Brazilian jiu-jitsu has been a crucial part of mixed martial arts (MMA) since its infancy, and it still is today. But it is also an individual martial art and combat sport with its fans and practitioners. Often, the choice of what to train can be difficult, so it’s good to know all the details before you make it.
BJJ is a grappling martial art focused on dominating opponents on the ground through dominant positions and submission holds. Mixed martial arts is a combat sport that includes striking, wrestling, and ground fighting, and BJJ is just one element of the whole picture.
Jiu-jitsu is an integral part of MMA, so the two are often compared. But do you know how they stack up against each other?
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a complex and highly technical grappling martial art using the principles of leverage, technique, and body mechanics to allow practitioners to control and submit opponents on the ground.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu was created after Japanese judo and jiu-jitsu master Mitsyuo Maeda traveled to Brazil in the 1920s to teach his skills and fight in challenges. The brothers Carlos and Helio took the knowledge and focused more on ground fighting, eventually creating a distinctively new style.
BJJ was developed through rigorous live training and countless no-holds-barred challenges with other schools and styles, making it a very effective style to battle all others.
Members of the Gracie clan moved to the USA to popularize their style, and the most significant success came with the first UFC events, which were organized in part by the Gracies. MMA showed everyone the importance of grappling for actual fighting, and BJJ has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
Today, BJJ has a huge following and has evolved into a highly developed grappling-only sport with two distinct versions: gi and no gi. Additionally, many academies still focus on self-defense, while mixed martial arts practitioners also use a specific style of jiu-jitsu for MMA.
MMA is an abbreviation for mixed martial arts and is a combat sport where all aspects of fighting are allowed, including striking, clinch fighting, grappling, and ground fighting.
MMA has a lot of rules ensuring safety and sportsmanship, but it has the most liberal ruleset of all combat sports, making it more realistic compared to a real fight. It includes many martial arts styles, including BJJ.
There have been many forms of mixed fighting throughout history, the best documented being the Hellenic martial art of Pankration, an important part of the ancient Olympics. Recently, many style vs. style, no-holds-barred challenges in the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been a form of MMA.
Vale Tudo in Brazil set the stage for the creation of modern MMA. The organization Shooto, in Japan, was the pioneer. But the UFC, created partly by the Gracie family, really put MMA on the map.
Early events were pure style vs. style matches, but the sport quickly grew, and fighters became more well-rounded while more and more rules were implemented to make the sport less brutal and more viewer-friendly.
Today, MMA is the fastest-growing sport on the fast track to becoming the world’s most popular combat sport, with big and small organizations worldwide and millions of fans. The UFC is still the largest and most popular promotion, but others like One FC and Bellator have massive audiences.
Key Differences Between BJJ and MMA
BJJ and MMA differ significantly in their approaches and objectives.
Key features and rules of sports BJJ
- Sports BJJ is grappling only, with no striking allowed
- The goal is to submit the opponent or win on points
- Points are awarded for successful takedowns and sweeps and for securing and holding dominant positions like side control, mount, back control, and others
- Submissions include different chokes and joint locks, with some moves banned in particular rulesets and for certain skill levels
- Various rulesets exist like gi, no-gi, submission only (no points are awarded for positions), and combat jiu-jitsu (open hand strikes on the ground are permitted)
Key features and rules of MMA
- MMA is a hybrid combat sport where both striking and grappling are allowed
- The goal is to knock out an opponent, submit him or outscore him on a variety of criteria
- Most MMA organizations score MMA fights round by round, where the damage dealt, the aggression, the number of successful strikes, and ground control are the main factors that determine who wins the round
- Matches are fought in a cage with timed rounds
- While the rules allow striking with most body parts and fighting on the ground, things like biting, eye gouging, head butting, and other “dirty” moves are forbidden.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is known for its positions and submissions. Fighting effectively while on your back is unique for BJJ because this usually means you’ve lost in other grappling martial arts.
These positions are called guards and are the specialty of jiu-jitsu. Guards like the open guard, full guard, butterfly guard, and many others are used to limit the attacking options of the person on top and offer many submissions or reversals for the person on bottom.
MMA includes an obscene amount of techniques because the rules allow every aspect of fighting. Boxing punches are most common in the striking department, while kicks come from Muay Thai, karate, taekwondo, and other striking arts.
Wrestling takedowns and judo throws are common, while on the ground, BJJ submissions provide the main arsenal for most fighters. Still, different styles like sambo and catch wrestling are also commonly used.
Basically, every technique allowed by the rules of MMA can be implemented, creating an ever-expanding list of moves and techniques.
Traditional BJJ is practiced with a gi consisting of a heavy woven jacket and pants held together by a colored belt denoting the wearer’s rank.
No-gi jiu-jitsu, as the name suggests, is done without a gi but with BJJ rash guards and fight shorts. Outside of clothing and a mouthguard, no other mandatory pieces of equipment are required for BJJ training.
MMA athletes fight topless and in fight shorts. Special fingerless MMA gloves are used for the protection of the hands and to decrease damage from punches to the fighters. Other pieces of protection are mouthguards and groin guards, both mandatory for competition.
In training, more equipment is used, like shin guards, head guards, boxing gloves for striking sparring, and additional protective equipment for those in need of it.
Is BJJ Effective In MMA
Early on, Brazilian jiu-jitsu thoroughly dominated MMA and was more than enough to win. Fighters did not know how to defend against the submissions and quickly fell prey to them, regardless of size or strength.
But the sport quickly evolved, and fighters became more well-rounded. Wrestling takedowns and control became crucial, and once fighters learned how to do and defend them, striking skills began to develop.
Today, even average fighters are well-rounded and know their way on the ground, in the takedown department, and on their feet.
While pure BJJ specialists are a thing of the distant past, the art is still a crucial part of MMA. Even if a fighter focuses on “anti-jiu-jitsu,” meaning they do not learn how to apply BJJ offensively but only how to neutralize it, it’s still an essential part of the game without which no one can hope to succeed.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu was created for self-defense and perfected in countless no-rules fights, so its effectiveness is thoroughly proven. The central premise behind the techniques, especially with a gi, is that through leverage, even a smaller person can dominate and subdue a larger one.
Being able to control someone without hurting him is also a significant benefit in favor of BJJ for self-defense. So without a shadow of a doubt, BJJ is great for self-defense.
But there are obvious shortcomings, like the lack of striking and good takedowns, both resolved by MMA. Despite what many theoreticians claim, I firmly believe MMA is the best style for self-defense and unarmed fighting (armed fighting and lethal military skills are another topic) just because of the competitive nature of the sport and the way of training.
While the ground skills of an MMA fighter are far superior, for a real-life situation, you need only solid basics. MMA provides those, in addition to decent striking and adequate takedown offense and defense.
So, despite how good BJJ is for self-defense, MMA is better.
Who Would Win A Fight Between BJJ And MMA
Because BJJ is but one part of MMA and all MMA fighters train it in addition to other styles, a mixed martial artist will win most fights against a BJJ practitioner. With fighters of similar skill, the BJJ guy will have a hard time first taking the fight to the ground and then holding it there.
Of course, each fight is individual, and there is always a chance for the BJJ guy to win, but after a certain level, the sheer versatility of MMA, which includes defense against common BJJ attacks, makes it superior in a style vs. style fight.
My claim is backed by the simple fact that there are no longer pure BJJ specialists winning at any level of MMA. Even world-champion grapplers and submission wizards learn how to strike and wrestle and cannot solely rely on their BJJ.
BJJ vs. MMA: Which Is Better?
The last two paragraphs may leave you with the impression that I am saying MMA is better than MMA. If your goal is overall fighting skill, yes, it’s better. But in many other aspects, BJJ is superior.
It is much less violent, more technical and methodical, accommodating to a much larger variety of people and physiques, and has more traditional values and philosophy. So, for many people, jiu-jitsu is a much better choice than MMA. It all depends on what you are looking for, your personal goals, and your aspirations.
Either way, no one can convince me that martial arts aren’t something almost everyone should do, at least at some point in their life, so both are the right choices, and each is better for different things.