Jiu-jitsu and wrestling often look like polar opposites despite both being grappling styles. In wrestling, you do everything in your power to avoid getting your back on the ground, while in BJJ, we often voluntarily do it. Wrestling does not allow submissions, while they are the central focus of BJJ. What does this mean for using jiu-jitsu in wrestling?
Most jiu-jitsu techniques cannot be used in wrestling because they are against the rules or already have better alternatives. But still, jiu-jitsu training can benefit wrestlers by having better body and mat awareness, being more comfortable on the bottom, and having a big crossover to self-defense and MMA fighting.
Usually, wrestlers transition into jiu-jitsu because it’s more accessible for all age groups and has influenced BJJ a lot. However, even active wrestling competitors can benefit from cross-training if they know how to use the new skills.
Very few techniques from jiu-jitsu can be used in wrestling because of the completely different rulesets and objectives. As with all combat sports, practitioners develop techniques and strategies based on how competitions are scored. This is why we have so many forms of grappling that are so different.
Jiu-jitsu may not be usable by directly applying the same techniques, but cross-training can have a lot of value for wrestlers. But before we get to the benefits of jiu-jitsu for wrestling, let’s look at the main objectives of each discipline to see why they differ so much.
Wrestling has two main rulesets- Greco-Roman and freestyle, but the main objectives of both are the same:
- Take the opponent to the mat and establish control
- While controlling the opponent, find a way to pin both his shoulder blades on the mat
The scoring reflects these two objectives, and competitors receive points depending on their success level. Pins are less common in international competition, and most work is done in takedowns and takedown defense. Competitors usually only get 5 to 10 seconds to work when the fight hits the mat.
A fundamental wrestling rule concerning jiu-jitsu competitors is that submissions are not allowed, meaning you cannot joint lock the opponent. Variations of common joint locks are used to manipulate the opponent into position, but not in a way to do damage like in BJJ.
Jiu-jitsu is also a grappling game, and controlling the opponent is crucial, but the end goal is different. Here is a quick rundown of the ideal BJJ progression:
- Take the opponent down
- Control him and move gradually into a dominant position
- Submit the opponent
Competitors are awarded points for taking the fight down and securing positions like they are in wrestling. But the ultimate goal is to submit the opponent by one of the many available submission holds, all banned in wrestling.
The other key difference is being on your back is not necessarily bad in jiu-jitsu, and the guard is considered a neutral position or even advantageous if the player specializes in it.
These two elements show why only some of the skills from jiu-jitsu transfer into wrestling. A big chunk of BJJ training goes into learning submissions and fighting off your back, both of which are useless in wrestling.
While wrestlers desperately try to keep their backs off the mats, giving your back to the opponent in jiu-jitsu is one of the worst things you can do.
But while these drastic differences make the two styles almost incompatible, this is not exactly true. BJJ is a bigger benefactor in the relationship between the two.
Many wrestlers have taken up jiu-jitsu and transferred many skills and concepts from the ancient discipline, which have greatly changed jiu-jitsu, especially no-gi.
But wrestlers can also learn a thing or two from jiu-jitsu, which can be applied even in the context of competitive wrestling.
How Jiu-Jitsu Helps With Wrestling
The results may differ, but the body has only so many ways to move and interact while grappling with another person. The body and mat awareness of the complex position game in jiu-jitsu is one of the most valuable skills a wrestler can borrow.
The more exposure you have to different positions and interactions, the better body and mat awareness you will have, regardless of rulesets.
Better Ground Game
Modern international wrestling (freestyle and Greco-Roman) is made to be as intense and entertaining as possible, which is why the ground game receives little attention. The focus is on takedowns, and even though the pin is the end goal, they are relatively rare.
Conversely, in Jiu-Jitsu, 95% (or 99.9% in some academies) of the time is spent on the ground. This time and experience in different bottom positions can help wrestlers have an edge over their fellow competitors, who have not spent nearly the same time escaping bottom positions.
You will not get better takedowns from Jiu-Jitsu, but you will become better at escaping when taken down.
More Opportunities To Train And Compete
Wrestling is organized so that the only available tournaments and training are connected to schools, universities, and national teams. Many wrestlers have nowhere to train in the off-season or when they graduate, and BJJ academies provide an accessible way to grapple.
The off-season is an ideal time for competitive wrestlers to change things around and train some BJJ for the abovementioned benefits. Even if the sport is different, time on the mats doing different things than usual is much better than not being on the mats at all.
Jiu-jitsu also has a lot of tournaments open to all kinds of experience levels and age groups, so wrestlers can also join and gain precious competitive experience.
Carryover to MMA and Self-Defense
Grappling sports are great, and we all love them, but we also know they cover only a part of fighting. And the more rules and restrictions a sport has, the less effective it is for self-defense.
Jiu-jitsu has been proven to be a highly effective style, and submissions are the best way to finish a fight besides a knockout.
Wrestlers already know how to take someone down and control them better than anyone, but when you add submission skills to the mix, they become deadly.
Some striking is also necessary for complete fighting skills, but the combination of wrestling and jiu-jitsu fills all the gaps the two styles have separately regarding grappling.
A New Approach
Wrestling is one of the most intense combat sports of all. Practitioners are well known to possess insane amounts of strength, explosiveness, grit, and toughness.
We all want these traits, but they are all on one side of the spectrum. Jiu-jitsu often sits on the other side, where leverage and calmness are valued above all.
The best option is to have both. Jiu-jitsu teaches how to exert less force and preserve energy while remaining effective. The ability to flow between intensity and relaxation is an art and is much better in jiu-jitsu than in wrestling.
Does Wrestling Help Jiu-Jitsu
While jiu-jitsu benefits for wrestling are more conceptual, wrestling brings a new dimension to BJJ. No-gi and submission grappling have been heavily influenced by wrestling, and today, the sport has much of it.
The two significant elements to transfer from wrestling into BJJ are takedowns and top control, which is precisely what wrestlers specialize in.
BJJ practitioners often completely neglect the stand-up portion of training. At the same time, wrestling opens up a complete pallet of possible takedowns, including the double and single leg, arm drags, snap-downs, body locks, and many others.
On the ground, wrestling also has something to offer. Sit-through escapes, leg and ankle rides, and Nelsons all open up new possibilities for control on the ground.
An additional benefit is that most BJJ practitioners are unfamiliar with them, and you can catch many people off guard.
And last but not least, wrestling-style training builds unrivaled explosiveness and endurance. Doing wrestling drills or starting every round standing and not pulling guard will do wonders for your cardio and muscle endurance.
Jiu-jitsu can’t be used directly in wrestling. BJJ is focused on submissions, which are not allowed in wrestling, and teaches you how to fight off your back, which in wrestling means you are losing. Nevertheless, the overall body and mat awareness and the exposure to whole new dimensions of grappling can help wrestlers gain an edge over their peers.