Did you know that wrestling is the oldest competitive sport in the world? While many people know that it was popular in ancient Greece and Rome, most don’t realize that wrestling has actually been around since before written language.  It’s probably been around since the very first disagreement.  Archeologists have actually found cave paintings of wrestling from as early as 3000 B.C. However, people have come a long way since these ancient matches.

While wrestling is still popular throughout the world, it has changed a bit. Back in Ancient Greece, there were two types of wrestling, upright and ground wrestling. Upright wrestling was probably the most popular as it was included in the first Olympic Games in 708 B.C.

In this type of wrestling, the idea was to force your opponent to touch the ground (any body part aside from their feet counted). Each touch was worth one point for the opponent. A wrestler won by accruing three points. This simple form of wrestling was one of the main events at the ancient Olympics. Because of this, when the Olympic games were brought back in 1896, organizers felt that including wrestling would be an important and nostalgic nod to the original games.

What form of wrestling was included in the first modern Olympic Games?

In an effort to bring this traditional style of wrestling to the first modern Olympic Games, the original organizers chose to include a French style of wrestling called Greco-Roman wrestling. It was thought that this form of wrestling was the most similar to the ancient upright style.

In Greco-Roman wrestling, each wrestler is limited only to the use of body parts above the waist, and cannot grab or hold body parts below the waist. This removes the use of the legs in holds, moves, and take-downs. Unlike ancient upright wrestling, however, the wrestler must do much more than just force the opponent to touch the ground. Greco-Roman wrestling requires the opponent to be pinned against the ground. Pinning means that their back or both shoulders or shoulder blades are pressed against the mat. And in order to take their enemy to the mat, the wrestler must maintain body contact with their opponent throughout the take-down.

What other forms of wrestling are popular today?

Greco-Roman wrestling may be the type of modern wrestling that was included in the first modern Olympics, but it is not the most common form of wrestling today. This form of wrestling is known as Freestyle Wrestling and has been popular throughout the world for decades. Freestyle Wrestling, as its name suggests, allows the wrestlers much more freedom when holding, taking down, and pinning an opponent. The wrestlers may use any body part, including their legs, to gain the advantage and pin their opponent. They also do not need to maintain contact throughout a take-down. They may throw their enemy to the ground, lose contact, and then regain contact once the other wrestler is on the ground.

A good measure of a country’s success at Freestyle wrestling is the Olympic Games. This is because it has been a part of the Games since 1904. Since its induction, Freestyle wrestling has traditionally been dominated by the United States. However, from the 1960s-1980s, the Soviet Union and Japan produced the most medal winners of any country. While wrestlers from these three countries (with Russia replacing the Soviet Union of course) have continued to medal since the 1980s, the event has been much more open with gold medal winners from Cuba, Iran, and Georgia.

What type of wrestling is done at the high school and college levels?

Interestingly enough, even though the United States has traditionally been very successful at Freestyle Wrestling in international competitions, most amateur wrestlers in the U.S. don’t specifically practice it. The official wrestling done by youth, high school and college wrestlers is known as ‘Folkstyle.’ While scoring is slightly different between high school and college, the style itself is pretty consistent from level to level. Folkstyle is fairly close to Freestyle with one major difference. In Freestyle wrestling, if you end up on the bottom of your opponent, you simply try not to get pinned. In Folkstyle wrestling, the bottom opponent can use different moves to escape the pin.

How can I watch modern wrestling?

While the Olympic Games offer the best venue for wrestling because it brings together the best wrestlers in the world, there are other ways to see modern wrestlers in action. One very popular and well-televised way to do this is to watch MMA fights. MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts is not a form of wrestling, but many of the fighters have a wrestling background and use moves from both Freestyle and Folkstyle wrestling during their bouts. If this isn’t your style, then attending your local high school and college wrestling matches could be a great way to see real wrestlers in action!

Can Judo improve my wrestling game?

Judo is one of the best martial arts to transfer to wrestling.  There are similarities along the lines of pushing the pace, aggression, and takedowns and pins.  Judo fighters are taught to attack with speed and aggression which is more applicable to wrestling than the more passive BJJ approach.  There are elements of Brazilian Jiu Jistsu (BJJ) that can help a wrestler too, but BJJ fighters have a tendency to fight comfortably on their back.  In wrestling, your back is the last place you want to be.  BJJ can also be slow and methodical, but there isn’t much time for that in a wrestling match.  Judo is known for more aggressive throws and maneuvers, and pushes the pace, very similar to a wrestling match.  Judo also prepares the wrestler for holding pins, too.  In wrestling, you have to hold the pin for 3 seconds, but in Judo you have to hold it for 20!  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can help wrestling just by learning the no-gi grips, but a no-gi judo fighter would know the same grips.  If you want to seriously improve your wrestling abilities, consider Judo as a secret weapon that even other wrestlers can’t deal with. 

Humankind has come a long way from making cave paintings thousands of years ago. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our need to prove our strength, stamina, and toughness. No matter your preferred style, wrestling has been and continues to be one of the most authentic ways to do that.