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Wrestling Vs Grappling – 9 Differences

I’ve been interested in grappling for a long time, and I especially like to learn new positions and see how grapplers do different moves. Based on my extensive experience learning and doing martial arts, today I will explain the key differences between wrestling and grappling which are:

  1. Wrestling is an Olympic sport
  2. Wrestling doesn’t teach blocking strikes,
  3. The most frequently used moves are different
  4. Wrestling is statistically safer
  5. Wrestling has a unique uniform
  6. Wrestling is not thought of as a martial art
  7. Wrestling is primarily trained in school and college
  8. Wrestling is not thought of as a martial art
  9. Wrestling is primary practiced in school and college

In this post, I’ll take a look at these 7 major differences in detail:

Two wrestlers, one in a submission hold

1. Wrestling Typically Does Not Teach Submissions

One thing to put ‘out there’ from the start is that the teaching of wrestling is changing.

Wrestling and martial arts experts state that wrestling used to use a lot of submissions. These are where you apply an armlock, or a choke hold to make an opponent ‘tap’. 

However, nowadays with the focus on competition (particularly in high school, college, and the Olympics), these techniques are not taught anymore.

This is a major difference between wrestling and other grappling martial arts such as judo, and BJJ.

The two exceptions are:

  • Catch wrestling
  • Submission wrestling

However, these two forms are lesser known and are not as popular as collegiate wrestling (also called folkstyle wrestling).

Each type of wrestling has its own rules.

For example, in Greco-Roman wrestling, which is a very popular type of wrestling in High School and College, the rules state that you can’t grab the legs.

On the other hand, grappling martial arts like judo and BJJ have submissions.

Here’s a video of Greco-Roman wrestling, and below that is a video showing Judo. Both Greco-Roman wrestling and judo are grappling arts but they are quite different:

The interesting thing is that they both look quite similar at times.

2. Wrestling Is An Olympic Sport

Wrestling is a well-known Olympic sport (source). Not all grappling martial arts or sports are Olympic sports.

For example, sambo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are not Olympic sports.

However, judo is an Olympic sport. 

As you may know, sambo is very popular in Russia and is a mix of judo and kickboxing. Russia is a very big country with a large population. Therefore their national sambo league and the World Sambo championships could be argued to be as big as the Olympics.

However, the fact that other grappling sports and martial arts are not Olympic sports is a clear difference between wrestling and other martial arts.

3. Wrestling Doesn’t Teach Blocking Strikes

Some grappling martial arts also train blocking strikes such as punches.

However, in wrestling, they don’t train anything to do with strikes at all.

For example, in the grappling martial arts sambo and brazilian jiu jitsu instructors teach you toa:

  • Avoid strikes
  • Throw strikes

Interestingly, most people that transition from wrestling to MMA have a ground-and-pound style.

The best example is Daniel Cormier who was an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and transitioned to MMA. He used his superior wrestling to tire out his opponents and ultimately finish them.

Sambo is a grappling martial art that focuses heavily on blocking strikes.

Sambo is a mix of judo and kickboxing, and in practice looks almost identical to MMA. If you’re looking to train in a martial art that is good for real fighting or MMA, sambo is a great option.

The only thing is, it’s almost impossible to find a place that teaches sambo outside of Russia.

4. The Wrestling Positions Used The Most Are Different

In wrestling there are certain positions that are used more often.

On the other hand, judo and other grappling martial arts have different ‘most used’ positions.

For example, in Brazilian jiu jitsu, the guard is a very common position. This is where one person is holding the other person between their legs by keeping their feet crossed.

The guard is one of the most dominant positions in grappling sports and martial arts, and is not found in wrestling.

In this hold, one person is in a very advantageous position, whereas the other person has no opportunity to attack with submissions – their only priority is to escape and avoid getting submitted.

Positions and moves in wrestling that are in other grappling sports/martial arts

SOME positions and moves used a lot in wrestling are also used a lot in other grappling martial arts. For example:

  • Side control
  • The back
  • Shooting for a takedown
  • Throws

And all grappling martial arts share the same objective. To:

  1. Get close to the person
  2. Throw them to the ground
  3. Control them once they land on the ground, and get into an advantageous position

The exact execution varies a little bit. For example, in judo you have an arm throw technique, but you also have the same technique in wrestling.

Here’s a video of an arm throw in judo, and an arm throw in wrestling:

As you can see they look almost exactly the same.

5. Wrestling Is Statistically Safer Than Other Grappling Sports

A big difference between wrestling and other grappling martial arts is wrestling has a far lower rate of injury.

Here’s a list of the most popular grappling martial arts, and the injury percentage. 

  • Brazilian jiu jitsu – 28.6%
  • Judo – 12.3% to 30%
  • Collegiate wrestling – 2%

If you were to compete in a judo or BJJ tournament, the chance that you would get an injury is somewhere in the range of 1 in every 3 to 4 competitive matches.

As you can see, collegiate level wrestling has a far lower rate of injury than BJJ, and judo.

The percentages are based on the number of competitive matches and include a large sample set of BJJ competitors, judo competitors, and collegiate wrestling competitors.

However, if you are taking up a grappling martial art later in life, then typically the easiest to start are BJJ or judo. Pure wrestling (in most countries) is harder to find. 

Is wrestling better for MMA and real fighting?

Two other popular grappling martial arts are judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu. Most successful martial artists who become world champions in their weight division have a mix of wrestling and Brazilian Jiu jitsu. 

On the other hand, it’s less common for mixed martial arts fighters that fight in the UFC to have a judo background. However, those that do, do very well in MMA.

For example, Rhonda Rhosey was an Olympic level judo competitor. And when she transitioned to MMA she was the world champion for a long time. 

Demian Maia is another good example. He started with judo from an early age but later specialized in BJJ.

At the end of the day, regardless of what grappling martial art you specialize in or start with, both are great for MMA.

6. Wrestling Uses Some Moves That Are Not Recommended In Real Life

A common thing about grappling sports is they all have throws. But, some types of throws are better than others.

For example, if you were to try to use some types of Greco Roman, and judo throws on a surface like concrete, it could in fact hurt you more than the other person.

In judo, these are called ‘sacrifice’ throws (source).

The reason these types of throws can be used is because martial artists typically train on protective mats.

However, some martial arts like BJJ aim to filter out techniques that would not be good on the concrete, or in a situation where one needs to defend themselves.

7. Wrestling Does Not Use A Kimono (Gi)

Wrestling has a different uniform than other types of grappling.

Many popular grappling martial arts use a kimono, also called a gi. Which is a style of clothing from Japan.

As you may know, a kimono is a long sleeve jacket that needs to be kept in place by wearing a belt. It’s commonly worn 100% of the time in BJJ and judo.

However, there is also no-gi BJJ. This is where people who train it will wear bike shorts or board shorts. They will alsoeither wear no shirt, or they will wear a tight-fitting rash guard. 

This is very similar to what is worn in wrestling. However, a wrestling uniform is one piece, and the shorts connect to the single. It is a singlet rather than a shirt.

Interestingly, in competitive cycling, it’s very common to wear what is called a cycling bib. This is virtually identical to the uniform worn in wrestling. 

Some techniques and moves in judo and BJJ require the use of the kimono jacket. Without it, the person could not do the move.

For some moves the person uses their own gi jacket, but more commonly they will use their opponent’s jacket. In judo, it’s common that a person will need to hold the jacket very tightly to execute a throw. 

On the other hand, in wrestling, no moves require the person to be wearing any clothes.

This is a big advantage of wrestling moves. They are applicable to all types of situations and don’t depend on the person wearing a special type of clothing.

8. Wrestling Is Not Thought Of As A Martial Art

Other types of grappling are called martial arts. These are where the emphasis is on fighting and self defense.

On the other hand, wrestling is largely considered a sport. If you were to ask a random person if college wrestling is a martial art they would almost always say no. 

Other types of grappling martial arts such as judo and BJJ are considered martial arts. They are thought of as in the same category as karate.

9. Wrestling Is Primarily Practiced In School, High School, And College

Other types of grappling martial arts are almost always taught at an academy. It may be called a dojo, school, gym, or something along those lines.

On the other hand, wrestling is very rarely taught outside of school, high school, and college. 

It’s possible to find wrestling taught at an MMA gym, where it is a core part of the MMA curriculum.

But, it’s virtually impossible to find a wrestling school or academy that only teaches wrestling.

Is Grappling Part of Wrestling?

Grappling is not a common word and has a different meaning from what first comes to mind when you hear the word. On the other hand, virtually everyone knows what wrestling is, or knows someone who has done it. But is grappling a part of wrestling?

Grappling is not a part of wrestling. Wrestling is a type of grappling. Other types of grappling are judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ), and sambo. Grappling sports involve throwing and holding an opponent on the ground.

Wrestling is one of the most effective types of grappling. If a trained wrestler were to engage in a wrestling match with a person who has never wrestled, they can easily get them to the ground, and control them (where they can’t do anything!).

However, this is true of wrestling, sambo, and BJJ (all types of grappling). Grappling is a collective term used overall to refer to a group of sports that are all very similar to each other.  

Should You Learn BJJ or Wrestling?

There are a few main martial arts that everyone recommends and are considered to be highly effective as well as fun. Two of these are Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and wrestling.

But, here’s the long and short of which one is better and why, and if you should learn BJJ or wrestling.

In general, wrestling is better because it’s safer than BJJ. Wrestling has an injury rate of 2%, whereas, BJJ has an injury rate of 28.6% per competitive match.

Many BJJ schools have their focus on not getting injured because it’s one of the most annoying things about grappling martial arts. Grappling martial arts involve the whole body, so if you injure something you often have to take time off.

It’s generally believed that the time when you are most likely to get injured when training martial arts is in the first 1 to 2 years. After that, you are experienced enough to avoid injuring yourself or accidentally injuring your partner.