BJJ and wrestling are pretty closely linked to one another, so it’s surprising to see that there are still valuable lessons that Jiu-Jitsu instructors haven’t taken from coaches in the other sport. It can be difficult for anyone to really be introspective and address any failings or ways to enhance their own approach to what they do, but that’s also a vital part of being a coach. It’s a part of the process of getting better at the sport in the first place too, as there’s always things that you can improve upon and you’ll only discover them by taking an honest assessment of where you stand.
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5 Lessons BJJ Instructors Can Learn From Wrestling Coaches
The general approach to BJJ instruction isn’t perfect and obviously it isn’t in wrestling either, but there are plenty of lessons that can be brought into Jiu-Jitsu from it’s relative. There’s bound to be a few things that could go the other way as well, but the fact is that wrestling has had a lot more money and time poured into it than BJJ. That means that the level of instruction is significantly higher and the approach has been through far more trial and error. Sadly there are still BJJ coaches all around the world relying on the same methods that they learned from their coaches in the early 2000s, that they in turn learned in the early days of the 80s and 90s.
Pay Attention To Physical Conditioning
This is undoubtedly one of the biggest differences in wrestlers and BJJ competitors at the lowest level. Even those wrestlers who cannot make it on to their school’s team are still in fantastic shape, whereas colored belt competitions around the world are full of grapplers working far below their peak condition. Obviously the highest level of BJJ competitors do focus on physical conditioning, but this stops pretty quickly beyond that level and isn’t even universal there really. There’s plenty of ultra-heavyweights who really should be competing several weight classes lower or could use significantly better cardio, as an example.
This is one of the biggest reasons that BJJ colored belts often bring up the dreaded high-school wrestler or might have trouble with athletes transitioning from other sports. That baseline level of physical conditioning is an incredible benefit in competition, but it also allows you to train at a higher pace for a longer time as well. This is a great feedback loop where better conditioning eventually leads to better technique too, and the performance gap only widens. This is one of the lessons from wrestling that BJJ coaches don’t even need to bring into class itself. Instructors just need to drive home the importance of physical conditioning so that their students take part in their own time away from class.
Train Hard, Fight Easy
This is one of the few lessons that some BJJ instructors have already taken from wrestling, but generally only those routinely competing at a high level or operating as part of an MMA gym. It’s an approach that could be used to sum up the entire approach to wrestling training, in that there is never an easy session. The whole idea behind it is that pushing yourself to the limit on a regular basis in training means that there isn’t anything you aren’t prepared for in competition. It’s easy to see the benefits of this in competition too, as some grapplers will push the pace and fight through every single exchange while others will give up at the first sign of adversity.
BJJ coaches who have never competed at a high level themselves or even been part of one of those training rooms might not see the value in making this one of the lessons they take from wrestling, but it’s undeniable. Even if the majority of your students never have any intention of competing, putting in hard work in training is invaluable in a self-defense scenario as well. This doesn’t mean to forget flow-rolling and light rounds altogether, but the fact that a lot of BJJ gyms won’t do more than a handful of sparring rounds in each session and don’t even have a competition session once a week is a huge gap they absolutely should close.
Commit To Everything
Obviously there is just as much technique behind takedowns as there is behind grappling on the ground, and understanding the concepts underpinning the process makes for huge differences. One simple change that helps just as much is actually committing to those takedowns, and that’s something that wrestlers get drilled into them from day one. Not every entry will be perfect but getting even half of it correct will be enough to finish the takedown so long as you continue to fight until it’s done. While BJJ competitors could often benefit from taking this among many other lessons in takedowns from wrestling, it applies elsewhere as well.
So many sweep or submission attempts fail because the person attempting them simply doesn’t commit to the technique. Doing something with anything less than all of your effort is obviously less likely to work, even a poorly-executed defense can work if the attack isn’t followed through on. Even if the initial offensive attempt is only used to set up a second attack, that second attack only opens up if the defensive reaction is genuine. The only way to get that genuine reaction is commit to the initial attack, but many BJJ students still don’t put everything they have into the opening move.
Never Concede Top Position
This is one of the hardest lessons for BJJ coaches to take from wrestling instructors, because it can often run counter to a lot of what they hold dear about the sport. The main thing that separates BJJ from every other grappling style is the guard itself, and how being on your back can actually be a benefit to some competitors. Because wrestling has the pin as a method of victory, wrestlers are conditioned from the start to never accept being on the bottom. BJJ on the other hand is completely the opposite as it has guard-pulling as a legitimate path to victory and while that shouldn’t change, it can often lead to bad habits in training and competition.
Because being on the bottom isn’t the death-sentence it is in wrestling, BJJ students often concede top position far too easily. They might be 70% of the way towards being swept, and they’ll focus on setting up a good guard on the way down rather than actually resisting the sweep. There’s nothing wrong with being a guard-player, but conceding a top position you already have not only allows the opponent to score points but also wastes the hard work spent to get there. This is a hard habit to break but it’s one of the most valuable lessons that BJJ students can take from wrestling, and instructors would only benefit from making sure they drill it into their students.
Focus On The Smaller Battles
Many BJJ coaches often take a pretty laid-back approach to the structure of sparring and in stark contrast to wrestling, some of their lessons might only involve open sparring. Even out of those instructors that do break down the process, many of them will only ever go as far as basic positional sparring. This will just be something like one student trying to pass guard while the other attempts to sweep or submit, which is still a pretty open round really. What wrestling coaches do brilliantly is focus on the smaller exchanges that happen during a round, and spend a long time working those areas until everyone on the team is competent from them.
Instead of playing butterfly guard to sweep or submit, the person on bottom might just be looking to elevate their opponent. For the person on top, they might just be looking to secure the bodylock and get heavy hips to shut down the person on bottom. Even spending just 10 minutes focusing on this before moving on to open sparring means that the whole class now has a great understanding of one of the key battles in butterfly guard. That’s a huge benefit compared to simply starting in butterfly guard and going from there, because students will spend so much time in stalemates or positions where one person has almost certainly won and the other is just holding on.
The Value Of Taking These Lessons From Wrestling To BJJ
Each of these lessons have specific benefits to your approach to BJJ and the benefits of taking each one individually from wrestling have already explained. If you can manage to take on board every single one of them, the combined result is even greater than the sum of each individual one. A class of BJJ students who have had each of these lessons drilled in to them will be far less likely to concede points in competition, and far more likely to score them. They will be able to push the pace against their opponents from start to finish and will be prepared to overcome any initial deficit, all while being more technically proficient in each exchange.
The end result is a training room with a much higher level of technique, and the ability to bring each other to an even higher level. It’s another positive feedback loop, where the gym itself can quickly become one of the best in the area without actually making any big changes at all. None of these lessons are particularly arduous or difficult to employ and wrestling coaches around the world manage to do it all the time, so there’s no reason that BJJ instructors can’t too. If this happened on a wider scale, the standard at local BJJ tournaments would shoot through the roof and the highest level would be even more impressive than it currently is today thanks to the field of competitors being even stronger.