Everything you need to know about these two iconic grappling arts
At face value to a novice, judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) will probably appear indistinguishable from one another. Both martial arts typically involve practitioners wearing kimonos, working from a standing position on a mat and eventually going to the ground.
However, once one delves into each art, they will find some key differences between the two. What are the differences? Which is more popular? Should you train in judo or in BJJ, or both? This article will examine these questions and more – giving you a much better understanding of each art.
Table of contents
- Historical origins of judo and BJJ
- Rule differences between judo and BJJ
- Belt system and progression
- Classes, gyms and schools
- Clothing and equipment
- Which is more popular, judo or BJJ?
- Cross-training in BJJ and judo
- Which is better, judo or BJJ?
- BJJ vs judo: pros and cons
- Extra resources and online communities
- Frequently asked questions about BJJ and judo
The main reason judo and BJJ look so much alike is due to their common ancestry. Sprouting from the same root, both arts are intertwined with each other. The differences can be understood better by starting with a historical dive into the origins of each art.
Both judo and BJJ can trace their beginnings to traditional Japanese jujitsu (also spelled “jujutsu”). It is difficult to trace the precise origins of traditional Japanese jujitsu, but a text from as early as 720 AD mentions “contests of strength”.
As many know, the history of Japan is highly connected with samurai – the famous warrior caste that lived throughout the feudal era. The earliest recorded jujitsu school, Takenouchi-ryū, was founded in 1532 during this feudal time.
“Jujitsu” roughly translates to “gentle art”, and the focus of most jujitsu styles was to train samurai to fight when they either had a short sword or no weapon at all. Because samurai wore armor, jujitsu often focused on throws, joint locks, gouges, etc. – all techniques that could theoretically work against an armored opponent.
In the 1870s, the Meiji Restoration caused the feudal system to come to an end, and the samurai became extinct. People could no longer wear swords in public, and many martial arts schools collapsed.
But there were still some people practicing. A young man named Jigoro Kano became enamored with jujitsu and studied the art with former samurai. Kano was obsessed with training martial arts. He wanted to spread jujitsu but he knew it needed to be tweaked for mass acceptance, especially with the new political landscape.
Kano worked on developing his own brand of jujitsu, studying with several former samurai. In 1882, Jigoro Kano opened his own school, calling his art “Kodokan judo”. By changing the name, Kano hoped to differentiate his teachings from traditional jujitsu and also avoid some of the existing violent stigma. Kano adapted judo as a way of physical training, discarding the most dangerous techniques and stressing the importance of moral and mental training. He took a very scientific approach to technique and always strived for maximum mechanical efficiency in human movement.
Kano was massively influential on a world scale in spreading judo. There are many stories of Kano’s judo students defeating challenges from traditional jujitsu schools. The police and navy would adopt Kano’s techniques. He would travel to Europe in 1889 to spread his art. In 1909 he was invited as Japan’s representative (and the first Asian) to the Olympic Committee. Eventually, judo became an Olympic sport in 1964 at the Tokyo games.
Judo’s spread to Brazil
Though Kano did travel to many areas of the world, it was not him who brought judo to Brazil. In this case, it was a judoka named Mitsuyo Maeda. Maeda was a disciple of Kano, and first left Japan for New York in 1905 to give judo demonstrations. He traveled all over North and South America, taking on challenges from many disciplines, slowly heading south. The Kodokan discipline prohibited fights against different styles, and eventually expelled Maeda for his fighting.
Maeda eventually arrived in Brazil in 1914, starting an academy there later. At some point Gastão Gracie was introduced, and his son Carlos Gracie saw a demonstration. Carlos would start training soon thereafter along with his brothers Gastao, Jorge, Oswaldo, and Hélio.
Over time, the Gracies focused on the “newaza” of judo – the ground fighting portion. No doubt they also took inspiration from Maeda’s history as a prizefighter. They would later become heavily involved in so-called “Vale Tudo” fights, which pitted styles against each other in no holds barred matches.
Carlos Gracie and Hélio Gracie are generally credited as the inventors of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Though it originated from Kodokan Judo, over the decades it morphed into an art that spent the majority of the time on the ground.
The rulesets for each art are the main driver in differentiation between them. Judo’s rules tend to keep the focus of the fight on the feet, whereas BJJ’s rules lend the match to mostly ground fighting.
Rules of judo
In judo, a fighter wins by “Ippon”. The Ippon is classified as one of the following:
- Throwing the opponent with “considerable force” so that they land on their back
- Force the opponent to submit by tapping out
- Hold the opponent down for 20 seconds
Judokas can also score points through “Waza-ari”.
- Throwing the opponent – but not enough on their back or without enough force to classify as Ippon.
- Hold the opponent down for 10-19 seconds.
Rules have varied over time, but typically two Waza-ari will win a match.
Also notable are the techniques not allowed. Judo grips are regulated – the type of grip and the location can be very specific. One major example is that judo does not allow grabbing legs when standing. Submission holds are also limited by the rules. For instance, only the elbow is allowed to be attacked with arm locks. Another distinction is ground stalling. After a certain amount of time on the ground with no action, the referee will force competitors to stand back up.
Rules of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
With BJJ, the goal of the match is to win via submission technique. Points are scored for certain objectives. The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) rules give points for the following:
- 2 points are awarded for a takedown
- 2 points are awarded for sweeping (a reversal from one’s back to on top of the opponent)
- 3 points are awarded for passing the opponent’s guard
- 2 points are awarded for obtaining a knee mount position
- 4 points are awarded for full mount control
- 4 points are awarded for back control
If no one is submitted, the fighter with more points at the end of the match will win.
Because standing submissions are extremely difficult, this means that the match is often quickly forced to the ground. One distinction for takedowns – willfully lying down to your back, putting the opponent in your guard nullifies the takedown points. Thus, many BJJ competitors with outstanding guard techniques will simply “pull guard” and attempt to sweep or submit from their back.
BJJ also allows many more submission techniques than judo. This can include more chokes, varied armlocks, and leg locks. Though stalling occurs, as long as competitors are making movements on the ground, the referee will let the match continue.
BJJ Rules may vary
Depending on the tournament, BJJ rules may vary a great deal. There are tournaments that don’t award any points and go until submission (“submission-only”). Some grappling tournaments like the ADCC will have a portion of the match where no points are awarded, and a points portion for the second half.
Belt system and progression
Judo belt progression varies a bit by area, but in most countries there are 6 belts before black belt – white, yellow, orange, green, blue, then brown.
The belt progression system in BJJ is similar to judo, but there are fewer belts. In BJJ, the belts advance from white to blue, then purple, brown, and finally black. (Here is a more detailed BJJ Belt Guide).
How long does it take to reach black belt?
Both arts require years of training to reach black belt. Individual progress varies based on training time, age, athleticism, and so on. A competitor training a few hours every day will progress faster than a hobbyist training a few times a week. But with those caveats, in general it will take an average person
- 5-10 years to reach a judo black belt
- 8-12 years to reach a BJJ black belt
Thus, each martial art requires a great deal of commitment and effort in order to reach a black belt.
Classes, gyms and schools
Judo classes can range from one hour to two hours in length. Class structure will generally go something like this:
- Warmup (likely calisthenics, rolling, breakfalling, and stretching)
- Technique instruction and drilling with partners
- Randori (sparring)
Many judo classes will have a tachi-waza (standing) portion separate from a newaza (ground) portion. So there may be two technique and randori portions. Judo class fees will be roughly $50-$100 per month in the USA, which is usually cheaper than BJJ.
BJJ classes follow a very similar structure to judo classes. In most cases they will go through this basic order:
- Warmup (jogging, rolling, basic BJJ movements)
- Technique instruction and drilling with partners
- Rolling (sparring)
BJJ schools can vary widely in traditions and rituals. Some schools may have a formal bow-in, and some may have no formal start to the class. BJJ classes will typically cost more than judo classes at approximately $100-$200 per month on average. For a detailed breakdown on BJJ costs, read our comprehensive guide.
Clothing and equipment
Both judo and traditional BJJ uniforms may look alike, but there are some subtle differences. The judo kimono (or gi) is heavier and more durable than a standard karate or taekwondo uniform, because it is built to withstand gripping and throwing.
The BJJ kimono is heavier and more durable than a judo kimono, because it must stand up to even more punishment. The fabric is reinforced with a weave or rip-stop stitching.
BJJ generally offers more gi colors to choose from. The IBJJF allows white, blue, or black kimonos in tournaments, where judo rules typically only allow white. Many BJJ schools have no rules regarding kimono color.
There is also a whole subset of BJJ that is performed without the gi: “no gi BJJ”. Without the fabric to grip, the techniques and strategy can change dramatically. For a more in-depth review of the differences between gi and no-gi, read our guide to gi vs no gi jiu jitsu.
Which is more popular, judo or BJJ?
Worldwide, it’s fairly clear that judo is a more popular activity. Though some judo websites claim judo is the “second most popular sport in the world” it is difficult to confirm this statement. Still, there are undoubtedly more judo participants than BJJ participants.
Google trends confirm the popularity of judo worldwide compared to BJJ.
There are plenty of reasons for the popularity of judo over BJJ. Judo is much more established. It’s been practiced longer and deliberately spread to a world that was looking for efficient grappling arts and self-discipline. The spread of judo across the world started in 1905, almost 90 years before the world would first see the UFC and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on a wide scale.
Then there is, of course, judo’s connection with the Olympics. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, was appointed to the International Olympic Committee back in 1908. This gave him ample opportunity to propagate his art. Judo first was an Olympic exhibition in 1932. It became an Olympic sport in 1964.
There are, however, several countries where the Google trends for BJJ vastly outnumber the judo trends. These countries include the US, Australia, Ireland, and Singapore. In these countries, it’s arguable that BJJ is more popular (especially in the US and Australia).
Cross-training in BJJ and judo
Because of the overlap in technique and strategy, cross training between judo and BJJ can be very beneficial for practitioners of each art. Since they typically spend most of their time on their stand up game, Judokas can sharpen their newaza game by attending BJJ classes.
Similarly, BJJ practitioners are notorious for not training their takedowns nearly enough. Surely they could benefit from some judo classes.
An added benefit of cross training is that you are immersing yourself with people who spend much more time on the aspect you need to work on. In a way, this can help to accelerate your progress even faster.
Which is better, judo or BJJ?
So, which one is better? Well, there is no perfect answer here. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Both judo and BJJ can provide massive benefits to anyone. If we break down the discussion into sub categories, it may show that one art may be favored in some areas.
Both arts are among the best things a person can do for self defense. Of course, techniques to takedown, control, and submit a person are helpful. But the true value is in the randori/rolling sessions. These activities prep the student for stressful, adrenaline-spiked situations. In a physical encounter, practitioners of each art are likelier to remain calm and have some sort of a plan to work toward.
However, if I have to pick one that would be better for self defense, I would give the edge to BJJ. There are several reasons. First, judo has more rules (i.e. no grabbing legs) that become limitations in a street fight. Judo is also very dependent on gi grips, whereas BJJ schools typically will feature a few no-gi classes every week. This, along with wrestling and sambo influences, helps to make the BJJ student a more complete grappler. Finally, since BJJ spends more time on the ground (in newaza) with more available submissions, the average BJJ student will be much better equipped once the fight goes to the ground.
This is another hard question to answer because there is little data to analyze. However, we estimated the calorie burn during a BJJ session based on some existing research. Based on this data, and compared to data in fitness trackers like My Fitness Pal, it appears that a BJJ session with the same amount of sparring time will burn a bit more calories than judo. (Limited research showed BJJ sparring burns 507 calories per 30 minute session, versus 397 calories per 30 minute judo session.
It should be noted that these numbers are highly dependent on personal attributes, school style, training partners, and so on. In the end, both exercises are fantastic calorie burners.
Judo versus BJJ in fight history
There have been some fights throughout history pitting judo against BJJ. The results are mixed – with BJJ fighters winning some of the time, judo fighters winning other times, and a few fights declared no-contest or draw. It is hard to to declare a superior art from these results, with the outcome seemingly more dependent on the conditions of the fighters themselves.
There was also a “Quintet” event in 2018 which featured a team of judo athletes competing against BJJ fighters and catch wrestlers. This was a no-gi event with no points awarded, so the environment was certainly slanted in favor of BJJ. The BJJ team defeated the judo team, but it was a narrow victory with a few of the fights ending in draws.
Other considerations when choosing between BJJ and judo
If you are on the fence between judo and BJJ, there are some other aspects to consider.
- Are there many local tournaments or competition opportunities? In most areas of the US, there are likely more BJJ competitions. But in Europe there are almost certainly more judo tournaments.
- For parents, are there classes for children available? Are there local competitions for children?
Ultimately, with both arts being close in many aspects, it might come down to personal preference. Try both of them out, and see which art suits you better.
BJJ vs judo: pros and cons
Now it’s time to summarize the similarities, differences, pros and cons of judo and BJJ. First, because the two are alike in many ways, let’s review some of the similarities of the two:
Similarities of BJJ vs judo
|Physical and mental training||X||X|
|Good for self defense||X||X|
|Learn grappling technique||X||X|
The differences between BJJ and judo
|Best for self defense||X|
|Best for standing technique||X|
|Best for ground technique||X|
BJJ vs judo: extra resources and online communities
- International Judo Federation
- Judo Channel – This includes lots of information about judo terms
- Kodokan Judo Institute
- Judo subreddit
Frequently asked questions about BJJ and judo
Which is harder to learn, judo or jiu jitsu?
Both are difficult to learn. If we are talking about the basics, judo is probably more difficult. It takes time to develop the essential timing and footwork for proficiency. For depth of sport, BJJ has more depth to explore and that takes longer to learn (once basics are understood).
Which is harder physically?
Again, both sports have the chance to inflict harm to one’s body. Because there is much more volume of throws, judo can be harder on a body. Simply getting thrown over and over – even on good mats – takes a toll. That said, BJJ can certainly damage a person’s body, especially if they are stubborn and don’t tap out easily.
Which art is better for children?
This is a generalization here, but judo is more likely to incorporate traditional martial art values than BJJ (but this is obviously not always the case). For this reason, and because it is much more established with curriculums and testing, I would recommend judo slightly over BJJ for children.
In the end, both arts are wonderful activities and neither should be easily dismissed. Through their common ancestry, both judo and BJJ have much in common. It is valuable to understand the differences between the two arts, especially to take advantage of cross training opportunities. It is highly recommended that you try both of them out and form your own opinion, and benefit from both fantastic martial arts in the process.
What are your thoughts on judo versus BJJ? Have you had any experience cross training in either sport? Comment below!
About the author
Matt Peters is a BJJ blue belt in the Minneapolis area. He has been training for 5 years in BJJ and has previous experience in other various martial arts. Besides BJJ, he enjoys reading, writing, and other sports.