Everything there is to know about these two diverse martial arts
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and Krav Maga are two very different martial arts. BJJ has some historical self-defence roots but is today mostly a hugely popular sports grappling art. Krav Maga is a self-defence martial art which incorporates striking, weapon attack defences, multiple attacker simulations and even some grappling.
Here’s how you can decide which martial art is best for you.
Table of contents
- Key differences between BJJ and Krav Maga
- History and origins
- Rules differences
- Belt/Level system progression
- BJJ mastery vs Krav Maga mastery
- Classes, gyms and schools
- Clothing and equipment
- Which is more popular?
- Cross training in Krav Maga and BJJ
- Which is better: BJJ or Krav Maga?
- BJJ vs Krav Maga: Pros and cons
- Extra resources and communities
The key differences between BJJ and Krav Maga
BJJ is a grappling martial art. In a BJJ match two practitioners start standing up and then try to take each other down to the ground and submit each other with chokes and joint locks. It includes no striking, and is mostly taught from a sports perspective apart from Gracie Jiu Jitsu schools.
Krav Maga is a self defence system which incorporates striking with punches, kicks, elbows and knees, grappling and defences against one or multiple attackers. It also includes defences against attacks with weapons, including firearms. It is taught in modified forms to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and other global military organizations, as well as law enforcement and civilian groups around the world.
Both martial arts generally avoid tradition and ceremony in favour of techniques that work. But as you can see, BJJ and Krav Maga are mostly aimed at different types of practitioners. Krav Maga focuses exclusively on self-defence while BJJ has a large sports, hobby and competition component.
History and origins
Brazilian Jiu jitsu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was gradually adapted from judo after Japanese judo (or Kano Ju Jitsu as it was then known as) practitioners travelled to Brazil in the late 1800s and early 1900s. During this time these judo practitioners entered into public prize fights at circuses and other events against wrestlers, boxers and capoeira practitioners.
Eventually one of these judo practitioners, Mitsuyo Maeda or “Conde Koma” as he was known as, supposedly taught Carlos Gracie in the early 1920s. The Gracie family eventually opened a jiu jitsu gym in Rio de Janeiro in 1925 or took over an existing school in 1930, with Carlos’ younger brother Helio Gracie also joining.
Regardless of the year it took place, this new style of jiu jitsu focused heavily on the ground and adapted techniques from judo and eventually other grappling arts too to arrive at what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is today.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu took the world stage after Royce Gracie from the Gracie family won the inaugural 1993 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) against practitioners from other martial arts. It is now one of the most popular martial arts in the world with gyms and competitions around the world.
BJJ today also has numerous large organizations which maintain rulesets including the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) and the Sports Jiu-Jitsu International Federation (SJJIF).
Krav Maga was founded by Imi Lichtenfeld, a boxer, sportsman and martial artist who was born in 1910 and grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia. As a result of the growing anti-semitism of the 1930s, Imi led a group of jewish boxers who protected their neighbourhood against violent anti-semitic attacks.
This fighting experience showed him which martial arts techniques were actually useful in a real fighting situation. This led him to develop a fighting system he called “Contact Combat” or Krav Maga in Hebrew.
Imi eventually fled Europe in 1940 and arrived in what would become Israel. He then began teaching his fighting system. He was later appointed as Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) School of Combat Fitness and taught Krav Maga until he retired in 1964.
Krav Maga is today taught not only to the IDF but also law enforcement and civilians around the world. There are multiple organizations which oversee teaching and maintain syllabi including the International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF) and Krav Maga Global (KMG).
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has a popular sports scene around the world, with numerous competitions held by different organizations around the world. The points and rules systems are similar across most of the organizations, with matches mostly being won by points, advantages and penalties, or submissions.
In most BJJ matches, points are awarded when an athlete gains an advantageous position or successfully performs an advantageous movement. Some of these are:
- Knee-on-belly – 2 points
- Takedowns – 2 points
- Mount – 4 points
- Back control – 4 points
- Passing the guard – 3 points
- Sweeps – 2 points
If an athlete successfully submits their opponent they instantly win regardless of points scored.
Some BJJ competitions are “submission only”, meaning practitioners don’t score points in a portion of or all of a match, and can only win by successfully submitting their opponent.
Most organizations forbid certain techniques at some or all belt levels, including scissor takedowns, slamming opponents and some leg locks.
Some popular organizations which run BJJ or grappling competitions each year include:
- International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF)
- Grappling Industries
- Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC)
- North American Grappling Association (NAGA)
Krav Maga rules
Krav Maga doesn’t have an established competitive scene, so it has no common ruleset. Because it’s a self-defence system, many of the techniques taught are dangerous and only to be used in real world violent confrontations. These techniques are therefore difficult to use in a competition where practitioners are not trying to seriously injure their opponents.
The IDF has held Krav Maga competitions in the past for its soldiers, but these don’t seem to be common or accessible to civilians.
Belt system and progression
BJJ belts and progression
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has eight total belts for adults, with the last three belts being obtained after black belt. These are:
- Red and black
- Red and white
Each belt under black belt also has four stripes which practitioners can earn. These signify progress towards the next belt. Black belts can earn up to six degrees before earning their red and black belt, which signifies their 7th degree and onwards.
BJJ gyms and organizations around the world will handle belt and stripe progression differently. Some will hold formal grading ceremonies where practitioners need to demonstrate a series of techniques, and some instructors will award practitioners with a new belt or stripe when they feel the practitioner is ready.
Krav Maga progression: The group system
Krav Maga schools using the IKMF or KMG grading system test students through three groups with five levels within each:
- Practitioner (P1 – P5)
- Graduate (G1 – G5)
- Expert (E1 – E5)
Students progress through each level by completing a test overseen by an instructor, with higher group levels requiring assessment by increasingly qualified instructors. For example expert level 2 and up in the IKMF grading system must grade in Israel and be assessed by two members of the testing committee.
Each level has a syllabus which requires students to learn certain techniques. For example, the P1 syllabus in Eyal Yanilov’s KMG organization requires students to know:
- The history of Krav Maga and its founder.
- Some preliminary information about safety, vulnerable points, principles of attack and tactical behaviour.
- The “ready stance” and how to move in the stance.
- Four straight strikes including the palm-heel strike and straight left and right punches.
There are also master levels after the expert levels which a handful of individuals around the world have. These individuals include Imi Lichtenfeld, the founder of Krav Maga, along with other important contributors to Krav Maga. Organizations like Eyal Yanilov’s Krav Maga Global (KMG) state that master levels have specific requirements but no curriculum.
Instructors and those in law enforcement and the military have different grading systems.
The time taken to reach the expert level will vary depending on how often one trains and other factors, but the minimum time required by the IKMF at each group level is as follows:
|Level||Time required for testing eligibility|
|Practitioner 1||3 months|
|Practitioner 2 – 5||4-5 months per rank|
|Graduate 1 – 5||8 months per rank|
|Expert 1||1 year|
|Expert 2||2 years|
|Expert 3||3 years|
|Expert 4||4 years|
|Expert 5||5 years|
If a student tested as soon as they were able to and successfully passed, they could theoretically reach the Expert 1 category in approximately 6 years. KMG quotes about 5 – 7 years to achieve Expert level 1. In reality many students will take longer to achieve these levels depending on other commitments.
Krav Maga progression: The belt system
There are other Krav Maga organizations around the world too, and some use a different grading system based on belts, which was previously used in the IKMF until the 1990s.
Krav Maga Worldwide for example uses a belt system similar to Judo with belts including:
- Yellow belt
- Orange belt
- Green belt
- Blue belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
There are degrees available at black belt, with the highest ranking currently 8th degree.
You can only obtain your black belt in this system by invitation only, but to give you an idea of how long it would take, a brown belt requires a total of at least 3.5 years of training and 430 classes.
BJJ mastery vs Krav Maga mastery: What’s the difference?
Once a student has progressed to master each of these different martial arts they will be proficient at different things.
What does a BJJ expert know?
Unlike in Krav Maga, many BJJ gyms do not have a defined syllabus of techniques that a black belt should know. Instead there are unwritten but commonly accepted standards.
A black belt will be extremely proficient at ground fighting and takedowns. They’ll be able to submit opponents from all positions, and be able to restrain opponents of most skill levels and sizes, including other advanced students. They will also know how to escape all disadvantageous positions, and have counters to almost all submission, sweep and guard pass attempts.
BJJ black belts will also be more efficient with their energy usage during sparring compared to other less experienced practitioners.
Many modern BJJ gyms do not teach self-defence techniques unless part of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu organization. But while many black belts do not train specific self-defence situations, they will still know a range of ways to takedown, restrain and submit opponents that are useful in self defence situations.
Some BJJ legends like Rickson Gracie believe black belts should also know the “full program of self-defence”.
Due to the huge number of sparring rounds a BJJ practitioner will have had by the time of reaching black belt, they will have tested out many different techniques under pressure against a fully resisting opponent.
While many BJJ black belts are instructors, it’s not a requirement to receive a black belt. Regardless, a BJJ black belt should be able to teach other students and notice errors in their techniques.
The time it takes to obtain a black belt in BJJ is often quoted at about 8 – 12 years depending on the number of days per week that you train.
What does a Krav Maga expert know?
Many of the larger Krav Maga organizations including the IKMF and KMG have detailed syllabuses, unlike many BJJ schools.
In the KMG system an expert level Krav Maga practitioner will have learned at least everything in the practitioner and graduate levels which includes:
- Ready stances and correct movement while in a stance
- Strikes including punches, kicks, elbows and knees
- Attack combinations
- A range of defenses against punches, kicks, holds and chokes both while standing and while on the ground
- How to fall correctly
- Using objects for self-defence e.g sticks
- Defences against weapons and firearms
- How to attack with knives
- Defence against multiple attackers
- Takedowns and throws
Krav Maga experts will usually also have had to pass through numerous simulated attack situations, in addition to mental training. An example of a simulated weapon defence is below:
The main differences between a BJJ and Krav Maga expert
The key differences between a BJJ black belt and a Krav Maga expert are:
1. Training focus
A BJJ black belt will be an expert in takedowns and ground fighting, with no or minimal striking knowledge.
A Krav Maga expert will have regularly trained strikes with additional training for weapons and grappling (the exact amount will depend on the specific school and organization), but they will most likely not be as proficient against someone who exclusively trains on the ground.
2. Sparring time
Each BJJ or Krav Maga school will spend different amounts of time per lesson on sparring, but generally every Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class includes sparring, whereas sparring is generally less frequent in Krav Maga.
A BJJ practitioner will usually have had thousands of sparring rounds by the time they receive their black belt, whereas this might not be the case with a Krav Maga expert.
Classes, gyms and schools
The average BJJ class is generally between 1 – 1.5 hours long, and is split up into:
- Warm ups (10 minutes). You’ll usually run laps around the mats, loosen up your joints and may do forward and backward rolls, pushups, burpees, situps and partner drills.
- Technique drilling (30 – 45 minutes). The instructor will teach a technique or series or techniques, and also setups and ways to use the techniques if an opponent counters. Students will then practice these techniques with their partner.
- Sparring (15 – 30 minutes). The instructor will turn on a timer and students will spar, also known as “rolling” with each other, usually in five minute rounds.
Sparring rounds in a BJJ class are usually 5 minutes long, although some gyms may have longer sparring rounds depending on the skill level of the students.
Sparring rounds start from either the knees or from standing, with students aiming to get a dominant position against their opponent and submit them.
If a student is submitted the two practitioners reset and repeat until the clock runs out. Students then find another partner and repeat this until the end of the sparring session.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes cost approximately $160 per month for unlimited classes in the USA, approximately $190 AUD in Australia, and about £100 per month in the UK.
Students will also need to buy a few other crucial items before they start regularly training:
Krav Maga classes
The typical Krav Maga class format will vary depending on the gym, but will usually follow a similar routine:
- Warm ups. This can include running around the mat, sprints, push ups, sit ups, burpees or even crab walks depending on your instructor.
- Technique. The instructor will teach a technique or series of techniques around a certain theme.
- Practice/sparring/simulations. Students will practice the technique with partners and/or pads. Some classes will include other aspects like sparring and multiple attacker scenarios, and some may include more fitness.This will depend on the type of class you’re attending, the school, and the instructor taking the class.
- Cool down. This may include stretches or even a short conditioning workout depending on the gym.
According to Treadstone Tactics, Krav Maga in 2018 cost on average $136 USD per month. In Australia on average you might pay approximately $180 AUD per month for unlimited classes, and approximately £54 per month in the UK.
You’ll need some gear to regularly train Krav Maga which will add to the start up cost. This can include:
- A groin protector
- Boxing or MMA gloves
- Shin guards
Clothing and equipment
BJJ clothing and equipment
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you’ll usually start training wearing a gi, which is a thick cotton jacket and pants with a belt. These are tough enough to withstand being gripped and pulled on during rolling.
Most gyms also offer no gi classes. Practitioners in a no gi class do not wear a gi but instead wear a rashguard and board shorts. Some practitioners will also wear spats or compression tights to protect their shins and legs from scratches while rolling.
There’s other protective gear which is also important to consider. These include:
- A mouthguard
- Ear guards to protect against cauliflower ear
Krav Maga clothing and equipment
Krav Maga is generally performed wearing a t-shirt and gym shorts, sweatpants or yoga pants.
Athletic shoes are generally worn too, although many gyms will allow you to also train barefoot if that’s more comfortable.
As mentioned above, you’ll need some protective gear if you want to train regularly. This includes:
- A mouthguard
- Shin guards
- Boxing or MMA gloves
- A headguard
- A groin guard
Krav Maga classes will also regularly use training pads and bags in classes, but these are usually provided by the gym.
Which is more popular, BJJ or Krav Maga?
Comparing the popularity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga is difficult. BJJ and Krav Maga are generally trained for different reasons, with BJJ practitioners often training for sport and hobby reasons and Krav Maga practitioners training for self-defence reasons. Sports and hobbies in general are more popular than self-defence.
Below is a snapshot of the interest in both systems according to Google Trends. The red line represents BJJ and the blue line represents Krav Maga, with noticeable dips towards the end of both lines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As can be seen in this graph, BJJ has enjoyed a consistently high popularity level, whereas Krav Maga has been dropping in popularity since 2013/14.
How easy is it to find BJJ and Krav Maga schools around the world?
Regardless of whether or not you choose to study BJJ or Krav Maga, you’ll find multiple school choices for both in most large cities around the world. There are generally more Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms in a location versus Krav Maga schools due to the popularity difference though, so your chances of finding a school close to your home or work are higher.
If you live in a smaller town or city in a country like the USA or Australia your chances of finding a BJJ gym are likely higher than finding a Krav Maga school.
Cross training in Krav Maga and BJJ
Cross training in Krav Maga and BJJ can be useful if:
- You’re a BJJ practitioner who wants to complement their grappling knowledge with self-defence techniques and striking.
- You’re a Krav Maga practitioner who wants to build on the grappling basics taught in Krav Maga at a BJJ gym.
KMG founder Eyal Yanilov touches on the subject of how Krav Maga students can successfully cross train in other martial arts. He mentions that cross training can be important and useful, but cautions students to note the differences and contradictions with techniques learned in other arts and to ensure the goal remains self-defence and defence of loved ones.
Obviously some techniques in BJJ are not self-defence friendly so if you chose to cross train you’d need to be aware of this.
One big benefit of cross training is that you’ll spend time training with experts in the specific art you’re cross training. If you’re a Krav Maga practitioner wanting to get more experience grappling, you’ll be able to roll with advanced students, giving you a higher standard to compare yourself to and learn from.
Which is better: BJJ or Krav Maga?
There’s no simple answer to which martial art is better because BJJ and Krav Maga are mostly aimed at students with different goals. Here are some considerations depending on your goal.
Best choice for self-defence
Krav Maga is built from the ground-up to be a self-defence martial art, so if this is your primary goal then Krav Maga will be the better choice for you. Krav Maga aims to teach a practitioner how to defend themselves as quickly as possible, and teaches students striking, grappling, weapon attack defences and situational awareness.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu also teaches students many useful techniques which are useful for self-defence, including how to takedown an opponent, and how to restrain them on the ground and use submissions if necessary. BJJ students also generally spar much more than Krav Maga students and at a high intensity, so have used the techniques they’ve learned on resisting opponents.
If a practitioner combines BJJ with striking in the form of kickboxing and learns mixed martial arts (MMA), some experts like Matt Thornton, the founder of Straight Blast Gym, think this is superior to Krav Maga:
Best choice for fitness
Both Krav Maga and BJJ are cardio intensive activities.
Krav Maga can include lots of pad work with punches, kicks, elbows and knees, and some sparring. Instructors will also usually include a conditioning workout in each class too.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes won’t generally include a lengthy workout, but the sparring rounds are very intensive. According to our estimate, 30 minutes of hard BJJ sparring could burn over 500 calories.
Because it’s difficult to know how much cardio is included in the average Krav Maga class, it’s hard to judge which is the better martial art for fitness. In a typical BJJ class you will definitely get a good workout in the sparring portion of the class. If you’re looking for a good workout in a Krav Maga class, make sure to enquire at your local gym first and see how long the conditioning portion of each class is.
Best choice for competition
If you’re looking to compete in a martial art then BJJ is definitely the better of the two martial arts to start.
As mentioned above, Krav Maga organizations specifically do not hold competitions. This is because competition is against the goal of Krav Maga which is self-defence.
BJJ on the other hand has a thriving competition scene around the world, with many events held each year in most major cities. You can see the current calendars for the most popular organizations below:
- International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF)
- Grappling Industries
- Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC)
- North American Grappling Association (NAGA)
Which is the most effective martial art?
There have been countless discussions about the effectiveness of one martial art over another. It’s difficult to even set up a fair test that would measure the effectiveness of both arts against one another.
As mentioned above, both BJJ and Krav Maga are quite different and have different strengths and weaknesses. The average BJJ practitioner will likely be much better at grappling than the average Krav Maga practitioner, but they will not usually train any strikes or self-defence. The average BJJ practitioner will spar against resisting opponents much more than the average Krav Maga practitioner, but will also not learn any defences against weapon attacks.
There’s very little footage of Krav Maga practitioners sparring BJJ practitioners online, so we can’t even use this to help answer the question.
The video below shows a Krav Maga and BJJ practitioner in a competition match. The rules according to the uploader (the BJJ practitioner) was that he was unable to use strikes whereas the Krav Maga fighter was. The ground grappling was also capped at 20 seconds per position. As you can see the BJJ fighter eventually submits the Krav Maga fighter with an ankle lock.
Obviously this is not a great representation of the effectiveness of either style, but is intended simply as an example of both styles pitted against each other.
BJJ vs Krav Maga: Pros and cons
- Learn how to takedown, control and submit an opponent
- Constant high intensity sparring opportunities
- Regular competition events in most major cities
- Many good quality gyms in most large cities
- Classes are a great workout
- Most gyms do not self-defence unless it’s a Gracie Jiu Jitsu gym
- No striking is taught
- Focuses on self-defence
- Includes striking and some grappling
- Includes defences against weapons attacks
- Classes are generally a good workout
- Most major cities will have a number of good schools to choose from
- No competitions
- Many gyms do not do regular sparring
BJJ vs Krav Maga: extra resources and communities
- International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation
- Sport Jiu Jitsu International Federation
- BJJ Eastern Europe
- BJJ World
As can be seen from this article, BJJ and Krav Maga are different martial arts with unique strengths and weaknesses. Because they’re aimed at people with different goals, neither is better than another.
Have you trained in both Krav Maga and BJJ? Let us know about your experience below.