Grappling vs. BJJ (What’s The Difference?)

In the chaotic world of martial arts, things can get confusing quickly, and you can often hear people mixing one term with the other. And one of the most common misconceptions revolves around grappling vs. BJJ.

Grappling is a universal term representing a specific martial art category. It is an umbrella term for all non-striking combat systems that involve takedowns, throws, and finishing techniques such as joint locks.

Since it meets all of these criteria, BJJ falls into the group of grappling martial arts. Let’s further explain the differences between grappling and BJJ and how to avoid mixing these terms.

What Is Grappling?

In the martial arts vocabulary, grappling is a universal term for non-striking arts where the emphasis is on grabbing the opponent and securing a strong grip on the feet before taking them down to the ground in various ways, maneuvering into a specific position, and finishing them with techniques such as chokes and joint locks.

Or in other words, a specific martial art is considered grappling-based if it includes one or more of the following elements:

  • Clinch fighting
  • Takedowns
  • Throws and trips
  • Positioning
  • Pins, joint locks, and chokeholds

In modern times, the term “grappling” has two sub-styles:

Submission grappling — is a variation where practitioners, apart from takedown and holding techniques, also utilize finishing moves such as chokes and joint locks. Some of the most popular submission grappling styles are: Catch wrestling, BJJ, and Sambo.

Grappling — is a universal term for all combat systems. But in modern times, it also refers to combat systems with no finishing moves on the ground. The focus is on takedowns and subduing the opponent with pins. These are usually wrestling styles such as freestyle and Greco-Roman.

Grappling is further divided by the type of uniform, which has an impact on the pace and style of the action.

  • Gi — is a grappling style where athletes wear a uniform made out of cotton. The uniform involves pants, a jacket, and a belt around the waist. These grappling styles enable you to utilize grips on the cloth to execute takedowns and control the opponent.
  • No-Gi — is a style where practitioners do not wear a heavy gi uniform. They may wear wrestling singlets or rash guards but cannot grab onto the opponent’s cloth to gain the advantage. Instead, they must focus on body control, speed, and overwhelming the opponent with physical strength.

Grappling-based martial arts do not involve any striking such as kicks or punches. The emphasis is on utilizing your hand-to-hand abilities to defeat the opponent using grappling moves.

What Is BJJ?

What's The Difference Between Grappling And BJJ

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a grappling-based martial art developed in the 1920s by the famous Gracie family in Brazil. Its origins come from two separate grappling systems, Judo and Jujutsu. The modern variation also adopts wrestling techniques.

The system does not include any striking. The emphasis is on throwing techniques from the standup position and advanced maneuvering on the ground to get into a specific position from which you can finish the opponent with chokes and joint locks. It sounds simple, but BJJ is among the most complex submission grappling arts.

Two main styles of BJJ are known as “Gi” and “No-Gi.” As you would assume, Gi style is where students must wear a uniform.

The “Gi” is made out of thick cotton, and all practitioners must wear it during competition and training. No-Gi is the opposite, as students compete and train without the uniform. Instead, they wear grapping shorts, shirts, or rash guards.

In general, BJJ is considered a grappling system. Although this is controversial and disputable, the no-gi style of BJJ is the one that is more in line with what grappling represents as a concept.

This is because grappling, by definition, does not include a specially designed “Gi” uniform. This is considered an additional element added by the founders of BJJ. Thus, a Gi uniform prevents you from utilizing other, non-BJJ techniques from conceptually similar grappling arts like wrestling.

Let’s further explore the differences between grappling and BJJ.

Grappling vs. BJJ — What Is The Difference?

Grappling is a universal term for all fighting styles based on non-striking techniques such as throws, takedowns, and joint locks. BJJ, as a martial art, adopts the concept of grappling and involves techniques such as takedowns, throws, positioning, and finishing techniques. Why do so many people mix grappling and BJJ with one another?

The answer is the sport of MMA, where experts and commentators often use both terms while describing fighters’ skills. For example, they would say, “This fighter has a well-rounded grappling game.”

This means they have good takedowns, strong top control, and are dangerous with submissions. But in the following context, they might say they are specialized in one particular grappling martial art, such as BJJ or Wrestling. 

The next big difference between grappling and BJJ is the number of techniques. Grappling involves a broader range of techniques from dozens of different martial arts. For example, BJJ lacks some of the wrestling techniques and vice versa. So in some essence, there is no such thing as the ultimate representation of the grappling martial art.

All the major grappling arts, such as judo, wrestling, and BJJ, are conceptually very similar and do not include striking. But the emphasis, teaching methods, and competition rules significantly differ between them. This further leads to the differences in techniques and overall approach to grappling.

Does BJJ Teach Grappling?

Does BJJ Teach Grappling

BJJ is defined as a grappling-based martial art where the learning curriculum covers all the elements of grappling. In contrast with conceptually similar arts such as judo or wrestling, BJJ covers all aspects but emphasizes ground fighting. The learning syllabus in BJJ could be split into the following segments and techniques.

Standup Grappling

Each BJJ grappling exchange begins on the feet, where the main goal is to get the hold of the opponent, secure a firm grip, and manipulate their weight to execute a takedown, throw, or trip to advance the exchange to the ground. Some of the most popular standup techniques are:

  • Takedowns — double leg, single leg, low single, ankle pick
  • Throws — Tomoe Nage, Uchi Mata, Drop Seio Nage
  • Trips — Propping front foot sweep, inside trip

Ground Fighting/Grappling

Ground fighting is the most crucial aspect of BJJ. The key is maneuvering into a dominant position from which you can subdue the opponent with pins, chokes, and joint locks. The practitioner on the bottom must utilize sweeps and escapes to get out and reverse the position.

  • Dominant positions — full-mount, back-mount, side-control, crucifix 
  • Chokeholds — rear-naked choke, guillotine choke, triangle choke
  • Join locks — armbar, kimura, knee bar, ankle lock

Final Thoughts

Grappling vs. BJJ is one of the most “confusing” topics, and many people, especially MMA fans, tend to mix these two terms. But the difference is quite apparent. Grappling is an umbrella term for all non-striking martial arts, focusing on takedowns, throws, and ground fighting techniques, with Brazilian jiu-jitsu being one of them.

If you want to enroll in martial arts to learn grappling, BJJ might be the best choice. Due to the lack of striking, it is a safe combat system, has a strong community, and is a very effective self-defense grappling system.