Updated date:

Traditional Jiu-Jitsu Vs. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, A Thorough Look


Traditional Jiu-Jitsu vs. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

By now, most people should already know what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is. Before the first Ultimate Fighting Championship match in 1993 (UFC 1), not many people knew what BJJ was in the first place. After UFC 1, BJJ had become popularized due to the victory of Helio's son (Royce Gracie) over Ken Shamrock.

Due to the size and mass difference between Gracie and Shamrock, Gracie's victory at UFC 1 exponentially popularized BJJ.

Since then, BJJ has become one of the several staple styles of mixed martial arts (MMA).

However, there are many styles of Jiu-Jitsu that came before BJJ. These styles of Jiu-Jitsu, originating from Japan, can be all classified as “Traditional Jiu-Jitsu.”

MMA, let alone UFC, emphasized the importance of being able to fight on the ground. With BJJ being a style that emphasizes being able to fight on the ground, due to the UFC, the style has become popular. To the uninformed, MMA made them even more uninformed.

When they think Jiu-Jitsu, they only think Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The reality of it is that there are plenty of Jiu-Jitsu styles that predate BJJ. There are notable schools of Traditional aka Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. Many people usually ask the question: What's the difference between Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?

Those that have trained only in BJJ, they might find it difficult to answer the question. Many BJJ practitioners don't know that the style itself descended from Judo; on that same note, those same ones wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two.

That's been a bane to many instructors that teach Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. One example would be a friend of mine who used to live in Pennsylvania taught Kashima Shinryu Jiu-Jitsu out of his grandfather's dojo.

He often confided in me on some of the stresses he dealt with when teaching.

This centuries-old style combines grappling, striking, Kenjutsu, Battojutsu, Bojutsu, Jojutsu, Sojutsu, Naginatajutsu, etc.

With some of his students being fans of MMA, they keep asking him to teach him that moves you would see in MMA and BJJ matches.

Many traditional Jiu-Jitsu instructors may have come across that problem.

My same friend has come across people that train in BJJ and only know that type of style. Unfortunately, this is something man traditional Jiu-Jitsu instructors will come across.

However, one has to understand that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu falls under the umbrella of Jiu-Jitsu.

It is similar to how styles such as Shotokan, Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Koei-Kan, and so forth fall under the umbrella of Karate.


Traditional Jiu-Jitsu aka Japanese Jiu-Jitsu:

Like Karate, there is no singular form of Jiu-Jitsu. I wrote a similar piece in regards to Karate and the many different styles that fall under its umbrella. There are many styles that fall under the umbrella of traditional Jiu-Jitsu.

It is unknown who created Jiu-Jitsu in the first place and it is most likely to be derived from the various grappling techniques from the Chinese martial arts.

In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, one section through Hsu Hao's Konquest Mode playthrough has players using his primary hand-to-hand style of Shuai Chiao, which is a style of Chinese Wrestling.

A brief description of the style Shuai Chiao states that it is likely the predecessor to Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

Jiu-Jitsu was born out of the brutality of war.

Most notably, the earliest schools of Jiu-Jitsu came out during the Sengoku Era aka “Age of Warring States” of Japan.

Where samurai reigned supreme, due to the emperor being a figurehead and power actually belonging to the shogun, Jiu-Jitsu became popular.

While Jiu-Jitsu has striking attacks, much emphasis was on grappling.

This was due to samurai being on the battlefield, fully clad in armor.

It would be very difficult to move around because of the armor's weight, meaning it would be very tricky to kick at your opponent.

But grappling attacks such as throws and submissions would be more effective because you could grab onto the enemy's armor.

Even after Sengoku, Jiu-Jitsu was still around and continued to evolve through the centuries because the samurai class still existed (that would change at the start of the Meiji Era).

Also, many schools of Jiu-Jitsu incorporated weapons training such as Kenjutsu, Bojutsu, and Battojutsu.

Even today, many schools of traditional Jiu-Jitsu still teach the use of weapons and that includes Kashima Shinryu Jiu-Jitsu.

There are many schools of traditional Jiu-Jitsu that exist today and are some examples:

Tenjin Shin'yo-Ryu

Historically, Tenjin Shin'yo-Ryu was one of the most popular schools of traditional Jiu-Jitsu up until the mid 19th century. It was widely popularized as one of the styles being the predecessor to Judo which in turn is the predecessor to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This style is the result of the merging the two Jiu-Jitsu styles Yoshin-Ryu and Shin no Shinto-Ryu.

Asides from Judo, Tenjin Shin'yo-Ryu also played a role in the development of Aikido. This is due to Aikido's founder Morihei Ueshiba also being a student of the style.

This style of Jiu-Jitsu, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, has plenty of grappling techniques. However, it has both stand up and ground grappling.

Yagyu Shingan-Ryu

This centuries-old style of Jiu-Jitsu incorporates unarmed combat with and without armor.

However, this style of Jiu-Jitsu incorporates other styles of combat: Kenjutsu, Battojutsu, Bojutsu, Naginatajutsu, and Sojutsu.

It also teaches other arts such as Torite and Kappo with the former focusing on arrest & capture and the latter focusing on healing and resuscitation.


Tatsumi-Ryu incorporates unarmed grappling against both armored and unarmored people. But, it also incorporates the following: Kenjutsu, Iai, Sojutsu, Bojutsu, Naginatajutsu, Hanbo, and Monomi (scouting & observation tactics). This is one of the classical schools of traditional Jiu-Jitsu that incorporated unarmed grappling and use of weapons.


Kito-Ryu, one of the older styles of traditional Jiu-Jitsu, incorporates a combination of striking, throwing, and grappling. However, the techniques mostly focused on fighting against people with armor. This is due to this style of Jiu-Jitsu being around in the time of samurai.

The throwing techniques from Kito-Ryu helped lay the foundation for Judo. Judo was developed in Meiji Era in which the samurai were no longer allowed to carry weapons let alone katanas. That also meant techniques against samurai armor would be obsolete.

Daito-Ryu Aiki Jiu-Jitsu

This unarmed style of Jiu-Jitsu was founded early in the 20th century by Sokaku Takeda. Aiki Jiu-Jitsu emphasizes being able to effectively neutralize an attacker. It is the predecessor to Aikido and Hapkido as Aiki Jiu-Jitsu laid out the foundation for those two styles.


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

Japanese Judoka Mitsuyo Maeda, who was personally trained by Judo's founder Jigoro Kano, moved to Brazil. He was also trained by one of Kano's instructors Tsunejiro Tomita as a means to show that size did not matter in regards to Judo. Tomita was the smallest of the teachers, but he is the first student from Kano and learned the most.

Before Maeda traveled to Brazil, where he would settle for the rest of his life, he traveled with other notable Judoka to promote Judo across the world.

In the United States, Maeda and Tomita gave a demonstration at Princeton University, United States Military Academy, and Columbia University. Maeda failed his demonstration at the U.S Military Academy at West Point, where he attempted to perform Judo on a member of the football team.

The failure was a blowback to Judo as the school chose Wrestling over Judo as part of the curriculum.

Maeda traveled to England, Belgium, and Spain where he promoted Judo. He also took up professional wrestling. The traveling would influence Maeda to become a ground specialist, which would become crucial to the birth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

His final destination was Brazil, where he became a very popular figure.

Maeda's peers, Koizumi Gunji and Yoshiaki Yamashita, would also do a lot of great things for Judo. Respectively, starting a craze across Europe (particularly England and France) and teaching US President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.

When Maeda did a demonstration at the La Paz Circus, Maeda got the attention of Carlos Gracie, the son of financier Gastao Gracie.

Carlos became Maeda's student.

Together with his brother Helio (deemed too frail and weak to learn Judo), they developed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

That style follows the same philosophy as Judo: leverage and proper technique can overcome size and strength. Through Helio's expanding on Judo's groundwork, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu would slowly become developed.

Versus the styles of traditional Jiu-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's main focus was fighting on the ground.

However, one might want to know the difference between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but that type is usually used and taught by members of the Gracie family.

Also, one has to understand between the art and the sport.

In the actual martial art style, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has defenses against strikes. One should take a look at one of the Gracie Breakdown videos available to stream on YouTube.

In the sport (competitive BJJ and no-gi grappling), striking is not allowed.

Many BJJ schools can fall under the same trap that many other traditional martial arts schools like Karate and Tae Kwon Do fall in regards to being more of a tournament school which focuses more on the sport (with rules) instead of the actual martial art that has the different attacks, defenses, and counterattacks.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu didn't get popularized until the first UFC fight in 1993 with the victory of Royce Gracie.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is still considered a traditional martial art.

Like Judo and traditional Jiu-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is practiced with a gi. You have formal and informal training.

Eddie Bravo developed a strictly no-gi version of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu known as 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.

Keep in mind that while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is derived from Judo, the name is derived from Judo's other name which is called “Kano Jiu-Jitsu.” Because of the naming, the style is called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instead of “Brazilian Judo.” The belt-ranking system utilized in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is derived from Judo.

It's important to know that the belt system that's used in many martial arts today originated from Judo.

However, testing is more strict and rigorous under the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF).

But there are other BJJ organizations such as Gracie Barra and Team Lloyd Irvin.

Neither Is Better Than The Other:

You have grappling tournaments and sports rules to thank for the misconception that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is better than Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and vice versa. Keep in mind Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came from Judo which came from traditional Jiu-Jitsu.

Without those styles, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu would never have been created.

If Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wasn't created, then UFC would never have been founded (Rorion was one of the early founders). The sport of no holds barred (NHB) would not be called MMA.

In that respect, it's important to think of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and an extension of Jiu-Jitsu's ground fighting. It's also important to show that tournaments are the worst barometer to see if Japanese Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is effective than the other.

The sport and the martial art style are two very different things.

Even the styles that fall under traditional Jiu-Jitsu have modernized.

One of the reasons I say that tournaments are often the worst barometer is that trained martial artist (especially a trained competitor) is different from some random thug on the street. Losing in a competition doesn't mean you'll lose in a self-defense situation.

This ultimately depends on how you divide your training time between tournament-style classes and self-defense.

There's nothing wrong with cross-training in both styles, either.

If you're taking up one of the traditional styles of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and enjoy the training, but feel you're not receiving enough groundwork training, then take up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Further Reading:

I have written similar pieces on such subjects. In order to get a better understanding, further information can be provided in these articles.


dwhite on January 31, 2018:

Very interesting article thank you.

With regards to macrhino comment:

"The original UFC fights had no rules and no time limits. Everything was legal. There was essentially no difference between a Vale Tudo match and street fight other than a referee to stop the fight."

This is not strictly true, a Vale Tudo based fight doesn't allow fingers in eyes or biting, which can make a significant diffence in a real right with no referee.

The takeaway here is that there is no one fighting style/system that is best, as not all situations are the same.

Can Tran (author) on April 09, 2015:

Hi machrino,

Thanks for your comment. There is still plenty of information that I didn't add to the article because I started contributing to the online martial arts publication known as Moosin. All my new martial arts content is on Moosin now.

There are many reasons I strongly insist that "none are better."

Even if MMA reverted back to the old Vale Tudo rules, I strongly feel that martial artists are getting better and more intelligent. There are so many variables to consider in a real life fight situation. It is important to learn how to fight on the ground, which BJJ has effectively pointed out.

But, there are many situations where it's not safe to do that.

I remember one episode of Human Weapon, where the hosts spent one episode training in MCMAP. They lost the challenge when they tried to grapple with two marines, who had concealed rubber blades.

There was an episode of Fight Quest, where the hosts spent one episode training in Krav Maga. One of them tried to take it to the ground and use BJJ, but the other person put up a very good ground defense. And that person's buddies jumped in and attack.

The co-host failed that part of the training and had to run the course over again.

There are so many different variables to consider.

macrhino on April 09, 2015:

I would like to add a comment to and otherwise excellent article.

"It's also important to show that tournaments are the worst barometer to see if Japanese Jiu-Jitsu or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is effective than the other. "

The original UFC fights had no rules and no time limits. Everything was legal. There was essentially no difference between a Vale Tudo match and street fight other than a referee to stop the fight.

The UFC 1 contests were real assessments of one martial art against the other in a real life defense situation. That was the purpose of the UFC. The Gracie's quit the UFC after the sponsors started insisting on rules.

IN my eyes, as a practitioner of three martial arts, until I see any martial art dominate Vale Tudo fights the way Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu dominates it today, I will have to take this "none are better" with a huge grain of salt.

kbdressman from Harlem, New York on April 01, 2015:

I empathize with your Pennsylvanian instructor friend. Although, I've learned that both, "I don't know much about that specifically. Let me teach you foundational principals I do know while I learn about what you want to know," and "I don't know and I'm not as interested in that as I am in the other things I'm studying right now. Here's the contact information of another instructor that might be better at that than I am" are good responses.

Very informative article. Thanks for writing it! A quick definition of the three main arts you discuss and the relationship between them at the very beginning of the piece might make it easier to follow. (A short version/long version idea.) I could follow it with a little work, but I've studied all three. It might be harder for an interested non-practitioner to follow it. (Just my humble opinion, ignore it if you desire!)

Related Articles