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Types of Grappling Martial Arts

Grappling systems are those Combat Sports that focus on throws, takedowns, submissions and ground-fighting. The most popular forms are explained here.
Types of Grappling Martial Arts

by JJB Admin

4 years ago

The following article is an excerpt that describes the different styles of grappling martial arts from Daniele Bolelli's book 'On the Warrior's Path'. Daniele is a martial arts enthusiast, jiu-jitsu practitioner and university history professor. We recently collaborated with Daniele to produce the very cool 'Jack Johnson vs. Mitsuyo Maeda' T-Shirt.

Grappling systems are those Combat Sports that focus on throws and takedowns, and/or on ground-fighting (which depending on the system includes pins and/or chokes and/or leverages.) Examples of these arts are Kodokan Judo, Sumo, Brazilian Jujitsu, Chinese Shuai Chiao, Russsian Sambo, and the Western systems of Greco- Roman and Freestyle Wrestling. In addition to these systems, there are many forms of ethnic wrestling (from Mongolia to Africa, just about every country in the world has some form of wrestling) and eclectic systems based on some of the most popular grappling arts outlined above. The differences between these arts have to do with the rules they abide by.

The most important difference is whether a system is exclusively dedicated to takedowns and throws but does not include ground-fighting (like Sumo, Shuai Chiao, and Mongolian Wrestling), or it employs both (like Judo, Brazilian Jujitsu, Sambo, and Western Wrestling.) In the first group, the winner is the athlete who can execute a perfect throw while maintaining his/her own balance. In the second group, depending on the system, one may win because of a perfect throw, because of pinning the opponent to the floor, or because of a submission (choke or leverage) on the ground. Another important difference has to do with the amount of clothing worn by the athletes in competition (since clothing can be grabbed to make throws easier, the kind of throws employed change depending on the uniform worn.) Here is a breakdown of the main characteristics of the major grappling styles:


Judo players wear a heavy jacket called a gi which is grabbed to execute the throws and facilitate submissions on the ground. Most of the throws are hip throws, hand throws, sweeps, and sacrifice throws (those throws in which one willingly goes to the ground in order to take down the opponent). Judo discourages grabbing the opponent’s legs (a common technique in Freestyle Wrestling) to execute a throw. On the ground, Judo players aim at pinning the opponent with his back on the floor, or choking him in a variety of ways, or apply- ing a leverage (the only leverages allowed are against the elbow joint). (Kano 1986, Takagaki 1957)


Sumo players rely on takedowns and throws. Pushing the opponent out of the circle delimitating the ring or taking him to the ground are the ways to achieve victory. Hardly any clothing is worn during the matches and no leverages or chokes are allowed.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

This recent form of jiu-jitsu (created in the twentieth century) specializes in ground-fighting. Fighters wear a Judo gi. Matches begin standing up but quickly a takedown (usually a simpler, less flashy kind than those seen in Judo) takes the match to the ground where chokes and leverages are applied. Legal leverages are those against almost any joint other than the fingers.

Shuai Chiao:

Shuai Chiao fighters wear a light jacket (much lighter than in Judo.) For this reason, since they lack enough cloth to pull as much as Judo players do, they have to come closer to each other. Shuai Jiao does not include ground-fighting but focuses exclusively on powerful throws and takedowns which often involve joint-locking (Liang 1997, Weng 1984).


Sambo is an eclectic system combining Judo, Greco- Roman, and Freestyle Wrestling with ethnic forms of Russian Wrestling. Players wear a light jacket and rely on throws as well as on ground-fighting. On the ground, chokes are not allowed but leverages against most joints (including ankle and knee) are (Anderson & B 1999).

Western Wrestling:

Western wrestlers wear light uniforms that cannot be easily grabbed to execute throws. For this reason, western wrestling favors either grabbing the legs to score a takedown or powerful body lifts resulting in a throw. On the ground, Wrestlers aim at pinning the opponent but cannot apply chokes or joint-locks. The main difference between Greco- Roman and Freestyle Wrestling is that Greco-Roman does not allow attacking the opponent’s legs or using one’s own legs to execute a throw whereas Freestyle does.

Submission Grappling:

Submission Grappling is very similar to Brazilian jiu-jitsu but players do not wear a jacket or gi for training or competition. Another notable difference is that most submission grappling rulesets allow the application of most of the more dangerous submission attacks (like certain leg-locks and neck-cranks) which are illegal in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Advantages of Grappling Arts

Among the good aspects of grappling systems from the point of view of realistic fighting is the fact that in reality, it is very hard to keep an opponent at the distance required for the striking range, and clinching often follows the initial blows. For this reason, grappling systems offer the invaluable advantage of making one comfortable being at close quarters with an opponent. Ground-fighting, in particular, is an excellent form of training since contrary to stand-up fighting - where even if they are not trained, most people have some instinctive notions of what to do - it is entirely learned. For this reason as well as for the fact that often one may end up on the ground whether he/she wants it or not, a person with a little knowledge of ground-fighting is far ahead of one who does not know anything about it.

Disadvantages of Grappling Arts

The disadvantage of specializing too much in ground-fighting is that ending up on the ground is suicidal in a situation where one has to face multiple opponents since while one is busy fighting one opponent his still- standing friends can stomp on his/her head. The throwing component of grappling systems is possibly the most important part one needs to master for the sake of realistic fighting. In fact, since the vast majority of fights end up in the clinching range, if one is able to execute a throw, the chances of success sharply increase because taking a hard fall on concrete can knock out even the toughest opponents. Furthermore, in a situation with multiple opponents, one can incapacitate an opponent by throwing him hard and immediately move on to the next person or run. Another one of the problems inherent in grappling training, as far as realistic fighting goes, is that some of the rules teach bad habits that would be very dangerous to follow in a real situation. For example, when Judo players and Western wrestlers turn face down while on the ground in order to avoid being pinned with their back against the floor, they are effectively exposing their head and neck to the opponent. Of course, this would be the worst thing to do in a real situation.



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