Is BJJ A Sport? Or Martial Art?

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of the most popular martial arts on the planet and a fighting system that has proven itself time and time again in mixed martial arts and no-rules fights. But to sweep the world and become as popular as it is, it had to move away from street fighting and into the sporting domain.

BJJ is a martial art but also a combat sport with many organizations, regulations, strict rules, and sporting competitions. BJJ is now a respected sport that can lead to a professional athletic career. 

The sports element of BJJ today has become more popular than the self-defense element. Various organizations sanction BJJ competitions, each focusing on elements of the martial art. Let’s see where the lines between martial arts and sports in BJJ blur and where they are strictly drawn. 

Is BJJ a Sport or a Martial Art?

BJJ is both a sport and a martial art. Initially, it was created purely as a martial art that lets smaller people win a confrontation with much larger and stronger opponents using leverage through grappling techniques. This version of BJJ was used in many no-rules or limited-rules fights, such as Vale Tudo.

While they were somewhat organized and not exactly a street fight situation, the very limited rules made it a real fight where anything goes. BJJ had a lot of success, proving its effectiveness as a martial art.

Pure grappling matches with no striking date back to the 1920s, but the first steps to transition from street fighting to sport were made with the creation of the Jiu-Jitsu Federation of Guanabara in 1967. Then, the competition scene grew in the 1980s and 1990s, and more and more people enjoyed jiu-jitsu as a sport.

The first few UFC events revealed to the masses that, through BJJ, a smaller person can beat much bigger people. Even though Royce Gracie used the martial arts aspect of BJJ, the sport’s purely grappling version also grew immensely on top of BJJ’s success in MMA.

This line between martial art and combat sport is very thin because many martial arts have some form of competition, making them combat sports as well. As Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a codified system of combat used for self-defense and law enforcement and has a regulated competitive element, we can easily say that it is both a martial art and a sport.

Is BJJ a Combat Sport

Is BJJ A Sport Or Martial Art

BJJ qualifies as a combat sport as a competitive one-on-one contest involving a form of combat. BJJ is a grappling combat sport like wrestling, judo, and many others, but whereas they place more importance on taking the opponent to the ground, BJJ scores higher on positioning and control when the combatants are already there.

All combat sports are derived from real combat skills. Still, there is a significant difference between the two and steps to ensure competitor safety.

This is why, although the core goal of the sport is to force the opponent to submit or suffer a debilitating injury, sports BJJ has so many rules removing striking, some dangerous submissions, and the entire pallet of “dirty” moves like biting and eye gouging.

Sports BJJ Rules

Unlike other older combat sports such as boxing and wrestling, where the rules are unified and only vary from style to style, such as in freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling and amateur and professional boxing, BJJ has a lot more variety in its rules, so let’s take a look at how the rules in the biggest BJJ competitions look like. 


The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation is the largest BJJ organization and holds the biggest tournaments. The two main categories of competition the IBJJF offers are gi and no-gi.

The main distinction between Gi and No-Gi BJJ is in the clothing. Gi refers to the traditional BJJ uniform. It consists of a heavy cotton jacket, reinforced drawstring pants, and a colored belt indicating rank.

During training, you can wear any color gi. Still, under IBJJF rules, competition gis are typically limited to three colors: white, black, and royal blue, with a few more strict rules in place.

In No-Gi, competitors wear skin-tight shirts long enough to tuck into the waistband of BJJ shorts or spats.

In No-Gi, the clothing cannot be grabbed and manipulated in any way, in contrast with gi BJJ, where the sleeves and lapels are used to maintain control or apply submissions.

Here are the most important points in the IBJJF ruleset:

Ways of winning:

Submission– the most desirable way of winning is by forcing the opponent to submit to a legal joint lock or a choke.

Stoppage– The referee may stop the match in a few instances. For example, the referee may deem one competitor may suffer an injury, or a doctor may declare one competitor cannot continue due to an injury.

Disqualification– There are multiple ways to get disqualified and lose the match. We will take a close look at banned techniques below.

Scoring- If the match reaches the end of the regulation time, the winner is declared by the accumulation of points. Different moves score different amounts of points. All positions must be held for 3 seconds to secure points. Here is a simple table with them:

4 Points3 Points2 Points
Mount, Back Mount, Back control Guard PassTakedown, Sweep, Knee on belly

Advantage points are awarded if a position is secured but not held for at least 3 seconds. These advantage points are only used if the result is a tie.


In IBJJF tournaments, there are several types of fouls, but we will not go over each of them. The most important thing is the banned techniques, which differ between age groups and belt ranks. The higher the rank, the more liberal the rules are. Here is the official table of prohibited moves under the IBJJF ruleset.

IBJJF illegal moves pic


The ADCC is a submission grappling competition rather than a strict BJJ competition. The main tournament is held once a year. Still, to qualify, competitors must first win a trial, and there are qualification tournaments worldwide. While the vast majority of competitors in the ADCC are BJJ practitioners, there are some exceptions. A few wrestlers, judokas, and sambists have entered and won ADCC tournaments.

The rules of the ADCC are much more liberal than those of the IBJJF, with very few illegal submissions. The rules regarding the clothing are also rather loose. In general, ADCC events are no-gi, but competitors may choose to wear a gi or wrestling shoes.

ADCC Permitted Techniques

  • All leglocks
  • All armlocks
  • Slamming out of submissions

Illegal Techniques 

  • Neck cranks, including the twister
  • Picking up and slamming an opponent to break the guard
  • No use of a T-Shirt and no holding the shorts allowed
  • Any form of striking

ADCC Scoring

Mount position = 2 points

Back mount with hooks = 3 points

Passing the guard = 3 points

Knee on stomach = 2 points

Clean Sweep = 4 points

Sweep = 2 Points

Clean takedown (ends by a guard pass) = 4 points

Takedown (ends in a guard or half-guard)= 2 points

In the ADCC, there are also negative points, and pulling guard in any circumstance scores negatively.

Combat Jiu-Jitsu

Combat jiu-jitsu is basically a no-gi grappling contest, but with one crucial distinction: there are open palm strikes allowed on the ground. Combat jiu-jitsu aims to be closer to a real fight than sports BJJ but still remains a grappling contest and not MMA, so the rules are straightforward.

All submissions are legal, and a match can be won by submission, TKO due to palm strikes, or by overtime rules if there is no winner within the 10-minute time frame.  

Is Sports BJJ Good For Self Defense

Is BJJ A Combat Sport

There is the notion in traditionalist BJJ circles that if you don’t know self-defense techniques from jiu-jitsu and can’t handle a real attack, you are not training jiu-jitsu at all. And, of course, this sentiment is not well received by those who pursue BJJ just for recreation and competition.

However, while the underlying principles of self-defense and sports in BJJ remain the same, they differ in some ways. Many techniques and moves used in competition are not only ineffective in a real fight, but they are also outright dangerous.

The big divergence comes from the sport’s rules, as with every other combat sport. Competitors create and use strategies that lead to victory under the strict rules of the sport. But when these strict rules forbid some movements, like striking in this case, those same tactics become useless when the banned thing is again present.

This is not to say that sports BJJ does not work for self-defense, but many elements are not very efficient. An often ridiculed tactic in sports BJJ is sitting down and waiting for the opponent to come into your guard.

Now imagine doing that if he is wearing hard shoes and no rules are preventing him from engraving them in your face. But generally, every submission that can be done without using a gi can also be applied in any street fight or MMA match.