History of SAMBO

Origins of SAMBO


SAMBO is a martial art form that was developed in the 1920s by Vasiliy Sergeyevich Oshchepkov (1893 – 1938) with the goal of enhancing the hand-to-hand fighting abilities of the Soviet military. Derived from the Russian phrase “самозащита без оружия” (transliterated as samozashchita bez oruzhiya), SAMBO stands for “self-defense without weapons.”


This unique sport blended the most effective indigenous fighting techniques from across the Soviet Union with Japanese martial arts methodologies, such as judo and jujutsu. It quickly gained traction as both an athletic pursuit and a healthy lifestyle alternative, leading to the proliferation of SAMBO clubs throughout the USSR by the 1930s.


SAMBO History


Anatoly Arkadyevich Kharlampiyev and Viktor Afanasyevich Spiridonov, two of Oshchepkov’s most prominent students, carried on his legacy by advancing, promoting, and systemizing SAMBO across the Soviet Union. In 1938, the All-Union Committee on Physical Culture and Sports officially recognized SAMBO as a sport, sanctioning the first individual tournaments in St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1939, and the inaugural team contests in the late 1940s.


Sambo History


Over time, SAMBO has transcended its original military applications to become a versatile discipline used in personal self-defense, professional settings like military and security, and international athletics. Today, three main formats have gained worldwide recognition: sport sambo, emphasizing traditional grappling; combat sambo, which includes strikes, chokes, and disarmament techniques; and beach sambo, a more recent adaptation.


In the past decade, the sport’s global prominence has been propelled by world-renowned sambists such as Fedor Emelianenko, who reigned as the top-ranked heavyweight mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter for over seven years and is a 4-time combat SAMBO world champion, and Khabib Nurmagomedov, a 2-time combat SAMBO world champion and the reigning Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) lightweight champion.


These influential figures have contributed to SAMBO’s ever-growing popularity, highlighting the rich heritage and contemporary relevance of a martial art that began as a means of self-defense for a nation’s military and has since become a respected international sport.

SAMBO’s International Rise


Beginnings in International Competition


SAMBO’s introduction to the international arena began in the 1950s with “friendly” team matches between Soviet sambists and European judoka, where sambists achieved notable success. The sport’s international debut was inadvertently spurred by the inclusion of judo in the 1964 Olympic Games program. Because of SAMBO’s similarities to judo, the Soviet SAMBO Federation trained judokas for the tournament, leading to significant success in pre-Olympic competitions.


At the 1962 European Judo Championships, the Soviet team medaled four times, including a gold for Anzor Kikhadze, a five-time Soviet heavyweight champion in SAMBO. The 1964 Olympics in Japan further solidified the Soviet team’s prowess, with medals in four weight categories. The Japanese were so impressed that they formed their own SAMBO federation.


Notable sambists like Kikhadze and Anzor Kibrotsashvili dominated the European Judo Championships throughout the 1960s. The Soviet judokas’ cross-training in SAMBO was widely credited for these successes.


International Recognition and Growth


In 1966, SAMBO received official recognition from the Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), positioning it alongside wrestling styles like freestyle and Greco-Roman. This enabled international competitions and allowed the sport to flourish.


Key milestones in SAMBO’s growth included:

  • 1972: First International Open Sambo Championship in Riga, Latvia.
  • 1973: First World Sambo Championship in Tehran, Iran.
  • 1977: First World Sambo Cup in Oviedo, Spain.
  • 1979: First Youth World Sambo Championship and Women’s Sambo World Championship in Madrid, Spain.
  • 1983: Inclusion in the Pan American Games.


In 1984, the International Federation of Amateur SAMBO (FIAS) was established as an independent governing body, rapidly gaining membership and inclusion in global sporting events such as the World Games in London.


Challenges and Resurgence


The early 1990s saw setbacks in SAMBO’s international growth, hindered by internal disagreements within FIAS and political instability in the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, FIAS’s resilience led to a renewed spotlight on the sport, especially with the success of sambists like Emelianenko and Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski in professional MMA.


In 2001, combat sambo was officially recognized as a distinct discipline, further enhancing the sport’s profile.


Recent Developments


Recent collaborative agreements with FILA and the International Judo Federation have continued to elevate SAMBO. The most recent World Sambo Championship, held in Cheongju, South Korea, drew over 500 athletes from 80 countries. With an estimated 4.5 million practitioners across 120 countries, SAMBO’s global impact continues to grow under FIAS’s stewardship, as it sanctions multiple international tournaments, including world championships, continental championships, the “World Cup,” and various “open” tournaments.


Through strategic partnerships, governance, and the success of its athletes, SAMBO has transformed from a Soviet self-defense system into a global martial art, resonating with enthusiasts and competitors around the world.

SAMBO in United States


Early Development of SAMBO in the U.S. (1970s-1980s)


In the United States, the sport of SAMBO took root in the early 1970s under the guidance of the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU), an organization focused on nurturing amateur sports and fitness programs. Joseph Scalzo, AAU’s president at the time, and Russ Weiner, affectionately dubbed “Mr. Sambo” for his enthusiasm, led these efforts.


In 1972, the AAU formally began promoting SAMBO, known also as “sombo wrestling,” and sanctioning national competitions. The U.S. made significant strides in 1973, fielding its first national SAMBO team and seeing heavyweight Burke “Buck” Deadrich win bronze at the World Wrestling Championship in Tehran, Iran.


Progress continued with the first U.S. National Sambo Championship held in Mesa, Arizona in 1975. Throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s, notable American freestyle wrestlers like Bob Anderson brought home gold medals from international SAMBO events. The AAU hosted the inaugural SAMBO championship for women in 1980, and by 1983, U.S. women sambists were winning individual and team titles on the international stage.


Establishing National Governance (1980s)


In 1984, the United States Sombo Federation (USSA) was founded to organize SAMBO tournaments and prepare American sambists for international competition. It served as the national governing body (NGB) for SAMBO, and in the same year, became a founding member of FIAS. The late ’80s saw the World SAMBO Championships hosted in West Orange, New Jersey, and a 53-member American team competing in Moscow, USSR.


Challenges and Revival (1990s-2000s)


SAMBO’s popularity in the U.S. dipped after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The sport struggled with exposure and a lack of a developed club system. Governance faced upheaval as FIAS split in 1993, leading USSA to lose its NGB designation. Attempts to stabilize included FILA’s temporary sanctioning of SAMBO in 2005. Eventually, FIAS regained control as the sole governing body of SAMBO globally.


Recent Developments (2010s-Present)


In 2011, immigrants Leonid (Lenny) Polyakov and Mikhail Kozitskiy from Ukraine founded USA Sambo Inc., energizing the sport in the United States. Dr. Polyakov, who had previously served in various leadership roles within SAMBO organizations, became an influential figure. He held the office of President of the American Amateur Sambo Federation and served as a Vice President of FIAS. His work continued until his retirement in 2019, contributing to the ongoing development and promotion of SAMBO in the U.S.

USA SAMBO: A Brief History and Overview


Founded informally in 2011 by a group of SAMBO enthusiasts, USA SAMBO set out with a mission to preserve and develop the sport in the United States. Its dedicated efforts caught the attention of FIAS (International Sambo Federation), leading to its official appointment as the governing body of SAMBO in the United States in 2013.


Activities and Contributions:


  1. Development and Promotion:
    • Voluntarily hosted SAMBO seminars, exhibitions, and public training sessions.
    • Organized SAMBO tournaments and engaged in international collaborations.
    • Developed a formal logo and maintains an active online presence at www.usasambo.com.
  2. National Team Training and Selection:
    • Trained and selected members for the U.S. National Sambo Team.
    • Participated in numerous international events, including championships across Europe, Asia, and the Americas from 2013 to 2022.
  3. Educational Efforts:
    • Conducted periodic educational seminars, offering instructions on officiating, coaching, and training.
    • Affiliated with training locations in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, and California.
  4. International Representation:
    • Five individuals from USA SAMBO serve on FIAS’ administrative commissions, handling development, technical aspects, athletes’ rights, legal matters, and medical/anti-doping policies.


Notable Achievements:


USA SAMBO’s work has led to significant successes for American sambists on the international stage, including:


  • Nina Cutro-Kelly: 3-time World bronze medalist.
  • John Jane: European Cadets Open Championship winner.
  • Mariah Holguin: Junior Cadet World Championship bronze medalist.
  • Patrick Sabatini: World Cup Silver medalist, President Cup Champion.
  • Johnson Jajoute: two-time Pan-Am champion.
  • Kakhramonov Saidyokub: bronze medalist at the 2019 World Championship.
  • Davit Arakelyan: silver medalist at the 2022 Beach Sambo World Championship.




USA SAMBO’s continuous efforts in organizing, promoting, and developing the sport have made a notable impact both nationally and internationally. Its dedication to education, training, and collaboration has created a vibrant community of athletes, coaches, and fans, contributing to SAMBO’s growth and success in the United States. By nurturing talent and fostering international relationships, USA SAMBO continues to play a vital role in the global SAMBO community.


To promote SAMBO in the United States, “USA SAMBO” developed a formal logo and maintains a social media presence at www.usasambo.com, as well as on its affiliate Facebook page .