BJJ and Wrestling: Their History, Similarities, and Differences

If you’re not a major grappling arts fan, you’re forgiven for not knowing that there’s a difference between wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ). On the surface, these two combat-style sports can look very similar. However, they’re actually quite different.

Wrestling and BJJ are both based on a grappling style of fighting. However, BJJ is all about getting your opponent to submit, while wrestling requires you to hold your opponent on their back for three seconds.

A Deeper Look At Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu made its way to Brazil from Japan in 1917 when a Japanese master of this “gentle art”—Mitsuyo Maeda—taught the fighting style to one Carlos Gracie. The Brazilian taught it to his family and took it across the ocean back to his home. The Gracies were responsible for expanding the reach of the fighting style in their home country, as well as for formalizing BJJ into its own art form.

BJJ grew in popularity around the country over the next few decades and slowly began to gain international recognition. In 1990, the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation organized the first official international tournament. The sport grew at a consistent pace and today, there are several championships that take place all over the world.

A Brief History Of Wrestling

Wrestling has been around for millennia. There are cave drawings that depict two people wrestling that date back 15 000 years. It’s referenced in the Old Testament of the Bible, in reliefs from ancient Egypt, in the Iliad and in Indian epics. It’s well known that wrestling was a favored sport in Ancient Greece and continued in popularity with the Ancient Romans. Of course, the sport was a lot bloodier back then.

The sport that we know in the modern world started to become formalized in the late 1880s. By 1904, it was included in the Olympic Games and has been ever since. Then, in 1912, the United World Wrestling (UWW) was formed to serve as the formal governing body for international regulations.

It’s important to note that this is freestyle wrestling that we’re talking about here. Greco-Roman wrestling is similar and is also included in the Olympic Games. This is all quite different to the type of staged wrestling popularized on shows like WWE.

How The Two Compare

As you can see, these two combat sports have very little in common in terms of their origins. They come from vastly different backgrounds and BJJ is a lot newer. On that note, let’s take a closer look at how they differ:

  1. Fighting Style

The most important difference is that BJJ fighters can and do spend a lot of time on their backs while looking for locks and holds on their opponents. Wrestlers don’t do this because it puts them in a risky position. They’ll lose the bout if they’re pinned on their backs for three seconds by their opponent.

Wrestling is generally a much faster-paced sport, with bouts being fast and furious. BJJ, on the other hand, is a slower, more calculated affair. These fighters tend to move slowly, waiting for the right opportunity to get in and hold their opponent. Once the fighting does start, though, it can be just as fast and furious as a wrestling bout.

  1. Kit

A major difference between the two sports is what the fighters wear. BJJ is based on Japanese Jiu Jitsu and the fighters wear a traditional gi. This is a fighting suit made of a thick, heavy fabric with pants and a jacket with a crossover front. The jacket gets held in place by a belt.

There are, however, some tournaments and divisions where fighters don’t wear gis. These fighters will sometimes just wear pants and forego the jacket. Other times, they’re allowed to wear a more fitted outfit of a top and pants.

In wrestling, the uniform is a tight-fitting singlet or unitard, usually made of lycra. The idea is that neither fighter can use clothing to hold and pin down their opponent. Wrestlers do also wear skull caps to prevent their ears and hair from getting pulled in a bout. Of course, in professional wrestling franchises like WWE, the outfits can get a little more flamboyant.

  1. Points System

As mentioned, wrestling and BJJ look very similar in fighting style because they’re both ground-based grappling styles of fighting and the opponents focus on pinning each other down. This is where the similarities end.

In wrestling, the aim is to pin your opponent’s back and shoulders to the ground for a set period. The referee will count the seconds and declare if the bout is over or if the pinned fighter has managed to break free in time and the bout can continue. If successfully pinned, the fighter automatically loses the fight and victory is awarded by what’s called a Fall.

Depending on the level of the sport, each fight can have various bouts or rounds. At the international and Olympic levels, there are two rounds of three minutes each. During this time, fighters can earn points through various holds, throws, moves and takedowns. The fighter gets awarded between 1 and 5 points based on how difficult the execution was.

In BJJ, you only get one round, and the winner is the fighter who gets the most points within a set minimum time. These bouts can go on for over 10 minutes sometimes, especially if the fighters are highly skilled. Points get awarded when various maneuvers are performed:

  • Mount = 4 points
  • Guard pass = 3 points
  • Sweep = 2 points
  • Knee on belly = 2 points
  • Takedown = 2 points

Fighters can also gain an advantage point for getting their opponent to a position where they almost have to submit.

Is One Better Than The Other?

There is no definitive answer to one sport being better than the other. Like art, it’s entirely subjective. However, both wrestling and BJJ require strength, agility, discipline and a good knowledge of tactics. Which one you decide to train in will depend on what appeals to you more.

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