The Russian Sambo and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) are equally menacing as self-defense art forms, through their key attributes. Both the approaches blend in ground-control techniques, with brutal take-downs and joint locks.
For years, BJJ has been the most widely used and effective martial art in the sport of MMA, although there is another form of grappling that challenges BJJ as the most effective martial art in MMA, and that form of grappling is Sambo Martial Art!
BJJ is uniquely a martial art in which practitioners mainly fight with various guards on the ground. Sambo is a grip martial art (usually referred to as sports sambo) and a system of mixed martial arts known as combat sambo. Both arts have strong and mixed sports. Martial Arts Applications (MMA) with UFC champions hailing from both disciplines.
Sambo is an aggressive fighting style from Russian that focuses on quick striking paramilitary techniques. BJJ is a popular fighting style focusing on strong groundwork and chokeholds, designed more for ring competition than street fighting. This makes it harder to use in practical applications.
Many fighters from Eastern Europe and Russian states that specialize in Sambo have been dominant in the UFC and Bellator. It leaves folk to ask the question, which is the superior combat martial art – is it Russian Combat Sambo or is it Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
Let’s take a look at how BJJ and Sambo differ from one another. We’ll detail everything about each martial art and see which is best for you.
Origins of BJJ
Here’s a quick history lesson. BJJ was developed in Brazil in the early 1900s. Students of the judo creator Jigoro Kano came to Brazil to teach the art of judo, in particular Mitsuyo Maeda, Geo Omor, and Yoshihiro Satake.
The students of these judo masters included Carlos Gracie, Helio Gracie, and Luiz Franca who would create the art of BJJ. It was derived from judo and focused more on fighting on the ground than on throwing. Jiu-Jitsu has come a long way in a short period of time and has become one of the most practiced martial arts in the world.
Origins of Sambo
Like BJJ, sambo was derived from judo. Vasili Oshechepkov was a martial artist from the USSR who traveled to Japan to learn judo directly from Jigoro Kano. He then received a second-degree black belt from Master Kano.
Oshechepkov recovered from what he had learned in Japan and with the help of others, they began to develop a new martial art. What he helped create became known as the art of sambo. But just what is sambo and what does it mean?
The Russian word sambo directly means “unarmed self-defense” and the correct official spelling is “combo”. This grappling art is a mixture of judo and wrestling and the national martial art of Russia. It was developed around the same time as BJJ in Brazil in the early 1920s.
Today Sambo is a globally recognized form of amateur wrestling and practiced by many top MMA fighters. These include Fedor Emelianenko and the current undefeated UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The key differences between BJJ and Sambo
1. Allowed submissions
The first major difference between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Sambo is that BJJ allows practitioners to perform joint locks and strangleholds, while sports sambo only allows arm and leg joint locks. However, combat sambo also allows chokeholds.
2. Points scoring systems
The points are also rated differently in BJJ and Sport-Sambo. In BJJ, points are scored for different positions or maneuvers, and in sports, sambo throws earn different numbers of points depending on who performed the throw, position, and more. Points can also be earned in sports sambo for hold-downs. Combat sambo also awards points for strikes.
3. Winning a match instantly
The second key difference is how you can instantly win a match in both arts. In both BJJ and sports sambo, a practitioner can win instantly by submitting an opponent, but in sambo, a practitioner can also win instantly by successfully making a perfect throw.
In the fight against sambo, a practitioner can also win instantly by eliminating his opponent or successfully knocking him down twice.
Sambo Vs Bjj-Rules Difference
The competitive rules and points scoring systems of Sambo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are mostly different. The one major commonality is that a successful submission by a practitioner signals instant victory.
The major difference between the rules of Sambo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that in Sambo “total victory” can be had if a competitor carries out a perfect throw, has an 8 or more point advantage, or in the case of Combat Sambo, knocks their opponent out. Here are the main rules for each martial art:
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rules
In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, most competitions use the rules of the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). The general rules are:
- Matches are between 5 – 10 minutes long for adults depending on rank
- Competitors score 2, 3, or 4 points for successfully obtaining dominant positions or performing advantageous maneuvers
- Matches are won either by successful submission or decided by points
Some BJJ rules are “submission-only” which means that no points are scored and games can only be won if one athlete successfully submits the other. Others like the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) are hybrids between the two and are effectively submission-only matches for the first half of the match, after which points can be scored.
Sports Sambo rules
The FIAS Sports Sambo rules are quite different from BJJ rules. They include:
- Matches are between 3 – 5 minutes long for adults depending on their age
- Competitors score 1 – 4 points for throws and hold-downs depending on a number of factors
- A competitor can score a “total victory” and win the match immediately by successfully carrying out a perfect throw, submitting their opponent, or having an 8 point advantage over their opponent.
- If there’s no total victory, points are used to decide the winner.
Combat Sambo rules differ again from sports Sambo due to the addition of strikes and chokeholds. The general rules are:
- Competitors can strike and use chokeholds in addition to joint locks, throws, and hold-downs
- Matches are 5 minutes long
- Competitors score 1 – 4 points for throws, strikes, hold-downs, and knockdowns depending on the quality.
- A total victory can be had if a competitor carries out a perfect throw, knocks their opponent out, has an 8 or more point advantage over their competitor, or successfully submits them with a joint lock or chokehold.
- If no competitor scores total victory points are used to decide the winner.
Sambo Vs Bjj-Belt System & Progression
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Sambo both have belt ranking systems, with Sambo’s being recently introduced in 2020 by the FIAS.
BJJ Belt System & Progression
In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the adult belt system includes eight belts, from a white belt all the way up to a red belt. The belts are:
- Red and black
- Red and white
The belts also have stripes or titles that students can earn, either through formal degrees or over time, as instructors feel their students are ready.
To get your next belt, you may need to formally grade for it, or you may just need to keep progressing with your learning until your instructor thinks you’re ready. Schools and instructors can treat this differently.
Sambo Belt System & Progression
In 2018 the International Sambo Federation (FIAS) announced that it would introduce a color belt system for Sambo similar to other martial arts. In 2020 the belt system was approved. It’s a seven belt system that awards a new color for each year of Sambo’s study. The Sambo belt system includes the following ranks:
|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|
Sambo also has a competitive rating system. Athletes who excel in competition at the national and international stage can earn the title of ‘master of sport’ or ‘international master of sport’ from various organizations.
Sambo Vs Bjj-Classes Difference
A typical BJJ class
A typical BJJ class consists of the following
- Warm-up Exercises (10 minutes): Warm-up exercises at the beginning of a Jiu-Jitsu class include jogging on the mats, strength training such as push-ups and burpees, partner exercises such as carrying the firefighter, and other movements such as forward and backward turns or hip escaping the length of mats.
- Exercises (30-45 minutes): At most BJJ gyms, most of the class is focused on one technique or a set of related techniques, such as the armbar from the mount. You can learn the armbar from mount, common troubleshooting techniques, and some ways to end the armbar based on your partner’s
- Sparring (15-30 minutes): Most jiu-jitsu classes end with rounds of “rolling” or sparring. These are usually five-minute rounds with a short break in between, and the classes can include 3-5 or even more rounds in each
A typical Sambo class
The average Sambo class includes
- Learning a technique slowly from the teacher, who will explain the details and when the technique should be used.
- Practicing grabs and throws (and strikes if learning combat sambo)
BJJ Vs Sambo-Clothing & Equipment
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Sambo have some similarities when it comes to clothing and equipment. The gi jacket used in BJJ is similar to the kurta jacket used in Sambo. The key difference is that the shoulders of the kurta have extra fabric which is used by athletes to throw their opponents.
BJJ uniform & equipment
In BJJ, the uniform that is worn most of the time is the gi or kimono. This is a durable cotton jacket and pants with a cotton belt that indicates the rank. In addition, most practitioners will wear a mouthguard when sparring to protect their teeth.
Sambo uniform & equipment
In Sambo, a cotton kurta and belt with polyester fight shorts are worn. Practitioners also wear shoes. Combat Sambo practitioners also wear gloves, an open head guard, leg guards which cover the shin and shoelaces, a mouthguard, and female practitioners also wear a breast protector.
Which is more popular, BJJ or Sambo?
There’s no definitive way to prove which martial art is the most popular, but we can use data like Google Trends to give us an estimate. As you can see below, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (blue) based on Google Trends data for the past five years) is much more interested in Google than Sambo (red):
While Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is arguably more popular globally, Sambo enjoys a high level of popularity in Russia and surrounding countries:
It is important to note that sambo is also provisionally recognized by the International Olympic Committee and is actively trying to become an Olympic sport, while Brazilian jiu-jitsu does not currently enjoy the same status.
BJJ does have the Sports Jiu-Jitsu Federation (SJJIF) which wants to get Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into the Olympics, but at the time of writing, no major progress has been made.
Russian sambo has greater potential as a practical approach to self-defense. With its aggressive takedowns and attacks, as well as claws and leg locks for self-defense, it’s an impressive discipline.
The explosiveness of military combat sambo style can throw an enemy and stun them before facing their ultimate defeat. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a self-defense martial art is well suited for smaller or weaker fighters who can bring the fight to the ground.
Through methodical movements, a BJJ fighter can achieve positional dominance by keeping an eye on the opponent’s weakness. However, it is more suitable for opponents in the ring than in the real world.
Pros & Cons of BJJ
Pros & Cons of Sambo
|Ways to win||
|Time of Origin||The 1920s||The 1920s|
|Match duration||5 minutes||2-10 minutes depending on your age and belt (and even from 15 min to unlimited time for special tournaments)|
To Sum Up
By now, in this article, you’ve learned pretty much all the basics there is to know about these two fighting disciplines. So how do you choose which grappling martial art is the right discipline for you?
If you’re trying to build up your repertoire of moves for MMA sparring and competition, you’ll be best served to cross-train in multiple fighting disciplines to have the largest toolbox at your disposal when it comes time to hit the ring.
Even if you really want to take sambo training, unless you’re in a place with a large Eastern European population, chances are you might have to travel pretty far to find any sambo gym, much less a choice of several to pick from. So that means you might end up having to fall back on BJJ whether you want to learn sambo or not.
At the end of the day, sambo is a great martial art to learn if you have access to it, and if you know of a sambo gym nearby, you’d be doing yourself a favor to check it out and see what kind of training is available. But if you’re stuck with BJJ as a backup (or simply prefer it), then you’re in luck—BJJ is still considered one of the best martial arts to start your training in MMA fighting styles.