I understand this article will cause a stir between followers of two of the world’s greatest sports. However, before you start getting lippy with me, know that a true-blood wrestler wrote this piece. As such, I struggled even to type out the article’s title.
At age 11, I started wrestling in 7th grade and have continued wrestling as I approach my 50th birthday. No need to pull out a calculator; that is 39 years of wrestling pedigree.
I grew up in the well-credentialed wrestling state of Ohio and competed year-round in Folkstyle, Greco, and Freestyle, winning state and national tournaments. I proceeded to wrestle in College at Boston University under the tutelage of National Wrestling Hall of Fame Coach Carl Adams. After graduating, I coached at Boston University and the U.S. Naval Academy alongside Olympic Coach Bruce Burnett and Iowa National Champ and 3X National Finalist Joel Sharratt. So how dare I become a turncoat and say that jiu-jitsu is harder than wrestling?
Well, hear me out.
Years before I got serious about jiu-jitsu, a friend invited me to my first class. As soon as I walked in, I knew I was in a different world. I spent my entire career trying to stay off my back. And now, I was thrown into an arena where grapplers were starting there. Remember when you were a child, and your mother scolded you never to put your hand on a hot stove? If someone all of a sudden told you to touch the stove, what would you do?
Every ounce of my existence screamed, “Get out of here! This is a trap!” Each time I was on my back, I instinctively rolled back to my stomach, only to be quickly met with a forearm under my chin and then crushing pressure on my neck. Wow, look how the lights dim as the oxygen shuts down. Needless to say, after that initial session, I decided to skip further jiu-jitsu practices and continued only to wrestle.
So, how is that harder than wrestling? Hold on. I have not gotten there yet.
Years later, I moved to Tampa and started training at Gracie Tampa. I was in no-gi classes for the first six months with beginner students and bulldozed through them. I was better than most with just my wrestling. But, when I say most, let’s keep that in check. I mean most white belts.
After dominating this level, I started training with the higher blue belts, purple belts, and brown belts. The results were much different. I began to lose repeatedly, and it shook my confidence. I went from high school wrestling hero to jiu-jitsu wrestling zero. So again, I regressed to my roots. For the next 5-6 years, I only taught wrestling and did not entertain humbling myself to jiu-jitsu.
Gracie Tampa also has a sister school Gracie Tampa South. I started teaching wrestling under BJJ Black Belt and UFC Vet Matt Arroyo. He suggested that it was nonsensical that I came to teach wrestling but was not also training jiu-jitsu.
So, I finally made the mental decision to accept that losing was okay, and in doing so, I commenced understanding that it wasn’t losing. It was learning. And with this development came clarity as to why jiu-jitsu is harder than wrestling. It is not necessarily physically harder but intellectually infinitely more complex. And I would have to learn all of it. Once I accepted that I was able to open the doorways to new techniques and skills, eventually earning my black belt.
In wrestling, I had spent thousands of hours learning takedowns. Double legs, single legs, throws, duck under, arm drags, takedowns are a significant portion of wrestling but not the entire spectrum. Once you get the takedown, your goal is singular – pin your opponent’s shoulders to the mat—takedown to a pin. But, jiu-jitsu is layers and layers more than that. There are endless variations of submissions. It is The Matrix of combat sports.
I took a seminar with UFC Vet and Blackbelt Rolli Delgado a few years ago. He spent over two hours teaching us how to secure position and complete a simple ankle lock. It was two hours on the basics of one submission of the possible thousands of variations on this specific body part.
Conceptually, that blew my mind. The details and nuances Roli showed in this technique were amazing. Think about that for a moment. There are countless variations of a submission on a freaking ankle, and that is nothing. There are equally as many submission combinations on each body part; knees, elbows, necks, wrists, and shoulders. That is 1000’s different submissions, attacks, and assaults. One would need Albert Einstein and a dry-erase board to begin calculating the millions of different variations possible. My mind was blown again.
Imagine this. You are a butcher, and the pig is the sport. In wrestling, you keep the bacon, the loins, and the chops and throw away the rest. In jiu-jitsu, you use every part, from snout to curly tail. It’s like comparing checkers to chess. Both are fun games. Just intellectually, one is a higher step.
I love wrestling. I owe so much to the sport. It taught me self-control, discipline, determination, and how to set and achieve goals. I will always be a wrestler first. However, the endless Rubik’s cube of moves and techniques available in jiu-jitsu is what allures me to the sport. And in my humble opinion, this makes jiu-jitsu harder than wrestling