Sambo is an acronym for “SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya” or “Self-defense without weapons” martial art developed in the Soviet Union during the early half of the twentieth century.
This martial arts form is practiced as a sport and also as training for combat. Sambo was born out of the need for one standard sport combative for the military rather then the many diverse regional styles. Rather then being invented, Sambo is really a collection of techniques from many different styles making practitioners of Sambo the original mixed martial artists.
In 1918 Russia was going through social and political change. The government was in turmoil as the communists seized power from the Czar, and pulled out of World War I. Civil war soon broke out as the many factions opposed to the new communist regime took up arms.
Among those resisting this new threat was a small but hard fighting contingent of American soldiers who were the first to be in combat against communist forces. Sadly history has forgotten these brave men who fought to keep a nation free from repression.
The communist leader Lenin quickly assembled the Red Army to oppose the force of the White Army which included every faction opposed to the communists in Russia. The Russian Army had done poorly in WWI and other conflicts and was outdated in all areas when compared with its enemies. Under Leon Trotsky the new army took shape as weapons systems were updated, new troops drafted, and veterans brought back into service.
The communists made many mistakes as they worked to forge a new state and military, but even they understood if they were to win the civil war they needed good close combat training. The problem was there was no common martial art throughout Russia unlike in Japan, where Judo was practiced throughout the country.
Russia had literally dozens of native martial arts and wrestling styles and had been exposed to many more from invaders like the Vikings, Tatars and Genghis Khan’s warriors over the centuries. The new army needed one standard close combat system that could be taught to its many new recruits.
Working independently Vasili Oschepkov and Victor Spiridonov developed a new martial arts system that would become Sambo. During the war Oschepkov taught Judo and Karate to the Red Army. He had trained under Judo’s founder Kano and had earned his second degree black belt. Spiridonov was a veteran of both the Russo-Japanese war and WWI, and shared what he learned about real world self defense training. He saw first hand how the Japanese applied the martial arts principals of constant attack and always taking ground applied to actual warfare. Both men also studied boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, and many other fighting styles. Unfortunately, Vasili Oschepkov was killed by his Soviet masters because he refused to say that the martial art was entirely created in Russia.
Very similar to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) in that Sambo is a combination of local style wrestling and Japanese Judo, the military’s version of Sambo is only combat effective because it borrows heavily from proven combat techniques of the Samurai.