Home BJJ vs Other Martial Arts Jiu Jitsu vs MMA (2024) – What is Grappling in MMA?

Jiu Jitsu vs MMA (2024) – What is Grappling in MMA?

Jiu Jitsu vs MMA (2024) – What is Grappling in MMA?

Header image: “Ottawa BJJ Open 2012 (Sun)” by SLImagesCa is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Jiu Jitsu vs MMA – Core Differences in Combat

In this article we will cover common questions in the combat sports world. Jiu Jitsu vs MMA, how are they similar? How are they different and which style is superior? We’ll start off with the differences between MMA and Jiu Jitsu, they go much farther than simple classes.

In traditional BJJ curriculum, there are two primary divisions in the training beyond doing Gi or No Gi BJJ.

The divisions are as follows:

  • sport and competition focused BJJ in both Gi and No Gi
  • self-defense oriented BJJ in traditional Gi, No Gi apparel, or street clothes

In pure sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, strikes are not permitted nor are some of the ‘dirtier’ grappling techniques such as biting, eye gouging, or finger breaking. This is one of the reasons parents often enroll their kids as it’s safer than kickboxing or boxing.

Where MMA Jiu Jitsu certainly allows for strikes in most positions depending on the league. For instance, in the UFC, you are not allowed to kick or knee to the head of a grounded opponent. However in other organizations such as One Fighting Championship it is fully legal. 

In this case you could potentially strike your opponent in the head with your heel if they are attempting a leg lock or knee bar. You could potentially do so if caught in a triangle or triangle armbar as well.

This is likely the way the two practices differ from each other most. Strikes are certainly the biggest fundamental difference in terms of grappling for MMA vs BJJ grappling.

In BJJ, techniques focus on advancing positions and submitting your opponent through different grappling set-ups, transitions, and submissions without the use of strikes – so there is no interest in striking.

If you take an MMA fighter that has a really good Jiu Jitsu game in the cage and throw him in a traditional BJJ match against Marcelo Garcia or Eddie Bravo, it is unlikely that they would come out with a win. The same goes in reverse if you took him and put him in a fight with Georges St Pierre under MMA rules.

In a match with a practitioner in Jiu Jitsu vs mma fighter the outcome will almost certainly depend on which ruleset you use for the match.

So if striking is your thing, then you should definitely choose MMA grappling over traditional BJJ.

Scoring System in BJJ

In sport BJJ, points may be awarded for control positions, or the tournament may be submission only, which means a tie would occur in the event of no submission by either fighter or based on the judge’s discretion.

In self-defense BJJ, striking and other banned technique training will be incorporated into the curriculum to complement the grappling techniques found in all forms of BJJ. This makes the self-defense BJJ system more applicable to real-world fighting scenarios.

Self defense BJJ is much more similar to MMA. In example, you could use elements of boxing and kickboxing to set up a standing choke against a wall or even to set up a takedown to look for a dealer’s choice of chokes from top position. You may have to throw hands in real world situations, but with BJJ you can use them mostly to reach a less violent conclusion.

This scenario is one example of the similarities in terms of BJJ vs MMA. They are essentially intertwined from the get-go, which we will dive into later.

Self-defense BJJ will most likely include Gi and No Gi training, situational awareness, and perhaps some weapons-related techniques, depending on the instructor and focus of the training.

Grappling for military and law enforcement would fall under the banner of self-defense BJJ, with an emphasis on weapons training, less-than-lethal techniques, and traditional BJJ controls and set-ups with a focus on the situational needs of professional warriors and peacekeepers.

This style of BJJ training gives them the confidence necessary to choose less lethal techniques and neutralize a situation rather than exacerbate it – giving them a distinct advantage keeping the peace.

MMA Grappling Styles

MMA grappling utilizes strikes to set up submissions. Credit: “MMA fighters” by MartialArtsNomad.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

As mentioned before, MMA on the other hand is a sports ruleset that permits a variety of striking and grappling techniques, with different criteria and methods of victory compared to BJJ. MMA fighters do need to train BJJ as part of their training, which includes clinch and stand-up. However, their is less emphasis on the more sport-jiu-jitsu aspects of the techniques.

Many ‘dirty’ techniques are still banned in MMA, however, hitting your opponent in the face is pretty much a green light in all circumstances depending on the league, state or country the fight is taking place.

When people talk about Jiu Jitsu vs MMA, the reality is that mixed martial arts was born out of BJJ. In fact, in a similar way to how Jiu Jitsu started in Japan and became something different when it reached Brazil. If it wasn’t for Helio and Carlos Gracie sending open callouts for fights to martial arts masters world wide, there would be no MMA – certainly no UFC.

The VHS tapes that circulated around the globe of master after master succumbing to the power of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu set the stage for practitioners from all fighting styles to settle the age-old debate – which martial art is the most effective?

The Gracie family would fight any master from Kung Fu to Taekwondo, practitioners of all disciplines were welcome to face the Gracie’s in their dojo in Brazil.

This would ultimately lead to the creation of the MMA league Ultimate Fighting Championship and the rest is history.

As you can see, MMA athletes are not as limited in their overall techniques as a pure sport BJJ stylist. But one was born of the other. The grappling MMA practitioners utilize is undoubtedly a result of the BJJ’s influence on combat sports.

On the other hand, MMA grappling does not go as in-depth on many of the grappling tricks, techniques, and intricacies found in self-defense BJJ or sport BJJ. There is also no system for belts in MMA – a stark contrast to Jiu-Jitsu.

Submission Artists in MMA

BJJ, MMA, Sambo, Catch Wrestling, Japanese Judo and so many other techniques are at the core of MMA training.

Due to the threat of strikes, lack of Gi control, and the ability to use the cage both defensively and offensively, mixed martial arts grappling does differ substantially from JuJitsu. MMA at the higher levels of the game is a whole different animal realistically.

In order for submission artists to properly grapple MMA style, they are most likely going to need to inflict violence with elbows, knees and other strikes to set-up joint locks or chokes in the cage. It’s rare to see a clean, pure Brazilian Jiu Jitsu submission in MMA. BJJ is more about slick transitions, positioning and leverage – it’s more nuanced than MMA.

In MMA grappling vs BJJ, you do not have the luxury of time needed to set-up many advanced grappling techniques like you would in a traditional Jiu-Jitsu match. 

That being said, everyone’s fighting style is different and some may be better at slowing down the pace of an MMA fight with wrestling and BJJ. Mixed martial arts is just that – mixed – so what works for the goose may not work for the gander.

Additionally, many positions such as deep-half guard and other forms of guard leave you too vulnerable to strikes to be a ‘plan A’ for MMA grappling. With a focused mind and the right school behind you getting you ready for the fight, you may incorporate throws, body locks and other methods to control the action.

Of course, knowing techniques from bottom positions may still save you in a cage fight if you end up in one of these situations – but they should not be the basis of your MMA grappling. Jiu Jitsu, MMA, Greco Roman Wrestling and even Judo have techniques for working in disadvantaged positions.

However, the reality of striking goes both ways for BJJ in MMA. Submission artists in MMA can use strikes and ground-and-pound techniques to force their opponent to react and set-up submissions. 

It’s a natural reaction to avoid injury and a skilled MMA grappler can take advantage of that by seamlessly blending ground-and-pound strikes with guard passing and submission techniques to adapt traditional BJJ for an MMA grappling context.This is why MMA JuJitsu is so useful in real world situations.

In practice, this means that certain high-level grappling techniques require a somewhat different skill set to execute in MMA than they would in BJJ. The correct approach in MMA is anything but uniform in terms of traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

If you see someone hitting advanced grappling moves in MMA, particularly on an equally skilled opponent, you can be sure they are an exceptional BJJ artist.

Nevertheless, an MMA submission artist has undoubtedly put many mat hours into training Gi and No Gi BJJ, or their respective base submission grappling art such as judo, Sambo, or catch wrestling.

The benefits of training in MMA or Jiu-Jitsu extend far beyond the mat or cage, which is one of the reasons for the rampant popularity of both styles.

Anti-Grappling in MMA

Many MMA strikers hunt for the knockout and avoid takedowns.
Credit: “MMA” by isma_dzhabuev is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Many Mixed Martial Artists focus on knocking out their opponents as opposed to takedowns and submissions. So this begs the question: what is grappling in MMA? How much does it differ from BJJ?

In terms of MMA vs Jiu Jitsu, a more BJJ focused fighter will likely need to learn some good feints, snappy jabs, crosses and kicks to create openings for a takedown. Next will be making sure they are able to control the opponent on the ground where they are more content.

For skilled knockout artists, their MMA grappling focus will be on preventing takedowns, avoiding submissions, and getting back to their feet if they end up on the ground. Size and reach are going to be a factor for the BJJ focused fighter as they have to get on the inside to implement their game plan.

While they certainly will not be a spring chicken when it comes to grappling, they are unlikely to spend as much time training advanced submission sequences. You are likely going to see a lot more focus on sprawling and other methods to stuff a takedown in an MMA gym vs BJJ gym where transitions, positioning and submissions will be a heavy focus.

If you have any wrestling experience, you can attest to the difficulty of bringing an opponent to the ground who is fully resisting with good wrestling.

This can give the BJJ artist a more difficult task when it comes to implementing submissions against anti-grapplers. Each idea benefits the two fighters in a different way. 

For the BJJ focused fighter, the threat of the takedown will always be on the opponent’s mind. This will often give them pause, especially with flashy kicks and spinning attacks. For the MMA stylist, the threat of catching a clean shot will always be in their opponents thoughts.

Couple that with the fact that an anti-grappler does not want to be on the ground at all and may prevent you from ever grabbing them, and you can quickly see that MMA grappling versus die-hard striking artists who can defend takedowns becomes a monster of a task.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs MMA is a vast question to answer as there are so many styles in MMA. For instance an MMA fighter may be excellent at Judo and Sambo, which can pose a serious threat to a BJJ focused fighter on the ground as well as on the feet.

Anyone who is a master in any of the various martial arts categories is a serious threat. But you will almost certainly need more than a single martial art as a source to be successful in MMA. The more you know, the better chance you will have in the cage or ring.

To truly be a submission artist in MMA, you must have great wrestling, ground-and-pound, Judo and BJJ knowledge – kudos if you also know Karate or Taekwondo. However, you do not need to be as versed in Gi grips and advanced BJJ setups because many of those situations rarely, if ever, apply in a cage fight.

Also, the athletic demand of MMA grappling can vastly exceed that of JiuJitsu. MMA often requires extraordinary speed and explosiveness when executing techniques.

Finally, even the most submission-focused MMA grappler still needs to know Muay Thai or other comprehensive striking systems to avoid getting knocked out during the fight in MMA. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in its pure form won’t require this extra knowledge.

To summarize differences in MMA vs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu grappling:

  • BJJ has more intricate grappling techniques
  • MMA grappling incorporates ground striking into set ups
  • Sport BJJ neglects striking altogether
  • MMA grapplers will often wear 4 oz gloves even in training sessions
  • There are no BJJ Gi in top level professional MMA
  • MMA grappling neglects ‘dirty’ self-defense techniques
  • MMA grappling requires more speed and explosiveness
  • MMA grapplers need to know striking

Should you train MMA grappling or BJJ?

Now that you have a grasp of the differences between MMA grappling and BJJ, you may be wondering which system you should train.

There is no simple answer to this, and it really boils down to your overall goals in martial arts among other factors. Some people are more comfortable at range and like stand up fighting and throwing punches, whereas others prefer close quarters combat without being struck – everyone fights differently.

Some MMA students may want to go beyond BJJ, boxing and Muay Thai into other martial arts such as the Chinese classics kung fu and wing chun which can bring some order and perspective to the chaos that is MMA. 

However, something any coach will say is a well-rounded martial artist should probably have at least a blue belt level understanding of BJJ. If for no other reason than it will help you see things differently if you get into a bad position on the ground – the more information you have in a fight the better.

By the time you have a blue belt, you will know a number of the basic grappling positions and some options from these positions. From there you can take your grappling in any direction, whether sport BJJ, self-defense or MMA.

Having this knowledge will certainly help you shape your MMA ground game and make sure you are ready for anything an opponent may throw at you in terms of BJJ.

If your goal is to win IBJJF worlds or ADCC, you need to train sport BJJ at one of the top schools in your area. Of course, if you are laser-focused on that goal, you probably already know this. 

If you are training for self-defense, you should incorporate the self-defense BJJ into your training. Additionally, many MMA grappling techniques are equally vital to well-rounded self-defense – especially in terms of movement and timing.

We cover the full scope of MMA grappling for self-defense in this article. However, note that grappling off the cage wall and escaping from bad positions under fire from ground-and-pound strikes are vital skills for self-defense as well as MMA. There will be times when striking may be the only way off the cage – a skill that is very hard to learn in class.

Finally, if your goal is to compete in MMA at any level, you must train MMA grappling. Whether you want to test your BJJ skills in an MMA fight or want to be a killer knockout artist in professional cage fighting, you cannot neglect your MMA grappling skills.

Try everything and pick your favorite grappling style

In the long run, you should try numerous martial arts styles to see which one you like best.

At the end of the day, you are most likely going to get good at the arts you enjoy training.

To put the years in to get good at any grappling style requires dedication, discipline, and love for the art itself. If you do not actually enjoy the training, you are unlikely to stick with it long enough to develop serious skill.

Jiu Jitsu vs MMA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the benefits of training in jiu jitsu?

Training in Jiu-Jitsu offers numerous benefits, such as improved physical fitness, increased self-confidence, and enhanced problem-solving skills. It promotes discipline, respect, and camaraderie among practitioners. Jiu-Jitsu also provides practical self-defense techniques that emphasize leverage and technique over brute strength – making it great for people of smaller stature.

What are the benefits of training in MMA?

Training in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) provides a well-rounded skill set for self-defense, improves physical fitness, and builds mental toughness. It combines various martial arts disciplines, promoting adaptability and strategic thinking. MMA fosters discipline, respect, and camaraderie among practitioners which are all excellent life skills.

What are the differences in terms of popularity for Jiu Jitsu vs MMA?

Jiu-jitsu, specifically Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), has gained popularity as a stand-alone martial art, emphasizing ground fighting and submission techniques. MMA, on the other hand, has become highly popular due to the success of organizations like the UFC, showcasing fights that blend striking and grappling from various martial arts. Although both enjoy significant followings, MMA generally garners more mainstream attention due to its broader range of techniques and higher-profile events.

What is the difference in equipment for Jiu Jitsu vs MMA?

In jiu-jitsu, practitioners typically wear a gi (a durable, heavy cotton jacket and pants) or train in no-gi attire, which consists of rash guards and grappling shorts. MMA training requires a wider range of equipment, including gloves (MMA gloves or boxing gloves), mouthguards, hand wraps, shin guards, and appropriate athletic wear. While both sports involve the use of protective gear such as mouthguards and ear guards, MMA involves additional protective equipment due to the inclusion of striking techniques.

What is the learning curve like for Jiu Jitsu vs MMA?

The learning curve for jiu-jitsu is generally considered steep due to its intricate techniques, but it is accessible to beginners and focuses on leverage over strength. MMA has a more varied learning curve, as it combines multiple martial arts disciplines, requiring students to learn striking, grappling, and transitions. Although both sports demand time and dedication, beginners can experience progress and success with consistent practice and patience.

What are the common injuries associated with MMA vs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, common injuries include joint strains or dislocations, particularly in the fingers, wrists, elbows, and knees, as well as muscle strains and bruising. MMA injuries often encompass a broader range due to the inclusion of striking techniques, with frequent injuries such as cuts, bruises, fractures, and concussions. Both sports share the potential for soft tissue damage and overuse injuries, making proper training, warm-ups, and protective gear essential for injury prevention.

How does the scoring system differ in MMA and Jiu Jitsu?

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, scoring is based on positional control and submission attempts, with points awarded for takedowns, sweeps, passing the guard, and achieving dominant positions such as mount and back control. MMA, however, utilizes a 10-point must system, where judges score each round based on effective striking, grappling, aggression, and octagon control. The main difference lies in MMA’s incorporation of striking and its focus on overall fight performance, while BJJ emphasizes grappling and positional advancement.

What are the BJJ weight classes compared to MMA?

BJJ weight classes vary by organization but typically include categories such as rooster, light-feather, feather, light, middle, medium-heavy, heavy, super-heavy, and ultra-heavy, with specific weight limits for each division. MMA weight classes, as defined by the Unified Rules of MMA, include flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light-heavyweight, heavyweight, and super-heavyweight. While both sports have multiple weight classes to accommodate different body sizes, the names and weight ranges differ between the two.

Should I learn BJJ before MMA?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a vital component of a good MMA fighting technique, but you don’t necessarily need to learn BJJ before MMA. You can learn both simultaneously, and fighters will often do this. The primary concern is not to leave out BJJ altogether because the submissions and chokes involved can end a fight in moments. Even if you plan to strike your way in an MMA fight, knowing BJJ moves helps you to defend against them. And you can’t learn that just by watching. You must practice.

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Jordan Fernandez, BA, CSCS, CPT. Jordan is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt under Aaron Botello at <a rel="nofollow">Sonoran Brazilian Jiu Jitsu</a>, Certified Personal Trainer through the <a rel="nofollow" href="https://www.nasm.org/become-a-personal-trainer">National Academy of Sports Medicine</a>, and recreational BJJ competitor. Jordan serves as a board member for the <a rel="nofollow" href="https://traineracademy.org/cpt/home">Trainer Academy Certified Personal Trainer</a> program, assisting with curriculum development and vetting to ensure certified trainers enter the industry with the requisite knowledge and skills to safely and effectively coach clients towards improved health outcomes. Jordan lives in Tucson Arizona where he coaches clients for strength and fitness and runs <a rel="nofollow">Dynamic SEO</a>, a small digital marketing agency for local businesses.