BJJ Vs. Sambo – Which One Should You Pick?

If you’re a big fan of MMA, you’ve heard of Sambo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But, Which one should you pick?

If we’re talking about competitive application, both disciplines are two of the best grappling disciplines you can pick to expand your arsenal. While there are similarities between both martial arts, there are some critical differences in technique and training focus.

In this guide, you will learn more about the history, differences, and pros/cons of both grappling disciplines. By the end of this reading, you’ll have a better idea about which of the two is best to study.

Before we dive deep into learning more about both disciplines, let’s talk about their rich history first.

The Brief History Of BJJ And Sambo

Created in the 1920s, Sambo is intended to improve the hand-to-hand fighting skills of soldiers. The result was a discipline that borrowed from various martial arts, including wrestling, Judo, Boxing, and more. 

It’s a martial art becoming more prevalent in the UFC today thanks to Dagestan fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makachev.

What About Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Jiu-Jitsu, on the other hand, is easily the most popular grappling discipline around. It emerged around the 1920s in Brazil as well. 

After learning about Jiu-Jitsu from Japanese diplomat and Judo practitioner Mitsuyo Maeda, the Gracie family made the system.

Since being a small discipline in the early 1900s, BJJ has become one of the most popular martial arts thanks to Royce Gracie’s amazing performance at the first UFC.

The Philosophy Of Sambo And BJJ As Grappling Systems

Like most martial arts before it, Sambo and BJJ center around philosophies that affect martial arts in more ways than one. 

Understanding these philosophies can help you better understand which of the two disciplines is the better option.

BJJ Philosophy

BJJ vs. Sambo - BJJ Philosophy

One of the key people that helped establish the core principles and techniques in BJJ was Helio Gracie. Helio was physically weak and smaller than his brothers as a young man. 

He found that it was hard to master the art of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. To cope with the challenges of his physical limitations, he created BJJ.

The main philosophy of BJJ is that strength and size aren’t all the basis of who wins in a fight. Technique beats pure power. As Royce Gracie would prove against his far larger opponents, technique does play a significant role in martial arts engagements.

Apart from technique, BJJ relies on effectively defending yourself without exerting overt aggression and force.

Sambo Philosophy


For the most part, Sambo’s philosophy remains close to BJJ. That is imparting martial arts knowledge to the student that allows him to defend himself without having to use excessive force and aggression.

The main difference here is that Sambo was intended to be taught to soldiers. It stands for Samooborona Bez Oruzhiya, which translates to “self-defense without weapons.”

The Techniques Of Each Martial Art – BJJ vs. Sambo

Key BJJ Techniques

At its very core, BJJ is a martial arts system that focuses on chokeholds and joint locks. There are two forms of BJJ:

  • First and the original is Gi BJJ, which sees practitioners wear a thick and heavy Gi. 
  • No-Gi BJJ doesn’t feature any gis, and its techniques are more applicable to MMA.

Now, it’s important to distinguish both forms of BJJ as Gi BJJ features techniques that you can only do if the opponent is wearing a gi or kimono. This involves a variety of throws and submissions, such as the bow and arrow choke and the scarf hold.

The primary purpose of choke submissions is to cut off air from getting to your opponent’s head. Some popular choking techniques involve rear-naked chokes, triangles, and guillotines. 

On the other hand, joint locks focus on submissions that put joints in an awkward position to cause pain. Popular joint locks include:

  • Armbars. 
  • Kimura.
  • Americana.
  • Leg locks.

Apart from submissions, BJJ also features takedowns. For gi BJJ, most of the takedowns are derived from Judo. 

For no-gi BJJ, most judo throws are hard to do because of the lack of gi. There are some exceptions, like the Uchi Mata with an overhook. However, no-gi BJJ uses wrestling takedowns primarily instead.

Last but not least, BJJ features a variety of positions. Expert BJJ practitioners use positions to trap their opponents into submissions or sweeps. 

Most BJJ disciplines rely on a flow chart that sees practitioners moving from one position to another to secure the dominant position.

Some popular positions in BJJ include:

Learn The Basics Of Each Position In Our Beginner BJJ Guide

Key Sambo Techniques

Combat sambo has evolved to retain most of the same grappling techniques in BJJ. The main difference is that sambo techniques involve the use of punches and kicks as well.

Traditionally, in combat sambo, dirty strikes such as headbutts and soccer kicks are allowed during competition. 

These are taught as a part of the disciplines and techniques when it comes to competing in Sambo. Of course, sambo practitioners aren’t allowed to do these techniques once they transition to MMA.

Now that you know some basics about Sambo and BJJ let’s get into the most critical part —the advantages and disadvantages of each grappling martial art.

BJJ vs. Sambo -The Benefits And Disadvantages Of Each Martial Art

As with most martial arts, there are pros and cons to BJJ and Sambo. You can best learn which martial art is more fitting for your body and your mindset by learning what these are.

Pros And Cons Of BJJ

BJJ comes with various pros and cons that you need to learn about. It’s one of the most popular martial arts out there, so these are very well-known by many worldwide already.

BJJ Pros

  1. Very Accessible

Due to its increasing popularity, there are many BJJ schools that you can get into nowadays.

This makes BJJ more accessible than any other martial art out there. Apart from the fact that many schools offer this discipline, there are also classes for all ages.

You can get into BJJ, whether you’re a kid or a full-grown adult. The sport can be trained at various gyms nationwide.

2. Lots Of Competitive Opportunities

As BJJ is popular, you should expect to see competitions for all levels. If you want to get into competitive BJJ, there are many outlets for you to do so. It’s an excellent way to enhance your skills in BJJ outside the training mats.

3. Necessary Base For MMA

It’s no longer a secret, but a good ground game will be necessary for MMA.

If you’re looking to step into the cage soon, then having a good BJJ base will help you out against other BJJ practitioners. If you’re facing off against a pure striker, winning is about taking the fight to the ground.

BJJ Cons 

1. Steep Learning Curve

Many martial artists will tell you that BJJ is one of the most challenging martial arts to master. Learning one sequence of submissions alone will take some time to perfect, let alone understanding the hundreds of sweeps, takedowns, submissions, and other ground techniques that make you an effective BJJ specialist.

2. No Striking Techniques

BJJ is purely a grappling martial art. Don’t expect to learn about punches or kicks while training in BJJ. If you’re planning to enter MMA, knowing it alongside a striking discipline like kickboxing, boxing, or muay Thai would be wise. This will help you get a complete arsenal for your MMA game.

3. Many Gi Techniques Aren’t Applicable For Self-Defense

While it can be used as a self-defense martial art, the problem with BJJ is that it requires you to keep up close and personal with the attackers to defend yourself. Others might see this as being completely dangerous.

Additionally, many gi techniques don’t apply to self-defense. Even if an attacker is wearing clothes, it’s not as durable as the gi, so it might rip off before you can execute a move.

Pros and cons of Sambo

Like BJJ, Sambo comes with its own set of pros and cons too. No martial art is genuinely perfect, after all. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of Sambo.

Sambo Pros

1. Made For Self-Defense

As we’ve said before, Sambo is a martial art created for soldiers. It can be used against attackers with weapons which makes it an excellent martial art for self-defense. In this regard, Sambo offers more versatility and security than BJJ.

2. Excellent Base For MMA

As Khabib Nurmagumedov would show us, Sambo is a viable base for MMA. With grappling and striking techniques.

This means training in Sambo gives you access to a broader arsenal of skills and movements fit for the cage.

3. Gives You A Wider Array Of Techniques To Learn

There are quite a few restrictions in BJJ that prevent you from learning many techniques. However, in Sambo, you can learn strikes, illegal strikes, submissions, slams, arc throws, and many others.

Sambo Cons 

1. Not As Accessible

In truth, Sambo is far from being as popular as BJJ. While there are gyms that teach the discipline, you can find those very sparse in between.

It might be challenging to find a nearby sambo gym on your end. Sambo is widely popular in Russia, so that’s where you might find most sambo gyms.

2. Teaches You Illegal Strikes

When competing, a few strikes from Sambo aren’t allowed in MMA. While you can easily avoid doing these strikes, you might accidentally throw one at your opponent because it’s what you’re used to. It might take a while but be sure to adjust when shifting to MMA.

3. No Chokeholds

A variety of submissions are taught to sambo practitioners – all except chokeholds. This is a considerable disadvantage, especially if you’re transitioning to MMA. The good news is that chokeholds are often easy to learn.

Similarities Between BJJ And Sambo

The main similarity is that BJJ and Sambo are primarily grappling with martial arts. Regarding techniques, the only submissions that sambo lacks are chokeholds and nothing else. Other than that, most takedowns, positions, and submissions remain relatively the same.

Another similarity between the two is that both are great bases for MMA. While Sambo is more well-rounded, you can still get more out of grappling with BJJ.

Both disciplines also have belt degrees. In BJJ, you can progress through a total of 5 belts. While in Sambo, you move through 7.

The uniforms remain nearly the same between Sambo and BJJ. What makes Sambo different is that you aren’t going to wear pants but shorts in training and competition, whereas in BJJ, the pants are a part of the uniform.

The notable similarities between the two end there. Now, let’s talk about the differences between BJJ and Sambo. 

Differences Between BJJ And Sambo

The significant difference is that Sambo features striking techniques, while BJJ is solely focused on grappling. 

Sambo teaches you the complete arsenal of fighting, but with regards to submissions and overall technique in grappling, BJJ is more complete.

The belt system in BJJ is a long journey despite having around five belt levels only. In BJJ, on average, you become a black belt in approximately ten years. Whereas in Sambo, you can reach the highest level as early as seven years.

Now, let’s talk about what you’re here for. Which of the two should you train?

How to Know Which One You Should Train? – Tips For Picking Between BJJ And Sambo

This answer depends on a few unique factors and your goals. Let’s talk about tips to help you pick between BJJ and Sambo.

Your Proximity To a BJJ or a sambo school

BJJ schools are very easy to find. However, sambo schools might be more complicated. Unless there is a sambo school near you, you’re probably better off sticking to BJJ.

How you’d want to use the discipline

If it’s for MMA and you want to be in a competitive scene, BJJ is a good choice as it offers more competition and makes you more well-rounded. Sambo does make you well-rounded, but sambo tournaments aren’t very common.

How do you feel after a free lesson?

Most gyms will let you go for a free class. If you find reputable BJJ or Sambo gyms near you, it would be best to join them for a trial lesson and evaluate how you feel about each martial art after.


If it were up to us, we suggest going to BJJ classes and training in a striking discipline as it might be easier to find a local BJJ gym than a Sambo one.

Age and gender aren’t factors in choosing between the two. Both can cater to people of all shapes and sizes.

There are a lot of opportunities in BJJ, and being able to dominate fighters on the ground is a big asset in MMA.

BJJ vs. Sambo Final Word

BJJ and Sambo share a few similarities, but they are different sides of the coin. 

Nothing beats BJJ if you want to master becoming a grappler, but you should go for Sambo if it’s for self-defense. If you can, you should try both, as these disciplines can benefit you, your health, and your fight game.

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