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Karate Vs Jiu-Jitsu: A Battle Of The Belts

Robert Green
Published: September 17, 2021
Updated: September 17, 2021

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Various forms of martial arts are becoming widely popular around the world, whether it is for self-defense or to become a fighter in MMA or other combat sports. Since there are so many types of fighting styles, it becomes confusing to choose the right one. Narrowing it down to karate vs jiu-jitsu (also known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) can help you make the right choice.

If you are fairly new to learning martial arts, you may see these two disciplines as fairly similar. However, if you watch the matches side-by-side, you will notice some glaring differences.

When making the choice about which one you should start off with, you should consider several things, such as what you want to do with the skills you will learn? For instance, is it for self-defense or to move into MMA fighting? Knowing the differences between these two may help you eliminate one martial art from your long list of choices.

The Main Differences Between Karate Vs Jiu-Jitsu

  • Karate is dominated by stand-up striking techniques, whereas jiu-jitsu focuses on grappling on the ground.
  • Karate is listed as an Olympic sport, whereas jiu-jitsu is not featured in the Olympic lineup at this stage.
  • Karate works on an eight-belt system to rank practitioners, whereas jiu-jitsu uses a five-belt system.

The Basics Of Karate

Karate, which is translated as “empty hand”, is an all-around style of fighting with a strong focus on hand movements. Modern karate was developed in Japan in the first half of the 1900s with heavy influences from both Japanese and Chinese culture.

Karate was designed to offer students more than a style of fighting, but practitioners, known as karateka, are taught self-defense moves as well as self-improvement, stamina, coordination, and strength.

A Brief History of Karate

According to spoken history, the style of combat was created over 500 years ago on Okinawa island, off the mainland of Japan. During the early 1500s, the king at the time banned all weapons on the island, which resulted in a need to develop a style of unarmed fighting.

This self-defense tactic was altered over the years due to influence from other cultures that used the trading post situated on the island. Fighters were exposed to Taiwanese and Chinese travelers who are likely to have had an impact on the combat style.

In 1949, the Japan Karate Association was developed to formalize the sport to some degree as one of the first official organizations of the combat style. The style of fighting then traveled around the world and new styles have been developed.

The Fundamentals Of Karate

Karate places a strong emphasis on the development of fighters beyond simple combat. A strong philosophy of karate is to search for personal improvement and learn how to clear your mind to find clarity. The notion of the “empty hand” also refers to keeping your mind empty.

During combat, the focus of karate is to land heavy blows on your opponent that either prevent them from attacking or distract them to give you enough time to get out of danger. While karate does not emphasize throws and submission techniques, they are legal in certain competitions and are taught in some schools.

The Basic Rules Of Karate

Karate is regulated by World Karate Federation (WFK) as the official body that sets the standards for competitions all over, including the rules for karate at the Olympic Games. 

Fighters are divided into various weight divisions and meet on a matted square for matches. A referee is present on the square while judges are seated on the outskirts to determine the winner of the match. 

During a competition, fighters will win if the opponent is unable to finish the match, if an opponent is disqualified, or based on the points system. When points determine the winner, any fighter who is awarded over eight points more than their opponent, the match ends and the fighter wins. If the match continues, the judges will award the win to the fighter with the most points.

Points are given based on the technique of any kicks, strikes, or throws that land on the opponent.

Standard Karate Gear

Karatekas must wear a karate-gi approved by the WFK which consists of a jacket, pants, and an obi, which is a specialized belt. The belt must be red or blue to help the judges easily differentiate between fighters. These belts are not related to the ranking of the karateka.

Protective gear is also necessary for fighters and this includes mouth guards, chest protectors, shin guards, and groin guards.

Interesting Karate Facts

While karate matches do not allow the use of any weapons, during training you are likely to be introduced to certain weapons such as nunchaku and a bo staff. These weapons are padded for beginners and as you progress you will lose the padding.

Karate is not commonly used in MMA in its entirety. However, certain fighters use aspects such as expert footwork and kicking techniques to outsmart their opponents. 

boy doing karate routines during golden hour

The Basics Of Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a combat style that is dominated by grappling and ground techniques. Practitioners are taught how to combine various moves to subdue an opponent on the ground. While traditionally BJJ does not include striking and kicking, some schools now include these moves to increase the effectiveness of BJJ for self-defense. 

Although traditional BJJ, which only includes grappling on the ground, is still excellent for self-defense, as many street fights end up on the ground. This provides practitioners with the upper hand in these situations, giving you the expertise to avoid being overpowered by bigger and stronger attackers.

A Brief History Of Jiu-Jitsu

Jiu-Jitsu has evolved rapidly throughout centuries and spanning back to its origins, it is evident that the discipline was created in India by Buddhist Monks. This may explain the gentle philosophy of this fighting style as the translation means “gentle art”. However, modern Jiu-jitsu was developed in Japan despite there being little evidence of how it got there in the first place.

Japanese Jiu-Jitsu was created for samurais who were armed and usually rode on horses. The combat style was designed for potential moments when they were knocked off their horses and disarmed. The discipline was then taken to Brazil by a strong student of the style, Mitsuo Maeda. 

In Brazil, Maeda was helped by a local politician and created BJJ with the politician’s son, Carlos Gracie. Here the combat style was adapted by the famed Gracie family and included a strong emphasis on ground fighting to help smaller fighters defend themselves.

Jiu-Jitsu Fundamentals

Jiu-Jitsu was designed as a gentle form of fighting due to the lack of striking techniques. The aim of the self-defense style was to subdue opponents in a relaxed manner. BJJ has kept these principles and brought them to larger fighting stages such as the MMA ring. 

Practitioners of Jiu-Jitsu are taught early on about how to relax while training to conserve energy and improve your form. Bridging and shrimping are two essential elements of BJJ and are described as learning how to combine your moves into one fluid movement to be more effective.

The Basic Rules Of Jiu-Jitsu

The largest governing body of Jiu-Jitsu is the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), which sets the standards for the sport around the world. You can find a complete set of extensive rules on the IBJJF website, but here are a few of the key rules:

  • You cannot slam your opponent.
  • You cannot talk to the referee.
  • If your belt falls off, you have 20 seconds to re-tie it when the referee tells you to.
  • You cannot waste time during matches.
  • Certain throws are illegal in a BJJ match.

BJJ matches are determined by weight and belt classes and your experience level will determine how long or short the match is.

Standard Jiu-Jitsu Gear

Depending on the competition, fighters may be required to wear a kimono known as a BJJ Gi, which is durably designed for BJJ fights. Fighters are also required to wear a belt that denotes their experience level.

No-Gi matches require fighters to wear grappling shorts. Rash guards and protective gear, such as headgear and groin guards, are required for both match types.

Interesting Jiu-Jitsu Facts

BJJ is an essential skill to learn as an MMA fighter, to give you an advantage when the fight is taken to the ground, which happens often in the sport.

Royce Gracie, a descendant from the famed Gracie family, became the first UFC 1 champion back in 1993, using his BJJ skills.

The Final Round

Karate and BJJ are strong disciplines that will help you in a self-defense scenario. If you are looking to become an MMA fighter, BJJ along with Muay Thai is likely to be a better base for the sport due to their grappling techniques. However, if you are looking for a sport that offers tools to help with self-development, then karate is a good option for you.

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