BJJ vs Wrestling: Which is better?

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bjj vs wrestling

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and wrestling have been compared countless times since the rise of the sport of MMA and before. Each style of grappling has their positives and negatives, where one is superior to the other.

Here is our breakdown of the old BJJ vs wrestling debate. We’ll go through everything about each style of grappling from their histories and their principles. Then we’ll break down their similarities and differences and also why the mesh well together.

What are the similarities and differences between BJJ & wrestling? BJJ and wrestling are both ground based grappling martial arts with a wide variety of differences. But even though they have different methods and principles, they compliment each other very well when brought together.

The history of each martial art

The history of wrestling

Wrestling is possibly the oldest grappling art and sport in human history. It also was the very first Olympic sport that was added by the Greeks in 700 BC.

The history of wrestling goes thousands of years within numerous different cultures. On every continent in the world, there was a culture of people that practiced their own form of wrestling. 

There are numerous artifacts that show ancient wrestlers performing the very same techniques. Everything from sculptures, art, and even manuscripts on wrestling that have survived the test of time. Including the 2nd century Greek manuscript Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 466 that includes wrestling techniques.

Today, wrestling is still an extremely popular sport that is practiced in numerous countries. Competing every year at the world championships and every 4 years at the Olympic Games.

The history of BJJ

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was developed in the early 19th century by the Gracie brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie(Also Oswaldo Fadda, who is often overshadowed by the Gracie brothers.

Carlos was one of Master Maeda’s first Judo students after he immigrated to Brazil. Gracie would show his brother Helio the techniques he had learned, but they realized some techniques were difficult for smaller people.

They began developing their own style of grappling that was more ground based. Designed to help a smaller person fight off a bigger person using technique and leverage.

This was how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was born. The two brothers began spreading their martial art throughout Brazil and later the world.

Thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, BJJ was exposed to the world and showed its effectiveness.

The principles of BJJ & wrestling

BJJ and wrestling are completely opposite when it comes to the principles each was founded on. Here are the principles of each detailed below.

The principles of wrestling

The key principles of wrestling are to get your opponent to the ground and use force to stay on top. Using a mix of technique and strength to maintain control of your opponent to get the pin or win by points.

The principles of BJJ

Jiu Jitsu differs greatly from wrestling in these aspects. In Jiu Jitsu, technique and leverage are favored over using raw strength.

BJJ also teaches techniques that involve their students learning to fight off their back in a guard. Something that goes against everything that wrestling was founded upon.

Different uniforms

One of the obvious differences you will notice between BJJ and wrestling are the uniforms worn in competition and training.

Traditional BJJ is performed in a Gi. Much like with its predecessors Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu. There is also another style of Jiu Jitsu called No-Gi that is done in a rashguard, shorts, and also spats.

The traditional uniform in wrestling consists of a spandex onesie called a singlet. Wrestlers also wear wrestling shoes, headgear, and optional elbow/knee pads.

Different styles of BJJ & wrestling

As mentioned above, there are two different styles of Jiu Jitsu practiced that are called Gi and No-Gi. Amateur wrestling also has three different styles of wrestling called freestyle, Greco-Roman, and folkstyle wrestling.

  • Freestyle wrestling: Freestyle wrestling is the most common style of amateur wrestling that most are familiar with. Focusing on exposure points as a competitor tries to control their opponent.
  • Greco-Roman: In Greco-Roman style wrestling, you are only allowed to take your opponent down from the waist up.
  • Folkstyle Wrestling: Folkstyle wrestling is very similar to freestyle wrestling, but a little different. In folkstyle, there is more of an emphasis on controlling your opponent than in freestyle wrestling.

Rules of each competition

BJJ and wrestling also have different rule sets for their competitions. Everything from how you win each competition along with the time and points are completely different.

The rules of BJJ

In a traditional IBJJF sanctioned Jiu Jitsu, the matches are one round of either 5-10 minutes depending on the competitor’s ranks. A BJJ competitor’s goal is to win their match by submission or points. If the match ends in a tie, the referee will decide who the winner is.

The points of a Jiu Jitsu match are:

  • Mount/Back Mount: 4 points
  • Guard Pass: 3 points
  • Sweep: 2 points
  • Knee On Belly: 2 points
  • Takedown/Judo Throw: 2 points

There are also lesser points in Jiu Jitsu that are scored call advantages. An advantage is when you either almost advance to a different position or almost get a submission.

The rules of wrestling

All styles of wrestling matches go by the same number of rounds in time. The number of rounds varies between high school, collegiate, and international competitions.

  • High School Wrestling: 3:2 minute rounds
  • College Wrestling: 1 3 minute round and 1 2 minute round
  • International/Olympic Wrestling: 2:3 minute rounds

Points in a wrestling match include:

  • Takedown: 2 points
  • Reversal: 2 points
  • Nearfall(2 seconds): 2 points
  • Nearfall(5 seconds): 3 point

The goal of a wrestling match is to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the mat for 1 second to win. Your next option is to rack up as many points as possible within the time limit of the match.

If the match ends in a tie, then it will go to a sudden victory round. In this sudden victory round, the first person to score wins the match.

Ranking Systems

A big difference between BJJ and wrestling are their ranking systems. Jiu Jitsu goes by a ranking system, while wrestling has more of a sports based ranking system.

The BJJ ranking system

Jiu Jitsu goes by a colored belt system to separate the skill levels of the students. The adult BJJ ranks consists of 5 different colored belts.

  • White Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Black Belt

You start out a white belt and in usually 8-10 years of consistent training, you reach the black belt level.

The ranking system in wrestling

Wrestling obviously does not have a belt system and goes more by a traditional sports system. Those that are talented and successful at competitions will advance to the next level of competitions.

In wrestling there is:

  • High School Level
  • College Level
  • International/Olympic Level

Those that are the best athletes will make it to the college and international levels.

Wrestling is a school sport

One huge difference between BJJ and wrestling is that it is a school sport. In many schools across the US, wrestling is an extra curricular program that the school funds.

BJJ has no connection to any public or private schools. They are a standalone martial arts gym much like with Karate or boxing.

Wrestling is an Olympic sport

As we mentioned in the history of wrestling, it is the very first Olympic sport. BJJ on the other hand is not an Olympic sport. 

Jiu Jitsu has skyrocketed in popularity and has been considered for an Olympic sport, but as of now it still isn’t.

The strengths of BJJ & wrestling

No matter which style of grappling you train, both have obvious strengths that are beneficial to learn. Here are the strengths of BJJ and wrestling

The strengths of wrestling

  • Wrestling Makes You Strong: Wrestlers are among the strongest athletes on earth. They achieve their strength through going through grueling wrestling practices along with their strength and conditioning programs.
  • Mentally Tough: Not only does wrestling make you strong, but it makes you mentally tough. Those that compete in wrestling for years develop extreme mental toughness. No matter how hard or impossible something might be, they’ve been trained to dig down deep inside themselves to persevere.
  • Good Base For MMA: Wrestling is probably the best base you can have if your goal is to transition to MMA. In modern MMA, you must have strong wrestling skills if you want to succeed at the sport. All of the bester fighters ever from Daniel Cormier, Khabib, GSP, and Matt Hughes all had high level wrestling ability.

The strengths of BJJ

  • Submissions: The big factor that BJJ has over wrestling is that various submissions are taught within the martial art. Wrestling teaches you how to hold someone down, but BJJ teaches you how to neutralize an opponent using submissions. If you put your opponent to sleep with a choke, they can’t hurt you.
  • Learn To Fight Off Your Back: One of the most important things that was created within Jiu Jitsu was giving someone a way to fight off their back. The innovation of the guard was a great equalizer for small people against larger opponents. Using their legs to control the distance as they set up sweeps and submissions.

The weaknesses of BJJ & wrestling 

Even though wrestling and BJJ are effective, they both have glaring weaknesses. Here are the weaknesses of these grappling styles.

The weaknesses of wrestling

  • No Knowledge Of Submissions: While wrestling is good for controlling an opponent on the ground, there are no submissions practiced within it. Having zero awareness of submissions is dangerous and can leave you vulnerable on the ground.
  • No Striking: Wrestlers also have zero knowledge of striking. They may know takedowns, but if they have no idea of striking range in a fight, they can get hurt.

The weaknesses of BJJ

  • Sport Jiu Jitsu: Sport Jiu Jitsu may have been the worst thing to happen to the martial art from a self defense perspective. Many techniques done in sport Jiu Jitsu like pulling guard or berimbolo go against principles of self defense. They are great for the sport, but horrible for a self defense scenario.
  • No Striking: Just like with wrestling, there is no striking taught within Jiu Jitsu. Having no understanding of striking range can get you seriously hurt in a fight.

The similarities between BJJ & wrestling

While BJJ and wrestling may seem completely different, they actually have many similarities with one another. Here are some of the main similarities that the two systems have with one another.

Both are grappling arts

Both BJJ and wrestling are ground based grappling arts that are both done on the mat. This is why it is so easier for someone that practices one style to transition to the other. While the techniques taught are different, they are both done on the mat.

Great ways to get in shape

Learning either BJJ or wrestling is a great way to get in shape. The training in both are both high paced workouts that work every muscle in your body. Training consistently in either for an extended period will lead to a complete body transformation.

Build confidence

Wrestling and BJJ have this way of building confidence within those that practice them. Not only do they transform physically, but also mentally and physically. They turn into more confident and are ready to accomplish anything they want to do thanks to learning these arts.

Self defense

Even though both have different philosophies and principles, they are a great form of self defense. Most physical confrontations go to the ground and both systems teach their students how to control their opponents on the ground. By knowing either or both of these grappling styles, you’ll be better prepared for a physical confrontation.

Great for kids

Wrestling and BJJ have been scientifically proven to be great for kids. When kids are growing up, they need structure and positive influences as they grow into adults. BJJ and wrestling provide kids with places to learn life lessons from positive role models and make lots of friends.

Similar practice formats

The practice formats between BJJ and wrestling are actually very similar. Both generally last an hour or more and are broken up into 3 parts. The warm up, drilling techniques, and then practice sparring.

How one style can beat the other and vice versa

Both styles of grappling have the tools necessary to beat the other style. Here are the methods each can use to beat each other.

How a wrestler can beat BJJ grappler

  • Takedowns: No doubt a wrestler will be more skilled at takedowns than a BJJ practitioner. If a BJJ practitioner dares stand up against a wrestler, the wrestler can take them down at will and rack up points.
  • High Pace: Wrestlers grapple at an extremely high pace and can keep it up for around a round. If a BJJ grappler isn’t used to this space, they will probably gas out trying to keep up with the wrestler.
  • Stay On Top: The only way a wrestler will win a grappling match with a BJJ grappler is if they can stay on top. Also pass their opponent’s guard and keep a dominant position. If the wrestler can stay the whole match in a dominant position, they will win on points.
  • Pressure: This goes along with staying on top. A wrestler must keep nonstop pressure on their BJJ opponent. They cannot give the BJJ grappler an inch or they will get swept or submitted.

How a BJJ grappler can beat a wrestler

  • Choke Them Out: As mentioned in the weaknesses of wrestling section, wrestlers don’t train submission defense.(Especially chokes) That is why a BJJ grappler should aim to choke a wrestler out in their match. The wrestler will most likely leave their neck exposed going for a takedown or in the guard.
  • Get Them Tired: A BJJ grappler can actually use the wrestler’s advantage of keeping a high pace against them: If a BJJ grappler can weather the storm, the wrestler will most likely gas out. They will be too tired to defend sweeps or submission.
  • Get Them On Their Back: Wrestlers are like turtles when they’re on their back. Even though they’re good at holding opponent’s down, their sweep defense isn’t the best. So a BJJ grappler should try to get a wrestler to overextend themselves to sweep them to their back.
  • Slow them down: A BJJ grappler should never try to play a wrestler’s high pace game. Instead, they should slow the pace down and make them play their game. Keeping the wrestler controlled and where they want them.

How do BJJ and wrestling compliment each other?

Even though BJJ and wrestling are two very different grappling arts, they mesh together very well. Having both wrestling and Jiu Jitsu abilities can make you an extremely effective grappler.

Being able to work off your back or on top and be able to land takedowns whenever you need to. If you are serious about improving your abilities as a grappler and martial artist, you really should learn both arts. 

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Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years. Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.

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