Sambo originated in Russia (former USSR) in 1938, as a hand-to-hand combat method for soldiers. Literally, Sambo is an acronym for the Russian phrase, "Self defense without weapons", (SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya).

Sambo has its roots in Japanese judo and traditional folk styles of wrestling such as Armenian Koch, Georgian Chidaoba, Moldovan Trînt
ǎ, Uzbek Kurash, Mongolian Khapsagay and Azerbaijani Gulesh.

Developed and utilized by the military, Combat Sambo (Boyevoye Sambo in Russian) includes practice with weapons, including disarming techniques, next to throws, takedowns, striking techniques.

Competition in Combat Sambo resembles older forms of judo and modern mixed martial arts, including extensive forms of striking and grappling. The first FIAS World Sambo Championships were held in 2001.

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A Sambo practitioner usually wears either a red or a blue jacket kurtka, a belt and shorts of the same color, and sambovki (Sambo shoes). The Sambo uniform does not reflect rank or competitive rating. Sport rules require an athlete to have both red and blue sets to visually distinguish competitors on the mat.

In Russia, a competitive rating system is used rather than belt colors like judo and jiu jitsu to demonstrate rank, though some schools around the world now institute belt colors as well. The rating system is called Unified Sports Classification System of the USSR, with the highest athletic distinction known as the Distinguished Masters of Sport in Sambo.

Examination requirements vary depending on the age group and can vary from country to country. The examination itself includes competitive accomplishment as well as technical demonstration of knowledge. Higher level exams must be supervised by independent judges from a national Sambo association. For a rating to be recognised, it must be registered with the national Sambo organization.
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