Vlad Koulikov Interview

I talk to Vlad Koulikov who is a Master of Sport in Sambo as well as a BJJ & Judo Black Belt who grew up in Russia and before moving to America where he started an academy with a blend of grappling called Sambo Fusion.

We discuss the history, elements, rankings & rules of Sambo as well as the differences with Combat Sambo. Also, the challenges he faced when fusing BJJ & Sambo and how he believes in unity over the division between the arts can benefit both.

We finish by discussing his time training at Sambo 70, a school in Russia that combines both academic & Sambo training.



[00:00] – Introduction to Episode 029
[01:36] – Creating a Fusion Style of Sambo and Jiu-Jitsu
[02:57] – Vlad’s History With Sambo
[05:28] – The Difference Between Training in America and Russia
[08:30] – The History of Sambo
[11:10] – Sambo Was Invented for Military
[12:47] – Sambo Is About Utilizing Leg Locks
[15:18] – You Can Pin People in Sambo
[16:32] – Sambo Matches Are Becoming Much Like Judo
[17:37] – About Chester Back Pin
[18:30] – Changes in Rules of Combat Sambo
[19:54] – Guard Work, Turtle Work, and Ground and Pound
[21:58] – The Striking Elements of Sambo
[22:35] – How Do People Get Into Sambo
[25:01] – The Difference Between Sambo and Wrestling
[28:10] – Origin of the Sambo Dress
[29:33] – A Typical Russian Wrestling Class
[33:31] – The Drilling Style
[35:29] – How Did the Idea of Fusing Sambo and Jiu-Jitsu Occurred to Him
[37:39] – His Approach of Doing R&D in This Field
[38:37] – Setting up of Submissions on the Ground
[42:26] – People From Sambo Background He Would Recommend to Mma
[43:09] – Working of the Sandbar Ranking System
[46:18] – The Value of Unity
[54:00] – The Style of Coaching in Russia


Unity Over Divison

Vlad says, unfortunately, people are very tribalistic by nature. There is a good part to doing it. But then there is also depreciation of something that’s not your tribe. So a lot of people in Sambo dislike Jiu-jitsu for bud scooping. And many people are introduced to just like Sambo for being to a brutal sport without finesse as Jiu-Jitsu possesses. That’s a tribalistic way of thinking. And, I’m all about unity versus division. So I thought, why not have both. Not exclusive, but vice versa. They are mutually complementary.

History Of Sambo

Three People Working For The Same Goal

Sambo was designed as a means of self-defense. It’s an acronym for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya. It’s like self-defense versus self-protection. There are three people that found Sambo, and it will almost like working independently.

There was a gentleman called Viktor Spiridonov. He was a war veteran, and he had a lame leg. So his emphasis was very much on proper technique, and he was a combat Jiu-Jitsu guy.

The second guy was Vasili Oshchepkov, who was an orphan raised in the Far East. Because of the geographical location, he moved to Japan and became the first-ever Russian Black Belt. When he came back to Russia, he was at Teach-in Judo. But it was him who started to introduce a different jacket like the Sambo jacket versus the shorts and shoes to Judo. But unfortunately, he got repressed during the infamous purchase of the late 30s (1937). Due to his ties to Japan, he was claimed to be a Japanese spy, and he was eventually executed.

And then, a gentleman named Anatoly Makovetskii solidified all the knowledge and started to give the names. So he is the one who’s deemed as the father of Sambo, but in reality, three people were working independently for the same goal.

Sambo Was Invented For Military

Sambo was initially invented for the military and Special Forces. And Spiridonov was the one who actually implemented that practice. Anytime the young police of the Soviet Union would arrest somebody, he will apprehend like a violent criminal, they would write down what technique they used. So they kept a tally of techniques that were just fantastic. Eventually, those chokes and strikes and everything else slowly graduated to become a wrestling style for years. And only in the mid-90s combat did Sambo started to be researched again.

Leglocks In Sambo

The Reason Why Sambo Has Fame For Leg-locking

He says, “Sambo is a very specific leg-like game. It’s not nearly as refined as the modern Jiu-Jitsu game. It’s strictly to the rules. Like for example, we do not do heel hooks. There are no heels in Sambo. But as far as dangling, you can dangle legs, and each way you can do the ribs and the honey holes, and you can attack with all that. And the results are also with ground time restrictions in Sambo.

So once the action hits the mat, you’re given a few seconds to see what’s going on. And if there’s no activity (because some people stand up, the wrestler’s referee will send you off), the referee will give you a few seconds to set up a submission. And then, once the submission is locked in, you’re given one minute to finish. So if you do not finish within one minute, no matter how close you are, you’re going to get screwed up back to the neutral. Moreover, in Sambo, if you stand up while you’ve been leg locked on both feet for no less than two seconds, it is considered an escape because you can kick somebody a punch in theory.

Also, in Sambo, we elevate people in and play very refined. You’re given a particular ruleset with a very much of a limit on the ground. That’s why we have a lot of slip-sliding ankle locks. So when you premeditatedly know your attack on sustaining position, you do it to the ground or rolling kneebar things of that nature. Sometimes it looks almost accidental, but it’s not accidental. It’s very much a calculated move and very well pre-rehearsed. So leg legs will not look bad upon and because we did it for a long time. That’s why Sambo has a fame for leg locking.

Rules of Sambo

Pinning People In Sambo

In Sambo, pin or hold down with your Zhonya combines a wrestling fan and a Judo pin. There are no cradle pins. No Banana Split pins. You can use them to submit, but not to pin. It’s going to be a chest-to-chest side or back-to-chest control, with fixation of your partner’s shoulder blades on the mat. However, you don’t have to pass the guard. He says, “If I’m in somebody’s full guard, then I can get just contract and hold it there. It’s 20 seconds, just like in modern Judo, where you win the match completely after the pin and ensemble. You can score a maximum of four points. It’s either two points for 10 seconds or four points for 20 seconds. And the maximum amount of points is four. So it’s either one full pin or two. After that, if you pin somebody, there is no more scoring. You’re wasting your time, you have to go for a submission.”

Scoring A Strike In Combat Sambo

It’s weird if you don’t score strikes. You either kayo or knock somebody down, then you score, or if you hit somebody flush and they fall, that strike is scored as a throw as a dig down. Also, you can strangle in Combat Sambo, which you cannot do in ensemble wrestling.

He says, “In Sambo wrestling, if I stand up in leg lock, it’s a neutral position. The same thing happens with unlocking just like in Judo. If I’m being unlocked and I can stand up and lift somebody off the ground, that’s also neutral, but it does not happen in combat sambo. You have to actually get rid of the submission. If you stand up, submission is still being counted. So outside of strikes, that is the main difference as well.”

How does the Sambo ranking system work?

There are six degrees, very much like Judo cues. So there’s three for juniors three for adults. After you complete those, you become a Candidate Domestos sport.

Master of sport means that you won a place in one or a couple of national events. The following hierarchy is called the master sport of the international category, which means that you have won a place in a continental event. So for Russians, it’s a European Championship. For guys from Uzbekistan, it will be the Asian Championship And the last one that Pinnacle, is called marriage the master of sport, which means that you want to be placed in Olympics or World Championship.



“Instead of looking for divisions, I look for unity.”

– Vlad Koulikov

“If you whip somebody hard, sometimes you land in a side control already.”

– Vlad Koulikov


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Vlad Koulikov - Sambo & Jiu-Jitsu