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What is the difference between Combat Sambo and Systema?


This is  one of the most  frequent questions  I get from many  people.   As both are Russian martial arts, what is the difference and are they related?

I am not going to go into the whole history of Combat Sambo or Systema, but rather give a simple and clear  explanation of their differences.

Systema is purely taught as a self-defense system. Systema students  rarely enter competitions, as they are not promoted or much encouraged to compete. Combat Sambo has its own “sport” Combat Sambo competitions, which resemble MMA with a jacket. Of course entering a competition is not for everyone, but it is a way to express oneself and to “see” if ones techniques can handle pressure.

Combat Sambo includes training street self-defense techniques too. There might be some similar techniques between the two styles, but it is in the way the training is done. In Combat Sambo pressure i.e. resistance, is given during training. When we learn , for example a knife defense technique, we would gear up in protective gear and try to apply. The “assailant” would really try to “stab” you, and would continue to apply resistance against you. Therefore, it is like sparring with a weapon. Resistance is applied. In the majority of Systema training, very little or no resistance is given;” going with the flow” is the way of training.

Systema training is done mainly without the jacket, but rather with a t-shirt. As most people would say that we don’t  wear a gi on the street. As my article mentions, training with a jacket is more practical for realistic street self-defense training, especially in   a cold climate country.


Systema has, at its higher levels, defending against assailants using no-contact. It is “psychic” techniques, as in other Asian martial arts that use Ki to repel their opponent. I have personally seen this type of training in Japan in some styles of Aikido, as can been seen in this video. Does this work?I cannot say personally as I never trained in it nor been “hit” by psychic/ ki attacks.

Finally, it is said that Systema is the style taught to the Russian Special Forces. I myself do not know anyone there, so I cannot tell. As for relatives of mine who were in the Ukrainian Army, they were taught the basics of Combat Sambo, simple and easy techniques, to be battle ready in no time. Of course firearm training was the main part, as this was the military, not civilian life. I have seen demonstrations of the Ukrainian Special Forces, and did not see any resemblance to Systema, but rather Combat Sambo. As this video will show.



3 Responses to “What is the difference between Combat Sambo and Systema?”

  1. Very good post, I’ve been fighting with the google a while to find something.

  2. What is the difference between Combat Sambo and Aikido?

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