Wrestling’s Five Styles

Dr. Bruce Gabrielson
Southern Maryland Wrestling Club - June 1997

The Five Styles

There are currently five styles of amateur wrestling practiced in the United States, each with separate rules, techniques, and emphasis. Wrestlers with a strong background in only one style, and little experience in the others, sometimes have difficulty adjusting to an opponent who uses the stronger techniques from a different style to attack. For this reason, most successful coaches stress that their wrestlers learn as many styles as they can to develop their own unique techniques. This becomes particularly important if the wrestler plans to compete at the college level or in national competitions.

Below is a short description of each style as practiced in the U.S. There are many flavors of each of these styles. A wrestler interested in learning the various styles should affiliate with one of the various open clubs that actively train in more than one styles.


Folkstyle (scholastic) is the style common to high school and college competition in the United States. As the name implies, the style was developed in the US, and is not used in international competition. Folkstyle concentrates on control, with points awarded for controlling an opponent for lengths of time longer then when under control. The wrestler on top must constantly work towards a pin while the wrestler on the bottom must continually try to escape or reverse. Folkstyle is similar to Freestyle in that for some of the time both wrestlers are on their feet and attempting to take each other to the mat in order to gain control.


Freestyle wrestling concentrates on attacking the entire body of the opponent. Wrestlers start on their feet, and points are accumulated by taking the opponent to the mat and exposing his back. Matches are one five minute period in the open and high school divisions, and two periods with a short break in between for younger age groups.

Since the emphasis in Freestyle is on attack and exposure, just controlling the opponent from on top with no continuous back exposure is considered a stalemate, and both wrestlers are brought to their feet after a short time in order for the bout to continue.

Also, since back exposure is emphasized, a wrestler can easily score points or pin himself by exposing his own back unless he is very careful how he performs his movements.

One more very important point about both Freestyle and Greco-Roman is that there is no penalty for failed moves. if a wrestler attempts a takedown and ends up being taken down by his opponent, his opponent does not score points.


Greco-Roman is the oldest wrestling style, and very popular in some parts of the world. Like Freestyle, Greco-Roman concentrates on taking your opponent to the mat and exposing his back, but without using or attacking the legs. Points for takedowns and exposures are nearly identical between Freestyle and Greco-Roman, so long as legs are not used. Both Freestyle and Greco-Roman, in addition to Judo, are recognized Olympic sports.


Judo, meaning soft sport, is an oriental style of wrestling which concentrates on throwing your opponent off his feet and into a position of back control or submission. Wrestling consists of one five minute period, with both wrestlers starting on their feet. If one wrestler is taken down or thrown, wrestling continues for a short time to see if a pin can be achieved. Unlike karate, which also requires the wrestler to where white pants and a jacket but no shoes, blows are not allowed, nor are chock holds for wrestlers younger then 13 years old. Colored belts are awarded to wrestlers who reach various levels of excellence.


Sombo is a style developed in Russia which combines the stronger aspects of Judo, Greco-Roman, and Freestyle. A jacket and standard wrestling singlet or shorts is worn, including shoes in competition. Like Judo, SOMBO concentrates on taking your opponent off his feet and into a position of submission. However, unlike Judo and all other wrestling styles, there are no pins, and back points can be scored only once. Points are accumulated as in Freestyle, or, like Judo, a total victory throw can be recorded. Also, like Judo, both men and women compete in separate classes. There are no choke holds in SOMBO, but submission holds are allowed in the cadet and above age groups. Like Judo, colored belts are awarded to wrestlers who reach various levels of excellence.

Professional Wrestling

As a final note, the wrestling commonly seen on television bears little resemblance to sport wrestling. This form of wrestling is known as catch-as-catch-can, and is both dangerous and theatrical in nature. While modern traditional wrestling is professional in some parts of the world, it is not as glamorous or dangerous as that seen on television. In all traditional styles, wrestlers compete in age and weight categories, so each boy has an equal chance regardless of size. Sport wrestling is safer then football (according to insurance companies), with scholastic wrestling currently ranked as the third most popular sport among high school boys in the U.S.