There are many things that make BJJ grappling different than wrestling that go beyond just the rules and objectives.  Most will agree that wrestling has a significantly different feel and flow to it.  As someone who has spent 10+ years wrestling before transitioning to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it was one of the things I noticed early on in my BJJ training.  Wrestlers in general will grapple with more explosive movements.  They will use a lot more ­power and grip much tighter in an effort to maintain control.  Below we discuss some different reasons that may contribute to this.

Wrestling vs Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu vs Wrestling

One theory is that the additional power and force associated with wrestling is required to maintain top position and prevent your opponent from standing up.  Controlling your opponent from behind can be extremely difficult when jiu-jitsu techniques like the rear naked choke are not allowed.  Furthermore, escaping from bottom position in wrestling also requires explosive movements.  One of the basic escapes in wrestling is the stand up and turn in.  This usually requires a quick burst of power to get to the feet otherwise you will be forced back down to the mat.  Wrestling is all about forcing your opponent into a position against their will.  As a result the force and pressure applied is significantly more than BJJ grappling.

Another major difference between BJJ grappling and wrestling that may result in the variance of force and power is the time spent directly facing your opponent vs being behind your opponent.  Facing your opponent occurs at a higher rate in BJJ.  From common positions such as the guard, half guard, and side control, it is inherently very difficult for the bottom opponent to stand up as part of his or her defense.  It is much easier to stand up when positioned on your hands and knees than from lying flat on your back.  In jiu jitsu, however, positioning yourself on your hands and knees exposes your back, leaving you vulnerable to a plethora of submissions and attacks not permitted in wrestling.  Keeping your opponent on the ground requires much less effort in jiu jitsu when compared to wrestling. In addition, staying on the ground when training BJJ is significantly less of a threat.  There is no penalty for riding time and most BJJ practitioners prefer to work from the ground anyway.

Wrestling also has a much stricter set of objectives and rules when compared to BJJ grappling.  This in turn means that the amount of techniques available to wresters are not as numerous as those available in BJJ grappling.  It’s possible that this results in techniques being forced upon your opponent using power and explosiveness because other options are more limited.

When comparing BJJ grappling to wrestling it’s also very important to note the objective of those participating in each.  Most wrestlers, from the kids to adults, practice wrestling with the intention of wrestling competitively.  Therefore, practices are focused around the mindset of winning the match by points or pin within the structure of the rules and a time limit.  Jiu-jitsu, on the other hand, is often practiced by people who have no intention of ever competing.  Some may train for self-defense, others for exercise, and still others train for fun.  Whatever the reason, for many of those involved in BJJ, training is not dependent on a time limit or scoring points.  This probably results in a more relaxed and flowing form of grappling.  After all, one can easily argue that there is a significant difference between the flow of competitive BJJ grappling and non-competitive BJJ grappling.

Rolling with partners who have a wrestling background and are new to BJJ can sometimes be frustrating.  When starting out, wrestlers will often use such techniques as the forearm to the face and single finger backward bend grip break.  Neither of which is appreciated by most training partners in jiu-jitsu.  Wrestlers new to BJJ also tend to roll hard for a good 3 minutes before completely gassing out.  I have to say I was guilty of this myself when I first started BJJ.  But over time, wrestlers, like other white belts, will learn and adapt to the energy of the BJJ game with experience.  Former wrestlers will become some of the best training partners you have.


Other Resources

Read our breakdown on Gordon Ryan vs Bo Nickal.
Want to know more about jiu jitsu belts, check out our jiu jitsu belt guide.
Beginning BJJ and want to know what to expect, read our bjj white belt tips.
Let us know if we should re-launch our black belt lineage project. 


February 22, 2013


Rolljunkie said:

This article was written by one of our staff members who was a long time wrestler – probably a higher BJJ blue belt at the time.

Braman said:

Great article. Just curious who wrote it and what BJJ belt were they at the time they wrote it? Thanks.

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