Muay Thai vs Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ): Which One Is Better for You?

Muay Thai vs Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ): Which One Is Better for You?

In one of our earlies articles, we’ve discussed the differences between Muay Thai and other sports, like boxing, kickboxing, and MMA, and we’ve seen the similarities and differences between them. Today, we are going to compare it to the South American art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). As we know already, Muay Thai is an Oriental martial art created in Thailand, while BJJ is a relatively new martial art or combat sport that stems from South America.

We are going to compare these two sports to show you the differences and similarities between these two sports. Keep reading to find out more!

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Historical Development and Generalised Differences

Muay Thai (Thai: มวยไทย), literally “Thai boxing”, is an Oriental martial art and combat sport that originated in Thailand somewhere during the 18th century. It is a full-contact discipline that is also known as the “art of eight limbs” and is heavily reliant on the use of fists, elbows, knees and shins. It originated as a fighting technique to be used in wars, Muay Thai soon became a fighting sport used outside its original setting.

After more than a century of development in the Far East, Muay Thai became extremely popular in the West during the 20th and 21st centuries, when Western practitioners that came from Thailand started using the discipline in kickboxing and MMA competitions, thus introducing and popularising Muay Thai in the West. Muay Thai is, today, a global combat sports practiced around the world and is internationally governed by the IFMA. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) (Portuguese: jiu-jitsu brasileiro) is a self-defence martial art and combat sport based on grappling, ground fighting and submission holds. BJJ focuses on controlling one’s opponent, gaining a dominant position over him and using a number of specialised techniques to force them in to submission via joint locks or chokeholds. 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was first developed and modified in the 1920s by Brazilian brothers Carlos, George and Hélio Gracie after Carlos was taught traditional Kodokan judo by a travelling Japanese judoka called Mitsuyo Maeda in 1917; the brothers later went on to develop their own self defence system named Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, which is not that different from traditional BJJ, but it’s still very distinctive.

BJJ eventually came to be its own defined combat sport through the innovations, practices, and adaptation of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, with governing bodies such as the IBJJF working worldwide, becoming an essential martial art for MMA

This is the basic overview of the two sports/arts we are going to compare in this article. Now that you’ve seen all the generalities, we can continue with some more specific questions so that you can see how the two compare in certain aspects. 

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which Is Better for Self-Defense?

Self-defence is the art of using specifically taught moves to defend yourself from an unwanted attack on your person. Although there are arts and techniques that specifically teach self-defence, most combat sports and martial arts include some degree of self-defence courses, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu included. But, when it comes to self-defence, which is better?

When it comes to self-defence, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is pretty effective and quite useful. One of the reasons is that BJJ is an art that relies on self-defence a lot more than other martial arts and combat sports; some people even call it a self-defence technique, which is a phrase usually used to describe Krav Maga. Brazilian jiu-jitsu relies on the fact that a smaller opponent could and will overpower and grab a bigger and nominally stronger opponent.

BJJ uses very specific techniques that allow for such reactions in a fight or a tight spot. BJJ also utilises a lot of ground fighting, which can be extremely useful when defending yourself. The ultimate move of BJJ is the “rear naked choke”, which is to useful that it can finish a fight, but not cause any long-term damage to your opponent.

On the other hand, Muay Thai has a more balanced approach, but also a less complete one. Namely, Muay Thai utilises all extremities, meaning that the disadvantages boxing has when legs are concerned are annulled in Muay Thai, who relies mostly on legwork, while – at the same time – using punches.

Muay Thai is also specific because it requires patience, meaning that it will teach you endurance, which can be essential when defending yourself. Muay Thai focuses on waiting for the right moment to attack and that can prove to be essential in a tight spot. The difficulty of Muay Thai’s self-defence lies in the fact that Muay Thai doesn’t have ground movements, which can be potentially problematic in an actual fight.

To conclude, both Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai help with self-defence, but they have different approaches and different results. Thus, if you want to approach self-defence in a more complete manner that will allow for better efficiency in an actual fight, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the choice for you, but if you want to practice a more balanced, standing-based approach, you can benefit from practicing Muay Thai. 

Also, be sure to check out our list of best martial arts for self-defense, article with an in-depth review of Muay Thai for self-defense, and comparison of Muay Thai and Krav Maga for self-defense.

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which Is Easier to Learn?

An important factor in choosing your sport is how difficult it is to learn. All combat sports and martial arts are difficult in their own ways and – ultimately – it all depends on your strength and determination, but some of these are naturally more complex and more difficult to learn if you’re a beginner. 

Muay Thai is an all-encompassing martial art that involves kicks, elbows, knees, and punches. This means that it takes more time to master all the techniques and approaches before you can fully appreciate its benefits. Not only do you need to learn how to use these types of shots, but you also have to learn how to defend yourself against them. Clinching is also very important in Muay and that takes a long time to master completely.

But, how does it compare to Brazilian jiu-jitsu? When compared to BJJ, Muay Thai is a piece of cake. In Muay Thai – you (simply put) just fight. You stand on your own to feet and you try to block your opponent’s shots while trying to attack him at the same time.

In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, you have an opponent that wants to either choke you or break your limbs and that’s not easy to defend! More so since they use special techniques that you have to know how to defend against. It is difficult to learn all those moves and techniques, but the thing with BJJ is that – if you stick around long enough, you’ll eventually learn everything you need to know. At one point, it practically becomes routine. 

So, which one is easier to learn? If you’re a beginner, it’s definitely Muay Thai. Techniques practiced in Muay Thai are much less complex than the ones used in BJJ. You will need a lot of time to master all the techniques in Jiu-Jitsu. But, once you get the hang of it, both Muay Thai and BJJ become equal in terms of difficulty.

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which Is Better for Strength, Cardio, and Fitness?

As far as fitness goes – although that is not very often the main reason one takes up a martial art or combat sport – both Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu offer plenty to the practitioners. They are both great for your health, for your general fitness and stamina and even for your cardiovascular system (a lot of people do cardio exercises combined with martial arts techniques).

Even in their pure forms, both are also great for strength and conditioning. Although Muay Thai puts more focus on the legs – thus strengthening your lower body – and Brazilian jiu-jitsu puts more focus on rolls and ground fighting, when it comes to general fitness, both are equally effective. 

The thing is that the endgame depends on you, i.e. how you approach the sport, how much you work, etc. Both arts offer a lot to you in terms of fitness, so it depends on how you approach it, but if you do approach it fully, expect to be crawling back home on all fours

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Who Would Win in a Fight?

The question both is and is not difficult to answer. Namely, you have to consider several essential factors when answering this question. Some of them are – a fighter’s experience, his physique, the conditions, etc., but there is also the question of the way the fight is executed.

In a sanctioned fight, a lot would depend on where the fighters are in a moment.  Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters may, generally speaking, have the upper hand because they are better prepared to defend against a variety of situations, but in a fight on the feet – that advantage will not be overly emphasized.

On the other hand, if a BJJ fighter manages to get the Muay Thai fighter on the ground, the latter would hardly stand a chance against the more experienced ground fighter. Muay Thai has absolutely no ground techniques and it is not realistic to expect that a Muay Thai fighter could stand his ground (pun intended) against an expert ground fighter such as someone versed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. 

As for unsanctioned fights, that would truly depend on a lot of different factors that we cannot predict or control from this position. Different attributes might play a large role in such situations, which is why it is tough to predict the outcome. Again, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter should have a slight advantage, but since there are no rules – one could never actually tell how such a fight might end. 

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which Is Safer?

We’ve already talked about the dangers of boxing in some [earlier articles] and we’ve deduced that, compared to most other combat sports, boxing is usually more dangerous for the fighters. But that works for boxing and this is not an article about boxing. So, how dangerous are Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu?

When compared to boxing, every martial art is statistically safer, even these two. The statistics for Brazilian jiu-jitsu are generally good and there are not many reported cases; the reported incidents are more anecdotal than actually alarming.

This lies in the fact that Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters know their strengths and their weaknesses, meaning that they know how dangerous a technique can be and can either forfeit the fight in the right moment or – from the other perspective – stop it before it gets too dangerous. This is not the case in other sports, where a fighter can hardly appreciate the full strength of his shot. 

Muay Thai actually confirms what we’ve said. Although it uses more shots, Muay Thai is generally safer than boxing because it’s not as aggressive and it doesn’t focus on the head that much. Certainly, you can expect injuries, but fatalities are rare, as well as long-term head injuries and similar problems. Muay Thai fighters, because they can by the virtue of their art, don’t have to go just for the head, which significantly decreases the risk of fatal or threatening injuries. 

Conclusion: Which One Should You Choose?

This question could also be paraphrased as – which is better, Muay Thai or Brazilian jiu-jitsu? The answer is not straightforward and it all depends on you and your personal approach.

You have to know what you want, what you want to improve and how you want to develop your fighting techniques. Based on your preferences, you will decide for yourself which one you prefer, Muay Thai or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, because each one of them offers something, so it’s up to you to make the final choice.

If you want to learn a standing style that utilises the whole body in a fight to gain the upper hand, then we should think that Muay Thai could be your “poison of choice” when it comes to martial arts. If, on the other hand, you want to fight more on the ground and utilise such techniques, Brazilian jiu-jitsu might be a better choice because it encompasses both standing and ground techniques, which might just fit your preferences perfectly.

But again – as we’ve stated – the final decision is yours. Consider what you know and what you want before making the final choice that could influence your life in ways you cannot even imagine.

Well, that covers the basic differences between Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. If you would like to find out is Muay Thai better then MMA, follow our link, and if you want to know more about the world of martial arts, please follow us and see you next time.

Raffaello Sambiagio, A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he is one of the members of Tribe Jiujitsu Roma Nord, one of the most prestigious in the capital.
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Raffaello Sambiagio

Raffaello Sambiagio was born in Rome in eighty-nine. He approached martial arts through his local Judo gym, but it is with Brazilian jiu Jitsu that everything changed. Parallel to his competitive career, Raffaello dedicated himself to teaching discipline first to children and then to adults. Our testing and reviewing method.