BJJ vs Sambo — Which One Is Better?

November 12, 2021

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 real combat. But which one is better and why?

Sambo is a Russian military system that includes striking, grappling, and ground fighting. It is an aggressive style where the emphasis is powerful throws and fast submissions. BJJ, on the other side, is a Brazilian martial art founded by the famous Gracie family. It is less versatile than Sambo but is more effective and practical for ground fighting.

Is this enough to say Sambo is better? Keep reading this article to find out more about which one is better for MMA, self-defense, and learn all the differences.

What is Sambo?

Sambo is a martial art created in the 1920s by the Russian military with the goal to improve hand to hand fighting abilities of its soldiers. The final result of their work was a fighting system that has origins in Judo, Wrestling, jujutsu, boxing, and various other arts. In this day and age, there are two main forms of Sambo:

  • Sport Sambo — is very much the same as Judo. The emphasis is on powerful throws and joint locks like leg locks. Chokeholds and striking is not allowed.
  • Combat Sambo — is a more versatile style that in some way resembles modern MMA fighting. Fighters can use kicks, punches, knees, elbows, and mix them together with throws, takedowns, joint locks. On top of that, the Combat version adds dirty moves like soccer kicks and headbutts. But of course, you can’t use these moves in official matches.

What is BJJ?

Jiu-jitsu is one of the best fighting systems 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 fighting style. They moved its base from powerful throws to fighting on the ground using chokes and joint locks.

Although it has a long history, 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.

Thanks to Royce Gracie, BJJ emerged as the best of them all. He beat many skilled strikers and wrestlers, who were often twice as bigger as he was. This instantly put BJJ on the map, and it has only become better and more popular over time.

What Are The Differences Between Sambo and BJJ?

Differences between BJJ vs. Sambo

On paper, BJJ and Sambo may look similar since these two arts share a lot of techniques in common. There are some people who even mix them with one another. But there are a lot of differences when it comes to rules, emphasis, clothing, and other aspects. Here is a detailed comparison:

Same Era But Different Places Of Origin

BJJ 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 focuses on ground fighting.

Combat Sambo got founded by the Russian Military in the 1920s. The pioneers of this fighting system were Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov.

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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.

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 using similar moves as in BJJ. Since it focuses on real combat, students also learn how to apply dirty tactics like soccer kicks and headbutts.

Sport Sambo is a 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 this form doesn’t include chokeholds.

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 versatile as 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.

Different Clothing

BJJ has a Gi uniform, similar to the one you can find in Judo. It consists of a jacket and pants made out of thick cotton, and fighters also wear a rank belt around their waist.
This piece of cloth plays a key role as fighters can grab onto it, use it to score a takedown, or even submit to the opponent.

Combat Sambo students wear either blue or red uniforms called Sambovka or Kurtka. The jacket is very similar to the judogi top, and instead of pants, they wear wrestling-style shorts. In competition, all fighters must wear:

  • Sambovka
  • Mouthguard
  • Wrestling style shoes
  • Boxing helmet 
  • Shin guards 
  • Open fingered gloves

Sport Sambo students wear the same uniform as the ones in Combat Sambo. Sport Sambo competitors wear:

  • Sambovka
  • Wrestling style shoes
  • Mouthguard

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. All competitors must wear either blue or red sambovka, pair of open-fingered gloves, shoes, gum shield, shin pads (not mandatory), and helmet (not mandatory). 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. All fighters must have either a blue or red uniform and shoes. 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

Belt Ranks

BJJCombat SamboSport Sambo
The following is the IBJJF adult belt system:
White
Blue
Purple
Brown
Black
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)
Yellow
Orange
Green
Blue
Brown (master candidate)
Black (master belt)
In 2020, FIAS introduced the official Sambo belt ranks:   White (rookie belt)
Yellow
Orange
Green
Blue
Brown (master candidate)
Black (master belt)

Sambo vs BJJ For MMA

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.

Sambo rules favor a high pace 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 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, Sambo is not that popular outside of Russia and former Soviet Republics. If you want to attend the classes, you might have a hard time finding a gym to train. And on top of that, Sambo doesn’t include chokeholds and working from the guard, 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 the second place when it comes to which art produces most UFC champions.

Sambo vs BJJ For Self-Defense

Sambo vs. BJJ For Self Defense

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.

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 Sambo clearly focuses more on the self-defense 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 safe.

The best thing about Sambo and BJJ is that both arts focus on grappling. This is crucial for street fighting where most people don’t know how to fight on the ground or defend against trips and throws.

Everybody has a puncher’s chance, but things are a bit different in the grappling world. Taking someone down and fighting on the ground is all about leverage, positioning, and many other things. You have to spend years on the mats training hard to learn how to use or defend against grappling moves.

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.

Sambo vs BJJ — Which One Is Harder To Learn

BJJ vs. Sambo Which 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 vs. Sambo

Pros

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 – 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.

Trains you to beat bigger and stronger opponents – BJJ is all about leverage and technique. It is probably the only art that will teach you how to take the bigger and stronger opponent down and submit them. Look no further from how Royce Gracie submitted much bigger opponents back in the early 90s. And this is one of the reasons why BJJ is often seen as the best for self-defense.

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.

Cons

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.

Sambo Pros And Cons vs. BJJ

Pros

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.

Cons

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 against BJJ when it comes to submissions, positions or sweeps.

No chokeholds and guard – Sambo doesn’t include chokeholds and there is no closed guard on the ground.

BJJ vs Sambo — Which One Is Better For You

BJJ vs Sambo  Which One Is Better

Whether you choose BJJ or Sambo depends on your personal preference and what do you want to achieve with your training. If you are a fan of 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 where are you from. Sambo is very popular in the eastern world, and it is not well spread in Europe, the U.S, or South America. That’s why people from these parts of the world usually end up in BJJ or MMA gyms instead.

However, people from eastern countries like Russia have much better options. For instance, MMA is very popular in Russia along with BJJ as well. If you live in the city, you won’t have a hard time finding a gym to train.

Above all, the best one is the one that makes you happy and provides the most fun.

About the author 

Tomislav Zivanovic

Since 2017, Tomi has been working within the martial arts media, writing unique and creative articles about martial arts, and covering the most famous combat sports events. He works with some of the biggest martial arts blogs and websites like Middleeasy and Martial Arts Unleashed.


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