There are opinions on both sides of the argument whether or not wrestling is a martial art. Some people say it’s a sport and not martial art others say it can be considered a martial art because it’s one of the most important skills an MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter should have. So what’s the real answer to this question?
Is wrestling a martial art? Amateur wrestling (freestyle and Greco-roman wrestling – those we watch on the Olympic) is included in the List of the martial arts (link – Wikipedia). But regardless of that, some people don’t consider it a martial art because it doesn’t teach things like using weapons, fighting multiple enemies, war tactics, etc. And those are things taught by the ancient martial arts.
For example, some styles of Karate once were used in combat and included learning all those things.
So the real problem in defining whether or not wrestling is a martial art is that there are two definitions of this term. One is that a martial art should include learning everything about war-like situations (tactics, first aid, weapons, fighting in groups, etc.) Unlike sports, martial arts aren’t necessarily popularized in competitions because of their real-life applicability and sometimes brutality.
And the other is what is that every combat sport that can be used effectively in MMA can be considered a martial art. Because MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts. If that is your definition then yes, wrestling is definitely a martial art. Actually right now, Olympic freestyle wrestling is considered the most important martial art an MMA fighter should know.
But, personally, I think the first definition better describes the term martial art. Everything we learn now – karate, taekwondo, wrestling, MMA, etc. aren’t martial arts but sports. And more precisely combat sports.
Wrestling as a Martial Art
There’s a huge difference between wrestling we have now and the old wrestling styles thousands of years ago. Actually, wrestling (folkstyle) originated around 15000 years ago so it’s possible that it is the first-ever martial art. That’s because it’s much more natural for humans when fighting to wrestle and punch in a clinch than to strike from a distance like in traditional martial arts like karate and kung fu which came on the scene much later.
In that sense, we can say wrestling is a martial art without weapons. Actually a big portion of the List of martial arts is categorized as folk wrestling. Many countries developed their own wrestling styles, for example, Mongolia, Spain, Turkey, England, and others.
Wrestling as a Combat Sport
The main difference between martial arts and combat sports is that martial arts are meant to be used in war-like situations thus the things they teach may be lethal. Also as we know in war there are no rules.
Obviously that can’t be applied to sports. So a martial art to be converted into a combat sport there have to be some rules. There is a specific place where wrestlers compete, a specific duration of the fight, there are rules on what is acceptable to do during the match and whatnot, there are a referee and judges and a pointing system to determine who is the winner.
Todays’ Greco-Roman wrestling is similar to the wrestling in the Roman Empire and in the Greek Olympic games centuries BC. But even then it was already converted into a sport.
Nowadays wrestling is more on the sports side than ever. People start wrestling at a young age, they start to compete in their teens (or even earlier) and retire early. Wrestling matches are short – 6 minutes and there are a lot of rules. If there aren’t qualifications, injuries or quitting, people usually win on points or by holding their opponent in a pin.
And all of that has nothing to do with the initial idea of martial arts.
Wrestling in MMA
Even though MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts it is still a combat sport. There is a referee, a lot of rules, etc and most importantly pointing system.
And wrestlers are very good at using the point system to win. They may not be as good as BJJ fighters when it comes to submissions but they can take people down, control them and land strikes from a top position.
f they can’t get the finish they usually focus on winning by decision. That is a solid strategy and combined with a good BJJ and striking defense and proper conditioning it’s very hard to beat.
By the time I write this article, all but one of UFC champions have a background in wrestling. And that speaks volumes about how effective is wrestling in MMA.
The Problem with Martial Arts
In the past, martial arts such as karate, aikido, kung fu, and others were used to prepare people physically and mentally for the slugfests that happened back then. The main things they taught were defending attacks by armed people, disarming the opponent, and practicing fighting while wounded.
This was actually extremely effective and helpful because people were terrified of those things and they needed some preparation. I think that is the reason why those martial arts survived so many years.
Today obviously wars are much different than back then so those ancient martial arts aren’t applicable.
Nowadays, the only way to see if a martial art is working is to test it in a sport-like scenario. And those traditional martial arts aren’t effective there either because of the sports environment.
Sports such as wrestling, boxing, kickboxing are much more effective because their goal is to be practiced as a sport and used in competition.
That’s why people see that an MMA fighter can easily beat a traditional martial artist and they assume traditional martial arts are BS. But that can’t be further from the truth. The problem was that they were designed for a different time and circumstances.
To be honest I thought the same thing for a long time. I visited a karate gym twice and we were practicing this weird blocking with a forearm as the opponent was hitting us with some sort of hammer first over his head.
I was thinking that is BS because nobody who knows how to fight will punch that way and this is a waste of time. But then as I thought about it I saw that this is actually a solid defense from someone swinging a sword, stick or another long weapon.
Are there Proper Martial Arts Today
Nowadays there aren’t martial arts in the sense they were practiced centuries ago. Even todays’ karate, taekwondo, and the other so-called traditional martial arts are focusing more on the sport application of those martial arts.
They are trying to contain the martial art spirit which is awesome and which is the reason why so many people still love them. But the ancient martial arts aren’t really applicable in today’s’ world.
You can still practice them, of course, to be healthier mentally and physically and for tons of other reasons. But if you want to learn how to fight to defend yourself I suggest learning martial arts that work in MMA – wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ.