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BJJ vs Sambo

Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and sambo are both martial arts and combat grappling sports that originated in Brazil and Russia, respectively. While they share some similarities, there are also some key differences between the two disciplines.

BJJ is primarily focused on ground fighting and submission holds, with the goal of forcing an opponent to submit through the use of chokes and joint locks. By contrast, sambo is a more well-rounded martial art that incorporates elements of wrestling, judo, and other grappling disciplines, as well as strikes and kicks.

In this guide, we’ll discuss BJJ vs Sambo, which is best for self-defense, and which may be the beast martial art for you to learn.

BJJ vs Sambo – The Main Differences

Besides being originated in different countries, the sports share many material differences. The main contrasts between the two martial arts can be broken down by the following:

  • Purpose
  • Uniform
  • Promotion
  • Techniques
  • History


The purpose or condition for winning in both sports are pretty similar.

There are several different ways to win a sambo matches, depending on the specific rules and regulations of the competition. In general, the goal of a sambo match is to score more points than your opponent, or to force them to submit through the use of a submission hold – which is identical to BJJ.

In sambo, points are awarded for various actions taken during a match, such as successful throws and takedowns. The exact point values and rules can vary depending on the level and type of competition, but in general, the wrestler who is able to score the most points is declared the winner.

Another way to win a sambo match is by forcing your opponent to submit, which is also in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In sambo, submission holds, such as chokes and joint locks, are allowed, and a wrestler can signal submission by tapping their opponent or the mat. If a wrestler is able to apply a submission hold that their opponent cannot escape from, the match is over and the wrestler who applied the hold is declared the winner. In BJJ, it is very rare to win a match through a pin.

The greatest difference between the sports is that Sambo allows striking and you can win by knocking an opponent out, which is illegal in Jiu Jitsu.


Example of Sambo Gi

Another key difference between BJJ and sambo is the clothing worn during training and competition. In BJJ, practitioners typically wear a gi, a traditional martial arts uniform that consists of a jacket, pants, and belt.

The gi allows for the use of certain techniques, such as choking and gripping, that are not allowed in other martial arts. In sambo, practitioners typically wear loose-fitting clothing, such as a judo gi or wrestling singlet, that allows for a greater range of movement and flexibility.

Promotion and Belt System

Both sports have a belt system. In BJJ the belt system is old and storied and an integral part of the martial art. In sambo, the belt system is relatively new and much less tied to the culture of the sport.

In BJJ there are 5 main belt levels, white (beginner), blue, purple, brown and black as the mastery belt. It generally takes 10-15 years for someone to advance through all belt levels.

BJJ belt system

Starting in 2020, the international governing body for Sambo instituted a ranking belt system similar to BJJ. Beforehand a belt was just a part of the uniform and didnt designate any sort of expertise. Like in BJJ, the belts are color coded. Unlike BJJ there are seven ranks and each generally takes about a year to progress.

Sambo belts from FIAS


The history of sambo can be traced back to the 1920s, when the Soviet Red Army began experimenting with different martial arts and combat sports, including judo, wrestling, and other grappling disciplines. The goal of this experimentation was to create a comprehensive martial art that could be used by the military for hand-to-hand combat and self-defense.

The result of this experimentation was the development of sambo, which combined the most effective techniques from a variety of martial arts and combat sports into a single system. The name “sambo” is an acronym, standing for “Samozashchita Bez Oruzhiya,” which means “self-defense without weapons” in Russian.

In the decades following its development, sambo quickly gained popularity in the Soviet Union and other countries, and became a popular martial art and combat sport.

Sambo vs BJJ Differences Summarized

Martial ArtPurposeTechniquesUniformHistory
BJJ Brazilian Jiu JitsuSubmit or tap out opponentGrapplingTraditional GiStreet fighting focused. for smaller opponents on bigger opponents
SamboSubmission or takedown or knockoutGrappling, throwing, takedowns and strikesModified Judo Gi or singletMilitary origin. Originated as a survival martial art. Using all body parts and techniques to subdue opponent.

Is Sambo or BJJ Better for Self Defense?

Both martial arts are highly effective when it comes to self defense. The emphasis on controlling and submitting your opponent in both sports is ideal for self defense. Controlling and submitting an opponent is the most effective way to end a physical encounter. In the case of a Sambo fighter however, the type of sambo that is learned could effect how effective their training is. There is “sport Sambo” which is a style meant to fight other organized martial arts. In sport Sambo, chokes aren’t allowed so that limits a major part of self defense. The more traditional sambo, combat Sambo which is taught in the Russian military is a more pure survival martial art.

One limitation with BJJ relative to Sambo (sport and combat) is the ability to take someone to the ground. BJJ itself does not have any takedowns – all moves are done from the ground position. A BJJ fighter generally will need to know some wrestling, judo or of course sambo.

The history of BJJ can be traced back to the early 1900s as well, when Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese judoka and martial artist, immigrated to Brazil. In Brazil, Maeda taught judo and other grappling techniques to the Gracie family, who were interested in learning martial arts.

One of Maeda’s students, Carlos Gracie, was particularly interested in the techniques he learned from Maeda, and began to develop his own style of jiu-jitsu based on these techniques. This style became known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and was characterized by an emphasis on ground fighting and submission holds. BJJ was founded on the idea that a smaller opponent could subdue a much larger one. This was perhaps most demonstrated by Royce Gracie, a particularly small fighter yet dominant one.

Is Sambo Harder Than BJJ?

It is difficult to say definitively whether sambo is harder than Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), as both martial arts and combat sports involve a significant amount of physical and mental training and discipline. The relative difficulty of each discipline can vary depending on the person’s individual abilities, experience, and goals.

One reason why some people may consider sambo to be harder than BJJ is that it is a more well-rounded martial art, incorporating elements of wrestling, judo, and other grappling disciplines, as well as strikes and kicks. This can make it more challenging for practitioners to master all of the different techniques and strategies, as they must be proficient in a wider range of skills.

Another reason why some people may consider sambo to be harder than BJJ is that it involves more intense and demanding training. In sambo, practitioners are often required to train for longer periods of time and at a higher intensity, incorporating a wider range of exercises and drills into their training regimen. This can make it more physically demanding and challenging than BJJ, which may be considered easier in comparison.

Either way , both martial arts require many hours of training and commitment to attain any sort of proficiency.

Is Sambo or BJJ Better for MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

Sambo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu both have numerous representatives at the highest levels of MMA in the UFC. Championship belts have been one by expert sambo fighters and BJJ fighters. Perhaps the most famous of the MMA/Sambo fighters is Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib is widely considered to be the best lightweight MMA fighter in history and amongst the best pound for pound fighter in history. His fighting style comes from his sambo, judo and wrestling background. Khabib’s sambo background equipped him with effective takedowns and a punishing ground game – rarely letting opponents establish their striking game.

That being said, there are many great UFC fighters that have BJJ as their main fighting style. Georges St.Pierre is also considered amongst the greatest pound for pound fighters in the history of the sport and his main fighting style was Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Other great BJJ fighters in the UFC have been the Gracies, Demian Maia and Charles Oliveira.

The main downside to jiu jitsu however is that it is solely focused on ground grappling. BJJ fighters are taught how to deal with opponents while on the ground. Bringing an opponent down with a takedown or the ground and pound are parts of other martial arts, like wrestling. A BJJ fighter will have to at least learn wrestling whereas a sambo fighter is taught striking, takedowns and ground grappling.

Sambo vs Judo

As with sambo and bjj, the difference between sambo and judo is the focus of each discipline. Sambo is a more well-rounded martial art and actually incorporates part of judo in its training techniques. As we discussed above sambo also integrates strikes and kicks. By contrast, judo is primarily focused on grappling and throwing techniques, with the goal of forcing an opponent to the ground and gaining a dominant position.

All 3 martial arts incorporate a cloth gi. In sport sambo, practitioners wear a bit of a modified judo gi. In judo, practitioners typically wear a gi with large lapels to initiate throws and grips.

Judo also has its own belt system similar to BJJ and sambo with colors ranging from white, yellow, orange, green, brown and then black.

Should You Study Sambo or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Deciding which martial art to pursue really comes down to your fitness or training goals. If your goal is to use martial arts to stay in shape and possibly join a community of friends, BJJ is going to be your best bet simply because it is a more popular sport in the US. You will find many more jiu jitsu gyms in an area than Sambo gyms.

If your goal is to become a complete fighter and compete in MMA bouts, then learning both will likely behoove you. A BJJ fighter who wants to do MMA will need to learn takedowns and strikes and Sambo may be the best way to round out your training. If you can only choose one martial art to train however but MMA is your goal, Sambo is the better all-in-one choice and most directly transferable to MMA.

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