Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: What Makes Them Different?

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: What Makes Them Different?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has emerged as one of the most popular martial arts disciplines globally. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as its name suggests was developed in 1925 in Brazil by Brazilian brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Helio, and Gastoa Jr, after Misuyo Maeda taught the art to Carlos Gracie. Eventually, the Gracie clans further developed the techniques and popularized the art as the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Since Mitsuyo Maeda was a Japanese Judoka, and judo has been derived from Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu also has its relation with Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

Oftentimes the names of these two martial arts come together because of the term ‘jujutsu.’ As a result, many martial artists have tried to encompass all the differences between the two arts. However, they often fail to touch upon the similarities between BJJ and JJJ. This article aims to highlight the key similarities between BJJ and JJJ to explain why these two martial arts are so different from each other. 

1. A Brief History of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

Japanese jiu-jitsu, also called ‘jiu-jitsu’ has roots that go back more than 2000 years to the times of the ancient samurai. However, no one knows who invented it. Therefore, the Japanese military invented the modern form of Japanese jiu-jitsu to allow soldiers to fight enemies even when they lacked a weapon. This was purposefully designed and structured for wars and battles.


In the 17th century, the term jujutsu began to attract people and was used to describe the grappling martial arts that were practiced by samurai. Jujutsu is translated as 'the art of softness' in Japanese.


Traditional jiu-jitsu comprises both grappling and striking techniques, as well as a lot of dirty tactics to beat opponents. As jiu-jitsu was structured to help soldiers in hand-to-hand fights, the use of deadly joint locks and bone-breaking chokes is found to be excessive it. JJJ also involves the use of small weapons like clubs and knives.


With time, Japanese Jiu-jitsu faced multiple evolutions as teachers of this art started to include their techniques, which made it a broader sport.

2. Origins of BJJ

Unlike Japanese jiu-jitsu, Brazilian jiu-jitsu has its inventors known. BJJ has its roots in Japanese jujutsu and judo, and it began in the 1920s. BJJ is the transformation of jiu-jitsu into judo and for that, the credit goes to Jigoro Kano and Mitsuo Maeda. Kano defied traditional Japanese jujutsu by encouraging his students to participate in sparring sessions. Maeda was his student who took his teachings about ground fighting to the next level. He moved to Brazil and became the instructor of Carlos Gracie, who excelled well in ground-based martial arts. The transformation of judo to BJJ took place when the younger and weaker son of Gracie started training in the new style of judo and struggled against his stronger and bigger brothers due to his weaker physique.

Helio started refining the judo movements he learned from Maeda to make it easier for his students to deal with even bigger opponents. He developed his techniques to introduce a new martial art, which we now know as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. His sons took this martial art to the next level. Though it did not attract many people outside Brazil till 1970. Helio and his son, Rorion, migrated to the United States and started to illustrate their skills in front of locals. Later on, BJJ became a world-renowned martial art. The entry of BJJ practitioners into  MMA competitions has made it more popular over time . BJJ is further divided into two subdivisions, such as BJJ in  Gi  and  No-Gi  BJJ, and both have separate rules and regulations for competitions.

3. Defining Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be defined as a ground-based self-defense-oriented martial arts focused on grappling and submission techniques. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches emphasizing leverage to dominate opponents greater in strength and size. On the other hand, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is a classic martial art involving traditional combat styles originating from ancient Samurai battle-combat techniques. JJJ includes a wide array of fighting skills and techniques, including self-defense , striking, and ground-based grappling. In JJJ, practitioners adapt to the opponent’s size and strength and use it against them.


According to Webster, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is defined as “The Japanese art of defending oneself by grasping or striking an opponent so that his strength and weight are used against him.” Darrell Craig has also cited the same definition in his book, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu: Secret Techniques of Self-Defense. Additionally, Darell Craig cited his instructor, Sensei Takahiko Ohtsuka who defined BJJ in the following manner, “The term jiu-jitsu means, technique or art (that, is jitsu) of suppleness, flexibility, pliancy, or gentleness (that is, all renditions of the ideogram ju). 


The first definition by Webster is more aligned with the classical combat methods and techniques of JJJ, while the second definition is more akin to the essence of modern BJJ. 


Furthermore, George Kirby, a highly revered Japanese Jiu-Jitsu instructor wrote in his book, Jujitsu: Basic Techniques of The Gentle Art, that ‘jujitsu is the gentle art of self-defense. This is a very simple definition of a very complicated art.” This definition highlights both the classical aspects of JJJ and the contemporary nature of BJJ. 


Additionally, when defining BJJ and JJJ, it is important to appreciate that both BJJ and JJJ have evolved into slightly different fighting styles than what they originally were. Old versions of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu such as Tenjin Shinyo-ryu and Daito-ryu aiki-jutsu were quite similar to the original war-related combat styles. On the other hand, modern-day JJJ, such as Miyama Ryu, Danzan Ryu, and Goshin Jujitsu employ different aspects of the original system; however, the exact original system that was intended for the battlefields is not followed. 


Similarly, modern-day BJJ is different from old-school BJJ in terms, of new BJJ black belts and instructors developing new techniques from the older ones. The techniques spider guard and berimbolo are examples of such techniques. In a BJJ gym, combat sports elements of this martial art, including guards, positions, submissions, points, and takedowns are more emphasized. The rise of No-Gi BJJ is also a result of evolution and the development of modern techniques. On the other hand, if you were to attend an Old School BJJ academy, the focus there would be on positional dominance, striking defense, and bridging the distance to dominate one's opponent.


Based on the definitions of BJJ and JJJ mentioned above, most practitioners tend to oversimplify the differences between the two martial arts, claiming that JJJ is more aggressive and involves striking, while BJJ is a gentle and ground-based fighting style that does not involve striking or similar techniques. However, the differences between the two are not limited to the use of striking skills. But before we delve into the overt differences between BJJ and JJJ, let’s take a quick look at the similarities between the two arts.

3.1. Quick Similarities Between BJJ and JJJ

BJJ being derived from JJJ has many similarities with the classic martial art. Practitioners of both martial arts require a training partner. Though in the modern days, many training accessories such as a BJJ dummy or a BJJ grip trainer system allow athletes to practice different drills without a partner, these amenities were not available back in the days when these two martial arts were being developed.


George Kirby mentioned this key similarity between the two martial arts as follows:

“The study of jujitsu (BJJ and JJJ) requires two people who are willing to work together and trust one another. Basic to this willingness and trust is the requirement of caution and courtesy.”

George Kirby’s observation emphasizes the reason why both martial arts promote mutual respect and trust without which no one would be able to practice BJJ or JJJ, eventually leading to these codes of self-defense to go dead completely. 


Stephen Kesting and Alexander Kask also offered their two cents about the similarities between these two martial arts in a Black Belt Magazine publication:

“Both (BJJ and JJJ) emphasize grappling over striking. Both emphasize the importance and efficiency of ground fighting. Both employ chokes, arm locks, leg locks, and other submission holds.”

4. The Key Differences Between BJJ and JJJ

Key Differences Between BJJ and JJJ
Factors BJJ JJJ
Uniform  Traditional Gi Kimono
Belt System  White
Point System in Competitions In BJJ competitions, points are awarded to athletes for guard pass, takedown. Back control, sweep, mount, and knee-on-belly JJJ competitions do not rely on points to determine victory or loss.
Fighting Style  Ground-based martial arts based on self-defense strategies. Relies heavily on positional control, grappling, and submission methods. Striking and throwing are not allowed. Stand-up martial arts based on self-defense and attacking strategies. JJJ involves striking and throws in addition to submissions, joint locks, chokes, and grappling.
Training Methodology  Training methodology involves drills with or without a partner to practice techniques and sparring sessions to implement practiced techniques in a controlled but competitive environment. Participation in competitions is part of the training methodology. Slow-paced training of techniques, allowing students to master one technique and position at a time. Competitions are usually not part of training.
Culture and Philosophy  Reflects less formal training and communication style Reflects deeply rooted Samurai philosophy and culture
Global Recognition  Widely known and practiced worldwide Limited to no worldwide exposure
Scale of Competitions  Local, regional, and international Local and regional only
Purpose and Intent  Every day self-defense situations Battlefield attacks and defense
Major Fighting Technique  Sparring and rolling in addition to locks, chokes, and dominating positions Striking, locks, and chokes.
Areas of Target  Pressure-points Structural attacks, mainly joints.
Conclusion of Fight  Submission Submission and striking

BJJ and traditional jiu-jitsu have a lot of techniques in common, and they even seem like the same thing to people who do not know much about their fundamentals. Despite the similarities, both are separate martial arts in several ways. The factors that make them different are described below.

4.1. Purpose

The major thing that differentiates both martial arts is the purpose of training. Japanese jiu-jitsu was originally developed for self-defense and to defeat opponents, so it involves both defense and offense techniques. Therefore, schools of Japanese jiu-jitsu taught students how to disarm opponents and neutralize them. Even in modern schools, these techniques are still taught to students. The difference is that they use wooden-made weapons for sparring.


While in BJJ, students are taught to defend themselves without causing any severe harm to their opponents, with the purpose of neutralizing opponents only to get out of the threat. That is why in BJJ, students do not learn any disarming techniques or the use of weapons. BJJ fighters are taught to avoid fighting to their full capacity wherever possible and should use their  training in self-defense conditions .

4.2. Fighting Style

The other important difference between the two is the fighting style. Japanese jujutsu is more focused on attacking and incorporates both grappling and striking fighting styles. As mentioned above, JJJ was developed to enable military men to combat without or with light weapons against armed opponents. It is more aggressive.


As a JJJ practitioner, you can use any of the tactics or techniques that might be illegal in BJJ to take the enemy down and cause major harm like bone breakage and joint dislocation.


On the other hand, BJJ is more of a ground-fighting kind of martial art that is influenced by the initial versions of Kodokan Judo. Also, BJJ does not involve any sort of striking techniques but involves a lot of grappling techniques that make it a softer version of jujutsu.


Specifically, in competitions, there are rules to follow for BJJ practitioners, and they cannot use dirty tactics like gouging eyes and striking the groins like practitioners do in Japanese jujutsu.

4.3. Techniques

In comparison to BJJ, Japanese jujutsu has a broader variety of techniques that are taught to students to take down the opponent, either by using strikes,  takedowns , or by placing chokes and joint locks.


BJJ is all about getting the opponent to the ground without causing them harm. When you get your opponent to the ground, you become safe from getting throws and fatal strikes from them.


In BJJ, you can use joint locks, chokeholds, sweeps, takedowns, and positional grappling, while in JJJ, you can add throwing and strikes to these techniques to make your opponent unable to cause any damage.

4.4. Combat Strategy and Selection of Fighting Techniques

Moreover, there is a significant difference in the combat strategy. In JJJ, the main purpose is to win on the battlefield and as a result, JJJ combat strategy is more attack-oriented, while BJJ aims to submit the opponent or beat him by winning a greater number of points in BJJ competitions. Hence, it is more defense-oriented. 


For example, BJJ utilizes a back mount - a fundamental and lethal position - to successfully execute different chokes and armlocks that result in the immediate submission of the opponent. However, in JJJ, this technique is not very popular or useful because if you imagine the use of back control on a battlefield, it will only leave you more vulnerable to multiple attackers. Hence, in JJJ each technique is aimed at handling different opponents at a time even if there is only one opponent on the mats. 


The Wrist Grab is another technique that is considered obsolete in BJJ but is practiced in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. This is because, in BJJ, practitioners use Gi grips to control the opponent. Hence a Gi sleeve grip would be more practical in BJJ than a wrist grab. But in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, practitioners lure their opponents in by allowing wrist grabs and using it to reverse the attack on the opponent. This is because, in JJJ, the use of weapons was allowed. Hence, it makes sense that an opponent will grab your wrist to disarm you. 

4.5. Pressure Points and Structural Attacks

It has been observed that in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu there is a greater emphasis on pressure-points, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focuses on structural attacks. Stephen Kesting and Alexander Kask mentioned similar differences between the two martial arts. According to them, JJJ utilizes pressure points because back in the day, warriors were taught how to look for openings in the opponent’s armor and hit on pressure points to leave him weak and disarm him. Since today there is not much need for pressure points, BJJ has introduced a new system based on structural attacks, which aligns perfectly with different self-defense situations. In a real-life scenario where there are usually no arms or armor, targeting a small pressure point can be extremely challenging and may leave the victim of the attack more vulnerable. Therefore, the focus has been shifted to larger structural areas for attacks that help manipulate and control the movements of the attacker, getting him to submit. 

4.6. Conclusion of the Combat

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, one of the athletes must tap for the match to end. The tapping action signifies that one has accepted defeat. In another situation, one of the athletes acquires more points which leads to the referee declaring him as the winner.


On the other hand, in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, submission techniques are often followed by a strike, leaving the opponent unable to attack again. This behavior has been adopted from the war mindset, where the winner makes sure that his opponent is unable to fight back or retaliate. 

4.7. Training Methods

The training methods highlight another key difference between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. Japanese Jiu-Jitsu involves extremely lethal techniques that guarantee victory on the battlefield. As a result, training methodologies adopt different combat scenarios with little to no sparring. Instead, practitioners are taught how to use kata, a planned sequence of punches, kicks, stances, and blocks in a particular order in different combat situations. 


In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academies, practitioners drill different submission techniques, positional transitions, and other maneuvers that are followed with rolling or sparring. This teaching methodology helps students safely apply lethal techniques. 

4.8. Rules and Competition Opportunities

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions are frequently organized by local BJJ gyms and clubs and also international organizations such as IBJJF, ADCC, and UAEJJF. Moreover, BJJ No-Gi competitions are also quite prevalent in the US, UK, Europe, and other parts of the world. On the other hand, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu competitions are not organized at a large scale. Moreover, JJJ competitions are restricted to local or regional levels, with nearly no international exposure for practitioners.

BJJ and Japanese jujutsu are not just different in fighting style and techniques; they also have different fighting rules in competitions. In BJJ Gi and No-Gi competitions, you are allowed to use techniques that are not too hard to disable opponents. They are softer in comparison to traditional jiu-jitsu.


In BJJ, you cannot make use of  knee reaping,most of the spinal locks,heel hooks,scissors takedown,and knee twisting  as they are illegal moves according to the IBJJF’s rules for competitions. While in JJJ, you can see practitioners using strikes, throws, and most of these harmful moves freely during their fights, as this martial art is more focused on self-defense than BJJ and is less of a sport.


That is why you will see very few competitions for this martial art. While BJJ is progressing as a sport around the globe, you can see a lot of competitions taking place every week.

4.9. Belts and Promotion Systems

In both martial arts, you can find belt ranks and promotion mechanisms, but they are different from each other. Initially, there was no belt system in Japanese jujutsu. It was introduced by Jigoro Kano when he established his Kodokan school. However, modern JJJ schools use a belt system that is very similar to the judo belt system.


However, in BJJ schools, there is a different belt system and promotion mechanism. There are just four-belt ranks before a practitioner is promoted to black belt. In JJJ, a belt holder is promoted to the next level when he already has a strip on his Kyu belt, but in BJJ, that is not the case. A BJJ practitioner needs to have four stripes on a color belt before getting promoted to the next one.


As a BJJ practitioner, you can get white, blue, purple, brown, and black belts while JJJ holds more belt colors. A JJJ practitioner can get white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, and black belts. However, not all the JJJ schools follow this belt progression system. Some JJJ schools start with the red belt instead of the white.


In BJJ, belt promotion depends on various factors, such as time spent, sparring levels, and technical knowledge. And belt progression from one to another mainly depends on instructors. Everything counts on what they think and which mechanism they use to evaluate the eligibility for belt rank promotion.


But that is not the case with traditional or Japanese jiu-jitsu. JJJ schools ask their students to go through a formal grading process for belt promotion.

4.10. Extensive Use of Japanese Terminology

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and even judo - another Japanese martial art - practitioners learn Japanese terminology in schools to maintain the Japanese Samurai heritage and provide the exact description of the technique that is often lost after translating it into English. About the use of Japanese terminology in American JJJ academies, George Kirby wrote in his book, Jujitsu: Intermediate Techniques of The Gentle Art: 

“When the art came to America, some instructors wanted to teach in English. But higher ranking students grew to prefer Japanese over English… as we understood more of the Japanese terminology, it seemed to make more sense and was easier to follow than the English.”

On the other hand, BJJ is taught in the native language of the practitioners, and with a large global population acquainted with English or Spanish language, BJJ is widely taught in these languages. However, certain Japanese terms are still used in BJJ, such as Dojo, Gi, Oss, Kesa-Gatame, Uchi-Mata, Kuzure Kesa-Gatame, etc reflecting the roots of BJJ in judo and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

4.11. Global Recognition

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has gained recognition and popularity worldwide due to the efforts of different BJJ academies and BJJ black belts, who have established affiliate academies and frequently hold different training camps and seminars to spread awareness and promote gentle art. Even though BJJ is not an Olympic sport, it enjoys exponential growth on a global scale. Moreover, with more BJJ black belts transitioning to MMA and emerging as UFC champions, the demand for BJJ gyms and academies is at an all-time high.

On the other hand, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu has been overshadowed by BJJ on a global scale, and you will seldom find any elite Japanese Jiu-Jitsu academies worldwide. 

4.12. Culture and Philosophy

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is based on the Samurai training, loyalty, and honor. The martial art reflects the courage and self-control required to overcome the opponent on the battlefield. On the other hand, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stands for discipline, cultural inclusivity, efficiency, and adaptability. The martial arts instill confidence in practitioners, teaching them how to use leverage to dominate opponents that may be stronger, larger, or heavier. Moreover, the acceptance of new techniques in the BJJ system reflects that the sport promotes innovation, progress, and growth. 

5. Final Thoughts

Contrary to the perception that both Japanese and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are the same discipline, you should be aware of the fact that they are two separate martial arts of different natures and fighting styles. The above discussion can help you grasp the major differences between the two and understand what you will be indulging in by practicing any of these martial arts.


When choosing which martial art is best for your goals and aims, it is best to consider the key differences in the purpose of each technique used in BJJ or JJJ. Moreover, considering competitive opportunities and greater exposure to tournaments may also help you choose the right martial art for you. With BJJ Gi and No-Gi disciplines, the options are already vast. Plus, No-Gi BJJ also helps in your transition to MMA. Since there are no battlefields for a duel or JJJ, training old-school BJJ might be more beneficial for you. So, try out a little of both disciplines to see which form resonates more with your style and self-defense goals. 

Photo Credit: kobudomart , dcmouthguards

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