BJJ v wrestling: How these martial arts differ

All martial arts are different, that much is obvious. But you can be forgiven for not knowing the distinctions between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and wrestling. 

At Gracie Miranda, we teach BJJ to people from all across the Sutherland Shire. It’s a grappling martial art that focuses on reversals and submissions rather than kicks and punches. In that regard, it’s similar to wrestling. Like BJJ, wrestling is exclusively a grappling art. 

If you’re not a martial arts aficionado, the two arts are hard to tell apart. But though similar on the surface, there are some deep, fundamental differences in the way wrestling and BJJ approach self-defence and combat.

We won’t argue here about which one is better. (Being a Jiu-Jitsu academy, you can probably guess how we feel!) But if you’re deciding which martial art to take up, there are some differences you’ll want to know.

bjj vs wrestling
photo source bjjee.com

Back to the mat

In wrestling, the goal is to put your opponent’s shoulders to the mat. In BJJ, the goal is to submit your opponent. Of all the significant differences between wrestling and BJJ, this one is the biggest. It’s essential to note that in Jiu-Jitsu, you can submit an opponent from your back.

There are pros and cons to each martial art in this regard.

In Jiu-Jitsu, you have the guard. When you’re on your back, your guard is the area from your hips to your toes. If an opponent is yet to pass your legs, they are in your guard. At Gracie Miranda and other BJJ academies, you’ll learn to trap opponents in a variety of guard positions — full guard, half guard, cross guard, de la riva and so on — from which you’ll be able to attack and submit.

The upside is that this adds an extra layer to self-defense. Even if you’re on your back, you can defend yourself. Indeed, part of the reason why Jiu-Jitsu is an effective form of self-defence for smaller practitioners is because you don’t need to muscle on top of an opponent to submit them. You can dangerous from below.

The flip side? Wrestlers focus more on takedowns than Jiu-Jitsu practitioners do. Since being taken down often means ending up on your back, this is an absolute nonstarter for wrestlers. Since Jiu-Jitsu players can fight from their back, there tends to be less of an emphasis on learning and defending takedowns.

Wrestlers will be unable to integrate the guard into their competition, but Jiu-Jitsu competitors do well to focus on takedowns like wrestlers do. 

Athleticism and technique

A wrestler’s focus on not being taken down has another consequence. Wrestlers are in general far more explosive than BJJ practitioners are, since they need to be. Wrestling consists of more scrambling and dogfighting, whereas Jiu-Jitsu often moves slower.

Again, this has pros and cons. If your focus is optimizing cardiovascular and muscular fitness, wrestling training will be more beneficial. However, that also means that succeeding in wrestling requires greater athleticism. If you want to be competitive, you’ll need to match your opponents size, strength and explosiveness more so than you would in BJJ. 

The guard slows things down in Jiu-Jitsu. Getting caught in an effective guard is akin to wading through a quagmire: You’re bogged down, and getting out requires a lot of effort. But even if you’re on top position, like side control or mount, there’s less dynamic movement than you see in a wrestling scramble.

BJJ is a fantastic full-body workout, but wrestlers are known for their tremendous conditioning. Jiu-Jitsu competitors who lack extreme strength or athleticism can instead use technique, patience and mind-games to overcome more athletic opponents.

To be clear, technique is key in wrestling and athleticism helps in BJJ. But if you’re more interested in self-defence than training your body to be more explosive, Jiu-Jitsu is better suited for you. 

Not better, just different 

Too many discussions in martial arts are arguments over which art is best. A better question to ask is what can one martial art learn off another?

In this case, Jiu-Jitsu has proven that fighting from your back can be extremely effective. Meanwhile, any BJJ practitioner would benefit from learning wrestling-style takedowns. 

Which martial art you choose depends on your preferences. If you’re more focused on conditioning, wrestling is likely a better choice. If your interests lie more in self-defence and training for a lifetime, BJJ is the better avenue.

If you’re in the Sutherland Shire and interested in signing up to martial arts classes, come into Gracie Miranda for a free trial.

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