Why Wrestling Isn't Just a Sport, It's a Martial Art

Cross-posted from Undercard Superstar



I've practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA for a total of roughly a year. I am not a wrestler. I haven't ever attended a wrestling meet, I've never been on a wrestling team, and outside of a couple wrestling practices at the local MMA gym and the Olympics, I have never experienced wrestling first hand, besides that friendly rough-housing with my father as a kid that everyone goes through, and according to some, should go through. That's neither here or there. But when I hear someone say, "Wrestling isn't a martial art, it's a sport or it's scripted," my blood boils. Not only because they're generalizing a martial art that's been around far longer than any other in history, but because they lump it in with a ‘fake' entertainment product.

Let it be know: Wrestling is a martial art.

But, Connor, wrestling doesn't have any strikes, submissions, and didn't develop in Asia or Oceania, it can't be a martial art.



Well, you're stupid. Wrestling developed on every continent thousands of years before any other martial art was born. It included submissions and pins (in various forms, one Native American tribe in modern Central Canada pinned if you pulled someone to the ground by their hair). There are multiple paintings provided by the Egyptians of wrestling, and several scrolls defining rules and the such, but the Greeks were the first to truly codify wrestling as a sport and martial art.

Ancient Greek wrestling had two "sport" forms. The first is somewhat similar to modern amateur wrestling, in that the objective was to throw, trip, or toss an opponent, the first one who performs this feat wins (I think it was three times. I've also read one toss, but those Ancient Greek historians aren't very accurate sometimes). The second form allowed a continuation into ground fighting, where individuals could win by submission or pin. In both competitions, a lot would be drawn from a jar to figure out pairings and there were no weight classes. This would allow the men to wrestle as they would on the field, where they could potentially face enemies who outweigh them or are smaller and quicker.



The usage of wrestling was drastically important to the battlefield in pre-gun warfare. Your spear breaks. You pull out your sword. Your sword breaks. You use a dagger or knife. Your dagger gets lost in a body? Throw the shield down if you haven't already and start wrestling. In the Grecian battles like Thermopylae, Salamis, and the Sicilian Expedition there are plenty of sources that state wrestling was used on the battlefield to toss enemies, choke them, break limbs, etc. To me, that is the very purpose of a martial art: to be used on the battlefield, successfully.

Not convinced by this historical example? Okay, let me introduce you to catch wrestling.



Evolving in Britain in the late 1800s, catch wrestling was unique in that it allowed any and all "catches" or submissions. There were bare minimum rules to be had, similar to Ancient Greek wrestling. This got spread through traveling fairs, where a champion wrestler would challenge any and all comers to wrestle them and win a prize if the champion lost. Because you could never know if the person you're facing was a local yokel who just happened to be hammered enough or a wrestler of some skill, individuals had to develop a complete game. This spread to the United States. Once there, many locals like "Farmer" Burns and Frank Gotch rose to stardom as catch wrestlers, performing for thousands in championship matches. However, there eventually came a split between people who tried to maintain the integrity of the sport and those who saw large money signs come up from the entertainment aspect. As you can see today, those who valued entertainment over true competition won out, though there are still plenty of individuals within the pro wrestling business who can wrestle.

Okay, Connor, maybe there once was a time when wrestling was a martial art, but it isn't today, certainly not, there's no submissions and they just wear funny headgear and singlets. Well, you're stupid if you think that. Catch wrestling is still around, though it can be hard to come by. On the other hand, amateur wrestling, the competitive form practiced in high schools, clubs, and colleges across the world, is a martial art. Look no further than the definition of the words ‘martial' and ‘art'. ‘Martial', according to the Collins American English Dictionary, is defined as "of or suitable for war; showing a readiness or eagerness to fight; warlike". ‘Art' is defined as "human ability to make things; skill, craftsmanship; any specific skill or it's application; any craft, trade, or profession, or its principles." Amateur wrestling certainly is martial. Why do some many police officers complain about dealing with wrestlers, and why do so many militaries teach takedowns as important to get on top of and beat and enemy (literally and figuratively)? Because it's useful. Therefore, it is martial. It is also an art, as it deals with the human ability to make a technique come about, implementing skills that pertain to wrestling and within the confines of the rules. So it also successfully meets the definition of art.



Maybe you got me, Connor. But why does your same source for ‘martial' and ‘art' define ‘martial art' as "any various forms of self-defense originating in East Asia, such as karate and kung fu, also engaged in as a sport"? That seems very specific, geographically. My answer: because as a whole, we've been taught that a martial art is a ‘foreign' invention, something that is exotic and looks like people in pajamas punching and kicking a banana tree or choking someone out with a lapel. That's just simply not true. It's a geographical convention placed throughout the Western psyche. No one thinks of wrestling as a martial art. Few people think of boxing as a martial art. Both are typically seen as "Western sports". But as I've clearly shown, throughout history and by the very definitions of the words ‘martial' and ‘art', wrestling is considered a martial art. It is and has been used on the battlefield for millennia. What is more true to the spirit of martial arts than actual use in combat?

Further Readings:

The Challenge of Defining A Martial Art by John Clements

The Martial Chronicles by John Nash (multiple articles)

The Forgotten Golden Age of MMA by John Nash (multiple articles)

PS, I really hope the formatting isn't too bad. Any notes on how to fix it would be appreciated.

About the Author: Connor Dillon is a college student, with a major in Dramatic Media, and minors in History and Geography. A member of BE for a while now, he currently writes for Undercard Superstar while continuing his path through higher education. A son of a former NHB fighter, he has always been around combat sports in some way or another for most of his life, though only in the past few years has it turned from a minor interest to a major obsession.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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