Condensed History of SOMBO Wrestling
Bruce Gabrielson, PhD
1994 US SOMBO Team Coach
History of SOMBO Wrestling
Sombo (also spelled Sambo, Somba or Cambo) is an acronym for the Russian
phrase "self-defense without weapons" (Som-oborona Bes Orusyia).
As its name implies, it is a self-defense oriented style of
wrestling which incorporates techniques from both JUDO and
freestyle/Greco-Roman wrestling. It originated in the Soviet
(Russia) officially in 1939
as a form of hand-to-hand combat for soldiers, but its
roots go back to ancient times. There are similar forms of
wrestling in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain and also
the Cumberland-Westmoreland region of England. Currently, the
former Soviet Block countries, Spain, France and the English
strong international SOMBO teams.
The International Amateur Wrestling Federation (FILA) first
recognized SOMBO as a sport of world stature in 1968, adopting it
alongside freestyle and Greco-Roman as the third wrestling
discipline. In 1972, the first European Championships were held
Russia. In 1973, FILA sponsored the first World Championships in
Tehran, Iran. Four U.S. wrestlers competed in the tournament,
two placing third and one placing fifth. In 1977, the U.S.
captured the Pan American title with seven gold and three silver
medals, then repeated as champions in 1979 with eight gold and
silver. Also in 1979, the U.S. placed fifth in the World
Championships in Madrid, Spain, having sent its first full team
this event. Eight of the ten U.S. wrestlers placed in the top
positions in their weight classes, including two third place
finishers, two fourths, one fifth, and three sixths.
In 1980 the World Championships was again held under FILA in
Madrid, Spain. In 1983, Sombo was included in the Pan American
Games in Caracas, Venezuela.
Beginning in 1984, many changes
to the structure and organization of the sport started to take place.
That year Sombo separated from FILA and the International Amateur
Sombo Federation (FIAS) was formed in Spain with Spain's Fernando Compte as
the head. Josh Henson of the US was elected Vice-President at that time.
In 1985, FIAS was accepted into the General Association of International
Sports Federations (AGFIS).
In 1990-93, various countries split away from FIAS and formed separate
international federations, each holding their own international and national
In the U.S., the United
States SOMBO Association (USSA) is the national governing body,
the only group officially recognized by the Amateur Athletic Union of
the U.S., the only organization involved with Sombo that is recognized by
the US Olympic Committee.
USSA holds a National Sports Sombo Championship each year for Schoolboy age
and above wrestlers, while the younger age groups (and also the
older ages as well) compete at the AAU Grand National SOMBO
In the mid-1990s, a large following of the Combat form of Sombo emerged in
the U.S. Promoted by a practicioner named Mark Densberger, Combat Sombo
competitions have grown in popularity in recent years. Drawing from the
martial arts and Judo sectors, Combat events are now a major part of all
Current Club Activity
In the US, the majority of SOMBO practiced at the club level
is done so in SOMBO only clubs or in conjunction with other
traditional wrestling styles. The SOMBO only clubs are geared
for the serious SOMBO wrestlers. Some SOMBO wrestlers practice
with JUDO clubs, while some other clubs actively promote SOMBO as
one of the various styles during their regular season. The
predominance of SOMBO activity is located in the
Maryland/Pennsylvania region of the US. Other concentration
areas include Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and Southern California.
Very few JUDO or traditional folkstyle wrestling clubs practice
or promote SOMBO wrestling. While most JUDO sensi's know about
and sometimes even encourage their wrestlers to cross practice with
SOMBO wrestlers, their strong commitment to JUDO prevents them
from promoting this alternate style. However, a large number of
Karate instructors have recognized the benefits of SOMBO
technique and most encourage their students to master it along
with their other techniques.