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What is Grappling?

Grappling martial arts are a fascinating and diverse subsection of combat sports. These martial arts focus on techniques such as throws, takedowns, joint locks, and chokes, gifting you with the know-how to subdue opponents without the need for striking.

Whether you're looking to get in shape, learn self-defense, or join a competitive sport, grappling provides a unique and effective way to achieve your goals.

In exploring the realm of grappling martial arts, you'll come across varied styles from all around the world. Some popular examples include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Sambo, and wrestling. Each style is uniquely rooted in its culture and history, but their common ground lies in the emphasis on ground fighting and submission techniques.

Understanding Grappling

Grappling describes a variety of combat sports that focus on controlling your opponent on the feet, or on the ground. The essence of grappling is about engaging with an opponent at close quarters, making it significantly different from striking-based martial arts.

Essence of Grappling

In the world of martial arts, grappling is often contrasted with striking. While striking techniques involve punches, elbows, knees, and kicks, grappling techniques encompass takedowns, throws, pins, and submissions. Grappling martial arts utilize leverage and technique to overcome opponents of different sizes and strengths.

Techniques and Terms

To really understand what grappling is, you'll need to have a basic understanding of key grappling terminology. Here are some of the basic terms used in grappling martial arts:

  • Takedowns: Taking your opponent from a standing position to the ground, often by targeting their legs or using their own momentum against them.
  • Throws: Similar to takedowns, but with a greater emphasis on upper body control and lifting your opponent off the ground before landing them on the ground.
  • Pins: Holding your opponent down on the ground, often by using your body weight and different positioning techniques, restricting their movement and gaining control.
  • Submissions: Applying joint locks or chokeholds to force your opponent into quitting or "tapping out."

A typical grappling match involves a combination of sweeps, clinch fighting, ground fighting, and ground control techniques. Leverage plays an essential role, helping you maximize your strength and execute techniques more effectively.

The 5 Major Grappling Martial Arts

While there are a wide array of grappling martial arts, here are what we consider the 5 most important grappling styles you should know about...

1. BJJ

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a highly effective grappling martial art originating from Brazil. It focuses on ground fighting and submission holds.

You'll often find BJJ practitioners wearing a gi, a traditional uniform that aids in control and techniques. BJJ has gained popularity thanks to its success in mixed martial arts (MMA) and its reputation for allowing smaller opponents to defeat larger adversaries with minimal effort.

As a practitioner, you'll learn how to control your opponents without hurting them, making it suitable for self-defense. BJJ is also practiced "no-gi" in which participants where a rash guard and fight shorts.


Judo, founded by Kano Jigoro, is another prominent grappling martial art. Becoming an Olympic sport in 1964, it emphasizes throws, trips, and submission techniques.

Judo's training regime is quite rigorous, preparing you for real-life situations. Kodokan Judo, the most popular style, is known for its hip throws, enabling you to bring down your opponents with ease.


Wrestling is a classic grappling martial art with various styles, such as Greco-Roman, freestyle, and catch wrestling. Wrestlers develop immense power and speed, focusing on throws, takedowns, and pins to dominate their opponents.

Throughout history, wrestling has been a staple in many cultures, from ancient Greece (with Pankration) to Mongolian wrestling. Today, wrestling is featured in the Olympics and is a significant part of MMA competitions.


Sambo is a Russian martial art that blends Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and local wrestling styles into an effective grappling system. Sambo consists of sport sambo, which is purely competitive, and combat sambo, used for self-defense and military training.

Practitioners wear distinctive uniforms called kurtkas and employ forceful throws, leg locks, and submission techniques to overpower their opponents.

If you ever wondered what BJJ would look like if everyone took their pants off, well that's pretty much Sambo.


Sumo, the national sport of Japan, is a grappling martial art that aims to push or throw opponents out of the ring (dohyo). Sumo wrestlers, known as rikishi, are typically heavy and powerful, utilizing their bodies to force their adversaries out of the designated area. Though not as widespread as other grappling martial arts, sumo holds a significant cultural standing in Japan and showcases a unique aspect of the grappling world.

In summary, these five notable grappling martial arts—BJJ, Judo, Wrestling, Sambo, and Sumo—offer distinct techniques and approaches to overpowering and controlling opponents. Each has its strengths and applications, making them valuable additions to any self-defense repertoire or competitive career.

Ground and Standing Techniques for Grapplers

When practicing grappling martial arts, it's important to develop both ground and standing techniques. On the ground, you can work on submission wrestling, exploring various chokeholds and joint locks to control your opponent. Remember to focus on establishing a dominant position to increase your chances of securing a submission or reversal.

Influence and Culture

As a fan of grappling martial arts, you might be wondering about their influence on culture and their global presence. Grappling martial arts have grown in popularity over time and have had a significant impact on not just sports but also popular culture.

Grappling in Olympics and Professional Sports

In the world of sports, grappling has made its mark with the inclusion of Olympic freestyle wrestling. This discipline allows fighters to compete at the highest level, showcasing their skills and representing their countries. In professional sports, grappling is a staple in mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions like the UFC. Clinch work and ground-fighting are essential aspects of a well-rounded fighter's arsenal.

While Olympic-style wrestling is popular in America, you might be surprised to learn about the rich cultural heritage of grappling martial arts around the world.

Grappling martial arts, whether they're Olympic sports or traditional disciplines, continue to leave a lasting impression on the world. From the ancient art of Malla-yuddha to the modern flair of Combat Jiu-Jitsu, grappling has enriched our culture and enticed fans from every corner of the globe.