bjj vs sambo

BJJ vs Sambo: What Are the Differences Between the Two?

Besides wrestling, no two grappling disciplines have garnered mainstream notoriety as much as Sambo and BJJ. Hence, debates concerning the superior grappling art often turn into a discussion of BJJ vs Sambo. It’s easy to see why given the representation both grappling sports have.

Sambo has been in the arsenals of some of the world’s dominant fighters like Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov. On the BJJ side of the discussion are fighters like Damien Maia, Ryan Hall, Jacare Souza, and many more. BJJ as its own sport also abounds with big names like the Gracies, Buchecha, and Andre Galvao.

With crossovers made possible by MMA, BJJ and Sambo are the focal points of many discussions and debates. In other words, many confuse the techniques of one with the other.

In reality, Sambo and BJJ are worlds apart. Here are the key differences between BJJ vs Sambo.

What Is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) is a grappling discipline that emerged in Brazil sometime in the early 1920s. BJJ includes techniques like joint locks, chokes, ground holds, escapes, and throws — many of the elements present in Judo. Its stylistic parallels to Judo are due to the sport’s history and development.

Between 1913 and 1915, master Judoka Mitsuyo Maeda began teaching Judo to a group of eager Brazilians. Two of these Brazilians happened to be Carlos and George Gracie, a couple of the earliest pioneers of BJJ.

The two took the techniques of Judo and added maneuvers like submissions and escapes from bottom positions. This signified the birth of a discipline that many know today as BJJ. By the mid-1920s, the Gracie brothers had already opened their Jiu-Jitsu school, taking students and placing the art on display in many exhibition matches in Rio de Janeiro. 

As time went by, other members of the Gracie family took on the responsibility of propagating BJJ to the rest of the country and stateside. One of those family members who brought the art to the west in the 1970s was Rorion Gracie.

Today, BJJ has grown into more than a fighting discipline; it’s also a sport that many people from different demographics have embraced.

What Is Sambo?

Sambo is a combat discipline developed in Russia by Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov. Like BJJ, Sambo has numerous joint locks, holds, and throws. Because Spiridinov and Oshchepkov developed it for military application, Sambo also has strikes and other techniques designed to neutralize opponents.

Viktor Spiridinov and Vasili Oshchepkov created Sambo sometime after World War I. Following the War, the two saw the necessity in improving the hand-to-hand fighting prowess of the then Red Army. Taking inspiration from Russian styles of wrestling and other combat disciplines, the two created Sambo, teaching it to the military and Russian police.  

Today, Sambo exists in two forms. As a combative style, Sambo practitioners perform strikes of various kinds alongside grappling techniques. The sports iteration of the discipline lacks the strikes and chokes but still has submissions like leg locks and joint locks.

What Are the Differences?

Both BJJ and Sambo are grappling disciplines that make their practitioners effective in close-quarter situations. The practitioners of both disciplines will also be adept at leg locks and joint locks from a myriad of situations. Beyond these similarities are characteristics that distinguish BJJ from Sambo and vice-versa.

Keys to Instant Victory

Both disciplines —when practiced as sports — allow practitioners to score points in competition. These points can stack on top of each other. The competitor with the most number of points wins — except in situations where an instant victory occurs. This is where BJJ and Sambo differ.

In BJJ, the way to earn a quick victory is to either force the opponent to submit or have the opponent pass out from a choke. The opponent may also bow out of a match if they sense an injury.

In Sambo, submissions also lead to an instant victory. However, another way to instantly chalk up a win in a Sambo match is by executing a perfect throw.

Match Lengths

BJJ tournament matches can vary greatly depending on the promotion. For ADCC, for example, matches can last anywhere from five to 10 minutes. However, some promotions are submissions-only — like Metamoris. In such promotions, matches can last for as long as 20 minutes and won’t end until a submission.

Sambo matches are generally shorter, lasting about five minutes. Some matches can even be as short as three minutes.

Belt and Ranking

There’s a belt ranking system in BJJ. Under the current BJJ belting system, practitioners can progress from white to black belts. In between belts are stripes that practitioners can earn in their pursuit of the next belt level.

There are eight belts in BJJ. In order of rank, these are white, blue, purple, brown, black, red and black, red and white, and red.

The amount of training years determine a practitioner’s rank and belt in Sambo. In Sambo’s ranking system, a practitioner progresses with each year of consistent training. For the first five years, the practitioner takes on the rank of student. He or she only becomes a master during the sixth and seventh years of training.

Unique Techniques

If there’s one area BJJ might outdo Sambo in, it’s in submissions. Compared to Sambo, BJJ has far more submission techniques. This is due to the restrictions of Sambo. As mentioned earlier, Sambo practitioners cannot perform moves like chokes in competition.

Sambo might have the upper hand in strikes and takedowns. Strikes are part of the combat Sambo system. As for takedowns, Sambo has a higher emphasis on these since they’re keys to an instant victory.

The emphasis on takedowns is apparent when you compare the fighting style of Khabib Nurmagomedov with the styles of Charles Oliveira and Ryan Hall. Nurmagomedov is likely to attempt more takedowns than his BJJ counterparts.


In BJJ, there are two types of apparel acceptable for training and competition. In Granite Bay Jiu-jitsu, for instance, we have the gi. However, we also offer no-gi classes where students can don fight shorts, rash guards, and compression leggings (also known as “spats”).

In training and competition, Sambo practitioners wear compression shorts, wrestling shoes, and the Kurtka. The Kurtka resembles the top of a gi.

Develop or Bring Your Grappling Game

Whichever style tickles your fancy, one is not better than the other. It all comes down to what you prefer, your strengths, and most importantly, what’s available in your area.

If you’re in Granite Bay, try a free week with us and strengthen your grappling game.