September 4, 2022

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu vs Karate: Differences & Effectiveness

Wish to explore the world of martial art? 

But are you wondering which art form will compliment your physique and personality? 

In this article, we’ll clarify your dilemma related to the two most widely recognized martial arts: Karate and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Karate is a traditional striking-based martial art. Karate schools predominantly teach punches, kicks, knees, and elbows blow with little to no grappling. Unlike Karate, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a grappling-based martial art. Where Karate aims at striking an opponent, in BJJ, the goal is to pin down an opponent to the ground, control them and force them to submit. 

Now that you have a brief idea about the two, let’s delve in more deeply on the techniques and differences between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Karate.

Tracing the History


BJJ variation of Jiu Jitsu originated from Brazil a little over a hundred years ago. There are various origin stories, but the most narrated one credits the Gracie family.

A Judo master named Mitsuyo Maeda relocated to Brazil and began teaching the art of Judo in 1914. In the process of settling down in a new country, he was helped by a Brazilian politician named Gastao Gracie.

Gastao’s support facilitated Maeda to organize Judo training within some Brazilian cities. Gastao’s son Carlos gained interest in Judo and became Maeda’s student.

Black belt karateka breaking a wooden plank with his hand.

Carlos and his brother Helio started practicing Judo. Helio was small in stature and was unable to make many of the Judo moves that required athleticism. Therefore he and his brother started experimenting with the techniques to benefit his body size and tried a variety of alterations.

The techniques the brothers introduced improved the defensive mechanism of smaller people against larger opponents. By using leverage and body positioning, a person of a slim physique can take down a large opponent and force him/her to submit.

Karate is the Japanese term, which literally translates to “empty hands.” Karate has undergone changes through ages as it received influences from Japan and China. The first known form of Karate was created as a form of self-defense in the Okinawan islands after the government banned weapons in the period between 1609-1879.

The exact truth of the origins of Karate has been lost in time. Some experts say it came from India; some say Japan.


This martial art achieved recognition when Helio’s son Rorion moved to the United States in 1978. BJJ’s first introduction to the world was through the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). A no hold barred event was organized in which martial artists of all backgrounds competed. Rorion’s brother Royce was the representative of BJJ. Royce shocked the world by winning the competition of bigger men with ease. After this, BJJ’s popularity exploded.

It’s Anko, considered as the grandfather of Karate, helped get it included in Okinawan physical education programs. Anko was the sensei of notable Karate masters like Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Motobu Choki. Funakoshi is regarded as the father of modern karate and developed the Shotokan Karate form.

Karate is now an Olympic sport and is a widely recognized martial art.


BJJ may be one of the most effective martial art forms you can learn and has proven to be adequate time and time again in real life MMA situations. The principle of BJJ is to control and restrain an opponent using a series of strangles and locks. Karate prioritizes self defense. The difference between BJJ and Karate is that it includes striking and almost no grappling.

The belt system of Karate and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

The progress of an individual is credited with a belt system in both the martial art, but the colors and how you earn belts are different in each art. The time it takes to earn a belt also varies.

Karate Belt System (Adults)

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Purple
  • Blue
  • Brown
  • Black – After black, a student aims for degrees starting with 1st degree and ascending upwards.

BJJ Belt System (Adults)

  • White (1-2 years to Blue)
  • Blue (2-4 years to Purple)
  • Purple (2-4 years to Brown)
  • Brown (1-3 years to Black)
  • Black – After black, the practitioner goes into degrees. The highest one can climb upto 9th degree, and 10th degree is reserved for pioneers of the martial art.

 Clothing and equipment

Both BJJ and Karate use a robe-style uniform worn in many traditional martial arts called “gi.” It is a thin, breathable cloth jacket and pants made from a similar material.

The BJJ gi is similar but is made thicker to put up with the constant pushing and pull of grappling. In no-gi, the uniform is a fabric shirt like a wetsuit called a rashguard along with shorts.


Different schools of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have different styles. The most prevalent three types of BJJ are listed below:

  • MMA Jiu Jitsu – The famous UFC fight which everyone is crazy about, yes the Conor Mcgregor and Khabib one – where you have to defend strikes while working to subdue the opponent.
  • Gi Jiu Jitsu – Gi means kimono, and in this type of BJJ, you have to practice in a kimono. Techniques involved makes the use of the opponent’s gi against them.
  • No Gi Jiu Jitsu – Does not involve the use of gi or a kimono; faster and more athletic style were grabbing the opponent’s cloth is prohibited.

Some of the major organizations in Karate are:

  1. World Karate Federation (WKF)
  2. Japan Karate Federation
  3. International Karate Association
  4. European Kyokushin Karate Organization
  5. Kenkojuku Karate Association
  6. USA National Karate Federation
  7. Seido Karate Organization

Pros and Cons of Karate and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

BJJ is a great way to stay fit and healthy. Martial arts are a great way to attain self control over our minds, and Martial keeps it stress-free. It enables us to deal with pressure and fear. Many BJJ competitions are conducted every year around the globe. So there are plenty of opportunities to compete.

BJJ is an excellent martial art, but some schools teach a subpart of BJJ called “sport Jiu Jitsu.” Sport Jiu Jitsu is a form of BJJ that focuses on techniques for competition rather than for self defense. These techniques may result in severe injuries in training. BJJ doesn’t train in striking, which means it’s arguably not a complete combat system.

Karate is a fantastic martial art, but some dojos have tarnished its reputation over the last 20-30 years. These schools exist for making profits rather than teaching this brilliant martial art. It has been a real struggle for Karate to regain its respect. A majority of karate schools do not give emphasis on training of takedowns or ground-fighting techniques.

Which is More Effective in a Street fights?

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is considered to be more effective in scenarios concerning self-defense. 

BJJ trains even a weaker and smaller person to deal with opponents of larger sizes with ease. The techniques taught prioritizes grappling and takedown, which provides the upper hand in any fight. Once the opponent is on the ground, armlocks, neck chokes, kimura, and many other submissions holds can be applied. 

Turning the tables is also a specialty of BJJ. Even when you are caught in an unfavorable position on the ground, you can work it up to your advantages with the training received in BJJ and force the opponent into submission.

Karate is a striking based martial art with little to no grappling, which makes it risky because the flashy kicks are ineffective in street fights. Groin kicks and face strikes are taught in both the martial art for scenarios involving self defense. 

Training received in martial arts makes you calm and collected in the face of such confrontations. Generally, street fights involve yelling, swearing, and aggression, but because you’re used to sparring (rolling) multiple times per week with full strength, you are entirely in control of your emotions. 

Only when there are multiple opponents, there is a slight disadvantage, but your confidence and never back down attitude learnt from your training will be your savior. However, your practical approach should be to run in those situations. 

Which is Better for Self-Defense?

For self-defense, we require good self-esteem, assertive behavior, and sharpened techniques. Both Karate and BJJ are useful for self defense, but the latter is better. 

Karate is a striking based martial art which involves punches, kicks, knee and elbow strikes. The flamboyant kicks of karate will not be of any use in self defense. A strike to the face or groin is the most effective also. Karate teaches dodging and counter-attacks, which is highly effective in front of an amateur.

On the other hand, BJJ involves more grappling and submission. It helps in dealing with even the more prominent opponent. BJJ helps in converting an unfavorable position to one’s advantage as it specializes in training while laying on the ground. 

BJJ also focuses on takedowns and pinning the opponent on the ground, which is very useful in scenarios where self-defense is required.

Even a weaker and smaller person trained in BJJ can easily take down a larger opponent, and therefore it is considered slightly better than Karate in this aspect.

Which is More Popular?

Fig: A comparative graph depicting the popularity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Karate over a span of five years in the United States.

In the graph above, the blue line shows the data for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu while the red line shows the information for Karate. As we can see, both BJJ and Karate have been on par with each other in the period we are considering. Sometimes we see the trend in favor of Karate and sometimes in favor of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

One fundamental reason for the popularity of Karate is the induction into movies and cartoons. This is the sole reason why Karate is so widely known and popular, especially among the kids. When we are talking about BJJ, the popularity is just based on the fantastic self-defense techniques that it offers.

Which is Easier to Learn?

Learning any martial art is dependent on many factors like the school or the master you are training under and, of course, your dedication. Having said that, Karate is more comfortable to learn.

When it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it takes an overwhelming duration of at least ten years to reach the black belt. On the other hand, a Karate practitioner will find themselves comfortable in the techniques in about six to eight months. For getting the black belt level proficiency, we are looking at somewhere around four to six years.

Cost Comparison

Karate lessons for a month cost an average of $75 to $150 depending upon schools and the number of classes you take in a week. For the whole course, we are looking at something around $4500 to $9000. On the other hand, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes cost between $100 and $ 200 per month. For the entire course, you will have to spend around $12000 to $24000.

What should you learn?

It is essential to be aware of and understand your needs while choosing to learn any form of martial arts. Never forget the mantra of the three D’s, which will help you in being successful – Devotion, Determination, and Dedication.

Yes, you will have to sweat. Yes, you will have to train hard. Yes, no more KFC.

Are you up for this?

Ask yourself the right questions. Don’t cloud your mind or live in a mirage. Understand your capacity and then make a decision.

Whether it is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Karate, both will prove beneficial to you in the long run.


Eugene Hardy

Eugene is a professional Muay Thai fighter, with several years of experience. Also, a black belt holder. He actively participates in tournaments and provides training to his students. Eugene started this blog to share his experiences with Martial Arts.

View all posts by Eugene Hardy →

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