Did that get your attention? It’s a bold claim, but we now have approximately 30 years of contemporary, battle-tested data from mixed martial arts to back up this point…
The early days of MMA were dominated by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters, most notably Royce Gracie. Back then, many were eager to declare BJJ as the most effective martial art.
But what do Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, Cain Velasquez, Frankie Edgar, Henry Cejudo, Jon Jones, Brock Lesnar, Tyron Woodley, Dominick Cruz, T.J. Dillashaw, Kamaru Usman, Stipe Miocic, and Daniel Cormier all have in common?
Yep, they were, or currently are, UFC champions. AND THEY WERE WRESTLERS!!!
But why do I believe folkstyle wrestling in particular is the best? Let’s discuss how this form of wrestling differs from its Olympic counterparts, Greco-Roman and freestyle.
First, if you’re not familiar with the term ‘folkstyle’, this is what’s also called collegiate wrestling, since this is what’s practiced in the U.S. from college all the way down to elementary. Folkstyle is truly an American form of wrestling, which is pretty cool!
In terms of competition and tactics, folkstyle puts more emphasis on controlling your opponent and pinning while on top. Freestyle and Greco, on the other hand, put more emphasis on back exposure points (i.e., turning an opponent’s back toward the mat).
The goal from the bottom position in folkstyle wrestling is to get away, then reattack. The goal from the bottom position in freestyle and Greco is to avoid being turned/exposed—if you can avoid that, the referee will intervene and reset the match. Not so in folkstyle. If you’re in a bad spot, you can’t just wait it out!
So, overall, folkstyle’s main objective is to control your opponent. Take them to the mat, you get points. Control them, keep them on the mat, more points. Pin them, the match is over. If you let your opponent escape, you lose points. CONTROL, CONTROL, CONTROL.
Sounds extremely applicable to combat, yes? Folkstyle wrestling is what we would call a representative environment for fighting!
OK, let’s compare that to what comes naturally to a BJJ player, and what’s cited as jiu jitsu’s strength—the guard. Pulling guard does not score you any points in MMA, and many fight experts would question the intelligence of doing so when your opponent is allowed to punch you in the face.
Where does guard pulling come from? In jiu-jitsu competitions, you have little incentive to escape from the bottom. Unlike folkstyle, BJJ has no ride-time or points that accumulate the longer you control someone, nor is the match over when you pin someone in a vulnerable position.
Laying down can actually be a ‘safe haven’ in jiu jitsu. This, in my opinion, is not a good strategy in fighting or self-defense! And this—the guard—may be the largest contributor to BJJ’s downfall as a true martial art (check out our blog about this here).
But one point I think most people miss when considering folkstyle’s dominance is this—availability of competition, i.e., the availability of the aforementioned representative environments for combat.
Most wrestlers start training when they are very young, since folkstyle is the martial art most likely to be offered as an extracurricular activity at American schools (folkstyle is also much more affordable for families when compared to enrolling at a BJJ school—with two sons of my own who love grappling, ask me how I know…)
The result is lots of opportunities to compete in folkstyle wrestling from grade school through college. That means by the time the average wrestler is thinking about competing in MMA, they may already have hundreds of folkstyle matches under their belt.
Sure, a BJJ player might have some experience competing at local tournaments, but those venues aren’t as plentiful as folkstyle. Seriously, look up the number of amateur wrestling tournaments scheduled in your area (and factor in school-sanctioned middle school and high school duals, etc.) versus BJJ tournaments. There’s just no competition. Pun intended…
OK there is just one thing better for combat and self-defense than folkstyle wrestling, in my opinion. How about folkstyle wrestling with submissions???!!! Oh, by the way, that’s essentially catch-as-catch-can wrestling, the foundation of our curriculum here at HHGC!
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