I have long heard that judo and wrestling, both freestyle and greco-roman, are some of the martial arts that requires most strategy. That lead me to try to learn wrestling (also the fact that although I have trained martial arts before, I have never done grappling).

I started training wrestling a few months ago, and from what I know, the instruction I am getting is quite typical; Every day, you learn to do y if you find yourself in some position x.

Of course, I am supposed to "break down the essence" of these lessons to build up a strategy. However, I want to know if there is some resource, like a book or movie, that explains how strategic wrestling is.

Seeing wrestling matches online, I am getting more and more skeptical about wrestling being as strategic as I have been told it is.

  • 1
    How "strategic" does a professional boxing or MMA match look to you? Aug 4, 2015 at 8:58
  • MMA looks more strategic than boxing. Of course, a few strategic decisions are made in all martial arts. What else is a fighters style but the strategic decisions he's used to making in every fight? So, reading, for instance, article's on Pacquiao's boxing style, I see that as an article on Pacquiao's strategy.
    – Avatrin
    Aug 4, 2015 at 11:32
  • Everything is strategy. Most wrestlers try to feel for their opponent's weaknesses, trying to capitalize on them, while simultaneously playing to their own strengths. So if you're really good in one position, you're looking to get your opponent into that position somehow. I'm sure there are books on wrestling strategy which goes over what to look for in your opponent, how to attack, how to defend, etc. Unfortunately, it's not my sport, so I can't recommend any books. Aug 4, 2015 at 18:15
  • 1
    I know some schools of jujitsu have gone to the level of flowcharts for thinking about their strategy ( jiujitsubrotherhood.com/2010/03/… ) My guess is that every art, including wrestling, has counterstrategies, though the question is how formalized these get is probably local to your instructor/school.
    – Bankuei
    Aug 5, 2015 at 5:12
  • Every competitive martial art is strategic.. Boxing and MMA likewise..
    – cbll
    May 19, 2016 at 6:53

3 Answers 3


Before going too far be aware that strategy should also be about dealing with uncertainty. Nothing ever goes perfectly to plan.

Every good wrestler who is not being flippant about the opponent will think & plan about the match. This can be as simple as sizing up the opponent, watching them in other matches or many other ways to assess and then plan. For example in a fight I was told about, one wrestler went up to the other wrestler before the match and playfully grabbed and hugged him. Later it was found he used this as a means of assessing if he could get a good waist grip and feel the center of gravity. He did this to know what could and could not work.

Once on the mat then it's about knowing what are good setups, counters, counters to counters and so on. If you only have one move then pretty soon others will know this and will be able to bait it and set it up to fall into a trap. Over time a good wrestler can read a person and know what their setup is within an instant. So the strategy part is about knowing moves and knowing counters to moves and then knowing how set them up.

This sort of wrestling does not come overnight but with practise and experience. It usually takes years of mat time to get.

As a source of examples in techniques I like Erik Paulson, Cary Kolat and Carl Adams materials but theres a lot of other great instructional videos out there.

  • Informally, good fencers, like chess players, think many moves ahead. It's even said that the first few moves in chess these days are automating and by rote, all about getting to the place where something novel can be inserted.
    – DukeZhou
    Apr 29, 2021 at 2:24
  • (In tai chi and wudang they hold to the principle that every counter has a counter which has a counter, and so on, such that true masters always end up in a draw—it's a very friendly art in that way:)
    – DukeZhou
    Apr 29, 2021 at 2:24

It's not really about reading up on strategies but developing your own strategy for what works for you. When you're starting off in grappling/wrestling, you're going to primarily defending when going against higher levels. As your skill increases, you will be more on the offense. I'm a BJJ practictioner, I've seen even with my teachers, the strategies are never that complicated, but more what you've been working to master.

They kind of go:

Get to side control -> knee on belly -> mount -> cross cutter choke
   -> they defended knee on belly go to north south choke
   -> they sweeped me, try to get back to side control

Thats really it, but of course things don't tend to go that smoothly so you end up in various states and have to adapt and play to the situation. If you work hard at your strategy, you'll tend to maintain control so it does work out that simply or you get good enough to steer the situation back on to course with your strategy.


As someone who has a lot of wrestling experience and with little bits of other things there are a few things that come to mind.

Wrestling is an old sport

BJJ declares itself to be a unique discipline relative to other MAs and as such it's less than 100 years old. Same story with Taekwondo, and I can imagine if you live in the western world most people are learning disciplines that, while they may have historical continuity, are cultural transplants.

Wrestling is not like this. Wrestling in some form has been practiced by many cultures on small and large scales. The aggregate of knowledge and refinement that wrestling has to pull from is larger than even the oldest Asian MAs.

As a side I don't know if I agree that Judo falls into our category of ultra strategic sports by this measurement, but the Japanese make very good wrestlers, just as good as the Indo-Europeans who have been wrestling since before the classical period that we inherit the tradition from.

There is no striking and there are restricted use of locks and manipulation

This means that athletes can spar for longer with higher intensity and have lower risk of injury. The average age for an American competing on the Olympic wrestling team is 27, while most MMA fighters with a striking background are retiring at that age.

I think it's clear that you can devote more time to your sport when you aren't getting hit in the head or when someone is trying to snap your arm. So the time cost of pushing the envelope of how hard you can hit, how hard you can get hit are not present, nor is the risk of being injured by a submission and more time can be devoted to training that deepens strategy.

I'm not saying that other MAs are non-strategic, but the likelihood of reaching a certain level of depth decreases with the increasing risk of a knockout or submission. One thing I always hear people say in the striking and BJJ game is that a fight can end from anywhere at anytime. This is also true for wrestling to a certain extent, however, and I can't find any data on this unfortunately, pins are less and less common as you go higher up. I've also heard that the inverse is true of striking MAs, that knockouts are uncommon at lower levels and more common at higher levels.

I'm not sure if there is any good data on these points but if anyone has something to contribute I would be interested in hearing more.

edit: I missed the point of your question was about the content of wrestling strategy rather than wrestling strategy vs other MAs so I guess I should delete this?

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