The History of Sombo by Vadim Kolganov

Whilst there are many systems around under the guise of Russian wrestling, sombo is the authentic Russian art in its pure form and not a derivative.

Since ancient times man has developed different types of physical exercise which were used in combat training. The most popular exercise was grappling or wrestling in one form or another. In the folklore of most nations there was an ideal hero who had extraordinary, even magical, physical and spiritual powers which enabled him to fight evil forces. One of the main characteristics of these heroes - Gilgamesh in Babylon, Ozikis in Egypt, Hercules in Greece, great U in China, Igreid in Germany, Ruslem in Tibet, Illya Murometz in Russia - was that they were all unbeatable masters of wrestling.

In Egypt physical exercise, especially wrestling, has existed for a long time; evidence of this has been found in the pyramids of the Pharaohs and nobles. In one pyramid about 400 pictures were discovered that depicted different wrestling techniques, recognisable even today.

The ancient Greeks also played an important role in the history of physical culture. They developed a strong system of physical training as early as the ninth century BC that is still useful today. In schools (Palestas) specialist teachers developed programmes to train young athletes in wrestling, sprinting, long jump, juggling and discus throwing. This formed the basis of what later became known as the Pentathlon.

The first rules of competition for wrestling were laid down by Tazaem, the founder of Athens.

The Olympic games were begun in Ancient Greece (776 BC) and wrestling was in the first programme both as an independent sport and also as a component part of pancratium - a combination of fist fighting and wrestling (circa 648 BC).

Rome also played an essential part in the development of wrestling. The Romans didn't follow the Greek philosophy of all-round athletic development; they leaned more toward military type training. During the upsurge of feudalism in Europe (eleventh to fifteenth century AD) a system of training for knights was also developed that included fighting contests with and without weapons.

Talhoffer's fifteenth-century book of wrestling was one of the first texts on the subjects and the illustrations in the book show self-defence techniques that are very similar to modern ju-jitsu.

Medieval manuscripts and calendars show that wrestling featured very heavily in celebrations of the day such as fairs and weddings. During this time most countries were developing systems of physical exercise which clearly expressed their national character, but in spite of the different principles and aims of these countries, they all included fencing, running, swimming and wrestling.

Wrestling in Russia was developed from techniques taken from many countries. Strength, adroitness and endurance were long-admired fighting characteristics and thus festive gatherings always ended in a wrestling contest. Wrestling was often seen as a way of solving arguments in Russian towns: there was even a special place built to stage these matches. Sombo wrestling was born in Russia as a result of exhaustive research by Soviet coaches and sportsmen.

In sport-sombo, all national and international wrestling techniques can be used and combat-sombo also incorporates the best elements from different systems of self-defence. Because of this rich and varied technical arsenal, sombo is often referred to as 'the invisible weapon' - the weapon that is always with you.

Sombo wrestling is one of the youngest sports in Russia but it would be difficult to find another sport with a more interesting or complex history. Sombo came not from one but from several different and diverse sources. Even the name itself was repeatedly changed as the art developed: 'self-defence', 'samoz', 'system sam', 'freestyle wrestling', 'freestyle sombo wrestling', and then finally 'sombo wrestling'. There are no definite dates for the birth of this great art. Some believe it began in November 1938, the year it was officially recognised as a cultivated sport within the Soviet Union. Others say that sombo wrestling contests were taking place earlier in the 1930s. Another school of thought believes that a prototype of sombo was taking shape in the early 1920s. Traditionally it is considered that sombo was invented by three outstanding men; V A. Spiridonov, B. C. Oshepkov and A. A. Xarlampiev. Each of these Masters of Sport played a pivotal role in the conception of sombo.

Sombo wrestling is all about the will to win, fitness, courage, strength, quickness and adroitness. Training in sombo helps sportsmen to defend themselves without resorting to weaponry. Thus, it is an excellent sport or art for anybody in the field of self-defence and one with which I am proud to be affiliated.

I am sure that this book by my student Geoff Thompson will help you to these ends.

Vadim Kolganov - Russian coach of sombo wrestling and Master of Sport at the Central Academy of Sport, Moscow 1986 - 1991

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