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Classic Black Belt Article From 1967: Russia Prepares to Export Sambo (Part 2)

In Part 2 of this article, judo legend Hayward Nishioka describes his early impressions of sambo, and author Andy Adams — Black Belt's Japan correspondent — compares the techniques of the Russian art with those of the Japanese art.

What is this style of sambo that, in such a short time, has produced so many outstanding wrestlers? American judo man Hayward Nishioka, a 1965 U.S. national judo champion, has had experience with sambo-men-turned-judo-players in international competition. He has great respect for their prowess, as he pointed out in an article in Black Belt's March 1966 issue.

The first thing that impressed him was their overall physical stamina. “Tremendous," he says.

Next were their throws. “They use a lot of techniques which appear strange to a judo man," Hayward Nishioka says. “They use techniques that, if you explained them to the Kodokan, you would be told they were impossible. Yet the Russians try these techniques and make them work. It's really surprising."

Hayward Nishioka described one technique used by the late Parnaoz Chikviladze, a brilliant Russian judo man, at the world tournament held in Rio de Janeiro in 1965: “He used a throw that I've never seen. I don't think it's ever been used before in a major tournament. And he pulled it off against a top judo man, not a second-stringer. It's a little difficult to explain even now.

“While facing his opponent, he went forward, ducked and went between the [legs] with his arm. Then he lifted his opponent and threw him for ippon. Boy, that judoka was surprised."

Sambo Surprises

The Russians have been coming up with surprises in sambo ever since Anatoly A. Harlampief began developing the art. Wrestling is immensely popular throughout the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, especially in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Although substyles differ, there are two general styles: those that specialize in standing throws and those in which mat techniques take precedence.

The Soviets take a casual approach to wrestling costumes. In some places, the wrestlers fight bare-chested and clad only in trunks. In others, more elaborate garb is worn, which can consist of a judo-like jacket, black tights and shoes. This latter outfit is the standard uniform for sambo.

When he set out to develop a Soviet wrestling system, Harlampief scoured the various republics, doing extensive research on techniques in each area. Eventually, he drew up a set of rules and regulations based on his research and submitted it to the National Sports Committee, which officially recognized the new sport.

It was promptly dubbed “sambo," which is a Russian acronym meaning “self-defense without arms" (sam for “defense"; b for bez, or “without"; and o for “arms"). The first individual contests took place in Leningrad in 1939, and a team contest followed 10 years later.

Judo Connection

Although Harlampief and other Soviet sports officials deny any direct judo influence, Japan's foremost sambo authority Hiroshi Michiaki points out that judo was being taught in Russia half a century ago, long before sambo was born. A Russian named A. Oshichenikov visited Japan in 1911 and spent the next six years studying judo. After returning home in 1917 as a second dan, the Russian began teaching the Japanese martial art to the secret police and Red Army.

Another Russian, V. Speredonov, started teaching judo in Moscow in 1923 after studying in Japan. Moreover, these two Soviet instructors assisted Harlampief in drawing up the original sambo program in the 1930s.

It seems likely that the influence of the two judo men was felt in creating the original program. Among the many similarities between sambo and judo is the costume. The sambo jacket and belt are almost exact copies of judo wear. Also, Russian terms for ippon and matta appear to be direct translations from the Japanese words.

Technique Comparison

Another thing often pointed out is that a number of sambo throws seem to be carbon copies of judo techniques. It's in this sphere that many Japanese martial artists tend to become confused. There are so many similarities, and so many differences, that it's difficult to keep the two separated.

For instance, in one sambo throw, the aggressor rolls backward, putting his feet against his opponent's midsection before flipping him onto his back. Tomoenage? Perhaps. The technique is close enough to suggest that it might have been borrowed from the Japanese art.

There's also a thigh throw resembling ouchi gari. In a hip throw similar to tai otoshi, the aggressor uses his right leg as a brace and twists his opponent over the extended leg and onto the mat. And a trip throw in sambo is similar to tsuri-komi-ashi.

In mat work, too, there are many similarities. Both sports allow elbow pressure holds and use pretty much the same tactics in pinning an opponent.

Some Japanese sambo enthusiasts even go so far as to claim that the Russian sport is made up of 75-percent judo and 25-percent amateur wrestling techniques, although that percentage for judo seems rather high.

The 20-second time limit for pinning an opponent is the same in both sports, match limits of eight to 10 minutes are the general rule, and certain standing principles are nearly the same, such as keeping the proper distance between the legs. Moreover, collar and sleeve grips are used in both arts.

(Read Part 1 here.)

(Read Part 3 here.)

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