If you don’t know Gokor Chivichyan, you’re not really into grappling. Disagree all you want, but you can’t dispute the fact that Gokor Chivichyan is the go-to guy for submissions techniques, especially leg locks. He was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1997 as Judo Instructor of the Year, but his curriculum vitae extends so far beyond that art. In addition to his ninth-degree black belt in judo, he holds a sixth degree in sambo and a sixth degree in jujutsu. Long before he earned them, he entered his first competition—and went home victorious. That was in 1971, and he hasn’t stopped winning since. The Armenian expatriate now oversees 27 affiliate schools in the United States and 43 in Europe, and organizes 10 Hayastan Grappling Challenge tournaments a year in the United States and seven in Europe. Before plunging into Gokor Chivichyan’s world of submissions techniques—specifically, sambo submissions, which are the subject of this article—the uniform just has to be addressed. OK, those fabric flaps attached to the shoulders look funky—kind of like the shoulder pads that were all the rage in the fashion of the 1990s—but they’re there for a reason. “The uniform top—called a kurtka—is similar to a judo gi, but it’s designed for grabbing because sambo has a lot of techniques that involve shoulder throws,” Gokor Chivichyan says. “When my students go to judo tournaments, they use throws that are not common anywhere outside of Russia. It’s one of the reasons my school is No. 1 in the national rankings.” As he says, Russia is the birthplace of sambo. Its name is actually an acronym derived from SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya (roughly, “fighting without a weapon”), the moniker given to the Russian military fighting system. “In combat sambo, you can do what you want; you can attack with a knife or anything,” Gokor Chivichyan says. “It’s not so much geared toward mixed martial arts fighting as it is toward blocking, twisting and takedowns—stuff that’s more like Japanese jujutsu.” Years after combat sambo was rolled out in the Russian military, it spawned a sport. “I think sport sambo is more effective; it’s like grappling,” he says. “It has a very big name in Russia. It’s spreading around the world now—it’s in Japan and most other countries, including the United States.” Now that MMA is the hot topic in the martial arts world, sport sambo is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. And for good reason. “In sambo, you plan a lot of combinations so that if one doesn’t go, you have another 20 ready,” Gokor Chivichyan says. “You don’t punch somebody and wait to see what happens. You choose a combination based on the opening you see.” If the first move or two don’t take, you have 18 more on deck. Although it’s not the most comprehensive system under the sun, sport sambo shouldn’t be described as merely Russian judo or Russian jujutsu. “Sambo has leg locks, but judo doesn’t allow them,” Gokor Chivichyan says. “Judo allows chokes, but sambo doesn’t. Sambo rules look more like wrestling rules: Pin your opponent on his back and get one point, and so on. Of course, you can finish him with an armbar or leg lock and make him tap. “In sport sambo, we don’t do twisting leg locks. Straight leg locks and the kneebar are OK, though. The twisting leg locks and everything else you see my guys do come from the Hayastan Fighting System, which Gene LeBell and I created. You can’t use them in sambo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments because the people who organize those events want to avoid joint damage.” It’s not that the leg locks are inherently wicked, Chivichyan explains. “The damage occurs because few people know how to escape from the submission techniques. Injury comes from being stubborn—stubbornly trying the wrong escape or stubbornly not tapping. That gives our system a bad reputation because they think that twisting is intended to create more damage.” Sport-sambo stylists are by no means limited to straight leg locks. “Sambo has a lot of them—if you train in sambo, you know it’s a leg-lock world,” Chivichyan says. “But we also do upper body. To get the advantage, we go to our opponent’s weakness. If you and I fight and I know you’re well-versed in armbars, chokes and controls, I’ll go to your weakness, which is your legs. It allows for faster finishes.” Sambo practitioners are also skilled at takedowns, he adds. “In jujutsu, which is a very beautiful sport, they have no takedowns. People throw themselves down without any reason because they want you to fight them on the ground. That happened a lot in MMA, but now when they lie on their backs, they get beat up from the top with punches and elbows. That can happen whenever you drop yourself, which is why we teach students the best ways to take an opponent down and control him.” No matter which submission technique or tactic you’re using, speed is of the essence, Gokor Chivichyan says. When two professional fighters meet in the ring, things unfold quickly. On the street, however, it’s even faster. “Most of the time in street fights, people don’t know what they’re doing,” he says. “They just hit each other wherever they can. You don’t have time to waste. Either way, it’s very important to be fast.” (About the author: S.D. Seong is a freelance writer and grappler based in Southern California.)

SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

To Master the Supreme Philosophy of Enshin Karate, Look to Musashi's Book of Five Rings for Guidance!

In the martial arts, we voluntarily subject ourselves to conflict in a training environment so we can transcend conflict in the real world. After all, we wouldn't knowingly train in a style that makes us weaker or worsens our position. The irony of all this is that we don't want to fight our opponent. We prefer to work with what an opponent gives us to turn the tide in our favor, to resolve the situation effectively and efficiently.The Japanese have a word for this: sabaki. It means to work with energy efficiently. When we train with the sabaki mindset, we receive our opponent's attack, almost as a gift. Doing so requires less physical effort and frees up our mental operating system so it can determine the most efficient solution to the conflict.In this essay, I will present a brief history of sabaki, as well as break down the sabaki method using Miyamoto Musashi's five elements

Keep Reading Show less

Enter our partner's current Sweepstakes. They are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe'.

TAKE NOTICE!

FIVE KNUCKLE BULLET 'Wardrobe' Sweepstakes

Feeling Lucky? Enter our current Sweepstakes Now! We are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe' which consists of our most popular sportswear items. Prize includes the following:

Keep Reading Show less

The October/November 2020 issue of Black Belt includes a feature titled "The Sai: A Classical Approach to Wielding a Classical Weapon." The author Chris Thomas graciously prepared this video to illustrate the points he makes in the article about this misunderstood kobudo weapon.

Sai jutsu: Classical Application for a Classical Weapon youtu.be

Go here to order the issue! (shown below)

Visit the author's website here!

Just like royalty has dynastic families that rule over nations, martial arts have dynasties that rule over the world of combat. So here's a list of our top five family dynasties in martial arts...


Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter