The first scheduled wrestling event occurred during the ancient Olympic Games in 708 BC, but humans have been practicing this grappling art much longer. There is evidence of wrestling as far back as 15,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest forms of combat sport. Cave paintings in Babylon and Egypt depict wrestlers using various holds that are still practiced today. There are even references to wrestling ancient religious texts such as the Old Testament and ancient Indian Vedas! This shows just how old and widespread wrestling has been throughout human history.
On the other hand, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a much more modern practice that was only developed within the last century. It has rapidly gained popularity and today is an essential part of MMA fighting. With more people looking to begin practicing MMA and grappling sports, there are often questions about whether wrestling or BJJ is a good starting point. That’s because popular martial arts such as boxing and Taekwondo focus on strikes, while arts such as Judo, BJJ, and wrestling focus on grappling, ground fighting, and submission holds.
Wrestling and BJJ are popular practices because they are practical and effective for self-defense. BJJ, in particular, emphasizes the idea that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant using technique and leverage. Although these two sports descend from grappling combat, they are fundamentally different, with unique rules and types of moves. In BJJ, fighters use techniques to knock down their opponent and apply submission moves. Wrestlers rely more on aggression, weight, and strength to dominate their competitors.
This article will explain what wrestling and BJJ are, their differences, and how they can complement each other in combat.
What is Wrestling?
Wrestling is a sport that focuses on takedowns and body positioning with the ultimate goal of pinning your opponent. Many people in North America are first exposed to the sport through theatrical professional wrestling. Still, there are many variations of competitive wrestling, including freestyle, Greco-Roman, judo, sumo, sambo, and more.
Freestyle and Greco-Roman are the two most common competitive styles in North America. In these competitions, wrestlers work to take each other down from a standing position and, once on the ground, apply pins and locks to subdue the opponent and stay in a dominant position. Each style has different scoring rules, forbidden actions, and fight lengths. What they have in common, however, is that it is always forbidden to use strikes against your opponent. That means hitting them with your hands, feet, elbows, or head. You are also forbidden from unsportsmanlike conduct such as scratching, biting, hair-pulling, or striking an opponent in the genital strikes.
What is BJJ?
BJJ originated in Japan when judo practitioner and prizefighter Mitsuyo Maeda went overseas to share his art with the world in 1904. After arriving in Brazil, he taught brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., O’Brien, and Hélio Gracie jiu-jitsu in 1917. Several years later, the Gracie family developed their own self-defense system, modified judo ground techniques, and eventually created a unique fighting style called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
BJJ is a grappling martial art that concentrates on the ground game, aiming to get your opponent to submit via a joint lock or choke. This martial art is considered one of the most effective styles for self-defense because it emphasizes the principle that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant using technique and leverage.
Five Primary Differences Between Wrestling and BJJ
Although wrestling and BJJ are both grappling sports, their fundamental differences are important to know. The moves and techniques fighters use are entirely different, as is the gear, and competitions and fights are not structured the same. For example, in wrestling, you want to stay off your back and avoid being pinned, while in BJJ, being on your back is a fundamental position where you can attack and win.
BJJ and wrestling share more than a few things in common. But overall, these are two separate combat sports that differ in just about every aspect. Let’s take a closer look at all the differences.
- Competition Differences
Both sports involve winning matches and tournaments; a wrestling match has three rounds, while BJJ only has one. Wrestlers learn to win points using takedowns, pins, locks, and holds. Meanwhile, BJJ focuses much more on real fighting, which is why so many people learn it as a method of self-defense. BJJ fighters take the fight to the ground, get into a dominant position, and use chokes and locks to get their opponent to submit. In some ways, wrestling is more of a traditional sport where competitors learn how to win a match by scoring points, while BJJ is a true martial art.
Wrestling and BJJ both have two styles of competition. For BJJ, the forms are Gi and No-Gi. Gi is the traditional style of Jiu-Jitsu that developed in Brazil during the 1920s. All fighters must wear a Gi uniform that consists of a jacket and pants made from cotton. As the name suggests, No-Gi doesn’t include a Gi uniform, and instead, athletes wear a BJJ rash guard, T-shirt, BJJ shorts, or pants to protect themselves.
The two forms of competitive wrestling are Greco-Roman and freestyle. In Greco Wrestling, you are not allowed to hold your opponent below the waist. That means you can’t use legs or trips to take down your opponent but have to grapple and throw them instead. Freestyle wrestling permits holds above and below the waist. You can grab your opponent’s legs to score takedowns or use trips, sweeps, and other techniques.
BJJ matches typically last at most ten minutes. Challengers win the match by getting their opponent to submit or by accumulating points within a minimum time.
Here’s a breakdown of how you can earn points in a BJJ match:
- Mount/Back Mount: 4 points
- Guard Pass: 3 points
- Sweep: 2 points
- Knee On Belly: 2 points
- Takedown/Judo Throw: 2 points
The length of a wrestling match depends on what level you’re competing in. High school wrestling consists of three rounds that are each two minutes long. College matches consist of one round that is either three or two minutes long. Olympic wrestling is broken into two rounds that are each three minutes long.
You can win by earning more points than your opponent or by pinning both their shoulders to the mat. You earn points in a wrestling match with the following techniques:
- Takedown: 2 points
- Reversal: 2 points
- Near fall (2 seconds): 2 points
- Near Fall (5 seconds): 3 points
- Self Defense
Learning wrestling techniques and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are both great for self-defense because each discipline can help you control your opponent. Using wrestling moves, you can control an attacker until help comes, while BJJ techniques will help you control them and potentially immobilize them via a submission hold.
Wrestling moves are very practical, but BJJ is a much better option for self-defense because it was designed for street fighting. Even though BJJ doesn’t teach you striking moves, the Gracie family created BJJ as a versatile self-defense system to help you deal with an attacker in any situation. Most people are not trained in grappling techniques. That means the average assailant doesn’t know how to defend or counter against grappling attacks. They are more likely to block or avoid punches and kicks, which are common fighting tactics.
- Fighting Style
Both BJJ and wrestling are no-hit sports where striking opponents is prohibited in competition. Matches for each always begin with both people standing before fighters employ sweeping and throwing techniques to take the fight to the ground. That’s where the similarities in fighting styles end.
Wrestling is traditionally more fast-paced & explosive with less stalling. Wrestlers work to exert complete dominance over their opponent and get a pin. In a wrestling match, the referee is always pressing the action. BJJ is more methodical which means referees allow the strategy to unfold naturally. Scoring is based on your ability to control and hold your opponent using joint locks and chokeholds. Overall, BJJ is less strenuous than wrestling which has one person struggling to avoid being pinned. Fighting from your back requires exerting much more energy than BJJ techniques. In BJJ, you get in position and bide your time.
- Ranking System
The ranking system in wrestling is more like other popular sports than other martial arts. You compete at either the High School, College, or International/Olympic Level.
Like other martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ranking and promotion is based on a colored belt system. The five belt colors are White, Blue, Purple, Brown, and Black. It takes almost eight to 10 years to get promoted to Black Belt.
- Physicality and Intensity
Wrestling is a more explosive, demanding, and aggressive sport. Matches often require intense bursts of energy, quick movements, and agility. BJJ relies on leverage, technique, and strategy. While it can be physically demanding, practitioners can take their time to strategize, assess their opponents, and methodically work towards a submission.
The structure of wrestling matches also impacts the intensity and physicality. Wrestling is characterized by relatively short, high-intensity periods of action. Winning a wrestling match requires athletes to expend a lot of energy very quickly. Strength and conditioning are hugely crucial in wrestling because you need to take down your opponent and pin them to the ground as fast as possible.
The core principle of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it gives you the skills to submit your opponent even if they are much larger and stronger than you. Strategy, timing, and leverage are the keys to success in BJJ.
How Wrestling and BJJ Complement Each Other
The two fighting styles complement each other, as all matches start on their feet before progressing to takedowns. In a match between a wrestler and BJJ fighter, wrestlers usually have an advantage at the start of a match with their takedown abilities. They also typically have an easier time converting to BJJ because they have the takedown foundation base and conditioning training.
If you’re a BJJ competitor, practicing wrestling can make you much more effective at takedowns. Wrestlers drill takedowns extensively which can help you level up your grappling abilities. Additionally, wrestlers spend a lot of time on their conditioning because they exert more energy in matches. While technique is more important in BJJ than brute strength and endurance, focusing on your conditioning certainly won’t hurt your abilities as a BJJ fighter.
Both wrestling and BJJ are exciting, fun, and fulfilling practices. Wrestling can push you to your physical limit as you build strength and endurance. Jiu-Jitsu is more cerebral and tactical, and the skills you gain will be plenty valuable for real-world self-defense. If you’re interested in gaining an advantage in BJJ, wrestling training is a great option.