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.)

Introducing Martial Arts School Listings on Black Belt Mag!
Sign Up Now To Be One Of The First School Listed In Our Database.
SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the worlds largest magazine of martial arts.
Bruce Lee Enter the Dragon
d2e111jq13me73.cloudfront.net / Enter the Dragon/ Warner Bros.
Bruce Lee really did have the Midas touch when it came to training. Most people think Bruce was advanced and complicated, but he was the master of simplicity. He was not worried about doing the jump-up flip spin-around back kick. Not sure if there is one. But by the time you land, Bruce would just throw a simple kick or punch to knock you down as you landed to the ground. However, that is the point. Simplicity is often overlooked because of the coolness and the latest and greatest workout when simplicity produces the most significant effect. Super complicated does not mean superior. This is actually reverse in fact. We see super complex exercises that don’t need to be. Truthfully, if an exercise or method is not straightforward in its approach, then it probably is not good.
Keep Reading Show less
 Anthony Netzler

Anthony Netzler was a top martial artist and MMA fighter.

Anthony Netzler, a 53-year-old martial arts instructor, was sentenced on Monday to 15 years and seven months in prison by a New Zealand court for helping to mastermind the importation of what's been described as the second largest illegal shipment of methamphetamine in the country's history.
Keep Reading Show less
Christine Bannon Rodrigues
Photo Courtesy: Christopher Rappold via Facebook

Black Belt Magazine's 1989 Competitor of the Year Christine Bannon-Rodrigues was promoted to 10th degree black belt in Oki-ryu on December 5th. She is pictured above at the ceremony with her family, including Dante (left), Chris (right), and legendary Team Paul Mitchell coach Don Rodrigues. Chris and Dante were also promoted at the event, achieving the ranks of 6th degree and 2nd degree black belt, respectively. Chris Rappold, the executive director of Team Paul Mitchell who was at the event as a friend of the Rodrigues family, reported that 35 martial artists in total were promoted at the ceremony.

Bannon-Rodrigues is one of the most prolific sport karate competitors of all time, amassing numerous wins throughout her career in forms, weapons, and fighting. She won the coveted women's sparring diamond ring at the Diamond Nationals in 1992, and was inducted into the Diamond Nationals Hall of Fame in 2008. She is a nine-time world champion as recognized by the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO). Her success as a competitor led to opportunities in the film industry, where she is still active and has had a phenomenal career performing stunts as Batgirl and acting as a double for Hilary Swank in The Next Karate Kid.

Keep Reading Show less