As two of the most popular martial arts in the world today, boxing and BJJ look worlds apart from each other, and they are. But they also hold some similarities that you may not have thought.
In today’s world of mixed martial arts, both are an equally important part of the whole puzzle. Both are highly specialized systems that focus entirely on one aspect of fighting. They stand on the two opposite shores.
Comparing the two in a direct battle, BJJ will win simply because it’s relatively easy to takedown an unprepared boxer, and ground fighting is jiu-jitsu’s specialty.
Of course, you can’t predict every possible outcome. Still, we’ve seen repeatedly, especially in MMA, that if a fighter doesn’t have at least some proficiency in grappling, he is doomed once the fight hits the mats.
As always, I will take a deep dive into the specifics of boxing and BJJ to help you make a better choice. Of course, the best option is to train in both, but if that is not possible, you need to make a tough choice and focus your efforts.
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What Is Boxing?
It’s impossible not to know what boxing is, but if you need a refresher, read on. Competitive fist fighting has been documented as early as 3000BC and, along with wrestling, is the oldest combat sport in written history.
Boxing was a vital part of the ancient Olympics and the Roman empire. During these times, instead of soft gloves, fighters were using leather and metal “gloves” intended to do maximum damage.
Our modern form of boxing came to be in 17th century England. It was finalized as an official sport in 1867 with the adoption of the Queensbury rules.
The purpose of boxing is to knock out the opponent using only the fists in a competition contested in several timed rounds. Only strikes above the waist are permitted, and no wrestling is allowed.
All matches are fought in a square ring, and if both boxers are still standing in the end, judges decide who the winner is.
As I mentioned, the very restricted ruleset of boxing places it in a particular place in combat as one of the most narrowly specialized disciplines. Taking away most of the arsenal accessible to the human body forces athletes to take what is available to the highest possible level.
Boxing footwork, movement, punching, and tactics are beyond every other martial art that incorporates these aspects.
What Is BJJ?
BJJ is a martial art entirely focused on grappling where no strikes are allowed. In the traditional version, wrestling plays a minimal role.
The purpose of BJJ is to control the opponent via leverage and body mechanics and submit him with a joint lock or a chokehold.
Original jiu-jitsu was a Japanese martial art used by samurai as an addition to their swords combat skills. The end of the samurai era saw it modified away from military use and into a more civil scenario of self-defense practice.
This gave birth to the art of judo in the hands of Jigoro Kano. A direct student of his Mitsuo Maeda traveled to Brazil in the 1920s. He trained in traditional jiu-jitsu and judo a young man named Carlos Gracie.
It was in the hands of the Gracie family that the art would evolve into the Brazilian jiu-jitsu that we know today.
BJJ has two very distinct branches. The first is the traditional jiu-jitsu, designed for self-defense and used mainly against an untrained attacker. Practitioners learn to control and incapacitate often larger and violent attackers and defend against all possible dangers in a real-life scenario.
Sport jiu-jitsu, on the other hand, is very different. Competitions are pure grappling with no strikes allowed, and the matches can end with a submission or judge’s decision.
Like all other combat sports, there are weight divisions, strict rules, and professional and amateur competitions.
Key Differences Between Boxing and BJJ
The rules of the two sports are quite different. Let’s see how they stack up. We will leave out traditional BJJ and only view the sports version here.
Rules and Objectives Of BJJ
- The goal is to control the opponent on the ground and eventually submit him.
- Submissions include joint locks, cranks, strangulations, and other positions that can become unbearable and force the opponent to submit.
- The timing of the matches can vary between different organizations and rulesets. The IBJJF even has different time limits for different belt grades. Some high-level matches are without a time limit and can end only in a submission.
- No strikes are allowed.
- Matches are contested on an open mat area but within certain boundaries.
Rules and Objectives Of boxing
Boxing rules are a lot more uniform and are the same for all organizations and countries. There are some minor differences between amateur and professional boxing, but they are generally very similar.
- The goal is to knock out the opponent.
- Judges are scoring every round individually. If both boxers are still fighting by the end of the fight, individual scorecards are combined, and the winner is the fighter with the higher score.
- Only punches with a closed fist are allowed.
- Strikes are allowed above the waist. The back of the head and the kidneys are prohibited.
- Matches are found in a square rind.
- The rounds are 3 minutes each with 1-minute rest in between
Boxers fight in shorts and padded gloves that are strictly regulated for competitions. Other mandatory pieces of equipment are the mouth guard, boxing shoes, and groin protection.
For training, you will also need a helmet and a couple of different types of gloves for sparring, bag work, and drills.
BJJ is usually practiced in a traditional uniform called a gi, taken from the Japanese root of the art. There are also colored belts that are very important as they signify progression and hierarchy and are earned only via merit.
Since the explosion of MMA, another branch of jiu-jitsu has emerged, called “no-gi.”
As you can deduce by the name, you do not wear a gi, with the purpose to make it more applicable to MMA and self-defense, where there are no hard-collared clothes that you can use to your advantage. You’d wear a BJJ rashguard, spats, or BJJ shorts for no-gi.
Boxing has a limited number of techniques, but it makes good use of them. There are three basic types of punches- straights, hooks, and uppercuts and many slight variations between them.
This makes footwork, distance management, and timing crucial in boxing. If you understand what you are watching, you will be fascinated by the precision and tactics high-level boxing exhibits in the ring in such a violent and stressful environment.
In stark contrast, BJJ has a vast amount of techniques. Grappling is a very positional game, and the often-used comparison with chess is very fitting. Each move has a countermove that negates.
High-level practitioners set up plans with a few moves upfront and aim to outsmart their opponent. BJJ is still a very physical sport that requires a lot of the body.
Boxing vs. BJJ for Self Defense
Both martial arts will be very beneficial for self-defense. Many say BJJ is the best for that purpose, but I can’t entirely agree. The primary deficiency is that you need to get the opponent to the ground for BJJ to work properly.
And if he has at least some basic wrestling abilities, this may prove a challenging task. In a 1 vs. 1 fight, the BJJ practitioner can win against most people; that is true. But real street fights are rarely a true 1 vs. 1 affair, and willingly going to the ground may be disastrous.
And this is only regarding traditional jiu-jitsu. The sports version is not suitable for street fights. It can even be dangerous because many of the commonly used positions leave you wide open for powerful strikes that are not allowed in sports BJJ.
On the other hand, boxing has one big flaw: the lack of grappling and wrestling, and as you know, many street fights end up on the ground or in the clinch.
The best part of boxing for self-defense is that the hands are the fastest and safest weapons you can use, and boxing teaches the best use of them.
Very often, the best solution (after not going into a fight in the first place, of course) is to hit fast, hard, and flee from further danger.
Boxing vs. BJJ for MMA
MMA is a whole different game, and boxing and BJJ are mere parts of it. The illusion of the complete superiority of BJJ was dispelled after the first few editions of the Ultimate Fighting Championship when fighters learned to defend against it.
Even MMA fighters who are submissions specialists have to learn and use many other skills to incorporate their BJJ skills in the cage.
Boxing is also an excellent base for MMA, but not nearly enough on its own. The standard boxing stance is susceptible to kicks and takedowns. The range also changes dramatically when you add everything to the mix.
Any martial art will work well in MMA, but only after it’s modified for the realities of cage fighting.
Is Boxing Safer Than BJJ?
Injuries are inevitable in any sport, but in combat sports, there is greater danger coming from the inherent violence of fighting. But between the two arts BJJ is the safer option.
Brain trauma is one of the worst injuries to the body and in boxing, the head is the main target. This doesn’t automatically mean that you will get CTE by training boxing.
For serious problems, a very large amount of damage must be accumulated and this usually happens only with professionals with lifelong careers. There are many good and thorough research papers, so it’s a good idea to inform yourself about the dangers of head trauma.
BJJ on the other hand does not involve any striking which is good for the health. But the goal of every submission is to figure out how to place the body in a position of immense pain.
BJJ requires exceptional flexibility and strains the whole body. In that regard, you will likely suffer a lot more injuries both in quantity and variety than if you train boxing.
Boxing vs. BJJ: Who Would Win?
To summarize the initial statement, BJJ usually wins against boxing in a one-on-one fight. This is best illustrated with the quote by the famous Renzo Gracie: “A boxer is like a lion, the greatest predator on land, but you throw him in the shark tank, and he’s just another meal.”
Of course, not every fight is the same. A boxer will always have a good chance to knock the BJJ guy out. It also highly depends on the person.
Should You Start Boxing or BJJ?
As always, the answer to these questions has to be found by you. Both martial arts are great and can positively change your entire life. For a complete fighter, some competency in both is required.
But for a regular person, the choice must come from preference. Do you want to be able to strike? Do you want to get hit? If the answers are yes, then pick up boxing.
If you want to practice a deep martial art without getting hit to the head and still learn many valuable lessons and skills, then BJJ should be your first choice.