Pankration originated from an ancient sport where people accepted more violence than today’s standards.
Since then, pankration has been revived and changed to fit the modern standards and rulesets for the safety of fighters.
In this article, I’ll break down the modern pankration rules used in the different styles of competition.
Moves allowed in modern pankration
First, I’ll talk about the moves or attacks allowed in modern pankration.
Before we discuss the moves, there are two separate rulesets that you should understand.
There are two rulesets in modern pankration defined by the United World Wrestling Organization: elite and traditional.
The elite ruleset is less restrictive, just like MMA, where pankratiasts can kick and punch their opponents in the head.
While the traditional is more restrictive and disallows direct punches and uncontrolled kicks to the head. This is more commonly used in amateur pankration tournaments.
Kicks & punches
Punches and kicks are the most used moves in modern pankration as in other combat sports. These are the most effective techniques for putting pressure on your opponent.
Punches such as jabs, straights, hooks, and uppercuts are the foundation of every striker’s arsenal.
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They can also use more risky strikes like superman punches and spinning back fists.
Kicks are perfect for measuring and keeping distance from your opponents. The most common kicks are roundhouses, side kicks, calf kicks, and teep or push kicks.
In traditional pankration, punches and kicks are only allowed to be aimed at the body. Although controlled roundhouse head kicks are considered legal.
Because of their effectiveness, chokes are the most common submissions in modern pankration. Using them can result in tap outs within seconds or render an opponent unconscious.
Chokes were already performed by fighters back in ancient Greek pankration. It was one of the more common ways of winning.
The rear naked choke is commonly performed from a back mount, where you place your dominant arm around your opponent’s neck and lock it with the other hand.
Pushing their heads against your forearm restricts breathing and blood flow, which results in them passing out.
Guillotine chokes have two variations: standing and grounded (more common).
It is often used in a full guard position. To apply the move, you’d wrap your hand around their neck and lock it by holding your wrist with your other hand.
When your opponent’s head is locked between your armpits, and you have the full guard secured, he has no choice but to tap out or fall unconscious.
Leg locks are very effective because they can cause immense pain to opponents. With the danger leg locks pose, they are only allowed in elite pankration competitions.
The most common leg lock is the heel hook. It is used by pankratiasts, especially back in ancient Greece.
The heel hook works like a lever system. It is performed by taking control of your opponent’s leg and twisting it to a specific angle.
Despite the name, the heel hook puts pressure on the knee. But it gets its name because you are holding or controlling the heel.
Leg locks like the heel hook and ankle locks are only allowed in elite pankration because of the risks it poses.
Fun fact: The earliest recorded usage of the heel hook is in an ancient greek pankration competition.
There are plenty of interesting facts about pankration’s history and development from ancient times to today.
Arm and shoulder locks
Another way of submitting your opponents are arm and shoulder locks. The most common moves are the armbar, kimura, americana, and omoplata.
The armbar is the easiest because you can execute the move from different ground positions.
An armbar can be achieved from a full mount, back mount, and even when you are being taken down.
To perform an armbar, first, you must hold your opponent’s hand with their wrist facing up, then place both of your legs over their neck and waist.
Then, squeeze your legs against their body and pull their hands. This will require little pressure to inflict pain on your opponent’s joints.
Disallowed moves in modern pankration
Now let’s discuss the moves that are prohibited in modern pankration and the reasons why.
Punches to the back of the head and throat
Just like in MMA and boxing, punches to the back of the head (rabbit punch) are banned and can cause immediate disqualification to those who use them.
Rabbit punches are dangerous because they can cause cervical vertebrae and spinal cord injuries.
This can lead to permanent and irreparable damage.
Throat strikes are also prohibited because they damage the neck, which is sensitive and fragile.
Striking the neck can damage the windpipe and throat, leading to breathing and eating complications.
These moves are illegal in both traditional and elite pankration.
Head kicks on grounded opponents
Generally, combat sports do not allow knees and kicks to grounded opponents.
However, it was not always like this; ancient pankration and UFC’s predecessor, Pride FC, allowed stomps and head kicks on downed opponents.
Because of the history of injuries caused by it, head kicks on grounded opponents were prohibited in both traditional and elite pankration.
All kinds of kicks targeted above the collarbone are disallowed on a grounded fighter. Those kicks could be stomps, roundhouses, or even soccer kicks.
The hammerfist is one of the most effective weapons in the ground and pound. This is done by swinging your fists downwards like a hammer to your opponent’s head or body.
This is usually targeted toward the face, ribs, or kidneys.
Hammerfists are also often used to continuously strike your opponents when knocked down to secure a knockout.
The hammerfist is allowed in the elite pankration but disallowed in traditional pankration because the ruleset limits strikes to the head, whether in stand-up or ground striking.
Heel kicks to the kidney
Punches and kicks targeted to a specific organ or area of the body are usually permitted. They are used as a tactic to incapacitate your opponent quickly.
Only the heel kick to the kidney isn’t allowed.
Examples are strikes to the liver and teep kicks to the solar plexus.
So why is the heel kick specifically banned? It’s because the heel is the hardest part of the foot. Targeting organs this way can cause permanent damage and massive amounts of pain.
Heel kicks to the kidney are either performed through a spinning wheel kick or an up kick from a downed position.
Neck cranks may sometimes look like a conventional rear naked choke, but it’s not the same – it’s potentially a lot more dangerous.
In traditional head chokes, you’ll go unconscious.
If you don’t tap to a neck crack, there’s a good chance of breaking your jaw or neck.
Extensive damage caused by the neck crank can lead to paralysis or other injuries that may take a year or more to fully heal.
Earning points in a match
Unlike MMA and boxing, which enforce a closed scoring (10-point must system), pankration uses the open scoring system.
An open scoring system means the scores are displayed openly to the audience, athletes, and coaches.
This provides transparency and changes a large degree of the decision-making between fighters. Unlike other combat sports, the three referees score the contest as one.
Points are scored on clean hits, ground transitions, and takedowns. 1 point is awarded for punches to the head and body, kicks to the body, and a takedown.
2 points are scored for a side mount and kicks and knees to the body. 3 points for head kicks, full mount, and high amplitude throws.
Lastly, 4 points are given if a fighter successfully transitions to a back mount or knocks down his opponent.
Pankration also has penalties that may result in lost points. For example, modern pankration prohibits stalling.
If a player continues to stall despite being warned by the referee, points will be awarded to his opponent.
Winning methods in modern pankration
There are multiple ways to win in modern pankration. First is a knockout, where an opponent is no longer fit to continue due to being struck hard.
Knocked-down fighters are usually given 10 seconds to recover.
The second is via submission. Since pankration uses a lot of grappling, fighters can end the fight with chokes and joint submissions.
If the fighter taps out or yells for a stoppage, the referee will step in.
Another way to win a pankration match is a decision by points. If the match ends without a submission or a knockout, the referees tally the points and declare a winner.
The match will also be concluded if there is a 20-point gap between the two fighters. There are cases in which points are tied by the end of regulation and given a 1 minute overtime.
It can also end via technical decisions. This happens when there is an injury caused by an unintentional incident. Points will be tallied to decide the winner.
Lastly, referee stoppage happens when the referee sees a player is no longer fit to continue or if it is too one-sided.
As pankration is a pretty diverse combat sport, the techniques learned in it can be effective for a street fight situation.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.