Judo vs Wrestling [side by side comparison!] 

Origin and History


Judo (which in Japanese translates to the “gentle way”) is a discipline devised in 1882 by a man named Jigoro Kano.

Originally a practitioner of jujitsu, Kano wanted to strip out many of the more dangerous techniques of jujitsu and create something that was more akin to a sport. The end result was something he called “Kano jujitsu”.

Over time and a dedicated refining of the technique, it morphed into the judo we know today. Free practice (Randori) is a fundamental part of judo, though the foundation of jujitsu – the kata forms – are still a big part, too.

The entire objective of this combat sports is to take down or throw on opponent to the ground, immobilize them, or get them to submit after locking them up or choking them out. Hand and foot striking is part of judo too but are not used in competition and are definitely underemphasized compared to other combat sports.

It didn’t take long at all for judo to take off as a practice throughout Japan, though the international world was a little bit slower on the uptake to embrace it fully. This martial art was established by Kano with the idea that it could become an Olympic sport, and even participated in an informal demonstration during the 1932 games in the hope that it would be brought into the fold.

Judo wouldn’t be formally brought into the Olympic Games schedule until the 1960s, though. 1964 – the games in Tokyo – where the first time that Olympians competed against one another for a judo gold-medal. A Dutchman by the name of Anton Geesink took home the very first gold, defeating a Japanese practitioner by the name of Akio Kaminaga.

Today millions and millions of people practice this martial art, and millions more practice direct derivatives like Brazilian Juj Jitsu (BJJ), Krav Maga, Sambo, and ARB.

Judo is also heavily used in mixed martial arts (MMA) combat sports, shoot wrestling, and submission wrestling. Militaries all over the world have incorporated judo techniques into their close quarters combat training, too.


It can be a bit difficult to pin down the history of wrestling, if only because it is one of the oldest combat sports in the world – maybe the oldest, in fact!

This is a combat sport that revolves heavily around grappling with opponents, pulling them into the clinch, throwing them and taking them down, as well as trying to lock them down with joint holds, choke holds, pins, and other submission moves.

Historians have been able to find examples of wrestling on artifacts and documents stretching all the way back 15,000 years, all the way to some of the world’s oldest cave drawings, even.

The people of Babylon and Egyptian produced a tremendous amount of art showing wrestlers using many of the same holds and positions that are still foundations of this martial art today.

It’s kind of crazy to think that ancient Egyptians were locking people up with freestyle wrestling moves that some of today’s top fighters (including legends like Rhonda Rousey) are using – but that’s the truth!

The Bible has passages (particularly in the Old Testament) speaking about wrestling, the Iliad talks about how the Trojans used wrestling to dominate their opponents, and other ancient texts around the world have similar passages.

The ancient Greeks really refined freestyle wrestling, making it a rock solid foundation of the original Olympic Games. Many of their contests are a lot more brutal than today’s (certainly quite a bit different than “professional wrestling”), with practitioners spending their entire lives devoted to this form of hand-to-hand combat.

Folks throughout the Middle Ages continued to refine and practice these techniques. European royal families (especially those in France and England) loved to host wrestling tournaments, often showering the winners with fortune and favors.

To the surprise of no one, English settlers throughout America brought the history and tradition of wrestling with them. They taught Native Americans traditional wrestling techniques, who embraced it and became dominant athletes themselves.

The very first organized wrestling tournament in the United States was hosted in 1888 and its popularity has never waned. An Olympic sport since 1904, wrestling is very much the rock solid foundation of pretty much every grappling or hold based combat sports on the planet.

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Breaking Down the Differences Between Judo and Wrestling

While there are quite a bit of similarities between these two martial art practices, there are significant differences when you look at judo vs wrestling.

Judo is a bit more of a refined combat sport – focused on the judo throw as a way to win the contest.

Wrestling focuses a lot more on grappling – the ground game – with the aim of finding a way to physically dominate an opponent, very often getting a lot more “freestyle” with the fighting than judo takedowns ever are.

Training styles can be pretty similar though, especially amongst today’s modern judo fighters – specifically those that are going to be competing against a professional opponent. Wrestling coaches have found ways to elevate and improve their game, too, borrowing heavily from jujitsu, judo practitioners, and other ground fighting experts.

Let’s run through some of the biggest differences between these two mixed martial arts right now!


Both the practices of judo and wrestling start with athletes and fighters on their feet, making throws a huge piece of the puzzle and a heavy focus during training.

Almost every single throw in both judo and wrestling is performed by grabbing or gripping onto the opponent, finding a way to use leverage to toss them, and then putting them on the ground as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

In Judo though, there is a little more focus on the actual throw than in wrestling. Efficient throws in competition will win a judo practitioner a lot more points – especially if the athlete is able to land their opponent flat on their back.

In wrestling, a throw is simply a move to transition an opponent from the standing “up” fighting position down to the ground where the fight has only just begun!

Takedowns are a part of throwing in both judo and wrestling, though.

Wrestlers are always looking to move in as soon as the fight goes to the ground game, as are judo athletes. The idea here is to control the opponents upper body as much as possible.

In wrestling, athletes are going to use their legs to get hooks and takedowns in against the person they are fighting. In Judo, though, that is strictly against the rules.


Wrestling is not as heavily focused on submission holds (choke holds, arm bars, etc.) as judo is. Athletes are going to score points the second that they take down their opponent and gain control of them while on the ground.

With Judo, though, submissions are a huge piece of the puzzle.

A wrestler isn’t necessarily going to be interested in locking up an opponent and choking them out, but judo players will take that opportunity every chance they get.

Things might get a little bit different when you start talking about mixed martial arts like UFC where every fighter really has a blend of different styles (mixing things like Greco-Roman wrestling into the mix with Muay Thai, for example), but wrestling coaches are going to teach their athletes to go for the submission.


Pinning an opponent is a surefire way to win a contest in both wrestling and judo.

There’s a world of difference between what a “pin” is in these combat sports, though.

With wrestling, you have to have an opponent’s shoulders flat on the mat for three seconds for the pin to be official.

In judo, though, you have to hold your opponent down to the ground for 20 seconds to win the match. The wrinkle here, though, is that you only have to keep a single shoulder blade down on the ground.

Obviously, pinning for the win in judo is a whole lot harder than it is in wrestling. It’s very rare to pull off a pin win in judo, especially since all he judo practitioner has to do is get to their stomach (or even just get both of their shoulders up off of the mat) and the fight resets.

Judo vs Wrestling – Which is Best for Self Defense?

At the end of the day, judo and wrestling are pretty even when it comes to self-defense.

Both of them teach you how to grapple with an opponent, how to get in close and how to control them as quickly as possible. Both of these martial arts teach practitioners how to get an opponent down on the ground so that they can neutralize a threat of efficiently, too.

Judo is a little bit more about leverage (using the least amount of force for maximum effect), which might give it the slight edge in this category.

Freestyle wrestling, though, teaches practitioners how to fight anyway necessary to get someone down on the ground and then to keep them there.

It’s not a bad idea to learn both!


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