BJJ vs Krav Maga: Pros & Cons of Each Martial Art

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Two men practicing Krav Maga

Recently, martial arts have become increasingly popular, not only for the same reasons as some of the most ancient practices, self-defense, and discipline, but also for their now known health benefits, and even for entertainment. Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are two martial arts forms that have been on the rise as of late.

What is the difference between Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – and what are their pros and cons? Both Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have similarities and differences, as well as pros and cons. In this guide, we’ll look at both sides of each practice in terms of:

  • Fitness
  • Mental Agility and Fortitude
  • Traditional Martial Arts
  • Self-defense

With mixed martial arts gaining popularity thanks to televised events, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) has received more interest. Also getting more attention recently has been Krav Maga. We’ve got all kinds of important details to share, and hopefully, you’ll finish with a better understanding of why people have been doing martial arts for so long. 

A Quick History Lesson of Krav Maga and BJJ

But first, a history briefing. Not the boring history class kind, just the facts here. Because both Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have such different backgrounds, it’s important to lay a little groundwork before we dive in. And, both have pretty interesting birth stories.

Krav Maga

This is possibly the newest form of martial arts, only a slightly fresher on the martial arts scene than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Developed by Imi Lichtenfeld in the 1930s, Krav Maga was created as a means of self-defense and protection. 

Lichtenfeld grew up in Slovakia during a time when the Nazi party was threatening all Jewish people in Europe. Along with most of the young men in his community, especially wrestlers and boxers, Lichtenfeld had to protect others from those that were threatening their safety. 

The son of an acrobat and Chief Inspector for the police, Lichtenfeld channeled some techniques he’d learned from his father, along with a knowledge he picked up during actual experience fighting. He systematically put all the moves together to create what we know as Krav Maga.

“Krav Maga” is a Hebrew phrase that literally means “contact combat.” This name is a perfect fit for the fighting system that Lichtenfeld invented, as it would be used by the Israeli Defense Forces. Krav Maga’s combination of boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo, karate, and street fighting skills is extremely effective in neutralizing a threat during a real-life, hand-to-hand combat situation. 

When Lichtenfeld retired after WW2, he saw many people that were still struggling to protect themselves. Although the fascist gangs were no longer around, there were still many lingering dangers as the communities were faced with other post-war challenges. He began teaching Krav Maga to anyone that wanted to learn, and eventually built a network of instructors that would take it worldwide.

With such a rich history, it’s no wonder that Krav Maga grew so quickly in popularity. In fact, it’s become so popular that even celebrities have used it as a means of training for movies. Not to mention, it’s a fantastic workout. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

BJJ, as it’s known the martial arts community, is the baby of all martial arts. It’s only been around since about the 1950s. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also a martial arts form that’s focused on self-defense. But just because it’s young doesn’t mean it’s not equally as effective in its purpose. 

It originated from the Japanese Kodokan Judo. When Geo Omori started a Jiu Jitsu school in Brazil, he taught his students the fundamentals of judo. Omori’s students took what they’d learned and began to pass it along in their own teachings, making adaptations along the way.

One of these students instructed a young man named Helio Gracie, who would eventually move on to develop what’s now known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. However, because his family members were such large supporters of this particular martial art, it was also known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu for a while. 

Because BJJ was derived from one form of martial arts, but as it evolved the instructors added their own adaptations, the BJJ we see today is quite a mix of old and new, making those that practice BJJ effective in self-defense, no matter their own size or their opponents. 

Today, when we see martial arts during televised events, the most common skills we see are from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. As mentioned, the size of the fighter doesn’t matter, since BJJ uses different takedown techniques that use the ground as leverage to engage an opponent in different chokeholds and joint locks. 

Pros and Cons of Krav Maga and BJJ

Now that we know how each of these fighting styles evolved into what we see today, we can get into the meat of why you’re here. The pros and cons of Krav Maga vs. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There are so many different advantages and disadvantages of each, as well as reasons why people choose to practice BJJ or Krav Maga. 

Fitness

Let’s first look at why someone might practice Krav Maga or BJJ. People in the mainstream have taken an interest in both BJJ and Krav Maga recently as a means of getting fit. While both are effective in creating overall physical health, this doesn’t come without positives and negatives. 

Krav Maga

Since its development, those that practice Krav Maga have noticed overall health benefits. Here are just a few of the fitness-related benefits:

Pros

  • Increased strength through localized muscle movements
  • Improved muscle tone from repeated combat moves such as kicks and punches
  • Consistent movement and elevated heart rate provide a great cardio workout
  • One session burns a ton of calories but also teaches practical skills that might come in handy one day. 

But, as with anything, there’s always a downside. Although, if you’re learning how to save yourself from a potentially life-threatening situation and burning fat, these negatives might seem pretty negligible. 

Cons

  • Krav Maga fitness classes can be expensive because they’re typically offered to teach a specific skill set, which is done in short and intense sessions. 
  • It can be intimidating. Many people who have taken classes are nervous because they’ll be acting out real-life situations. 
  • Krav Maga classes can be hard to find, especially ones that are created for those wanting a serious workout. Many are geared toward those that want to learn a specialized set of self-defense skills. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Most of the mixed martial artists that we see in the media are seasoned BJJ fighters. And, they’re pretty darn fit. There’s quite a high ratio of muscle to fat, which makes BJJ very appealing for those that want to get in shape.

Pros

  • There’s a lot of rolling around on the ground or grappling as it’s known in the martial arts community, which means you’re using a lot of different muscle groups.
  • BJJ is for anyone. You don’t already have to be fit in order to start practicing. 
  • Training in BJJ really zeroes in on repeated movements, practicing a certain move until it’s done right. This increases coordination while also burning calories and fat. 
  • Even though BJJ teaches a special set of skills and moves, everything you’re doing as you work toward that goal is a workout. 

So, you’ve got the pluses, now onto the minuses. But again, if you’re getting in a workout and learning something, it’s hard to find many faults. 

Cons

  • In order to really practice, you have to be comfortable rolling around on a mat with someone, often times a stranger, which might be a little much just for someone wanting to get a good workout. 
  • BJJ is fairly technical, which again can be a turn off if you’re looking for a new workout. 
  • When practicing BJJ, fighters aren’t allowed to use elbows, knees, kicks, and punches. But they will practice takedowns and chokeholds that are taught. This can be intimidating for someone’s first class, especially if you’re not committed to learning the art, and you’re just there for the cardio. 

Mental Agility and Fortitude

Mental health is so important. And, as we learn more and more about what we can do to increase our own mental health, we’re finding out new ways to maintain a healthy mindset. Martial arts have been around for so long; it’s been proven to strengthen not only the body but also the mind. 

Krav Maga

There are many ways that Krav Maga can help build a strong mind. Dating back to its inception, Krav Maga has had a positive effect mentally on its followers.

Pros

  • Krav Maga has such a strong historical presence; it’s hard not to gain some mental strength when you learn the same skills that were actually used to fight Nazis. 
  • Learning Krav Maga and knowing that’s it’s been effective in real-life situations gives those that practice it a heightened sense of confidence and self-esteem.
  • There are times when people are more vulnerable but having Krav Maga skills in your back pocket does enable you to feel more confident in these instances, like walking to your car in a parking garage. 
  • Having experience in Krav Maga can prevent someone from freezing when they’re under pressure, especially if they’re confident in their skills.

While Krav Maga can really help build a healthy mind, there are some cons that come along with it. Here are some of those negatives, as related to mental toughness.

Cons

  • Again, kind of like with physical strength, there’s some intimidation that comes with learning Krav Maga.
  • Classes involve a lot of visualization and mentally preparing for potential attacks, which can be a lot for some to handle. Especially if your instructor really likes to provide details.
  • Even though some might be looking for a Krav Maga class to take recreationally, the mindset is still going to be a full out Krav Maga session. You have to be mentally ready to go all in. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

BJJ takes a lot of mental strength, just like Krav Maga. But, BJJ focuses on a different skillset and takes a different approach, even though the outcome is still the same. Next, you’ll read some pros of how this can help maintain a strong mind.

Pros

  • BJJ teaches students that being undersized isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, so it really promotes confidence.
  • Learning to be calm and relaxed during a pressure situation is a mental strength.
  • Increasing body awareness and control gives those that practice BJJ an edge that carries into other areas of life.
  • Visualization techniques are used frequently in BJJ, which is another way that students learn to channel their thoughts and create mental toughness. 
  • Ignoring negative energy and learning to handle problems by controlling your own approach is another main component of BJJ, which is really a great strategy for most parts of life. 
  • Practicing BJJ, because there’s so much physical contact, is a great way to relieve stress. 

While the effects of BJJ, just like Krav Maga, are mostly positive when it comes to mental strength. But there are a few things that are worth noting in the “cons” department.

Cons

  • Teachers of BJJ can sometimes demand a lot of their students, so you have to be ready to commit to the cause.
  • Although the visualization techniques are meant to help improve preparedness, they can be a lot for some to handle.
  • Intimidation can be a huge factor with new students when they first try BJJ. But just knowing that this is all part of achieving a high level of  mental strength makes it a little easier to approach. 

Traditional Martial Arts

Both Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are different from other forms of martial arts in that they are so new to the game. While both BJJ and Krav Maga have roots in traditional martial arts forms, neither necessarily adheres to the methods or ceremonial practices that we think of with martial arts. 

Krav Maga

Krav Maga was created with a very practical purpose in mind: for protection. This comes with its advantages.

Pros

  • Krav Maga does have a belt system like most martial arts, but it’s slightly different than others. There are no actual belts that are handed over with each level of achievement.
  • Students of Krav Maga are given a specific list of skills they’ll need to perform in order to reach each belt level, whereas, in other martial arts forms, it’s up to the instructor, or master, to determine this.
  • There are a certain number of hours required for students before they can test for the next level, and again, this is something that’s all laid out for students, so they’re aware of the expectations. 
  • The entry-level white belt to yellow belt achievement is for the most basic skills, but just earning one is enough to keep most students going and looking for that next belt. 

Krav Maga is very practical and meant to encourage students to feel safer with their new skills. But there are plenty of martial arts traditionalists that have a few cons when it comes to Krav Maga.

Cons

  • There are many that practice traditional martial arts that do not consider Krav Maga to be a form of martial arts.
  • Krav Maga doesn’t adhere to the same traditions used in other martial arts, and the traditions that have been developed are quite different, so this does not appeal to those that are looking for that level of tradition. 
  • Krav Maga encourages students to use whatever they’ve got, including weapons, which is against what other martial arts forms ask of their students. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

BJJ does stem from judo, so it’s a little easier to see the traditional martial arts skills and ceremonial aspects. Here are some of the pros that relate to BJJ as a form of martial arts.

Pros

  • Although newer in age, BJJ was created as an adaptation of judo, so martial arts purists are able to see that direct lineage, which earns it a little more respect. 
  • There are actual belts and belt ceremonies in BJJ, which appeals to those that want to practice martial arts in the truest sense of what they know.
  • A true BJJ master is skilled in applying the aspects of this martial art to all areas of their life, which is very true of other traditional forms of martial arts. 

But, on the opposite end, just because BJJ does come from traditional martial arts, doesn’t mean that it’s as widely accepted as the other forms. There are still a few cons that come with BJJ when it comes to the traditional martial arts perspective.

Cons

  • BJJ can be very humbling at first, even for those that have reached high levels of other martial arts, because of the amount of groundwork it requires.
  • Traditional martial arts encourage the practice of protection of vital parts of the body, whereas BJJ doesn’t offer much focus on this. 
  • BJJ encourages fighters to get their opponent on the ground as fast as possible, and if this isn’t the direction that the other person is going, BJJ will put you at a slight disadvantage.

Self-defense

All forms of martial arts are geared toward self-defense. However, they do differ in their philosophy on self-defense. We’re focusing on Krav Maga and BJJ, both of which teach students that they can still defeat an opponent, even if they’re smaller. But, their approach to self-defense differs in the strategies and teachings, and there are naturally pros and cons to each.

Krav Maga

Because it was developed for the sole purpose of self-defense, Krav Maga is widely known for its ability to teach anyone, of any size, any age, of any physical ability to protect themselves when necessary. This in itself is a major positive, but here are a few more to think about.

Pros

  • Since Krav Maga’s development was at a time when it needed to be put to use right away, it’s been adjusted to fit real-life situations, and actually tested for self-defense. No trial and error needed; it works. 
  • Krav Maga does teach avoidance strategies first, but then students are instructed to end an altercation as fast as possible, doing the most damage to the opponent.
  • Krav Maga is great for beginners or those that want to just learn self-defense. Many of the most useful tactics are able to be taught in one short lesson. Not to perfection, of course, but at least enough to use if necessary. 

There’s no doubt that Krav Maga offers anyone a fighting chance when it comes to self-defense, but there are a few things to be aware of when it comes to a downside.

Cons

  • Krav Maga does encourage the use of weapons, as previously mentioned, so it is dangerous. And, sometimes illegal, depending on the situation.
  • We also briefly touched on the basic Krav Maga principle of ending a fight as quickly as possible, which also means inflicting as much damage to your opponent as you’re physically able to. 
  • The basics of Krav Maga for self-defense can be taught rather quickly, but to be the most effective, it requires a lot of practice.
  • Actually, using Krav Maga at full strength will ultimately cause someone a lot of harm and might result in serious injuries, so it’s difficult to practice in a classroom setting. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

BJJ is an incredibly effective self-defense strategy. There’s no question as to how effective it is. And, just like Krav Maga, anyone can learn as long as they’re dedicated. But there are even more bonuses to learning BJJ, although many are similar to those of Krav Maga. Here are a few specific advantages of BJJ.

Pros

  • There are no weapons used in BJJ, so the teaching focuses on using your own skillset and strengths to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, no matter what size you are.
  • BJJ teaches students to neutralize an opponent and escape a dangerous situation, without purposely causing permanent damage to them.

Although BJJ is very effective for competitive fighting, there are several flaws in using BJJ for self-defense. This isn’t to say that BJJ won’t work in a self-defense scenario; it there are just a few negatives to be mindful of.

Cons

  • In terms of someone that’s a student of BJJ, using it during a non-sanctioned or recreational setting, or practicing for self-defense, can lead to a false sense of confidence and even reinforce bad habits. 
  • In almost any self-defense scenario, there’s an element of unpredictability, which can be challenging for someone that’s trained in BJJ and relies heavily on planning and awareness.
  • Because BJJ teaches students to get to the ground as soon as possible, this might not be ideal for many self-defense situations, where the ground might add to the danger.
  • BJJ trains someone to fight against one opponent, which will not help you at all if you’re being attacked by several people at once.

What Does It Feel Like to Be an Opponent?

If you’re considering learning Krav Maga or BJJ, you’re most likely going to be on the receiving end of a few kicks and punches. So, just for the sake of giving yourself a little mental preparation for what you’re up against, we’re going to put it out there for you to consider from a different perspective.

Krav Maga

Clearly, this is an effective martial arts form in taking down an opponent. But what if you are the opponent? Here are a few things that would be considered pros from that standpoint.

Pros

  • Krav Maga is all about preparedness, so if you and your opponent are both aware of the same things, you’ll be able to anticipate their next move.
  • In most Krav Maga classes, you’ll be working with people that are right around your own skill level, so it’s less intimidating if you’re less experienced.
  • Because Krav Maga is a specific set of skills, again, you’ll be able to tell what your opponent might do, which can limit their success.

But, on the contrary, there are plenty of cons to being on the receiving end of someone’s Krav Maga knowledge.

Cons

  • As we know, Krav Maga can be dangerous, so if you’re sparring with someone that’s particularly strong or really intense, you could wind up getting hurt.
  • Since it’s tough to practice all of the skills you’ve learned in Krav Maga, it’s hard to determine the force that your opponent will be able to use. In fact, your opponent probably hasn’t ever practiced at full strength either, so he or she might not know what they’re capable of either, which does leave you open to injury. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

If you’ve ever seen a martial arts competition or fight portrayed in the media, you’ve most likely seen someone using elements of BJJ. So, consider what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a takedown or a chokehold. 

Here’s where we’d usually discuss a pro of BJJ, but I can’t really think of a positive to being on the opposite side of a BJJ beat down. It’s unpredictable, and even if your opponent is smaller than you, he or she might have all kinds of hidden skills. 

But there are definitely some cons for anyone that’s seeing BJJ from the opponent’s perspective. 

Cons

  • When your opponent gets you on the ground, even if they’re new in BJJ, they’ll still make it incredibly difficult to get back up and that right there is half the battle.
  • The different holds that are taught in BJJ are very, very painful for anyone that’s put in one. 
  • It’s not fun to get beat up, period. 

For more martial arts comparisons check out out BJJ vs. Everybody Section.

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