Wrestlers are a thing for jiu-jitsu practitioners. They are tough. They tend to have a gas tank. Wrestling has its own skill set which is applicable to MMA and BJJ. They come into the game knowing all sorts of stuff. They have already been programed with grips, base, takedowns, positions and control. Most wrestlers, in my experience, think they know a thing when they come into their first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) class, and they do. They just don’t know BJJ.
When I was a purple belt a guy came into the gym to try a class. He had apparently approached my coach to see if there might be a spot for him to teach some wrestling classes. This is actually not uncommon in my experience. I have seen several instances in which legit wrestlers who know nothing about BJJ come into the gym thinking they are going to teach wrestling. We exchanged pleasantries and class started. From the beginning he seemed unimpressed with the instruction. He asked a few times, “When do we go live?” He went through the drills with an attitude devoid of interest, as if they were below him. When class ended we were instructed to bow and shake. Rules were announced. Start from stand-up. Takedowns and submissions. No extended ground grappling. If you take a person down and can’t get a quick sub, stand back up.
He almost salivated as he looked at me. Like I was a lamb to the slaughter. For my part, I was always worried when facing a new guy, especially a tough and enthusiastic guy who came into the match with the idea that they couldn’t be beat. Those guys can be tough.
The timer was started. We probably bumped fists. I have learned not to tie with wrestlers. I prefer to give them space and force them to shoot. I tucked myself up and waited for his shot, which was quickly forthcoming. He shot for a double leg with the confidence of a guy who had been shooting double legs for years. His shot put his head on my right side. I curled my wrist up so my thumb caught his chin and I turned it to the ceiling. If I’m being honest, it was a crank. Cranks are frowned on in some schools, but not so much in mine at that time. Either way, the wrestler submitted immediately. His manner of submission would later be described as “enthusiastic.” We hadn’t even gone to the ground. We were both still standing.
My opponent took a minute or so at this point to fidget with his contact lens in the mirror. It is my experience that when you are sparring someone and they go to fix their contact lens, they are super angry and trying to figure out their next move. This guy was no exception. He collected himself. I looked at him and shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “More? …or are we done?”
Yes. He would like one more.
Now comes an interesting reality about wrestlers. It isn’t enough to tap them once. If you tap them once, it could have been a fluke. You could have just gotten lucky. They will pretty much always try again and come at you with only slightly diminished commitment or renewed enthusiasm. The key here is to tap them again quickly and decisively. If this can be accomplished they tend to get a little more pliable and things go easier on both parties.
I do not remember the second submission. Nor do I remember how many followed. I just remember that by the end of five minutes I had not been controlled, and it had rained submissions. It wasn’t all pretty, and it didn’t happen with flawless technique. There was no doubt that he had been handled, and his years of wrestling amounted to not much that day under those rules. I had stolen his soul.
I see this guy around. He is always very respectful. I consider him to be a friend. There are no hard feelings because I’ve seen this story play out time and time again in BJJ gyms and often it results in a meaningful conversion of a wrestler to a BJJ artist.
There was a wrestler who came in for a class at lunchtime once back when TDC was out of Pow Kickboxing. Same story as the guy before, but when it came time to spar he shot a low single on me. I stepped back and me sprawled on the ground underneath me, his hands gripping air. Rather than capitalize on his mistake and smash him, I allowed him to get back up and try again. He shot and ended up in my guard this time. I did not finish him. I simply maintained a dominant position. Afterward my coach, Dino Costeas, talked to me about the match. Rather than reproach me for letting the guy get up he said simply sighed and said, “Guys like that… They want to get their ass kicked.” I understood that my coach felt I had been to easy on the guy, allowing him to leave feeling that he succeeded since I had failed to finish him. In this instance I have to admit that coach was right. The guy never came back.
Wrestlers contribute a wonderful skillset to the team and make us all better. It is because of converted wrestlers, all of which went through this very process, that I was able to learn some wrestling and incorporate it into my art. I learned some takedowns, and I learned to fight for top game. For many old school BJJ artists like myself, it is no problem to fight from your back. Often we get lazy and fall to our back. We have to train ourselves to fight for top game. Wrestlers help us in this regard because they bring the fight for top game. I will always be grateful for the wrestlers. They forced me to get better at skills that didn’t come easy, and they always gave me challenging matches.