Brazilian jiu-jitsu and simply jiu-jitsu also spelled Jujutsu, are often used interchangeably. While the name is the same, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and traditional Japanese jiujutsu are two different martial arts. But how different are they?
Japanese Jujutsu is a traditional martial art focused on self-defense that is grappling-centered with some striking elements. Jujutsu is commonly practiced like a traditional martial art, with more technique training, pre-arranged sequences, and less sparring. BJJ was also created for self-defense. However, it has evolved mainly as a grappling-only combat sport with a strong focus on sparring and competition.
BJJ and Jujutsu naturally have a lot in common but also many differences, and it’s worth knowing how to separate the two.
Jiu-Jitsu or Jujutsu
First, I would like to begin with the names jiu-jitsu and Jujutsu and clear up any misunderstandings. Today the word jiu-jitsu refers to the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Still, jiu-jitsu and Jujutsu are just different translations of the same Japanese characters.
You can also come across the wording ju-jitsu. The translation of the Japanese characters is “the gentle art,” and all spellings are just different ways of writing it in English.
So while jiu-jitsu and Jujutsu are just two spellings of the same thing, for clarity, we will use jiu-jitsu only for BJJ and Jujutsu for the Japanese martial art.
What Is Japanese Jujutsu
Like all old martial arts, Japanese Jujutsu is a system first designed for use on battlefields and for self-defense. The earlier versions of the martial art were used mainly to deal with weapon attacks and armored opponents, in which cases bare-limb striking was ineffective, so joint locks, throws, and immobilizations were favored.
In the Edo period, when peace ensued in Japan, Jujutsu began to transform into a hand-to-hand fighting system used for self-defense. This was when some striking techniques were implemented, again effective in an era where fighters did not wear armor.
The term jujutsu itself was not coined before the 17th century. When used, it was an umbrella term for multiple fighting styles, each slightly different but all grappling-centered.
This is an incredibly dense version of the history of Japanese Jujutsu, which spans centuries and hundreds of styles and iterations. Still, the important part is that the techniques, traditions, and principles have given birth to judo and, through judo, to many other styles like BJJ, sambo, and aikido.
What Is BJJ
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a grappling martial art and a combat sport. The Gracie family in Brazil created it as a self-defense and fighting system, who Mitsuyo Maeda taught judo. Focusing more on the ground fighting aspect than the transition from standing to the ground, BJJ is the most complex and rich submission system out there.
During the 20th century, it was used and popularized by the Gracie family, among other lineages in Brazil, for no-rules fights and challenges. BJJ uses technique, leverage, and body mechanics to allow a person to dominate and incapacitate another on the ground, regardless of their size.
BJJ gained worldwide prominence with the creation of the UFC and the rise of modern MMA, again through the efforts of the Gracie family. Today, BJJ has multiple divisions, like grappling-only sports BJJ, the original self-defense BJJ, and jiu-jitsu modified to work in MMA.
BJJ is descended from Japanese Jujutsu, but it takes much more elements from Jigoro Kano’s judo, which was the first system to remove striking altogether and focus much more on live training than on technique and kata. Then BJJ was molded in no holds barred fights into what we know today.
Key Differences Between BJJ and Japanese Jujutsu
The sports version of BJJ is a strict grappling-only competition. Unlike most other grappling combat sports, the emphasis here is not on takedowns or pins but entirely on ground fighting. The best way to win a match is by submission. Still, different positions are scored with points determining the winner if no submission is finished.
Knee-on-belly – 2
Takedown – 2 points
Sweep – 2 points
Guard pass – 3 points
Back control – 4 points
Back mount – 4 points
Mount – 4 points
Striking is strictly forbidden, as are big throws, suplexes, and slams. The IBJJF also restricts allowed submissions for different levels, with the more dangerous techniques like neck cranks and help hooks only available at high ranks.
Jujutsu is practiced in most places like a traditional martial art, meaning it has very few, if any, competitions. With that said, some organizations see the fundamental flaw of not doing live sparring and competition and have forms of sports jujutsu.
The JJIF has a few different rule sets. Aside from competitions in a BJJ ruleset, they also have a Fighting ruleset allowing semi-contact striking while at a distance, but once in the clinch, strikes are no longer allowed, and throws and takedowns take over. On the ground, the grappling is typical jiu-jitsu with a gi.
Then the Combat Ju-jutsu International Federation (not to be mistaken for the Eddie Bravo Combat Jiu-Jitsu) takes things further and introduces full-contact striking, basically turning it into MMA with a gi.
Jujutsu uses many more techniques than BJJ, and the biggest technical difference is jujutsu uses and reacts to striking. While the focus is still on grappling, punches and kicks are used and should be accounted for. There are also more throws and takedowns as more importance is given to how the fight reaches the ground.
BJJ, on the other hand, has no striking and has evolved more as a sport than the self-defense system it was. In classes that prioritize self-defense, some strikes may be used. Still, in the overwhelming majority of academies, BJJ is grip only. The main techniques used in BJJ are:
- Positions (guards, side control, mount, back control)
- Joint locks
- Sweeps, reversals, and other defensive maneuvers.
Belt System and Ranks
Both BJJ and JJ use colored belts to rank their practitioners. The belt system in BJJ is famous for being hard to climb, and with fewer colored belts than most other martial arts, belt promotions are rare and are very prized. Stripes are often used to make these transitions easier, and up to 4 can be awarded at each rank. Here are the belt colors in BJJ.
Jujutsu doesn’t have uniform rankings as BJJ and different organizations or schools may choose to have slightly different progressions. Here is what a typical jujutsu belt progression looks like:
A huge part of what makes BJJ so effective in MMA and for self-defense is the live training. Technique training and slow, pre-arranged drills are still necessary to learn new techniques. Still, a lot of training in BJJ is done in a form of live sparring called rolling against a resisting opponent.
In contrast, most Jujutsu schools train the old-school way and only drill with willing partners. Movements and sequences are choreographed, and partners do not resist. But schools that also participate in competitions do not train like this, so the training regimen in Jujutsu strongly depends on the school and its focus.
While despite some technical differences, all BJJ academies heavily focus on drills against a resisting opponent and live sparring.
BJJ vs. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu For MMA
We all know how important BJJ is to MMA, so in the general case, it is a clear winner against Japanese jiu-jitsu for MMA. No MMA fighter can hope to win without at least knowing how to escape from bad positions and defend the most common takedowns. And the higher the level of MMA, the more grappling skills are needed.
Traditional jujutsu drills include striking and should be better for MMA because of this. Still, we again return to the way of training. Let’s consider Jujutsu the way it is done, like in the CJJIF video I’ve shared above.
It is much better for MMA because it is very similar with all the striking involved. But most schools do not train like this, so they are inferior, at least in regards to the effectiveness of their style for MMA.
BJJ vs. Japanese Jujutsu For Self-Defense
Nothing better prepares you for a street fight than hard sparring and competition. It has been proven that you will not react adequately in a high-stress situation if you do not practice your skills against a fully resisting opponent.
This is precisely why BJJ is great for self-defense. Even if you only practice the sports version, which builds some bad habits for a real fight, you will still likely overcome the attacker in a real scenario.
Jujutsu, in its competitive forms, is excellent for self-defense and even better than BJJ because it prepares you for more situations. But the traditional no-sparring version is only good on paper but poor in practice.
It would be easy to say BJJ is better because it’s more popular and more effective. But it is not without its flaws, and Japanese Jujutsu also teaches many effective techniques and, most importantly, retains more of the traditional martial arts spirit of Budo.
The discipline and traditions found in Jujutsu captivate some people, and this is something BJJ has left behind for a much more sport-oriented approach.
Furthermore, organizations like the JJIF encourage a more practical approach to the art with competitions and training that include striking and real sparring, significantly improving the effectiveness of the art to the point where it might be better for both self-defense and MMA. If these are your goals and you have one of the rare such academies nearby, you should try it.
But for pure grappling, nothing comes close to BJJ. The sport is constantly growing and evolving. It has become a full-blown professional athletic endeavor with a huge competition scene. The accessibility, structure, and opportunities make it the logical choice for most people who want to learn how to grapple.