Submission Wrestling vs BJJ: 8 Big Differences

Submission wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are two popular martial arts that are often linked together. One of the most common questions that people ask is, “What is the difference between Submission wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?” To answer that question, this article will cover the most important differences between Submission Wrestling vs BJJ.

Submission wrestling vs BJJ

What is Submission wrestling?

Submission wrestling is a form of grappling or wrestling that involves a long list of submissions includng chokes, arm locks, and strangles. The goal of this type of wrestling is to force your opponent to tap out or to force them to yield to your technique.

Submission wrestling has a slightly different history than catch wrestling but nowadays the terms are often used interchangeably.

What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art that focuses on controlling your opponent and then submitting them. The techniques of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu come from judo and traditional Japanese jujutsu. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is often called the “gentle art” because it focuses on using your opponent’s force against them. Its ultimate goal is also the submission.

Differences between Submission wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu

There’s a number of important differences between submission wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu, including:

1. BJJ uses clothing as a weapon

BJJ uses a traditional kimono or gi. This means that you can grab onto your opponent’s clothing and attack him with it. BJJ employs many different chokes both with the gi of the opponent and with your own gi.

Submission wrestling is done without a gi, and it’s forbidden to grab onto the clothing of your opponent. Of course, this difference doesn’t apply if we’re talking about no gi BJJ.

2. Submission wrestling focuses more on takedowns

Submission wrestling has stronger roots in freestyle wrestling and Greco Roman wrestling. Therefore, they focus a lot on the standup and takedown parts of grappling.

BJJ focuses more on ground fighting, because its founder Helio Gracie believed that this is where a smaller man can beat a bigger opponent. Royce Gracie proved this to the world by winning the first UFC event.

3. Submission wrestling is more physical

BJJ emphasizes technique and leverage in its mission to help a smaller practitioner to beat bigger and stronger opponents. Because of the heavy emphasis on technique and leverage there is not a strong culture of strength and conditioning training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Although catch wrestling still tries to use technique and leverage it also tries to make use of any athletic ability that you might have. For example, a big guy in catch wrestling would not feel bad if he just squeezed your head hard enough to make you tap.

4. BJJ has more rules

Brazilian jiu-jitsu has more rules and illegal holds than submission wrestling, especially in the  gi divisions. For example, neck cranks and reaping are not allowed in most traditional BJJ tournaments with the gi. In submission wrestling, anything goes.

5. Submission wrestling has origins in mixed martial arts

Sub wrestling has its origins in Vale Tudo, an early form of MMA. It later became a pure grappling art. Nowadays, there’s also combat submission wrestling, which tries to bring submission wrestling back to its roots by also allowing strikes.

The development of sport BJJ is mostly opposite. With few exceptions, BJJ fighters are only interested in submission grappling, not in getting punched in the face.

6. Submission wrestlers hunt the submission more aggressively

A common saying in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is ‘position before submission’. This means that you first try to control your opponent and you never give up control in order to go for a submission.

In submission wrestling the same saying would be ‘submission before position’. A submission wrestler will not hesitate to jump for a submission even if it means giving up a dominant position.

7. BJJ uses a traditional belt system

BJJ uses belts to indicate rank and progression through the martial art. You start as a white belt, move through the blue belt, purple belt and brown belt, to eventually become a black belt. How long it takes to get each belt in BJJ differs for everyone but a good estimate is 2 years per belt.

Submission wrestling doesn’t use belts to signify rank at all.

8. Submission wrestling requires more strength

Submission wrestling uses some submission holds that require you to be very big and strong. 

A famous example of this is when Josh Barnett performed a chest compression submission on Dean Lister. He basically got him into a schoolyard headlock position and put so much weight on Dean’s chest that he couldn’t breathe anymore and had to tap out. You can see a Gracie breakdown of the move in the video below.

I won’t say that there is no technique involved in this submission, because there is. But if Josh Barnett was smaller than Dean Lister the same submission hold probably would not have been possible.

Is catch wrestling more effective than BJJ?

People often wonder whether submission wrestling or catch wrestling is more effective than BJJ. And the answer comes down to what we mean by effective.

Catch wrestling uses more strength than BJJ, which is great for people that have strength. BJJ discourages doing things that only work if you’re bigger and stronger than your opponent, which limits you if you are strong and big. The other side of that coin is that if you’re not among the strongest people in the room, there’s some catch wrestling techniques that won’t work for you.

So generally speaking, catch wrestling is more effective for beating smaller, weaker people, and BJJ is more effective for beating bigger opponents. I think it’s pretty clear that the latter is more important.

Catch wrestling techniques for BJJ

If you do BJJ and are interested in catch wrestling, you can try to adopt some of their moves into your game.

Neil Melanson is a self proclaimed catch wrestling for BJJ expert, and he teaches how to apply catch wrestling techniques to BJJ. In the video below you can see how he would break down the BJJ half guard using concepts and techniques from catch wrestling.

Neil Melanson also has several different instructionals about catch wrestling for BJJ on BJJFanatics.

Final thought on Submission wrestling vs BJJ

I wrote a lot of martial art comparisons, and I’ll say the same thing here as I did in my articles on BJJ vs Judo, BJJ vs Muay thai and BJJ vs wrestling: all martial arts are awesome. It’s more important that you start with one of them then that you choose the right one immediately. 

Also, the differences between BJJ and submission wrestling are getting smaller with the rise in popularity of no gi BJJ. If you read my article about gi vs no gi BJJ you’ll see that some of the differences between gi and no gi BJJ are the same as between BJJ and submission wrestling.

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