Sambo Vs BJJ: A Complete & Detailed Guide

Sambo Vs BJJ: A Complete & Detailed Guide

Sambo incorporates different types of wrestling moves and various self-defense techniques and approaches. Sambo is often related to freestyle wrestling. It was initially made for the Russian army so that the soldiers can excel in fighting without the use of weapons. Later, it was labeled as a sport by Federation International Amateur Sambo (FIAS).

BJJ on the other hand makes use of submissions that are wonderful when it comes to self-defense and close-range fights. BJJ is a more broad sport than Sambo. According to Sambo practitioners, BJJ is one of the easiest martial arts. But that is not true. BJJ is indeed a tough combat sport when it comes to strength. Only a fighter with great technique and strength can earn a great career in BJJ.

1. What is Sambo?

What is Sambo?

Sambo is a fast-paced fighting style that focuses on ground fighting and effective techniques. Strikes and throws are allowed in Sambo, presenting it as a more realistic fighting style.

The word SAMBO stands for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya. It translates as “self-defense without weapons”.

1.1. Origin and History of Sambo

Sambo were developed in the 1920s by the Soviet NKVD (Naródnyi Komissariát Vnútrennikh Del), the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, and the Red Army to enhance hand-to-hand combat skills of their servicemen. The Pioneers of Sambo are Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov.

Viktor Spiridonov was a World War I veteran. He was into wrestling and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. He worked with the Red Army as an instructor and trainer at the physical training center for the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). He suffered from an arm injury during World War I. So he focused on a fighting style that emphasized more on movement than strength. This style was called “Samoa”.

Vasili Oshchepkov also worked with the Red Army. He studied Judo at Jigoro Kano’s in Japan. He earned his Black Belt in Judo. He was the first Russian to earn a Black Belt. He then toiled to earn his 2nd degree Black Belt from the legendary Master Kano, in 1917. Oshchepkov brought the skills and techniques of Judo to Russia and incorporated them into the Red Army’s combat training style.

Spiridonov’s fighting style was softer and less harsh than Oshchepkov. They both developed two different fighting styles. Eventually, their styles and approaches got cross-pollinated and today it is called Sambo martial art. One of Oshchepkov’s students, Anatoly Kharlampiev, is also considered the founder of Sambo.

In 1938, Sambo was known as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee.

1.2. Types of Sambo

Sport Sambo

Sport Sambo resembles a lot from wrestling and judo. It includes ground fighting, throwing, and submissions. It does not allow chokeholds. There are fewer grip restrictions in Sport Sambo. This type of Sambo is recognized by “FIAS” (Federation International Amateur Sambo).

Combat Sambo

Combat Sambo was mainly practiced by the Russian Military. It resembles MMA. It is a type of martial art that is a combination of grappling martial arts and striking. As the fight starts, the fighter can apply anything to gain victory over his opponent. He can use punches, elbows, and kicks and can even use painful groin strikes or head-butts.

As it was mainly developed for the Russian military, which is why it allows a large spectrum of techniques to win the fight. Only victory matters in Combat Sambo. It makes use of dangerous techniques that are not at all allowed in other martial arts.

Combat Sambo Sport Sambo
Attire Sambo practitioners wear jackets, boots, shin, and headguards. They wear boots and Gi.
Fighting Strategy Involves strikes and punches. Similar to MMA. Includes takedowns and controlling the opponent by armbars and leglocks.
Origin In the 1920s for Soviet armed forces. In the 1920s from a combination of wrestling styles.
Match Duration 5 minutes are given for each round. 5 minutes are given for each round.
Tournaments Fighter wins by submission or by knocking down the opponent. Fighter wins by applying submissions.

Freestyle Sambo

Freestyle Sambo was created and inculcated into sports by the American Sambo Association (ASA) in 2004. It allows submissions like chokeholds. Its focus was on throws and fast groundwork. ASA formulated this type of Sambo to attract non-Sambo practitioners from other martial arts to compete in Sambo tournaments.

Unfortunately, Freestyle Sambo was shut down after 12 years and almost 35 events. It is no longer allowed in Sambo, therefore, it does not exist.

Self-Defence Sambo

In self-defense Sambo, the practitioner learns Sambo for the purpose of self-defense. The practitioners can protect themselves against any kind of armed or unarmed aggression. It resembles Aiki Jiu-Jitsu. This style was specially developed to teach laymen about self-defense techniques.

1.3. Sambo Uniform

Sambovka Jacket

Sambovka is a jacket or kimono that is worn during training sessions as well as during competition. Mostly, the practitioner wears a red or blue colored jacket with matching red or blue shorts. According to FIAS, the fabric of the jacket must be cotton.

  • The upper part of the jacket must be composed of one piece of fabric.
  • The collar must be 4-5 cm in width with 5 rows of stitching.
  • The wing panels of the shoulder must be made up of twice-folded main fabric, 2-3 cm in width on the edges, 5-6 cm in the middle with 4-5 rows of stitching.

The jacket comes in the following sizes.

EU Size 42 44 46 48 50 52 54 56 58 60 62
Height (cm) 150 155 160 165 170 175 180 185 190 195 200


The fabric of the cotton must be 80% cotton. The color of the belt must be red or blue. It is composed of the same material as the Sambo jacket. The width of the belt must be 4-5 cm. The band of fabric is folded 3-4 times. It has 6-8 rows of stitching along the length that is placed 0.5 cm away from each other.

The belt for Sambo comes in the following sizes.

EU Size 42 44 46 48 50 52 54 56 58 60 62
Height (cm) 240 250 260 280 280 300 300 320 320 340 340


The color of the shoes must be red or blue only. The color scheme must be in accordance with the FIAS requirements.

  • Red (PANTONE 18 - 1662 TPX (Flame Scarlet)).
  • Blue (PANTONE 18 - 4051 TPX (Strong Blue)).

1.4. Sambo - Safety Equipment

Safety equipment is used in Sambo to keep the fighters safe. As throws and strikes are a part of Sambo, so there is an increased chance of injury.

Boxing Helmet

Boxing helmets are padded helmets worn during a Sambo tournament by the fighters. It prevents the practitioners from head and ear injuries. It also protects the fighters from cuts and scrapes. These helmets are open-faced in a way that the practitioner’s face is exposed. It contains soft and hard plastic ear covers with straps around the neck.

Groin Guards

They are more of an undergarment worn by the fighter to avoid injuries in the groin area when it comes to aggressive fighting. Strikes and throws can be pretty hard for a fighter to bear without protective gear, so these protectors help to keep the groin area safe.

Sambo Gloves

Sambo gloves are cushioned gloves that are worn to protect the fingers. During the fight, these gloves keep the phalanges safe.

Gum Shield

Gum shield is also called a mouth guard that keeps the teeth and gums safe.

1.5. Ranking System

Year of Study Name of Stage Rank
1st year Rookie/Level 1 Student 1st Student
2nd year Level 2 Student 2nd Student
3rd year Level 3 Student 3rd Student
4th year Level 4 Student 4th Student
5th year Level 5 Student 5th Student
6th year Master Candidate 1st Master
7th year Level 1 Master 2nd Master

1.6. Sambo - Rules

  • Victory is awarded to the practitioner if he applies a throw on his opponent and his opponent falls on the mat.
  • Duration of 1 Sambo fight round is 5 minutes.
  • The main goal is to defeat your opponent.
  • The practitioner can gain victory over his opponent by advantage, throw, a painful hold, or even by the disqualification of the opponent.
  • The judging panel of Sambo consists of 6 officials.
  • The Sambo fighters fight on a mat that is called “carpet”.
  • The dimensions of the carpet vary from 10 x 10 to 13 x 13 meters.
  • The equipment of red color is given to the athletes who appear first on the carpet upon the referee’s commands.
  • Sambo practitioners score 1-4 points for throws and pin-downs.
  • By carrying out a perfect throw, a Sambo practitioner can score a “total victory”.
  • The practitioners of Sambo must fight in their respective age groups. Some age groups for men, women, and children are mentioned below:

Groups Men Women
Younger Children (Kids) 11-12 years old 11-12 years old
Schoolchildren 13-14 13-14
Cadets 15-16 15-16
Juniors 17-18 17-18
Youth 19-20 19-20
Seniors 19 and older 19 years older
Veterans 35-39, 40-44 45-49, 50-54, 55-59 60 and older
  • If the match ends in a tie then the fighter with more technical points will be victorious.
  • In the case of bouts, the fighter with a greater number of activities will be declared a winner.
  • The fighter is eliminated from the match if he applies the prohibited move more than once.
  • Every Sambo fighter has a medical intervention period. The allocated time is 2 minutes. If a player exceeds the 2-minute threshold, he is considered unfit for the fight.

1.7. Sambo - Techniques

The fighting techniques involved in Sambo are very deadly. It is because of the fact that Sambo allows strikes, punches, and throws. It makes Sambo an all-around fierce fighting style.

Sambo Casting Punch

A Sambo casting punch is used to attack the opponent fiercely. It is basically used to close the distance between you and your opponent. The Sambo fighter gets a grip on his opponent and then throws the strike. It is used as an entrance to transition into cinching and takedown techniques.

  • The fighter uses his shoulders to protect his own chin from his opponent’s attack.
  • He then punches his opponent with his fists. His hand almost goes straight down on his opponent, instead of going in a circular position.
  • He uses his elbow to whip up the punch and then the punch goes straight on the opponent's face.
  • Elbow is basically used to pump up the punch.
  • If the opponent attacks the fighter, the fighter can create distance and get away from the opponent's reach.

Sambo Kneebar

Sambo Kneebar is almost similar to Armbar, a grappling submission technique.

  • The fighter grabs his opponent by his sleeve and makes sure that he has a tight sleeve grip.
  • The other hand of the fighter is at the back of his opponent's jacket.
  • The fighter brings his one leg in front of his opponent’s leg.
  • The fighter brings his one leg to the top position between the opponent’s leg and uses his other leg to trip the opponent so that he falls on the ground.
  • In this way, you have a great grip on your opponent’s leg. As you apply the kneebar, pressure is exerted on the opponent's knee, and eventually, he/she taps out.

Sambo Leglock

Leglocks are the ones that distinguish Sambo from other martial arts. These are extremely common in Sambo. They depend on the hip flexor and leg flexibility of the fighter.

  • The fighter is in the mount position.
  • His opponent’s legs are up and the fighter has a tight hold of the opponent’s hands.
  • The fighter sets a leglock by hooking his foot to one of the opponent’s legs in a position where the opponent's ankle is hooked.
  • The fighter turns his body while maintaining the hook. It applies pressure on the opponent's leg and he taps out.

1.8. Sambo Championships

The international governing body for Sambo which also conducts worldwide tournaments and championships is the International Federation of Amateur Sambo (Federation Internationale de Sambo). In 1993, FIAS split into two organizations, FIAS West and FIAS East. FIAS East works for the development and propagation of Sambo in Russian territories. FIAS West works for the development of Sambo in the US and Western European countries.

Following are some of the worldwide Sambo events conducted/organized by FIAS:

  • Sambo World Cup.
  • Russian Armed Forces Championships.
  • European Sambo Championship.
  • FIAS World Combat Sambo Championships.
  • World Combat Games.
  • World Sambo Championships.

1.9. Famous Sambo Champions

Fedor Emelianenko

Fedor Emelianenko is a 4-time World Combat Sambo Champion and 6-time Russian national Combat Sambo Champion. He is a Russian heavyweight MMA fighter, sambo, and Judoka. He was included in the FIAS Hall of Fame in 2012.

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Khabib Nurmagomedov is a UFC Hall of Famer and holds the prestigious record of the longest lightweight UFC Champion. He retained the title from April 2018 till March 2021. His rivalry with Conor McGregor made UFC 229 the most anticipated card of the decade. Khabib maintained one of the longest undefeated winning streaks in the UFC lightweight division with 23/0 straight wins of which 8 were won via knockout, 11 by submission, and 10 by decision.

“If Sambo was easy, it would be called Jiu-Jitsu”
(Khabib Nurmagomedov)

Andrei Valeryevich Arlovski

Andrei Valeryevich Arlovski is a Byelorussian SSR, MMA fighter and sambist. He secured the title of European Youth Sambo Champion when he was only 19 years old. He is currently competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Rosen Dimitrov

Rosen Dimitrov is a professional sambist. He is a 2-time gold winner in 20017 and 2011 in the World Sambo Championships. He is also a 2-time silver medalist in 2008 and 2010 in the World Sambo Championships.

Igor Yakimov

Igor Yakimov won the World Combat Sambo Championship in 2001. He won the Pan American Championship in 1008 and 1999. He also earned the title of Russian National Sambo Championship in 1985 and 1988.

2. What is BJJ?

What is BJJ?

BJJ is a submission grappling combat sport. It focuses on self-defense techniques that can be applied in real-life situations. It is not just a martial art. It entails the code of life, like how to live your life while creating a balance in life. The forefathers of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu spent their whole lives teaching and practicing gentle art.

BJJ teaches its practitioner submission techniques, joint locks, and chokeholds. It focuses on the strength of the grappler, not on his/her size. Only physical bulkiness and muscles do not matter in BJJ. BJJ is all about controlling your bigger opponent with efficient submission techniques even if you are smaller in size.

BJJ shapes the practitioner's body in a way that his muscles gain strength as well as mass from the strength conditioning exercises and a proper nutritious diet.

2.1. Origin and History of BJJ

BJJ originated in Japan and then led to Brazil when Conde Kama reached Brazil in 1915. He wanted to establish a Japanese immigration colony. With the help of Gastao Gracie, a Brazilian scholar, and politician, Conde Kama was successful in building the colony.

Conde Kama taught the basic secretive techniques of BJJ to Gastao Gracie’s oldest and hyperactive son, Carlos Gracie. Carlos mastered Jiu-Jitsu art with the purpose of self-improvement and self-defense. He later taught gentle art to his brothers.

Mitsuyo Maeda learned gentle art from Jigoro Kano in 1987. He then reached Brazil to spread the gentle art. Gracie's family learned this martial art from Japanese masters and spent their lives mastering and propagating BJJ in the whole world.

2.2. BJJ Uniform


Belt is used to keep the Gi in its place. It also represents the rank of the BJJ fighter.

  • White belt is the first BJJ adult belt rank.
  • Blue belt is the second adult belt rank.
  • Purple belt is the third adult belt rank.
  • Brown belt is the fourth adult belt rank.
  • Black belt is the fifth adult belt rank.

Other higher belt ranks are as follows:

  • Red/Black belt, also called coral belt.
  • Red/White belt (8th-degree black belt).
  • Red Belt (9th and 10th Degree Black Belt).


Gi is a Japanese term that means uniform. It is the attire that a BJJ petitioner wears while fighting or training. It is made up of tough and durable fabric. The fabric for BJJ Gi should be made of cotton. Its length must not be longer than the thighs of the practitioner.

2.3. BJJ - Safety Equipment

Though the BJJ combat sport is played with extreme care, still to nullify any chance of injury safety equipment is used.

Mouth Guards

Mouth guards are used to protect the teeth, gums, and lips of the fighter.

Knee Pads

Knee pads help to protect the knees and knee joints of the practitioner. It protects the knee from meniscus tears as there is a lot of twisting and bending involved in BJJ.

Elbow Pads

Often, BJJ fighters suffer from scraps and bruises that are the result of friction of the BJJ mat. Elbow pads protect the synovial joints. Strength becomes an integral part of the fighter’s elbow when it is protected. Mostly during submissions and chokes, the fighter has to apply pressure or even control his own body weight to get out of his opponent’s applied submission.

In that case, elbow joints can do wonders.

2.4. Ranking System

BJJ fighters are ranked according to the color of their belt. White Belt is the lowest rank and Black is the highest rank in the BJJ belt system.

The scoring mechanism of BJJ  is mentioned below.

Technique Points
Guard Pass 3 points
Knee on Belly 2 points
Mount 4 points
Sweeps 2 points
Takedowns 2 points
Back Control 4 points

2.5. BJJ - Rules

  • Slamming is not allowed in BJJ.
  • Once the fighter steps on the mat, he/she can not leave the fight.
  • Fighters should behave in a respectable manner at all times.
  • No hair-pulling or kicking is allowed in BJJ.
  • If the match is tied then the decision of the referee is considered final.
  • Neck cranks are not allowed in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
  • Knee reaping and heel hooks are illegal for lower belts.
  • If the fighter leaves the mat to get out his opponent’s submission, he can be disqualified by the referee.
  • Throws like, flying scissors and suplexes are not allowed in BJJ.

2.6. BJJ - Techniques

Closed Guard

Closed Guard is one of the easiest guards and it is taught to BJJ beginners. With the passage of time, a practitioner becomes so skilled and fluid in closed guard movement that he even learns all the variations.

  • To apply a closed guard, the practitioner is on the ground with his legs locked around the back of his opponent.
  • The practitioner on the ground position is arguably considered in an advantageous position, he can move freely and restricts the opponent’s movements.
  • The fighter grabs the opponent by his collar and sleeve and then pulls him down.
  • The fighter can also grab the opponent by his pants and collar.

Open Guard

Open Guard in BJJ means that the fighter’s ankles are not crossed around his opponent's back.

  • The fighter's feet are positioned on his opponent's hips whether the opponent is in a ground or standing position.
  • It is a very beneficial position as the fighter can transition to spider guard or x-guard from the open guard position.
  • The fighter can even place his feet on the opponent's ribs and stop him from grabbing your legs.
  • The fighter stretches the hands of his opponent which imbalances him and he falls on the ground.

Arm Triangle Choke

Arm Triangle choke is one of the blood chokes in which the opponent is strangled between his own shoulder and the fighter’s arm. It restricts the flow of blood and oxygen to the opponent's brain and he quickly taps out. If tapping is delayed, it can lead to the opponent's death or unconsciousness.

  • The fighter is in the mount position.
  • The fighter’s one hand is below his opponent’s head and his other free hand is under the opponent's arm.
  • The fighter keeps moving his other hand forward to the point that the opponent’s hand is stuck with the fighter’s head.
  • The fighter then locks his both hands and applies the pressure, the opponent eventually taps out.

Guillotine Choke

Guillotine choke is one of the deadliest chokes in BJJ. It is applied from the standing position. The fighter uses his arms to encircle his opponent’s neck similar to a traditional guillotine.

  • The fighter grabs his opponent by his neck while his hands are encircling the opponent’s neck.
  • He then locks his own hands tightly and pushes the opponent’s head to one side and applies pressure. The opponent then taps out of the submission.


Armbar is a grappling submission move that extends the opponent’s arm and brings it into tight control.

  • The fighter is in the ground position.
  • His legs are locked around his opponent’s waist.
  • The fighter grabs his opponent’s hand and puts his other hand around the opponent’s neck and locks his hands.
  • He then applies pressure on the neck and arm of the opponent. Eventually, the opponent taps out.

2.7. BJJ Championships

BJJ tournaments and championships are organized and conducted by the international governing body of BJJ, called the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). Other than IBJJF, different organizations also conduct BJJ matches.

  • Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC).
  • UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Pro Jiu-Jitsu Cup.
  • The Brazilian National Jiu-Jitsu Gi Championship.
  • The North American Grappling Association (NAGA).
  • UAEJJF - Abu Dhabi Grand Slam (ADGS).

2.8. Famous BJJ Champions

Marcus Buchecha Almeida

Marcus Buchecha Almeida

Photo credit: @marcusbuchecha

Marcus Almeida has earned 6 IBJJF World Championship titles in the open weight category. He is an IBJJF Hall of Famer. He is a 2nd-degree BJJ Black Belt under Rodrigo Cavaca.

Kyra Gracie

Kyra Gracie

Photo credit: @kyragracie

Kyra Gracie is a 4th-degree BJJ Black Belt under the legendary Carlos Gracie Jr. She is an IBJJF Hall of Famer. She is the first ever BJJ female fighter to be included in the ADCC Hall of Fame.

Bianca Andrade

Bianca Andrade

Photo credit: @biancaandradegb

Bianca Andrade is a 5th-degree BJJ Black Belt under Diojone Farias. She is an IBJJF Hall of Famer. She is one of the best female BJJ fighters.

Saulo Ribeiro

Saulo Ribeiro

Photo credit: @ribeirojiujitsu

Saulo Ribeiro is a 4th-degree BJJ Black Belt under Royler Gracie. He is 5-times a World Champion. He is a 2-times ADCC Champion. He is also an IBJJF Pans Champion.

3. Difference Between Sambo & BJJ

Sambo BJJ
It originated in the 1920s with the Soviet NKVD and the Red Army. BJJ originated in Japan in 1897.
Sambo allows strikes such as punches and kicks. All strikes are forbidden in BJJ.
Sambo is more into pins and joint locks using punches and leg hooks. BJJ focuses on dominant positions and techniques.
Any Sambo student, beginner or adult, can use leglocks. Beginners are not allowed to use leglocks, only adult BJJ grapplers can use them.
The guard position is not encouraged in Sambo, rather the fighter has to fight in a standing position rather and the ground position. Guard position is itself the most dominant position in BJJ. It is one of the most encouraging positions in BJJ.
Sambo’s curriculum is not that extensive when it comes to ground fighting. The Sambo fighter has to fight ways to get into the standing position. BJJ is all about ground fighting and grappling. The fighter spends more time on the ground in BJJ.
Sambo practitioners wear Sambovka while fighting. BJJ practitioners wear Gi while fighting.
Sambo fighters earn points for knockdowns, pins, and throws. BJJ practitioners score points for takedowns, sweeps, and guard passes.
It was developed for soldiers to build hand-to-hand combat skills. It was founded by the Gracies to learn self-defense techniques that can be used in real-life situations.
It is more realistic when it comes to real-life situations. It is not that effective in a fight-or-flight situation.
The amount of chokeholds in Sambo is not as much as in BJJ. In BJJ, there is a variety of chokeholds that practitioners of certain ranks can use.
A Sambo match lasts for 5 minutes. A BJJ match can last from 5-10 minutes depending on the type of tournament as well the rank of the fighter.
Sambo practitioners fight on the mat which is called “carpet”. BJJ practitioners practice and fight on the “mat”.
Sambo uniforms can only be red or blue. BJJ Gis occur in different colors such as white, blue, black, or brown.
A Sambo Master will have the deepest knowledge of throws, hold-downs, and takedowns. A BJJ Master will have the deepest knowledge about all submission chokes, guard positions, and escapes.

4. Similarities in Sambo & BJJ

  • Sambo and BJJ relate in terms of many techniques such as throws and joint locks.
  • They both focus on hand-to-hand combat that can be applied in real-life situations.
  • BJJ and Sambo both are excellent combat sports when it comes to the fitness and strength of the fighter.
  • Both sports are competitive and practitioners all over the world indulge in Sambo and BJJ.

5. FAQs

5.1. Which Martial Art is the Best, Sambo or BJJ?

Sambo and BJJ both are intensive martial arts. Depending upon the likes and dislikes of the practitioner, he must choose between Sambo and BJJ. BJJ focuses more on ground grappling whereas, the focus of Sambo is on a standing fight.

5.2. What is the Goal of Sambo?

The goal of Sambo is to end the fight as quickly as possible. Sambo practitioners make use of throws and takedowns that are beneficial for total victory.

5.3. What are the Principles of BJJ?

The principles of BJJ include that size does not matter to the practitioner. He can easily overcome his bulky opponent if he has the strength. The focus of BJJ is on the grip because they give every practitioner an upper hand.

6. Conclusion

BJJ and Sambo both are different from each other in terms of techniques and rules. Both martial arts have their effectiveness, fan base, uniqueness, similarities, and top-class practitioners across borders. And if the practitioner is skilled enough that he can try both Sambo and BJJ then why not?

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