Russian Sambo – Combat Sambo

“USSR. NKVD. Moscow region’ department. Case No.2641 about accusation Oshchepkov V.S. according to clause 58 article 6 of Russia’ Criminal Code. Vol.1”. Thin, very worn file from dirty-yellow cardboard, including the tragically fate of a man. How long was my way to this file!

Russian Sambo - Combat Sambo

Russian Sambo – Combat Sambo

By clever and live language there was written the story by Anatoly Kharlampiev – how he, due to his father’s advice, created soviet system of free-style wrestling and self-defense – Russian Sambo. He traveled through almost whole Soviet Union, found and collected most effective methods of wrestling and self-defense systems of all nationalists. Later on this base he created a new soviet union fighting system. When in 1938 wrestlers came to Moscow on all-USSR meeting, Anatoly said: “I suppose, instead of be engaged in alien to us exotic judo wrestling, to try your skill in our soviet free-style wrestling”. Then even with a bandage on the eyes he defeated all of them who had doubts in advantages of created by him beautiful system. It was decided to name this system as SAMBO (Self Defense without weapons), because this system gave possibilities to defend from the attack even without weapon.

Not every article had such big success and reader’s interest. It was 50 years ago, but I remember how I and my friends were suppressed. The information was absolutely new. This article was first information about Russian Sambo in non-sport press. Almost all heard about Jiu Jitsu, but recently came into sport life Combat Russian Sambo was not well-known.

Of course, at that time I believed in every printed word, and had no any doubts in Kharlampiev’s version. The only thing some confused me and was in understood: why Rahtanov in such an interest story didn’t mentioned V. A. Spiridonov, who began to work in the field of self-defense much earlier than Kharlampiev, and created just that system which called Russian Sambo. It’s synthetic arsenal Spiridonov collected from most effective methods of jujitsu, french wrestling, american free-style wrestling, usual self-defense, english and french boxing.

At that years I was familiar with this system, but didn’t know anything about its author, except the name. This practical acquaintance with Spiridonov’s system and perplexity about Rahtanov’s passing over in silence was a first impulse for many years researching, which allowed to me to find the real history of combat sambo. During the first stage my object was Spiridonov only: his biography and work. But it was very complicated work. Spiridonov and his relatives were died, there was no his personal file in the archives of “Dinamo” club, during long time the only source were oral stories of his friends, colleagues, neighbors. Following on this chain of man’s fates I found Fyodor Zhamkov, master of sport in shooting, who was a chief of Spiridonov when he worked last years in “Dinamo”. But the most interesting information was not about Spiridonov, it was an information about another man. It was Zhamkov from whom I in the first time heard unknown name Oshchepkov – whose student was Zhamkov in the 1920s in Vladivostok. From that time I had the second direction of research. And again years of working. Then it was a time of not only collecting, but also analyzing the materials. Like blinded man I found lost ways, on which sambo should went to modern situation. At that time I understood that it is interesting not only for me.

V.S.Oshchepkov… At the end of frost december of 1892 in village Alexandrovskii post on penal servitude Sakhalin island prisoner women, peasant widow Maria Oshchepkova gave birth to son.

At that years baby with two brands illegal born and son of penal servitude woman – had a bad destiny. Finally, boy became orphan when he was 11 years old. But some years later the orphan’s way of life lucky crossed with the unlighted noble way of beautiful man – Japan archbishop Nicolay.

Two comments from translator for western readers.

  • After 1905, when Russia was defeated in Russia-Japan war, Sakhalin became japanese territory.

  • Nicolay was archbishop of Russian Orthodox Christian Church.

Without sufficient money Nicolay succeed in founding some schools in Japan. In one of them – spiritual seminary in Kyoto – due to supporting by unknown sponsor entered 14-years-old orphan Vasily Oshchepkov.

In the Seminar Vasily received beautiful education, he became really intelligent in old russian traditions. It was a smile of fortune – orphan, illegal borne son of penal servitude woman had a possibility to be initiated as priest. But Vasily had another interests.

Archbishop was a man of large views, in the seminar there was possibility even to study judo wrestling, created by Jigoro Kano twenty five years ago. Vasily fall into this new field. Clever and adroit student, quickly studied techniques of japanese wrestling, was liked by teacher, and he did him an important service.

One time per year there was a selection of the bests for studying in famous institute Kodokan-judo. Teacher under a deep secret told russian boy the unusual principle of this selection. Solemn day come. Many young claimant sat down on straw mats – tatami. Creator of judo, doctor Jigoro Kano began his speech. Moralizing speech was very long and, frankly say, very boring. With all respect to the orator it was hard to young men not to turn to look at something. But Oshchepkov knew, that teachers of Kodokan intent watch them from the back. Every movement of claimant is considered as inattention and even disrespect to judo grandmaster. Vasily didn’t has a big experience in keeping japanese sitting position – without a chair, on the own heels. He had got pins and needles in his legs, he wanted to stretch them or simply move them a few, but he steel sat without a change. And when somebody came and said that he is admitted in Kodokan, Oshchepkov tried to stand up, but couldn’t do it, he simply fell on the side.

In Kodokan’s archives there is still exists a record about admitting of Vasily Oshchepkov at October, 29, 1911. Vasily received full course of that time judo. Even now japanese specialists think that japanese judo training is beyond European’s strength. At that time training system was cruel and completely pitiless. And it was not a long time period passed after Russia-Japan war, russian guy was willingly chosen as sparring – fellow. He was non-conditional opponent, he was real enemy. So unskillful Oshchepkov was ruthless flown on hard tatami, more experienced wrestlers strangled him, broke his arms, but he, as it is in judo, thanked them for the lesson by humble bow even when had broken rib. But soon he became hard opponent even for experienced wrestlers.

Vasily didn’t simply finished this institute, he began to claim to the master’s degree. And half-year later he received black belt. At that time japanese were very hard for giving degrees, for foreigners especially. Vasily became first russian, and one from the four Europeans, who received first dan at that years.

Vladivostok’s newspaper wrote about Oshchepkov’s success: “… due to his outstanding abilities, noted by Kano Jigoro himself, he very quickly, during six month, received “shodan” degree, i.e. “first-degree teacher” degree, and characteristic sign – black belt”.

Really, obstinate russian youth was honored with warm praise from grandmaster Kano himself, who wasn’t too generous on such things. And Oshchepkov during long time kept japanese magazine with words: “Russian bear got his own way”. Soon Vasily again passed exams and received second dan.

After returning to motherland Vasily, who knew not only japanese, but also english, became work as military translator. It is naturally that in Russia he became a pioneer of judo. 1914. At this time japanese wrestling was new even for western states, which played first role in the sport, but in fairest provincial russian town there was judo club with half-hundred members. After acquiring basic knowledge of this wrestling, members became make inner-club competitions. And first international judo competition took place not in Paris, London or New-York, it took place in Vladivostok.

Vladivostok’s newspaper “Daliokaya okraina”: “…in the hall of Vladivostok “Sport” society there took place very interesting “jujitsu” competition between students of high commercial college of Otaru town, came from Japan together with their teacher mr.Hideteshi Tomabetsi, and local sport club “Sport”, organized by head of this club V.S.Oshchepkov with his personal participating. There were many spectators… Some self-defense methods were demonstrated by mr .Oshchepkov personally, he was attacked not from the front direction, but from the back too”. It was kept even photo of members of this historical meeting in full sport suit, headed by V.S.Oshchepkov and H. Tomabetsi (black belt too).

Since 1921 Oshchepkov is a commander in Red Army. But later he do very strange work for regular: he advertise and sell soviet movies in China and Japan. But this civil business was only mask for his intelligence service work. At that time China and Japan were USSR’s enemies, and good knowledge of this countries, knowing of languages helped him to do his work. And skills in martial art was not an obstacle. In China he used possibilities for studying chinese martial art – wushu.

When Vasily Sergeevich returned back to Vladivostok, he again did his favorite work: taught new-generation students.

Soon Oshchepkov was moved to Novosibirsk. According to order of USSR’s Revolutionary Military Soviet, Oshchepkov was assigned as military translator in one of the departments of the Headquarter of Siberian Military District. Vasily was a master of difficult eastern language, even high level specialists often asked an advise. But wrestling and self-defense was one of the main parts of his life. And on the new place of living he began to propagandize his science of self-defence, so important for military men.

On the meeting of Osoaviahim (all-USSR club of military preparing for civil men) section at Headquarter of Siberian Military District Vasily Sergeevich made a report about art of self-defense, and outlined that judo is used an the armies of many capitalist countries. Immediately he demonstrated some methods of disarmament. Novosibirsk’s newspapers said: “methods were clever, all spectators were impressed”. Oshchepkov agreed to made yet another meeting for demonstrating an art of defense against group of attackers.

Immediately there were founded group of studying self-defense among headquarter’s officers. Vasily Sergeevich became very popular. He was invited to teach in local “Dinamo” club (place of training for state-security officers) and school of milicia.

Later the way of the developing of the art of self-defense was in the hands of Boris Sergeevich Kalpus. Old sportsman, he was a general (brigade commander), and served as assistant inspector of non-military and physical education of Red Army. After listening about Oshchepkov’s activity in Novosibirsk, he without a mistake understood its value for developing military hand-to-hand combat. Vasily Sergeevich was invited to Moscow.

“Physical culture and sport” magazine, December, 1929: “”Ju-do” – way of adroitness, it is a name of unknown for us japanese art of self-defense. This winter Moscow will see this system. Sport section of the Central House of Red Army open two-month course.

Program of studying:

  • throws, joint locks, strikes, kicks and suffocations
  • methods of self-defence for unarmed man against man, armed with rifle, gun, sabre, knife or some other side-arms of close range combat
  • methods of bare hand fighting for two men. It is based on japanese art of self-defense “judo” as most developed complex of self-defense methods.

For those who want to improve their skill further, there will created special sport groups, which will prepare for competitions. Teacher – instructor comrade Oshchepkov, studied in “Kodokan-judo” institute in Japan (Tokyo)”.

Every time Vasily Sergeevich started to work from the demonstration of his art. It was his usual manner. This time he entered on a scene of the Central House of Red Army during special organized sport party. Spectators with great interest looked at tall robust skinned-head man dressed in half-military suit. After a small time all understood that he is a great master. He was attacked by several “enemies” – barehanded, armed with sabre, rifle, dagger, gun. And it was not playing: real bayonet, sharp knife and sabre, even gun was loaded by cartridge-case without gunpowder and bullet. Controller stood behind Oshchepkov’s back and was able to say, did demonstrator really beat off weapon before the shot – in this case he clearly saw small light in the barrel of weapon, not hidden by Oshchepkov’s body.

All things were real. Beaten knifes flew away. Rifle or gun was in Oshchepkov’s hand before shot when “enemy” was thrown or cried in strong joint lock. Nearest number of “Physical culture and sport” included photo-report of this performance.

At the end of 1929 there were organized courses for commanders of Moscow garrison for preparing to organizing education of hand-to-hand combat due to new handbook. Program had methods of self-defense and disarmament. Head of courses – Vasily.

Of course, he took part in creating this handbook. When it was published, it was possible to find pictures and descriptions of beautiful Oshchepkov’s methods on its pages. Vasily Sergeevich was not restricted by theory only, he participated at the hand-to-hand combat competitions and won first place.

At that time it was established well-known physical culture complex, named as “Prepared for work and defense”. One of the second level quota was methods of self-defense and disarmament not for males only, but for females too. This quota was developed by Oshchepkov.

Vasily Sergeevich was able to see in the future. Now kicks have an important place in hand-to-hand combat. And Oshchepkov even half-century ago attached importance to this effective method of bare hand fighting. His principle: strike-throw-strike. But he understood that good experience of kicking and defending against kicks can be obtained in free-fighting only. But free fighting with using such dangerous methods is impossible. And he constructed veneer “armour” and even “gloves for feet” for softing the blows – like modern “feet” in kick boxing!

Combat Sambo - Russian Sambo

Combat Sambo – Russian Sambo

Modern Russian Sambo – Combat Sambo wrestling has a name, created by Spiridonov, but contents, created by Oshchepkov. He absolutely rejected simple studying of methods, he based on idea that good skill of self-defense can be brought up only on the large sport fundament. Sport fighting is limited, but train such necessary abilities of fighter as skill of quick and right orientation in quickly changed situation, skill of in-time using of most effective in this situation methods. All this thing – in stress situation. Sport fighting could fix useful combat skill in situation close to real fighting, with real enough resisting of opponent.

But which kind of wrestling could be a base for training necessary skill for combat? I said above that Oshchepkov taught japanese judo. But it was true only on the beginning stage of his work. After some time the work of Vasily Sergeevich and his students became a research laboratory for creating sambo – new international kind of wrestling, collected best achievements of many international and national kinds of wrestling – including, naturally, judo.

What was the way of creating this new kind of wrestling? Vasily Sergeevich was judo master and knew all its good sides. But unlike many foreign followers of this system he also was able to see the bad sides. He was not a timid student of japanese teachers, orthodox “copist” who avoid even to think about breaking “holy” canons of judo established by Jigoro Kano himself. Oshchepkov didn’t intend to be limited of the things made in Japan. He tried to create new effective system of applied wrestling and self-defence, more effective than others.

Development of this system was absolutely independent, without any contacts with foreign judo schools (and what is most important – without any contact with canonical japanese judo). So, Oshchepkov wasn’t limited by anything, he was absolutely free in his work. His approach was really scientific. Such approach demand constant review and changing of obsolete principles, its practical evaluation on the base of new, modern knowledge. It was approach, used by Oshchepkov.

Our sportsmen haven’t tatami, it was changed to soft wrestling cover. Instead of large japanese kimono they used tight jackets, instead judo bridges – sport shorts, instead barefoot wrestling – wrestling in special light shoes.

At first time it seems to you that it is insignificant changes, but this changes evoked new sides of technique, different from classical judo. For better understanding let’s remember a reverse example, when in 1960s our sambo wrestlers, who participated judo competitions, had to restudy wrestling on the base of hard tatami, large kimono and bare feet.

Soft cover allowed not only safe throws, which followed by less injures, but it also helped to develop ground fighting methods. Later japanese said that this part of sambo technique is more developed than in judo, and especially studied our wrestling for making personal arsenal of methods more rich.

It can sound strange, but in Oshchepkov’s time even japanese had not good methods of teaching judo. Every teacher taught on the base of his own experience and abilities. Also japanese teachers denied the necessarily of usual physical exercises and ignored them.

Vasily Sergeevich wrote: “…our task is in developing of studying judo, especially from the methodic and hygienic points of view, on more high level that has, for example, germans, who has this system as mass sport in last years… From methodic point of view we have a way, different not only from german’s, but also from Kodokan’s… Kodokan institute even now hasn’t section of preparing physical exercises… it is impossible to develop organism without special exercises”.

During many years Oshchepkov was not limited in judo cell. He knew recent achievements of russian, west European and american sciences of physical education. It gave him possibility for completing lacks of japanese system on science base. For example, as physical exercises he used so-called “free movements” from the systems of Muller, Buk, Suren, swedish system. He also introduced strong medical control on the health of wrestlers.

Rules also was changed, they became more close to rules of others international kinds of wrestling.

But it seems, that most important thing for the developing of new “syntetic” kind of wrestling was creating of technical – and hence tactical – arsenal. Oshchepkov thought many time about this question, he understood that this is key factor. He specially said that it is not right to simple study wrestling, “it is necessary to use it in strengthening of the defense of our country, enrich it by our achievements in the sense of methods of studying, methods of using”.

Oshchepkov without hesitation threw away many “antiquarian treasures” of judo and resolutely renewed techniques. Obsolete methods were replaced by new effective ones.

Enrichment and developing techniques by different ways was one of the main task of Vasily Sergeevich. First, he include joint locks on the legs, absent in sport judo. Also, it was used training-competition practice of various Oshepkov’s students and himself’s one. It developed new features in this enrichment “manner of performing the methods”. This practice was received in new, different from classical judo, conditions, and followed by new independent methods and combinations. All this things gave results, but decisive factor was not here.

Oshchepkov analyses all existed international kinds of wrestling, chinese wushu, and a number of national kinds of wrestling from the “application in real fighting” point of view. He was concentrated not only on strikes from wushu, english and french boxing, but also on the methods from “finnish-french” wrestling and some other kinds of wrestling, which Vasily Sergeevich named “free-style”: american free-style wrestling, swiss wrestling, caucasian wrestling and persian wrestling. He specially noted that some methods and, especially, throws, could be applicable as self-defense methods.

Oshchepkov wanted to wide spread useful methods of hand-to-hand combat, so he worked in different military and civil organizations. But real “star hour” of his work was teaching in Moscow Institute of Physical Culture. To advance the spreading of new wrestling and self-defense art in the country was possible only with a big amount of coaches. So Vasily Sergeevich taught young people, who later taught men in different cities.

Now Vasily Sergeevich was not alone, he worked together with his students: V.G.Kuzovlev, V.V.Sidorov, N.M.Galkovskii, I.V.Vasiliev, R.A.Shkolnikov, A.A.Kharlampiev and many others. They taught not only in a number of groups in capital, but also in Leningrad, Kharkov and other cities. Gradually self-defence, and based on it sport wrestling, became a subject of studying in all four physical culture institute and twenty four physical culture colleges of the country.

Oshchepkov with students:

Working in Institute of Physical Culture was an unique possibility to became familiar with national kinds of wrestling. Many strong and adroit guys from national republics came to moscow institute. Most of them was familiar with national kind of wrestling of own nation. When studying from Vasily Sergeevich, they used during fights methods, familiar from childhood. In this way they gave their own contribution in new kind of wrestling.

So, Oshchepkov made the same work as Spiridonov did, but on more high level: after studying japanese system he understood that it is possible and necessary to create new one, more perfect, but on international base. It opened more ways. His work became a new step in developing a new applied kind of wrestling.

In rules of competitions, developed by Oshchepkov in 1933, as permitted was mentioned not only japanese methods, but also methods from finnish-french and american free-style wrestling on the ground, and in stand position, besides the throws from these two kinds of wrestling – also throws from swiss and caucasian wrestling.

It was first mention about large international base, on which Oshchepkov built new international kind of wrestling. He went more far then Spiridonov, and was more successive.

It is necessary to describe that kinds of wrestling. Finnish-french – it was a name for french wrestling (now known as greco-romanian), because finnish wrestlers gave a big contribution in its developing. American free-style wrestling – it is usual wrestling but that time it had more strong methods, in really – joint locks. Swiss, or russian-swiss, wrestling – from the old circus championships it was a name for usual russian wrestling with catching the belt. It was a way to adding foreign picturesque ness. But Oshchepkov said about more rich wrestling with catching the belt, which used footboards. Caucasian wrestling – it was georgian chidaoba, and azerbaijan ian gulesh – very similar to persian wrestling.

There were conditions, when Oshchepkov opened way in rules for national kinds of wrestling, and began to study them. His student – A.A.Kharlampiev – thirty years later wrote that Vasily Sergeevich specially organized competitions between his students and representatives of national kinds of wrestling, in first case – georgian (chidaoba), and uzbekian (kurash). He ordered to his student and assistant – Boris Sagatelyan – to bring from Caucasus trip photos of phases of performing the methods of georgian wrestling.

Judo gradually became simply one of the sources for new system. And ways of japanese system and our wrestling became more and more far from each other.

When in the beginning of 1960s well-known american judo wrestler Dohn Draeger, 7th dan, wrote the next word, he didn’t simply certify the fact, but agreed that Oshchepkov chose a right way thirty years before: “Judo is passed stage for sambo. They studied judo very simply and very quickly. I don’t like to say much about this, but you should know that sambo wrestlers after 4-6 month of preparing were able to successfully fight against judo wrestlers of 4th dan (in unfamiliar for them judo rules).

A distinguished feature, founded by judo wrestlers on first competition in fights versus sambo wrestlers, was very good balance, resisting against throws in all directions. Judo wrestlers could not use neither throws in standing position, nor overturns in the ground postiton… They are masters of joint locks, they are able to make it in all situations, including joint locks preparing in standing position. Judo wrestlers must know – joint lock can begin in standing position, and Russian Sambo wrestlers often use this technique. Combat Sambo catches are very strong and effective…

Russian Sambo is a challenge for judo. Before combat sambo, judo thought too much about itself. It felt safety beyond the barricades of japanese traditions. Now there exist a new form of wrestling – combat sambo, which show a surprising fact – judo is not complete, it has many disasters and from the modern point of view must be investigated.

Sambo conquers East and Europe. Now it is estimated by judo, because strikes from Russian sambo was very sensible.”

So on the first stages sambo used the achievements of japanese wrestling, but later became repay debts by influence on the rules, enrichment and modernism.

Oshchepkov constantly tried to organize public competitions for students. He knew very well that in responsible conditions of competitions skills, studied during training, are tested and fixed. Also public competitions is a good form of propaganda for new kind of wrestling. First open competitions Vasily Sergeevich organized inside the institute even in 1932. Next year there was competition in the frames of inter institute’s competitions. In 1935 besides institute’s championship there was first capital’s championship. From that time Moscow championship took place regularly even during WWII (except 1943 and 1945). Without lag Leningrad’s wrestlers also since 1935 began organize city’s championship. Their last pre-war championship finished only two weeks before fascist’s invasion.

Due to Vasily Sergeevich’s efforts there were organized first – Moscow’s, later – all-USSR Federation of judo free-style wrestling. But it was time of mass repression, general fear and suspicion. Judo came from Japan – enemy’s country during that time – so clouds became thicken above this system. Hostility and distrust pressed on judo, sport’s officials afraid to be accused of vermin’s activity. New generation couldn’t imagine this, but in that years smallest shadow of suspicion, produced by wittingly false denunciation of some villain – malevolence, could have as a result not only broken career but man’s death.

If saying about judo as self-defense system, it was possible to oppose to negative opinions the necessarily of judo and practical profit. But to cultivate “japanese wrestling” as useful kind of sport was very hard. Fears and objections “from the above” were hard to resist.

Judo wrestling was stroke off from the programs of physical culture institutes and colleges. Leningrad Sport Committee abolished the competition between Leningrad’s and Moscow’s wrestlers, organized by Oshchepkov’s efforts. Vasily Sergeevich couldn’t reconcile himself with such absurd, and in really – cowardly actions. Four month before his tragically death he wrote sharp letters in All-USSR Sport Committee, Army’s Inspection of Physical Culture and Sport, in Moscow, Leningrad, Ukraine and Beyond-Caucasus Institutes of Physical Culture. Of course, he didn’t receive any reply.

At that time Vasily Sergeevich worked on the book with the results of his many-years efforts. But he didn’t finish his work. The terrible 1937 began. All country was under the pressure of night arrests. Slogan “better to arrest ten innocence then to miss any spy” was the base of inner security service of that years. Criteria of criminal unreliable ness was very simple: man had to be arrested if he made foreign travel or had relatives or friends in other countries. Vasily Sergeevich belonged to this category. At September, 29, in the famous house on Lubyanka street there was confirmed so-called “Decree about choosing the measure of stopping and presenting the accusation” with the words: “Oshchepkov Vasily Sergeevich is unmasked enough as japanese spy… citisen Oshchepkov is prosecuted due to clause 58 article 6”. In the October, night from 1 to 2, Vasily Sergeevich was get up by long ring of door’s bell…

Ten days later Oshchepkov was not alive. There are no documents about what happened during that days. It is possible that he was many times interrogated, forced to “confess” in the crime he never committed, and to tell about un existed accomplished. If they tried to beat him, due to his disposition it is very possible that he answered to his executioners. In the file we can read only the next: “It is possible that the reason of death was fit of angina pectoris”. (At that years prisoners very often suddenly died after fits of various diseases). This beautiful man died when he was 44 years old.

Oshchepkov’s arrest was not followed, as it was usual, by chain reaction of new arrests of innocence people. Oshchepkov did not slander anybody on interrogation, but the price was – his life. His death broke off “oshchepkov’s thread” of inquest, NKVD’s officers could not thread fates and life’s of new victims. But only a few executioners knew about his death, threat still existed. All who contacted with Vasily Sergeevich felt themselves very uncomfortable: connection with “people’s enemy” could compromise anyone and followed by very exactly predictable consequences. At that days all things which could witness contact or even good relations with Oshchepkov was quickly destructed. Letters, documents, papers were burned. His face on group photos was carefully panted over by chemical pencil. Students of Vasily Sergeevich silently renounced his teacher. But some people still kept in secret his photo, so now we can see the face of the Russian Sambo creator.

Oshchepkov’s students was not arrested yet, but they felt the threat, hung above them and oshchepkov’s wrestling. Situation was critical: it was necessary to save not only themselves, but their sport too – the favorite son of Vasily Sergeevich. It could be done by only one way – by crossing out teacher’s name and “suspicious” japanese origin of wrestling he taught. It was decided and approved by sport authorities to name oshchepkov’s wrestling by new “unblemished” title, and in addition to new name to give it the new biography. At that time there was popular slogan: “National by form and socialistic by matter”. So, it was decided to give suspicious wrestling absolutely loyal and even praiseworthy patriotic biography: not only national, but even soviet-international by origin and deep socialistic by matter! This idea was just in time. From one side, it was possible to separate from as “people’s enemy” who created it, as its ominous japanese “relationship”. From the other side, this version was not completely invented: Oshchepkov himself and especially his students from southern and south-eastern republics really made a big contribution from techniques and tactics of national kinds of wrestling. So, this new saving version has some fulcrums, it was not hung completely in the air.

At the summer of 1938 All-USSR Meeting was organized in Moscow. It was that meeting where Anatolii Kharlampiev as if presented to participants new, created by him, kind of wrestling (though some participants began to study this kind of wrestling much more before Anatolii, and knew it more better then he did). But it is necessary to give to the adroit and shameless kharlampiev’s version its due: lie was very skillfully mixed with half-true. He really took part in assembly as coach, made a report on conference after assembly, offered systematization and terminology of wrestling’s methods. But that time he, naturally, didn’t try to mention about his false authorship. At that time, when everyone knew about real origin of this wrestling, it was equal to moral suicide, as if he pretend to be creator of football or bicycle. But from this point grew myth about Kharlampiev as creator of sambo – alone and independent!

But that time Anatolii was interested in only one thing: to separate as safe as possible from his teacher, as fast as possible to cross out all the work of “people’s enemy”. So, meeting’s participants, who was trained in reformed by Oshchepkov judo wrestling and who came on meeting, dedicated to this wrestling, suddenly listened in the first phrase of kharlampiev’s report: “National kinds of wrestling of our immense Soviet Union was a base for the creation of big common wrestling, which we all call now as `soviet free-style wrestling'”. Nobody call anything by such name, but all disciplined sat in silence. They knew that national kinds of wrestling gave some contribution, but also all participants clearly understood that Oshchepkov’s start point was judo. But Anatolii continued to “build a base”.

When I read meeting’s record, it seems to me that it was a performance of absurdity theater, which was possible only at that irrational time. Performance, where actors with confidence tell from the stage words different from written in scenario, and spectators knew about this falsehood but agree with actors and approve it. But what they could do? It was lie for saving, very necessary saving! All listened, approved and furiously applauded, feared to finished applauding before others when Anatolii cried out usual words: “Only in our Soviet country, ruled by communist party, which go under the flags of Lenin – Stalin, only at Stalin’s epoch, warmed by Stalin’s care for man, peoples of immense Soviet Union of Republics were able to create beautiful kind of sport – `Soviet free-style wrestling'” (I quote exactly on record!).

Conference’s record was the last documents with words “free-style wrestling (judo)”. Last word was cut off, and only three first words remained. This changing was right and correct (if in another, not so red, conditions). All collected by Oshchepkov and his students during years of hard work gave to this type of wrestling very original features. It was new, independent kind if wrestling with its own laws of developing, separate from japanese system. It was named “judo” only due to tradition, but with words “free-style wrestling” or “free wrestling”. But it was obvious that keeping japanese name is injustice even for classical judo.

Accepted by conference and State Sport Committee name of this wrestling was the same as the name of well-known international wrestling. But at that time there was only one kind of international wrestling in our country – french (classic, or greco-roman) wrestling, and this name underlined principal difference, applied character, more rich technical arsenal free from the french wrestling limitations. International wrestling was not known in USSR, so there was not duplication.

So, at the end of 1930s oshchepkov’s wrestling due to patriotic origin had a right for living. Clouds disappeared. Big competitions began: inter-cities mathes with teams from 5-6 cities, and since 1939 – USSR championships.

At the same time combat section developed. Years of war proved that Vasily Sergeevich found a system which is more effective than japanese.

Died, slandered as state criminal, Oshchepkov gave contribution in defeating the enemy. Old master was died, but his methods crushed in hand-to-hand combats as nazis, as japanese samurais…

Later Oshchepkov’s wrestling changed name twice. From “free-style wrestling” it became “free wrestling”. But in the middle of 1940s international kinds of wrestling became cultivated in USSR. And it turned out that in USSR there are two different systems with the same names in russian. Obviously, international kind kept its name. And for more young kind the new name was chosen – “free wrestling sambo”, because it was applied wrestling and self-defence system. So, this strange mix of words was created – “sambo wrestling”. Oshchepkov and Spiridonov could be very angry with this name! They did not only resist versus each other, they thought that their system are not the same and even resist versus each other.

Kharlampiev said that creation the abbreviation COMBAT SAMBO is the only merit of V.A.Spiridonov. He said that Spiridonov’s methods are not effective and are no use whatsoever. But it was Spiridonov, officer of old army, awarded for his exploits during Russia-Japan War (1904-05) made first, most difficult, step in creation of new synthetic fighting system, which included best achievements of different kinds of self-defense. His system, which passed an examination of the time, he dedicated for secret service only. For training purposes Spiridonov also created sport variant with non-open competitions.

After the war Anatolii Arcadievich Kharlampiev became the only leader of sambo. It is not right to have doubts in his merits. But his dignity as human was not so high as his quality as professional. Even when Oshchepkov’s name was cleaned, Kharlampiev didn’t say truth about sambo’s origin, didn’t give his teacher, who taught he, novice, first methods, his due. Moreover, he developed his “automyth”. He began to say that he was ordered to create sambo by N.I.Podvoiski, hero of revolution, at 1922. At 1922 Anatolii was only 15 years old…

Famous Rahtanov’s story was reprinted many times. Its plot was retell ed by other sport journalists. There was an ocean of such articles. Kharlampiev himself up to his death developed this version in many interviews. Myth began to be a historical fact. Some years ago there was made a movie “Undefeatable”, based on this story.

I myself gave contribution in this myth. During long time I could not imagine that such great garbling in sambo’ history is possible. It was my firm belief that it was Anatolii Arcadievich who gave main contribution in creation of sambo, not his teachers and predecessors. I didn’t know many things, I was mistaken, but even in this condition I always tried to be objective and never said that Kharlampiev was the first or alone. For me Spiridonov and Oshchepkov always were pioneers.

One of the main factor also was complete un exploration of the field, incompleteness of actual information and its incredible intrication, frequently intentional. For disentangling the knot of murder, approved by highest level officials, obvious fear, cock-sure ignorance, very skilful lie and dense curtain of oblivion I spent dozens of years.

At the same time it was impossible to publish true information about sambo’s origin. Sometimes articles were stopped by Anatolii Arcadievich himself. I have sad experience: my article for “Nedelia” newspaper was reviewed by him and he said, that it is not allowed to publish such an article: “From this article it is followed that we took all the things from japanese”.

Of course, after such review article was not published. It was echo of “struggle against cosmopolitism”. This loud and dishonorable campaign had place during many years. Its ideologists speculative and very ignorant refuted old including of Russia into the developing of world’s culture. “Foreign borrowing” was odious and even frightened. It was necessary to “patriotic” prove that all things in our country were contrived and produced by our ancestors only. Any falsification was better than recognition of foreign borrowing. There were even swindlers who defended thesis about boxing’s “gradually developing” from russian fisticuffs. It was a source for jokes like “Russia is motherland of elephants”.

With my article was the same story: what will be if people will know that we began from japanese judo and jiujutsu? But Japanese them self borrowed fundamentals of their jiujutsu from China! It is a process of developing of world civilization: constant interchanging between different national cultures. And I didn’t see any bad thing in it!

Even at 1982, when I casually mentioned about Rahtanov’s “story” in one my book, it became a reason for real avalanche on my head. All Kharlampiev’s students were up in arms against myself. It was graduates of Moscow Energetic Institute, where Anatolii Arcadievich worked as teacher. Even now I esteem this natural wish – to defend teacher. All of them believed for every word of Anatolii Arcadievich. But it is impossible to defend even noble thing by dishonorable means. They began struggle not against conception, mistaken in their opinion, they began struggle against a man who said this. Instead of proving my mistakenness in open discussion they simply wrote large denunciation and sent it to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. I hope that it was the last denunciation in our history.

I was impressed by stupidity and dishonorableness of their accusations. I wrote in details about sambo’s origin – they wrote that I ascribe authorship to… United States of America! But, perhaps it is requirement of genre. Also there were words about supported me USSR Sambo Federation. Denunciation’s authors wrote about ominous secret of this public organization: its presidium contains “persons of jew’s nationality”.

The most strange thing was that this paper was not thrown out into the bin, but registered and and sent to USSR State Sport Committee for consideration and taking measures.

Ordered by authorities, USSR Federation of Russian Sambo Wrestling organized a discussion of my book. It was planned to crush it and blame its author. There existed a standard scenario for such a “discussion”. But new facts appeared.

My book was dedicated for young reader: stories about martial arts were mixed with information for self-education. And I was very surprised that book became interesting for many sambo veterans, who gave a big contribution in spreading and developing of sambo. Of course, they were interested not in sambo lessons for self-education: each of them could teach me many things. They were attracted by the history of sambo, which at the first time was written without falsehood.

Veterans knew real history of sambo and decided to come on the discussion and say their opinion without dependence on authorities’ opinion. Very active was Andrey Andreevich Budzinskii – two times USSR champion, one of the first Kharlampiev’s students.

At the same time members of Federation’s presidium were informed that “comrade Goncharov himself” (head of sport section of propaganda department of Central Committee) on some meeting “blamed” my book and said, that its printing is a mistake of publishing house. (Most probably that he followed usual principle: “I didn’t read, but completely blame”). But discussion’s participants dared to don’t agree with him. It was long time before perestroika and glasnost, but all participants evaluated my book very high (maybe, more high that it really deserved).

It finished in good sense for me, but I was surprised by the consequences, produced by my book. Indefatigable Budzinskii organized Council of Russian Sambo Veterans. They rummaged private archives, asked state depositories of old documents, found old sport friends, sent letters to museums on even so far lands as Sakhalin island. They found very interesting documents. On the base of that documents I was able to check my information, found new facts from sambo’s history.

1 Comment

  1. R.R. Smith's Gravatar R.R. Smith
    December 22, 2014    

    Sambo is a most versatile system, in the past year and a half a martial arts school opened up in my area here that teaches Russian Sambo, Combat & Sport for those who wish to compete. I just recently began Sambo training at the school primarily for self defense. I am most awed by the verstatility of Sambo and how even a man of my age of 53 yrs on heart meds CAN do this. I am so HA PPY there,s is now a Sambo school in my area and I definitely plan to recommend this school to those folks who like me are also interested in Martial arts, Sambo is a great system for those who are just beginners in the Martail arts as Sambo has so much to offer or it can also be for people who have previous martial arts experience as a system to help make a martial artist even more better…great job sir….SPACIBA R.R. Smith

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