Thursday, February 26, 2015


Russia Sambo Expands


Leo MALIM, Executive Committee member of the Commonwealth Sambo Association (CSA).

London’s President’s Cup International Sambo martial arts Tournament was attended by over 1,200 spectators last autumn. The fastest growing martial arts discipline in the world has undergone an explosion in popularity in recent years and Britain is no exception. So how did this once niche sport with a hundred years of history attracts such a large audience?

Sambo is a combat discipline where the main objective is to get your opponent out of balance and force or throw him to the ground. In many ways, Sambo resembles its sister sports, Judo and Wrestling, where the winner is also declared by the superior margin of points earned on the basis of the quality of the attacking actions. However, there are a few significant differences in the uniforms, the gripping and throwing repertoires, and additionally, Sambo contains almost endless possibilities of forcing an opponent into submission with arm or leg bars. This brings us to a key differentiator of Sambo compared to most other martial arts — it can be seen as ‘total combat’: standing combat seamlessly flows into groundwork, and vice versa. There are minimal breaks during a 5-minute, no-compromise, fight. Referees do not interfere unnecessarily; they are in place to assure the rules are followed, but not to over-regulate the contest. It is probably for this reason that the sport is close to the British mentality, although its origins lie far from the shores of Albion. (Oldest name for Great Britain)

…In 1906, Vasily Oshchepkov, a 14-year-old Russian refugee orphan, appeared in Tokyo and joined the Judo school of Dr. Jigoro Kano. Vasily qualified as a black belt within five years and was awarded his belt by the master himself. As such, he became one of only four Europeans to achieve this high recognition. A few years later, Oshchepkov was recruited by the Russian Government and tasked to create the most advanced combat system possible for use by the military in hand-to-hand combat.
Vasily set to work and his endeavours gave rise to Combat Sambo — a blend of striking and submission techniques from all known sources including boxing, Maui Thai, and Karate as well as many types of wrestling. These encompassed all relevant wrestling techniques, but especially those honouring the heritage of the countries of the former Russian Empire. Formalised in the 1920s in the Soviet Union, Combat Sambo was classified for years and was purely employed by Soviet special forces and select army regiments. This is the origin of the term ‘Sambo’: an abbreviation of the Russian words, ‘SAMooborona Bez Oruzhiia’, or ‘Self-defence without weapons.’
However, the sporting version of Sambo (without strikes) gained momentum and became one of the most popular combat sports in the Soviet Union. It was Yasuhiro Yamashita, Olympic, World Champion and All-Japan Judo Federation President, who first formally recognized that the Russians were doing so well in Judo because they also studied Sambo. (His observation was justified as he witnessed the Russian Judo team win 3 gold’s, 2 silvers and 2 bronzes at the 2012 London Olympics).
By the late 1990s, Combat Sambo had finally arrived in the public arena, and was now fully establishing itself. There were a few experiments with the uniforms, protection, rules and regulations, and after successful trials in a few tournaments, there was the establishment of regular National, Continental and World Championships for both Sport and Combat Sambo.
Looking ahead, the 1st European Olympic Games will be staged in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 2015, and Sambo (sport) will be included in the program for the first time. Hopefully this is the first step to becoming a permanent fixture in the global Olympic Games.
…In 1986 the famous British fighter Martin Clarke established the British Sombo Federation. At that time, just as at the beginning of the 1970s, this unusual type of sport in the home of football and rugby was called Sombo and even, for political and linguistic reasons, Cambo. But eventually at the insistence of the International Sambo Federation (FIAS) in Great Britain the official name of Sambo was approved in accordance with the Russian spelling and pronunciation.  (This is inaccurate UK Sport insist that it still be called British Sombo Federation. GB is he only country in the World where the word Sombo is used but we have asked permission to change the name to Sambo)
The Commonwealth Sambo Association was founded in 2012 under the guidance of its President, Lord Simon Reading. The aim of the organization is to foster co-operation between the Commonwealth countries and to promote Sambo through a number of prestige events.
The marquee event of the CSA is the President’s Cup, held at Bluewater in the UK. This was a World Cup style meeting where the 8 top Sambo nations sent their fighters to compete in a knockout tournament to win national glory. An audience saw some spectacular fights with 17 different world champions in action. In the finals, Russia overcame a strong British team and the event was hailed as a great success. A number of celebrities including Alex Reid and Zara Phythian were in attendance and cheering for their home team.
One of the most exciting elements of the President’s Cup tournament was the inclusion of so many fighters from different Commonwealth countries. There was representation from Ghana, Mauritius, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada and Trinidad and Tobago. It was a fantastic example of the inclusive nature of the sport and it’s ability to unify fighters and create a strong team ethos, rather than focusing on individuals. The London Scottish Regiment Pipes and Drums also performed at the event, which proved hugely popular with all the visiting teams as their unique uniforms and sound filled the arena.
A key initiative that the CSA is promoting is the ‘Safe Falling’
campaign that teaches children about the art of the break-fall. These lessons affirm Sambo’s social mission. Studies have shown that pensioners who had martial arts experience during their youth are far less likely to suffer debilitating falls in their final years. This has a huge knock-on effect in terms of quality of life, insurance implications and healthcare costs.
Naturally, Sambo is an excellent addition to any educational curriculum beyond the benefits that may be reaped later in life. It teaches respect, control and self-discipline, while encouraging fitness, strength and self-improvement.
It is true to say that many martial arts offer lifestyle benefits to its adherents. However, not many are so malleable and inclusive as Sambo. From army and police recruits, via professional fighters, to school children and pensioners, Sambo can be seen to offer benefits throughout society. Organisations such as the Commonwealth Sambo Association bring fresh ideas and management skills into the arena and with the explosion of interest from the general public; the future for the sport looks very bright indeed.

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