Sambo came into being in the early 20th century as part of the hand-to-hand training regimen created for the Soviet Union’s Red Army. Three men in particular were instrumental in sambo’s creation, Viktor Spiridonov, Vasili Oshchepkov and Anatoly Kharlampiyev. Spiridonov and Oshchepkov independently hoped that Soviet military hand-to-hand combat techniques could be improved with an infusion of the techniques distilled from other foreign martial arts, while Kharlampiyev is often called the father of sambo. He was one of Oshchepkov’s students, and he saved sambo. He was able to achieve this through adroit political maneuvering and rewriting sambo’s history by emphasizing the fighting style’s Russian roots in Spiridonov’s samoz.
In 1938, sambo was declared the Martial Art of the Motherland by the All-USSR State Sport Committee and became the nation’s official combat sport. At first it was named “Freestyle wrestling.” Later it was called “Free wrestling,” and in 1946 was renamed “Sambo.” In 1968, the Fédération Internationale des Luttes Associées (FILA), now known as the United World Wrestling, accepted sambo as the third style of international wrestling. The first World Sambo Cup took place in 1977 in Oviedo, Spain, and the first Championships for women was held in 1983 in Madrid, Spain. In 1984, in Madrid, an assembly of FILA, chose to create an independent federation for sambo, the Fédération Internationale de Sambo (FIAS).