Folkstyle wrestling is a popular style of wrestling that is taught mostly in American middle schools, high schools, and colleges. When taught in middle and high schools it is often referred to as scholastic wrestling. However, in colleges, it often referred to as collegiate wrestling. Both scholastic and collegiate wrestling are forms of folkstyle wrestling.
That said, there are some small modifications between the rules. However, the differences between the two are very minimal. Folkstyle wrestling is certainly one of the greatest sports in the world. If you or someone in your family is looking to get into wrestling this guide will help you to better understand the sport.
Folkstyle wrestling is often confused with freestyle wrestling. Though there are some similarities these are totally different sports. Freestyle wrestling is an international wrestling style that is also an Olympic sport. Unfortunately, folkstyle wrestling is not in the Olympics but the skills you learn will help you easily transition between the two.
That said if you live in the USA and wish to wrestle in the Olympics one day you should still enroll in folkstyle wrestling. In my opinion folkstyle is one of the greatest wrestling styles. It will help you develop skills that you can take into other grappling sports as well as MMA.
There are plenty of reasons to get into wrestling whether it’s just for fun or as a great way to stay in shape. In addition, it can be a wonderful and rewarding skill to teach your kids. We will get further into all of that soon but first lets simply talk about the history of folkstyle wrestling.
History Of Folkstyle Wrestling
Folkstyle wrestling was influenced by a number of wrestling styles from around the world. It was even influenced by some of the wrestling that was already going on here in the United States by the Native Americans. The Europeans who settled here also had certain styles of wrestling that they had been exposed to. This would be a style more similar to Greco-Roman wrestling and wrestling styles of England, Ireland, and other European countries.
Perhaps the biggest influence on today’s folkstyle wrestling is catch wrestling or catch as catch can. By most accounts, catch wrestling is considered the parent art to today’s folkstyle wrestling and freestyle wrestling. Though it was officially established around 1871 catch wrestling is actually likely older than that.
It is a hybrid grappling style that has its roots in many other styles. This would include many English styles such as Lancashire wrestling as its most major influence. That said, it was also influenced by many other grappling arts across the world such as Indian pehlwani wrestling.
Long story short, the English navy learned different techniques as they traveled the world. They would then bring these techniques and the techniques from there own continent and teach the young men this hybrid wrestling style. As time would go on many of the blue-collar workers turned this type of wrestling into somewhat of a sporting event.
People would bet on wrestlers who would win by either pinning or submitting their opponents. Unlike folkstyle wrestling, catch wrestling has an arsenal of submission attacks designed to make their opponents tap out. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this style of wrestling came to the Americas.
Wrestling In Americas
Catch wrestling started to become very popular in the United States and was growing rapidly. It was further popularized by traveling carnivals that hosted catch wrestling events. People from the crowd could win a prize of some sort if they could pin or submit one or the carnival’s catch as catch can wrestlers.
Because the crowd would often contest certain pins the wrestlers would typically use a submission to end the match with the challenger. This way there was no debate on who exactly won the match. This did, however, make an already rough sport even more brutal.
The problem with catch wrestling was that it is a very brutal art and not something that everyone would get behind. That is at least in a way that would be accepted as a national sport that would be taught in high school or colleges. So naturally, they modified the rules to make it safer and more accepted as a sport. What they came up with would be what we call folkstyle wrestling today.
They removed the submissions as well as many rules such as being able to do certain handgrips. Catch wrestling did not have many rules so there was quite a bit taken out. In addition, folkstyle wrestling added a point system that would help determine a winner in case someone was not pinned during the match.
In catch, the only way to win was by pin or submission. Folkstyle is a bit more complicated when it comes to rules and understanding the sport. One of the biggest learning curves when it comes to folkstyle wrestling is learning what you can and can’t do. In addition, you will need to become familiar with the point system and how to win in folkstyle wrestling.
Rules Of Folkstyle Wrestling
The main objective of folkstyle wrestling is to pin your opponent’s shoulders to the mat. You can also win by points that are awarded by positions of control over your opponent as well as escapes. These would include takedowns, reversals, escapes, and near falls. In addition, points are awarded through penalties as well.
These are simply points awarded to a wrestler if their opponents break the rules. All in all, there are a number of ways in which you can achieve points in folkstyle wrestling. We will get to that later but first, we need to understand the basic starting positions of the match. In high school, a match or bout will consist of 3 two minute rounds. In college, the match will consist of 1 three minute round followed by 2 two minute rounds.
During the first bout, both wrestlers will start in a neutral position. This simply means that the wrestlers will start out on their feet where the goal is to take your opponent down to the mat. Because both wrestlers are starting in the same position on their feet this is considered a neutral position.
During the second bout, one of the wrestlers gets to choose whether they will start in the bottom, top, or neutral position. The top position is where the wrestler starts on the top and/or behind the opponent who would be in the bottom position. During the third bout, it is simply the other wrestlers’ turn to decide the starting position.
A wrestler’s main goal is to win the match by pinning their opponent. This is also known as a fall. If a pin is not achieved the wrestler can also win by points or in some cases disqualification. The wrestler who has the most points at the end of the match will become the winner.
The Three Positions of Folkstyle Wrestling
When you think of most sports you either think of the player/players being in either an offensive or defensive position. However, in folkstyle wrestling, you can be in three positions. That is an offensive, defensive, and neutral position. You can only be in one of these positions at a time.
So during a match, either both wrestlers are in a neutral position or one is in an offensive and the other is in a defensive position. So if you are in an offensive position then by default your opponent is in a defensive position. Certain points can only be achieved when the wrestler is in a certain position. For example, only a defensive wrestler can earn a point for an escape. On the other hand, only an offensive wrestler can score near-fall points.
This is considered the best position in folkstyle wrestling. The offensive position is achieved when the wrestler is on top and/or behind his opponent and has control of them. It is the goal of the offensive wrestler to turn their opponents back towards the mat at a 45-degree angle or less to either gain a fall ( pin their opponent ) or to gain near fall points. The offensive position is the only position through which these points can be achieved.
This is the opposite position of the offensive position and is considered the worst position to be in. This is where you are underneath your opponent and they are controlling you. In this position, your goal is to either escape or score a reversal. Both escapes and reversals are awarded points and can only be achieved in the defensive position.
This is the position where both wrestlers are on their feet and no one has control of the other wrestler. Basically, this is where two wrestlers are standing up or on their knees and facing each other. Takedowns can be scored from this position.
Point Scoring System Of Folkstyle Wrestling
Just as a simple refresher I want to start by saying that the main objective is to win the match by pinning your opponent. That said, you can also win by points. You can win by scoring more total points than your opponent at the end of the match or by being ahead of your opponent by 15 points at any time during the match. There are a few ways to score points when it comes to folkstyle wrestling.
Takedowns 2 Points
A takedown is awarded two points when one of the wrestlers takes their opponent down from the neutral position and secures control. Or more simply put, one of the wrestlers takes down their opponent to the mat from the standing position and secures control. By doing this the wrestler puts themselves into the offensive position.
Escape 1 Point
A defensive player is awarded one point if they are able to escape the offensive wrestler’s control and get back to a neutral position by standing up and facing thier opponent. You can only achieve escape points if you are in a defensive position.
Reversal 2 Points
A defensive wrestler can earn two points by achieving a reversal. This is where instead of getting back to the neutral position the wrestler is able to get on top of their opponent. In this situation, the defensive wrestler would then become an offensive wrestler after they achieved a reversal.
Near Fall 2-4 Points
A wrestler can score two to four points by turning their opponent’s shoulders to the mat and hold them at a 45-degree angle or less. This will score them 2-4 points depending on the time held. Near fall points call only be scored by someone in the offensive position.
Penalty and Caution Points
Last but not least are points that are scored from penalties or caution points. One of the common penalties happens when a wrestler locks their hands around an opponent’s legs or body on the ground. Stalling during the match can result in penalty points. They would also include things that might put a wrestler in danger such as choking or body-slamming. There are many other things that might qualify as penalty points. But basically breaking the rules, putting people in danger, and unsportsmanlike conduct are the bulk of it.
Folkstyle Vs Freestyle Wrestling
Many people join wrestling with the hopes of one day win an Olympic medal. Unfortunately, the folkstyle wrestling practiced in American high schools and colleges is not in the Olympics. There are currently two wrestling styles that are part of the Olympics. That is Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling.
Of the two, freestyle wrestling is much more similar to folkstyle than Greco-Roman is. So naturally, it would be a much easier transition for a folkstyle wrestler to transition to freestyle wrestling if they are interested in Olympic wrestling. Since folkstyle is a seasonal sport, many wrestlers will look to practice freestyle wrestling during the offseason.
Practicing both will make you an overall better wrestler and grappler. Though both styles are similar there are some big differences between the two. In folkstyle wrestling, there is a bigger emphasis on controlling your opponent. Because of this difference, I think folkstyle wrestling is the better of the two to learn for MMA.
This is because naturally there is more work done on the ground in folkstyle wrestling. That said, it is best to learn both as there are some other benefits to learning freestyle for MMA that folkstyle does not have. Mainly some of the more brutal takedowns and being able to lock your arms around your opponent’s body.
That said, the goal of the defensive wrestler in folkstyle is to escape and get out of the bottom position. In freestyle, the goal of the bottom position is simply to avoid being turned or exposed. In freestyle wrestling, you can be awarded a point by turning your opponent’s shoulders to the mat even if there is no referee count.
There are also differences in the points system. For example, all legal takedowns are worth two points in folkstyle wrestling, whereas in freestyle takedown points can range anywhere from 1-5 points depending on the takedown. Both are great wrestling styles but there are some differences between the two.
That said, what you will learn in folkstyle will transfer to freestyle and both styles will make you a better wrestler. For more on this, I have written a whole article on the differences between folkstyle and freestyle wrestling here.
Benefits Of Folkstyle Wrestling
There are a number of benefits to getting involved with folkstyle wrestling. Whether it is for you or you are looking to get one of your kids into wrestling there are some great advantages to learning this great art. If you ask me wrestling is one of the purest sports in the world today. People have been wrestling throughout almost all of human history.
One of the biggest and most obvious benefits of wrestling is physical fitness. Wrestling is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. It is no secret that wrestlers are in very good shape. Wrestling will help you to become stronger as well as help your balance and cardiovascular system.
Because wrestling is so physically demanding it will also help you to become more disciplined. Wrestlers are known for there tremendous work ethic. This is something that you or someone in your family will take with them in areas beyond wrestling. In turn, folkstyle wrestling will also help you to build confidence.
Though wrestling might not directly be a self-defense martial art, it will certainly better enable you to defend yourself. Of course, if you are interested in self-defense you might want to look more into specific self-defense martial arts programs. That said, wrestlers typically do very well transitioning their skills into other martial arts practices.
For example, wrestlers who transition into Brazilian jiu-jitsu will typically advance much faster than someone without a grappling background. This is because so many skills you learn in folkstyle wrestling transition into BJJ very easily. This also explains why so many mixed martial artists come from a wrestling background.
What Is The Best Age For Kids To Start Folkstyle Wrestling?
This is a question I have put a fair bit of thought into. Not just with wrestling but with sports in general. There seems to be a whole lot of debate in the wrestling community on what the best age for kids to start wrestling is. Many people will claim that 4-5 years old is the best age to start. Many others will also claim that is it a bad idea to start kids before 8 years old and the best time to start is closer to 10.
To be honest I am not totally convinced of what the right answer is. To be honest there probably is no answer that is going to be correct for everybody. Some kids might do well starting at a young age and some kids just might not be ready for it. The debate between the best starting age is not just between parents and people who are not experienced in wrestling.
Some of the greatest wrestling coaches in the world will give you different answers. I think much of it has to do with the maturity level and competitiveness of your kids. If they seem to naturally like to go outside and wrestle with their friends it is likely a sign that they are probably ready to learn some level of skill in wrestling.
On the other hand, if your child seems to be more on the shy side and is not naturally aggressive, then they are likely not quite ready. It can be tempting to try and force your kid to be more competitive and aggressive by forcing them into wrestling but this strategy rarely seems to work.
If you want your kids to wrestle the best thing you can do is try to get them to enjoy wrestling. If you do choose to start them off young I think it is best not to take it too seriously. It should be more playful and fun than serious and competitive. If you come from a wrestling background yourself, it might be best for you to personally teach them a few things when they are young.
Honestly, I am not sure what the best thing to do is. I myself plan on teaching my kids some of the wrestling basics myself when they are 4-5 years old but will probably not enroll them into a program until they are closer to 8 years old and only if they are ready. There is no perfect answer, but I think it needs to be handled on an individual level.
Is Folkstyle Wrestling Safe?
Let me start this off by protecting myself a little bit. I am not a doctor and this just my opinion and should not be taken as advice to base your choices on. Do your own research on this matter and come to your own conclusions. That said, folkstyle wrestling in my opinion is not 100% safe. But honestly, no competitive sports are.
Depending on the data you read it is honestly hard to rank the injury rate of wrestling to other sports. The reason for this is due to what exactly consists of an injury. It seems that many of the risks related to folkstyle wrestling have to do with hygiene and other factors. If the wrestling mats are not properly cleaned there is a risk of certain infections such as ringworm.
Much of this can be avoided with proper hygiene. Another common risk is what is known as cauliflower ear. However, this too can likely be avoided with the proper headgear. This is why wrestlers should always wear headgear. That said like with many sports, serious injuries are always a possibility.
Concussions can occur as well as broken limbs and I’m sure even more serious injuries on rare occasions. So there is a risk when taking part in physical sports such as wrestling. That said, these things happen in many other sports as well such as football and even soccer.
Another safety concern has to due to weight cutting. Often wrestlers will try and cut weight to make lower weight classes. However, with growing kids, or anyone for that matter this is not a good idea. There are certainly risks to cutting weight and it should be avoided. If you are concerned about this you should talk to your kids about the risks involved with cutting weight.
What Kind Of Gear Do You Need For Folkstyle Wrestling?
To get started in folkstyle wrestling you will need some clothing and gear. You don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive gear possible. That said, there is certainly some start-up cost when starting out in folkstyle wrestling. I will go over some of the very basics you will need.
Well to start it all off, you are going to need something to lug all of your wrestling gear around in. When it comes to wrestling bags you want to choose something that is big enough to carry all of your gear. In addition, it needs to be a bag that is good for traveling with as well. This is due to the fact that you will likely need to do some traveling if you are looking to compete.
A great example would be the Adidas Wrestling Gear Bag or a wrestling backpack made by Cliff Keen. Honestly, there are a ton of great options to choose from. Just make sure it is big enough and is easy to travel with. You should easily be able to find one for less than $50.
Another staple you will certainly need is a pair of wrestling shoes. Wrestling shoes are made specifically for wrestling so you can’t exactly just slap on any pair of shoes on the mats. When it comes to wrestling shoes there are three major players. That would include Nike, ASICS, and Adidas.
All three of these companies make great wrestling shoes so it is hard to wrong with either of them. But a few I like would include the ASICS Men’s Aggressor and Nike Men’s Freek Wrestling shoes. If you are looking for something a little less expensive you could go with something like ASICS Mat Flex.
Another essential you will need for folkstyle wrestling is a mouthguard. A mouthguard will help to protect your teeth, gums, and mouth from common wrestling injures. One I would recommend that is high-quality and fairly priced is the Shock Doctor Mouth Guard. It is made in both adult and youth sizes. Shock Doctor also makes a dual braces mouthguard in case you are wearing braces.
Another absolute must is the headgear. Headgear will help to protect you from cauliflower ear. Every wonder why wrestlers ears sometimes look weird. Well, it is due to a condition called cauliflower ear. Not only do many people want to avoid this simply due to its appearance, but it can also have negative health consequences as well.
Because of this, you will want to invest in some high-quality headgear. My go-to headgear is made by Cliff Keen because they are high-quality yet still affordable. My best picks are the Cliff Keen Fusion headgear and the F5 Tornado.
When it comes to clothing for folkstyle wrestling there are a few options to choose from. Until recently people who did wrestling in high school and college had to wear singlets when they wrestled. Singlets are good for keeping tight to your body and keeping everything in place so that your clothing does not interfere with your wrestling.
You can buy some pretty cheap singlets from elite sports or ASICS. Depending on your program you might not have to wear a singlet. You might be able to wear a rashguard and shorts, especially to practice. That said, you will likely at least need a singlet for competing.
Today some programs will allow for wrestlers to wear rashguards and pocketless board shorts instead. This would be similar to what someone would wear to no-gi jiu-jitsu. Rashguards help to protect your body from infections found on the mat and also help you to regulate your body temperature.
When it comes to shorts you are going to want to purchase something without pockets. These shorts are the same or similar to something a BJJ player or MMA fighter would wear. Something like the Sanabul Cross Training workout shorts for grappling and MMA. Underneath these shorts, you will want to wear compression shorts as well.
Another item you will always need is a good pair of clean athletic socks. In fact, you might as well always keep a few clean pairs on hand in your wrestling bag. Besides that, you might also want to wear wrestling knee pads but that is up to you.
Lastly, you will need to invest in some cleaning products. This might be something to clean the mats or to wipe down your body with. Some of those things are out of your control but what you do have in your control is products to wash your body with. What I recommend is defense soap or defense shower gel.
This product is formulated for grapplers and is great for helping to prevent certain diseases commonly found on wrestling mats. Always take a shower and clean your body after wrestling. It is one of the best things you can do to prevent staph infections and ringworm.
Folkstyle wrestling is the style of wrestling taught in high school and colleges in America. It has a rich history and has been influenced in one way or another from wrestling styles all across the world. Understanding the rules can be confusing at first but you should be able to pick it up quickly.
There are a ton of benefits to learning folkstyle wrestling. Though it is different than freestyle and Greco found in the Olympics, the skills do transfer over. Especially to freestyle which has a similar ruleset. There is no perfect time to start but folkstyle wrestling but can be great for people of many ages. So grab the gear you need and let’s keep this sport alive!