Of all the grappling martial arts in existence today, there is one that often seems to be over-looked by the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community: wrestling. Other grappling arts seem to carry over well; Sambo, with its use of the gi, and Judo, with Jiu-Jitsu claiming it as its origin. However, wrestling seems to be left out of many grappling schools, and is rarely seen used at a high level in Jiu-Jitsu competition. Many argue that its place in submission grappling is miniscule, but I would argue that wrestling deserves top-shelf treatment.
One of the reasons that so many BJJ players decide to avoid wrestling is due to one big, obvious fact: no submissions. Though folkstyle (high school) wrestling does have many uncomfortable positions that a competitor can be placed in, none of them are really meant or designed to get the tap-out. What wrestling does offer though are takedowns, positional control, and a mental and physical toughness that are rarely gained anywhere else.
Another big reason wrestling gets passed by is, I believe, due to pride. As someone who has coached many new BJJ students, I have often heard a conversation go something like this, “Yeah, that new guy came in who used to wrestle. He took me down, but I submitted him really quick.” In my opinion, this mindset causes a false sense of security in one’s grappling. A takedown is the start of gaining a dominant position, which in turn, leads to a better chance of submitting an opponent. If one simply brushes this off, they are setting themselves up for failure or worse, danger, later down the road.
I feel another reason pride may get in a BJJ practitioner’s way dates back to the early UFC events, where Royce Gracie defeated wrestlers using only his Jiu-Jitsu. The problem that comes from pointing to this example as an excuse to not take up wrestling is that it’s an outdated
reason. Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, and the grappling world at large have evolved. A new generation of grapplers has taken over. We have even seen Royce, the legend himself, suffer defeat at the hands of newer grappling artists.
I would argue that one of the contributing factors to the evolution of Jiu-Jitsu is due to wrestling. UFC champ Chris Weidman has defeated BJJ black belts in grappling competitions despite having less time in the sport, as has former UFC women’s title contender Sara McMann. The guard position may be exclusive to Jiu-Jitsu, but that means that passing the position is exclusive as well; and it’s something wrestlers naturally do very well.
A lesser known grappler, Aaron Johnson, a former wrester, has a long list of grappling success starting with his wrestling career. He was heavily involved in wrestling at the Foxcatcher Olympic Training Center, and was a four-time All-American wrestler. He has carried his wrestling experience over into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and is currently a purple belt. Aaron has won multiple regional and IBJJF competitions; in 2012, he also became the National Guard Combatives champion. He teaches wrestling at the Indiana Brazilian jiu-Jitsu Academy, where the effects of his wrestling skill are spread to other students, and successfully taken to competition.
With wrestling bringing success to UFC champions and to grapplers throughout the nation, the time seems right to further implement wrestling into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. More Jiu-Jitsu practitioners need the takedowns, the control, and most of all, the mental toughness that wrestling offers. Every school that is capable ought to add it to their curriculum in order to improve the overall skill of their students as competitors and as individuals.