Apr 23, 2008

Exclusive Interview With The American Sambo Association's President: Stephen Koepfer!

Mr. Koepfer, aka, SamboSteve, looking pensive, or recovering from a hard throw. Not sure.

So, Mr. Koepfer, tell the readers- Who are you?

My name is Stephen Koepfer. I am the president of the American Sambo Association and head coach for NY Combat Sambo and Team American Sambo.

I've read your profile here on the US Sambo website: http://www.ussambo.com/pioneers.html you seem to be a big deal- head of the ASA, teaching for Militech New York, regular contributer to some of the most popular MMA publications in the world- What's it like being an instructor held in such high regard?

Well, I am not that big a deal, I just have a loud mouth and have worked insanely to promote sambo. Along with that has come some personal recognition, but I am generally not that well known. Funny thing is that more people seem to know my screen name than my real name. I may have to legally change my name to sambosteve soon! I will attend some fight card for example, and total strangers will come up to me and call me sambosteve! In regards to your question, I have enjoyed the exposure our assaociation has achieved. But, in the end it is more important to me for sambo to become well known. I like to be behind the scenes. Since we started the ASA five years ago, we have really pushed sambo out into the general public's awareness more than it has ever been in the US. That is what makes me most proud.



Mr. Koepfer is a very highly regarded instructor. the people kneeling in the people are only doing so because Mr. Koepfer has heelhooks from hell.

I talk about grappling arts alot on my blog- convince anyone reading this: what makes Sambo awesome and unique to you? And while we're at it, what the heck the Sambo stand for, anyway?

Well, sambo is awsome! Of course we grapple and do armars, chokes and leg locks like other styles. Sometimes with and sometimes without a kurtka (gi). But, to me, what makes sambo so awsome is its agressive and utilitarian nature. We don't have much formality and there is no ranking as in other arts. Sambo is about one thing...fighting and grappling. There is little ego there. It is more akin to wrestling in that manner.

My coach always used to say "my sambo is mine, and yours is yours". This really sums it up for me. It is the encouragement to really develop as an individual that I like. There is not the rigid structure one finds in BJJ or Judo for example. Of course, that is not to say those arts are bad, because they are not. I have cross trained both of them. I just prefer the approach to teaching and training in sambo.

Sambo is an acronym for "Self Defense Without Weapons"


Mr. Koepfer with UFC fighter Rich Franklin

Has the art of Sambo been affected or evolved with the boom of Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the past 2 decades?

Of course! MMA has helped bring sambo out of the shadows a bit. MMA guys like Fedor, Taktarov, Kharitonov, Alex Emilianenko, Arlovski have really helped. Actually, if you look at it, sambo has had a much higher success rate in MMA than BJJ...simply basing things on numbers. There are very few sambo guys in MMA, yet most of them have made it to very high levels...even championship levels. Yet, with BJJ fighters, they are everywhere and most don't make it to the level of the sambo few sambo guys that exist in MMA. Of course, this is not to say one is better than the other. It is just interesting to see how very few sambo guys in the MMA scene have done against the swarm of BJJ fighters out there.

Regarding BJJ influence on Sambo, there has certainly been some effect...specifically in guard work I think. To think otherwise is ridiculous. That is the nature of sports. Exposure to different sports will have effects and cause evolutions on others.

I think sambo, as it grows in popularity, will force a change in BJJ practice as well. Particularly in the area of leg submissions and faster mat work. Sambo practitioners will tend to focus on getting submissions quick with very aggressive mat work. Most BJJ guys I have trained with and seen in competition, have had trouble with this type of approach. Particularly in submissions grappling events.


Frank Shamrock is flexing in an obvious attempt to woo Mr. Koepfer. Mr. Koepfer doesn't look very impressed.

Any favorite techniques?

Honestly, no. I prefer to go after whatever becomes available in the moment of grappling. I am not a technique hunter. I certainly do love my leg locks though.

Well, to wrap it up... I live in sunny Los Angeles, and many of my readers are from Southern California... Any good Sambo schools you can recommend in my area? I'd like to heelhook and kneebar everything in my path later in life, so i figure it's a step in the right direction.

There is not much in California. Cali Combat Sambo in San Francisco is probably the best option. Serge Gerlach is the coach there and he is very accomplished, has won several BJJ and sambo tournaments, and has trained in Russia as well. I would also suggest Gokor's place in LA, though it is not strictly just sambo.


Of course, what would being the head of the ASA mean without meeting with Fedor?

Thank you very much for your time, SamboSteve... er... Mr. Koepfer. Wish you all the best, and thank you for making the world of martial arts just a little less gimmicky and a little more effective. :)

To My Readers:
The American Sambo Association: http://www.ussambo.com/index.html
Mr. Koepfer's Combat sambo School in New York: http://www.ussambo.com/school.html

4 comments:

cuy103 said...

Hey Yoon, did you do that interview with him yourself?

Punch Kick Choke said...

Yup- we know each other from our online personas, and I thought it would be great to interview such an awesome contributer to the world of Martial Arts.

Next on the list is currently the founder of Bullshido, Neal "Phrost" Fletcher.

Jason Struck , RKC said...

spread the word; sambo=cool.

serge said...

haha! sweet! thanks for the plug Steve! I'll have to try to be more like Gokor now!

Good article, nice blog. Hell, who knew!?!

serge (AKA theotherserge)