BJJ vs Karate: Which is better?

bjj vs karate

BJJ vs Karate has been a hotly debated topic ever since BJJ has grown in popularity. When you put these two martial arts up against each other, they couldn’t seem any more different.

Both have incredible benefits, but let’s find out which martial art is the superior form of self defense. Here is our take on the BJJ vs Karate debate.

Which martial art is better? From a practical perspective, BJJ has the edge over Karate in this debate. In a matchup between a straight grappler against a straight striker, the grappler generally wins 99% of the time.

Keep reading as we expand on our answer below. We’re going to dissect everything about BJJ and Karate to compare their similarities and differences. 

The history of BJJ

The story of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu dates back over a hundred years. During this time students of Judo founder Jigoro Kano traveled around the world spreading the art of Judo.

One of his top students, Mitsuyo Maeda(Conde Komo) made his way to the country of Brazil. When he arrived, Maeda befriended a politician and businessman named Gastão Gracie Sr.

Gastão would help his new friend Mitsuyo become a naturalized Brazilian citizen and set up Judo demonstrations throughout the country. 

At one particular event in the city of Belém, Gastão Sr’s son Carlos Gracie was in attendance. Carlos became enthralled with Judo and wanted to learn under Master Maeda.

Soon after the demonstration, Carlos became one of Maeda’s first students along with Luiz França. One of the other credited creators of BJJ.

Gracie would train under Maeda for a few years and began showing his younger brother Hélio Gracie. Hélio was small and had trouble doing some of the more dynamic moves in Judo that required strength.

So the two brothers began developing their own style, which they would call Gracie Jiu Jitsu. A more ground based martial art that focused more on leverage to help a smaller person beat a bigger person.

They spent decades developing Jiu Jitsu and fighting to prove the effectiveness of their style. Now thanks to their work, BJJ is considered one of the most effective self defense systems in the world. 

Also one of the fastest growing martial arts in the world.

The history of Karate

Karate is actually around the same age as BJJ, but many of the techniques are ancient. Many of the techniques in Karate can be dated back thousands of years ago from monks in China and India.

Where it was primarily developed was within the nation of Japan. Within the island of Okinawa to be exact during the late 1800s.

During this time the Japanese government banned the use of weapons on the island. This led Okinawan natives to begin developing their own self defense style.

Their style mixed with different Chinese martial arts from Chinese families that migrated to the island. Natives of the island referred to these Chinese martial arts as “Toudi.”

Toudi translates to Chinese hand in Okinawan and the first character “Tou” in Japanese is pronounced as ‘Kara.’

One of the main practitioners of Toudi was Ankō Itosu. Ankō sensei introduced early Toudi(Karate) into Okinawan schools and created many of the forms still practiced today. Also writing the Ten Precepts of Karate known as the “Tode Jukun” 

While Itosu did not solely create Karate is responsible for teaching the founders of Karate. Including Funakoshi Gichin, the inventor of Shotokan Karate.

Funakoshi along with Mabuni Kenwa, Miyagi Chojun, Motobu Choki wanted to spread Toudi to mainland Japan. Unfortunately at this time, Japan did not like anything Chinese related.

So the name was changed to Karate and the symbols were also changed to translate to “open hand.” Also adding “Do” at the name, which translates to ‘path’ and ‘way,’

Then in 1936, Funakoshi founded the Shōtōkan dojo in Tokyo. The first official Karate training center in the country. After this Funakoshi’s students would find the Japan Karate Association.

Since its creation, Karate has become one of the most popular and practiced martial arts in the world. There are an estimated 100 million practitioners worldwide and as of 2020 is an official Olympic sport.

The differences between BJJ vs Karate

There are numerous differences between BJJ and Karate. Everything from what is taught, the classes, and competitions. Here is a breakdown of some of those differences.

The teachings

The first major difference between these two martial arts is what is taught within them. They have completely opposite ideologies on how a person should defend themselves. 

What is taught in Karate?

Karate is a traditional striking based martial art. Counter striking to be exact.

A Karate practitioner will use his opponent’s energy to land swift and effective counter strikes on them. Generally these strikes are between 1-3 focused strikes with the goal of immobilizing their opponents.

The strikes that are taught within Karate include:

  • Punches
  • Kicks
  • Open Hand Strikes
  • Elbows
  • Knees

All designed with precision to hurt their enemy and end the fight quickly.

What is taught in BJJ?

On the other side of the spectrum, we have BJJ. A grappling art that branched off of the teachings on Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu.

It was created to give a smaller person the ability to beat a bigger opponent using technique and leverage.

Within BJJ, what their students are taught include:

  • Takedowns
  • Throws
  • Submissions
  • Sweeps
  • Controlling A Opponent On The Ground

The thinking behind these teachings is on your feet, your opponent has more of a chance of hurting. But on the ground, you can immobilize them with a slimmer chance of getting hurt. Especially if they have no formal grappling training.

The class format of each martial art

Along with teaching different types of techniques, both martial arts also have a different way of running their classes. Karate is more formal and rigid, while BJJ is a bit more adaptable.

The format of a Karate class

A traditional Karate class is broken up into three different sections.

  • Kihon(Fundamentals)
  • Kata(Forms)
  • Kumite(Sparring)

Within traditional Karate this is always the layout of their class and it never changes. Karate is very systematic in this sense. They repeat the same patterns and forms over and over, so their students perfect the movements.

The format of a BJJ class

A BJJ class is also generally broken up into three sections, but not as systematic as Karate. No one Jiu Jitsu school has the same class format as the other.

Classes may include:

  • Warm ups
  • Drilling Technique
  • Situational Sparring
  • Free Rolling

Since BJJ is always evolving, what is taught and how the class can change periodically. One day could be drilling a technique and free rolling or may just situational sparring and free rolling. Each school goes by their own format.


Katas were mentioned as one of the main disciplines taught within Karate. These sort of dance-like movements are done to build a Karate student’s coordination with the movements. These are not part of the BJJ curriculum.

BJJ is more unified

One big difference between BJJ vs Karate is that BJJ is more unified than Karate. There are numerous styles of Karate, but there is only one BJJ.

Some of the types of Karate include:

  • Shotokan
  • Kyokushin
  • Uechi-ryu
  • Wado-ryu
  • Ashihara
  • Eshin
  • Goju-ryu
  • Chito-ryu
  • Kishimoto-di
  • Shorin-ryu
  • Shit-ryu

This is not the case with Jiu Jitsu. You can argue that there is Gi and No-Gi, but at the end of the day it is all considered Jiu Jitsu.

The Competitions 

The competitions of each martial art have very different goals and rules within them. Here is a breakdown of the sparring competitions of BJJ and Karate.

BJJ Competition Format

BJJ has two types of competitions that include points matches and sub only matches. For this section, we’ll detail the format of a points competition under the guidelines of the IBJJF.

An IBJJF sanctioned match is one round and can last between 4 mins-10 mins. Depending on the rank and age of the competitors.

Points in a BJJ match include:

  • Takedowns/Sweeps/Knee on Belly: 2 points
  • Guard Passes: 3 points
  • Mount/Back Mount: 4 points

You win a BJJ match by either submitting your opponent within the time limit, points, or DQ.

Karate Sparring Competition Format

Karate sparring competitions are sanctioned by the World Karate Federation and now the Olympics. They consist of 3 2 minute rounds with no strikes allowed below the waist or punches/elbow to the face.

Points in a Karate match include:

  • Ippon(Head Kick): 3 points for a kick to the head or neck of an opponent or as they’re falling.
  • Waza-ari(Body Kick: 2 points for kicking an opponent in the body or sides.
  • Yuko: A closed fist strikes or ridge hands to the body and sides of the head are 1 point.

To win a Karate match, you either win by KO or by gaining an 8 point lead on your opponent.(Also DQ) 

Karate is an Olympic sport

As of 2020, Karate has become an official Olympic sport at the Tokyo games. 2 sports actually that include sparring and Kata. 

If you’d like to read more on BJJ and the Olympics, here is a post, where we covered this topic.

The similarities between BJJ vs Karate

While they may not seem like they have anything in common with one another, Karate and BJJ do share similarities. Here are some of the similarities that BJJ and Karate share.

Japanese roots

BJJ was created in Brazil, but its roots like those of Karate were created within the country of Japan. Jiu Jitsu branched off from the teachings of Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu. This Japanese connection is one of the main similarities that BJJ and Karate share.

Nearly the same age

Many assume that Karate is very old, but it’s actually around the same age as BJJ. Karate like BJJ was developed during the early 1900s. Making both a little over a hundred years old or less.

Belt Systems

Both martial arts use colored belt systems to signify ranks of the students and teachers. They are a bit different, but we’ve listed all of the ranks of each below.

BJJ belt system

BJJ has two different belt systems separated between kids and adults. 

The belt ranks for kids under the guidelines of the IBJJF include:

  • White Belt
  • Gray Belt Group(Gray/White, Gray Solid,Gray/Black)
  • Yellow Belt Group(Yellow/White, Yellow Solid, Yellow/Black)
  • Orange Belt Group(Orange/White, Orange Solid, Orange/Black)
  • Green Belt Group:(Green/White, Green Solid, Green/Black)

After turning 16, kids are then considered adults and graduate to blue belt. 

Adult BJJ belts include:

  • White Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Brown Belt
  • Black belt

Traditionally it takes an adult 8-10 years of consistent training to get to black belt.

Karate Belt system

Here is the belt system for Karate under the guidelines of the World Karate Federation. All students no matter their age go through the same ranks or Kyūs.

  • White Belt
  • Yellow Belt
  • Orange Belt
  • Green Belt
  • Blue Belt
  • Purple Belt
  • Red Belt 
  • Brown Belt
  • Black Belt

The normal time frame to earn a black belt in Karate is 5 years or more.

BJJ & Karate Gis

Both of these martial arts train in a Gi. Each Gi is of a different design and texture, but both martial arts do train in them.

A Karate Gi or ‘Karategi” is a lighter uniform either made from a either canvas or cotton. It is designed to be light and loose fitting, so it doesn’t hinder the movements of the students.

The Gi in BJJ is built thicker and more sturdy to meet the demands of grappling. Being able to push and pull on the Gi without the uniform ripping or tearing.

It isn’t recommended to try and train BJJ in a Karate Gi, because it will be ripped and torn. Nor is it recommended that you try to train Karate in a BJJ Gi, because your movements will be hindered. 

Both great for Kids

Another big similarity that BJJ and Karate share is that both are great for the development of kids. Numerous studies have shown that putting kids in martial arts drastically improves their development.

The benefits of training of kids training these martial arts include:

  • Building Self Confidence
  • Developing Discipline
  • Improved Physical Health
  • Learning Self Defense

Which martial art is better for kids?

While Karate does have great benefits for kids, Jiu Jitsu is by far a better martial art for them to learn. The main reason that BJJ is better for kids is because it is more realistic than Karate.

Most physical altercations end up in a grappling match and this is more so with scuffles between kids. If a kid that trains BJJ is threatened by another kid, he can take them to the ground. They’ll be less likely to get hurt and will be better prepared to defend themselves.

Here are some great articles we wrote on the benefits of BJJ if you’d like to learn more on this subject.

Which martial art is more practiced and why?

Karate is far more practiced worldwide than BJJ. There are around 100 million Karate practitioners around the world compared to the 1-2 million BJJ practitioners.

The reason for this is because Karate had a faster global expansion than BJJ. When the US occupied Okinawa after WW2.

American soldiers saw the art of Karate being performed and many began learning the art. Then they brought what they had learned to America and Karate began to rapidly expand across the world.

BJJ didn’t start to expand outside of Brazil until the 70s, when members of the Gracie family moved to the US. Even after that it still took the martial art decades to become globally practiced. Mainly thanks to the rising popularity of mixed martial arts.

BJJ vs Karate: Which is better?

Throughout this article, we detailed the histories of Karate and BJJ along with their similarities and differences. Now we can answer the question revolving around which is better? The obvious answer is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Karate is a very respectable martial art with good techniques, but it is a martial art with a glaring flaw. That flaw is a lack of techniques that deal with what to do once a fight hits the ground.

Striking is great from standing, once a Karate practitioner is put on the ground, their skills are cancelled out. We know this is what happens for the early MMA matches that pitted a grappler and a striker against each other.

BJJ fighters like Royce and Rickson Gracie took many strikers down with ease and beat them. Showing that striking based martial arts like Karate have a huge flaw in their system.

Any time a straight grappler faced a straight stiker like a Karate practitioner, the results were always the same. The straight grappler takes the straight grappler down and submits them. This is why in the debate between which is better, we have to go with BJJ.

Are there benefits of cross training BJJ and Karate?

Definitely yes. Cross training between BJJ and Karate can make you a more complete martial artist. You will be prepared for fighting on your feet or on the ground.

Many top level mixed martial artists like Georges St Pierre, Lyoto Machida, and Stephen Thompson are all experts in both.

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Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years. Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.


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