What Is Grappling? (MMA, BJJ, Wrestling?)

There are many ways to hurt another human using your body, and they can be roughly divided into two main categories, striking and grappling. Striking is throwing punches and kicks, but what is grappling?

Grappling combat systems use various moves like throws, trips, chokes, joint locks, and other close-range techniques to put an opponent on the ground, control him, incapacitate him, or force him to surrender. 

There are many forms of grappling in martial arts and combat sports, and basically, all cultures have had some form of grappling practiced for millennia. We will dissect what grappling is and what separates the different styles.

What is Considered Grappling?

A martial art is considered grappling if it focuses on either throws and/or ground control and submissions. Depending on the ruleset and traditions, grappling sports may have different goals and techniques to reach those goals.

Still, the common thing is they are all used at close range and always have some form of control over the opponent. The most popular type of grappling is wrestling, as every culture has had some form of folk wrestling since deep antiquity, separated only by cultural specifics and rules.

Technically, the terms “wrestling” and “grappling” are interchangeable because many different grappling styles are considered “wrestling” in their respective cultures.

But especially since the rise of MMA, for a better distinction the word wrestling, is used for the Olympic styles of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, as well as different folk styles, all sharing the common goal to pin the opponents back to the ground.

While grappling is the widely accepted umbrella term for all martial arts and techniques, including some form of holding techniques.

To expand on that, the techniques considered for grappling include standing clinching techniques, throws, trips, submission holds, securing positions or controlling techniques on the ground, and escapes and reversals of those same positions.

Or, in short, everything that includes you grabbing an opponent, be it on the feet or the ground. Grappling and striking are the two forms of fighting, and they are often separated, but some martial arts use both at the same time.

The combination between grappling and striking often makes both more effective. This is best shown in MMA, combat sambo, and kudo, among other less-known combat forms. In these styles, grappling can be used as a threat to set up strikes, and vice versa.

Another classic example is Muay Thai clinching, which is used to score points by controlling the opponent and opening up space to land knees and elbows.

MMA offers the most possibilities for combining grappling with striking. The most visible example is the ground-and-pound tactic widely used by proficient wrestlers, who first take down the opponent and then control him on the ground while raining down punches and elbows.

Different Types of Grappling

What Is Grappling In MMA

As mentioned, grappling comes in many forms and varying degrees of complexity. The two most significant distinctions are between styles where the match ends when one wrestler falls and styles that continue fighting on the ground until certain conditions are met.

Sumo and Mongolian wrestling are perfect examples of the first group, where wrestlers aim to throw the opponent to the ground and remain standing, which is when the match is over.

Performing the perfect throw or trip is the name of the game. Pushing the opponent out of the competition boundaries is also a viable and commonly used way to win in these styles of wrestling. 

Grappling styles like Olympic wrestling and BJJ have different approaches and continue grappling once the fight touches the ground. In western wrestling, the end goal is to pin both shoulders of the opponent to the mat for a short period.

On the other hand, styles like BJJ also value control but focus more on applying painful positions and forcing the opponent to submit or risk serious injury or unconsciousness if they refuse to admit defeat.

Martial arts like judo and sambo offer a combination of both, in which a perfect throw can still win the match, but grappling continues on the ground if both competitors end up there. On the mat, dominant positions, control, and pins score points, but submission holds can also be used.

Other styles like combat sambo, kudo, and MMA even incorporate striking into the mix, allowing competitors to kick or punch during combat. These styles best represent the full spectrum of combat, where striking and grappling complement each other.

Then another distinction we must make between grappling styles is the use of clothing. Styles like judo, sambo, and BJJ use heavy cotton tops, which can and are frequently used in grappling.

For example, the lapel of the judo gi is used to help certain throws and is applied in some chokes to force the opponent to submit. Styles like Greco-Roman, freestyle wrestling, and submission grappling strictly forbid the manipulation of the attire. Hence, grapplers must rely only on the natural holds available to the body.

Why Is Grappling Important?

What Is Grappling In Jiu Jitsu

If we have to point out a single event that showcased how important grappling is to real fighting, it has to be UFC 1.

The unassuming Royce Gracie’s victory in three of the first four UFC events, which were truly free fighting in a cage, opened the eyes of martial artists around the world to the fact that if one does not know how to fight on the ground, he is doomed against a skilled grappler. This is true to the same degree for real-world unarmed fighting.

While everyone has some instinct for what to do on their feet and can throw a lucky punch, once the fight gets up close, there is no such thing as chance. Unless the size difference is enormous, even a mediocre grappler can control and incapacitate almost everyone on the ground.

The fact is it is very hard to maintain proper distance for striking, and countless street fights show that very often, a clinch is inevitable, which is where grappling begins. Some MMA fighters have developed exceptional takedown defense and awareness of maintaining the proper distance to strike, but this is a skill to be learned.

Someone not good at this is easy prey for most grapplers. Ducking the head down and using the hands to protect the most vulnerable parts is enough to prevent knockout strikes and allow the grappler to enter his preferred range.

Another benefit of grappling martial arts is that body control allows disabling a person without severely hurting him, something that cannot be said about striking. The ability to subdue someone without causing damage makes grappling skills preferred for security personnel and law enforcement officers.

Are Grappling and Jiu-Jitsu the Same?

What Is Grappling Wrestling

Grappling and jiu-jitsu are two separate things. Grappling is the term that captures many different styles and combat sports, and jiu-jitsu is but one of them.

Many people use the two words for the same thing, but this is incorrect because BJJ is a specific combat sport with its own rules. At the same time, many of the different styles we outlined above are also considered grappling.

Jiu-jitsu is traditionally practiced with a gi which can be grabbed and manipulated. Still, in recent years, a jiu-jitsu style without a gi has grown in popularity to the point where it is considered a separate combat sport and is often referred to as submission grappling.

There are big tournaments like the ADCC, which is regarded as the world championship of grappling because it attracts martial artists from different styles to grapple against each other in a ruleset favoring submissions over everything else.


Grappling is one of the two main types of fighting, along with striking. Grappling encompasses all close-range techniques that include holding the opponent and controlling him. This includes throws, trips, clinching, ground control, positioning, joint locks, chokes, and other painful holds.

There are many pure grappling styles, like wrestling, judo, BJJ, sambo, etc. Other styles, such as MMA and combat sambo, combine grappling and striking. But regardless of the type or style, grappling is crucial for realistic fighting as a sport or real life.