We see this all the time, especially in no gi competitions.
Wrestlers Vs. BJJ players.
It’s a story as old as time.
Okay maybe not as old as time, but it definitely dates back to the 1930s. So this rivalry / discussion has been around much longer than most of us reading this.
We’ve all seen guys at tournaments with their “Blah Blah College Wrestling” Hoodies and shorts.
And when we are white belts, and beginners, this can seem intimidating.
And although there are some big advantages to having wrestled, there are quite a few disadvantages that can be exploited.
From the wrestling side
As a former wrestler, I can attest to both the good and bad sides of coming into BJJ with wrestling habits.
The first thing that wrestling DOES give us is good body awareness. Both wrestling and BJJ are essentially two sides of the same grappling coin. The idea is to dominate your opponent physically, with takedowns and pins in wrestling, and throws, positions and submissions in BJJ. Wrestlers learn takedowns and defenses, how to control someone from top, and how to get away from bottom. All three of these skills can be translated to BJJ, both in the Gi and no gi.
Another benefit of having wrestled in high school and college before starting BJJ is the familiarization with “The Grind”:
. . . In high school, every once in a while, our coach would walk into the room holding this 18 inch tall red felt flag. We dreaded these days, known as (you guessed it) “Red Flags.” We were not allowed to stop moving from the time practice started until it ended. When we weren’t drilling, we were jogging in place, doing pushups, sit ups, jumping rope, whatever. If one of us was caught sitting still, we started over. The mental toughness involved in something like that is extremely similar to what happens in our heads when the instructor calls “One more round” for the 5th time.
Although there are benefits to having wrestled before BJJ, there are some huge disadvantages as well. I think we all know a former wrestler who has this issue. We HATE being on our back. When we were kids, we all played “The Ground is Lava” and jumped around on furniture to avoid touching the floor. Well, to wrestlers, being on our back is our “lava” . . . we hate it. There is no more unnatural and depraved position to be in than on your back, with someone pinning you. This counts especially for me, the most mediocre of wrestlers, who spent a lot of mat time counting gym lights from my back. For wrestlers, being on our back disgusts us.
From the BJJ side
Now, as a BJJ player, take me down to my back. The second this wrestler shoots on me, I will pull guard and sweep him. Because although this 2 time state champion, Division 1, Big 10 wrestler is a master of the double leg, what the heck does he know about a pendulum sweep? Chances are not too much. It’s times like these when the fear of wrestlers starts to dissipate.
On the same note, it is times like these when those of us who identify ourselves as “wrestlers” are dominating on our feet, yet getting handled on the ground, decide maybe it is time for us to let our “wrestler” identity go, and start to develop as overall “grapplers”. We don’t completely disregard wrestling, because it has given us so much, but we store it away to be used at appropriate times. It is no longer our go to style.
The ground is our home
There is also that beautiful moment where the BJJ player takes the wrestler down. The wrestler is going to scramble to his hands and knees and try to stand up. That is his defense on the ground. Get up and away as fast as possible. These wrestling techniques leave so much room for submission it is crazy. If he goes to what he calls “referee’s position,” but what we call “turtle position,” his back is getting taken or he’s getting darced. The poor guy is just doing what he knows, but unfortunately, for BJJ, that is not the correct thing. He’ll get submitted and hopefully learn.
Finally there is one extremely simple reason why pure BJJ players should not be intimidated by wrestlers. It’s because you WILL have to face MANY wrestlers in your BJJ career. Especially when you are competing in the beginner and intermediate no gi divisions. Wrestlers show up in these divisions more than any others. Because they feel they can use their skill set to dominate. Keep grinding, and develop as a BJJ player, and these guys will be no problem.
I used to be a wrestler, and have been handled by BJJ players. I still use my wrestling when I have to, especially on my feet in no gi. For the most part, however, it has been pushed aside to make room for the wide array of techniques I need to be successful in BJJ. To be honest, as much as I thought I loved wrestling when I was younger, it was nothing compared to this.