Sambo vs Krav Maga: Key Differences You Should Know |

Sambo vs Krav Maga: What are the differences


Most people nowadays know of Sambo thanks to Khabib Nurmagomedov and Fedor Emelianenko. The two superstar athletes have put their sport on the map however there is another sport that might be less familiar to the average MMA fan and that’s Krav Maga.

The reason we mention Sambo vs Krav Maga is they are both considered similar and are both used in military outfits.

Sambo vs Krav Maga are types of martial arts that are practised for self-defence and even for sports.

Khabib Grappling Conor

Before we jump into things comparing Sambo vs Krav Maga I would just like to state that there are two main types of Sambo, Sport Sambo and Combat Sambo however I will run through the different competitions below as I think they are important.

Sport Sambo is similar to catch wrestling but includes holds but no chokes.

Combat Sambo includes all and also striking so for this article we will focus on Combat Sambo.

Also there are two types of Krav Maga. One is civilian and one is military.

For this article we will focus on civilian.

Combat Sambo vs Krav Maga: The Main Differences

The Sambo Martial Art originated from Russia and practised by the Russian Military during the USFR period.

Krav Maga originated from Israel and is practised by the Military IDF or Israel Defense Forces. Some think that it has similar features with Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu.

Combat Sambo is a form of modern mixed martial arts and consists of grappling and striking.

Krav Maga is more self-defense based in it’s approach. It is a mashup of several martial arts that using striking and grappling also, however, there is an emphasis on self-defense and includes military self-defense against weapons.

To get a more in depth look at what makes these two martial arts Combat Sambo vs Krav Maga similar and different we must first look at what exactly the two sports are about.

  • What is Sambo Combat?

This is a martial art that is practised in Russia for both military combat and sport. This kind of art originated from the Soviet Union in the early 1920s.

The word “SAMBO” is an acronym of samozashchita bez oruzhiya, which literally translates as “self-defence without weapons”.

Invented by Vasili Oshchepkov and Victor Spiridonov Sambo was brought into existence by the Red Army and the NKVD to improve their servicemen’s ability of the hand to hand self-defence.

This kind of striking martial art paved the way for many other styles that originated from it.

Vasili spent most of his time studying Judo system under Sese Kano Jigoro, who was the founder of Judo.

Vasili was eventually accused of spying for Japan, and he later died in prison as a result of the great purge.

The wrestling or catch wrestling was Vasilis system while the method of Spiridonov involved less brutality and depended less on the person’s strength.

Both Vasili and Victor independently developed different styles under the Sambo name. These styles Krav Maga vs Sambo were what was cross-pollinated to form the modern Sambo.

This style was motivated by the injuries that Vasili incurred while fighting the Second World War.

Sport Sambo is the mix of grappling and joint locks. Combat Sambo is the same but including striking.

  • What is Krav Maga?

This is a fighting system that was developed by Israel Defense Force and the security forces in Israel.

This fighting style was formed from a combination of many other methods, i.e. Boxing, Judo, Wrestling. Karate and Aikido.

Krav Maga is well known because it focuses on real-life situations and it is very efficient.

This style of martial arts originated from an Israel-Hungarian who used to fight in streetfighting and was also a martial artist, by the name of Imi Lichtenfeld.

Imi trained as a wrestler and a real guru in boxing at the same time growing up. In the mid-1930s he defended Jewish against fascist groups in the Bratislava.

After migrating to Palestine in the late 1940s, he started offering martial art lessons Krav Maga vs Combat Sambo and combat training this was to become later a style to be adopted by the IDF.

The main aim of the Krav Maga MMA was to compile all other styles that were simple and very practical in fighting and make them very easy to teach to the Military.

The Krav Maga style is aggressive and deals in offensive and defensive manoeuvres like one can see in Karate. Krav Maga style has been used mostly by the Special Forces units, the IDF, Regular Infantry and the security forces.

Also, some law enforcement agencies in Israel and organizations that deal with intelligence have adopted it. Some organizations internationally have started teaching the Krav Maga.

Krav Maga has two different styles one is used by the Israeli security forces and the other one used by civilians.

Security forces in Israel mostly use the Krav Maga, and it is very confidential.

Those retired servicemen that want to teach civilians this style are monitored by the defence department

Krav Maga vs Sambo: Comparison of Popular Styles

As you can see in the table below there are a few similarities and differences between two martial arts.  Have a closer look at the comparison of Combat Sambo vs Krav Maga. Here are some differences and similarities.

Krav MagaCombat Sambo
Defend against weaponsYesNo
Used in MilitaryYesYes
Belt SystemYesNo
International Public CompetitionsNoYes
  • Both these styles are used by the Military and police, however, there are many differences between the two.
  • Sambo Combat is used by the Russian Military while the Krav Maga is used by Israelian military.
  • Sambo does not have a belt system while Krav Maga does.
  • Krav Maga includes self-defence against weapons while Sambo Combat doesn’t.


While there are several videos online of Sambo combat sport competitions you will find it hard to see the same style of competition in Krav Maga.

Krav Maga’s competitions vary. Competitions held within the military setting (IDF Style). Each soldier who is fighting wears a faceguard, boxing gloves, chest protection, thigh and shin protection as you can see in the image below.

As you can see in the video below Krav Maga is mostly taught and based around self-defense. There are also ways for you to rise belt rankings which include competing against another class member.

Like Krav Maga the Combat Sambo competitions also vary.

The military combat sambo has some added versions that include fighting weapons, e.g. Bayonet and knives which are considered to be lethal and not suitable for use by the general public of course however this is for military and not practised in Combat Sambo classes.

Sambo competitions have two different styles. What are they? Sport Sambo and Combat Sambo. One is essentially a mix of Wrestling and Judo with no striking. An example is in the image below.

Sambo versus Krav Maga: The attire worn in Sport Sambo are Jackets (which are essentially like the top part of a Gi), Sambo shoes, shorts and belt.

The other is Combat Sambo which we are focusing on in this article. The Cambat Sambo is a mixture of Sport Sambo with Striking included.

The attire worn is the same as above however it includes headgear, MMA style gloves and shin protectors. This is demonstrated in the image below.

Sambo competitors fighting

In Krav maga wrestling style, there is only light sparring until you reach a certain level. You must pass through drills and specific situations that are set out similar to most grading systems within martial arts.


The base of combat Sambo is freestyle sparring. If the trainees do not spar freely, this may hold back any progress of development of the martial art and the self-defence.

Sambo is focused more on competing. It is closer to MMA than Krav Maga and is the reason why a lot of the top Russian MMA fighters such as Khabib Nurmagomedov and Fedor Emelianenko have trained and used this successfully throughout their MMA careers.

Unlike the Combat Sambo, the Krav Maga has utilized the belt system.

This looks like the coloured ranking belt that is used by the Japanese Judo System.

It is odd for it is supposed to be a system of the military, however, Krav Maga is purely considered a system of self-defence and does not involve much grappling or techniques on the ground.

Krav Maga is practised when wearing a t-shirt while the Sambo Combat can be Practiced while wearing the top part of a Gi.

Krav Maga will target attacks to the body’s most vulnerable points, such as: the eyes, neck or throat, face, solar plexus, groin, ribs, knee, foot, fingers, liver, etc. Sambo does not follow these same attacks but more of an MMA approach.

Krav Maga vs Combat Sambo: Which One to Take Up?

It is easy to see why people would take up either of these martial arts. Depending on what your goal is will depend on which Martial Art you take up. If you are looking to focus solely on self-defence then Krav Maga is your better choice.

If you are looking to push yourself competitivly or looking for something that is as close to MMA then Combat Sambo is for you. Either way whichever one you choose you will have great benefits from. You will develop key skills that will protect you forever.

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