The Top 6 Differences Between BJJ And Submission Wrestling
“Submission wrestling” and “submission grappling” are sometimes tossed around as alternative names for no-gi BJJ, but are they actually the same thing? The simplest way to consider the difference is to recognize that submission wrestling is a broad term that encompasses all sorts of grappling arts including BJJ, no-gi BJJ, sambo, judo, and catch wrestling.
However, the term submission wrestling has come to represent a specific subset of grappling that differs from traditional Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in two major ways: submission wrestling is nearly exclusively no-gi and uses its own ruleset which differs significantly from BJJ.
This article will explore how these two factors multiply to create 6 major differences that separate BJJ from submission wrestling!
The Most Obvious Difference: The Gi
The Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship is regarded as the most prestigious submission wrestling competition in the world. Even the least experienced white belt can immediately tell that the ADCC is different from the IBJJF from a casual glance: no one is wearing a gi!
While it is true that BJJ practitioners tend to dominate the ADCC, there are notable examples of non-BJJ practitioners being very successful in the tournament. These include athletes like Mark Kerr the ‘Smashing Machine’ and the Russian wrestler Rustam Chsiev.
No-gi BJJ is a subset of submission wrestling, but other combat sports that are practiced without a gi are equally at home in any submission wrestling competition.
Less Friction, More Speed
If you’ve never trained without a gi on it is hard to appreciate how much of a difference taking it off makes. Deprived of the sweat absorbing power of 4 kilos of cotton, two competitors quickly become slick and sweaty. This wouldn’t be that significant if there were robust collars and sleeves to latch onto, but no-gi means no cloth grips either!
he result of this is that no-gi matches are typically faster and more dynamic. Static positions more quickly devolve into scrambles. Without a gi to slow things down, the competitors are forced to maintain a fast pace or risk losing everything they’ve worked for. In that sense, gripping combinations also change and become a lot more challenging and less avaialbale.
No-gi Competitors: Always Moving, Always Stylish
While gi-based competitors often get a break to recompose their gi, no-gi competitors get no such reprieve. This might not seem significant, but under IBJJF rules athletes are permitted 20 seconds to re-adjust their gi each time the referee directs them to do so. Over the course of a match this can add up to minutes of rest.
No-gi competitors aren’t given this downtime and so must train with this greater intensity in mind. This combination of factors makes submission wrestling matches more audience friendly and more physically demanding.
Playing by the Rules
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has its origins in no holds barred grappling. As the name suggests, no holds (submissions) were illegal! However, we’ve come quite a long way from those simpler days and today there are no fewer than 18 techniques prohibited in IBJJF at white belt and 10 prohibited at black belt!
ADCC has just two outlawed techniques: finger pulling and the full nelson.
Fewer Ways to Choke, More Ways to Submit
Without the gi, submission wrestling loses out on a wide variety of strangles. There are no loop chokes, cross-collar chokes, brabo chokes, or baseball bat chokes. However, submission wrestling rules permit a much wider variety of lower-body submissions!
Under IBJJF rules heel hooks are never legal in the gi, even for black belts. Calf slicers, knee bars, figure-four footlocks, and twisting ankle locks are illegal for most junior belts as well. But all of these are fair game under most submission wrestling rulesets.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a rapid advancement in leg locking techniques, with leg entanglements becoming a vital part of any no-gi competitors grappling knowledge.
Plus A Choking Exception!
While the gi lapel allows for some really cool and effective chokes, it also gets in the way of others. There is a reason that most fights in the gi are finished with gi chokes!
Chokes like the guillotine, darce, anaconda, and north-south choke are easier to get without a gi on as there is no fabric to slow you down and get in the way!
Harder to get Disqualified
This difference was more prominent in years past as the IBJJF has changed their most problematic rules as of 2021. It used to be that if you reaped your opponents’ leg (your foot crossing over their midline while trapping their knee) you were automatically disqualified. No warning, no penalty, just straight to a DQ.
Thankfully, the IBJJF has realized the error of their ways and have softened this wildly unpopular rule. Now competitors are first warned, then penalized, and only then disqualified.
However, it is still easier to get disqualified under IBJJF rules than in ADCC’s submission grappling rules. Reaping, while not an immediate DQ, is still illegal. Slams are always forbidden under IBJJF rules while ADCC permits them in order to escape submissions!
Scoring: Who Needs Advantages Anyway?
Advantages are a thorny subject amongst BJJ players. For those unfamiliar with them, advantages are tie-breaking points that are awarded for almost accomplishing guard passes or submissions.
The big problem is that how close someone must come to a pass or submission is fundamentally arbitrary, leading many to believe that advantages are inherently unfair.
No-gi competitions often entirely forgo advantages, leading to simpler and more easily understandable scoring. This doesn’t completely solve the problems of referee bias, but it does eliminate a major point of contention!
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been in a state of evolution ever since it was conceived – but in recent years submission wrestling has been growing ever more distinct. The differences are most readily visible in what the two groups wear: cleanly divided between gi and no-gi.
Less obvious but no less important are the ways that the sport has changed in response to the different uniforms as well as the more permissive rules that no-gi competitions provide.
Evan is nomadic brown belt, currently living in Germany. He enjoys pressure passes and tacos.