Krav Maga vs. BJJ: What Is The Difference?

December 8, 2020

You may know Krav Maga as an intense military self-defense program involving weapons and deadly techniques. But since Krav Maga isn’t as mainstream as BJJ, further information isn’t so readily available.

BJJ on the other hand has grown quickly in popularity as it becomes live-streamed, easily accessible, and with celebrities jumping to join the BJJ trend. But what separates Krav Maga and BJJ?

The main difference between Krav Maga and BJJ is that Krav Maga is not considered a martial art, but a self-defense system that encompasses deadly strikes, joint manipulations, and weapons training.

There is no “sport” Krav Maga and therefore, no competitive arena. BJJ on the other hand is a competitive grappling sport that does not allow striking but rather deals with joint-locks and chokes.

Before diving deep into the differences between the styles, knowing the history of each discipline will help you understand how these came about.

History of Krav Maga

Krav Maga translates to “close combat.”

The history of it dates back to the 1900s. It was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld in Czechoslovakia in the pre-World War II period. Imi Lichtenfeld was born in Budapest in 1910 and grew up in Bratislava, Slovakia.

He used to train at his father’s gym and ended up becoming a talented wrestler, gymnast, and boxer. He fought and competed on both the national and international levels.

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In the late 1930s, before World War II, Imi Lichtenfeld used his talents and skills as a means of self-protection and community protection to save the Jewish community from the cruel violence that was inflicted upon them by the fascist and anti-Semitic groups that rose to power.

In an attempt to protect his community, he gathered a group of Jewish boxers and wrestlers who took the responsibility of defending the Jewish neighborhood against the fascist and anti-Semitic group.

That is when Imi learned that there is a difference between sport martial arts competition and street fighting. While serving to protect his community, he began to combine natural movements and reactions with immediate counterattacks. This led to the basis of Krav Maga training.

After the land of Israel was formed, Imi Lichtenfeld immigrated to Palestine. Over there, Imi joined the Haganah, which is a paramilitary group within the Jewish community dedicated to fighting for Israel. That is when Lichtenfeld began to play a significant role in the Israeli military system and was asked to develop a defense system.

When given a chance to develop a defense system, Imi Lichtenfeld built a strong group of people, including police officers. And with the help of what he had learned, he developed the popular self-defense system of Krav Maga.

And that is how Krav Maga was born.

Krav Maga continued to grow as he developed the IDF School of Combat Fitness. In the 1960s, Lichtenfeld made it easier for citizens to learn the techniques of Krav Maga to help protect themselves, and to this day, we see Krav Maga being taught and performed at various places.

History of BJJ

The famous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s story started in Japan. Over there, the Japanese samurai used it on the field of battle and used to engage in armed battles on horseback.

They found themselves disarmed, and that is what led to the development of Jiu-Jitsu. The Japanese Jiu-Jitsu deviated into different styles with time, and its main focus shifted from armed combat to general self-defense. However, the focus continues to be on the throws, strangles, and joint locks.

Moving towards 1882, a student of traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, Jigoro Kano, found a martial arts school known as the Kodokan, where he became the top student. Over there, Kano told students what he felt were the most effective techniques of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu.

Kano had a unique aspect to his art, which was known as the randori. It is the emphasis on live sparring. In 1914, Jigoro Kano migrated to Brazil and taught the politician George Gracie’s son, Carlos Gracie, Jiu-Jitsu, as a way of expressing his gratitude.

This, in turn, led to the technique being passed on by Carlos to his brothers and, later, the start of a Jiu-Jitsu school in Brazil. This was the start of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

When Carlos was passing on the technique to his brothers, one of his brothers, Helio, had found it challenging to execute the judo’s techniques due to his size and lack of strength. But he was not the one to give up, and so he refined the techniques so they could be applied to anyone, regardless of their strength and size.

He continued the legacy of running the school that his brother started and continued to spread this knowledge of BJJ that we see today being taught in so many places, just like Krav Maga. All thanks go to these people who started and continued to spread it.

The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu championships started in the 1990s and brought together a number of the top talent in the world. Royce Gracie won the first, second, and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championship, and ever since, BJJ has been viewed as one of the most prominent fighting styles in the world.

What Is the Difference Between Krav Maga and BJJ?

BJJ self defense

Now that we know the history of the two, let’s move on to see the differences between their techniques, rules, and gears and compare them!


Let’s start with the difference in techniques.

Krav Maga contains a combination of aggressive offense and defense and is meant to be used in battlefield brawls with overall endurance.

It consists of offensive moves like strikes, punches, gut-kicking, elbowing, etc. It also consists of defensive moves such as grappling, blocking tactics, and choking. They focus more on the offensive impacts than on merely the defensive maneuvers.

In Krav Maga, the quickness and impactful hits you do are the essential points of forcing the enemy into retreat. With the help of Krav Maga, you can improve your footwork and balance, which will help you against an attacker who pushes you to the ground. Krav Maga contains over 200 self-defense and combative techniques.

While that is what the Krav Maga primarily focuses on, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has its focus more on the groundwork and positional dominance. It relies more on precision in delivery and timing, which will stop your opponent from hitting or kicking that may ruin the balance of the fighter.

BJJ focuses more on pinning the attacker on the floor with the help of grappling, escapes, strangulation, and joint-locks, which can lead to the fighter winning without a strike. The art contains more than 600 techniques. Most of the techniques translate well to real-life scenarios.


In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, various techniques and moves are considered to be illegal, and there are also rule sets that detail the techniques that can be used based on the competitors’ skill level. A few examples are that when sparring or competing, you cannot use strikes.

In BJJ, strikes are only allowed in the newly formed Combat Jiu-jitsu where strikes are only allowed open handed when on the ground. No strikes are allowed when standing.

On the other hand, in the Krav Maga system, no technique or move is considered “dirty” or “illegal.” There are also no strict rule sets. What matters is that the defender survives the encounter.


One of the most notable differences between the two combat systems is the use of weapons.

In most cases of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the classes will not have training with weapons, so BJJ is considered to be ideal for people who want to learn to defend themselves without weapons.

Conversely, in Krav Maga, there is the use of some weapons in training. However, they are not utilized until you reach the upper levels. Although there is not much use of live blades, there are still weapons such as plastic guns and knives used to show some basic disarms.

Is Krav Maga or BJJ Better for Self-Defense?

Is Krav Maga Better for self-defense than bjj

Time for the real question: Which is better for self-defense?

Firstly, let’s talk about what self-defense is. It is something that can be gruesome and scary. The only purpose of it is to survive. You won’t be handed all the weapons, and you won’t learn every self-defense technique overnight. You may get injured in the process, and it mostly won’t work out as you planned it to be.

These are all the reasons why you should be learning and perfecting your self-defense.

Now, onto the real question: which one is better?

Krav Maga and BJJ are two of the few self-defense systems that are realistic and can help you find the right technique to defend yourself correctly.

Krav Maga was originally developed for military self-defense and fighting systems for the Israeli Defense Forces. It covers many of the self-defense issues that you face in the real world, as it has been adjusted to fit real-life situations and is tested.

For example, your attacker may attack you with or without a weapon. In Krav Maga, you learn techniques that you can use in both situations. They teach a less extreme version of the military version.

There is also a drill for knife defense where you are supposed to wear a white shirt, and your partner will keep attacking you with the red crayon. You would aim to avoid that red from getting on your shirt.

Furthermore, Krav Maga is better for beginners as most of the tactics can be taught in just one lesson, although you will need to practice to perfect it. You can get faster results from Krav Maga as compared to BJJ. However, Krav Maga can be dangerous due to the involvement of weapons and aggression.

Unlike Krav Maga, BJJ evolved into what it is today. It provides you with more control over your attacker of all shapes and sizes. BJJ prepares you to act smartly and non-aggressively to exploit your attacker’s weaknesses without the use of weapons. That being said, both of these arts are very different from each other, and they both are efficient in their own way.

My suggestion would be to learn both Krav Maga and BJJ for self-defense. They are very distinct from each other, but they complement each other. What Krav Maga lacks, you can find in BJJ and vice versa.

So, if your goal is self-defense, why take any risks and learn both of them?

Should You Learn Krav Maga or BJJ?

Should you learn krav maga or BJJ

You must be eager to know which of the two you should start now that you know all about them, right?

This is a question that does not have a straightforward answer. You need to consider various factors and things about yourself before you decide which one is the best for yourself. Let’s look at some of those things.

Consider your personality

Your personality will play a major role in deciding whether Krav Maga or BJJ is suitable for you.

Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu both require a specific level of aggression to defeat your opponent. And so, you need to see which one you fit in.

In Krav Maga, you require a higher level of aggression. Many people do not have the level of aggression needed to carry out the Krav Maga techniques as it requires them to stab someone in the throat with a pen or gouge out someone else’s eye.

Although most people do not have the aggression level needed, it tends to grow as you get better at Krav Maga.

A problem that you may face in Krav Maga will be if you have to face a more assertive and more aggressive attacker. On the other hand, BJJ focuses more on thoughtful moves and techniques to defeat the attacker. It teaches you to protect yourself and work towards the dominant position.

In contrast with Krav Maga, aggression in BJJ may cause you more harm than good. Too much aggression in BJJ will often land you in an opponent’s submission trap or to you gassing out quickly making you an easy opponent to finish.

Therefore, personality does play a significant role in the decision of the two martial arts.

You can decide, depending upon the type of personality you have. If you can’t see yourself getting as aggressive as Krav Maga requires you to be, going for BJJ would be wiser. But if you still are willing to improve yourself, you can go for Krav Maga.

Consider your Training

Next, you need to consider what you are going to be training in before you make the decision.

Krav Maga has moved further away from its original form developed for self-defense. And as BJJ is growing popular as a sport, Krav Maga now has a reputation as a self-defense system.

The types of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Krav Maga that each gym provides varies from gym to gym. There are variations of the two arts that they provide.

Some schools teach BJJ as either combative self-defense programs or a Gracie self-defense program, which provides training in BJJ for self-defense rather than for sport.

Therefore, you need to consider the type of training that is suitable for you.

Consider your Body

And finally, the last thing to consider is your body and how you are going to use it.

A lot of people are unable to follow Krav Maga techniques as they are based on speed, agility, and explosiveness, and most people are unable to perform accordingly.

But, of course, you can improve yourself physically to fit into the requirements of Krav Maga. However, again, the problem will arise when you come across a person that is stronger and faster than you. There is a high chance you might get hurt.

On the contrary, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu focuses more on using an efficient manner to control and defeat your opponent. Even if your opponent is bigger, stronger, and faster than you, you can still defeat them by using positioning and the clinch to control them.

So, to answer the question of which one you should learn, you need to keep in mind these three things, and then make a decision of which one is the best for you. 

Consider your Purpose

If you would like to compete in a martial art and take a competitive sport seriously, then BJJ is your best choice. With multiple tournaments happening every year, you can compete regularly throughout the year and test your skills.

If self-defense is your number one priority, BJJ is still a great martial art to learn as you get comfortable with having people in your personal space. You learn how you can manipulate another body with leverage.

However, Krav Maga was made for the military and teaches potentially deadly techniques and defensive techniques against weapons. Krav Maga does not have competitive sporting competitions making it potentially more difficult to rehearse live scenarios.

About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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