A unique form of martial art woven deeply into the fabric of the Russian military influences cinematic choreography and is an integral part of real-life warfare strategy. We’re talking about Sambo. 

The name is an acronym for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya, which translates to “self-defense without weapons.” Sambo was born in early 20th century Russia, where the military adopted it to train soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, enhancing their resilience and effectiveness on the battlefield.

Though lesser known than its counterparts like judo or karate, this Russian martial art has left an indelible mark on the military and its tactics. This article delves deep into Sambo’s evolution within the Russian army, tactical advantages, and enduring legacy. 

The Birth of Sambo

MMA legend Fedor Emelianenko won a Sambo match in 2009 (Wikimedia Commons)

It’s the early 1920s in Russia. The newly formed Soviet Union was on a mission to establish its military prowess, and at the core of this ambition was developing a combat system that was effective, adaptable, and easy to learn. Enter Sambo.

Sambo, a unique blend of judo, jujitsu, and traditional folkstyle wrestling, was explicitly designed for the Russian military. It emerged as the solution to their quest for a practical, effective hand-to-hand combat technique. 

What set Sambo apart was its focus on real-world applications and adaptability to various combat scenarios – a crucial asset in the unpredictable world of warfare.

Sambo’s Integration into the Russian Military

So, how exactly did Sambo enter the heart of the Russian military’s training program? It all started with two men, Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov, appointed by the Red Army to develop a new hand-to-hand combat system.

With backgrounds in wrestling and judo, they each brought a distinct style. Spiridonov’s softer, more technique-based approach dovetailed perfectly with Oshchepkov’s dynamic, power-driven style.