sambo featured image

The Sambo Martial Art for Preppers

photo above, adapted from Flickr, courtesy of CFS SAMBO FRANCE via the CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Sambo, an eclectic system of hand-to-hand fighting skills created by the Russian military in the early twentieth century for the sole purpose of destroying one’s enemies on the battlefield. It was the brainchild of two men, Viktor Spiridonov an accomplished freestyle wrestler, and Vasili Oschepov a judoka trained at the Kodokan by none other than Jigoro Kano himself.

Like all military organizations acronyms are a way of life, and why not have an acronym for your army’s H-2-H system. Sambo is short for “Samozashchita Bez Oruzhiya”, which translated means “to defend yourself without the use of weapons”.

Around 1920 in the wake of WW1 the Red Army, in an effort to advance their soldier’s bare handed fighting abilities and breathe new life into the capabilities of the modern soldier, tasked Viktor and Vasili with the development of effective training methods that would set the Russian soldier above his foreign counterpart.

Both men drew heavily from their grappling backgrounds and skills. Interestingly enough each man, though they were contemporaries, developed their own particular style independently.

Each man with his own strengths and weaknesses contributed different skills and tastes to the development of Sambo. Vasili’s style was a hard hybrid wrestling style which is best expressed through a strong and elastic body.

He had spent many year learning judo in Japan which trained his body to sustain varying degrees of hardship and punishment. Spiridonov on the other hand had sustained crippling injuries during World War 1 that did not afford him the option of using strength based techniques. Characteristic to his style was a softer approach like a Japanese aikido philosophy to not meet force with force.

Though the system’s founders had extensive grappling and wrestling experience they recognized the usefulness and applicability of incorporating other arts and skills into their training. Vasils, being trained at the Kodokan, was greatly influenced by the other fighting styles Japan had to offer.

He was exposed to karate and realized its effectiveness and how it could be integrated into his judo. Along with that he researched the roots from which judo sprang which led him to jujutsu, the grappling art of medieval Japanese samurai. From this he learned to apply joint locking techniques and various incapacitation methods.

Viktor studied other native Russian folk methods of wrestling. This line in his research included techniques and training in catch wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, and Turkic folk wrestling. In WW1 Viktor sustained a bayonet wound that left one of his arms useless. Before that he was hired as an army close combat instructor.

After the war he was able to apply his battlefield experience with his extensive wrestling training to develop one of the most effective fighting styles to date.

Some years after these two men set out on this research they met on occasion to collaborate and trade skills but these meetings were few and most of what was discussed never too effect.

Both men were just too caught up in what they were trying to do that they failed to see the bigger picture. It was actually their students, the ones each of them had trained that came together and began exchanging knowledge and growing the art. Now after almost one hundred years since its inception Sambo has grown into a few different substyles and systems.

sambo fight

photo above, from Flickr, courtesy of Sergiu Alistar via the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

After many years and other wars the art of Sambo has spread all over the world. Day by day it constantly grows and evolves, gaining influence from the fad martial arts and acquiring skills according to what the threats of that era are. In the age of MMA, Olympic wrestling, and televised combat sports the modern civilian battlefield has changed. Now people no longer believe in the mystical martial arts master with his secret kung fu, training in his backyard in the dead of night.

Today one can throw a rock in virtually any direction and hit a martial arts school. Hand to hand combative skills are glorified more than ever in television, movies, and videogames. Not only that, with all of the crazy attacks, bombings and shootings going on all over the world many people that would otherwise never considers throwing a single punch have gained a value of self-protection.

So more and more people are gaining some degree of fighting skills. On the down side to that there is that criminal element that also is getting better, faster, stronger, and more skillful as well.

The tricks of old no longer work because the enemy is getting better. So we all must strive to be the best that we can be. That means evolving with the times. Sambo is doing just that. Sambo has grown into many different subsets.

In this article we will only discuss the three that will greatly aid the modern day prepper. Learning any form of fighting, doesn’t matter what it is as long as it helps you to survive an encounter, is better than nothing at all. We will define and discuss combat sambo, self-defense sambo, and sport sambo, and how they can help the prepper to survive the coming collapse.

Combat Sambo

The first Sambo we will discuss is that which came in the beginning, combat sambo. Of course every style is essentially meant for combat but, what I am more specifically referring to are those styles that deal in techniques that are meant for war fighting. In a self defense situation my goal is not to kill my opponent. Along with that, in competition, at a tournament type setting breaking my opponent’s neck is not a valid technique. There are rules.

First of all, between the different styles of sambo I will say it is not the techniques that change. What is different are the ways those techniques are used and the situations they are going to be employed in. Combat sambo is meant for a battlefield. It is a style suited to a soldier with or without a firearm that may or may not be laden with body armor. It works either way. This style is aggressive and offensive in nature. It trains its user to move forward into fire.

Like we discussed above it was being developed to better prepare Russian soldiers for direct contact with enemy forces in front line combat. It was designed to finish an opponent quickly and efficiently with minimal effort. The goal at the end of the day was survival. Second to that was neutralizing the enemy. Techniques of this form are used by the Russian street police and riot control units but only used to subdue so they will not have to escalate to deadly force.

Punching and striking in combat sambo is without rules or limits. Targets vary depending on what is available and does the most immediate damage. A practitioner would be happy to deliver a palm strike to the chin and dislocate his opponent’s jaw and render him unconscious.

Prime striking areas are the vulnerable areas of the body. The eyes, throat, the groin, and joints are all good targets. The fighter lashes out with the intent to maim or kill his opponent.

No techniques are meant to be pulled or stopped short. When striking to the joints the combat sambo practitioner aims to incapacitate the limb with each strike.

There would be no room for one who wishes for his opponent to submit or tap out to a technique. There would be not submitting out on the battlefield if it came down to hand-to-hand combat.

Granted, that in the event the soldier had the need to take a prisoner then the techniques would of course be modified for such a purpose. But taking another soldier prisoner is an extremely dangerous task that requires additional training and skill outside of the realm of standard hand to hand fighting.

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photo above, from Flickr, courtesy of Sergiu Alistar via the CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This aggressive killing form of sambo is not really for the prepper. The goal of the prepper is not to vanquish thine enemies. The goal is to survive until tomorrow.

Why then did I broach the subject of combat sambo? That answer is quite simple. This, being the military form of sambo, does the best job of integrating weapon systems along with hand to hand combat. To be able to fight with a rifle, a pistol, a knife, and bare hands takes great skill. To be able to transition back and forth between those four weapons is another skill entirely, and to do is seamlessly is extremely difficult. This is the skill that benefits the prepper.

Imagine you are scavenging a war torn landscape, going from house to house in search of food and other survivors in need of help. You are armed with your favorite rifle, pistol, and knife combo. You go into a house and are immediately ambushed.

Someone is trying to wrestle your weapon out of your hands. So you start a tug of war battle trying to keep control of your weapon. Meanwhile his accomplice shows up and jumps on your back. Pretty soon you are on the ground with two crazed lunatics on top of you trying to strip you bare. I guess you forgot about your other weapons.

Fear not. Most of us would fall victim to that situation without the proper mindset and training. Now let’s put the combat sambo guy into the mix. Again he/she is armed with the same load out trying to accomplish the same mission and they too get ambushed coming through a door. This time immediate action is taken. The person is trying to wrest the rifle from our hands. We immediately let it go. There is no point fighting over it. Our assailant will have our weapon but it will more than likely be backward in his hands, meaning he must orient the weapon correctly and know how to work it, and remember to take the safety off, and point it at you and pull the trigger.

All of that is a lot to take in when the punches begin to fly. Your immediate response is to allow him to be occupied with fumbling with the weapon while you go for your secondary. While he is scrambling you are drawing that pistol and going to work. He would be down before he knew what had happened. Then his accomplice comes to jump on your back and you judo throw him over onto his friend. The beauty of this is that you didn’t even have to let go of your side arm. Now you are in a standing position still armed and with all of the options.

For the prepper the ability to integrate bare hand fighting skill and weapon fighting skills and employ them in tandem is probably the best physical defensive skill they can have. This effectively turns the fighter into the weapon and renders his/her weapons only a means to get things done. The weapons just become tools just tools.

When you are searching for a combat sambo school ask about knife defenses and firearms training. If they shy away from weapons then move on to the next place. Firearms are the weapons technology of the day. Your enemies will have them so you had better learn to use them at the very least to a basic level. Get training to transition from fighting with a firearm to fighting with bare hands and back again. The same goes with knife techniques. Learn to fight with a firearm and a knife equipped. It can be done.

Once you get the training it is up to you to practice those skills until you are one with them, able to seamlessly transition from one range of combat to another. A great dramatization of this kind of fighting is the movie “John Wick” with Keanu Reeves. He beautifully portrays what equates to a one man army. Now keep in mind that this is a movie and the ideal but unrealistic. Real fights are faster and a lot more chaotic. It is still good though.

Military Combat Sambo

Weapon Transition

Self-Defense Sambo

Second in line is self-defense sambo. This may seem similar to combat sambo in that there are no rules and the goal it to survive but this form is more suited to the civilian. Where combat sambo is aggressive self-defense sambo is passive. The techniques and striking areas will be the same but the motivation is opposite. Self-defense sambo would be the form you would want to carry with you before society crumbles.

The ability to kill is always there but the intent is not. Your aim is to win a fight without having to fight. Beat your opponent before you ever encounter him. The name of the game here is avoidance. A practitioner of self-defense sambo would much rather strike out quickly to stun an attacker or quickly ground them and find an avenue of escape than engage in prolonged mortal combat.

Weapon choice is also a key difference between the combat and self-defense sambo practitioners. Like we discussed earlier the combat sambo integrates firearms and knives into hand to hand combat. Their methodology is offensive in nature and very aggressive and powerful weaponry is chosen to support that. The civilian studying for self-defense purposes is supposed to be passive but not weak and certainly not disarmed.

The self-defense sambo practitioner will more than like likely be the average citizen walking around city streets in their community and not on a battlefield. Their weapon choice would not warrant scrutiny from potential muggers or the police for that matter. Their weapons would fit into pockets of everyday street clothes or on standard casual dress belts. Women may be putting some of their self-defense tools into their purses so they must be small enough to fit into them.

Weapons such as tactical folding pocket knives, pepper spray, kubotan, pocket pistols, and tactical hand lights are the primary tools of the defender. These can be slipped into a pocket or into a handbag and go unnoticed throughout a day of working and grocery shopping. These weapons also take a degree of practice and skill to be able to deploy and employ in a self-defense situation. As a matter of fact utilization of these weapon may take more training than the offensive weapons a combat sambo practitioner may employ.

Combat sambo has more offensive applications so the weapons used will be readily available and easy to get to with little obstruction. Your weapon may be on you belt or even in your hand. Easily seen but quick to get to.

Concealment may not be a factor. In a civil self-defense scenario chances are the event was random and evolved out of thin air. Because of this the defender, if caught in a situation, is already a step behind. We would hope that if they saw it coming that they would have enough good sense to flee the scene before the threat fully materialized.

But in the event that they were so into reading the news on their mobile device that they did not notice the man wearing the heavy overcoat, in the middle of July, in southern Texas, walk into the Starbucks, the defender will be caught off guard and may need to access their weapons from concealment.

This means that your pocket pistol can snag on clothing at the most opportune moment. I have been there myself. You can drop you tactical flashlight because an old receipt is wrapped around the grip not allowing you to get ahold on it. You can mistakenly deploy your pepper spray inside of your purse accidentally depressing the trigger when taking it out.

A double threat for the ladies that decide to carry a purse and put self-defense tools into that purse, in the even someone snatches your purse you are successfully disarmed. So beware and do not put all of your eggs into one basket. Issues of this nature are the concerns of a self-defense sambo practitioner. They need to be conscious of the possibilities of these events and plan to train accordingly.

One must not forget that weapons of opportunity exist. The self-defense practitioner would want to learn to defend themselves with whatever they had at hand. A briefcase or book bag make a good impromptu shield. A ring of keys if held in the clinched fist can turn your hand into a battle mace. Scalding hot coffee thrown into the face of an attacker can stop even the most ruthless of aggressors even if just for a moment.

In self-defense sambo they train situational sparring. This is where the coach or instructor sets a scene and teaches the student to apply their principles to survive and escape it. They may put them in a chair and mock riding home on a subway and being attacked. Or they may have the student be attacked by more than one person. The only limit really is their imagination. (Click on the link below to watch self-defense sambo.)

Self-Defense Sambo

Sport Sambo

The third and final type of sambo we will discuss is unlike the previous two in that it is not primarily concerned with self-defense and that is sport sambo. And before you begin to disregard what I am about to say because the word “sport” implies rules, please just hear me out. Let me ask you a question first. Who would you rather have by your side if shit got thick and you needed to fight your way out of a bar, Mike Tyson or any one of your friends from high school?

Easy answer right? Though he is a professional sportsman he is strong, athletic, aggressive, and can take a hit as well as do serious damage. Now I am not making the claim that sport sambo will turn anyone into Mike Tyson, but what it will do is turn the average person into a competent combat athlete. You will learn fighting techniques. You will train and develop a strong and agile body. You will know what it is to battle hand to hand with another human being. This is something that is foreign to most people.

The most important aspect of training in sport sambo is the opportunity to compete. Competing puts you in a situation that allows you to exercise and test your training. It is not like practicing self-defense techniques where you must stop short in order to not injure your opponent. It is not like sparring where you are working on a single technique to see how to make it work. In that environment the instructor will stop you and help you correct mistakes.

In the ring you only have yourself to rely on, and all you can take with you is all of the training you have done up to that point. If you did not put enough time into developing your cardiovascular system you will find out almost immediately. It you did not put enough effort into your conditioning and calisthenics your muscles will never forgive you. And let me tell you, there is nothing worse than realizing how out of shape you are when someone is trying to kick your teeth in.

Practicing sport sambo you will get to test all of the theories you learn in training and really know for yourself what works for you and what does not. Not every technique works for everyone or on everyone. Competing in the ring gives you the opportunity to prove to yourself which techniques will and will not save your life if and when the time comes. The beauty of sport sambo is that they fight in all ranges of combat. You will learn to kick and punch at distance, clinch and wrestle a bit, and do judo style throws and takedowns. (Click on the link below to watch sport sambo)

Sport Sambo

Of course it is up to you to figure out which you would like to pick. It is my expert opinion that you start with one, doesn’t really matter which, and develop a strong foundation. Then begin to absorb techniques and training from the others. Putting them all together would be the wisest choice, if you have the means.

Begin with sport sambo and develop a strong body and tough mind. Move to combat sambo to learn to use what you learned in sport protect your left with modern weaponry. Then move to self-defense so you won’t seriously injure anybody in the even you ever have to use it.

Choosing one and being consistent with it is paramount though. It doesn’t really matter which one. They will all help you to better defend yourself. You need only search your local area for a trainer. If you cannot find one then you should find the next best thing, the closest thing.

Remember, sambo in any form is not a single art. It is an eclectic style that is a combination of many arts. Do your research and find out what it is made of. If you can pick one of the pieces and learn that. Make that your foundation. Then go online and pick up techniques to round out your training.

sambo pinterest

photo above, adapted from Flickr, courtesy of CFS SAMBO FRANCE via the CC BY-SA 2.0 license

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About Alexander Lewis

Alexander Lewis
I am from Houston, Texas. I began studying combat when I was six with my first teacher being my father. He took me into our backyard and began teaching me the deadly arts of western boxing. It was like a game then. Later on I got into the Asian styles and it was a flood of whatever I could get into, Taekwondo, Shotokan, Tangsoodo, various styles of Kung Fu, Aiki-jutsu, and Iaido. I also got into Viking Combat for a while and learned sword and shield techniques. A few years back I joined the world’s greatest Air Force. I did some time in the sandbox and made it home without a single scar, physical or otherwise. I have friends that were not so lucky. The majority of my bush craft comes from a combination of my time as a boy scout, my father, small pockets of military training, and my mentor Vietnam era old corps force recon Marine.

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