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BJJ and MMA are two of the most popular martial arts today. There is often a lot of confusion around what is the difference between the two sports. The truth is, comparing MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be a bit tough since both draw lots of inspiration from each other. MMA and BJJ are unique martial arts, but there is no MMA without jiu jitsu. We explain in this guide.

What is the Difference Between BJJ and MMA?

BJJ is a grappling martial art. MMA, which is mixed martial arts, utilizes several types of martial arts, BJJ being one of those arts. Most MMA fighters are practitioners of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So we have to be careful when explaining what the difference between the two martial arts are. From a grappling perspective, there are several key differences between BJJ and MMA. Here are the main differences between MMA and BJJ:

Main Differences Between BJJ and MMA

  • MMA grappling also includes striking
  • BJJ uses Gi chokes and guards
  • MMA uses wrestling and catch wrestling techniques

Striking in MMA

For one, in MMA you can strike your opponent even on the ground. In BJJ there is no striking at all. This changes the range of moves and strategies you would employ in a pure BJJ matchup. Certain positions like closed guard are highly advantageous in traditional BJJ, but don’t enjoy as high an advantage in MMA because of the striking.

Gi Chokes and Guards

In BJJ you are also in a Gi at least half the time. The Gi itself unlocks an entire library of moves, submissions and chokes that you won’t be able to do in MMA without a Gi. For example in traditional BJJ, some of the most common chokes such as a bow and arrow choke and loop choke are not feasible in MMA.

Wrestling and Catch Wrestling

Traditional practitioners of BJJ may not use wrestling or catch wrestling moves. Conversely, MMA fighters will often use wrestling and catch wrestling while grappling on the ground. Moves like heel hooks, neck cranks and wrist locks are common in MMA grappling, but are not as common in traditional BJJ.

Should You Do MMA or BJJ?

Focusing on MMA or BJJ comes down to your martial arts goals. Traditionally, someone would focus on BJJ and then a striking martial art like Muay Thai before combining the two into MMA. Nowadays, you have the choice start learning both grappling and striking in the context of MMA at the same time right off the bat . How do you choose?

When to Take MMA

You should focus on MMA if you desire to learn striking arts like kick boxing, boxing and muay thai in addition to grappling. Learning MMA is more dynamic and arguably more difficult than just focusing on BJJ since you are learning multiple martial arts at the same time. The downside of focusing on MMA from beginning is that you may never achieve mastery in one martial art. It’s a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none situation. Most top UFC fighters for example are not black belts in BJJ since they choose to spend time training in other martial arts.

When to Take BJJ

BJJ is the better option if you want to take a martial art, get in shape and don’t like getting hit in the face. In BJJ you are much less likely to get a concussion or head injuries since there is no striking. By no means however is BJJ a gentle sport that carries no risk. Rather, it is a good martial art for those who have no interest in striking. If you focus on BJJ, you also get to train in both Gi and Nogi if you so choose. You will also advance faster through the belt system since you are focusing exclusively on BJJ.

BJJ vs MMA Summary

MMAIncludes striking and other martial artsLonger to earn belts, head injury risk is higher
BJJLess head injury risk, advance through belt system, learn Gi and nogiNo striking, less emphasis on other martial arts

History of MMA

Mixed Martial Arts’ ancestor dates back to the mid-20th century in Brazil where it was known as Vale Tudo, literally translated as “anything goes”. Vale Tudo was and continues to be a brutal fighting martial art that combined popular Brazilian martial arts like Capoiera and jiu jitsu. In the 70’s Rorion Gracie of the famous Gracie jiu jitsu family came to the U.S. where he started to popularize Vale Tudo and jiu jitsu. That eventually led to the first UFC in 1993.

Originally, UFC fighters were experts in one martial art and worked to show how their art was the most dominant. For many years, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the Gracies reigned dominant. With every succeeding UFC event however, fighters began to adopt other martial arts in addition to their main art.

As time has progressed, MMA has become its own form of martial art. Rather than a dedication to any one martial art, MMA fighters start from the beginning learning the various striking and grappling components of MMA, as well as its own unique elements like the ground and pound and wrestling on the cage. Today, MMA fighters know how to employ punches, kicks, knees and elbows from a stand up position as well as how to wrestle and submit opponents while both on the ground. The ground techniques used in MMA traditionally come from BJJ.

History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu comes from the Gracie family who are originally from Brazil. In the 1920’s, Carlos Gracie learned from Mitsuyo Maeda, an accomplished master in Judo. Gracie would modify Judo, which itself derives from Japanese Ju Jitsu, into his own Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a grappling martial art that exclusively takes place on the ground. Practitioners or Jiujuteros, work to dominate or control their opponent by compromising one of their opponents limbs or by putting them in a choke hold. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be done in a Gi, the traditional uniform of Judo or without a Gi.