If you’re considering whether to take up BJJ or Karate as you begin your martial arts journey, then this one is for you.
You probably just want to know which art is better in a self-defense situation between BJJ vs Karate, so here’s my short answer:
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the better martial art for self-defense situations because it is very effective for overwhelming an opponent. Inexperienced grapplers, like Karate practitioners, would have a very difficult time trying to fight off a BJJ grappler.
Keep reading this article to learn more about the differences, unique advantages, and more detail about how these martial arts are useful for self-defense or fighting on the street.
Differences Between BJJ And Karate
Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Karate.
Karate is a striking martial art that usually takes place standing with both feet on the ground for the basic movements.
Basic punches in Karate are:
- Straight punch
- Lunge punch
- Reverse Punch
- Jab Punch
These basic punches extend the arm fully and are linear in their path to their target. These are used most regularly and offer the most power.
The movements of Karate become more advanced with skill as more complicated punches are introduced.
Advanced punches in Karate are:
- Inverted punch
- Rising punch
- Hook punch
- Roundhouse punch
- Vertical punch
- Blocking punch
Advanced punches are different from Basic punches as they are often non-linear trajectories. Most of them have elbows bent than fully extended.
Karate also involves plenty of kicks. These are some of the basic kicks in Karate:
- Front kick
- Side kick
- Crescent kick
- Roundhouse kick
While these make up the fundamental kicks, there are unique ways of using them. For example, the Front kick could be performed by using the heel more than the whole or front of the foot, which changes the way its performed. Another example is the Back Roundhouse kick, changing the way you turn into the Roundhouse.
Karate includes some valuable movements for various situations, such as leg sweeps and throws borrowed from Judo and other traditional martial arts from Japan.
Performing these complicated Karate kicks can be bad for your joints if they’re not ready for it. It’s critical to keep up the mobility and stay fit.
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Many systems of Karate are developed to be useful against multiple attackers in a self-defense situation, but many would strongly debate that there probably isn’t a martial art in existence that could be effective against many people.
Karate has a lot of resemblance to Tae Kwon Do, but their origins have diverted paths.
Sometimes Karate can be comparable with Krav Maga because it includes various counterattacks and sweeping movements that are ideal for eliminating the threat very quickly.
You might even compare some of the kicking ability in Karate with a martial art like Kung Fu. Both martial arts train a high level of mobility and ferocity with kicks.
In my opinion, though, Karate would struggle to compete against a more versatile striking art like Muay Thai. As a Muay Thai fighter would have much more versatility to counteract a Karate fighting style.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
BJJ differs significantly from Karate because it is performed almost exclusively on the ground (mats). It’s also far more modern with less history than Karate, as it was developed by using many modern forms of grappling arts in what became the Gracie Jiu Jitsu system.
Fun fact: A gentleman named Mitsuyo Maeda was a Japanese, but Brazilian-born, Judoka. In the late 1800’s he would challenge other fighters of different martial arts. He really was an MMA fighter before the modern sport. This man was a fundamental contributor to the development of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, teaching Carlson Gracie and others in the Gracie family. This is what eventually became known to be the Gracie Jiu Jitsu system.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu aims to bring your opponent to the ground and hold them there. At the same time, you use your weight and technique to maneuver around their body, feel the directions they are moving and move with them to finally win the encounter with a submission or choke.
Throws and takedowns in BJJ include:
- Single leg throw
- Double leg throw
- Sweeping Hip throw
- Low single
- Ankle pick
- Foot sweep
Many more like these, all with more official names, which are inspired by or taken directly from Judo or Wrestling. After all, BJJ was put together to be a complete system for grappling with an opponent. The Jiu Jitsu techniques borrow happily from other martial arts and sports if they are effective.
BJJ focuses on many chokes and joint locks (to win submissions) once they bring their opponent down to the ground.
Here are some key BJJ chokes:
- Rear naked choke
- Triangle choke
- Arm triangle choke
- North-south choke
- Guillotine choke
Here are some key BJJ joint locks:
- Elbow lock
- Bicep slicer
- Straight ankle lock
- Heel hook
This is just a taste, as there are many more to learn and perfect. Some BJJ practitioners specialize in some of these because they might have a natural ability to perform them or a particular body shape or size that makes it ideal for them to attack with it.
As you learn BJJ, you’ll become more comfortable with more techniques. You’ll need to know the techniques well to advance from a white belt to a blue belt.
Now you have a basic idea of the differences between these martial arts, perhaps you know a bit better about which you’d like to actually pursue. But if you want to know which is better for street fighting, keep reading.
Karate Gi Vs Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gi
The Karate Gi (known as “Karategi”) and the BJJ Gi are similar because they both have Japanese origins. The Karategi is a lighter material and looser fit for mobility and striking. In contrast, the BJJ Gi has a thicker fabric to withstand the friction from grappling.
The Karategi is weaved from thin and smooth cotton with reinforced stitching. The material needs to be light and loose to allow for a variety of significant movements like high kicks and spinning kicks, with the more robust stitching to add to the durability of the Gi.
A Karategi is considerably lighter than the BJJ Gi, as even the heaviest Karategi weighs only about 1 lbs / 0.5 kg.
The BJJ Gi typically weighs between 2-5 lbs / 0.9-2.2 kg. It generally has thicker double-weaved cotton to be hard-wearing against friction and plenty of use.
BJJ Gi’s weight changes depending on the weave used, which could be single, pearl, gold, or double weave. The desired weight of the BJJ Gi usually depends on whether it’s being used for competition or regular training.
A thicker and more durable Gi is usually preferred for regular BJJ training and sparring as it will last longer and not need replacing too often. A lighter and thinner Gi is generally desired for competitions because it will offer the most mobility, the least resistance, and be slightly more difficult for the opponent to grab and hold onto.
The cut on the Karategi is much looser than that of the BJJ Gi. It allows for freedom of movement, and being grabbed by your opponent at the sleeves or pants isn’t a common practice.
At the competition level, the requirements on a Karategi aren’t as specific as they are for BJJ. Still, they need to be approved by the World Karate Federation (WKF) to be accepted for most competitions.
There is also additional safety gear that must be worn during most Karate competitions, such as:
- Mitts (punching gloves)
- Body protection, plus chest protector for females
- Shin pads
- Foot protection
You’ll often need both blue and red versions of the mitts and foot protectors to differentiate the blue and red corners in a match. You can also wear a groin cup, but it isn’t mandatory. All of these must be WKF-approved to be accepted for licensed competition.
When worn by a BJJ practitioner, the Gi is not as loose as the Karategi. This is most likely because grabbing your opponent’s Gi’s sleeves or pant leg is a common technique as part of grappling. The sleeves and pant legs might also be shorter than any other kind of Gi, with the pant leg rising above the ankle and the sleeve riding up the forearm, making it more difficult for the opponent to grab.
All that being said, a BJJ Gi still has to fit within specific measurements to be accepted for competition.
Here are the brief requirements of the BJJ Gi from the IBJJF:
- The hem of the sleeve must be less than 5 cm / 2 in from the wrist joint
- The inside space of the sleeve between the arm and the fabric must have at least 7 cm / 2.75 in of space
- The Gi must have a maximum of 1.3 cm / 0.5 in of thickness
- The Gi’s belt must have a width between 4-5 cm / 1.5-2 in
- The Gi’s belt tip must be between 20-30 cm / 8-12 in
- The hem of the pant leg must be less than 5 cm / 2 in from the ankle bone
- The inside space of the pants between the arm and the fabric must have at least 7 cm / 2.75 in of space
The measurements for a BJJ Gi are purposefully specific to ensure the matchup is fair, considering grabbing and holding onto the Gi’s are vital for the grappling. You can’t wear cups in BJJ competition or any eyewear.
It makes sense to practice in an adequately sized Gi; if you decide to take up competition in the future, you should know how to defend yourself in the correct sized attire.
Is Karate Harder Than Jiu Jitsu?
Karate isn’t necessarily harder to learn than Jiu Jitsu. BJJ is easier to begin but harder to master. Both Karate and BJJ are taught to children as young as 5 years old, which shows that anyone can learn the fundamentals.
Karate teaches a lot of movements that imitate punches and kicks and throws at the fundamental level. These movements require a Karate practitioner to learn them in good form and to be able to display that before they advance to sparring with a partner or more advanced techniques.
As a comparison, BJJ doesn’t exactly have anything that resembles “proper form.” In BJJ, every movement is messy and adaptable to the constantly changing situation you find yourself in.
Getting started in BJJ is as easy as dropping to the mats with a sparring partner and rolling around to win the top position. It teaches you a ton of great skills like being comfortable in close-quarter grappling, and BJJ is also a good workout, as you may even develop a lot of grappling strength from regular practice.
BJJ is ultimately tough to master and takes 7+ years to become a black belt.
Karate on the other hand allows students of it to typically become a brown belt within a year, and a black belt within two years. This Karate belt order is possibly considered “easier” than BJJ.
Is Karate Or Jiu Jitsu Better For Self Defense?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is certainly a better martial art for self-defense than Karate because it can be used practically in a street fight situation. As long as you are able to get your opponent to the ground, your more advanced grappling skills would allow you to resist any attacks.
Karate is almost exclusively standing up on your feet and striking your opponent. Much of the skills in Karate are learned in soft situations rather than live sparring because it’s safer to learn that way.
That’s one of the benefits of being a BJJ fighter; you can spar from day one and not get a bloody nose (though possible) or be beaten up, as the art relies more on your technical ability to outwit your opponent and find the winning position.
You’ll also learn how to spar and grapple with an opponent in No-Gi classes, in which you don’t wear the traditional Gi but wear rashguards (tight sports clothing). In a No-Gi class, you’ll learn a lot of techniques that are directly useful in a fight situation where Gi’s or long clothing isn’t always going to be there.
This makes BJJ a great martial art in a street fight where you need to defend yourself.
Who Would Win: Karate Or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Fighter?
A Karate master would almost always be beaten by a BJJ master. Striking martial arts like Karate are unlikely to find critical strikes before being taken down by the grappler. When on the floor, the BJJ practitioners’ ground fighting technique will far exceed the Karate martial artist.
Striking martial arts are literally only as good as you can make a hit before being swept over onto your back.
This is why MMA fighters in competitions like the Ultimate Fighting Championship with solid backgrounds in Wrestling, BJJ, Sambo, or Judo have done so well in mixed martial arts. They’re able to take opponents down to the ground whenever they want and focus on beating them on the floor from the advantaged position.
So now you should have a solid understanding of who comes out on top in this debate between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Karate.
BJJ is almost certainly better for most street-fighting scenarios. But if you just want to learn a martial art, and Karate feels like the better option for you to enjoy it and be consistent, then I’d say go with that. Just do what you enjoy first, and worry about the rest later!
Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.