshchepkov. Krivorotov, due to Mr. Retuinskih’s exhaustive research and development, began studying under Retuinskih. I’ve had the distinct honor of training with Mr. Krivorotov. It’s difficult to describe to people what it was like training with the world’s best Sombo coach. Suffice it to say that I learned the difference between amateur and professional training.

Mr. Retuinskih also trained with Vladimir V. Volosov, Distinguished Coach of Russia in Sombo, Chairman of Sambo Academy in Kstovo – the world’s largest Sombo academy; Vladimir P. Guliaev – Distinguished Coach of Bashkiria in Sambo; Uriu A. Shulik – Master of Sport in Sambo, Doctor of Pedagogical Sciences, the current Professor of Krasnodar State Academy of Physical Culture; G. Potoroka – Master of Sport in Sambo and Judo (deceased). With my experience with Mr. Retuinskih, I gained the final complete picture on Sambo: Kharlamievan, Oschepkovan, and Spiridonovan styles.

Beginning in 1999, I served as Vice-President of the American Amateur Sambo Federation, the US governing body for the sport of Sambo, under the guidance and company of Dr. Leonid Polyakov, FIAS Vice-President, AASF President, who received his Doctorate of Physical Education through a dissertation on Sambo itself. By Dr. Polyakov, in 1999, I was awarded the Distinguished Master of Sport in SAMBO, the highest achievement in SAMBO, for my contributions to the sport. Dr. Polyakov through our meetings and travels connected me with the international leader of Sambo, Mr. Tikhomirov.

FIAS President and All-Russian Sambo Federation President, Mikhail Tikhomirov appointed me as the Chairman of the International Combat Sambo Commission for FIAS in 1999 when we were together in Lithuania for the World Police Sambo Championships.

In 2000, Igor Yakimov, World Sambo and Judo Champion, and North America’s highest-rated Sambo Coach, appointed me as the USA Director of United Federation of Russian Sambo. Mr. Yakimov and I worked together for a short time in the attempt to bring “Combat Sambo” tournaments to the West.

In 2006, I began coordinating efforts with a young mustang organization, the American Sambo Association and its President, Stephen Koepfer. Steve remained refreshingly apolitical despite extreme pressures to the contrary, and developed his own variation on sport rules called “Free-style Sambo” – which includes chokes, strangulations and positional fighting opportunity for Sambo athletes. The development of Steve’s organization is another example of evolution erupting, regardless of oppressive attempts to confine and traditionalize Sambo.

Three Rivers Return to One
I have an interwoven history with Sambo, and for whatever divine grace was given the opportunity to train only one step removed from each of the founders of Sambo – Spiridonov, Oshchepkov and Kharlampiev, and the three “flavors” that they created. From Spiridonov: we have inherited an emphasis on efficiency over effort, on leveraging our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses until such a time that they too become strengths. From Oshchepkov: we have inherited a practical measuring stick to determine the efficacy of our theories, a cauldron in which we can melt away the slag from the pure gold so that no potentially valuable method goes uninvestigated or unevaluated. From Kharlampiev: we have inherited the flexibility to continue our discipline no matter what the format in whole or in part so that we can ensure that our legacy will continue to survive.

Each vein of Sambo has kept the heart of this creature alive. Although once separate, I believe they are now integrated. They each have pumped the life into the content of this article, and they each speak to you through it.

I believe that I have earned the right to say what I believe was the original intent of Sambo, and I believe that I have earned the right to renovate Sambo to meet the needs and desires of modern day fighters. I realize that doing so will not sit well with traditionalists who believe Sambo should stay “as it was.” They are wrong.

Sambo was never in its history a specific style. It evolved with history. It adapted to the challenges threatening its existence. It survived all of the attempts foreign and domestic to squash the methodology from existence.

When you read the core doctrine of Sambo, I believe you will see why I believe it is the direct descendent not just in lineage but in bone and flesh of each of the forefathers of this discipline.

My Philosophy of Sambo
I’ve laid out this article in step-by-step format, so that it’s easiest to understand. You can start at the bottom with technique and work backwards up to tactics. The inherent strategies are embedded so you don’t really have to understand them at the beginning. The underlying beliefs (or doctrine) are self-explanatory, but if you do understand what beliefs created this science, since all science is based upon underlying assumptions, then you’ll be able to question those beliefs, and once you accept them, strengthen them.

RMAX Sambo Philosophy

Doctrine S.E.A.T.
Strategies Position Before Submission
Tactics The Saddle Series and Transitions
Techniques The Seven Core Leg Locks
S.E.A.T. Sambo Doctrine

• Sustainability: In order for a training method to be useful, it must be non-destructive to the practitioner. If you cannot sustain the ability to practice it because it destroys your body, it will not be of any use when you need it.

• Evolution: One needs to experience the unexpected and unfamiliar in order to foster continued evolution. Although sound mechanics are universal, training methods must be allowed to evolve as all approaches are relative to the time, culture and event in which they were born. Any means necessary to accomplish the task. Any potentially valuable method should be weighed and tested on its own merit regardless of origin or association.

• Aliveness: One needs fully alive resistance to become mentally tough and emotionally controlled. Only through actual uncooperative competitive opposition does one truly own knowledge.

• Transferability: Good mechanics are universal (context-free), so studying them will allow you adaptability to whatever circumstances you encounter. Regardless of what format, so long as ideas are considered and tested, the adaptation is always organic, never in isolation.

These above original intentions have all been neglected, ignored or redefined in an emasculated manner with the ‘traditionalizing’ of Sambo. I have no taste for it, and stay true to the original intentions listed above.

The 3 Strategies of Sambo
There are three modes of Sambo that end up being taught, though these are different than the traditional 3 flavors of Sambo (which were selfdefense, combat and sport):

• Self-Defense: Self-Defense oriented Sambo involves a very large curriculum of techniques resembling stand-up Jiujitsu, ground Judo, Boxing and Kickboxing. Unfortunately, due to the volume of material, there is often not enough time spent facing resistant opponents. However, it doesn’t claim to be a competitive sphere of martial art. Self-Defense Sambo should remain an adjunct to competitive resistance so that the more fine motor techniques have a platform of timing and rhythm which only alive, dynamic resistance creates within the nervous system. There are many in the West who only train in Self-defense Sambo, when it was never intended to be trained in to the exclusion of the other two aspects.

• Sport-Wrestling: Sport Sambo is an incredibly athletic game which is much like a combination of Judo and Freestyle wrestling, but including leg locks and excluding chokes. However, from its birth to the current day, it remains besieged with politics. From one organization and one event to the next, the rules are so different that it’s difficult to prepare and have a good time. Moreover, the rules have become so restrictive that preparing for sport Sambo requires that you to become a lesser overall fighter (from a mixed martial arts perspective). Basically, you have to train dangerous habits, like exposing your neck to strangulation, or never developing a good closed guard game.

• Mixed-Fight or “Combat Sambo”: I know that the traditionalists will be in a tizzy over me saying that one of the flavors of Sambo is mixed martial arts (MMA). I say this not because it was a deliberate intention of the founders (although, historically, I could argue that easily, especially since few people truly know the history of Sambo). I say this because it is the mode of actually studying the discipline. When you go to class, and work in dynamic drills, you face people of diverse backgrounds, levels and abilities. With no formalized ranks in Combat Sambo, everyone fights everyone. What I’m saying here is that the mode in which Combat Sambo is studied is more important than the content of the actual class: facing other martial artists of mixed backgrounds. This is the superiority of Combat Sambo as a delivery system for timing and rhythm, the essential virtues of fighting efficacy.

I find category 3 – Sambo for MMA or “Combat Sambo” – to be the most athletically stimulating, intellectually challenging and personally/ professionally fulfilling. So, when I’m discussing tactics and techniques, I am only speaking to fighting other martial artists – MMA – not to Sport-wrestling or Self-defense.

Originally, these three flavors were meant to be synergistic, but frankly, most non-professionals do not have the time, energy or inclination to practice all three. Most people aren’t familiar enough with Sportwrestling Sambo to be interested, and most people will not invest the long years of practice to refine the Self-defense aspects of Sambo. But that’s not relevant to this article, which regards specifically Combat Sambo and its stage in the mixed martial arts world.

Flow Thyself™,

Scott Sonnon Signature