The Russians invented Sombo wrestling. In fact, Stalin's bodyguards were trained in the weaponless self-defense exercise. Now, as Paul Maltagliati can attest, the USSR has also discovered the ultimate weapon in Sombo excellence.

Maltagliati, a 240-pound senior at George Mason University, reached the heavyweight final in the World Masters Sombo Championship in Spain a month ago. He still has a sore shoulder to remind him of what happened there, when he lost, 12-0, to a 400-pound Soviet.

As in judo, the key moves in Sombo wrestling are throws, and only someone who has tried to throw a 400-pound concrete block can appreciate Maltagliati's predicament.

"I couldn't move him," Maltagliati said. "It was as if I'd walked into a wall. I ran into him too hard, just bounced right off and it was all downhill. I've never wrestled anybody that big before."

Although still a bit shy of peak condition, Maltagliati will go after a more reasonable target here Saturday in the National Sports Festival. One of his three opponents is Frank Nowland, a judo black belt from Old Dominion University who is the U.S. Sombo champion.

"I've beaten him in freestyle three or four times, but I've never beaten him in Sombo," Maltagliati said. "Every time I wrestle him in Sombo it gets closer and I'm sure this match will be the closest yet. Now that I've experienced an international meet, watched the Soviets--who are the best--and picked up a lot of pointers, I think I'm ready for him."

Maltagliati, who posted a 37-5 record for George Mason last winter and was the Eastern Regional NCAA heavyweight champion, has been a Sombo wrestler since 1979 and is a three-time national runner-up. If he beats Nowland and two other opponents here, he will become a member of the U.S. team for the Pan American Games in Caracas, Aug. 14-29.

"If I win the Festival, I'll concentrate on the Pan Ams, but if I lose, I'll stop Sombo completely and work on Greco-Roman and freestyle, because there's no Sombo in the Olympics," Maltagliati said.

Sombo, in which the competitors wear jackets, combines elements of judo and wrestling. It is scored on the basis of points earned for various types of throws; the match ends on a fall only if the winner is still on his feet while the loser is on his back.

Maltagliati became interested in Sombo because it was different from collegiate wrestling, which he finds relatively boring.

"I'd rather wrestle freestyle, but the colleges don't wrestle freestyle and I almost despise the collegiate style," Maltagliati said. "It's too structured. I'd rather go Sombo, because it helps with coordination. If you're yanked around with a jacket on, your balance gets a lot keener."

Mike Connor, the George Mason wrestling coach, also guides the Patriot 4-Style Wrestling Club, where Maltagliati and others learn the basics of the different forms of wrestling.

Twelve members of the club are competing in the Sombo event here and Connor is the chief official for the tournament.

In one of the highlights Sunday, the women's 105.5-pound division matches Andrea Godin, Mason's head athletic trainer, with her assistant, Bonnie Arroyo, a GMU student. In the men's 114.5-pound group, Mason's Mike Burke will wrestle clubmate Paul Cotton of Howard.