No Gi Sambo – No Kurtka, No Problem

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One of the most effective jacket grappling arts is the Russian art of Sambo. Sambo is taking over the world and for a good reason, because it is fast and effective.

Sambo is an art with many different throws, trips, sweeps, takedowns, submissions and more and it relies on gaining a dominant grip in order to effectively perform a technique or series of techniques, the grip generally being done on a Sambo uniform which is called a “Kurtka”.

So what happens when an opponent is not wearing a kurtka? Well, in the case of Sambo, the opponent is still going to get thrown! 

3 Reasons Sambo Can Be for No-Gi

There are 3 main reasons that a Samboist (the term for a Sambo practitioner) can easily adapt their Sambo to a no gi setting. 

The first reason being that Sambo practitioners basically wear no gi on the lower part of their body, which translates to their already knowing how to grip and deal with a bare leg, regardless of attaining a single leg, ankle pick, pick ups, double legs and defending all the the attacks that could happen when an opponent grabs a leg. Many Sambo throws and takedowns are one for one the same as Russian wrestling takedowns.

The second reason is that Sambo practices a huge variety of leg locks – all done on a bare leg. The Sambo uniform’s lower half (below the hip) is a pair of tight shorts and sambo shoes so this in essence means they are practicing no-gi when it comes to all leg attacks – although we must clarify that wearing a shoe is not a common no-gi practice but is allowed in many no-gi submission wrestling tournaments.

The third is that with a few tweaks to their no-gi grips they can easily find success in attaining a dominant grip and body position for a throw and it is because many of Sambo’s techniques rely on both grabbing the Kurtka and attacking the leg (either with their leg, arm or hand) as well as it is the influence of many cultural jacket styles of former USSR republics that are part of Sambo’s curriculum. 

Now you may be asking yourself, what does cultural wrestling have to do with throwing without a gi? 

Well, it’s rather simple, these cultural wrestling styles generally had short sleeves and even no sleeves, as well as all grips and attacks when standing were allowed to offset and throw an opponent – this meant that certain wrestling positions, openings and grips such as a wrist on wrist, an underhook, a russian tie and arm drag are used to attain a proper position for a throw.

Vlad Koulikov’s No Gi Sambo Adaptation

If there is any proof of Sambo being able to adapt to No Gi it can be seen by the enormous amount of proof that has been made by Sambo Master Vlad Koulikov. Koulikov immigrated to the US from Russia in the 90’s and has been a driving factor for Sambo’s growth in the United States.

Vlad has found a fantastic way to show Sambo’s strengths in No Gi as well as blending Sambo with BJJ. Koulikov has proven Sambo’s ability to solve many positional challenges that BJJ grapplers face when standing up and in transition from the throw to being on the ground.

Grapplezilla is a huge fan of Vlad Koulikov and we suggest you check out any of his material done on Sambo and No-gi Sambo as he is not only Master of Sport in Sambo but a truly great teacher of the art!

Sambo in MMA

There has been a very dominant Sambo presence in MMA the past decades with world class fighters and MMA champions such as Khabib Nurmagomedov, Fedor Emelianenko, Islam Makhachev, Andre Arlovski and many many other Samboist’s dominating in MMA, all of which while not wearing a Kurtka (gi).

Sambo in MMA submission defence
Sambo in MMA submission defence

All these amazing Sambo MMA fighters have been successful in taking down opponents, countering takedowns, submitting opponents and dominating positions in every part of the MMA cage and ring, all using adaptations of Sambo grips and positions. They all have come from Combat Sambo where on top of amazing Sambo grappling techniques they have a strong base in striking as is allowed in Combat Sambo.

Why Does Sambo Work in No Gi

There are a few reasons that Sambo works well in a no gi scenario.

Sambo’s ruleset does not award passivity, Samboist’s attack constantly, trying to outscore and submit the opponent, this “control of pace” translates very well to nogi as nogi is faster in nature than gi due to the fact that stalling with a gi hold is not relevant in no gi.

Another reason is the fact that lower body takedowns and more importantly the scramble when a throw is executed is very reminiscent of what we see in freestyle wrestling but with the addition of submissions and submission defences. This ability to scramble cannot be underestimated as it is truly pivotal when competing against no gi competitors from other disciplines – especially BJJ practitioners who generally prefer to gain a static position and then work from that position in a methodological manner.

This may be controversial but Samboists do not pull guard, they almost always go for top position due to a few reasons. The first being Sambo does not allow for practitioners to close the guard when on bottom (this means much less stalling) and the second being that Sambo fighters will be made to stand up should there not be action on the ground or should they be too long on the ground and lastly it is the practice of proper pinning on the ground which leads to understanding the mechanics of holding and escaping a dominant top position.

Now take all of the above reasons and add it to a fast no-gi or MMA setting and with a few tweaks Sambo can easily find success in many competitive environments.

Final Thoughts

Sambo is just becoming mainstream in the west when it comes to martial arts and it is for good reason, Sambo simply works. Sambo is more than just a jacket system, it is a Russian grappling system and methodology that can be used in any situation and can easily translate to a nogi grappling scenario.


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