Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is one of the most popular fighting styles around today, with gyms widely offering programs in this discipline. Sambo isn’t as popular but has quickly grown in popularity since it burst onto the mainstream in 2010. Both styles have similarities, but which one is better for you?

BJJ is better if you want a fighting style suited for ring competition. It leans heavily towards groundwork and chokeholds. Sambo is better for you if you want to learn an aggressive fighting style that emphasizes quick strikes.

In this article, we’ll take a quick dive into the arguments for and against both combat sports to help you decide between BJJ vs sambo and which style is better for you.

What Is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

BJJ is a grappling-based martial art designed as a technique for self-defense when you’re unarmed. Its roots go back to the days of the Japanese samurai.

They developed the technique as their method of defense for when they’re thrown off their horse and lose their sword. Over the years, the techniques transformed to BJJ and other fighting styles.

Pros of Practicing BJJ

BJJ has quite a few things going for it as a fighting style. It’s a good option to go with if you’re looking for a martial art to pick up for competition purposes. It also works well as a last-resort, self-defense style. Here are a few more reasons for choosing BJJ.

It Teaches Guard Techniques

BJJ helps you learn how to control an opponent on top of you, using just your legs. The guard-based techniques come in handy when you’re taken unawares and find yourself on the ground before realizing you’re in a fight. Perfecting these groundwork techniques gives you a shot at turning such fights in your favor.

You’ll Become Efficient at Chokeholds

BJJ emphasizes using chokeholds as a way to control your opponent. As with other ground-based techniques, BJJ chokeholds are an excellent way to weaken and overpower an opponent with a height or strength advantage. You can also use it to incapacitate an opponent without doing any real damage.

Finding a BJJ School Is Easy

The use of BJJ in the MMA or UFC arena has made it one of the most popular fighting styles in the US. Therefore, you’re sure to find multiple BJJ training centers in your city. Your local gym probably has BJJ classes going on. If they don’t, finding one near you is as simple as running a quick search online.

It’s Highly Effective in Single Mode Combat

When you have to focus all your attention and energy on one opponent, BJJ is a great fighting style to go with. The agility and leverage the style provides make it effective against most opponents if you don’t have to deal with distractions or external threats.

You can target an opponent’s arms, wrists, spine, and legs to force a submission using BJJ. Combined with chokeholds, you’re sure to always have an attack approach once the fight is on the ground.

It Emphasizes Practice

If you want a martial art where you don’t spend a lot of time going over theories and practicing choreographed moves, BJJ is a great choice. The bulk of the learning process involves actual fighting, which is why it’s possible to go from novice to a blue-belt holder in 2-3 years.

If you already have some experience from other grappling-based martial arts, your learning curve could be even shorter.

Cons of Practicing BJJ

While BJJ is a good fighting style to pick up, it’s not without its drawbacks. You need to compare both sides to make an informed choice. Below are some of the main talking points.

Doesn’t Help Against Multiple Assailants

If you’re facing a group of attackers, your perfect BJJ skills won’t do much for you. You can take down one opponent directly facing you, but there’s no protection against other attackers landing blows from all sides. BJJ skills only work when you’re fully focused on one assailant. Two assailants or more automatically turn the tide against you if it’s the only fighting style you know.

Ineffective Against Armed Opponents

BJJ emphasizes waiting for an attacker to come close and strike first before reacting. In hand-to-hand combat, this approach can be very effective. However, if the assailant has a knife or gun, waiting for them to draw close puts you in more danger. 

Some assailants might conceal the weapon, which is even more dangerous. You’ve probably seen someone pull a hidden knife from the ankle to stab an attacker and get out of a chokehold in movies, and unfortunately, there’s a risk of such a scene playing out in real life.

Real-World Scenario Is Different From Practice

Practicing BJJ in a school or in the ring is very different from what you’re likely to face in a real-world attack. In the former, you’re rolling around on a soft, clean surface, while in the latter, the surface could be anything.

The attack may happen on asphalt, sand, grass, mud, or around a puddle. Such drastic removal from street fighting means many BJJ fighters are often unprepared when real-world scenarios requiring self-defense arise.

No Focus on Striking

BJJ doesn’t teach you striking or how to react when you’re hit. The result is some BJJ fighters going down quickly when faced with fighting techniques. Any street fighter with basic offensive striking techniques may have an advantage over a fighter with only BJJ’s floor grappling skills.

Emphasis on Groundwork Is a Disadvantage 

Since a lot of BJJ training is focused on floor grappling instead of throws or strikes, a BJJ fighter is often at a loss on what to do until he takes the fight to the ground. When facing opponents of equal weighting, taking them down is easier. For opponents with a wrestler build, taking them down is more difficult.

What Is Sambo?

Sambo is a type of martial arts developed for the Russian army in the 1900s. It’s an aggressive fighting style combining multiple martial art forms, including European folk wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, judo, and paramilitary suppression approaches.

There are two forms of sambo. The combat variant is an extreme mix of martial arts techniques focused on neutralizing an opponent as quickly as possible. Practitioners use every means necessary to achieve victory, including groin strikes and head butts. On the other hand, the sports sambo variant is a watered version commonly used in competitions. The focus is often on catch-wrestling.

Pros of Practicing Sambo

Sambo isn’t quite as popular as BJJ in the US, but it offers some unique advantages that still make it a rewarding martial arts skill to learn. Here are some of the reasons to learn sambo:

Teaches Leg Locks and Belt Turns

Sambo dedicates a lot of time towards belt turns and leg locks, giving you some advantage against fighters who don’t have the skills to counter these techniques.

The belt turn is a grip you won’t learn in most martial art classes. It’s regarded as an advanced tactic, and for good reasons. It can provide you with quick leverage against an opponent while standing and when you’re on the floor.

Sambo Emphasizes Striking Techniques

Sambo teaches powerful striking techniques designed to put an opponent on the ground as quickly as possible. You won’t have to wait around waiting to take the fight to the ground, and you won’t be defenseless against strikes from an opponent. Expectedly, the striking techniques are more powerful in combat sambo.

Similar to Judo

If you already have some experience with judo, it’s easy to pick up the fundamentals of sambo. Some people argue that combat sambo is just a versatile variant of judo where some dirtier approaches are allowed. This assumption isn’t too far from the truth, so knowing judo can cut your sambo learning curve a great deal.

No Limits to Strikes, Takedowns, and Grips

Sambo teaches a wide range of takedowns and grips, putting you at an advantage over opponents who have mastered only certain types of grips and takedowns. You can practice all kinds of grips, including the belt grip we talked about above. Additionally, you can also practice different types of takedowns, including scissor takedowns, body slams, arch throws, etc.

Combat sambo allows all kinds of strikes, making it highly effective in street fights without any clear rules. It’s the perfect option for when you have to defend yourself against mean opponents.

With such an array of options, you’ll always have an angle of attack while fighting upright or on the ground.

Cons of Practicing Sambo

Sambo isn’t an infallible martial art discipline. There are quite a few legitimate arguments against it. They include the following:

Limited Groundwork

Sambo focuses more on upright striking and leg locks, so fighting styles that devote more time to groundwork can win a fight as soon as it becomes a floor affair. With multiple fighting approaches, you may still stand a chance in a floor fight, but it’s more challenging if you’re facing a truly experienced opponent.

Sports Sambo Is Limiting

If you choose to go with sports sambo, you won’t learn key techniques such as chokeholds, kimura locks, neck cranks, spine locks, wrist locks, etc. These techniques are banned, so you can only force submission using arm locks and leg locks. Learning sports sambo can put you at a disadvantage in real-world fights.

Finding Trainers Can Be Difficult

Whether you’re looking to learn sports sambo or combat sambo, there aren’t many trainers around in the US. If you do find one, there’s a high chance it’s someone who may not know enough to be called a sambo trainer. The few qualified trainers around may live far away, forcing you to travel regularly.

BJJ vs Sambo: The Final Verdict

In the debate between BJJ vs sambo, which style is better for you should be based on your specific desires. If you want to have a leg up in both competitions and street fights, you should learn sports and combat sambo. If you’re only interested in staying fit and having fighting skills for the ring, BJJ is the better style.

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