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The Gazette KCRG
Posted December 25, 2009
Basics of wrestling

It’s the world oldest sport and the concept is probably the most basic.

Two competitors battle head-to-head. No teammates to affect the outcome and no special equipment is necessary, unless a headgear and shoes fall into that category. Scoring the most points wins and a victory is automatic if you press your opponents shoulder blades to the foam mat.

Even in a region were wrestling is woven into the fabric of the culture, some are foreign to specifics of the sport. Casual spectators or fans getting introduced to prep wrestling can benefit from a tutorial on moves, rules and intricacies.

Wrestlers compete in a match six minutes long, consisting of three 2-minute periods. They engage each other in the neutral position, with both on their feet and neither exhibits control, and on top, in control, or on bottom, when the opponent has control.

“Sometimes in high school and college it’s a lot different,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Brent Paulson said, noting out-of-bounds and overtime rules different from the two levels unlike other sports like football or basketball.

Points can be earned, scoring two for taking the opponent down with control, one for escaping from an opponent’s control, two for a reversal, taking control away from your opponent. Nearfall points can be scored when a wrestler exposes his foe’s back to the mat beyond a 45-degree angle (Corrected), holding that position from two to four seconds for two points with three points awarded for five seconds or more. Penalty points can be scored for lack of aggressiveness and technical violations.

“Scoring is usually a big issue for those just learning the sport,” West Delaware Coach Jeff Voss said. “As far as how he got the takedown is near as important as why he got points.”


A takedown is awarded when a wrestler gains control of another from the neutral position with a supporting point (knee or hand) on the mat.

It can be scored from a variety of moves both offensively and defensively.

-Single leg: It’s as simple as it sounds, although scoring from it isn’t. A wrestler attempts to grab one of his opponent’s legs and take him to the mat. Execution can be done in a variety of ways, including a low- and outside-single and high-crotch.

-Double leg: Not brain surgery here. It’s an attempt to grab both wrestlers legs to obtain control on the mat.

Advanced wrestlers fend off attacks with flurries of action. This simple move helps limit that defense.

“You see 20-25 second scrambles,” Brent Paulson said. “The best move you can do that doesn’t cause a scramble is a double-leg.”

-Headlock: A wrestler grabs the head and arm of another with arms and hands and throws the other over to his back. It is considered a “throw”, an attempt to take your opponent from his feet right to his back for a pin. Others include a lateral drop and body-lock, but a headlock is common.

On the bottom

The goal for wrestler in this position is to escape or regain control.

-Stand-up: A wrestler rises to his feet to reach the neutral position.

-Sit-out/setback: Attempt to clear your hips from your opponent to earn an escape, reversal or set up another move.

-Switch: A reversal where a bottom wrestler moves parallel to the top wrestler and then leverages his way on top.

“The two basics are getting your hips clear and get hand control,” Voss said about moves from the bottom.

Pinning moves

The goal for a wrestler in control is to score a pin, also known as a fall. These moves can be used to earn nearfall or “back points” if a pin isn’t scored.

-Half-Nelson/Power half-Nelson: One arm laced under the bottom man’s arm and wrapped around the back of the head and or neck. A power half includes the other arm across the back of the head/neck and used as a lever.

-Bar arm/chicken wing: The top wrestler threads his outside arm through the elbow of his opponent and across his back.

-Cradle: Locking hands with one arm draped around the head and neck and the other wrapped around a leg.

“It boils down to controlling a guy’s hips,” Voss said about moves on top. “You have to start there and combinations come off there.”

Others have more exotic names like a “fireman’s carry” (Takedown attempt with a wrestler controlling the opposition’s elbow, dropping to both knees in a perpendicular alignment before dropping to his hip and rolling the opponent over them to their back), “ventriloquist” or “cement mixer” (going from a front headlock, rolling and slipping a half in to catch opponent on his back), “cowcatcher” (facing foe with arm wrapped around back of the head and arm laced across the other’s back throwing over to the foe’s back) and “butcher” (Wrestler in control reaches to the opposite arm with both hands and pulls it close to him turning opponent over). It’s the basics that work best at all levels.

“The higher the level you go the better the positioning gets, so a lot of the (unorthodox) moves you don’t see as much,” Paulson said. ”At the national and high school state tournament you see basic, solid moves and it’s because both guys stay in good position and it’s difficult to get those moves.”

Paulson said he held a “Wrestling 101” for his wrestlers’ parents during wrestle-offs. He said strategy is the most prevalent question.

Voss meets with parents at the start of the year to discuss rule changes, keeping his parents informed.

These basics will help fans better understand action at the next wrestling event they attend.

5 Responses to Basics of wrestling

  1. From the NFHS Wrestling Rules book…Rule 5, Section 11, Article 2a (there are 8 bullet points to article 2 alone, but point “a” breaks nearfall down to the its most basic form):

    “Criteria for a near fall occur when any part of both shoulders or both scapulae of the defensive wrestler are held within 4 inches of the mat or less; or when one shoulder of scapula of the defensive wrestler is touching the mat and the other shoulder or scapula is held at an angle of 45 degrees or less with the mat; or when the defensive wrestler is held in a high bridge or on both elbows.”

    KJ, where did you get 90 degrees?

  2. Quinn,
    Thanks for the catch. Unfortunately, it was just a case of a typo (thinking one thing and typing another) that did not get caught. Inexcusable mistake. Thanks for the section from the rule book.


  3. No worries, KJ. A red flag just went up when I read through this as criteria for earning near fall points are often misunderstood by even those educated in the sport.

    Thanks for all you do in support and promotion of the sport of wrestling. You do a fine job.

  4. Thanks again. You are absolutely correct that not everyone, even those around it for a long time, have a clear understanding of some of the rules.

  5. Nice article KJ. Should be a required reading for all Iowans!

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