The Benefits of Cross Training with Wrestling and BJJ
BJJ and wrestling are both grappling arts. Wrestling is much older, and while bjj is a young sport it is steadily growing in its audience, thanks to the UFC, and athletes like Gordon Ryan (who has several instructionals with bjjfanatics) who talk a big game then back themselves up on the mat. Wrestling needs no introduction, it’s why you’re no doubt reading this. The goals in the sports, in addition to rulesets, vary drastically, as some bjj players are in fact at their most comfortable on their backs.
However, training both can offer benefits to both, a chief example being Nicky Rod, a former wrestler who now is a bjj prodigy under John Danaher, earning second place at ADCC (essentially the no gi bjj olympics) as a blue belt, before receiving his purple belt as he took his spot on the podium alongside seasoned black belts. Oh, and he had a little over a year of bjj training. A tenth of how many years some of his competitors were BLACK belts. This piece will have advice and knowledge for both the wrestler in his off season with time to spare, and the bjj player who would either like to join their school team or work on their wrestling as a whole.
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On The Feet
I am a wrestler first and foremost. When I went to my first bjj class, I was fully aware I wasn’t going to be winning in the guard. My hope was to rely on my takedowns during rolling and just improvise a choke or submission from the bjj film I had watched leading up to that class. But the second I got swept, my default of avoiding getting pinned kicked in, and I proceeded to give up my back and get choked myself. What this has to do with being on the feet is: I would get into my stance, slap hands, then my partner immediately sat out in open guard. Since we had covered rudimentary passing in the warm up I thought ok, I can out-pace this. I couldn’t. I got swept, and having no clue what just happened, bellied out and even FLATTENED out. I basically gifted the choke to my partner. You can’t expect people to wrestle with you when you start bjj. Reasons vary from some not liking wrestling, and some are just so comfortable playing guard they’re fine with letting a headstrong wrestler think they’re winning because the guy across from him is on his back.
Now for bjj guys, learning wrestling is invaluable. Even though the goal is to submit, getting takedowns offers points (2, the same as wrestling) and when done well can take you straight to control positions like mount, and avoid having to pass the guard. Position before submission is often quoted, and for position on the feet, every bjj guy should be practicing wrestling to some degree, even if it’s just enough to sprawl and stop a shot.
On The Mat
Here’s the elephant in the room. Once a bjj match hits the ground that’s where it starts. Standing up has zero point value. On the mat you are either advancing position, or defending your position. Sweeps and submissions come into play. Where does wrestling fit into all this? The top positions, and scrambling. If you are a wrestler reading this before you begin jiu jitsu, I promise you: after a good bit of time in bjj, your scrambling in wrestling will improve EXPONENTIALLY. Your far ankle defense isn’t gonna skyrocket, but any crackdown position, sit out, get out from bottom, front headlocks, they’ll all improve. One thing that helps is you spend more time UPSIDE DOWN.
You learn to be comfortable in weird positions and can then score. A teammate of mine, who I can’t name, has been training bjj like a maniac in his off seasons. While his takedowns haven’t been anything to write home about, he is probably the best escape artist on our team. He’s more dangerous on bottom than any other wrestler I’ve seen. All thanks to bjj. Now for bjj guys, wrestling will strengthen ALL your top positions. Top turtle, side control, full mount, a full back take. On the back the benefits go both ways. Wrestling will help some portions as most leg riding series cross over effectively, and your ability to maintain back control and start racking up near fall and riding time will improve in the wrestling room. Some small technique and rule differences (like body triangles, general goals in the position, and locking hands) will require you to mentally flip the switch from time to time, but the improvements in your body awareness in these positions will be huge. The fundamentals of wrestling (head up back straight hips in) also apply in bjj. Grappling positional concepts are universal. It is simply the point values and goal of the sport in mind that change how you go about them in competition and practice.
Wrestling is simply one of the hardest workouts you can possibly do. I’d recommend it for any athlete, but especially bjj guys. You will learn to tough out certain positions, and be able to put on a pace you wouldn’t have thought possible. Wrestlers may scoff at the idea of bjj offering any athletic benefits, but the grip strength required to effectively use the gi has left my hands and forearms aching for days when I was starting. BJJ has an even greater emphasis on the hips than wrestling, your anterior chain will become immensely stronger as you train. Finally, bjj often involves much longer rounds of sparring. It isn’t uncommon for rolls to be six to ten minutes long.
I can’t recommend bjj enough right now. Especially since a lot of bjj gyms are open right now while wrestling clubs may still be closed. I recommend you sign up now and prepare for greatly improved scrambling, grip and body control. For my bjj guys, put in some rounds of wrestling. Odds are there is a wrestler at your gym. Ask him to do some drilling and open yourself up to a whole world on the feet. And be sure to check out the instructionals from both our wrestling athletes and bjj world champions in our store or over on bjjfanatics.com
Learn to blend BJJ and Wrestling from ADCC standout Nick Rodriguez! Takedown To Back Control is available NOW!