In the early days of The Ultimate Fighting Championship and throughout the 1990s and even the early 2000s, MMA fights were generally seen as “style vs style”. I remember being thirteen years old and getting the Pay Per View flyer in mail for UFC 1 which read “Jiu-Jitsu vs Savate vs Tae Kwon Do vs Boxing vs Draka vs Kickboxing vs Shootfighting vs Sumo Wrestling” (I wish I had saved it be honest…). At the time I was a Karate practitioner and this theme of pitting different styles against each other to be fascinating and was instantly intrigued and the rest, as they say, is history. The same has happened to a large extent in the world of competitive grappling: wrestlers will enter Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and often blow through the competition with just a little bit of BJJ training and claim that their “wrestling” is what won them the match, ignoring the few essential BJJ techniques they needed to know to win.
Likewise, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitors will utilize double and single leg takedowns to win a tournament match but still claim it was only their Jiu-Jitsu which won them the match. In the end, most if not all of these distinctions are pointless, and in fact, they are often quite harmful. It is one thing to acknowledge that certain strategies or methodologies are separate among different grappling styles. For example, a wrestler wants to be on top at all times and will not place much emphasis on passing guard because in his sport that is not a necessity. A Jiu-Jitsu practitioner will emphasize the strategy of having an active guard or passing to sidemount because it scores him point in competition or a Judoka may stress throwing ones’ opponent perfectly head over heels without following them to the ground because this scores points in a Judo contest. All these distinctions in terms of strategies are fine in my opinion, and separate classes teaching these differing strategies can be helpful. What is harmful in my opinion is when one martial arts’ school refuses to teach or incorporate styles from another discipline in order to be able to say they are “purists”.
In my opinion the underlying reason behind why so many martial arts schools refuse to incorporate techniques from other styles is their vested interest in proving that “their style is the best”, and often this also comes down to name brand value and monetary gains. In the end however, this hurts the students who do not, for example, get to learn valuable takedowns from wrestling in their Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes because the instructor wants to stay “true” to his art. With the growth of popularity in Mixed Martial Arts some of this has changed. There are many MMA fighters who are excellent at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling for example, who never took a formal Jiu-Jitsu class or wrestled on a wrestling team. If asked what their “style” is, they will simply say “MMA”. This is quite similar to the idea that Bruce Lee had behind his “art” of Jeet Kune Do. He has been quoted as saying “my style is no style”. He realized that the division between arts was largely harmful and simply taught what was useful and discarded what was not. In my opinion, though we have come a long way with the growth of Mixed Martial Arts and submission grappling, we have not come far enough in terms of integrating the different grappling styles of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and Folkstyle, Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling. Still to this day many claim “wrestling is the best base as a grappling style for Mixed Martial Arts”, and whether or not this is true, if it is indeed the case it is in my opinion because other grappling arts like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo have failed to incorporate enough wrestling techniques in their training, while wrestlers have not failed to do the opposite and are not shy about learning Jiu-Jitsu and Judo if necessary. There are many other ways in which I think “the battle of the arts” has hurt Martial Arts practitioners as a whole, and in particular, the ability for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to learn high level takedowns has been hindered. In this article I will explain a number of actions that I feel can be taken to make the grappling styles of Wrestling, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu more integrated, particularly in regard to their takedowns.
One of the biggest problems that I see in integrating grappling styles like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and Wrestling is that seeking instruction in these arts seems to be a uniquely different process for each and coaching in these styles cannot usually be found under the same roof. For example, when I was growing up I exclusively attended small private schools which did not have wrestling teams. Despite the fact that I always wanted to learn to wrestle, this was an impossibility for me until only several years ago when my current school of Precision MMA in Poughkeepise, New York started bringing in wrestlers to instruct us in takedowns. Though I looked high and low, it was extremely hard for me to find clubs that would instruct someone in wrestling if that person had no wrestling background. While I did eventually start to locate certain clubs, like the now defunct “Wrestlers Come Alive” club which was run by Eric Amato and Ian Lindars in Hopewell Junction, New York, I saw a problem there that I had become aware of when calling around for wrestling clubs as an adult. I would call a wrestling club I found online and the coach on the other end of the phone would reply “yes, we instruct people in wrestling, but 90% of our students are children and early teens.” And so as an adult going there did not seem an option to me. Therefore, one way that I propose to make wrestling more available to the general public is to increase the number of both child and adult wrestling clubs. With the growth of MMA there should be no shortage of people looking for paid instruction in wrestling who never wrestled in school, and it would be a great opportunity for those kids who’s schools do not have wrestling teams to learn to wrestle this way.
Another idea I propose is one that I have mentioned and heard opposition too, and this is the idea of offering Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo teams in schools as an afterschool sport just like wrestling is. The current format between these arts seems to be that if one wants to learn to wrestle then they will need to learn it in school and hope their school has a team, and if they want to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Judo they will have to pay to attend a dojo which teaches these arts. Therefore, many who take up wrestling in their school systems for no extra cost may not get the chance to train in these other arts, just as those who train in BJJ or Judo will not learn to wrestle if their schools do not have a team. I therefore propose that both public and private elementary, high schools and colleges should offer after school programs in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo for no additional fee. Students should compete to make the “Jiu-Jitsu team” or “Judo team” just as they currently do with wrestling and the idea of schools having Division One or Division Two Jiu-Jitsu practitioners should become a reality. This idea often meets with opposition because people say that Jiu-Jitsu is too violent an art for schools and that parents would not be willing to enroll their kids. Yet Football is a sport offered in nearly everyschool and produces countless concussions and even a few deaths per year so I fail to see this as valid point. If, however, a school system is too concerned with the danger of the joint locks practiced in Jiu-Jitsu or Judo the least they could do is offer a modified form of these styles allowed chokes as the only legal submission. Despite popular belief, BJJ and Judo choking techniques are extremely safe and easy to practice at full capacity in competitions without causing injuries.
One avenue by which the takedowns taught in Wrestling and Judo could become more integrated into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is already being employed, and that is to offer more “takedown divisions” at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, whether they be done in a No-Gi or Gi format (and I propose more grappling tournaments should offer both though I have never seen a “gi takedown division” offered at a BJJ tournament). I have been lucky enough to take part in a few no-gi “takedown divisions” at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments over the past few years and they are a great deal of fun. However, I still feel that not enough Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments offer them, and not only that, but I think that promoters should create entirely separate “takedown tournaments”, which have neither Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling or Judo as their focus, but simply students of all styles who wish to test their takedown skills against others. This would offer an excellent avenue for wrestlers, Judokas and Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to work even more on the takedowns which are so essential in all these grappling arts and especially modern Mixed Martial Arts. Afterall, while many of the takedowns used in these tournaments might originate from wrestling, much of the mat game in wrestling is entirely inapplicable to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo or Mixed Martial Arts so even if a student of these other arts were to enter a wrestling tournament they would only be getting so much out of it because the second they hit the ground with their opponent they would be forced to play a game that has no value to them. As such, even if they do have the opportunity, many Jiu-Jitsu and Judo practitioners would never enter a wrestling tournament despite the valuable experience it would give them in takedown offense and defense.
Though I will only briefly mention the following idea, because it might take us too far off course, I myself have a growing fascination with the separate art of Catch-As-Catch-Can Wrestling and would like to see the art spread and see more CACC schools and tournaments pop up in the near future. Indeed, this ancient sport where opponents can win either via pin or submission has been experiencing a revival of late and there are a few CACC dojos and tournaments offered in the North East U.S. for example, but not enough in my opinion. A resurgence in this art and it’s training methodologies could only help wrestlers, Jiu-Jitsukas and Judokas as I think it potentially has some valuable techniques and strategies to offer. If this art does begin to grow I also think some of its techniques should be taught at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo schools and maybe even by wrestling coaches who want to think outside the box while training students in after school programs.
This next idea for how takedowns across styles can become more integrated into each other is certainly going to meet with a lot of criticism in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community, and yet I feel strongly about it so I am going to mention it anyway. As can be seen, many if not most of the points I have been making relate to more integration of the takedowns from different grappling arts more so than the mat game. The reason for this is that the art in which I personally have trained the longest in, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so frequently neglects takedowns while most other grappling styles do not, and this I find very unfortunate. All styles of wrestling, Judo and Sambo very highly stress takedowns, and yet BJJ is the one grappling art where someone can not only get by, but actually rise to the top of the sport without having nearly any takedown abilities whatsoever. And yet, when these Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners cross over into Mixed Martial Arts and lose to those with wrestling backgrounds because they cannot get top position or even get the fight to the ground, they not only wonder why, but many of them are too proud to even cross train in wrestling because they consider themselves “Jiu-Jitsu purists”. This is unfortunately especially the case with those Jiu-Jitsu practitioners who originate from Brazil because wrestling is very scarce down there while it is very popular in the United States. For those reasons I propose that Brazil, just like the U.S. and the rest of the world, should have more wrestling teams, more wrestling clubs, and more Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools which incorporate wrestling. But aside from that, Jiu-Jitsu practitioners of all backgrounds are far too willing to drop to their backs and pull guard in BJJ and submission grappling tournaments.
Now, while there are a number of popular BJJ tournaments world wide that will likely not be changing their rules any time soon, new promoters and promotions are popping up at all times and there is certainly room for more grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments with unorthodox rule sets. I propose that some grappling promoter with the means to do so creates his own promotion under which guard pulling is either not allowed for the competitors, or if it is allowed it should cost the competitor who drops to bottom guard the points that he would lose if taken down by his opponent. While many Jiu-Jitsu purists would be up in arms about such an idea because pulling guard has become so popular in BJJ, to them I would ask the question “how much better do you think you might be at takedowns if guard pulling was not a legal tactic in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments?” None of them would be able to deny that they would have developed better takedowns if guard pulling were not an option and none of them could reasonably deny that takedowns are an essential skill for all styles of grappling and MMA. I myself have competed in 34 separate Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and grappling tournaments and I know for a fact that if guard pulling had never been an option for me today I would have ten times the takedown ability that I currently have out of necessity. At the very least, if guard pulling were to cost the Jiu-Jitsu practitioner the points that would normally be awarded his opponent for the takedown (which is two points under most tournament formats) he would have to admit that if he was highly opposed to this idea he must not be extremely confident in his offensive guard abilities in the first place or else this would be of little concern to him because he would be confident that he would win regardless.
In my opinion, competitive Jiu-Jitsu has far too much butt-scooting and guard pulling for its own good and has in many cases evolved in the wrong direction. Certain tournaments have rules where a grappler can simply touch his opponent and then sit to his butt and the other grappler must immediately engage guard. Other tournaments have seen the growth of the “double guard pulling” tactic in cases where neither competitor has any takedown skills. All these practices move Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu further and further away from its original aim as a true all around fighting art. The only point to which I will concede is that if a tournament’s rules are to prohibit or penalize guard pulling that the opponent on top should not be permitted to back out of guard once the match has landed there, because this would be considered unwillingness to engage.
In fact, I am not the only one who would like to see Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling return to their roots and this is why more “submission only” tournaments like Metamoris and others have begun to become popular. I think this is great and that the more of them exist the better because grapplers will become less focused on arguing over “which style is best” and more focused on doing whatever it takes to win.
The final main point that I will make in this article is that more Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, martial arts and grappling schools need to teach multiple styles of grappling and highly stress takedowns if they are to compete with the growing number of wrestlers competing in both grappling tournaments and Mixed Martial Arts. In fact, even if one has no aspirations of competing but instead trains for self-defense, if he is training in a grappling art, he needs to be learning takedowns because otherwise the fight will never hit the ground. As my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor Brian McLaughlin has stated “knowing Jiu-Jitsu without knowing takedowns is like having a gun without bullets” and I agree with him completely. All the chokes and joint locks in the world will not make any difference if the grappler can never take his opponent down since most of them cannot be applied standing. This is why my current training facility of Precision MMA in LaGrange, New York includes a heavy emphasis on takedowns. Almost all of our training sessions begin from the feet unless we doing a particular ground based drill and our no-gi classes have wrestling coaches Ian Lindars and Dan Sanchez to instruct us in takedowns from that style while our Gi classes have Judo black belt Jerry Fokas give us his input regarding the Judo style takedowns necessary for success in Gi competition. Not only this, but in certain cases head instructor Brian McLaughlin will show no-gi applications for Judo throws which are slightly different from their wrestling counterparts, and to show that we are truly open minded in our mat game as well, coach Karl Nemeth often includes leg lock techniques from Russian Sambo in our no-gi classes.
In a perfect world, all grappling styles, be they wrestling, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Sambo would be offered in as many settings as possible: in after school programs and on scholastic teams, in dojos, and even the Olympics. Indeed, it is quite unfortunate that wrestling has been taken out of the Olympics and is now being offered in fewer highschools and universities. Not only would I like to see wrestling back in the Olympics, but I would also like to see Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Submission Grappling and Sambo become Olympic sports and I would like to see a revival in more paid wrestling tournaments like the now defunct “Real Pro Wrestling”. I even mentioned in a past article that I think Gi MMA promotions would enhance more Mixed Martial Artists’ knowledge of Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. All of these things would help produce an overall integration of grappling styles which would bring about the highest possible percentage of top notch-well rounded grapplers world-wide. Mixed Martial Arts has certainly begun to pave the way for Bruce Lee’s vision of “all arts being one”, but we have much more work to do if we are truly to see this vision become a reality. I am not saying there should not be separate classes and tournaments for separate grappling arts or that the rich time honored traditions of these styles should be forgotten, I am merely saying that these styles can survive while at the same time becoming more fully integrated with and less opposed to other styles which can benefit them.
This, my friends, is the way of the future. The martial arts’ world is like a jungle and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as Judo, Wrestling and other grappling styles, are in a position where they must adapt our die. If we are too proud to teach or learn techniques from other styles because we wish to be “loyal” to our core art, then we will lose in competition to those who are more open minded, and this is especially the case if we do not heavily focus on takedowns in all our classes. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter whether we call a double leg takedown a “wrestling move” or a triangle choke a “Jiu-Jitsu move”, all that matters is that we practice it if it is effective. Hopefully the day will come when all grappling styles are so integrated that these distinctions are meaningless and we can focus on the task at hand, which is producing excellent all around grapplers.
Jamey Bazes is a Poughkeepsie Mixed Martial Arts practitioner holding a Tampa Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt with over 15 years of competition experience earning over 100 tournament victories. He also holds a Masters of Arts Degree in English from SUNY New Paltz with a focus on the English Romantic poets.