BJJ vs. Karate: Which Is Better?

BJJ and Karate are two conceptually different martial arts, with BJJ focusing on grappling and Karate on striking. But who would win between BJJ and Karate in a one-on-one unarmed fight?

BJJ fighters have a slight advantage as they are better trained for freestyle combat. It is also much easier for grapplers to impose their will against a karateka than vice versa. It is much easier for BJJ fighters to defend and counter karate attacks to win a fight.

Let’s explore this exciting matchup and see what each style brings. We will also compare these two arts in various aspects, such as self-defense and MMA.

What Is BJJ?

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a grappling-based martial art developed in the 1920s in Brazil by the famous Gracie family. The system was developed on the Judo base and other Japanese systems, such as Jujutsu. But instead of throws, BJJ leans toward ground fighting utilizing positioning, joint locks, and chokes.

Jiu-jitsu is also known as the “gentle art” as it focuses on leverage, balance, weight manipulation, and technique rather than sheer force. It was created to help physically smaller people defeat bigger opponents in a real fight.

There are three main styles. The first is “Gracie jiu-jitsu,” which focuses on self-defense and real combat. The second one is Brazilian jiu-jitsu which emphasizes the sport aspect and competition. And the third one is the No-Gi style, where athletes do not wear a Gi uniform which completely changes the concept and dynamic of the art.

What Is Karate?

Karate is among the most popular martial arts developed in the early 20th century in the Okinawan Islands of Japan. There are dozens of different styles, each with its teaching methods and techniques, with most focusing on a coherent mix of kicks, punches, and footwork. Traditional styles add other elements, such as knees and elbows and even the basics of grappling.

The most popular karate styles are:

  • Shotokan
  • Kyokushin
  • Goju-Ryu
  • Wado-Ryu

Karate is rooted in self-defense and designed to be practical in real-life combat. But over time, the emphasis shifted toward competition and point-scoring rules. This completely changed karate as a concept and its effectiveness in freestyle combat. And you have to consider this for this article.

The reflexes, instincts, and habits you develop for point-scoring combat contrast with the violent and chaotic nature of street fighting.

BJJ vs. Karate Key Differences

Karate vs. BJJ

The key difference is the concept. BJJ is a grappling-oriented martial art, while karate focuses on striking. Let’s further explore how these two arts differ from one another.


BJJ is a martial art rooted in self-defense and focused on grappling and ground fighting. It teaches practical techniques and how to apply them in real-life scenarios they may encounter on the streets. But in modern times, most schools teach the sports variation of BJJ which does not fall behind in terms of effectiveness.

Karate is a standup martial art focused on light contact striking with hands and kicks. Though rooted in self-defense, most schools favor competition over other aspects of training. Students train to compete in light-contact matches where the main goal is to outscore the opponent.

Objectives And Strategies

The main objective in BJJ is to get a hold of the opponent in the standup position and throw them down to the ground. Once there, BJJ puts a lot of focus on securing a dominant position first. This creates openings for the main objective: to submit the opponent with one of many joint locks or choke holds.

The key objective in karate is to use its techniques solely for self-defense and when your life is in danger. And you have to be careful not to cause any severe injuries while defending. Rather than using sheer force, the key is to overwhelm the opponent with high-level technique, speed, and power.


BJJ is one of the most complex martial arts. People also refer to it as a “human chess match” as there are many techniques, combinations, variables, and ways to win/lose the exchange. Overall, jiu-jitsu techniques could be divided into the following categories:

  • Throws and takedowns (mostly from BJJ and wrestling)
  • Positions on the ground (full mount, back mount, side control, guard, half-guard)
  • Joint locks (armbar, kimura, kneebar, Americana)
  • Chokes (guillotine choke, rear-naked choke, D’arce, triangle choke)
  • Escapes

Karate techniques significantly vary between the styles and forms. In some way, most styles teach variations of the same techniques. This includes:

  • Kicks (roundhouse kicks, side-kicks, front kicks)
  • Punches ( jab, straight punch, reverse punch, lunge punch)
  • Elbow strikes (forward elbow, downward elbow, upward elbow, back elbow)
  • Knee strikes


BJJ practitioners compete and train wearing a Gi uniform, much like the one used in Judo. The uniform consists of a jacket, pants, and a rank belt to hold it all in place, and each piece is made of thick cotton. Due to intense grabbing and pulling on the cloth, the gi has to be durable. In No-Gi styles, practitioners wear grappling shorts, a shirt, or a rash guard

At first glance, karatekas wear the same uniform. It also involves a jacket, pants, and a rank belt. However, this one is lighter and less thick than karate, focusing on striking more than on grappling. The uniform has to fit loose and not hinder practitioners’ movement.


Modern BJJ has two main styles, Gi and No-Gi. A gi is a style in which fighters wear a gi uniform, which increases the friction and causes the athletes to perform at a slower pace and be methodical. No-Gi doesn’t include the gi uniform, which speeds up the action and enables you to focus more on overwhelming the opponent with pace and sheer strength.

Karate has dozens of different styles. Most are light contact like Shotokan, while the other ones like Kyokushin are full-contact. The following are the most popular ones:

  • Shotokan
  • Goju-Ryu
  • Wado-Ryu
  • Kyokushin

BJJ vs. Karate: Who Would Win?

BJJ vs Karate Who Wins

BJJ athletes are better trained for freestyle combat. Thus, they will likely beat a karateka in most street fighting scenarios. They are superior regarding the effectiveness of techniques, athleticism, reactions, and fighting instincts. The following are the reasons why BJJ is superior to karate in one-on-one fights.

BJJ Involves More Sparring

BJJ training emphasizes sparring right from day one. Students roll in every training session and simulate an actual match. They spar in continuous action, without pauses or breaks, which teaches them how to apply all the techniques against a fully resisting opponent in a fight.

This is crucial as you can only learn how to attack or defend by regularly utilizing proper techniques and procedures with sparring.

Karate, on the other side, is different. Most styles heavily rely on pre-arranged forms called “katas.” Students would practice specific techniques or combinations alone, without a training partner.

The key is to perform each move in a focused manner and with the perfect technique until you stamp it deep into the muscle memory. There is a sparring called “Kumite,” but it is not as frequent or as spontaneous and realistic as in BJJ.

BJJ Is A Battle-Proven System

Jiu-jitsu is widely recognized as the best martial art for one on one unarmed combat. The reason is quite simple. During the early days of MMA, fighters from different martial arts battled against each other in style vs. style matchups under no rules. The main goal was to find which martial art system is most practical and effective.

During those days, Royce Gracie, who represented BJJ, dominated the competition by beating all fighters from various styles as he went on to win 4 UFC tournaments. He especially had an easy time dealing with strikers such as Art Jimmerson. Not to mention Royce was around 170 pounds at the time while most of his opponents were weighing more than 220 pounds.

It Is Easier For Grapplers To Impose Their Will

Grappling is physically more demanding and takes more time to learn than striking. In a BJJ vs. Karate fight, it would be tough for a karateka to stop a takedown, or to close the distance without being taken down. If a BJJ athlete grabs just a single part of their body and secures a strong grip, it would be all over.

They would take them down without much resistance and submit with ease. Grappling is all about leverage, technique, and balance, and you can’t muscle your way out of it. While BJJ athletes may block or slip a strike, karatekas don’t know how to deal with grappling attacks.

BJJ vs. Karate For Self Defense

BJJ vs Karate For Self Defense

BJJ is a better option if your goal is to train martial arts for self-defense, as it is more in line with the chaotic and violent nature of street fighting. Karate techniques are also practical, notably the ones from Kyokushin. But overall, the modern practice focuses too much on competition, point fighting, and light contact. And this limits your abilities in a real fight.

For example, they train for a competition without continuous action. The referee resets the match each time a contestant lands a clean strike, and each of these strikes brings you points. The main goal is to have more points than the opponent at the end of the match. On top of that, the focus is on light contact and avoiding damage and injuries.

Next, karate is rooted in self-defense. However, the approach is unrealistic as the main goal is to beat the violent and aggressive attacker without using full force and causing injuries.

Or in other words, while protecting yourself, you should also care about the attacker. Though this sounds nice, the reality is – most self-defense scenarios are violent, chaotic, and unpredictable.

BJJ has an advantage here as it trains you to apply techniques against an opponent who will put on the same resistance as the attacker on the streets.

And it makes you superior to most people, as the majority of them don’t know how to grapple. Regular people, even the ones trained in striking arts like karate, would all look lost and desperate during the grappling exchanges.

BJJ vs. Karate For MMA

BJJ is one of the most influential martial arts in modern MMA, and it has been like that since the early UFC events and Royce Gracie dominating the sport. Over time, its role in the sport continued growing, reaching a point where you can only compete or expect to do well with BJJ skills. However, you can’t say the same for karate which plays a sporadic role in the sport.

You can get away with the lack of karate skills in MMA because conceptually similar martial arts, such as Muay Thai, are more effective. Yet, no one can deny some of the karate elements work well in combination with other martial arts.

This is notably true regarding fast footwork, angles, and versatile kicks. They are also masters in attacking in a blitz and moving in to land a strike without being hit back. Karatekas also have very good faints and this is one of the reasons why they are so unpredictable.

Some of the most famous karate fighters in MMA are:

  • Lyoto Machida
  • Bas Rutten
  • George St. Pierre
  • Stephen Thompson

BJJ vs. Karate — Which One is Harder to Learn?

BJJ vs Karate For MMA

BJJ is physically more demanding, includes more complex techniques, requires a higher level of athleticism, and takes more time to learn. Karate is not easy, and you should not take it lightly. However, it is not conceptually as hard as BJJ.

More Time To Learn — BJJ

BJJ is a complex system; it takes 10 to 15 years of consistent practice for a student to reach a black belt rank. Karate takes less, between 3 and 5 years.

More Complex Techniques — BJJ

Jiu-jitsu techniques are more complex and more challenging to learn and apply. Karate mainly revolves around direct kicks and punches.

Physically More Demanding — BJJ

Grappling, in general, is physically more demanding than striking. It requires a higher level of athleticism, stamina, and functional strength.

Jiu-jitsu is different because a coherent mix of takedowns, positions, and submissions puts a lot of stress on your body. It extends and twists your muscles and ligaments daily beyond their normal range of motion. So you must be strong, flexible, and agile to sustain these intense grappling exchanges.

Which One Is Safer — Both

Karate and BJJ are even when it comes to safety. In fact, karate might be more dangerous as it includes striking, while BJJ does not. But since the focus is on light contact while students wear full-protective gear, injuries are rare.

Final Thoughts on BJJ vs. Karate

Jiu-jitsu and karate are conceptually two separate martial arts. These two systems share little in common. They are worlds apart regarding techniques, philosophy, approach, and overall effectiveness.

As a system more in line with freestyle combat, BJJ is more practical than karate. Its athletes stand better chances of beating a karateka in one on one unarmed fighting scenarios.

However, street fighting has many variables and situations, including the ones in which karatekas might win. But if you focus solely on what each art brings to the table, BJJ has the advantage.