Which Is Better Sambo or Judo?

You may have thought about trying out Judo or have been training for a little while and have recently heard about Sambo. Now you want to know if you should hang your Judogi up, buy a kurtka (Sambo jacket) and some Samobofki (Sambo shoes) and head to your local Sambo gym. We will give you all the information you need to come to an informed decision on whether Sambo or Judo is better.

Which is better Sambo or Judo? Sambo is better if you are competing in Sambo competitions and Judo is better if you are competing in Judo competitions. Sambo is better for MMA as Sambo allows more techniques in competition that can be used in MMA such as leg attacks and submissions compared to Judo.

Which Is Better For MMA Sambo Or Judo?

Which is better for MMA Sambo or Judo? Sambo is better for MMA. The most effective takedowns in MMA are double and single leg attacks. Both of these takedowns are banned in Judo competition but are permitted in Sambo. A large component of MMA is ground fighting. Ground fighting is an extensive part of Sambo training and competitions but is only a minor part of Judo and is often not trained thoroughly. 

Two of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov came from a Sambo background. Fedor is a four time Combat Sambo world champion and six time Russian champion while Khabib is a two time Combat Sambo world champion winning the title in 2009 and 2010.

What Is Sambo Wrestling?

Sambo is a Russian grappling based martial art that was developed in the Soviet Union. Sambo is an acronym for the Russian phrase samozashchita bez oruzhiya meaning self-defence without weapons. Sambo initially was designed for use in the military but was later developed into a sport. The goal of Sambo is to control your opponent through takedowns, pins and submissions. Points are awarded for pins and takedowns and instant victory is awarded for perfect throws (defender lands on back while attacker remains standing) and submissions.

Sambo is Russia’s national martial art and in recent years has become an international sport. The International Sambo Federation has been investing in spreading the sport and growing its popularity with the goal of turning Sambo into an Olympic sport. Putin is a big supporter of Sambo and can often been seen attending events. The Russian government uses Sambo as a way to showcase Russia’s strength and power.

Who Created Sambo?

Sambo was created by Anatoly Kharlampiyev who took Judo techniques and other wrestling techniques and created a system of training and competition. Then he presented the newly created sport to the Soviet authorities in 1938 who acknowledged Kharlampiyev’s creation and granted Sambo official sport status throughout the Soviet Union.

Kharlampiyev studied Judo under Vasiliy Oshchepkov who was one of Kano’s (founder of Judo) early student and only the 3rd European to receive a second degree black belt. Oshchepkov took Kharlampiyev to Japan to study Judo at the Kodokan in Tokyo.

After studying Judo Kharlampiyev taught Judo in Moscow while also travelling across the different republics of the Soviet Union studying other forms of grappling such as Kuresi from Kazakhstan and Chidaoba from Georgia. Kharlampiyev compiled all the techniques he learned into the most effective system and named it Sambo.

How Is Sambo Different To Judo?

How is Sambo different to Judo? Sambo and Judo have different uniforms. In Sambo athletes wear a jacket which is slightly different to a Gi with short athletic shorts and wrestling shoes. Sambo does not have a belt ranking system, athletes either wear a red or blue belt based on the colour of their jacket. The scoring system is different in Sambo, pins do not result in victory only points and an athlete must remain standing when throwing his opponent to achieve instant victory. In Sambo leg attacks such as double legs are legal and submissions such as leg locks are legal however chokes are illegal.

Sambo and Judo are very similar sports. Both are jacket based wrestling sports where the goal is to control your opponent through takedowns, pins and submissions. Sambo is derived from Judo and the founders of Sambo were all Judo experts. Sambo techniques all exist in Judo however in modern competition many of the original Judo techniques have been banned. This is why some people refer to Sambo as old school or original Judo.

Sambo has a different uniform to Judo. The jacket used in Sambo is similar to the one used in Judo however has  different style sleeves and shoulders. The belt also goes through the jacket not around in it like a Judogi. However overall the jacket is about 80% the same as a Judogi. The big difference in the uniform between Sambo and Judo is that Sambo athletes wear short tight fitting athletic shorts almost like bike shorts while Judokas wear long pants. Sambo athletes also wear wrestling shoes while Judokas compete barefoot. Sambo shoes allow the athlete to generate more power when shooting takedowns such as double and single legs.

Sambo matches take place on a wrestling mat and not on a Judo Tatami. Sambo mats tend to be softer than Judo mats and more friction is created. Sambo mats are more suited to wear shoes as the softness can lead to toes being caught in the mat due an athlete sinking into the mat. This can also make foot sweeps more dangerous to perform on Sambo mats than on Judo mats.

Sambo does not use a belt system to rank athletes based on skill. The belt in Sambo is purely function and is just used to keep the jacket in place. Sambo uses the Soviet system of ranking athletes based on competition results known as the Unified Sports Classification System of the USSR. The rankings can be seen below:

  • Merited Master of Sport  – equates to international champion who has made valuable contributions to the sport
  • International Master of Sport – international champ (World, Olympic, European)
  • Master of Sport – national champ
  • Candidate for Master of Sport – national team member
  • First-Class Sportsman – regional champ
  • Second-Class Sportsman – state champ
  • Third-Class Sportsman – city/town champion

Sambo places a larger emphasis on ground fighting than Judo. In modern Judo competitions ground fighting is only allowed to continue for a very short period of time before the referees pause the action and stand both athletes up. This has resulted in most Judo athletes either stalling or not bothering to go for pins and submissions. Many high level Judo athletes have undeveloped ground games. In Sambo the referees will allow ground fighting to continue much longer than in Judo. This forces athletes to be active on the ground as both athletes will be attempting pins and submissions. There are numerous Sambo athletes who are submission experts something you don’t really see in modern Judo.

Here is a highlight of Sambo submission expert Igor Kurinnoy


Judo is a world renowned sport which is practiced extensively throughout the world. Sambo on the other hand is barely known outside the former Soviet Republics. If your goal is to achieve fame then you are better off training Judo due it being much more popular than Sambo. It has been estimated approximately 50,000,000 people train Judo worldwide whereas it is estimated less than 1,000,000 train Sambo. Winning international medals in Judo can lead to you becoming a celebrity, attracting millions of followers on Instagram and being endorsed by the biggest brands in the world such as Adidas. This level of fame is just not achievable in Sambo as the sport is too niche and only popular in a specific part of the world. At the moment Sambo does not attract large TV and sponsorship deals.

Level Of Competition

The level of competition in Judo is much higher than in Sambo. Judo has many more athletes from many different countries compared to Sambo. In Judo you have far more children training full time to become world champions. This creates a deeper talent pool which makes it harder to win international competitions. The financial rewards for being a champion in Judo are much higher in Sambo because of Judo’s popularity and Olympic sport status which again results in more people trying to compete and win in Judo. If your goal is to compete in the toughest competitions then Judo is a better option as winning an Olympic gold medal in Judo is one of the most difficult things you can do in all grappling sports.

Access To Training

Sambo is only widely practiced in the former republics of the Soviet Union, particularly Russia and Ukraine. If you are not from one of these countries you may find it difficult to find sufficient Sambo training, training partners and competitions. If this is the case you are better off training in Judo. Judo is far more popular than Sambo and you are more likely to find high quality coaching and training if you choose to participate in Judo.

In Western countries you are lucky to find a handful of Sambo gyms in your entire country and maybe there might be one or two competitions a year. Whereas Judo is the opposite, if you live in a major Western city you will likely have access to a number of Judo gyms and regular high level competitions will be held throughout the year.

Access To Funding

As Sambo is not an Olympic sport the sport receives little funding. If you want to become a professional athlete or want to train full time and need funding then Judo is a better sport. As Judo is an Olympic sport there is a large pool of funding which is distributed to athletes.

In Russia Judo athletes are rewarded much more than Sambo athletes. National team Judo members can expect to be gifted an apartment in their home town, a high monthly salary and big prizes such as luxury cars for winning medals in international competitions such as the Olympics. In contrast Sambo athletes in Russia receive a much smaller salary and prizes and do not receive an apartment.

If you are not from a former Soviet Republic than it is likely you will not receive any funding at all if you train in Sambo. If you need funding or want to become a professional athlete it is better to train in Judo than Sambo due to the increased amount of funding which is available.

Competing In The Olympics

If your goal is to compete in the Olympics and win a gold medal then Judo is a better sport for you as currently Sambo is not an Olympics sport. Even though Sambo is attempting to become an Olympic sport the chances are slim because Sambo is very similar to Judo and the Olympic committee prefers to only include new sports which are distinct from each other. Furthermore the Olympic committee chooses sports based on their popularity, revenue generating ability, sponsorship deals and how widely the sport is practiced internationally. Judo is far more popular than Sambo, has major sponsorship deals, is shown on TV around the world and has far athletes from more countries than Judo. Sambo faces an uphill battle if it wants to achieve Olympic status.

The Scottish President of the Sambo Federation Hyslop is more optimistic about Sambo’s bid for Olympic inclusion,”we will get there – I may be old when it does, but it will happen”. As is the Armenian President of the Sambo Federtion, Ghazaryan who said “we actively support the idea of Sambo becoming an Olympic sport. I think that Sambo will be able to become part of the Olympic Games program in 2024”.

Sambo is making progress in its bid for Olympic sport status. Sambo recently joined lacrosse and kickboxing in being granted provisional International Olympic Committee status for a period of three years from November 2019. Provisional status makes the International Sambo Federation (FIAS) eligible to receive funding and apply for grants from the IOC which can be used to spread the popularity of Sambo, development the athletes, hold bigger competitions and attract major sponsors.



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