The martial art of wrestling

6 Aug

I distinctly remember opening an issue of “Black Belt Magazine” one day and finding in the letters section a diatribe about how wrestling was NOT a martial art? I suppose I should have known that when people feel threatened, they often act irrationally. This was during the period when wrestlers started entering and dominating Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) matches. It was bad enough that a skinny Brazilian kid was pulling people to the ground and making them look like fools, now those “brutes” who clearly had “no technique” were beating martial artists who had so many titles (but no real fights) attached to their names (yes, end sarcasm mode NOW…)


Forget for a minute the obvious; wrestling is a highly developed set of skills that uses a keen knowledge of both anatomy and leverage. It is often a skill developed over decades. A high level wrestler develops the attributes many associate with “internal martial arts”. Forget all that for a minute. First and foremost, remember that wrestling is both a universal activity found in every culture on the planet and is in fact man’s oldest martial art.


In China, references to wrestling predate any reference to what we would call today “striking systems”. We know that wrestling wasn’t just considered a sporting activity, it was prized by Chinese, Mongolian and Manchurian armies. The Mongolians even had differentiating terms for sport (Boke) and combat (cilnem) forms of wrestling. Even in modern Chinese martial arts, “wrestling” (Shuai) is considered one of the four ESSENTIAL skills.


Those who think “wrestling” is not a martial art may have to read up a little more on the subject. In different variations across cultures and time periods wrestling included many tactics that make many contemporary observers quite uncomfortable. In ancient Greece, wrestling (not just Pankration, thought many classicists have tried to obscure the picture) included not only painful joint attacks on all the limbs, but chokes. Wrestling styles in India, the Middle East and Africa included striking with fists, sometimes fists covered in surfaces to make the strikes more deadly.


For those who think wrestling has no place in “real combat” I suggest you investigate medieval and renaissance combat manuals, where grappling tactics are important supplements to bladed combat. Some might be shocked to find even forms of GROUND GRAPPLING in such manuals.


Have you ever watched a professional boxing match? Would it shock you to learn that clinching is ILLEGAL. Yet there is not a single match in which there is not a lot of clinching. That should have been the modern world’s first hint to the fact that the clinch can not be avoided in combat. Sadly, for many, it took Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) to drive home the point. And yet, today some are still not paying attention?



One Response to “The martial art of wrestling”

  1. Denis Giron August 6, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    The letter you allude to at the beginning of your piece was, perhaps(?), in response to Keith Vargo’s controversial piece, for the August 1998 issue of Black Belt, titled “Wrestling Is Not A Martial Art”. It apparently generated letters for months, with some agreeing, but most disagreeing.

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