Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu: What’s the difference?

The key similarities and differences between these two popular martial arts

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Japanese Jiu Jitsu often get confused with each other. While they share some similarities in techniques and history, they are also different in many ways. This guide will explain these similarities and differences to help you choose which one is right for you.

Read on to find out the full list of similarities, differences, and more below.

Table of contents

The key technical and strategy differences between BJJ and Japanese jiu jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu focuses exclusively on grappling and mostly takes place on the ground. BJJ practitioners use chokes, strangles and joint locks to submit their opponents, mostly from a sports perspective.

Japanese Jiu Jitsu mostly focuses on throwing opponents, joint manipulation, striking and blocking and some chokes and strangulations – all from a self-defence perspective. Some styles also include traditional Japanese weapons in their training.

BJJ

In BJJ, practitioners use takedowns to move their opponents onto the ground, and then focus on trying to establish dominant positions to control and submit their opponent. 

A unique position in BJJ is the “guard”. The guard is an umbrella term referring to a variety of positions where a practitioner is on their back or buttocks with their legs defensively in front of or around their opponent. There are five other key positions in BJJ, with thousands of potential techniques for moving to and escaping positions, and submitting opponents. 

BJJ has a very active sports community with many competitions around the world each year. As a result, most gyms focus on teaching BJJ geared towards competitions rather than self defence, which was originally a bigger part of the BJJ syllabus. 

BJJ includes lots of sparring in every class, and as a result practitioners are able to test each technique to ensure it works against a resisting opponent. Because BJJ doesn’t include striking, sparring can be regularly practiced without fear of serious injuries, although there are still injuries in BJJ

There aren’t multiple styles of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu like there are with Japanese Jiu Jitsu, although different BJJ gyms often naturally specialize in certain techniques or positions versus others.

Below is a BJJ sparring round between two high level practitioners:

Jiu Jitsu

Traditional Japanese Jiu jitsu or Jujutsu focuses on defeating an unarmed opponent by using their own strength and momentum against them. 

Jiu jitsu practitioners learn how to defend against an attacker in a variety of ways and then incapacitate them through strikes or submissions. They practice their techniques using a partner in various scenarios. They might block an attacker’s initial punches and then apply a joint lock, or throw them and then finish the fight with a joint attack or strike. Jujuts also includes some defence against weapons, including disarming techniques.  

While modern BJJ focuses mostly on sport, Jiu Jitsu is mostly preserved from its tradition as a self defence system for unarmed samurai. Training focuses on partner interactions where the practitioner attacks or defends depending on the technique being practiced. There are some modern sports ju-jitsu schools which compete in competitions run by the Ju-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF).

Japanese Jiu jitsu is taught differently in different schools. Traditional schools include Takenouchi-ryu, and newer schools include the World Ju-Jitsu Federation (WJJF). 

You can see an example of one type of traditional jiu jitsu below:

History and origins

Jiu jitsu

Traditional jiu jitsu is one of the oldest martial arts, with roots dating back to as early as 780AD – 1200AD. By the early 1300s it was used as a way for samurai to defend themselves against heavily armed and armoured opponents on the battlefield if they lost their primary weapons. 

During the 17th century Edo period in Japan, hand-to-hand combat systems like jujutsu grew in popularity. At around this time these grappling arts started to be known collectively as jujutsu.

In the late 1800s, a jujutsu practitioner named Jigoro Kano modified the art and focused it mostly on the throws and submissions of jiu jitsu. He called the new art “Kodokan Judo” and taught it at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo, thus giving birth to modern judo.

BJJ

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s story begins after judo was created. Some judo experts began to travel around the world, with some finding themselves in Brazil. One such expert was Mitsuyo Maeda, a judo master and prizefighter who travelled around the country in the 1910s and 1920s challenging practitioners of other fighting arts at public circuses. 

Maeda, also known as Conde Koma, eventually crossed paths with Carlos Gracie, who he may have instructed. Maeda also taught others in Brazil, who also may have been responsible for teaching Carlos. Regardless of how he was exposed to early jiu jitsu, Carlos, and eventually his younger brother Hélio, adapted what they knew and started specializing in groundwork techniques. Carlos eventually opened a gym in the mid-1920s, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was born. It would eventually be taken to new heights when Hélio became the teacher in the 1930s.

Eventually BJJ reached the world stage after the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in 1993. Hélio’s son Royce Gracie entered and showed the power of BJJ by defeating three opponents from different martial arts including boxing, wrestling and savate. Nowadays BJJ is a foundational martial art used by mixed martial artists, and has become very popular around the world.

Read the full history of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in our complete guide.

Rules

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Japanese Jiu Jitsu differ greatly when it comes to rules. Unlike BJJ which has many competitions around the world each year, Japanese Jiu Jitsu doesn’t generally have a strong sports component apart from some modern forms like German Ju-Jutsu. Read on to see how the rules differ between the two.

BJJ

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitions generally start with both practitioners standing. They then try to take each other down, or move directly into the guard (known as pulling guard).

Once on the ground, practitioners try to submit their opponent or get dominant positions to earn points. If a practitioner successfully submits their opponent they are instantly victorious. If no submissions are successfully completed, the match is decided based on points. Points in BJJ are earned for various positions and techniques including:

  • Takedowns – 2 points
  • Knee-on-belly position – 2 points
  • Guard pass – 3 points
  • Sweeps – 2 points
  • Mount – 4 points
  • Back control – 4 points

There are a number of organizations which run BJJ and submission grappling competitions each year. Each has their own rule set – although the rules are mostly similar. The largest is the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), but there’s also Grappling Industries, ADCC, United Arab Emirates Jiu Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF), Sport Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF) and the Jiu Jitsu World League (JJWL).

You can see highlights from competitive BJJ below:

Japanese Jiu Jitsu

Traditional Japanese jiu jitsu generally doesn’t have a strong sports competition scene like BJJ, but there are some modern offshoots like the Ju-Jitsu International Federation (JJIF) which do. JJIF competitions have three events:

  1. Duo. A pair of practitioners perform self-defense techniques randomly called by a referee, being judged on criteria like power, reality, control and more.
  2. Fighting. This is a three part competition where competitors first fight using strikes. Next, once one practitioner grabs onto another, strikes are no longer allowed and the competitors try to take each other down. Once the fight reaches the ground, the competitors try to submit each other using joint locks or strangulations. Points are earned for various techniques during the match.
  3. Ne-waza. This is closer to a BJJ competition match, and pits two practitioners against each other from standing, with no strikes allowed. Practitioners then try to get their opponent on the ground and submit them with a joint lock or strangulation, with points also awarded for throws, takedowns and dominant positions. 

You can see highlights from the 2018 World Championships below:

Belt system and progression

BJJ

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uses a belt system with eight belts:

  • White
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Brown
  • Black
  • Red and black belt (7th degree black belt)
  • Red and white belt (8th degree black belt)
  • Red belt (9th and 10th degree black belt)

Each belt below black belt has four stripes which demonstrate skill level within a belt. 

Belt and stripe promotions are granted by a practitioner’s instructor. Each gym can have its own policies on progressing students. Some might require students to grade for their stripes or belts by demonstrating techniques and sparring. 

Others might solely rely on the instructor to decide when they feel a student is ready to progress. 

Generally speaking, earning your next belt requires a mixture of technical knowledge, sparring proficiency and time.

Read our guide to BJJ belt levels to find out everything about what you’ll learn at each belt.

Japanese Jiu Jitsu

Different Japanese Jiu Jitsu schools can have different belt systems. Below is a general guide to the belts in Japanese jiu jitsu:

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Brown
  • Black

Some schools may start beginners with a red belt before the white belt, and others may have “tips” between belts.

Japanese Jiu Jitsu schools generally require students to participate in a formal grading to progress to the next belt. The exact techniques a practitioner will need to know will depend on the school. 

Some schools like the World Ju-Jitsu Federation in Ireland require students to know and demonstrate a certain number of techniques, know a small amount of anatomy, and know some Japanese terminology. 

How long does it take to get a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu?

Earning a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu generally takes between 8 – 12 years, whereas earning a black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu is generally thought to take approximately 5 years

What are the differences in knowledge between a BJJ black belt and a Japanese Jiu Jitsu black belt?

A black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu should have an expert knowledge of ground grappling including positions, movements and submissions. According to BJJ experts like Dave Kama, Rickson Gracie and John Danaher, they should also be proficient in self-defence, be able to attack opponents across the whole body, and dominate and control brown belts.

A black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu should have expert knowledge of throws, joint manipulations, submissions and self-defence techniques. 

Classes, gyms and schools

The average BJJ class is about 1 – 1.5 hours long and is usually made up of:

  • A short warm up (10 – 15 minutes)
  • Learning and drilling a technique or set of techniques (45 minutes)
  • Several rounds of sparring (30 minutes)

What you’ll learn in Japanese Jiu Jitsu will depend on the school, but an example of a typical Can-Ryu class is below:

  • Warm up and strength exercises
  • Striking and blocking training
  • Breakfall training
  • Self defence technique training and partner application
  • Stretching

What’s the average cost of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu classes?

On average, you’ll pay $175 USD / $160 AUD / £100 per month for BJJ classes depending on where you live. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms usually offer unlimited classes for this monthly fee.

The cost of Japanese Jiu Jitsu classes can vary depending on the school, with some charging $50 – $75 per month.

Clothing and equipment

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Japanese Jiu Jitsu practitioners’ will commonly wear a gi or kimono. A gi is a cotton jacket and pants, with a cotton belt which shows your rank.

BJJ-specific gis are generally heavier than karate gis, but not as heavy as a double weave judo gi. They come in a range of different colors, weights and fabric weaves.

Acceptable Japanese Jiu Jitsu gis can generally range from lighter karate style gis to heavier judo style gis depending on the school. 

In BJJ most practitioners will also wear a mouthguard during rolling, and groin guards are optional. 

In Japanese Jiu Jitsu, because of the striking element, some schools may require students to wear a groin guard. 

Which is more popular, BJJ or Japanese Jiu Jitsu?

There’s no definitive way to prove how popular one martial art is over another. Below is one rough way of measuring the popularity of BJJ vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu using Google Trends data. As you can see, since 2004 until 2020, BJJ has gradually overtaken traditional jiu jitsu in terms when it comes to people searching on Google:

This is just a very rough estimation of the popularity of both martial arts. In reality, one only has to look at the number of BJJ schools in a given town or city compared to traditional jiu jitsu schools to see how much more popular BJJ has become. 

One possible reason for this is the explosion in popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions like UFC. This has put BJJ on the world stage and shown it to be an effective martial art against others. 

Is BJJ better than Japanese Jiu Jitsu or vice versa?

As always, there’s no one perfect martial art, so whether BJJ or Japanese Jiu Jitsu is better for you will depend on your goals.

Self defence

Modern Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tends to be focused on sports, with few gyms teaching students how to use techniques in a self-defence setting. Japanese Jiu Jitsu on the other hand tends to mostly focus on self-defence techniques.

BJJ can still offer practitioners benefits when it comes to self-defence. Many fundamental techniques taught in BJJ like takedowns, back takes and escapes are useful for restraining an opponent.

Fitness

While there’s no scientific research yet behind how many calories are burned in BJJ vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu, the anecdotal research points to BJJ being a solid fitness choice.

We’ve estimated in the past that BJJ burns 507 calories for every 30 minutes of sparring. BJJ sparring is demanding and difficult for both partners, with practitioners needing aerobic power and muscular endurance and strength to last the full round.

Japanese Jiu Jitsu doesn’t generally incorporate sparring unless it’s a sports jiu jitsu school. In traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu, classes can include plenty of physical activity including warm ups, break falls, partner drills and more. But without featuring a large sparring component in each class, BJJ could reasonably be seen to offer better fitness for practitioners than traditional jiu jitsu.

Competitors

While some traditional jiu jitsu schools focus on sports, BJJ has a much more developed sporting calendar. Many large cities around the world have regular competitions run by the IBJJF and other organizations. There are many events each year, and opportunities for talented athletes to fight for state and national titles in many countries.

Which is the more effective fighting style overall?

It’s difficult to pit one martial art against another in terms of effectiveness. There are many reasons why someone will take up a martial art in the first place, so your reason for wanting to learn should help you decide which will be more effective to you.

In general, if you’re looking for a martial art which is physically demanding, very technical, has lots of competition opportunities and no striking, BJJ may be a good option to consider. 

If you’re looking for a martial art which is more traditional, focuses on self-defence, includes some strikes and is less physically demanding, Japanese Jiu Jitsu might be a good option to consider.

BJJ vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu: Pros and cons

BJJ

Pros

  • Physically demanding and a great workout
  • Large variety of groundwork techniques
  • Regular sparring
  • Lots of competition opportunities

Cons

  • No striking
  • Takedowns are generally not as frequently taught as groundwork
  • Minimal/no self defence training

Japanese Jiu Jitsu

Pros

  • Self-defence techniques and scenarios
  • Strikes, throws and ground techniques are included 

Cons

  • Minimal/no sparring
  • Rare/no sports competition opportunities

BJJ vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu: extra resources and communities

There are plenty of blogs, YouTube channels and other websites for those interested in finding out more about both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Japanese Jiu Jitsu. 

BJJ

Japanese Jiu Jitsu


Conclusion

As you can see, BJJ and Japanese Jiu Jitsu share some similarities and yet have many differences. The martial art you should pick should be chosen based on your goals and preferences. Have you studied both of these martial arts? Give us your verdict below, or check out our other martial arts comparisons.

2 thoughts on “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs Japanese Jiu Jitsu: What’s the difference?”

  1. As a practitioner of both styles who can see the clear benefits of both, This is really refreshing to see. A very well written and mature comparison as opposed to one sided view and style bashing. Well done and it was a pleasure to read 👍🏼

    Reply

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