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What is Submission Wrestling? A Guide for Beginners

The art of grappling comes in different shapes and forms. With that, people often hear the term “submission wrestling” mentioned in combat sports. But many people aren’t sure what this really means as to what “submission wrestling” refers to and how it differs from wrestling.

Submission wrestling generally refers to any style of grappling that includes submission moves without using a traditional GI. It consists of standup grappling (clinching), takedowns, ground fighting, and submission moves. Catch wrestling and no-gi jiu-jitsu are two of the most well-known.

This is just a brief explanation of what submission wrestling stands for. Thus, be sure to read this article to learn more about different styles, rules, and the effectiveness of this style in self-defense scenarios.

What is Submission Wrestling?

Submission wrestling is also known as “submission fighting/grappling” and it’s deeply rooted in wrestling, which dates back to ancient times. The earliest evidence of wrestling dates all the way back to ancient Egypt, thousands of years ago. Archeologists have discovered many cage drawings showing people wrestling both on their feet and on the ground.

But as an official sport, submission wrestling emerged during the early Olympiads in ancient Greece. Though brutal, it was by far the most popular sport at the time.

In modern times, submission wrestling is a non-striking combat sport with a focus on stand-up grappling and ground fighting. Each exchange begins on the feet, where the main goal is to take the opponent down (stand-up grappling). The key is to secure a strong grip, manipulate the opponent’s weight, and take them down using wrestling or judo techniques.

Once on the ground, the next goal is to secure a dominant position from which you can subdue them with pins and holds or finish with chokeholds and joint locks.

Submission wrestling has many different styles and is usually associated with grappling martial arts that don’t use a “Gi” uniform. However, martial arts such as traditional BJJ and Judo are widely considered subsets of submission wrestling.

Let’s further explore different styles of submission wrestling.

What Are the Different Styles of Submission Wrestling?

Following is a list of all the major submission wrestling styles out of so many. Remember that the emphasis, rules, techniques, and gear significantly vary between these forms. However, the core concept of submission wrestling remains the same.

Catch wrestling

Catch wrestling is widely regarded as the original modern style of “submission wrestling.” It was developed in Lancashire, England, by J.G. Chambers in 1878. In terms of techniques, it is a hybrid mix of takedowns, holds, and submissions such as leglocks, arm locks, and even neck cranks.

Catch Wrestling match

Catch wrestling is a precursor to other, more popular styles like “Freestyle” and “Collegiate” wrestling. Even professional wrestling has roots in catch wrestling as well. Although suppressed by other popular styles, catch wrestling and its concept made a big comeback with the rise of MMA in the early 90s and later ADCC Submission Grappling.

10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu (No-Gi BJJ)

10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu is a combat system developed by Eddie Bravo. He created the system in response to the rapid rise of submission wrestling in MMA. The system is based on the concept of Brazilian jiu-jitsu combined with American folk wrestling.

However, the biggest difference is the clothing because, in 10th Planet, students do not wear a gi uniform. They train and compete wearing shorts, shirts, or rashguards.

The lack of a Gi uniform means less friction and grips, which forces the athletes to compete at a higher pace. This also gives them more space to overwhelm the opponent with sheer strength and athleticism. And in contrast with traditional BJJ, they also use more wrestling takedowns and holds.

Many people believe that the no-gi BJJ variation is the purest and most advanced form of modern submission grappling.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

BJJ emerged in 1920 in Brazil. Carlos and Helio Gracie, brothers, created it by using Judo as a foundation to create their submission grappling style. They switched the emphasis from standup grappling throws in Judo to ground-based techniques. People train in BJJ with or without a GI uniform.

GI style focuses more on technique and fundamentals because wearing GI opens up more ways GI can be used to restrict your opponent’s movement and apply various submission moves that require less strength than no-gi Jiujitsu.

John Danaher, who is a highly regarded BJJ coach, explains the benefits of gi and no-gi jiujitsu.

“when starting out training or when focusing on defensive prowess, a preponderance of gi training makes sense. When looking to make progress with offensive elements of the sport and sound basic mechanics and habits have already been learned, no gi training will lift the technical level of your game.”

BJJ coach John Danaher

BJJ involves all the elements of submission wrestling. Apart from judo and jujutsu moves, the system also adopts techniques from different styles of wrestling as well.

Sport Sambo

Sambo is a Russian military combat system developed in the 1920s. The initial Combat Sambo variation is a hybrid mix of striking, grappling, and advanced self-defense tactics. However, the sports variation would emerge soon after in the form of pure submission wrestling.

In short, sports sambo is a mix of judo, jujutsu, and different styles of wrestling put into one system, and there is no striking.

The focus is on taking your opponent down quickly and forcefully and getting them to submit with joint locks, primarily leglocks. Chokeholds are not allowed in most styles, and there are few restrictions when it comes to grips and holds.

Athletes must wear a traditional “Sambovka” uniform, similar to the judo uniform. Unlike similar grappling arts like Judo and BJJ, Sambo is a more aggressive style.

Sport Sambo competition


Judo is a grappling-based martial art developed in 1886 by the legendary Kano Jigoro. Judo is considered a “safer” variation of a more brutal system called Jujutsu. The emphasis is on stand-up grappling and taking the opponent down using powerful throws, trips, and sweeps.

The key is manipulating the opponent’s weight and balance and redirecting energy to slam them down as fast and hard as possible.

Although a single well-executed throw wins you a match, judo also focuses on ground fighting, though less than other systems such as BJJ. The emphasis is on subduing the opponent with pins, joint locks, and chokeholds. Despite the traditional judogi uniform, the system is adapted to the submission grappling concept.

Japanese Jujutsu

Japanese jujutsu is an ancient Japanese combat system developed for war and used by elite Samurai warriors in the 16th century. It emerged as the most efficient way to neutralize the enemy at short range with takedowns, pins, and painful joint locks and chokeholds.

Jujutsu is a precursor to more popular modern martial arts such as Judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but it is far more brutal.

As a system, jujutsu is a mix of stand-up and ground grappling. There are no restrictions when it comes to gripping and holding or submission moves you can use. It embraces an aggressive and explosive approach to finishing the opponent as quickly as possible. Jujutsu students traditionally wear a gi uniform, but there is also a no-gi variation.

What Are The Different Styles of Wrestling? 

What Are the Most Popular Submission Wrestling Competitions?

In modern times, there are many tournaments and competitions that are in line with the submission wrestling concept. Following is a list of the most popular ones.

ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship

ADCC submission fighting is by far the most popular grappling tournament. Founded in Abu Dhabi, UAE, in 1998, ADCC is based on the submission wrestling concept. It enables athletes from all grappling styles, like wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ), and Sambo, to test their skills against other best grapplers.

The events have been hosted every two years since 1998 and include only the best of the best grapplers in the world. Overall, ADCC is considered the “Olympics of grappling,” and winning the championship is the dream of every grappler.

The matches are primarily no-gi, but the rules enable you to wear a gi uniform if you want to. However, most choose not to because wearing a gi gives a no-gi opponent a big advantage, notably when it comes to grips. In terms of techniques, athletes can utilize just about every takedown or submission technique.

World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu No-GI Championship

World no-gi BJJ championship is one of the biggest grappling events organized by the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). It emerged in 2007, and since then, the championship has been organized once every year.

Athletes are split by weight and age category. The techniques they are allowed to utilize differ by age and level of experience. However, at the highest level, the rules enable them to use just about every submission wrestling move.

North American Grappling Association (NAGA)

NAGA is a BJJ no-gi submission grappling tournament founded in 1995. It is widely regarded as the largest submission grappling association as it has over 700.000 registered participants all across the world.

NAGA grapplers are split into weight divisions, skill levels, and age categories, as in other organizations.
The organization also hosts Gi BJJ matches as well as MMA events.

Is Submission Wrestling Effective for Self-Defense?

Overall, submission wrestling as a concept is very practical for self-defense. The techniques and skills you learn will help you escape trouble in most street-fighting scenarios. Despite the lack of striking, it still gives you a big advantage in a fight.

Throwing and blocking a strike is a natural reaction and part of human instinct, but grappling feels unnatural for most people as it heavily relies on technique, weight and balance manipulation, and leverage.

Most people you encounter aren’t trained to grapple or defend a takedown. Learning how to grapple correctly and feel comfortable fighting on the ground takes time. Therefore, the odds greatly favor your winning if you are trained in submission wrestling.

For example, suppose the fight is in a bar or any other enclosed space where you can engage the attacker at a closer range. In that case, you will likely subdue them without much resistance. Just a well-timed takedown and a secured top position are often more than enough for the attacker to surrender. You don’t even have to go for submission moves, as they will already give up because your attacker most likely won’t know what to do in that situation to counter.

Submission grappling also matches well against striking attacks. If you need an example, just look at how dominant pure wrestlers are against pure strikes in MMA.

But above all, most submission wrestling styles teach you battle-proven techniques that all work in real life. Through sparring and other training methods, you will also develop strong fighting instincts and learn how to apply each move in a realistic scenario against a fully resisting opponent.

What’s the Difference Between Submission Wrestling and BJJ?

The biggest difference is the clothing. In traditional BJJ, all practitioners must wear a uniform that involves long pants, a jacket, and a rank belt around the waist. In submission wrestling, there is no uniform. Here is a detailed explanation of the two main differences:


Submission wrestling doesn’t include any specific uniforms or gear. Athletes train and compete wearing shorts, wrestling singlets, rashguards, or other cloth. The concept is different as you can’t use the opponent’s cloth to secure a strong grip or even submit them as you can in traditional jiu-jitsu. The exchanges are also faster due to the lack of friction.

BJJ adopted the uniform from Judo, which is made out of the same materials. It plays a big factor in grappling because athletes can manipulate the opponent’s gi to get takedowns and submissions. Wearing a heavy GI uniform also increases friction, which slows the action down and forces you to be more methodical, strategic, and technical.


Submission wrestling is an aggressive and fast-paced style. In contrast with BJJ, it also focuses more on stand-up grappling, utilizing wrestling takedowns and holds on the ground.

BJJ is different because it is rooted in Judo. When it comes to standup grappling, athletes primarily utilize judo throws, trips, and sweeps rather than wresting takedowns. The system also puts more emphasis on positioning on the ground before submitting the opponent.

Final Thoughts

Submission wrestling is primarily a combat sports category that involves all the segments of grappling. It is a hybrid mix of the most effective techniques from many grappling martial arts put into one system.

If you want to enroll in the sport, consider joining a catch wrestling school or a No-Gi jiu-jitsu academy. These two are the most popular forms of submission wrestling in modern times.