A History and Style Guide of Wrestling

Greek civilization, Plinth of kouros statue, bas-relief depicting wrestlers, circa 510 B.C., detail, from Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, Greece : Stock Photo View similar imagesMore from this photographerDownload comp Caption:Greece, Athens, National Archaeological Museum Greek civilization, Plinth of kouros statue, bas-relief depicting wrestlers, circa 510 B.C., detail, from Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, Greece
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Wrestling refers to contests where two combatants physically engage one another in an attempt to gain control, often by utilizing hand-to-hand techniques designed to throw their opponents off balance and take them down to the ground where they can achieve a dominant position. Wrestling is embedded in the history of nearly every culture. Though there was a time in the not-so-distant past when some did not believe that wrestling was truly a martial art , the way that wrestlers have proved their worth in modern day mixed martial arts competitions has gone a long way toward erasing any doubt about it deserving that title.

History of Wrestling

Wrestling is an Old English term that seems to have originated some time previous to 1100 A.D. However, wrestling as a practice is much older than that. Along with this, there is no specific line that can be drawn, as is the case with some other martial arts styles, when it comes to the evolution of wrestling. Nearly every culture boasts a form of hand-to-hand combat designed to throw opponents off balance.

Reinforcing this, cave drawings in France from over 15,000 years ago appear to depict people engaged in acts of wrestling. A grappling style originating in China called Shuai Jiao is reportedly over 4,000 years old. Artwork in Egypt shows people engaged in wrestling before 2,000 BC. Further, both the Greeks and Romans engaged in the martial art to a great extent as well.

In Europe, many of the styles of wrestling were originally rather loosely organized. Eventually these became more organized, however, which led to the style of Greco-Roman wrestling.

Greco-Roman wrestling refers to a style of grappling where lower body attacks are disallowed (all throws are executed using upper body clinches and holds). From there, Greco-Roman and modern freestyle grappling competitions became formal in continental Europe and money prizes were offered to the victors.

Along with this, European nobility often practiced the art of wrestling, and by 1896 Greco-Roman wrestling was so popular that it was added to the initial Olympic Games. Freestyle wrestling (1904) and women’s freestyle wrestling (2004) were both also eventually included.

Beyond the aforementioned sport wrestling styles, many other types of grappling have sprung up over the years. These styles tend to fall under the category of folk wrestling, which is really just a term used to describe the many wrestling styles not globally considered a part of sport wrestling.

Early American colonists brought wrestling with them to an area where the Native Americans they encountered practiced styles all their own. Interestingly, one of the more popular wrestling styles that early American colonists practiced is what is called “collar and elbow” wrestling, which descended from the Lancashire “catch as can” or catch wrestling (which was later translated by the Scotts and eventually the Irish to collar and elbow). Collar and elbow and its derivatives were utilized in competitions at festivals, carnivals, and circuses across America.

Catch wrestling is also the basis for submission wrestling, which has become quite popular and useful in mixed martial arts competition.

Today, collegiate wrestling, which is more of a freestyle discipline, is quite popular in the United States at both the collegiate and high school level.

Characteristics of Wrestling

The majority of wrestling styles can be defined by techniques such as clinching, takedowns, takedown defense, holding, and more. Additionally, some wrestling styles, such as catch wrestling, utilize submission holds or techniques meant to force an opponent to give up or face the consequences of a joint lock or choke hold.

Basic Goals of Wrestling

Wrestling stylists generally work to take their opponents to the ground and control them there by utilizing clinches, locks, takedowns, throws, and more. From there, the goals of what wrestlers do tend to depend on the style in question.

Sometimes wrestlers may have the goal of pinning their opponent.

Other times, they may hope to end the fight utilizing a submission hold.

Wrestling Substyles

There are a multitude of wrestling styles in the world today. First, there are those recognized by the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles. These are more sports oriented.

Wrestling Styles Recognized by the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles


  • Greco-Roman Wrestling
  • Freestyle Wrestling
  • Beach Wrestling
  • Sambo

Then there are the numerous folk wrestling styles coupled with those martial arts types that are considered to be forms of wrestling by some, though perhaps not all. This is a pretty extensive list, though it’s nearly impossible to include all of the different forms of wrestling worldwide.

Other Types of Wrestling


  • Ancient Greek Wrestling
  • Backhold Wrestling
  • Bokh
  • Campidanesa
  • Catch Wrestling
  • Chin-Na
  • Coreeda
  • Cornish Wrestling
  • Cumberland Wrestling
  • Devonshire Wrestling
  • Glima
  • Gouren
  • Icelandic Bondaglima
  • Inbuan
  • Judo
  • Khmer Traditional Wrestling
  • Khuresh
  • Koshti
  • Lotta Campidanesa
  • Lucha Canaria
  • Lucha Leonesa
  • Luctatio
  • Lucta Erecta
  • Lucta Volutoria
  • Luta Livre
  • Lutte Traditionnelle
  • Malla-yuddha
  • Naban
  • Pahlavani
  • Pehlwani
  • Penjang Gulat
  • Professional Wrestling
  • Schwingen
  • Scottish Backhold
  • Shoot Wrestling
  • Shuai Jiao
  • Ssireum
  • Strumpa
  • Trinta
  • Westmorland Wrestling

Three Noteworthy Wrestlers

Randy Couture: This former All American collegiate wrestler is the only five time UFC Champion. His ability to take opponents down at will has made him one of the greatest MMA ground and pound fighters of all-time.  What's more, his ability to fight in the clinch- a staple of Greco Roman Wrestling- set him apart from his opponents.

Dan Gable: This lightweight gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 1972 Olympic Games only lost one match while grappling for the Iowa State Cyclones. That plus the 15 NCAA team championships he achieved while coaching the Iowa Hawkeyes have made him a legendary figure in the sport.

Alexander Karelin: “The Russian Bear” was a scary super heavyweight Greco Roman wrestler for the former Soviet Union and Russia.

He won Olympic gold medals in 1988, 1992, and 1996 and managed to go undefeated in international competition from 1987-2000.