Best Grappling Martial Arts Style: BJJ vs Judo vs Sambo vs Wrestling Ranked

Which grappling martial art is the best? Such a fun debate. I have a fun perspective too. I’ll rank the big grappling arts (BJJ, judo, wrestling and Sambo) based on their biggest weaknesses. Let’s do it.

Best Grappling Martial Arts ranked

Let’s first rank the grappling martial arts according to who would win in a grappling match that allows all submissions and gives points for takedowns. My ranking is:

  1. Brazilian jiu jitsu: BJJ allows all submissions, and therefore BJJ players can easily submit people from the other arts with submissions that aren’t practiced in that art. For example, BJJ players can easily guillotine wrestlers, leg lock Judoka and heel hook Samboka.
  2. Wrestling: wrestling can easily take down Judoka with leg grab takedowns.
  3. Judo: Judoka can choke Sambo guys, since they both wear gis but Sambo guys don’t train chokes.
  4. Sambo: I honestly don’t know enough about Sambo to do it justice. But it’s noteworthy that there are hardly any famous Sambo guys in any martial art (obviously Khabib is one exception to this, but it’s very rare).

Of course, there actually is a tournament that has rules like this: Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC). And BJJ guys always win it.

So BJJ is the best grappling art? Well… not so fast.

That BJJ wins grappling matches doesn’t necessarily make it the best grappling art. Maybe you have other goals. You might want to grapple for:

  • Self defense, MMA or street fights
  • Strength and conditioning
  • Fun

So ultimately which art’s best depends mostly on you.

And from here I want to take an opposite approach to most people. I want to tell you about the biggest weaknesses of each art, like, the things that are really dumb about them, the things that nobody tells you before you start.

These are the dumbest aspects per grappling art

The following is a law of logic: any rule set is exploitable. And in any competitive setting, people try to become good at their rule set (a.k.a. exploiting it). So no grappling martial art can ever have perfect rules. And each art has some really dumb things in it. Let’s talk about it.

Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ)

Let me start with my art: BJJ. I dedicate an obscene amount of my time to it, but it still has many weaknesses:

  • Weak takedown game. BJJ doesn’t emphasize takedowns, it focuses on the ground game. The consequence is that BJJ players are wizards on the ground – but they can’t get the fight to the ground though. So that’s honestly ridiculous.
  • Emphasizes bottom position. For many reasons (rules, culture, etc.) many people in BJJ identify as ‘guard players’, which means they want to be on bottom. More importantly, there’s an unwritten rule in BJJ that there’s always 1 top player and 1 bottom players. The bottom player is not really supposed to just get up. Therefore, BJJ players don’t learn to keep people down. Big weakness.
  • STALLING. In competitions there are basically no stalling calls (there technically are but they never get awarded). Even in a normal BJJ class stalling is rampant, because BJJ players often rather get dominated the whole round than lose on submission.

Judo

Judo has a few obvious weaknesses, mostly because Judo rewards risk taking to an incredible level. Basically if you take a risk and it doesn’t work out, the rules save you. The biggest weaknesses of Judo are:

  • You can end up on bottom after throwing someone and still win. This happens all the time because Judoka use throws that maximize power, regardless of the risk of rolling through to bottom.
  • If your throw fails, the referee saves you. This happens even more: someone goes for a seoi nage, fails, and completely exposes their back. But the rules of Judo allow them to just reset to standing after a few seconds.
  • If you fall on your front body (belly, arms, face, doesn’t matter), it’s fine. No points sored against you. This is terrible because this causes Judoka to not even try to defend throws sometimes, if they can fall to their belly instead.
  • You can’t grab legs. Obvious weakness. Wrestlers can shoot double legs right through Judoka all day.

Wrestling

Wrestling gets a lot of credit for their takedowns. Rightfully so. But they still have many weaknesses:

  • The wrestling ground game is RIDICULOUS. Goes for all styles. In freestyle, if you grab someone and you both roll over 5 points, you win by 10 points (why?). In Greco, if you pick someone up from the floor and put him down again behind you, you get points (but not if you put him down again in front of you). I’ll put a video below so you can see how ridiculous this looks.
  • No submissions. Obvious weakness. That’s why wrestlers get guillotined all the time when they transition to grappling. Many wrestling takedowns are basically self-guillotines.
  • No back control. This may not seem like a separate point but it is. In wrestling, if I take your back but my back is on the floor, you get points. This has some weird consequences. For example, when wrestlers escape a rear body lock, you see them squat down and lean all the way back to clear the grips. But this is the perfect way to give up your back (crab rides, normal back control, etc.).
Video: Gordon Ryan loses in 1 minute to a wrestler, because he ‘turns’ him a bunch of times (weird rule)

Sambo

I don’t know too much about Sambo, so I’ll keep this sort. But a big weakness of Sambo is:

  • Many submissions aren’t allowed (NO CHOKES). Only straight arm bars and knee bars are allowed. Obvious weakness.

Weaknesses of grappling in general

I want to end with a number of weaknesses that all grappling martial arts share. The most important ones are:

  • We abuse our soft mats. Every grappling martial art has many moves that you wouln’t do on concrete. For example, sacrifice throws, shooting a takedown with your knees on the ground, posting with your head on the ground, and so forth.
  • Our ground is flat, empty and not slippery. I occasionally grapple outside, and if you’re in a park after some rain, it changes the game completely. You can’t do half of your techniques if it’s slippery, hilly or if there’s things in the way.
  • No striking. Obviously.

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