Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling may be grappling sports, but they often seem exact opposites. What is a core concept of one means a sure loss in the other. Many people implement wrestling into their BJJ to significant effect. But why is that and how does wrestling help jiu-jitsu?
Wrestling brings a tenacious mentality and approach, which are also very good for jiu-jitsu. Many proven techniques, including takedowns, reversals, and scrambles, are directly applicable in BJJ. Still, the athleticism, cardio, and pressure typical for wrestling are just as crucial for any jiu-jitsu player looking to gain the edge.
More and more elite jiu-jitsu players contribute their success to the implementation of wrestling into their training, and this cannot be overlooked. A blend between the two produces the best results, but before we look at how to train most effectively, we will go over the many benefits of wrestling for BJJ in more detail.
You not only can, but you should combine wrestling with BJJ. Being a grappling style as old as documented history, wrestling has so much to offer to Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners. If you’ve rolled with someone with wrestling experience now doing jiu-jitsu, you’ve felt firsthand what pressure and tenacity wrestling brings.
BJJ has separated itself from all other grappling sports by using guards and not penalizing being on your back, but the art is still young compared to wrestling and is still open to influences.
With the rapid rise of submission grappling in the form of the ADCC and other similar organizations, elements from judo, Sambo, and wrestling have found their way into BJJ.
The truth is wrestling is much more critical for no-gi BJJ than for the gi because of the different dynamics. In the gi, you have many grips, and the added friction of the heavy cotton cloth slows things down, while without it, you must only rely on the natural grips like you would in wrestling.
Even if purists may frown at implementing techniques and concepts from elsewhere, BJJ was developed first and foremost with effectiveness in mind, so not using what works is against the founding principles of the martial art.
The rapid rise of BJJ has shown without a doubt that competitive martial arts are constantly evolving, and stagnation cannot lead to better results.
This is why athletes are bringing more and more elements from wrestling, even if it seems at odds with BJJ. After all, in wrestling, you do everything possible to avoid being on your back, while in jiu-jitsu, people often do it intentionally when they pull guard.
Furthermore, if we think about MMA or self-defense, taking someone down, resisting an opponent’s takedown, and scrambling back to your feet can be lifesaving.
So, while on the surface, the two arts may seem too distant to lend to each other, wrestling has some highly potent concepts and techniques jiu-jitsu players can and should use.
How Wrestling Can Help Your BJJ Game
I will start with the most apparent wrestling element valuable for BJJ, and it’s the takedowns. Wrestling takedowns like single and double leg are among the best ways to take an opponent to the ground, and they are widespread in MMA and BJJ. In jiu-jitsu, pulling guard is a viable strategy, but not so much in MMA, and definitely not in a street fight.
There is a lot of debate about how many takedown skills you need for BJJ, but they are becoming increasingly important in modern-day BJJ, especially in no-gi.
Other martial arts have takedowns, and the double leg is not exclusive to wrestling, but it’s at the highest possible level in execution and setups there.
Aside from the double and single-leg takedowns, there are many more valuable techniques like ankle picks and arm drags.
In wrestling, you need to apply pressure constantly. You are actively trying to force your game on the opponent, either by him carrying your weight or pushing and pulling in an attempt to improve your position.
This relentless approach yields results not only in wrestling but BJJ, where it is not the norm and can catch many opponents off guard.
Many top-level guys in ADCC and on the elite submission grappling level use wrestling pressure and represent the marriage between the two styles.
Wrestlers are notoriously hard to keep down, whereas BJJ has a guard system that lets you fight effectively off your back. As great as the guard is, it’s still mostly a defensive position and allows the opponent to pass and score points in competition.
Scrambling is the ability to get out of bad positions on the ground and the feet as soon as the opponent tries to put you there. Scrambling is a crucial skill for MMA, street fighting, and submission grappling.
Points in BJJ are scored only after the position is held for 3 seconds, so scrambling immediately means you are not falling behind on the score, and they are trying to even it out.
This skill also ties up with getting up as fast as possible. BJJ guys tend to close up and stay on the bottom, which can lead to points being scored against them.
While this is a fundamental principle of BJJ, being able to scramble out of positions and always aiming to get up and improve position like a wrestler opens up new tactics and strategies.
Wrestling will also teach you better top control, how to best use your weight while on top, and will make you much harder to sweep.
We can see many high-level jiu-jitsu guys like Buchecha, Gary Tonon, and Marcelo Garcia use their cat-like ability to scramble and win dominant positions rather than relying on the traditional slow and methodical way of getting out of bad spots.
So, for BJJ players who emphasize the top game, wrestling is an invaluable tool to add to their repertoire.
By frequently doing wrestling training, you will develop much more athleticism, especially in comparison with gi BJJ. Wrestling is a lot more demanding physically, and you will develop strength and endurance, which will always be beneficial in BJJ.
As much as jiu-jitsu prides itself on the technique over strength principle, a quick glance at the top grapplers will show you just how important strength is in high-level jiu-jitsu.
Wrestling is super effective in developing grappling-specific athleticism, and incorporating some of it into your regular BJJ routine will do wonders for your attributes like strength, balance, explosiveness, and endurance. Do 15 minutes of takedown drills, and you will quickly understand the physical demand.
How To Incorporate Wrestling Into Jiu-Jitsu
We’ve gone through how valuable wrestling is for BJJ and some of the techniques and concepts that enrich jiu-jitsu, but the question of how to incorporate them is not as simple as just attending wrestling classes.
Doing pure wrestling training in a BJJ class will have merit, but there may be a better approach. Often jiu-jitsu rolls and drills start directly on the ground, removing the necessity to attempt or resist takedowns.
But if you start every round on the feet (like you would have to in a BJJ match) and set a simple rule of avoiding pulling guard, you will be forced to work harder to take the partner down in a desirable position.
When you drill takedowns, allow guillotines, Darce chokes, and other jiu-jitsu counterattacks so you will learn the takedowns in a manner usable in a BJJ match.
You can train BJJ and wrestle separately, but this is far from optimal. After all, you want to learn how to use wrestling in a jiu-jitsu scenario as one fluid grappling skill set and not master wrestling as a separate sport.
Blending the two disciplines is, in my opinion, the best way to incorporate wrestling into a BJJ regimen. Adding takedowns, takedown defense, and wrestling moves into drills and free rolling is the way to do it.
This way, you will learn seamless transitions from takedowns and takedowns defense into submissions, one of the most essential skills.
Taking someone down or preventing them from doing it to you is a must for self-defense and MMA, and while not as important in BJJ, it’s still an essential skill.
No other grappling style is easier to incorporate into jiu-jitsu training than wrestling. Starting rolling on the feet, focusing more on takedowns, and scrambling is an excellent way to implement wrestling into BJJ and become a more well-rounded and dangerous grappler.