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Muay Thai vs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

May 8, 2024

Today we’re going to have a showdown between two martial arts giants: Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). One is an ancient military art form, and the other was only developed in the last century. Despite their many differences, they both help practitioners learn self-defense, improve their physical fitness and mental discipline, and pursue spiritual development. 

In one corner, we have Muay Thai, hailing from the vibrant land of Thailand. Fighters in this striking art use fists, elbows, knees, and shins to deliver powerful blows. In the opposite corner is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with smooth, ground-based techniques, originating from the sunny beaches of Brazil. BJJ turns a fighter into a python, emphasizing submissions and control, and proves that sometimes the best way to win a fight is by taking it to the ground.

If you’re new to the world of martial arts and are considering your options, this is a great article for you. The same is true if you already practice one of these disciplines and are considering cross-training. Whether you’re a fan of striking or grappling, it’s time to lace up your gloves and tighten your belts as we explore these two exciting fighting styles. 

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What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai is a full-contact combat sport that uses stand-up striking, sweeps, and various clinching techniques. Commonly known as “The Art of Eight Limbs,” fighters are trained to use the body like weapons of war:

  • Hands become daggers 
  • Shins and forearms are hardened into armor
  • Elbows become heavy maces or hammers 
  • The legs and knees turn into the axe and staff

Today, it’s become a popular sport worldwide thanks to its highly competitive tournaments and effective use in self-defense. The sport also emphasizes conditioning and fitness, as fighters need to be strong, agile, and have good endurance to compete.

What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

BJJ is a grappling art that doesn’t allow fighters to use strikes during combat. It was created to give anybody, no matter your size or strength, the chance to defend yourself. BJJ has the most developed method of fighting on your back, a position weaker people often find themselves in while being attacked. BJJ techniques allow fighters to take opponents 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 Muay Thai and BJJ?

Two of the world’s most popular forms of combat both have ancient roots. One, Muay Thai, is so old that documentation of its origins is lost to history. Meanwhile, BJJ is well-known in the modern era as a descendant of judo. The biggest difference between BJJ and Muay Thai is the style of fighting. Muay Thai allows fighters to use all kinds of strikes, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is strictly focused on grappling and ground fighting techniques.

Origins & History

Muay Thai

The cultural martial art of Thailand, Muay Thai, was developed many centuries ago as a form of close combat. One theory suggests that Muay Thai originated in what is modern day Thailand during the 13th century, during a period of regular warfare when hand-to-hand fighting skills were crucial. Over time, the techniques used in close-quarters combat were refined and formalized into the martial art we know today

During the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351–1767), Muay Thai became a popular spectator sport, with matches often held in temples and festivals. Eventually, fighters began wrapping hemp ropes around their hands and forearms, the precursor to today’s use of boxing gloves. In the 20th century, Muay Thai saw a surge in popularity both in Thailand and internationally, becoming more regulated, with standardized rules and weight classes.


BJJ originated from the Japanese martial art of judo. Master Mitsuyo Maeda brought judo to Brazil, where he taught brothers Carlos, Oswaldo, Gastão Jr., O’Brien, and Hélio Gracie jiu-jitsu. The brothers then developed BJJ because they wanted a discipline that didn’t rely solely on physical strength and allowed people of any size to fight. They adapted judo techniques to emphasize the ground game, where fighters aim to get opponents to submit via a joint lock or choke. 

In 1978, Rorion Gracie moved to the United States and later co-founded UFC in 1993. BJJ became popular internationally after Royce Gracie won the first, second, and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships.

Competition Differences

Muay Thai matches are typically held in a ring and governed by strict rules that emphasize respect and sportsmanship. Fighters compete in weight classes, and matches can be won by knockout, technical knockout, points decision, or referee stoppage. Muay Thai competitions are governed by organizations such as the World Muaythai Council (WMC), the International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the World Muaythai Federation (WMF), and Professional Boxing Association of Thailand (PAT).

The two major entities in jiu-jitsu are the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) and the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF). These organizations organize many of the BJJ tournaments around the world and create the standard rules and guidelines for most competitions. Competitions are divided up by weight classes, which vary by age, sex, and competition type (Gi vs No-Gi). 

Muay Thai Rules 

According to IFMA rules, Muay Thai is a full-contact martial art that uses fists, elbows, knees, and feet to strike an opponent. For a strike to count as a point score, it has to connect without being blocked by your opponent. Strikes do not score if they connect with your opponent’s glove, forearm, shin, or foot. 

BJJ Rules

There is some variation in rules depending on which BJJ federation is hosting a competition, but the one consistent rule is that fighters are never allowed to strike their opponent. 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.

Ranking System

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu uses the colored belt system that many martial arts use to determine fighter skill and level. The five belt colors are White, Blue, Purple, Brown, and Black. Muay Thai ranking is typically based on a fighter’s experience, skill level, and performance in fights.

Choosing Between Muay Thai and BJJ 

BJJ is renowned for its intricate ground fighting techniques, such as armlocks, chokes, and leg locks. Compared to faster, more explosive martial arts, BJJ is highly tactical and requires a great deal of strategy as fighters vie to control their opponents and force them into submission. 

In contrast, Muay Thai is a striking-based martial art known for its direct and powerful techniques designed to inflict maximum damage on an opponent. Training in Muay Thai is physically demanding, focusing on cardio, conditioning, and repetitive drills to perfect techniques.

If you’re trying to choose which is for you, a good place to start is to ask yourself if you prefer striking or grappling. If you’re not sure, try a class of each style and then stick with the one you find the most fun. You can’t go wrong either way, as practicing Muay Thai or BJJ can provide a holistic approach to personal development, offering benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Both arts compliment each other and are both pillars in the development of mixed martial artists.