Differences Between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu & Wrestling

Brazilian jiu jitsu -- or BJJ -- and wrestling are combat sports. Both are styles of grappling. Beyond that, the differences between the two are more numerous than the similarities. Neither is necessarily better or worse than the other, but the particulars of one or the other might be a better match for your interests and preferences.

Fall vs. Submission

You can score points toward victory in both wrestling and BJJ, but competitors in both sports strive for a match-ending and match-winning move throughout the match. In wrestling, a "fall" ends the match if one wrestler holds the other on his back for three seconds. BJJ uses submission, which means one grappler has placed his opponent in a hold that hurts so much -- or threatens injury so certainly -- that he surrenders the match.

Legal Moves

BJJ is a more violent style of grappling because it permits moves that more directly threaten damage to the joint. Choking, arm bars and ankle locks are three common examples of this kind of move. In wrestling, some of these moves are illegal and result in penalties or disqualification. Others just lead to the referee stopping the action and resetting the wrestlers to avoid injuries. Minor joint locks, such as those to the toes and fingers, are disallowed in both styles of grappling.


In wrestling, an athlete stays off his back at all costs. In BJJ, it's possible to fight effectively -- and even win -- while lying flat on your back. This changes the definition of advantageous positions for competitors in either sport. Further, wrestling competition consists of shorter rounds than BJJ. This means wrestling competition often is fast and aggressive. By contrast, BJJ play stresses relaxing and conserving your energy until an opponent presents an opportunity.

Competition Age

In the United States, wrestling competition predominantly is between school and university teams, and youth and young adults are the most frequent competitors in the sport. Organized BJJ competition lasts well into adulthood. In fact, a number of champion BJJ fighters -- including Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar -- got their start in wrestling, then moved to BJJ after graduation.

Weight Classes

BJJ and wrestling both divide competition into weight classes to keep things fair and reduce the risk of injury. BJJ weight classes conform to those of boxing and follow the same naming conventions. Wrestling weight classes follow guidelines by the NCAA or National Federation of State High School Associations and are named for the maximum weight of the particular class.


In competition, a wrestler wears a singlet -- a stretch garment that looks a lot like a 1920s-era bathing suit. He also wears headgear designed to protect his ears during a match. BJJ players wear a martial arts gi made of quilted fabric that resists tearing. BJJ also includes a "no-gi" division, in which participants usually wear compression garments.

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