The differences between striking martial arts and grappling are apparent and easy to see. Still, comparing styles from one domain gets more complicated. Being two of the most popular grappling styles, BJJ and wrestling are often compared, but do you know the differences?
The most crucial difference between BJJ and wrestling is the end goal of the competition. BJJ aims to force the opponent to submit, which can be done from many positions. Wrestling aims to take the opponent down and pin him on his back.
This crucial difference determines both sports’ techniques, tactics, intensity, and character. Choosing between the two can be daunting if you are unfamiliar with the key differences between BJJ and wrestling. Are you aware of all of them?
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a comprehensive grappling-centric martial art and a combat sport. Its main emphasis is dominating and forcing opponents to surrender through techniques and leverage. The strongest part of BJJ is its many submissions.
BJJ is derived from Japanese judo, which comes from traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu. Judo, or as it was then called, Kano jiu-jitsu, found its way to Brazil through a student of the man who created Judo, Jigoro Kano. This student’s name is Mitsuyo Maeda. He started teaching martial arts in Brazil, where some of his most dedicated students became Carlos and Helio Gracie brothers.
The Gracie brothers developed and enhanced the ground aspect of the fighting, which relied less on strength and more on technique—in time created a different system that became known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
They popularized their combat style in countless no-rules fights, first in Brazil before expanding their influence in the USA. The popularity of BJJ blew up in the 1990s when Royce Gracie won three UFC tournaments and showcased the style’s effectiveness in a real fight.
Today, BJJ is still practiced as a self-defense system. But also as part of MMA and as a separate sport, which has become extremely popular, gradually surpassing established grappling sports like wrestling and judo.
Wrestling is a grappling combat sport that uses clinches, takedowns, throws, and pins to obtain dominance on the ground and pin the opponent’s back.
But technically speaking, wrestling is an umbrella term encompassing many grappling styles and disciplines. It is considered one of the oldest combat sports, with evidence of its existence dating back to ancient Egypt and Babylon. It became widely popular in ancient Greece and Rome and was a part of the Olympic Games.
While even BJJ can be considered a form of wrestling, today, the term is used generally for the few western styles of wrestling like Greco-Roman, freestyle, and folk style wrestling, all of which have the pin as their end goal. In contrast, styles where painful joint locks and chokes are used to force an opponent to quit are called grappling.
Every culture has had some form of wrestling, and each has unique cultural and regional specifics that drastically change the rules and appearance of the contest. These styles are known as folk wrestling.
But further in this comparison, we will cover only the recognized wrestling styles under the United World Wrestling, the governing body for international competitions and wrestling in the Olympics.
Key Differences Between BJJ and Wrestling
The main goal of sports BJJ is to win a match by submission, and the rules reflect this. Takedowns and throws score lightly and are not the main focus of BJJ. In fact, one of the most common positions found in jiu-jitsu is the full guard, placing the back of one competitor on the mat, which would result in a direct loss under wrestling rules.
There are different rules in different BJJ organizations. Still, the IBJJF is the leading organization sanctioning competitions, and matches are 5 to 10 minutes long, depending on the rank of the competitors. The main goal is to force the opponent to submit, and if this doesn’t happen, the winner is the player with the most points. Here is how they are scored:
- Mount: 4 points
- Back Mount: 4 points
- Guard Pass: 3 points
- Sweep: 2 points
- Knee On Belly: 2 points
- Takedown/ Throw: 2 points
Wrestling has two main rulesets contested in the Olympics and other international forums. These are Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling. The common thing between them is that points are scored for taking the opponent down, exposing his back to the mat, or pushing him out of bounds.
Greco-Roman wrestling allows holding only above the waist, and you cannot grab the legs or use your own to trip and hold the opponent.
On the other hand, freestyle wrestlers can use both the upper body and lower body to attack and control the opponent. Joint locks and chokes are strictly forbidden in wrestling, although some painful moves found in BJJ can be used within wrestling’s ruleset.
BJJ is all about submissions, including every imaginable joint lock, choke, and neck crank. However, obtaining the correct position is critical to executing submissions. Obtaining and holding certain positions like full mount, side control, or back mount is crucial in BJJ because they open up the possibilities for different submissions.
On the other hand, wrestling is all about the takedowns and exposing the opponent’s back on the ground. The most common techniques used in freestyle wrestling are the double and single-leg takedowns, the arm drag, and the collar tie, among others. There are defensive moves like the sprawl and other defensive and escape positions.
Strength And Conditioning
There is a big difference between the strength and conditioning demands of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling.
Especially in the traditional gi version, BJJ emphasizes technique, timing, and leverage more than strength. The initial idea behind many of these techniques was to allow physically weaker people to beat stronger and bigger ones through their BJJ skills. The guard game slows the action significantly, and you can apply suitable submissions from all positions.
The goal of wrestling is to pin the opponent down, and the fact you cannot manipulate clothing while wrestling makes things much more dynamic.
The rules of wrestling, which favor constant action, further make the sport very active and explosive. This is why wrestlers need much more strength, cardio, and explosiveness, making dedicated strength and conditioning training mandatory.
This is not to say wrestling is not technical, but the physical demands are much higher than BJJ. But still, strength training is very much needed in jiu-jitsu. The concept of a smaller man beating a larger one through technique works perfectly until both have the same knowledge and skills. At this point, strength and endurance become extremely important once more.
BJJ has two main styles, depending on the clothing used. The traditional style is practiced with a gi, which consists of a jacket and pants held together by a colored belt. Other than that, BJJ practitioners may use mouthguards and groin guards.
The other main BJJ style is called no-gi; as the name suggests, it does not use the gi. Practitioners wear tight shirts and BJJ shorts, which cannot be grabbed and used during grappling. Rash guards are the most popular and highly recommended type of shirt used in BJJ, which come with multiple benefits.
Wrestlers compete in skin-tight one-piece uniform called a singlet, but they usually wear sports t-shirts and shorts in training. Wrestling shoes are also mandatory in competition, as are mouthguards. Some wrestlers may also use ear guards to prevent cauliflower ears.
BJJ vs. Wrestling For MMA
BJJ and wrestling are the two dominant grappling styles in MMA and are equally important.
When others had no answers to the elaborate submissions, BJJ reigned supreme. But then wrestlers learned to defend them, ground and pound was “invented,” and wrestlers started to dominate the cage.
We cannot say one or the other is better because they are both crucial for MMA, and no fighter can hope to succeed without skills in both. BJJ teaches the art of submissions once the fight is on the ground.
For years, many great champions have used their jiu-jitsu techniques to hold the belts. There are effective submissions from all positions, and a good BJJ player is very dangerous even from the bottom.
But wrestling has created more MMA champions than any other style because they get to decide where the fight takes place. If a wrestler decides to take the fight to the ground, chances are he will do so. Then, if he feels more confident on his feet, his takedown defense will allow him to stay there.
Today, BJJ and wrestling are equally important crucial elements of MMA.
BJJ vs. Wrestling For Self-Defense
As a system created specifically to be effective in self-defense and street fights, BJJ is the superior style for this purpose. As a martial art, BJJ has a stellar track record proven on many fronts, from gym challenges to street fights to no-rules challenge matches and MMA. The fact that a smaller person can overcome someone much bigger through BJJ makes it so effective.
Furthermore, jiu-jitsu allows you to control and subdue an attacker without severely hurting him, which makes it very effective as a martial art for law enforcement.
But there is also the modern sports style of BJJ, which has removed all forms of striking and is not only not as effective as the original BJJ, but many of the basic positions used in BJJ matches become very dangerous when the opponent can punch, kick, or elbow.
But wrestling also has a lot to offer in the realm of self-defense. Despite the lack of submission holds, you will not get on your feet until the wrestler lets you, so they can still subdue an opponent. Even with a basic form of ground and pound, a wrestler can destroy an attacker by taking him down and pummeling him.
Add to that the high level of athleticism and physical conditioning necessary for wrestling. We can see how wrestling is also good for self-defense. But in a direct comparison, BJJ is a clear winner with infinitely more options for most situations.
The answer to this question is varied. BJJ has a lot more techniques and nuances to learn. There are many submissions, positions, and combinations between them, and memorizing the information can initially be overwhelming.
The few who reach the coveted black belt rank usually spend 10 years on the mats before they reach this goal. And then some say the black belt is the starting point for a proper understanding of the art.
Wrestling may have fewer techniques in terms of numbers. Still, it is perhaps the most grueling and physically demanding combat sport compared to BJJ. Becoming an advanced wrestler and competitor will also take many years of hard practice and wrestling against vicious opposition.
So, which is more difficult? Both are difficult in different ways.
The choice between different martial arts is usually a matter of personal preference. Wrestling and BJJ have different availability and demands that will tip the scale one way or the other.
Wrestling is a much older sport with a well-developed structure to nurture talent in kids. Most wrestlers start very young at school and go through the whole progression. Starting wrestling as a kid has tremendous physical and mental benefits that will carry throughout your life.
But wrestling also relies very much on physical strength, endurance, and explosiveness, which not everyone has. Wrestling is a challenging sport to begin, especially if you are older, say in your 30s, and have no serious athletic background.
And that is if you can find a gym in the first place because most wrestling schools are for young competitors. Your options are probably wrestling classes at an MMA gym.
On the other hand, BJJ welcomes all ages, genders, and physical abilities, which is why it is so popular. Many people at a ripe age are starting BJJ and enjoying it very much. Even former competitive wrestlers often join BJJ academies because they no longer have anywhere to wrestle.