When it comes to grappling martial arts that are fun to practice, effective in MMA, and highly reliable and realistic in terms of self-defense, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and wrestling easily top the list.
Training both, however, can be time-consuming and will certainly take a toll on the body.
So, if you had to pick one, you’re most likely thinking along the lines of a BJJ VS Wrestling SWOT analysis.
Allow us to take the guesswork out of the equation.
What is BJJ?
BJJ is a grappling martial art that originates from Brazil.
Practitioners train both standing (where they try to throw each other on the ground) and on the ground (where they use a system of hierarchical pinning positions to control and eventually submit an opponent via a joint lock or a choke hold).
If you’re wondering what Brazil has to do with Jiu-Jitsu, the answer takes us back to Japan, and the modern (read civilian) version of the Samurai’s unarmed combat method of choice: Judo.
Following the dissolution of the Samurai’s casts, their Ju-Jitsu hand-to-hand combat system was reborn and rebranded as Judo by a certain Dr. Jigoro Kano.
Judo quickly became a national sport in Japan and many famous champions started traveling the world, bringing Judo to the masses.
One such champion was Mitsuo Maeda, who was not only teaching Judo to Westerners (and everyone else) but also learning their grappling styles like folkstyle wrestling and catch-wrestling.
He ended up with a unique mixture of Judo and other grappling styles which he eventually taught to a group of skinny kids in Brazil, who found it extremely useful in their everyday Favela struggles.
Maeda’s earliest students, a couple of brothers from the Gracie family, get the credit for creating and popularizing BJJ as we know it worldwide.
The two main styles of BJJ stem from the selection of training/competition attire:
What is Wrestling?
Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the world, and most likely the oldest form of a martial art ever.
The sport revolves around explosive throws, trips, and takedowns, aiming to get a person to the ground, with the ultimate goal of pinning the bottom person with their back on the ground.
Some very early evidence points to wrestling originating from India, according to parts of the Indian sacred texts, the Vedas, where it is called ‘malla-yuddha’. People engaging in wrestling were also depicted in 15,000-year-old cave drawings in France, as well as being present in Egyptian and Babylonian ancient culture.
Of course, the ancient Greeks get all the credit when it comes to popularizing wrestling through the Olympic games, which eventually led to wrestling becoming a national sport in many different countries, starting from ancient Rome, all the way to modern states like the USA, Iran, Russia, etc.
Modern wrestling is an Olympic sport, and competitions happen in highly organized national and international leagues.
The geographical diversity of wrestling throughout history has produced many recognizable styles:
- Freestyle wrestling (first of two original forms, involving throws, takedowns, and pins).
- Greco-Roman wrestling (the second original form, involving throws, takedowns, and pins, but only allowing manipulation of the upper body).
- Folkstyle wrestling (variation of freestyle with differences due to geographic origins. Many countries have their own traditional form).
- Catch-Wrestling (British-born way of introducing submission holds into wrestling using the catch-as-a-catch-can method).
- Luta Livre (Brazil’s version of freestyle wrestling, with added submissions).
- Collegiate wrestling (a folkstyle form popular in the USA, with specific rules).
- Submission wrestling (the MMA version of wrestling, a hybrid that includes elements from BJJ, Judo, and Sambo).
BJJ VS Wrestling: Similarities
Since Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling are both focused on grappling in exchanges between practitioners, there are many traits that these sports have in common.
Both BJJ and wrestling are grappling martial arts, meaning there is no striking of any form involved in practicing either of these sports.
Each features an array of techniques focused on throwing, tripping, or otherwise taking an opponent to the ground through controlled and methodical means.
Once on the ground, the goal is to use body weight, mechanical superiority, pressure, angles, and similar methods to ensure you can pin, i.e., restrict the opponent’s movement and impose your control.
No striking is the main rule common to both wrestling and BJJ.
Moreover, both defensive and offensive tactics feature in BJJ and wrestling, which is where points make the difference in competitive sports settings.
Points, both positive and negative, reflect the capability of executing techniques from standing and being in control of the bottom person once on the ground.
Stalling (time wasting) is discouraged in both sports, with negative points (penalties) awarded in such situations.
There are weight, age, and sex divisions in competitions in both sports.
Nowadays, both wrestling and BJJ are irreplaceable in MMA, and every champion and top-ranked fighter, even if they come from a striking background, has a strong working knowledge of both.
BJJ VS Wrestling: Differences
Despite being very similar in nature, wrestling, and BJJ are two different sports, each defined by specifics that make them unique.
The most obvious difference between modern wrestling and BJJ is submission holds. Joint locks and chokes are hallmarks of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, whereas they are banned in wrestling, which focuses on takedowns and pinning on the ground.
The faster pace of wrestling also means that techniques like slams are inevitable, meaning they are allowed in the sport, contrary to BJJ, where a slam will get you DQed.
The same holds true for transitions and pinning positions that put pressure on the cervical portion of the spine (neck cranks). Moves like some Nelson holds, for example, are a staple of wrestling mat work, whereas they are outlawed at all levels in Jiu-Jitsu.
BJJ also lacks in the department of takedowns, where wrestling excels. There is also the controversial guard pul in BJJ, the option of sitting down on the ground and pulling the opponent on top of you, which would lose you a wrestling match.
Wrestling, on the other hand, has nowhere near the versatility in terms of positions and transitions that BJJ offers once the fight hits the floor.
Rulewise, I will try to boil things down to the main differences, seeing as different federations in BJJ, as well as different styles of wrestling, have different rulesets.
The gist is that both sports have points awarded for the execution of different techniques, but BJJ does not reward points for reversals, i.e. escaping your opponent’s control, unlike wrestling where that earns two points.
The amount of points for different pins and positions is also different.
There is also the format of competitions. BJJ matches last from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the tournament format and experience of the competitors. In wrestling, matches have periods, with Olympic rules dictating 2 three-minute periods separated by a 30-second break.
A notable difference is the use of the referee’s position in wrestling, which has a competitor on all fours, usually during double time or overtime rounds.
The official competition uniform of wrestlers is a singlet, coming in different colors based on specific tournament requirements.
In BJJ, competitors testing their skills in No-Gi are required to wear a rashguard (depicting the color of their belt rank) top, and shorts (around-knee length).
In Gi Jiu-Jitsu, a Gi (kimono) consisting of a jacket, pants, and belt is mandatory. Gi colors allowed in the competition are white, blue, or black. There are a ton of different types of BJJ gis, from lightweight gis ideal for competitions to heavy durable gis designed to withstand the intense demands of BJJ practice.
Wrestling is one of the foundational Olympic sports and has been a part of every Olympic Games since the very first event.
BJJ is far from being an Olympic sport, and currently, no attempts are being made to change that.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu follows a ranking system based on the Japanese martial arts systems, using colored belts. The adult ranks in BJJ are:
Wrestling has no belt system to rank practitioners in training, and instead, uses points-based ranking throughout a season, based on competitive performances.
BJJ VS Wrestling: Which is Better for Self-Defense?
This is where the BJJ VS wrestling debate takes off. Which of these arts is going to be of better use in a real-life altercation? To be honest, both are going to work, as long as you’ve spent at least 6 months practicing.
However, we need to make a pick, so let’s look at the facts:
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu became popular as a combat system that helps a smaller/weaker person defeat bigger/stronger opponents, even when they are trained in other martial arts.
Another thing going BJJ’s way is the positions, which include a lot of work off your back, something that happens very often in street fights and is seldom planned or desired.
Submissions also make Jiu-Jitsu the perfect fit, given the immediate fight-stopping effect a dislocated joint or an opponent going to sleep has.
Wrestling, on the other hand, is extremely helpful in only allowing the fight to go to the ground if you want to. Clinching, motion, and the power and strength that comes from training wrestling can come in very handy in self-defense scenarios.
I’d have to give the edge to BJJ in the aspect of self-defense.
BJJ VS Wrestling: Which is Better for MMA?
Both martial arts/sports are foundations of modern MMA. Pegged against each other, though, I’d have to give wrestling the belt inside the cage. Here’s why:
Wrestling is more dynamic in nature than BJJ and is a better fit for the versatility of MMA, where takedowns and pinning score more points compared to fighting off the back.
The lack of submissions is mitigated by the fact that wrestling is super useful in neutralizing striking threats and wearing opponents down, as proven by GSP, Khabib Numragomedov, Islam Makhachev, and many others.
Last but not least, it is a lot easier and quicker to learn and incorporate wrestling into an MMA game plan compared to the much steeper learning curve and time-demanding nature of BJJ.
Which is Harder to Learn?
If wrestling and BJJ were easy, everyone would do them. Despite both sports being appropriate for a wide age range, they are not at all easy when it comes to mastery.
Out of the two, BJJ is definitely the harder one to master. Wrestling has a lot fewer positions, techniques, and situations compared to the vastness of the Jiu-Jitsu universe. To put things into perspective, you need about 6-7 years to get proficient at BJJ, which ranks you to a purple belt. A black belt takes somewhere in the range of 10 years.
While wrestling is physically more demanding than BJJ, you can master the sport’s ins and outs in 2-3 years and then work on polishing your game, timing, and tactics.
Pros & Cons of BJJ
As a BJJ black belt, I have my pink glasses on when it comes to the sport, but I will do my best to be objective.
The pros of training BJJ are many, but I have to point out the fun and never-boring aspect of this art. Jiu-Jitsu is a very young material art and as such, is still developing and is neverending. It requires as much mental involvement as it does physical which people seem to love!
In that sense, it is easy for people of all ages, from 5 to 85 to train in BJJ, given the gentler training style and possibility of light sparring (rolling). It is also the reason many different profiles of people fall for the charm of BJJ.
Another pro is that you cant train both styles (gi and No-Gi) in the same club, and in some cases, even in the same training sessions.
On the side of cons BJJ is very technical and as such requires a long time to learn, which puts some people off. You could get a Ph.D. in the time it takes to earn a BJJ black belt, and even then you’d be just a baby black belt among people with decades of experience at that level.
Jiu-Jitsu is also somewhat of a luxury sport, as it is quite expensive to practice. Apart from the gym fees, there is also the expensive gear (Gis, rashguards, etc) to consider, as well as the fact that in most cases people pay for their own tournaments,
There is also the status of BJJ, as it is not recognized as an Olympic sport, as well as its timid and tactical nature in comparison to the much more hard-working, no-excuses nature of wrestling or MMA.
Pros & Cons of Wrestling
Wrestling is also I sport I train and enjoy, albeit less than BJJ. However, the fun in terms of training I mentioned in BJJ is also a big pro when it comes to wrestling!
Wrestling training is demanding, but in return will yield great physical shape, teach you how to move and read other people’s movements and, as you go deeper into the sport, teach you versatile moves to obtain your goal with very little effort.
Some cons of wrestling include the physical requirements for the sport, given that every wrestling club out there trains in a highly competitive environment which not all types of people find suitable or desirable.
Speaking of competition, competitors in wrestling will get a lot more attention from coaches compared to hobbyists, which is why most people involved in wrestling are competing actively.
There is also the lack of submissions, as well as the absence of a possibility to try a different aspect of training in terms of adding a Gi to the mix.
BJJ VS Wrestling, what is the difference, and which is better?
In terms of the first question, we offered all the information you need to better understand both sports.
When it comes to which is better, aside from specific applications of both, like self-defense or MMA, you need to add in your personal preferences, needs, and expectations and draw a conclusion for yourself.
I’d say train both, or at the very least, give both a try before you settle down for whichever fits you best.