Is Wrestling a Martial Art?

two wrestlers fighting

You probably already recognize wrestling as a form of sport, but you are unsure if it is also a recognized form of martial art. So, is wrestling a martial art?

Wrestling is a martial art style of fighting that focuses on grappling, throwing, and “pinning” an opponent. However, it is used mainly for combat sports.

Wrestling is a martial art that relies on leverage, technical knowledge, strong balance, and explosive power to take down and control an opponent by maintaining a superior position.

Wrestling isn’t often seen as a martial art because it is being promoted more as a sport and because it doesn’t teach things like using weapons, war tactics, fighting multiple enemies, etc. as taught by the ancient martial arts.

However, wrestling remains the oldest martial art in the world today (even though Kalaripayattu martial art is often cited as the oldest) and is in fact listed as one of the grappling martial arts styles today.

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Why Is Wrestling a Martial Art?

Wrestling is a martial art because it is a recognized grappling martial art style that focuses on throws, takedowns, ground fighting, and submissions.

Wrestling being a grappling style of martial art is a hand-to-hand combat skill that does not require the use of any weapons or fighting multiple opponents.

At close range, grappling is used to gain a physical advantage over an opponent, either by imposing a position or injuring them.

Wrestling can be practiced both as a combat sport and as a martial art.

In grappling contests, takedowns and ground control are common and contestants can lose by submitting or tapping out.

The earliest depiction of wrestling dates back to Egypt circa 2000 BCE.

Wrestling probably dates back to the beginning of humanity as statues older than Egyptian images show two men grappling.

Several cultures have mentioned wrestling in their ancient histories, so its origins are not difficult to trace.

As early as the 18th Olympiad in 704 BCE, wrestling was an Olympic sport and popular martial art in ancient Greece.

There are many forms of wrestling, including freestyle, Greco-Roman, judo, sambo, folk style, catch, submission, sumo, pehlwani, shuai jiao, and others.

Both traditional historic and modern styles exist, with varying rules.

What Type of Martial Art Is Wrestling?

Wrestling is a grappling style of martial art that focuses on grappling, throwing, and “pinning” an opponent.

Grappling techniques can be broadly subdivided into clinch fighting; throws and takedowns; submission holds and pinning or controlling techniques; sweeps, turnovers, reversals, and escapes.

There is no better submission grappling tournament in the world than the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship, which takes place biannually.

United World Wrestling (UWW) governs the sport of wrestling internationally, and various forms of wrestling (including grappling for men and women) are contested at international competitions under its auspices.

Is Pro Wrestling a Martial Art?

Pro wrestling is a combat sport that combines elements of theater and mock combat with catch wrestling.

2 pro wrestlers fighting
Image credit: Shutterstock

Despite the obvious entertainment intent, many people think that professional wrestling is a form of martial art.

While I do not doubt the fact that traditional wrestling is a martial art, a branch of it that focuses on entertainment should best be considered a combat sport and nothing more.

Although there are some good martial art techniques in there as I see the armbar being used a lot, it can do some real damage.

However, this form of wrestling focuses on performance over personal development which makes it different from the focus of traditional wrestling.

Combat sports determine the best fighter within a specific set of rules.

A fighter usually wins a combat sport by scoring more points, disabling their opponent, or hitting a specific technique.

In martial arts, however, people learn how to fight through codified fighting systems.

Martial arts often emphasize respect and discipline in their students.

The combination of formal discipline and restraint, as well as personal development, makes martial art different from combat sports.

Although wrestling can either be genuinely competitive or sportive entertainment, pro wrestling however best qualifies as a combat sport and not a martial art.

Is Sumo Wrestling a Martial Art?

Sumo wrestling is a martial art because it is a competitive full-contact art where a rikishi tries to force his opponent out of a circular ring or into touching the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet.

Sumo which is a Japanese martial art is just another form of wrestling that is based on the martial art grappling style.

Several ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo, and even today the sport incorporates many Shinto ritual elements, such as salt purification.

Is Wrestling a Sport?

Wrestling is a combat sport (fighting sport) that involves one on one combat where a contestant wins by submitting the opponent with a hold, disabling the opponent, or attacking them in a specific way.

Yes, wrestling isn’t just a martial art, but also a combat sport.

Wrestling is listed as a combat sport that involves grappling-type techniques such as throws, clinch fighting, joint locks, takedowns, pins, and other grappling holds.  

Wrestling as a sport is practiced by two competitors in different styles, and it usually involves forcing an opponent to touch the ground with some other parts of the body other than the feet.

This forces the opponent into a certain position (usually on his back), or holds him in that position for a minimum period.

Different styles of wrestling are used in the world of wrestling, with contestants either standing upright or on the mat or ground.

All three basic types of wrestling contests appear to have originated in ancient times:

  • Belt-and-jacket
  • Catch-hold
  • Loose

In belt-and-jacket wrestling, wrestlers use their clothing to dominate their opponents.

In some cases, both wrestlers simply wear a special belt, while in others a special belted jacket and special trousers are worn.

In catch-hold styles, the contestants must take a prescribed hold before the fight begins; this grip is usually maintained throughout the contest.

In modern international competitions, loose styles of wrestling begin with wrestlers separated and free to grab any grip they desire except those explicitly forbidden (such as taking hold of an opponent’s clothing or using a life-threatening grip, such as a stranglehold).

The requirements to win in wrestling can also be classified in ascending order of violence.

These categories are:

  • break-stance requires an opponent to relinquish a certain position or posture
  • During toppling, the standing opponent must touch the ground with something other than his feet
  • In touch-fall wrestling, the opponent must be forced into a certain position, usually supine, for a brief period
  • During pin-fall wrestling, the opponent must be held in such a position for a measurable period
  • Wrestling submissions require the opponent to vocally or visually signal defeat.

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