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Judo vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

May 8, 2024
Judo vs. BJJ

What is it about martial arts that intrigues so many people around the world? How many things can you think of that humans have practiced for 5,000 years (or more)? For some, it’s the motivation to get and stay in shape, while others appreciate the mental discipline required to rise through the ranks of your chosen discipline. Sometimes, people just want to know how to defend themselves. 

No matter what you’re looking for, there’s always something positive to be taken from the martial arts. They are so universally practiced that today there are over 180 styles coming from all corners of the globe. But in this article we’re going to talk about two types of martial arts, both that have roots in Japan and that are incredibly popular today: Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).

Both of these fighting styles evolved from Japanese jiu-jitsu (also referred to as ‘jujutsu’), which has been practiced in Japan for over 2000 years. Jujutsu, which means “the art of softness,” was originally created as a way for soldiers to fight hand-to-hand while wearing armor during battle, incorporating a range of grappling and striking techniques. Over time, many variations came about that utilized grappling techniques such as throwing, takedowns, leg sweeps, trapping, pins, joint locks, holds, chokeholds, etc., as well as striking. At its core, jujutsu was designed to allow an unarmed person to manipulate an opponent’s own force against them. 

Today, both Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focus on grappling throws, and joint locks but have some fundamental differences between them. Let’s get into it! 

What is Judo?

Judo is a modern martial art and combat sport that originated in Japan in the late 19th century. It stems directly from jujutsu, emphasizing the efficient use of balance, leverage, and technique rather than brute strength to overcome opponents. It is often described as a “gentle” martial art because it allows practitioners to defend themselves and subdue opponents without causing unnecessary harm.

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The goal in judo is to either throw your opponent to the ground, immobilize or subdue them with a grappling maneuver, or force them into submission by joint locking the elbow or by applying a choke. Strikes and thrusts, as well as weapons, are allowed in certain forms but are generally prohibited in competitions. 

What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

BJJ is a grappling martial art that concentrates on the ground game, where you aim to get your opponent to submit via a joint lock or choke. A key aspect of BJJ is its focus on technique and leverage rather than relying solely on physical strength. It promotes the principle that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant, making it one of the most effective combat styles for self-defense.

The thing that really makes BJJ stand out from other martial arts is how it enables anyone to successfully defend themselves. BJJ has the most developed method of fighting on your back, a position weaker people will often find themselves when attacked. No matter your size, if you know BJJ, you can take your opponent to the ground and defeat them using holds and submissions. Fighters try to use gravity to their advantage and take away the opponent’s strengths. Success in BJJ relies on strategy and proper technique rather than explosiveness and brute strength.

What is the Difference Between Judo and BJJ?

BJJ originated from Judo, so they are very similar and descended from the Japanese martial art of jujutsu. The biggest difference is that BJJ concentrates more on the ground game, while Judo focuses on standing techniques. Judo throws can be more challenging for smaller competitors, but fighters are taught to be as efficient as possible and exert the minimum effort by using an opponent’s force against them. Neither of these disciplines allows opponents to use strikes during competition, or else are disqualified. 

Origins & History


Founded by Kanō Jigorō, an athlete and educator, who taught jujutsu, judo was created as a system of physical education and self-defense based on traditional Japanese martial arts principles. Jigorō wrote in 1898:  “By taking together all the good points I had learned of the various schools and adding thereto my own inventions and discoveries, I devised a new system for physical culture and moral training as well as for winning contests.”

Jigorō combined teachings from the old jujitsu schools and founded his Kōdōkan School. This marked the beginning of judo as the combat sport we know it to be today. One of the prominent members of the Kodokan Judo Institute was Mitsuyo Maeda, a Japanese prizefighter who later left Japan to teach judo in countries like the United States, Mexico, and Brazil. 

The Kodokan Judo Institute was founded in 1882 with only nine disciples. Within 15 years, that number grew to 300. Contests with official rules were held at the turn of the 20th century, and soon Jigorō was campaigning to make judo an Olympic sport. By the mid-1900s, he got his wish, as judo had spread across the globe, with countries establishing their own schools. The 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo featured the first Men’s judo competitions, and international competitions are now hosted every year. Today, the Kodokan Institute, which is still considered the worldwide headquarters of the judo community, has over 1,200 students. 


Because Brazilian Jiu-Jistu developed from judo, you can also trace its roots back to Japan.  Win 1904, judo master Mitsuyo Maeda left his home to share judo with the world. His travels ultimately brought him to Brazil, where he taught brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., O’Brien, and Hélio Gracie jiu-jitsu in 1917. Several years later, after the Gracie family experimented and adapted Jiu-Jitsu techniques to be more effective in real-life self-defense situations. They modified judo ground techniques and eventually created a unique fighting style called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The Gracie brothers developed BJJ because they wanted a discipline that didn’t rely solely on physical strength. BJJ  concentrates on the ground game, where you aim to get your opponent to submit via a joint lock or choke. A key aspect of BJJ is the idea that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger assailant.  

Competition Differences

BJJ and judo both have regional, national, and international competitions. Judo is governed by the International Judo Federation (IJF) and all its member bodies, such as the African Judo Union, the Pan-American Judo Confederation, the Judo Union of Asia, the European Judo Union, and the Oceania Judo Union. Each of these member bodies has several national judo associations that run regional competitions. The IJF organizes international competitions, the World Judo Championships and manages the Olympic Judo events.

BJJ competitions take place mostly on the ground, focusing on positional dominance, sweeps, escapes, and submissions such as joint locks and chokes. Matches typically involve grappling until one person submits or time runs out. In the competitive world of BJJ, two major entities are the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) and the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF).

Each BJJ institution has its own set of rules, so depending on the event, a BJJ match can have different weight divisions, competition types (Gi vs No-gi), point systems, legal positions, time limits, and submissions. In the federation tournaments run by federations, you have to buy membership to earn eligibility and have to pay to compete. These competitions usually welcome more fighters and are, therefore, much more challenging and competitive. If you want to compete in a smaller tournament, all you have to do is pay for entry.

Judo Rules 

Competitive Judo involves throws, pins, joint locks, and chokes. Fighters start the match standing and facing each other. They grip each other’s judogi (uniform) and attempt to win by either throwing the opponent to the ground with force, (resulting in an ippon, which instantly wins the match), immobilizing the opponent on the ground with a hold-down (osaekomi), or forcing them opponent into submission through a joint lock or stranglehold. You can also win by pinning your opponent for 20 seconds or if your opponent accumulates penalties (shido) for various infractions such as stalling, other non-combativity, and illegal grips or strikes. 

If a throw doesn’t result in an immediate ippon, competitors can continue fighting on the ground. They attempt to secure a pinning hold or apply a submission technique to force their opponent to submit or to hold them down for a required period of time.

A judo match typically lasts for three to five minutes but can vary depending on the skill level of the competitors, their age group, or the rules of the organization running the competition. 

BJJ Rules

Each of the BJJ federations has its own set of rules for tournaments, although one is consistent across them all: fighters are never allowed to strike their opponent. That means any kicking, punching, or elbows will result in a disqualification. Otherwise, the rules depend on the event. For instance, a BJJ match can have different weight divisions, competition types (Gi vs No-gi), point systems, legal positions, time limits, and submissions. In BJJ marches, points are awarded based on positional control, takedowns, and submission attempts, among other criteria.

BJJ matches typically last at most ten minutes and always begin with both people standing before fighters employ sweeping and throwing techniques to take the fight to the groun. Fighters receive points for achieving dominant positions (such as mount or back control). Challengers can win the match by getting their opponent to submit or by accumulating points within a minimum time. 

Here’s a breakdown of how you can earn points in a BJJ match:

  • Mount/Back Mount: 4 points
  • Guard Pass: 3 points
  • Sweep: 2 points
  • Knee On Belly: 2 points
  • Takedown/Judo Throw: 2 points

Fighting Style and Techniques

Both Judo & BJJ place more emphasis on technique than strength. They rely more on skill and leverage to defeat opponents than raw power. Both arts rely on ground fighting, but BJJ is more specialized in it. Judo is primarily an art of stand-up combat that emphasizes throws, takedowns, and other techniques. BJJ practitioners are adept at controlling opponents on the floor, while Judo practitioners excel at stand-up situations. 

Judo has three basic categories of techniques, known as waza: nage-waza (throwing techniques), katame-waza (grappling techniques), and atemi-waza (striking techniques). Common Judo throws include Osoto Gari, Uchi Mata, Seoi Nage. Kata are pre-arranged patterns of techniques that are used to teach the basic principles of judo and demonstrate how to correctly perform a technique. 

Ranking System

Like other martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ranking and promotion is based on a colored belt system. The five belt colors are White, Blue, Purple, Brown, and Black.

Judo is also hierarchical, where seniority is determined by a ranking system broken down into the Kyu and Dan grades. Your ranking in the kyu-dan system is reflected by the color of your belt, with beginners wearing a white belt until they progress high enough to be a dan grade. Here’s a breakdown of the Kyu ranks: 

  • 6th kyu (white belt)
  • 5th kyu (yellow belt)
  • 4th kyu (orange belt)
  • 3rd kyu (green belt)
  • 2nd kyu (blue belt)
  • 1st kyu (brown belt)

Achieving and progressing through the dan ranks requires not only technical skill but also a deep understanding of Judo principles, teaching ability, and contributions to the Judo community. The dan rank, which are represented by black belts, commonly include:

  • 1st dan (shodan)
  • 2nd dan (nidan)
  • 3rd dan (sandan)
  • 4th dan (yondan)
  • 5th dan (godan)
  • 6th dan (rokudan)
  • 7th dan (shichidan)
  • 8th dan (hachidan)
  • 9th dan (kudan)
  • 10th dan (judan)

Choosing Between Judo and BJJ 

Judo is rougher, more aggressive, and more explosive than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. BJJ is highly tactical and requires a significant level of strategy. Both require a tremendous amount of commitment, as you will need a lot of physical strength and stamina alongside mental discipline. Both judo and BJJ are exciting, fun, and fulfilling practices that can push you to your limits. Either option can be useful for real-world self-defense, but that is where BJJ really shines. What’s important to remember is that you have to have fun with whatever you choose if you hope to stick with it.