Sambo – the Russian art of self-defence without weapons

Sambo has surged in popularity in the UK since October 2018 when Khabib Nurmagomedov, a former Sambo world champion, beat Conor McGregor in an MMA grudge match that was at the time declared the biggest fight in UFC history by UFC President, Dana White.


Khabib with Sambo T-Shirt

What is Sambo?

Sambo is a Russian martial art and combat sport – the word is short for samozashchita bez oruzhiya, or alternatively samooborona bez oruzhiya, both meaning ‘self-defence without weapons’. In competitive practice, Combat Sambo is very similar to MMA, having plenty of wrestling and kickboxing, and a very rough but tactical hands-on nature.

Related styles of martial art

There are some Sambo schools in the UK, including some in the Greater Manchester area, but they are a lot rarer than the most common martial arts. So if you like the generalised, hands-on, sporty side of Sambo and are struggling to find a class to suit you, try MMA as it’s so similar – or if you have a preference for the striking (including slipping or blocking and counterstriking) try boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai, and if you’re more interested in the grappling side of things (including anti-grappling techniques) try wrestling or no-gi BJJ – these all offer a similar level of hands-on heat in training – just bear in mind that this ‘pressure testing’ is only ever at a moderate level in training, which you can gain a false sense of security from if you become too accustomed to it, because in a real, serious fight the attitude is very different – punches are thrown with a lot more intent, opportunities are rarely when openings present themselves, and moves are sharper – faster, more responsive and more powerful, due to adrenaline and the seriousness of the situation.

The Russian president did a lot of Sambo but seemed most interested in Judo (which he stuck with until he became very good at it), so if you like Russian culture and are a fan of Mr Putin, moy tovarish, try Judo, pozhaluysta. Judo has some moves and principles in common with Sambo, and Judo classes in the UK are generally of a much higher standard than Sambo classes due to the lack of globalisation of Sambo in contrast with Judo during the 20th Century.

Sambo vs BJJ

This is a very informative video depicting a team of Russian Sambo experts vs a team of Brazilian BJJ experts, competing under BJJ rules.

You’ll notice that even though it’s BJJ rules, the Sambo guys were pretty much able to tie. Now if we were to do things under Sambo rules, or at least MMA rules with most types of punches, kicks, and slams allowed, what chance would the more narrowly-trained BJJ fighters have then?

Sambo is a more comprehensive, well-rounded martial art than BJJ – in this respect competitive Sambo is very similar to the UFC MMA. So you wish to learn grappling within the boundaries of BJJ then you may have a better quality of tuition as a beginner by attending specialist BJJ classes (especially as it’s so much more popular in the UK than Sambo is today), but at the highest level, Sambo experts can match BJJ experts under BJJ rules where as BJJ stylists are generally going to be in unfamiliar territory under Sambo rules.

Sambo Classes in Manchester

The only Sambo club in Manchester we’ve found is at the Unit 7 Gym in Tyldesley – this is a general fitness gym located about an hour North-West-West of central Manchester – not far from Bolton. Click here to learn more about Sambo classes in Manchester.