Whether you are into grappling or not, you have likely heard about BJJ and Sambo. These are the two best grappling arts, highly effective in sports combat. But when it comes to BJJ vs Sambo, which one is better and why?
Is this enough to say Sambo is better?
What is Sambo?
Sambo is a martial art founded in the 1920s by the Russian military with the goal to improve the hand to hand fighting abilities of its soldiers. The final result of their work was a fighting system with origins in Judo, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing, and various other martial arts. In this day and age, there are two main forms of Sambo:
- Sport Sambo — Sport Sambo is very similar to Judo. The emphasis is on powerful standing throws and joint locks such as leg locks and arm bars. Chokeholds and striking are not allowed.
- Combat Sambo — Combat Sambo is a more versatile style that in many ways resembles modern MMA fighting. Fighters can use kicks, punches, knees, elbows, and mix them together with throws, takedowns, joint locks. On top of that, Combat Sambo adds dirty moves like soccer kicks and headbutts. But of course, you can’t use these moves in official MMA matches.
Sambo was practised widely in the former USSR. For more than 30 years it remained confined to the countries that were behind the Iron Curtain, and Sambo started to come into international recognition only in the 1960s when Soviet Sambists began to dominate at international Judo competitions.
Since then, its popularity has grown thanks most recently to the success that its practitioners Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev have had on the international stage as UFC Lightweight champions.
Nonetheless, compared to BJJ, Sambo remains a niche martial art outside of the former USSR.
Here’s a video about Sambo to give you a really good idea what it’s all about.
What is BJJ?
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is a ground fighting system that focuses entirely on grappling and ground fighting. It emerged in the 1920s in Brazil with the founders of this style being the famous Gracie family. Brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie used Judo as a base for developing their own grappling style. They moved its base from powerful throws to grappling on the ground using chokes and joint locks.
BJJ started to rise with the birth of the UFC in 1993. At the time, MMA fighters were experts in just one fighting style and we saw many ‘style vs style’ matchups.
Royce Graci beat many skilled strikers and wrestlers with BJJ, who were often twice as big as he was. His success instantly put BJJ on the map, and it has only become more popular over time.
What Are The Differences Between Sambo and BJJ?
Both BJJ and Sambo are grappling disciplines that make their practitioners effective in close-quarter-combat situations. The practitioners of both disciplines will also be adept at leg locks and joint locks from a myriad of positions.
Beyond these similarities there are characteristics of each sport that distinguish BJJ from Sambo and vice-versa.
Here is a detailed comparison:
1. Same Era But Different Places Of Origin
Brazilian Jiujitsu emerged in the 1920s in Brazil. The original founders were Carlos and Helio Gracie who used Judo as a base to develop their own style that focused on ground fighting.
Combat Sambo was founded by the Russian Military in the 1920s. The pioneers of this fighting system were Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov.
Sport Sambo came a bit later in 1938 when the USSR Sports Committee recognized this form of Sambo as an official sport. The man credited for developing Sport Sambo was Anatoly Kharlampiev.
2. Strategies and Emphasis
BJJ is a fighting style where the focus is on taking the fight to the ground, getting into a dominant position, and finishing the opponent using chokes and joint locks.
Combat Sambo is a military version where the emphasis is on explosive attacks and knocking out or submitting the opponent as fast as possible. It allows you to use all limbs as weapons to strike at all ranges, grapple, and fight on the ground. Since it focuses on real combat, students also learn how to apply dirty tactics like soccer kicks and headbutts.
Sport Sambo is the softer and lighter version. The emphasis is on grappling and subduing the opponent using pins and joint locks. The main weapon is leg locks, and it’s worth bringing up that Sport Sambo doesn’t include chokeholds.
3. Different Techniques
These two arts differ a lot when it comes to techniques. Here is a detailed comparison:
BJJ techniques are complex and much harder to learn than in other martial arts. Techniques students learn can be divided into the following categories:
- Takedowns (judo throws and wrestling takedowns)
- Chokeholds (strangles and chokes)
- Joint locks (armlocks, leg locks, spinal locks)
- Sweeps (closed guard, half guard, open guard)
- Positions(back mount, half guard, closed guard, open guard, side control and others.
Combat Sambo is much more versatile as it also includes striking techniques. Students learn how to strike using kicks, punches, knees, elbows, and how to mix these strikes together. The grappling aspect is not as intricate as it is in BJJ, but it includes takedowns, trips, throws, and joint locks.
Sport Sambo, on the other hand, is very similar to Judo and the emphasis is on powerful throws and wrestling takedowns. There are no strikes or chokeholds so the focus is on ground fighting using pins, armlocks, and leg locks.
4. Different Clothing
- Sambovka/ Kurtka
- Wrestling style shoes
- Boxing helmet
- Shin guards
- Open fingered gloves
- Groin guards
Sport Sambo students wear the same uniform as the ones in Combat Sambo. Sport Sambo competitors wear:
- Sambovka/ Kurtka
- Wrestling style shoes
5. DIFFERENT Match Lengths
BJJ tournament matches can vary greatly depending on the promotion. For ADCC, for example, matches can last anywhere from five to ten minutes. However, some promotions are submissions-only — like Metamoris. In such promotions, matches can last for as long as 20 minutes and won’t end until a submission is achieved.
Sambo matches are generally shorter, lasting about five minutes. Some Sambo matches can even be as short as three minutes.
6. Rules Of Competition
BJJ matches, according to IBJJF rules, last 5 min (white belts), 6 min (blue belts), 7 min (purple belts), 8 min (brown belts), and 10 min (black belts). Matches can end via decision, disqualification, or submission. Each fighter must wear either a blue, black, or white Gi uniform. As for scoring points:
- 2 points for a takedown, sweep, or knee to the belly position.
- 3 points are awarded for passing the opponent’s guard and
- 4 points are received for mount or back mount positions.
There are other variations of BJJ competitions that don’t score by points and are submission only. These competitions such as Polaris and EBI are no Gi competitions where you can only win by submission.
BJJ has progressed even further with the help of Eddie Bravo who has created combat jiu-jitsu which is the first BJJ competition to allow open-handed strikes when on the ground.
Combat Sambo matches are 5 minutes long. Fighters can win via decision, knockout, submission or disqualification. They win points by:
- Knockdown – 4 points
- Throws – 1-4 points
- Pins – 2-4 points
Sport Sambo rules are similar as the matches also last 5 minutes. Matches can end via decision or submission if one fighter executes a perfect throw or achieves a 12 point lead:
- Throws – 1-4 points
- Pins – 2-4 points
7. Belts and RankingS
There’s a belt ranking system in BJJ. Under the current BJJ belting system, practitioners can progress from white to black belts. In between belts are stripes that practitioners can earn in their pursuit of the next belt level.
There are eight belts in BJJ. In order of rank, these are white, blue, purple, brown, black, red and black, red and white, and red.
The amount of training years determine a practitioner’s rank and belt in Sambo. In Sambo’s ranking system, a practitioner progresses with each year of consistent training. For the first five years, the practitioner takes on the rank of student. He or she only becomes a master during the sixth and seventh years of training
The following is the IBJJF adult belt system:
Red and black – 7th degree
Red and White – 8th degree
Red – 9th and 10th degree
In 2020, FIAS introduced the official Sambo belt ranks:
White (rookie belt)
Brown (master candidate)
Black (master belt)
In 2020, FIAS introduced the official Sambo belt ranks: White (rookie belt)
Brown (master candidate)
Black (master belt)
8. Unique Techniques
If there’s one area in which BJJ might outdo Sport Sambo in, it’s submissions.
Compared to Sport Sambo, BJJ has far more submission techniques. This is due to the restrictions of Sport Sambo. As mentioned earlier, Sport Sambo practitioners cannot perform moves like chokes in competition.
However, Combat Sambo has the upper hand in strikes and takedowns. Strikes are part of the Combat Sambo system. As for takedowns, Combat Sambo has a higher emphasis on these since they’re keys to an instant victory.
The emphasis on takedowns is apparent when you compare the fighting style of Khabib Nurmagomedov with the styles of Charles Oliveira and Ryan Hall. Nurmagomedov is likely to attempt more takedowns than his BJJ counterparts.
Sambo vs BJJ For MMA
In an MMA world where fighters need to know how to strike and grapple, Combat Sambo might sound like an ideal option. It won’t teach you advanced striking like you can learn in Muay Thai or positions and submissions as BJJ. But on the other hand, it covers both of these elements and that’s what makes it so effective. It resembles modern MMA fighting more than any other martial art.
Combat Sambo rules favour a high pace of action where the fighters have to be aggressive and go for a finish as soon as the fight starts, which is not always the case with BJJ. Just look at how aggressive Sambo fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Islam Makhachev or Fedor Emelianenko are in MMA. They are very explosive on their feet and are always pushing for a finish.
Still, there are a couple of downsides as well.
First, being the youngest martial art, Sambo is still most popular inside Russia and the former Soviet Republics. If you want to attend classes, you might have a hard time finding a gym that offers bona fide Sambo classes with a qualified coach. And on top of that, Sport Sambo doesn’t include chokeholds, which is a big downside when it comes to MMA.
BJJ, on the other hand, is still among the best martial arts for MMA despite its limitations. In fact, one study has shown that BJJ is in second place when it comes to which martial art produces most UFC champions.
But that is very much a product of availability: BJJ is ubiquitous, whereas Sambo is difficult to find outside of the former USSR. Its effectiveness, however, is indisputable, and its popularity is growing rapidly.
Sambo vs BJJ For Self-Defence
It’s fair to say that Combat Sambo is a better option as it is a military system designed for intense combat. It trains a person to deal with armed or unarmed attackers and to fight at all ranges and in all places.
BJJ is focused on bringing the fight to the ground, and from a self-defence perspective, the ground is the last place you want to be for a number of reasons: multiple attackers being one of them.
Since BJJ does not allow striking, and effective striking is key to any good self-defence, pure BJJ for self-defence is training a lame duck. You need effective striking combined with effective grappling to be truly effective in any situation. Knowing both means you will have a weapon to use no matter if the fight is in the bar, room, or parking lot. Each technique works in real life and it may help you get out of trouble.
This doesn’t mean that BJJ is bad by any means. But Combat Sambo clearly focuses more on the self-defence aspect, and it is more versatile. The more tools and weapons you have in a fight, the better chances you have to get back home safely.
The good thing about both Sambo and BJJ is that both martial arts focus on grappling.
A competent ground ame is crucial for street fighting where most people don’t know how to fight on the ground or defend against trips and throws. The only issue is that with the rise in popularity of BJJ, takedown attempts have become more common and if that is all you know, the temptation to grapple when there are multiple attackers is a dangerous one.
When it comes to training, there is a lot of sparring in both BJJ and Sambo. This is one of the best methods to prepare a person for real combat. Students spend just about every session drilling takedowns, trips, or rolling on the mats against other students.
This helps you develop reactions, learn how to apply techniques in a spontaneous action, and keep the mind calm in highly stressful situations.
Sambo vs BJJ — Which One Is Harder To Learn
Becoming a master in any martial art is a lifelong journey for most people, and the same stands for BJJ and Sambo. You won’t achieve anything without putting in a lot of effort, and spending years training hard on the mats. Which one is harder is based on your individual talent, dedication, and many other factors.
BJJ is known to be one of the hardest martial arts to get good at.
The progress is very slow and promotional criteria strict in most of the schools. On average, dedicated students need around 10 years of training to reach a black belt, which is a lot of time spent on the mats. Some may do it in less, but again, this depends on many factors.
Sambo is even more versatile so don’t expect the progress to be any faster. According to FIAS, students need 7 years to reach the black belt rank.
BJJ Pros And Cons
Accessibility – BJJ is far more popular than any form of Sambo, and it is well spread all around the world. No matter where you live, it’s very easy to find a gym to train in.
Ground fighting techniques – Sports Sambo is better when it comes to grips and throws. But BJJ truly shines once the fight goes to the ground. It puts more emphasis on positioning, sweeps, and submissions. However when compared to Combat Sambo Bjj faulters.
Trains you to beat opponents without striking – BJJ is all about leverage and technique.
Strategic approach – BJJ is not an explosive and aggressive fighting style. Yes, there are some aspects where you need explosiveness, but it’s far more important to be strategic and methodical. It is often seen as a human chess match where you must think and plan your moves three steps ahead.
Lack of striking – unlike Combat Sambo, BJJ won’t teach you any striking or how to mix it with grappling.
Lack of dirty tactics – BJJ training doesn’t include defending against armed attackers, and it won’t teach you how to defend or use dirty moves.
Lack of consideration for weapons or multiple attackers – BJJ is not designed to be used when there are multiple attackers or a weapon involved. That is a simple fact. Supplementary training is required to deal with situations that do not in any way resemble a refereed match.
Sambo Pros And Cons
Versatility – Sambo trains a person to fight at all ranges and in all places. It is more versatile than BJJ because it covers both the striking and grappling aspects.
Fast and explosive – There is no playing around in Combat Sambo. The goal is to be aggressive, attack with full power, and finish the fight as fast as possible. This is crucial for street fighting where there are no rules and where you have to finish the fight as fast as possible.
Takedowns, grips and leg locks – unlike BJJ, Sambo includes takedowns from various styles of wrestling, and all grips.
Accessibility – Sambo is not that popular outside of Russia and former Soviet Republics. It’s even impossible to find a gym in some parts of the world.
Ground fighting – Sambo puts a lot of emphasis on striking, powerful throws and leg locks. It is a bit limited compared to BJJ when it comes to submissions, positions or sweeps.
No chokeholds and guard – Sport Sambo doesn’t include chokeholds and there is no closed guard on the ground, which means you’ll need to supplement Sport Sambo training if you’re looking for a full suite of skills. Lucky there’s Combat Sambo for that.
BJJ vs Sambo — Which One Is Better For You
Whether you choose BJJ or Sambo depends on your personal preference and what you want to achieve with your training. If you are a fan of pure grappling and ground fighting, then BJJ should be your choice.
It is much more versatile than Sambo in this aspect. But on the other side, Combat Sambo is great if you want to learn how to use all limbs as weapons to strike and grapple, and maybe switch over to MMA later.
When it’s all said and done, which one is better truly depends on what you are lucky enough to have access to.
Since Sambo gyms are hard to find, BJJ is a good choice for grappling and far more widespread. However, if you have access to a qualified Sambo coach, you can’t really go wrong.
SGS Krav Maga is lucky to have elite Sambo coach Aziz Yuldashev.
Develop or Bring Your Grappling Game
Whichever style tickles your fancy, one is not better than the other. It all comes down to what you prefer, your strengths, and most importantly, what’s available in your area.
If you’re in Sydney, train with us and strengthen your grappling game with Sambo.