Sambo vs BJJ: The Differences Explained


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Sambo are both grappling martial arts that have gained significant popularity in recent years. While they share some common ground, they also have distinct differences that set them apart. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into the world of Sambo and BJJ, exploring their origins, techniques, rules, and more. Whether you’re a seasoned martial artist or just curious about these disciplines, this article will provide you with a detailed understanding of the contrasts between Sambo and BJJ.

Origins and History

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

Origins: BJJ originated in Brazil in the early 20th century, primarily developed by the Gracie family. It was heavily influenced by Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, with a focus on ground fighting and submission techniques.

Philosophy: BJJ places a strong emphasis on positional control and submissions. Practitioners aim to dominate their opponents on the ground through leverage, technique, and strategy.

BJJ Class


Origins: Sambo, short for “SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya” in Russian, translates to “self-defense without weapons.” It was developed in the early 1920s by the Soviet Red Army as a comprehensive combat system.

Philosophy: Sambo is a hybrid martial art that combines elements of Judo, Wrestling, and other grappling arts. It emphasizes throws, takedowns, and submissions, with a focus on both standing and ground combat.

Sambo in competition (Source:


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

Ground-Based: BJJ primarily takes place on the ground, with practitioners often starting from their knees or in a seated position. Techniques involve sweeps, guard passes, and submissions such as armlocks and chokes.

Guard Play: BJJ is known for its various guard positions, including closed guard, open guard, and half guard. These positions offer a wide range of offensive and defensive options.

Positional Control: BJJ practitioners strive to gain dominant positions, such as mount or back control, to secure submissions or control their opponents.


Throws and Takedowns: Sambo places a strong emphasis on throws and takedowns, similar to Judo. Practitioners learn a wide array of techniques to take opponents down to the ground.

Groundwork: While Sambo does involve ground combat, it often focuses on quick transitions and escapes rather than prolonged ground battles. The goal is to get back to a standing position or secure a submission rapidly.

Leg Locks: Sambo is known for its expertise in leg locks, including ankle locks and knee bars, which are less common in BJJ due to specific rule differences.

The topic of BJJ vs Sambo, discussed by legendary MMA Coach Firas Zahabi

Rules and Competition

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

Gi and No-Gi: BJJ is practiced in both gi (traditional uniform) and no-gi formats. Competition rules vary slightly between the two, with gi matches allowing for collar chokes and more gripping techniques.

Points System: BJJ competitions award points for achieving dominant positions, sweeps, and submission attempts. The goal is to accumulate points or secure a submission to win.

Belt System: BJJ uses a belt ranking system (white, blue, purple, brown, black, etc.) to signify a practitioner’s skill level and experience.

Note: While multiple different BJJ rulesets exist, here is the most commonly used IBJJF Ruleset.


Uniform: Sambo practitioners typically wear a jacket similar to a Judo gi, and competitions are held in gi and no-gi categories.

Scoring: Sambo competitions reward points for throws, takedowns, and dominant positions. Pins are also awarded, and submissions can lead to an instant victory.

No Belt System: Unlike BJJ, Sambo does not have a belt ranking system. Progress is typically measured by competition experience and skill level.

Notable Competitors

To provide a better perspective on the influence and success of these martial arts, let’s take a look at some well-known competitors who have backgrounds in either BJJ or Sambo:

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

  • Royce Gracie: Royce Gracie is one of the most iconic figures in BJJ history. He played a pivotal role in introducing BJJ to the world through his performances in the early UFC events.
  • Roger Gracie: Roger Gracie is another member of the renowned Gracie family, known for his exceptional technical skills and numerous BJJ world championship titles.
  • Marcelo Garcia: Marcelo Garcia is celebrated for his dynamic and innovative BJJ techniques. He is a multiple-time world champion and considered one of the greatest BJJ practitioners of all time.
Marcelo Garcia (Source BVM Sports)


  • Fedor Emelianenko: Fedor Emelianenko, often referred to as “The Last Emperor,” is a legendary MMA fighter with a background in Sambo. He achieved great success in PRIDE FC and other organizations.
  • Khabib Nurmagomedov: Khabib Nurmagomedov, the former UFC lightweight champion, has a strong Sambo foundation. His relentless grappling style and undefeated record have made him a standout in the world of MMA.
  • Vladimir Putin: Yes, you read that correctly. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is also a practitioner of Sambo. While not a competitive athlete, his involvement in the martial art has added to its prestige in Russia.
Khabib Nurmagomedov (Source:

Training and Philosophy

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

Sparring Emphasis: BJJ training often involves live sparring (rolling) from various positions, allowing practitioners to test techniques in realistic situations.

Problem Solving: BJJ encourages practitioners to adapt and problem-solve on the mat, using leverage and technique to overcome size and strength disadvantages.


Focus on Explosiveness: Sambo training emphasizes explosive throws and takedowns, requiring a combination of speed and strength.

Versatility: Sambo practitioners train for both standing and ground combat, making them well-rounded martial artists capable of transitioning seamlessly between the two.

Summary of Key Differences between BJJ and Sambo

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)Sambo
OriginsBrazil, early 20th centuryRussia, early 1920s
PhilosophyGround-focused, submissionsVersatile, throws, takedowns
TechniquesGround techniques, guard playThrows, quick ground transitions, leg locks
Rules and CompetitionGi and no-gi formats, points system, belt rankingGi and no-gi formats, points system, no belt system
Notable CompetitorsRoyce Gracie, Roger Gracie, Marcelo GarciaFedor Emelianenko, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Vladimir Putin (not competitive)
Training and PhilosophySparring emphasis, problem-solvingFocus on explosiveness, versatility


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Sambo are two distinct martial arts with their own unique philosophies, techniques, and rules. BJJ excels in ground combat, with a strong emphasis on positional control and submissions. Sambo, on the other hand, offers a versatile approach that combines throws, takedowns, and rapid ground transitions.

Despite the historical differences between the two martial arts, ultimately they are both very efficient forms of grappling,

Ultimately, the choice between Sambo and BJJ depends on your personal preferences and goals. Some practitioners even choose to cross-train in both disciplines to gain a well-rounded skill set. Regardless of your choice, both martial arts offer valuable lessons in discipline, strategy, and self-defense, making them rewarding pursuits for any enthusiast.

We hope this detailed guide has shed light on the differences between Sambo and BJJ, helping you make an informed decision or simply enhancing your understanding of these fascinating grappling arts.

See Also

To learn more about Sambo check out our in depth article: What is Sambo?


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