There are dozens of martial arts styles out there, each with its own philosophy and techniques attached to them. Two of the more popular ones are Judo and Sambo. But of the two, which one is better?

Sambo is better than judo for practical street fighting, while judo is more developed as a sport. Choosing between them will depend on your goals. Instruction in either will help you in a fight, and both styles will give you opportunities to spar and hone your skills. 

Judo and Sambo are very similar because they are both “grappling” sports. That means they emphasize controlling your adversary and forcing them to submit rather than striking them with kicks and punches. Still, they are very different in mindset, so read on to learn more about the key differences.

The Art of Judo Is Best for Calmness and Self Defense

While it draws from thousands of years of Japanese culture and fighting experience, Judo is a relatively new martial art. Jigoro Kano developed it in 1882

Kano started with Jiu-Jitsu techniques but decided to remove some of the more dangerous elements.

The main principles of Kano’s Jiu-Jitsu school were to promote the most efficient use of physical energy and effort. He also wanted to promote mutual welfare. 

Over time his system became a separate martial art known as Judo, which is Japanese for “the gentle way.”

Judo Is Designed To Be Less Brutal

Judo is not simply a fighting system; it carries an ethic of seeking to avoid violence. That ethic carries over into Judo’s approach to fighting, the insight that “soft defeats hard.”

As a student, Kano had witnessed a significant amount of bullying, which troubled him. So he put a lot of thought into how a smaller, weaker fighter can defeat a larger, stronger opponent.

He determined that direct resistance to force was futile. The stronger fighter would almost always win a contest of raw power. But adjusting and evading force will cause the attacker to lose balance, giving the weaker combatant an opportunity to win.

Judo Focuses on Controlling Your Opponent

Judo is mainly a grappling technique that involves little punching or kicking. 

Instead, it teaches its students to control their opponents and force them to submit via throws, pins, and chokeholds. 

Judo emphasizes methods that will disable an adversary but are not likely to cause lasting harm.

Judo lessons will involve free practice and forms. 

“Forms” are a sort of choreographed fighting in which students will demonstrate their mastery of techniques. The forms can also illustrate the philosophical principles of Judo.

Judo has been an Olympic sport since 1968, and competitive tournaments have become very important since then.

Sambo Is Better for Those Needing a Stronger Fighting Style

Sambo is an even more recent invention, but it also draws on many martial arts, including Judo. 

Russians developed Sambo during the first half of the 20th century. It started with Red Army officers looking for ways to improve hand-to-hand fighting skills.

Over time they worked out a method based on Judo. They also added many techniques from central Asian and European styles of fighting and wrestling.

The Soviet military distilled all this into a military training course called samozashchita bez oruzhiya, Russian for “self-defense without weapons.” That name became Sam-BO or Sambo over time. 

Sambo has developed a reputation as a very effective martial art, one that the Russian military still teaches to recruits.

Sambo Uses Control but Encourages More Strikes

Like Judo, Sambo is a grappling style where the ultimate goal is to control an opponent, forcing them to submit. But Sambo also includes striking, especially with the fists and elbows. 

Sambo can even include head-butts.

There are two main types of Sambo:

  • Sambo Wrestling, which is the main style for competition. Sambo Wrestling tends to resemble Judo, with many moves and strikes prohibited to minimize injuries. 
  • Combat Sambo has fewer restrictions and more protective gear. Sambo students will typically learn some of both types.

Unlike Judo, Sambo does not have a philosophical component. Instead, Sambo instruction tends to be more pragmatic – sometimes bordering on ruthless – about defeating an adversary and surviving. 

Sambo Practice Can Be More Dangerous

While Sambo’s methods are rarely fatal, Combat Sambo has few qualms about delivering severe injuries.

For example, Sambo uses several leg locks and holds that are capable of breaking an adversary’s bones. This reflects the military mindset behind the style. 

A severely injured opponent will need the assistance of one or more of his comrades. Sambo’s creators wanted to tie up the manpower of an enemy force.

Sambo vs Judo

Which fighting style you prefer will depend on your values and purposes. Both offer opportunities for sporting competition. And both will be useful if you find yourself in a situation where you need to defend yourself or someone else.

But the two styles have very different points of influence. 

Judo Is Great for People Hoping To Get Healthy and Possibly Compete

Judo offers more opportunities for sparring and competition. It incorporates a philosophy that strives for inner peace and harmony. This philosophy is useful for ensuring Judo students use their skills wisely and for the right reasons.

The Gentle Way can appeal to those who wish to channel aggressiveness and balance self-defense with respect for others.

Sambo Is Ideal for Hardened Fighters

In contrast, Sambo offers fewer opportunities for sporting competition, but it is the more practical method for no-holds-barred fighting.

Sambo’s techniques are not always gentlemanly. Combat Sambo can even incorporate strikes to the groin. But in a dire situation, Sambo instruction will provide the knowledge of how to survive against a vicious enemy.

Sambo’s pragmatism makes it a risky style for those with a violent temper. The ideal Sambo student is an adult with a solid moral center of their own. Unfortunately, this is not the style to choose for a child with anger management issues.

Other Fighting Styles

The martial arts are wildly diverse. Some methods rely on grappling, like Sambo, Judo, and traditional wrestling. On the other end, some methods rely almost entirely on striking, like boxing or Muay Thai. Martial arts can also involve differing philosophies and moral teachings.

Here are some other styles to consider if neither Judo or Sambo seems to be the right fit.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

This is another offshoot from Judo, developed by Brazilian students of Jigoro Kano in the 1920s. Kano called his style “Kano Jiu-Jitsu” at the time, hence the name. 

Like Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes grappling methods and redirecting your adversary’s attacks to gain an advantage in fighting. 

A skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter will defeat a stronger fighter by taking the fight to the ground. After that, he will apply a joint lock or chokehold to force the adversary to submit.

Training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu relies heavily on sparring and performing moves against partners. For example, students will experience fighting multiple attackers by standing in a circle and fending off simulated attacks. The student will then use jiu-jitsu techniques to resist their advances.


Created in the 1940s and 50s, this Korean martial art relies much more on striking power, especially kicks. The founders of Taekwondo reasoned that the legs were the strongest limbs. Therefore, legs would deliver the most powerful blows in a fight. 

Taekwondo also emphasizes speed and agility and is fully developed as a sport and a form of self-defense. The sparring form has been an Olympic sport since 2000.

Instruction in Taekwondo will involve forms and live sparring. Taekwondo teaches an ethic that values courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and an indomitable spirit.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

MMA is centered on open-ended martial arts competitions. But it is becoming a martial art in its own right. MMA took off with the founding of the United Fighting Championship. The UFC sought to decide which martial arts style was the most effective in the early 1990s.

MMA might seem like a new, radical development, but it’s very much in keeping with the history of martial arts. The best fighters may master one style, but they watch and learn from other fighters. Then they incorporate what they learn into their own training. 

Eventually, the “hybrid” style can become a martial art of its own.

Martial arts may have a history that goes back hundreds, even thousands of years. But the styles are constantly evolving. 

Judo and Sambo started out as hybrids too!

The UFC developed unified rules of mixed martial arts, allowing competition between practitioners with many different styles. Over time fighters learned that there was no single “best” martial art — all had strengths and weaknesses. What mattered was how the individual fighter adapted his or her style.

There are gyms across the country teaching MMA, and it’s evolved as fighters have learned techniques from numerous martial arts. 

MMA has adapted grappling styles like Judo and Sambo, and striking styles like boxing and Taekwondo.

Final Thoughts

Both Sambo and Judo are well-developed martial arts practiced for sports and for self-defense. What matters most is the mindset. Judo has an ethos of underlying peace and harmony, while Sambo is frankly designed to fight and win.

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