Sambo is one of the 4 big grappling martial arts together with jiu-jitsu, judo, and wrestling. But does it have striking or it’s like the rest of those martial arts in which striking is illegal?
Does Sambo have striking techniques? Yes, in Combat sambo striking techniques are allowed and competitors use them almost all the time. There are two types of sambo:
1. Sport sambo – it’s almost like judo with few differences (striking isn’t allowed in sport sambo)
2. Combat sambo – it’s almost like MMA. In combat sambo, you can throw almost all striking techniques that are allowed in MMA (and also some that aren’t allowed in MMA)
Since striking is allowed in combat sambo, athletes from this sport have an easy time transitioning to MMA. Ground and pound and submissions like chokeholds and locks are also allowed. The only differences between combat sambo and MMA are the scoring system, the fact that there isn’t a cage in sambo – just a mat like in wrestling and competitors in sambo wear more equipment than MMA fighters.
In addition to the classical MMA equipment – small gloves, shorts, cups, hand wraps, and mouthpiece, sambo fighters wear also kimono-like jackets called kurtka, headgear (usually), boots, and sometimes shin protectors.
Although striking is allowed, sambo is more of a grappling martial art. Competitors get points for throwing and pinning their opponent while striking isn’t scored whatsoever. You can outstrike your opponent by a huge margin but if he throws you several times or dominates the ground game he’ll get the win.
The only thing that is scored related to striking is the knockdown. You can win by scoring two knockdowns. One knockdown gives you just 4 points (as much as pinning your opponent for 20 sec).
However, you can get a total victory using strikes if you knock your opponent out or make him submit to strikes. Usually, that happens when you are in a top position on the ground and punch your opponent from there.
Since sambo is focused more on grappling, many sambo fighters practice also sanda to balance the striking and the grappling.
Sanda (Chinese military martial art) is also a martial art that incorporates striking and grappling but is the opposite of sambo – it focuses more on striking techniques.
What Strikes are allowed in sambo?
According to Combat sambo rules, in sambo you can punch, kick, throw elbows and knees both in a standing position and on the ground. The only times when you can’t throw elbows are when dragging the opponent by the sleeve of their jacket.
Also, you can’t intercept the opponent with a knee to the head as he’s going for a takedown. That’s the only strike that is allowed in today’s MMA but not is Sambo.
Interestingly, in addition, to kicks, punches, knees, and elbows, you can throw headbutts and even groin strikes in combat sambo. That may sound brutal but notice that sambo fighters usually wear headgear so they don’t get many cuts and also steel cups to protect their groin.
Which strikes are forbidden in Sambo?
As in MMA, in Sambo, you can’t throw strikes with fingers (to avoid eye pokes) but unlike in MMA, you can hit with the base of your palm. I have no idea why is that rule, probably people who created sambo were thinking that such strikes will be too powerful which by the way isn’t correct as we see in MMA.
If you start reading all the rules, you’ll notice that there are many questionable ones in combat sports.
In combat sambo (like in MMA) you can’t hit your opponent in the back of the head and the spine. Also, you can’t throw strikes to the neck, arm and leg joints against the direction of the natural flexion. In other words, you can’t throw techniques such as oblique kicks (Jon Jones’s favorite technique – sidekicks to the knee). I think this rule is cool because it prevents long term injuries.
One of the differences between MMA and Sambo is that in sambo you can’t hit your opponent when he/she is on the ground and you are in a standing position. For example, you can’t throw your opponent and then start to kick him.
In MMA this is allowed as long as you don’t kick/knee your opponent in the head. MMA fighters use that rule to kick their opponents in the thighs or to punch them in the body.
In sambo, I think that is forbidden because sambo is focused on grappling so they want to make fighters engage in a ground fight instead of standing and kicking their grounded opponents.
What strikes Sambo fighters use most often
Sambo fighters throw mostly punches because they help them set up their takedowns. But they actually also kick quite a lot. You can say that some of them are decent kickboxers.
They like to kick the legs and often throw head kicks (especially when fighting southpaw against orthodox). But they rarely throw body kicks because when kicking the body, often there’s a high risk for your leg to get caught which is an easy way for your opponent to take you down.
When clinching, sambo fighters often keep their hips away from the opponent to avoid takedowns. But that gives them an opportunity to throw knees to the body because there’s enough space to accelerate the knee.
If you watch how Muay Thai fighters clinch, you’ll notice that they do the opposite – they keep their hips closer to the opponent to prevent him from throwing knees. That’s because in Muay Thai takedowns aren’t scored so fighters worry much more about the knees.
In the Sambo fights I’ve watched, I noticed that fighters don’t throw elbows from the clinch often. That’s probably because when you want to throw an elbow you need to let go of the grip first. And a lost grip in sambo often equals a takedown for your opponent.
Difference between striking in MMA and in Sambo
There are several significant differences between striking in MMA and striking in sambo.
- MMA fighters throw much more elbows – elbows from the clinch or on the ground are often used in MMA. Elbows are a very powerful strike that can stun your opponent and also often cause cuts. But they aren’t used as much in Sambo as I mentioned above.
- No cage wrestling in sambo – Wrestling heavy MMA fighters use the cage to smother their opponents and beat them up in the clinch with dirty boxing techniques. That obviously can’t happen in sambo because there’s no cage.
- No intercepting knees in Sambo – As I already mentioned, in combat sambo, throwing knees to the opponent as he goes for your legs to take you down is forbidden. And in MMA those knees are actually very effective technique against wrestlers. There are many knockouts happened that way. For example, that way in UFC Edson Barboza knocked Beneil Dariush out.
As you can see this technique can be brutal. A lot of strikes in MMA use if to counter wrestlers who like to go for the legs from a distance. In combat sambo it’s probably forbidden to favor wrestling/grappling and takedowns.