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I Refuse to Admit That Wrestling Is a Martial Arts Form, Here’s Why.

by Kelly Kusumoto 11 Sep 2022

Ah yes, the age old question of what exactly is wrestling? It’s often promoted and practiced as a sport, yet in the MMA world it is one of the most useful skills for any fighter. And because fighters use it, then it must be a martial art right?

I respectfully disagree.

As someone who has done both Japanese Martial Arts and Folkstyle Wrestling, I will say that they are fairly different… and here’s why.

Wrestling vs Martial Arts, a Difference in Philosophy


One of the reasons they are different is because they have completely different philosophies. Philosophies define why moves are created and the purpose they serve in execution. 

The philosophy of Martial Arts is to give a person the skill and knowledge to protect and defend themselves from an attacker. There are many ways to go about doing this and with every practitioner comes a different style.

Martial arts has become an umbrella term for all these different combat styles. Some martial arts styles focus more on hand to hand combat, while others may choose to focus on weapons, and some may choose to use wrist locks and throws.

But as a whole, most Martial Arts techniques will emphasize moves that only initiate after someone attacks you. They go over common attacks you may encounter in the real world and how to defend against them. 

If someone punches you, you block and strike back. If someone kicks you, you can dodge and strike back. If someone were to grab you from behind, there would be a series of moves to escape from the attacker.

The martial arts school had a really unique approach to their belt system. There were only 3 belts: white, brown, and black. 

But before I was allowed to upgrade from a white belt to a brown belt, I had to write an essay on when it was appropriate to use the techniques that I was learning. 

I had to write about the founder and his philosophy behind his fighting style. I had to write about when it was appropriate to use the techniques being taught to me. I had to show that I understood the fact that no matter what the cause of the fight was, I should run away as soon as I was able to. It might sound like a cowardly thing to do, but it is the safest choice.

And this understanding of context is really what sets the two combat styles apart.

Martial artists understand that they train hoping to never be in a situation where they have to fight. But in case such an encounter occurs, they are ready.

Wrestlers train to win. In the world of wrestling there is always a distinct winner or a loser. There are rules to compete under. There is a judge or a referee who can make a call. This is the nature of a sport. 

Wrestling Is a Sport With a Lot of Benefits

But that explanation might not be enough to calm the angry group of people who believe that wrestling is a style of fighting. Which… I suppose it’s fair. 

The techniques taught in Wrestling can be used to fight with, for sure! I see wrestling moves executed in MMA all the time. But you’ll notice that these moves tend to work in very specific situations within a very specific range

For example, a double takedown is a great move. But if you were to try that in MMA, you might get some mixed results. And the bad results are like, really bad. Learning a double in the sport of wrestling does not account for your opponent to knee you in the face on your way down there. (I even have a youtube video to prove it.)

But this move works great in wrestling, even at the Olympic level. Why? Because the rules say that you cannot strike your opponent. Again, the context in which you use wrestling matters a lot.

One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed with people who watch MMA is how they justify why wrestlers dominate the sport. What they see are fancy takedowns, unstoppable domination, and amazing throws. What they don’t see is the training it takes to get to that level.

Like only being able to see the tip of the iceberg, the truth is hidden underneath the surface. The true benefits of wrestling lie there. 

Wrestling is an incredibly exhausting sport. Talk to any good wrestler and they will tell you the INSANE amount of time and effort they dedicated to their craft.

For example, when I was in high school our workouts were about 3 hours long, and they looked something like this:

  • 30-60 minutes of cardio before lifting
  • 20-30 minutes of lifting before wrestling
  • 30-45 minutes of drilling techniques
  • 15-30 minutes of live wrestling
  • Sprinting in between sets
  • Squat jumps, pushups, and plank holds to end practice

And I stuck to this brutal routine 5 days a week for 3-4 months at a time. It was god-forsakenly painful. At the end of each practice, I was dripping in sweat. And it wasn’t just my sweat, but the sweat of all my teammates. Yes, nasty, I know.

But this is the secret behind every great wrestler. The ability to work and push through the most excruciating pain becomes their secret weapon. When some people get tired and give up, wrestlers just keep going. 

In wrestling we even have a phrase for this: break your opponent (mentally). Since we cannot physically stop our opponent from fighting by submitting them, we go for the next best thing. We break our opponent’s will to fight. 

It’s something that wrestlers take a lot of pride in when it actually happens.

Is Wrestling the Best Martial Art? Or the Best Combat Sport?

While I won’t say that wrestling is a martial art, I think it is more accurate to say that wrestling can be modified for the purpose of martial arts. But I wouldn’t say that someone who knows how to wrestle should be called a Martial Artist. They are a wrestler. And that’s totally ok. Like, it really is. 

Wrestling provides a really great foundation for combat sports. Wrestling forces you to train your body like a warrior. You build your cardio, strength, agility, and power. You learn how to cope with pressure and extremely intense situations when you wrestle live. 

A really crazy part about wrestling that I love is that a lot of techniques cannot be executed well if your body is weak. Of course there are a good amount of techniques you can do that rely more on timing than strength, but to be a complete wrestler offensively and defensively you need adequate strength. Any holes in your game become extremely obvious to your opponent. 

But as much as I love wrestling, I know it’s not for everyone. It is, however, an extremely flexible sport regardless of what body type you may have. I am short with a very stocky build and I was able to find a lot of success in the sport. Someone who is tall and lengthy can also find lots of success in wrestling. You can wrestle even if you don’t have arms or legs. Check out the famous stories of Anthony Robles, Kyle Maynard, and Caiden Hooks.

Thanks for reading!

And if you love wrestling as much as I do, sign up to receive more great content about wrestling. I write blogs, make funny laugh-out-loud comics, and sell super cool wrestling merch for both men and women!


Kelly Kusumoto

An artist at heart, Kelly is a San Jose based entrepreneur with a passion for wrestling. Starting wrestling as a sophomore, Kelly became a Girls' State Champion her Senior year in 2008. Her love for the sport has led her to create Distant Klash, an apparel brand to represent wrestling with fun comic-inspired visuals. Today Kelly is a one-on-one coach and is constantly creating new artwork for her fans.

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