SAMBO is a martial art and combat sport developed and used by the Soviet Red Army in the early 1920s to improve their hand-to-hand combat abilities.

The sport is similar in many ways to judo and jujutsu but also incorporates different types of wrestling and various self-defence systems.

The name "SAMBO" derives from the Russian acronym SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya, which literally means "self-defence without weapons".

Soviet martial arts expert Vasili Oshchepkov is credited as one of the founding fathers of SAMBO.

Born into a family of exiles in 1893, Oshchepkov also played a key role in introducing judo into the Soviet Union.

An intelligence officer during both Tsarist and Soviet periods, he was educated in Japan and later returned there to work in the 1920s.

He studied at the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo, founded by Jigoro Kano, eventually becoming the first Russian to receive a second dan in the sport.

This led to him developing the SAMBO self-defence techniques which were developed and utilised by the Soviet Red Army and intelligence services.

Oshchepkov, despite his important legacy, ultimately died in prison aged just 45 as a result of the Stalinist political purges of 1937 after accusations of being a Japanese spy.

He was posthumously "rehabilitated" and cleared of wrongdoing in 1957.

Viktor Spiridonov and Anatoly Kharlampley, a student of Oshchepkov, are also considered pioneers of SAMBO.

Spiridonov and Oshchepkov independently developed two different styles, which eventually cross-pollinated and became what is known as SAMBO.

Sambo means
SAMBO means 'self-defence without weapons' ©FIAS

Compared to Oshchepkov's system, called "free wrestling" in Russia, Spiridonov's style was softer and less strength-dependent.

SAMBO was recognised as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee in 1938.

Fifty years after its introduction, the International SAMBO Federation (FIAS) was officially registered and had the sole right to promote and develop SAMBO worldwide and stage official events.

FIAS has its headquarters in Lausanne, while President Vasily Shestakov’s office is located in Russia’s capital Moscow, where he operates with his team.

Currently a member of Sport Accord and the Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport, FIAS is recognised by the World Anti-Doping Agency, International University Sports Federation, Peace and Sport, and the International Association for Sport for All.

It is also on a mission to be recognised by the International Olympic Committee by aligning its event organisation and day-to-day management with the Olympic Movement and by following the Olympic Agenda 2020.

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Vasily Shestakov is the President of the International Sambo Federation (FIAS) since 2009. Russian leader Vladimir Putin is among those who back the sport and is an Honorary President of FIAS. He has previously called for “every effort” to be made to have SAMBO recognised by the International Olympic Committee.

Honorary Presidents 

  • Fernando Kompte - The FIAS founder, elected in 1992
  • Tomoyuki Harimaya - Elected in 1997
  • Vladimir Putin - The Russian President, elected in 1995
  • Mikhail Tikhomirov - Elected in 2005
  • David Rudman - Elected in 2007

Executive Board


Vasily Shestakov (Russia)

Secretary general

Roberto Ferraris (Italy)


Sergey Eliseev (Russia)
Sidi Mohamed Dalil Essakali (Morocco)
Alamjon Mullaev (Uzbekistan)
Andrey Klyamko (Russia)
Roumen Stoilov (Bulgaria)


Laure Fournier (France)
Cesar Arteaga (Venezuela)
Monique Athanase (Seychelles)
Tatjana Trivic (Serbia)
Merampi Iliadis (Greece)
Chong Keum Moon (South Korea)
Nobuyuki Asai (Japan)
Vladimir Yaprintsev (Belarus)

Vladimir Putin is among the Honorary Presidents of FIAS ©Getty Images
Vladimir Putin is among the Honorary Presidents of FIAS ©Getty Images

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Disciplines and weight categories

The three disciplines of SAMBO are Sport SAMBO, Combat SAMBO and Beach SAMBO.


Sport SAMBO is similar to judo, but with some variations in rules, protocol and uniform.  

The current World Championship weight categories are as follows:

Men: 52 kilograms, 57kg, 62kg, 68kg, 74kg, 82kg, 90kg, 100kg and over 100kg

Women: 48kg, 52kg, 56kg, 60kg, 64kg, 68kg, 72kg, 80kg and over 80kg

Combat SAMBO

Combat SAMBO resembles modern mixed martial arts, including extensive forms of striking and grappling, and is for men only.

Punches, kicks, elbows, knees, headbutts and groin strikes are all allowed.

Competitors wear jackets as in Sport SAMBO, but also hand protection and sometimes shin and head guards.

The current World Championship weight categories are as follows: 52kg, 57kg, 62kg, 68kg, 74kg, 82kg, 90kg, 100kg and over 100kg


Beach SAMBO differs slightly from the traditional form of the sport. 

The rules are modified in that the combat lasts three minutes, without penalties and mat wrestling, and until the first assessed movement.

Uniforms for the athletes and referees are also modified.

Competition at the 2016 Asian Beach Games in Vietnamese city Danang was held in the following weight categories:

Men: 62kg, 74kg, 90kg and over 90kg

Women: 56kg, 64kg, 72kg and over 72kg