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Understanding the Differences: Grappling vs BJJ

January 25, 2024
grappling bjj

Grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) are both martial arts, but they are different. Grappling includes many styles like wrestling and Judo, and it focuses on controlling opponents with holds, especially on the ground. BJJ, which comes from Brazil, is a kind of grappling, too, but it’s more focused on fighting on the ground using joint locks and chokeholds to beat opponents. This explanation will look at how these two martial arts are different and what they have in common.

Even though grappling and BJJ might look similar, they have their own techniques, ways of training, and ideas. Grappling has a wide variety of techniques, but BJJ is more about using smart strategies and techniques, especially for ground fighting. Knowing these differences is important if you’re interested in martial arts for self-defense, staying fit, or competing. This introduction will help you understand more about both grappling and BJJ, showing what makes them unique and what they share.

What is the Difference Between Grappling and BJJ?

Grappling is a broad term encompassing various martial arts and combat sports focusing on clinches, holds, and groundwork. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), on the other hand, is a specific form of grappling developed in Brazil, heavily influenced by Japanese Judo and traditional Jujutsu. 

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While grappling as a general concept is integrated into many martial arts systems, offering a wide range of techniques suitable for different combat situations, BJJ has carved out a niche for itself with its specialized approach emphasizing ground fighting and submission holds, including joint locks and chokeholds. This specialization in BJJ revolves around not just mastering techniques but also understanding the underlying principles of leverage, balance, and body mechanics.

Power, explosiveness, and agility are extremely important in grappling disciplines, while BJJ is effective for everyone, regardless of size and stature, as it relies less on brute strength and more on skill and strategy. The study and practice of both grappling and BJJ offer valuable insights into the art of physical combat and self-defense, making them popular choices for martial arts enthusiasts around the world.

Exploring the Origins and Techniques

Grappling has ancient roots that are present in the fighting traditions of many cultures. Wrestling, for example, is a grappling art that has been around for 15,000 years, originating in Egypt and Babylon before it ultimately spread to countries like Greece and Japan. BJJ’s journey began a little more recently in the early 20th century when Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese Judoka, taught Judo to the Gracie family in Brazil, which they adapted into BJJ. While grappling as a whole includes a variety of techniques such as throws, pins, and holds, BJJ focuses more on fighting from the ground, where fighters seek to control and force their opponent into submission.

The evolution of BJJ from traditional grappling forms is a testament to the dynamic nature of martial arts. As the Gracie family and other practitioners in Brazil refined the techniques Maeda taught, they placed an increasing emphasis on ground fighting – a component less emphasized in traditional Judo. This evolution was driven by the practical necessity of effective combat techniques in real-world situations, where a fighter might find themselves on the ground or against a larger opponent. BJJ’s emphasis on leverage, joint locks, and chokeholds allows practitioners to neutralize opponents effectively, regardless of size, making it an incredibly versatile and practical martial art. This shift in focus has led to BJJ becoming a cornerstone in modern martial arts training, especially in self-defense and mixed martial arts (MMA).

Understanding the Philosophies and Goals

The philosophy behind grappling is deeply rooted in the principles of control, leverage, and positioning, but it varies significantly across different styles. In disciplines like wrestling and Judo, fighters work to gain a dominant position and maintain control over the opponent through a combination of strength, speed, and technique. In these styles, victory is typically achieved by pinning the opponent to the ground or scoring points for superior positioning. However, the focus shifts slightly in arts like Sambo or Catch Wrestling, where joint locks and submissions also come into play, adding another layer of strategy and technical skill.

BJJ takes these principles even further, embodying a philosophy that underscores the power of technique over strength. This martial art is specifically designed to give the smaller, weaker individual a fighting chance against larger opponents. By focusing on ground fighting and the efficient use of leverage, BJJ practitioners learn to apply joint locks and chokeholds in ways that can neutralize the physical advantages of strength and size. The objective of BJJ is not just to control the opponent but to force them into submission, either by inflicting pain through joint locks or by applying chokeholds that threaten to cut off their air or blood flow. This approach makes BJJ not just a martial art but also a study in physics and human anatomy, as practitioners learn to maximize efficiency and effectiveness through their techniques.

Comparing Training Methods and Styles

Training in different grappling styles varies a lot. In wrestling, the focus is on physical strength and fast movements, which are important for taking down and controlling opponents. Judo training focuses more on throws and using an opponent’s weight against them. Sambo, from Russia, mixes wrestling and Judo but also has its own moves, especially leg locks and submissions. These different training methods show the wide range of techniques in grappling, suitable for various physical abilities and fighting situations.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training is unique because it really focuses on technique and strategy, making it a complete discipline for both the body and mind. First, you learn a lot of ground fighting techniques like controlling positions, escaping, and applying submissions such as arm locks and chokes. Then, you practice these moves over and over with a partner to get better and more fluid. A key part of BJJ training is ‘rolling,’ which is like sparring. It lets you try your skills in a realistic but controlled way so you can improve your technique, problem-solving, endurance, and mental toughness.

Applying Techniques in Self-Defense Situations

Grappling is great for self-defense because it offers many techniques for controlling an opponent using holds, locks, and throws, which are good for stopping a threat without hurting someone too much. Control is important in self-defense to safely end a fight. Grappling styles use leverage and balance, not hitting, to overpower someone. This is useful when you can’t or shouldn’t hit, like when someone grabs you or when you need to hold someone down without injuring them.

BJJ teaches how to handle and beat an opponent when you’re on the ground, which is great if you’re knocked down or overpowered. You can use joint locks and chokeholds to stop threats, even when it looks like you’re at a disadvantage. This is especially good for people who aren’t very strong because you can use your position and the opponent’s body against them, making it a practical martial art for defending against bigger and stronger people.

Impact of Grappling and BJJ in MMA

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has changed a lot over time, mostly because of the different grappling techniques that have been added to it. Grappling includes many styles, and each one gives MMA fighters different ways to attack and defend. Wrestlers are good at taking down their opponents and controlling them on the ground. Judo fighters use throws and trips to take advantage of how their opponent moves. Sambo fighters mix throwing techniques with fighting on the ground and have special moves for locking joints, especially in the legs. By bringing together these different grappling styles, MMA has become more complex, versatile, and nuanced. It used to be mainly about punching and kicking, but now, fighting on the ground is just as important.

BJJ has had a big impact on MMA. In the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), BJJ really showed its strength, especially with fighters like Royce Gracie. They showed the world that BJJ allows smaller fighters to go toe-to-toe with bigger and stronger opponents by taking them to the ground and using submission moves like chokes and joint locks. This success demonstrated the importance of ground control and submission skills, making BJJ a key part of training for most MMA fighters. It’s helped MMA grow into a sport that tests all parts of a fighter’s abilities, not just striking.

How Does BJJ Differ from Other Grappling Styles?

Understanding the Influence of Traditional Martial Arts

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is different from other grappling styles because it comes from Judo and Jujutsu, two traditional Japanese martial arts. These two fighting styles mix standing and ground techniques, whereas BJJ mainly focuses on ground fighting. Learners spend a lot of time on ground moves like guard positions, sweeps, and submissions. This heavy focus on ground techniques makes BJJ a very specific type of grappling.

In traditional grappling arts like wrestling, the main goal is to take down your opponent and control them on the ground, but it doesn’t focus much on submissions, which are moves that make the opponent surrender. BJJ, however, is all about these submission techniques, like joint locks and chokeholds. While wrestling is about controlling and keeping your opponent down, BJJ requires forcing your opponent to submit. This shows how BJJ is unique in its approach and techniques compared to other grappling styles.

Comparing Gi and No-Gi Techniques

BJJ is unique because it has two different styles: training with a ‘Gi’ and training without it, called ‘No-Gi.’ A Gi is like a traditional martial arts uniform with a jacket and pants. When you train with a Gi, you can grab onto the other person’s clothes, which makes it possible to use certain moves and holds you can’t do in No-Gi. Training with a Gi is more about thinking through each move because you have more ways to grab and control the other person.

No-Gi BJJ is faster and requires moving with greater control. Without the Gi, you have to change some moves or use other ones that work better without the clothing grips. No-Gi is good for people who want to do MMA fighting, where they don’t wear Gis, and for those who want to learn how to grapple in different situations.

BJJ in the Context of UFC and Mixed Martial Arts

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu rose to international fame with the emergence of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). In these early UFC events, fighters from various martial arts backgrounds competed in a minimally restricted combat setting. BJJ practitioners stood out in these competitions as their success in defeating opponents from other martial arts highlighted the effectiveness of BJJ in real combat situations. This was a pivotal moment in martial arts history, showcasing the practicality and efficiency of BJJ techniques, particularly ground fighting and submissions.

As a result of this exposure, BJJ has had a profound impact on the evolution of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Many MMA fighters, recognizing the advantages of BJJ in ground combat and submission scenarios, began incorporating BJJ techniques into their training. Today, BJJ is a fundamental component of MMA, with fighters from various backgrounds learning and applying BJJ strategies in their fights.

Comparing Joint Locks and Takedowns in BJJ and Grappling

Unlike most grappling styles, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has a meticulous focus on joint locks, particularly those aimed at the arms and legs. These joint lock techniques are not just about applying pressure; they involve a deep understanding of human anatomy and leverage. Fighters learn to manipulate joints in a way that can control or even incapacitate an opponent. This aspect of BJJ is not only about force but also about precision and technique. The art is renowned for its arm bars, leg locks, and wrist locks because of the impressive combination of skill, timing, and strategic positioning required to execute them.

Alongside joint locks, effective takedown strategies are a huge point of emphasis in BJJ training. Unlike some other grappling arts, takedowns in BJJ are not just about getting the opponent to the ground; they are carefully crafted to transition seamlessly into ground fighting and setting up submissions. This approach makes BJJ unique, as it blends the techniques of taking an opponent down with the strategies of ground combat. BJJ practitioners are trained to use takedowns as an entry point to a variety of submission holds, making their ground game exceptionally formidable.

What Are the Similarities and Differences Between Grappling and BJJ?

Examining the Overlapping Techniques and Strategies

Grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu both involve techniques to control an opponent, but they differ in their approach and focus. We’ve already established that grappling is a broad term that includes various martial arts like wrestling, Judo, and sambo. As such, there are all kinds of objectives depending on which style of grappling you’re practicing. For example, in wrestling, the primary goal is to pin your opponent to the mat, not necessarily forcing them to submit. Wrestlers train extensively in takedowns and pins, and in strategies for maintaining a dominant position.

In contrast, while takedowns are important in BJJ, there is a much stronger emphasis on submissions. Practitioners of BJJ train to transition from controlling positions to submission holds, focusing on joint locks and chokes that can end a match. This philosophy reflects the principle of using leverage and technique to overcome strength, which is central to BJJ.

Analyzing the Role of Ground Fighting in Grappling and BJJ

Ground fighting is a cornerstone of BJJ, while it’s only a component of some grappling styles. BJJ’s detailed ground techniques, like guard play and positional hierarchy, are more developed than in most other grappling forms.

Grappling vs. BJJ Competitions

In sports, “grappling” includes many styles like wrestling and Judo, each with different rules. Wrestling focuses on takedowns and pins, scoring points for control, while Judo scores points for throws. Each style has its own way of competing, with unique techniques and strategies.

BJJ competitions are different, focusing mainly on submissions and controlling positions. BJJ rules encourage fighters to go for joint locks and chokeholds and to gain positions like mount or back control. This makes BJJ matches strategic, with athletes trying to submit their opponents while also controlling them. Points are given for both controlling positions and successful submissions.

Understanding the Effectiveness of Both in Real-Life Scenarios

Grappling styles like wrestling, Judo, and Sambo give a wide range of techniques for different self-defense situations. Wrestling is good for quick takedowns, Judo for throws, and Sambo mixes both, meaning grapplers proficient in multiple disciplines can handle different kinds of threats, from standing fights to ground control.

BJJ is great for people who aren’t physically strong because it uses leverage and technique to beat bigger opponents. It teaches you how to control and submit someone using joint locks and chokeholds, even from positions like being on your back. This is really useful if you’re overpowered or facing more than one attacker, as it focuses on skill rather than strength.


If you’re considering getting into BJJ or one of the many fascinating grappling arts, it’s important to play to your strengths. While some grappling arts may rely on raw power and athleticism, BJJ fighters need a keen intellect and strategic mind. The intricate techniques and emphasis on leverage over force make BJJ a unique and fascinating discipline within the broader world of grappling. 

If you’re drawn to learning self-defense or gaining physical and mental strength, the many grappling arts, including BJJ, are great activities. You can gain valuable insight into the art and science of controlled, hand-to-hand combat and meet plenty of great people along the way.