Sambo: Russia's Olympic dreams for homegrown martial art

Minsk (AFP) –


With elements of judo, karate, boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling and more, sambo was created to train the forces of the Soviet Union and is still taught in the Russian army.

As a sport, dating back to 1930, it has caught attention this month at the European Games in Minsk.

Now its backers are targeting the Olympics.

The history of sambo -- the name of which comes from a contraction of the Russian phrase "self-defence without weapons" -- is closely tied to that of the USSR.

For decades, trainer Anatoly Kharlampiyev was held up as the father of the sport, said to be a combination of pre-existing Slavic combat forms.

It was only in 1982, three years after Kharlampiyev's death, that the role of former soldiers Victor Spiridonov and Vasily Oshchepkov was made public.

Oshchepkov was a judo specialist who had studied in Japan and later trained Red Army soldiers, and was well aware that sambo owed much to Asian martial arts.

But in Stalin's USSR, everything that came from abroad was subject to suspicion.

Oshchepkov was arrested for spying for Japan, sent to the Gulag and executed in 1938.

In Russia, star fighters in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) -- another popular discipline in the country -- all say they came to the sport via sambo.

Unlike the combat version used in the military, the sport of sambo is not violent and relies on restraining rather than striking opponents.

President of the International Sambo Federation Vasily Shestakov has reportedly said he hoped the sport would be included in the Olympics.

Last November, IOC officials granted sambo temporary IOC recognition, bringing it a step closer to becoming an Olympic sport one day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a martial arts enthusiast, has long championed the sport.