Jiu Jitsu vs Karate: BJJ & Traditional (Key Differences)

Jiu Jitsu and Karate are two of the most renowned martial art styles around, but what makes one different from the other? Is one better than another for self-defense or street fights? Let’s explore Jiu Jitsu vs Karate.

Jiu Jitsu and Karate are both Japanese martial arts, but Karate is a stand-up art focused on punches, kicks, and blocks, whereas Jiu-Jitsu, and especially Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, are focused on grappling, takedowns, and joint locks and submission holds.

What benefits can you gain from practicing either jiu-jitsu or karate?

In this article, we’ll be exploring these questions as well as delving into their respective histories to understand more about jiu-jitsu vs karate. We will look at key differences, how both fare in dangerous situations, and which is the most popular martial art.

But we’ll delve into why each style has achieved worldwide recognition and contemplate the potential advantages of selecting one over the other. So get ready to dive deep into some fascinating facts about both styles.

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Table of Contents:

History of Jiu Jitsu and Karate

Jiu Jitsu is known as the “gentle art” because it focuses on using leverage, timing, and technique to control an opponent without causing serious injury. The roots of Jiu Jitsu can be traced back to ancient samurai warriors who used grappling techniques to defeat their opponents.

Japanese Jiu Jitsu has been developed and perfected through the ages, resulting in its current form.

Karate is another martial art that also originated in Japan but was developed more recently than Jiu Jitsu. Karate was created by Okinawan masters who blended Chinese kung fu with local fighting styles to create a unique form of self-defense.

Karate relies heavily on striking techniques such as punches, kicks, and blocks rather than grappling or submission holds like those found in Jiu Jitsu.

The development of both arts has seen many changes over the years due to cultural influences from other countries such as Brazil and the United States, where they have become popularized sports today. And no doubt the original Karate Kid movies are what made Karate a household name today.

In Brazil, Japanese-born Mitsuyo Maeda (later renamed Otávio Maeda upon becoming a naturalized Brazilian) introduced Carlos Gracie and other members of the Gracie family to modified traditional Judo. This, of course, later morphed into Brazilian jiu-jitsu which focused more on ground fighting and submissions.

Jiu Jitsu and Karate have been through a long journey of development, yet they differ significantly in terms of approach, tools used, and order of rank.

Let’s examine the major distinctions between these two forms of combat.

Major Differences Between Jiu-Jitsu and Karate

Two of the most renowned combat sports are Jiu Jitsu and Karate. Although sharing certain traits, Jiu Jitsu and Karate also boast a range of dissimilarities that render them distinct.

Style of Fighting:

The style of fighting is one of the biggest differences between these two martial arts. Jiu-Jitsu focuses on ground-based grappling techniques such as joint locks and chokes.

By comparison, Karate emphasizes striking techniques like punches and kicks. This difference in focus means that practitioners of each art will need to develop different skill sets in order to be successful in either style.

But it’s also important to know if we’re talking about Japanese Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

How Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Differs from Japanese Jiu-Jitsu

The most obvious difference between BJJ and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is the focus of each style. BJJ focuses on ground fighting and grappling, while Japanese Jiu-Jitsu has a heavy emphasis on stand-up techniques such as throws, strikes, and joint locks.

Again, BJJ is based almost as much on Judo as it is on Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

Another major difference between the two styles is the way they approach training. BJJ emphasizes live sparring and drilling techniques in order to develop a practitioner’s skills. It’s a more practical application.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, on the other hand, relies more heavily on kata (forms) and solo drills to develop technique.

Competition rules also differ between BJJ and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. In BJJ competitions, points are awarded for successful submission attempts or positional dominance. In contrast, Japanese Jiu-Jitsu competitions are judged based on technique rather than points or submissions.

Is a Strike Better Than a Takedown and Submission?

Karate strikes are often seen as a more aggressive option over a takedown followed by a submission.

That’s because they involve powerful punches and kicks that can quickly incapacitate an attacker. This makes them ideal for self-defense in a street fight, as they can be used to quickly disable an assailant. However, Karate strikes are not always effective against someone who is trained in martial arts, as they may be able to block or dodge the attack.

Jiu-Jitsu takedowns and submission techniques are often seen as the more defensive option, as they involve taking an attacker to the ground and using leverage to control them.

This makes them ideal for self-defense in a street fight against a lone attacker, as they can be used to subdue an assailant without causing serious injury. However, Jiu-Jitsu takedowns and submissions require more skill than Karate strikes, so they may not be effective against someone who is untrained in martial arts.

And in a multiple-attacker situation, you do not want to end up on the ground as that’s an easy way to get your head stomped.

Jiu-Jitsu Belt System vs Karate Belt System

In Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, there are six belts:

  • white
  • yellow
  • orange
  • green
  • blue
  • brown

It usually takes about one to two years to reach each belt level. The white belt is the beginner level and it takes about two years to reach the blue belt level. After that, it takes another two years to reach the brown belt level.

Four to five years to black belt is common for Japanese Jiu-Jitsu although it can sometimes take up to seven years.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu there are nine belts, although only 5 belts to get to black, with the rest being variations above black belt. There are also additional belts for kids.

Here are all the belts including junior belts:

  • white
  • grey/white
  • grey/black
  • yellow/white
  • yellow/black
  • orange/white, orange/black
  • green
  • black

Adults only have 5 belts to black, which are:

  • White
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Brown
  • Black

It usually takes about three years for to reach each belt level in Jiu-Jitsu. The white belt is the beginner level and it takes about three years to reach the green belt level. After that, it takes another three years to reach the black belt level.

A decade is common for BJJ practitioners to get a black belt.

In Karate there are ten belts:

  • white (10th kyu)
  • yellow (9th kyu)
  • orange (8th kyu)
  • green (7th kyu)
  • blue (6th kyu)
  • purple (5th kyu)
  • brown (4th kyu)
  • red (3rd kyu)
  • red with one black stripe (2nd kyu)
  • red with two black stripes (1st kyu)

It usually takes about one year to reach each belt level. The white belt is the beginner level and it takes about one year to reach the purple belt level. After that, it takes another one year to reach the red with two black stripes or 1st Kyu level.

Is Karate More Popular Than Jiu-Jitsu?

The popularity of Jiu-Jitsu and Karate around the world is undeniable.

Both Jiu Jitsu and Karate have a long tradition that can be traced back many years. Different schools and styles in each art form have evolved over time, allowing practitioners to customize their training according to their own preferences.

Jiu-Jitsu and Karate are both used by martial artists and MMA combatants (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu more than Karate or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu though).

BJJ teaches grappling tactics for both self-defense and competitions, whereas Karate concentrates more on striking moves like punches, kicks, elbows, and knees. But it’s worth pointing out that while almost all Karate schools engage in competitions, Jiu-Jitsu schools tend to either focus on competition or self-defense and often not both.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was recently added as an Olympic sport and will be officially added starting in 2024, with Carlos Gracie Jr. overseeing the process of adding it.

Karate, of course, became an Olympic sport in 2020.

Both arts offer a variety of benefits for those who practice them regularly; physical strength gains through conditioning exercises along with improved coordination are just some examples of what can be achieved by dedicating oneself to either discipline or even both simultaneously.

Additionally, resilience is developed through intense training which helps build confidence when facing difficult situations off the mats too – such as bullying or self-defense scenarios where quick thinking is essential for survival.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Jiu-Jitsu better than Karate?

Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that has been around for centuries, originating in Japan.

It is a grappling-based martial art that focuses on using leverage and technique to defeat larger and stronger opponents. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a more modern version of the traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu as well as Judo.

It was developed in the early 1900s.

Karate is another popular martial art that originated in Japan. It is a striking-based martial art that focuses on using punches, kicks, and blocks to defeat an opponent. Karate also includes some grappling techniques, but it is primarily focused on striking.

When it comes to deciding which martial art is better between Jiu-Jitsu and Karate, it really depends on the individual’s preference and goals. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, Jiu-Jitsu has more of an emphasis on ground fighting while Karate has more of an emphasis on stand-up fighting.

In terms of how long it takes to get a black belt in each style, it varies depending on the individual’s dedication and skill level. Generally speaking, it takes around 5 years to get a black belt in either Japanese Jiu-Jitsu or Karate.

BJJ typically takes 10 years to get a black belt.

In terms of popularity, both styles are very popular worldwide with millions of practitioners across the globe. However, BJJ has become increasingly popular over the past few decades due to its effectiveness in mixed martial arts competitions such as the UFC.

Is Jiu-Jitsu the strongest martial art?

No single martial art can be definitively labeled as the strongest. But if I had to pick one, I would likely not pick either Karate or any form of Jiu-Jitsu.

Instead, I might go with something like Systema, a Russian martial art.

Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling art emphasizing techniques to control adversaries through leverage and joint manipulation, is but one component of the larger spectrum of self-defense disciplines.

In the UFC, however, probably in conjunction with Muay Thai, you do see an overwhelming number of fighters with either black belts or at least extensive training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Japanese Jiu-Jitsu not so much).

And the reason for its popularity in the UFC is due to just how effective BJJ is against a single attacker. And that’s even truer for a BJJ practitioner that is also a Muay Thai fighter.

Is Jiu-Jitsu effective in a street fight?

Jiu-Jitsu is a highly effective martial art in street fights.

It focuses on a smaller person using leverage and technique to control an opponent to gain a dominant position. And it does this rather than relying solely on strength or size. Jiu-Jitsu students learn the skills of manipulating their adversary through joint locks, chokeholds, throws, and takedowns to gain an advantage in any confrontation.

The techniques are designed for self-defense purposes and can be used against attackers of all sizes. Jiu-jitsu can provide you with the assurance to protect yourself if ever confronted with a self-defense situation, given proper instruction and practice.

Is Karate effective in a street fight?

Karate is one of the striking arts that have been around for centuries and is still practiced today.

It is a form of self-defense that focuses on using the body’s natural weapons, such as punches, kicks, and blocks, to defend oneself. While it can be effective in a street fight, there are some important considerations to keep in mind.

First, karate schools do not teach you how to fight dirty or use weapons.

This means that if your opponent has a weapon or is willing to fight dirty, you may be at a disadvantage. Additionally, karate techniques require practice and precision in order to be effective. If you are not well-trained or do not have the time to practice regularly, then your techniques may not be as effective as they could be in a street fight.

Second, it does not teach Karate practitioners how to handle multiple opponents at once. In a street fight situation, it is likely that you will face more than one opponent at once and this can make it difficult to defend yourself effectively with karate alone.

But, karate does teach you how to handle the psychological aspects of a street fight.

Knowing how to stay calm and focused under pressure can be just as important as knowing how to throw a punch or kick in order to win the fight. So being able to self-regulate, and possibly de-escalate a situation through a calm demeanor is invaluable.

Overall, while karate can be an effective form of self-defense in certain situations, it is important to consider all of these factors before relying solely on it for protection in a street fight situation.

How does a BJJ gi differ from a Karate gi?

A BJJ gi, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gi, is a uniform worn by practitioners of the martial art. It is typically made of a thick cotton fabric and is designed to withstand the rigors of grappling. The gi consists of a jacket, pants, and a belt.

A Karate gi is also a martial arts uniform, but it differs from a BJJ gi in several ways.

The most obvious difference is the material used to make the gi. Karate gis are usually made from lighter fabrics such as polyester or cotton blends. This makes them more comfortable to wear and easier to move in than BJJ gis.

Another difference between the two uniforms is their design.

BJJ gis are designed with reinforced stitching and extra fabric around the shoulders and arms for added protection during grappling techniques. Karate gis are usually more form-fitting and have less reinforcement around the joints for increased mobility during strikes and kicks.

Karate vs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - Which Martial Arts Is Better?


Jiu-Jitsu and Karate are both popular martial arts that have a long history, but they also differ significantly in their techniques and approaches to martial arts in general as well as self-defense.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference as to which one is better for you.

If you’re seeking a reliable way to safeguard yourself or just aiming to become physically fit, then both jiu-jitsu and karate could be great options.

But ultimately a Karate practitioner would likely do better for self-defense against multiple attackers compared to BJJ.  But by comparison, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is best if the goal is to quickly incapacitate one opponent with fairly minimal risk to yourself.

Karate also has a large focus on traditional Japanese kata (choreographed solo movements or forms).

These require a lot of discipline, memorization, and precision, and they aren’t for everyone. And if self-defense is your goal, the movements taught in katas won’t help much. True, in isolation, they do have martial aspects. But learning them almost as a dance, they won’t translate well for the average Karate practitioner in an attack.

Curious about the word “OSS” that gets used in a lot of Japanese-origin martial arts classes?

I get into the meaning and origin of the word OSS in a recent article, including how it ended up being used dominatly in BJJ which is as much Brazilian as it is Japanese.

Click click that link to read it on my site.

Image by inna mykytas from Pixabay and Image by Taco Fleur from Pixabay

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