Continuing our series of articles on wrestling, we have decided to present you some of the different styles present in modern wrestling. Wrestling may seem straightforward to some people – it’s just two guys pushing and pulling each other around the mat – but wrestling is a very specific sport with a lot of different styles that directly influence the rules of conduct and combat in a ring. So, in order to fully understand the mechanics of a wrestling match, you need to know what style is being used and what the specific rules of engagement for that style are.
There are three main wrestling styles: Greco-Roman wrestling, Freestyle wrestling, and Folkstyle (Collegiate) wrestling.
But, there are a bunch of other wrestling styles, ranging from amateur and professional competitive to the ones that are for pure entertainment. That is why you should keep reading this article to find out.
What Is Wrestling?
Wrestling is a modern combat sport that involves grappling techniques such as clinch fighting, throws and takedowns, joint locks, pins and other grappling holds; the aim of wrestling is to pin your opponent down on the mat, thereby winning the match.
The sport can either be theatrical for entertainment purposes (professional wrestling), or genuinely competitive; competitive wrestling has several styles such as folkstyle, freestyle, Greco-Roman, judo, sombo and others, although some of them are now distinct martial arts and/or combat sports.
A wrestling bout is a physical competition, between two (occasionally more, although seldom) competitors or sparring partners, who attempt to gain and maintain a superior position. There are a wide range of styles with varying rules with both traditional historic and modern styles.
Wrestling techniques have been incorporated into other martial arts (especially judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and MMA) as well as military hand-to-hand combat systems. Check out which wrestling styles are best for the MMA.
The term wrestling comes from the Old English word wræstlunge (glossing palestram).
The distinction of wrestling styles depends on the “type” of wrestling one talks about. As we’ve said, wrestling can be genuinely competitive (“real wrestling”), when it can be divided into dozens of different styles, or for entertainment purposes, when we are talking about a significantly smaller number of styles.
Since professional wrestling is not really wrestling but a form of media entertainment, we shan’t analyse its styles separately, but just list them so you know what they are. In this text, we are going to talk about the styles of competitive wrestling, both amateur and professional, and some obsolete, historical wrestling styles. Let us begin.
Competitive Amateur Wrestling Styles:
Amateur wrestling is the most popular and widespread form of wrestling. It is an official Olympic sport and it has a variety of different styles practiced around the world. Despite that, only two styles – freestyle and Graeco-Roman – are officially recognised as Olympic styles, while the others are practiced, but do not have formal international recognition. Let us see the styles in question:
Graeco-Roman (or Greco-Roman) wrestling (sometimes also called classical wrestling) is a style of wrestling that was contested at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and has been included in every edition of the summer Olympics held since 1904. This style of wrestling is specific because it prohibits holds below the waist; this is the major difference from freestyle wrestling, the other form of wrestling at the Olympic Games.
This restriction results in an emphasis on throws because a wrestler cannot use trips to take an opponent to the ground, or avoid throws by hooking or grabbing the opponent’s leg. It is one of the six main forms of amateur competitive wrestling practised internationally today. The other five forms are freestyle wrestling, grappling/submission wrestling, beach wrestling, pankration athlima, alysh/belt wrestling and traditional/folk wrestling.
Freestyle wrestling is the second most important amateur wrestling style practiced around the world. Along with Graeco-Roman, it is one of the two styles of wrestling contested in the Olympic Games. American high school and college wrestling, although essentially freestyle wrestling, is conducted under different rules and is termed scholastic and collegiate wrestling because of that.
Freestyle wrestling, like collegiate wrestling, has its greatest origins in catch-as-catch-can wrestling. In both styles the ultimate goal is to throw and pin the opponent to the mat, which results in an immediate win. Unlike Graeco-Roman, freestyle and collegiate wrestling allow the use of the wrestler’s or the opponent’s legs in offense and defense. Freestyle wrestling brings together traditional wrestling, judo, and sambo techniques.
Folkstyle (Collegiate) Wrestling
Collegiate wrestling is most easily defined as wrestling practiced at the college and university levels in the United States of America. Although wrestling is not an American product like some other modern sports, collegiate wrestling is a phenomenon specific for the United States.
This does not mean that wrestling is not practiced at universities around the world, but rather that the United States have a very specific style of wrestling practiced at colleges and universities around the country. It is, thus, distinct from both freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling. Wrestling is also practiced at school levels in the United States, where it is called scholastic wrestling.
Unlike collegiate wrestling, scholastic wrestling is not a distinct style of wrestling, but rather just a form of collegiate wrestling adapted for younger practitioners. Collegiate wrestling “was developed” in 1903, when the first intercollegiate fight between Yale and Columbia took place.
The sport further developed as an unofficial one, i.e. as just wrestling practiced at university level, only to become one of the most popular amateur forms of wrestling by the 1950s. The next couple of decades were crucial for the sport, as it developed into an official sport with its representation within the major sporting organisations in the United States.
Today, collegiate wrestling is regulated by the NCAA, the organisation responsible for running and administering collegiate sports in the United States. If you want to learn more about collegiate wrestling, check out this article.
Folkstyle wrestling (or just Folk wrestling) is an umbrella term for a heterogenous group of traditional wrestling styles practiced around the world. Most countries and cultures around the world have developed some form of grappling-based fighting and all these techniques are included in this term.
Folkstyle wrestling styles may or may not be codified as sports in their native countries. Beside the general idea of wrestling, folk styles are so diversified that we cannot analyse them all in one article.
We can just name a few like kurash (Central Asia), kokh (Armenia), khuresh (Siberia), Mongolian wrestling (Mongolia), oil wrestling (Turkey), schwingen (Switzerland), ssireum (Korea), collar-and-elbow (Ireland), Cornish wrestling (England), and backhold (Scotland).
Shuai Jiao (Chinese: 摔跤 or 摔角; pinyin: Shuāijiāo; Wade–Giles: Shuai-chiao) is the term pertaining to the ancient jacket wrestling wushu style of Beijing, Tianjin and Baoding of Hebei Province in the North China Plain which was codified by Shan Pu Ying (善撲营, The Battalion of Excellency in Catching) of the Nei Wu Fu (内務府, Internal Administration Unit of Imperial Household Department).
In modern usage it is also the general Mandarin Chinese term for any form of wrestling, both inside and outside China. As a generic name, it may be used to cover various styles of wrestling practised in China in the form of a martial arts system or a sport.
Sambo (Russian: са́мбо) is a Soviet martial art and combat sport. It originated in the Russian SFSR in Soviet Union. The word sambo is an acronym that literally means ‘self-defence without weapons’. Sambo is relatively modern, since its development began in the early 1920s by the Soviet NKVD and Red Army to improve hand-to-hand combat abilities of the servicemen.
It was intended to be a merger of the most effective techniques of other martial arts. The pioneers of sambo were Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov. Oshchepkov spent several years living in Japan and training in Judo under its founder Kano Jigoro. Spiridonov and Oshchepkov independently developed two different styles, which eventually cross-pollinated and became what is known as sambo. Compared to Oshchepkov’s system, called “free wrestling” in, Spiridonov’s style was softer and less brutal.
It was also less strength-dependent, which in large part was due to injuries Spiridonov sustained during World War I. Anatoly Kharlampiev, a student of Vasili Oshchepkov, is also considered a founder of sambo. In 1938, it was recognized as an official sport by the USSR All-Union Sports Committee.
Luta Livre (lit. freestyle fighting), known in Brazil as Luta Livre Brasileira and also Brazilian Catch Wrestling or Luta Livre Submission, is a Brazilian martial art created by Euclydes Hatem in Rio de Janeiro. Primarily a mixture of catch wrestling and judo, there is also striking with the hands, feet, knees and elbows. There are two styles: esportiva (“sporting”) and vale tudo (“anything goes”); both styles are no-gi.
In esportiva competitions, grappling techniques are the only techniques allowed to subdue the opponent. Consequently, it is important to calmly strategize and execute moves with the aim to force the opponent to submit via armlock, leglock, choke or necklock, or to win by points (i.e., takedowns, domination position).
Punches, kicks and other “hard” techniques are not allowed as this is considered more a sport than actual combat. Vale tudo, on the other hand, includes techniques in the clinch as well as on the ground; punches and kicks are allowed, but the ground fight and submissions are still the largest elements. This is also the form used in MMA-style fights.
Neo-pankration (Modern Pankration) was first introduced to the martial arts community by Greek-American combat athlete Jim Arvanitis in 1969 and later exposed worldwide in 1973 when he was featured on the cover of Black Belt. Arvanitis continually refined his reconstruction with reference to original sources. His efforts are also considered pioneering in what became mixed martial arts (MMA).
This covers the most important styles of amateur competitive wrestling. Now we shall see the styles of professional competitive wrestling.
Competitive Professional Wrestling Styles:
Competitive professional wrestling does not have as many styles as amateur wrestling, mostly because professional wrestling is strictly codified and does not include a variety of “folk” or “free” styles present in amateur wrestling. These styles are:
Sumo (Japanese: 相撲, Hepburn: sumō, lit. “striking one another”)is a form of competitive full-contact wrestling where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force his opponent out of a circular ring (dohyō) or into touching the ground with any body part other than the soles of his feet (usually by throwing, shoving or pushing him down).
Sumo originated in Japan, the only country where it is practiced professionally and where it is considered the national sport. It is considered a gendai budō, which refers to modern Japanese martial arts, but the sport has a history spanning many centuries. Many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo, and even today the sport includes many ritual elements.
Lucha libre (meaning “freestyle wrestling” or literally translated as “free fight”) is the term used in Mexico for professional wrestling. Since its introduction to Mexico in the early 20th century, it has developed into a unique form of the genre, characterized by colourful masks, rapid sequences of holds and manoeuvres, as well as “high-flying” manoeuvres, some of which have been adopted in the United States and elsewhere around the world.
The wearing of masks has developed special significance, and matches are sometimes contested in which the loser must permanently remove his mask, which is a wager with a high degree of weight attached. Tag team wrestling is especially prevalent in lucha libre, particularly matches with three-member teams, called trios.
Although the term today refers exclusively to professional wrestling, it was originally used in the same style as the term “freestyle wrestling”, referring to an amateur wrestling style without the restrictions of Graeco-Roman wrestling.
Catch Wrestling is a classical hybrid grappling style and combat sport. It was developed by J. G. Chambers in Britain around 1870. It was popularised by travelling wrestlers who developed their own submission holds, or “hooks”, into their wrestling to increase their effectiveness against their opponents.
Catch wrestling derives from various different international styles of wrestling: several English styles (Cumberland, Westmorland, Cornwall, Devon, and Lancashire), Indian pehlwani, and Irish collar-and-elbow wrestling. The training of some modern submission wrestlers, professional wrestlers and mixed martial artists is founded in catch wrestling.
Professional wrestling has its origins on catch wrestling exhibitions in carnivals where predetermined (“worked”) matches had elements of performing arts introduced (as well as striking and acrobatic manoeuvres), turning it into an entertainment spectacle. Other martial arts with origins in catch wrestling include folkstyle wrestling, freestyle wrestling, and mixed martial arts (MMA).
Entertainment Wrestling Styles:
We’ve already defined professional wrestling for entertainment purposes and have stated that it’s not actually wrestling, but rather a prearranged form of entertainment for the viewers. This is why people don’t take it very seriously and this is why we are not going to analyse these styles in detail, but rather just list them so that you know. The styles are:
- Professional wrestling (mainly USA, also Japan)
- King’s Road style (Japan)
- Strong style (Japan)
- Lucha libre (primarily Mexico, also other Hispanic states)
- Backyard wrestling
Historical Wrestling Styles:
Although they are not practiced today in any form (professionally or amateur), historical styles may still be present as recreations. They are:
Pankration (Greek: παγκράτιον) was a wrestling-like combat sport first introduces at the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC and was an empty-hand submission sport with scarcely any rules. The athletes used boxing and wrestling techniques, but also others, such as kicking and holds, locks and chokes on the ground. The term literally means “all of power”.
It was known in ancient times for its ferocity and allowance of such tactics as knees to the head and eye gouging. One ancient account tells of a situation in which the judges were trying to determine the winner of a match. The difficulty lay in that fact that both men had died in the arena from their injuries, making it hard to determine a victor.
Eventually, the judges decided the winner was the one who didn’t have his eyes gouged out. Over time, however, manoeuvres like eye gouging were discouraged to prevent such unpleasant incidents.
Greek wrestling (Greek: πάλη, translit. pálē), also known as Ancient Greek wrestling and Palé, was the most popular organised sport in Ancient Greece. A point was scored when one player touched the ground with his back, hip or shoulder, or conceding defeat due to a submission-hold or was forced out of the wrestling-area.
Three points had to be scored to win the match. One particularly important position in this form of wrestling was one where one of the contestants was lying on his abdomen with the other on his back trying to strangle him (back mount). The athlete on the bottom would try to grasp an arm of the one on top and turn him over onto his back while the athlete on top would try to complete the choke without being rolled.
Lancashire wrestling is a historic wrestling style from Lancashire in England. It is considered an ancestor of catch wrestling, professional and amateur wrestling. The style included groundwork and had a reputation as a particularly violent and dangerous sport.
Sources show that rules were put in place in order to safeguard the wrestlers from serious injury. For instance, there was a ban on breaking an opponent’s bones[In the counties to the north, Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling developed with rules designed to minimise injury to the participants.
Devon wrestling is a type of wrestling that was popular in the nineteenth century. The Devonshire fashion of wrestling allows hardened footwear to be worn and kicking intended to disable the opponent. It has similarities to Cornish wrestling but it was reputed to focus more on foot moves and less on throwing.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth century many Devon wrestlers used to wear “baked” boots when wrestling, which could cause serious injury to opponents (on rare occasions leading to death).
And that’s it for today, guys. We’ve covered all the essentials on wrestling styles and we hope you’ll find our advice useful. See you next time!