I’ve done both karate and jiu jitsu, and I learned there are a bunch of differences between them. So, I put together this article to explain the differences between karate and jiu jitsu.
So, what are the differences between karate and jiu jitsu?
- Karate is a striking martial art, whereas jiu jitsu is a grappling art
- The competition rules are different
- Jiu jitsu is not an Olympic sport
- Jiu jitsu isn’t seen as core to MMA
- They have a different back story
- Jiu jitsu is regarded as Brazilian
- Jiu jitsu became popular only recently
- The fighting stance
Whether you’re interested in which is better and why, whether jiu jitsu is a form of karate, and which is better in a street fight, here’s everything you need to know about the differences between karate and jiu jitsu.
1. Karate is a striking martial art
This is the most major difference between karate and jiu jitsu. There are stand-up techniques and strikes that are trained in certain jiu jitsu schools. However, strikes and stand-up techniques are limited to certain schools that have a self-defense focus.
There are two broad training styles of jiu jitsu that the martial has split into from its origins in Brazil.
Namely, Gracie Barra who owns the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), and the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF). I’ll explain why this happened in the section about the backstory behind jiu jitsu and karate.
But, the IBJJF is focused primarily on competition which uses zero striking techniques, and the JJGF which has a focus on self-defense and teaches when and how strikes can be used in a jiu jitsu approach to fighting.
Karate, on the other hand, deals almost exclusively with strikes, and are the major part of the training at virtually any karate school.
In sport karate, known as ‘kumite’, the objective is to land blows on your opponent to stop the attack. Or, as a distraction to flee the attacker. Throws are legal in sport karate and some karate schools will teach these.
But when I learned karate no emphasis was put on them, and it’s generally understood that karate doesn’t put much focus or throwing, or submission techniques. This is a major difference between karate and jiu jitsu.
Here are two videos of a karate tournament and a jiu jitsu tournament so you can see how differently they fight.
2. The competition rules
In competition jiu jitsu you aren’t allowed to throw strikes, so during an average training session, most of the time is spent working on what looks like Olympic wrestling.
Both people start in a standing position and then try to grab their opponent and take them to the ground to apply submission techniques.
How competitors win in a jiu jitsu match
The way to win a fight in jiu jitsu is to apply a submission which hyperextends a joint such as the elbow, or ankle, which is incredibly painful.
Experienced jiu jitsu players are familiar with the main techniques and will submit – by tapping to signify giving up – before it’s fully applied and their joint breaks.
There are also chokes where the opponent’s neck is squeezed with the arms or the legs so that blood flow doesn’t travel to the brain and the person passes out. In most jiu jitsu schools the instructor gives clear guidance about giving up before you pass out.
It takes about 4-5 seconds from when the choke is applied to when the person will pass out, and the person will give up once they feel the choke being applied.
There have been some developments by a well-known jiu jitsu teacher Eddie Bravo, who created combat jiu jitsu, which closely resembles MMA. Combat jiu jitsu is jiu jitsu but it’s legal to throw slaps. The slaps they throw are very hard and can be hard enough to knock out their opponent.
Here’s a video of a match in a combat jiu jitsu tournament [warning scenes similar to MMA and boxing that some people may find disturbing]:
In karate tournaments, the objective is to throw strikes, and score points by touching your opponent. Some throws are legal and foot trips are quite common to score points. But, for the most part, very few competitors use them.
3. Jiu jitsu is not an Olympic sport
Karate is an Olympic sport as is listed on the official Olympics website. And Wikipedia states that it was only decided recently to be included in the upcoming Olympics games that are scheduled for 2021.
Jiu jitsu however, is not an Olympic sport but is close enough to other martial arts for it to be included. Interestingly the Olympics has over 30 different sports, and athletics.
And in my opinion, there will eventually be so many sports that it will be much more difficult to host and organize. So, it’s unclear when or if it will be included. And remains as a big difference between the two martial arts.
4. Jiu jitsu is a core skill in MMA
At an MMA gym, the curriculum involves a mix of kickboxing, boxing, wrestling/judo, and jiu jitsu. Whereas, karate is almost always never taught at an MMA gym as part of the MMA curriculum.
There are many MMA fighters that have a background in karate. The easiest to recognize example is Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson who’s stance and fighting style looks exactly like that of ‘kumite’ fighters.
The reason is that karate training and the competition aspect of karate isn’t as brutal as kickboxing and boxing. And kickboxing and boxing are seen as more effective at both avoiding strikes and throwing powerful strikes by most MMA coaches and practitioners.
One argument for why boxing and kickboxing strikes are the most effective is that if there is a better way to throw punches boxers would use it. Since high-level boxers earn so much money if they win and eventually fight for a title.
So, the payoff to discover a better way to punch is so high that if it was more effective to throw punches as they do in karate then they would use it.
This argument was explained by the owner of Straight Blast Gym, Matt Thornton. One of the Straight Blast Gym coaches Steven Kavanaugh is the head coach of the world-famous Connor McGregor.
5. They have a different back story
The history of jiu jitsu is thought to have originated as the fighting art of the samurai in Japan, whereas karate was developed in Okinawa which is a small group of islands off the southern tip of Japan.
Samurai made use of swords, a bow and arrow, and often rode on horseback. But, they also had close quarter techniques in the event that they were without their weapons.
HistoryofFighting.com says that samurai were somewhat leaders of the small towns in Japan, and would uphold the safety of its citizens in the Edo period of Japan’s history, from the 1600s to the 1800s.
Later, an emperor of Japan banned carrying weapons, and samurai were somewhat seen as outcasts. This was done as the emperors wanted to end the wars and crime in Japan.
Samurai made their way as hired security. Or, did so for charity as seen in the famous movie the Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. Amazing film if you haven’t seen it.
Jiu jitsu which is also called jiu jitsu literally means ‘gentle art’, to contrast it with more brutal ways of fighting such as kicking and punching. And some people have claimed that it originated in India.
Karate on the other hand became widespread in Okinawa in the 1600s and was widely available in Japan in the 1920s, according to Britannica.com.
There were many fighting styles that were popular at the time such as kickboxing – trained as Muay Thai in Thailand to the south west. Kung fu was also practiced in China.
The British Kung Fu Association says that Kung Fu was practiced as early as the year 200. And was thought to have originated in India where it was practiced by Buddhist monks.
Is Judo ‘ne-waza’ the same as jiu jitsu?
Judo which as you may be aware is a very popular martial art, has many techniques that are almost exactly like the techniques used in jiu jitsu, such as arm locks, and chokes. This style of judo is the ground fighting aspect of judo known as ‘ne-waza’.
Here’s a video of ne-waza technique used in Judo competition:
Each judo school is unique and anecdotal evidence online shows that some judo schools will teach the ground techniques of judo, whereas, others will only teach throws and sweeps.
Therefore, if you’re wanting to learn submission techniques and escapes on the ground, it’s a good idea to do your research on which judo schools offer it, or to learn sambo, or jiu jitsu. And not all of the ground techniques taught in one martial art are taught in another.
6. Jiu jitsu is regarded as Brazilian
Although jiu jitsu has its origins in Japan, it’s generally known as being Brazilian, and is often called Brazilian jiu jitsu. Brazilian jiu jitsu is called that because of its rise in popularity after Royce Gracie won the first UFC.
All of the below information about the history of Brazilian jiu jitsu is based on countless interviews from members of the Gracie family, and people who have trained under them.
Royce Gracie is the son of Helio Gracie who learned jiu jitsu from his brother Carlos Gracie, who in turn learned it from a Japanese noble named Mitsuyo Maeda who learned jiu jitsu in Japan. The story goes that Mitsuyo became good friends with Carlos Gracie’s family and started teaching it to him.
Carlos Gracie fell in love with jiu jitsu and started teaching it to his family and friends. All of Helio Gracie’s sons trained in jiu jitsu from a very early age, and his oldest son Rorion Gracie moved to the USA, and started the first UFC.
Helio’s second-oldest son Rickson Gracie is in many people’s opinions the best jiu jitsu practitioner of all time. And has a famous documentary film called ‘Choke’.
He co-owns the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF) – the more self-defense focused side of jiu jitsu. And Carlos Gracie Jnr – Helio’s nephew and son of Carlos Gracie – started the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF).
Brazilian Jiu jitsu arrives in the USA
After Rorion moved to the USA, his brothers and many other cousins and friends who were trained by Helio Gracie, and Carlos Gracie moved and traveled to the USA, where they developed a reputation for being extremely good, and beat many other martial arts in what were called ‘challenge matches’.
Without the influence of Helio and Carlos Gracie, jiu jitsu wouldn’t be as popular as it is today, and as a result, it’s known as Brazilian jiu jitsu to differentiate it from jiu jitsu. Non-Brazilian jiu jitsu from Japan is very rare, and there are very few schools that teach it.
The fact that modern-day jiu jitsu was made popular by the Gracie family from Brazil is unique to jiu jitsu and is a big difference between it and karate.
7. Jiu jitsu became popular only recently
Jiu jitsu was relatively unknown until the first UFC in 1993, when Royce Gracie won the tournament in what appeared to be relative ease, against very formidable opponents.
During subsequent UFC events, and the growth of the sport, it started to become more and more popular. Today jiu jitsu is well known and you can find many academies in almost every city.
Karate, on the other hand, has been very popular for some time, and some attribute it to the very popular movie ‘the Karate Kid’, which hit the movie theaters in 1984, some 9 years before the first UFC.
8. The fighting stance
The fighting stance in karate is side-on, whereas, in jiu jitsu competitors have a square stance. The stance that’s used in karate is unique to karate and differs from most other martial arts such as, kickboxing, boxing, taekwondo.
I’ll now cover some related questions about the differences between karate and jiu jitsu.
Is karate better than jiu jitsu?
Neither karate nor jiu jitsu is superior and they cover different aspects of a fight. Karate teaches strikes and jiu jitsu teaches grappling. Both grappling and striking are important skills to have to defend yourself.
Karate and jiu jitsu are good to learn and have other benefits such as developing friendships, getting fit, and developing self-confidence and discipline.
Is Jiu jitsu a form of karate?
Jiu jitsu is not a form of karate. Jiu jitsu and karate have different origins – karate originated in Okinawa, whereas jiu jitsu originated in Japan proper. Okinawa is now part of Japan but is located quite far from Japan to the south.
How many times a week should I train Jiu Jitsu?
1 to 3 times a week is seen as enough that you don’t forget what you learn, but also gives you enough time to work, and spend time with your family and friends. The most you should train jiu jitsu is 2 hours a day according to a black belt in jiu jitsu Dave Kama.
Here’s a video of Dave Kama where he explains the optimum amount to train jiu jitsu:
In my opinion, the amount that your train jiu jitsu is likely the same amount that’s good for training karate.
At what age can you start Jiu Jitsu?
You can start jiu jitsu at around 3 years of age. Before a child is 3 years of age they can’t walk, or run to a good enough level where it makes sense to start training jiu jitsu. If you start training early on you’ll have a head start, but you can also start jiu jitsu at any age, and it’s one of the only martial arts you can train until you’re very old.
In boxing, you’ll get brain injury if you keep training and wrestling, and karate relies a lot on your physicality.
I recently wrote two articles about training karate when you’re over 40, and whether toddlers can do karate. You can read those articles here and here.
Here’s a summary of the key points I covered in this article:
The differences between karate and jiu jitsu are that they originated in different places, deal with different aspects of a fight, and employ different stances.
Both are good for self-defense, and are widely available in almost every city. Although karate and jiu jitsu originated around Japan, modern-day jiu jitsu is called Brazilian jiu jitsu because of the big Brazilian influence from the Gracie family.
Karate and jiu jitsu are both good for self-defense, and it’s a good idea to see what schools are available in your area and decide based on which one is right for you.