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The Importance of Wrestling
by BJA Instructor Gerry Navarra

Aside from running, wrestling is the world’s oldest sport. Early Babylonian and Egyptian reliefs depict wrestlers performing many of the holds used in the modern sport. In ancient Greece, wrestling occupied a prominent place in legend, literature, and the Olympic Games. However, its origin predates all those events. When early man first tackled one of his contemporaries to stop him from stealing his food, the double-leg takedown—and the sport—were born.

While there are many traditional ethnic forms of wrestling practiced throughout the world, there are three major styles. Two are Greco-Roman and freestyle, which are practiced internationally and contested in the Olympics. The third is collegiate or folkstyle, which is unique to the United States.

Greco-Roman wrestling prohibits attacks below the waist. Single and double-leg takedowns are illegal. Wrestlers try to control the upper body. Because of all the clinch work necessary in Greco-Roman, the style lends itself well to Mixed Martial Arts.

Freestyle has similar rules and scoring to Greco-Roman, except that a wrestler can make leg attacks. It is the more popular of the international styles.

The United States is the only country that practices collegiate or folkstyle wrestling. The slams and suplexes seen in the international styles are not permitted. Emphasis is placed on control rather than position. For example, imagine a wrestler throwing an opponent who hits the mat and then rolls out and returns to a standing position. In Greco-Roman or freestyle, he or she would be awarded points depending on how much of the opponent’s back hit the mat. If the throw was large enough, the round would be over. On the other hand, the collegiate wrestler would receive no points unless the opponent was held down after the throw and the takedown was “secured”. Folkstyle is great for sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu because positions generally must be held for three seconds before points are awarded.

Wrestling is an important study for anyone serious about BJJ or MMA. After all, every fight starts on the feet. If you have any doubts about its significance in BJJ, watch Jacaré hit an ankle pick or Marcelo Garcia work an arm drag from their feet.

UFC commentator Joe Rogan often calls wrestling the best foundation for MMA. And looking at the list of successful fighters who began their careers in wrestling, it is hard to argue with him. Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Brock Lesnar, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and so many more transitioned easily into MMA from wrestling. Besides forging a work ethic, the takedowns and takedown defense learned in wrestling allows a fighter to dictate where the action goes. Some fighters like Clay Guida use their wrestling as anti-jiu-jitsu, smothering their opponents and squashing submission attempts.

Not only will wrestling improve performance in other martial arts, but character as well. The legendary American wrestler Dan Gable once said, “After wrestling, everything else in life is easy.” Try it sometime. See if he was wrong.

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  1. Well written, Gerry. If I hadn’t known better, I would have suspected you were an English teacher.

  2. Very well written Gerry. I agree that wrestling is the best overall base for learning BJJ, Judo or any other grappling art. Wrestlers are usually some of hardest working athletes.

  3. David Svalestad says:

    Nice article. I like the Dan Gable quote.