Striking and grappling are two sides of the same coin called “fighting.” Usually, martial arts place a more considerable emphasis on one or the other, and Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu are among the best representations of each. But which is better?
Muay Thai and BJJ each have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and neither is better. Muay Thai is a striking martial art and combat sport utilizing all limbs as weapons, while BJJ specializes in grappling on the ground.
Being so different, comparing Muay Thai and BJJ may seem strange. Still, as two of the most popular martial arts on the planet, many people are wondering which one to choose and how they stack up in different situations, and this article has the answers.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a comprehensive grappling system from Brazil that teaches how to control and submit an opponent on the ground using leverage and technique.
BJJ emphasizes taking the fight to the ground, where size matters less, and finishing the fight using a joint lock or a choke. It is a well-tested and thoroughly proven effective system for fighting.
BJJ was created in Brazil and is derived from traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu and judo, created by the Gracie family in the early 20th century. For a long time, BJJ was used for self-defense and no-rules fights, which is a testament to its effectiveness.
Since the 1990s, BJJ has grown immensely because of its huge success in early MMA, proving that a complete fighter must also be competent on the ground.
In recent years, BJJ has grown more as a separate sport than a fighting system, where grapplers face each other in highly technical bouts with no striking.
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The sport has grown immensely, and today BJJ has a worldwide competition scene with world championships and millions practicing for fitness, well-being, and even as professional athletes.
Muay Thai is a combat sport and martial art originating in Thailand. It is considered a national treasure and a representation of the culture. It is a striking combat sport called the “Art of 8 Limbs” because it allows punches, kicks, elbows, and knees.
Muay Thai, translated as Thai boxing, can be traced back to the 13th century. Its historical versions have been used on the battlefield by soldiers for unarmed combat.
It gradually became more standardized and used for sport until the early 20th century. It became formalized after contact with western boxing, when weight classes, gloves, timed rounds, and the boxing ring were implemented.
Today, Muay Thai has huge worldwide recognition and following as a separate sport and an integral part of MMA.
Using all striking weapons and extensive clinching and close-range fighting has elevated Muay Thai as one of the most effective and realistic combat sports. In recent years, more people have picked up the sport as a way to get in shape.
Key Differences Between BJJ and Muay Thai
Muay Thai operates in the striking domain and uses all limbs available to the human body. There are punches similar to western boxing, kicks thrown with power and delivered with the shin, elbows, and knees.
Thai-style kicks are the most powerful roundhouse kicks in all martial arts due to the mechanics aiming to deliver them with the most force possible.
Aside from striking techniques, Muay Thai fighters have a deep knowledge of clinching, which is scored highly in matches. Control, delivering knees and elbows, and throwing or sweeping the opponent from the clinch are integral parts of the game.
BJJ is all about ground fighting and uses a vast array of techniques to obtain dominance in the domain. Several different guard positions must be mastered both on offense and defense.
Sweeps are used to reverse the position inside those guards. Joint locks put the body and limbs in painful positions, forcing the opponent to submit or suffer the consequences of not doing so.
Chokes are another way of finishing the fight, either by submissions or by separating the opponent from consciousness. Takedowns are present in BJJ but receive much less attention than in most other grappling martial arts.
Professional Muay Thai fights are fought in a boxing ring in three to five 3-minute rounds. All punches, kicks, elbows, and knees are allowed, and the fight can be won by a knockout or by the fighter the judges declare the winner.
Three judges score each round based on several criteria, which include successful striking and effective grappling techniques in the clinch. Scoring in Thailand is slightly different than in most other places, as Thais emphasize certain rounds and certain techniques more than others.
BJJ has two main sports branches: gi and no-gi. As the name suggests, the former uses a traditional gi, which also plays a vital role in grappling as it can be grabbed and used. Grapplers in no-gi BJJ wear tight shirts and shorts that cannot be manipulated during the competition.
In both versions, the rules strictly ban all forms of striking. The aim of a match contested on mats is to submit the opponent or win the match on points.
Points are scored for takedowns, guard passes, holding dominant positions like mount, or almost finishing a submission. Different BJJ organizations have different rules, which may vary depending on competitors’ rank.
Training in Muay Thai is evenly split between solo drills like shadowboxing, bag work, and strength and conditioning and partner/trainer work like pads, clinch drills, and sparring.
On the other hand, BJJ has fewer solo drills and focuses more on training with a partner and live sparring called rolling.
The conditioning demands of striking and grappling are different, as are those of Muay Thai and BJJ. BJJ is all about skill, but strength and endurance become crucial when the skills are equal.
BJJ athletes need to develop all 3 energy systems. Still, they must have serious aerobic endurance because of the 6:1 average work-to-rest ratio, so aerobic conditioning is essential to BJJ conditioning.
Strength training for BJJ is also important as it gives a competitive advantage over similarly skilled opponents. The demands are not that great, but a good BJJ competitor is likely to have good general strength on the basic lifts like bench press, squat, and deadlift.
Grip strength is also crucial in BJJ and must be trained. So a comprehensive strength and conditioning program is a must if you aim to reach higher levels of BJJ.
Muay Thai requires a high level of both aerobic and anaerobic conditioning. Maintaining high output for a whole fight or sparring session is crucial for success, and cardio training is essential.
Traditionally, running is a vital part of Muay Thai, but long, no-rest drills like clinching or shadowboxing mixed with jumping rope are also often used to improve aerobic capacity.
Traditionally, strength training with weights had no place in Muay Thai. Still, in more recent years, Muay Thai strength training has been implemented into the sport with the advancement of sports science and training methods.
The main areas to work on are reactive and explosive strength, improved by exercises like jumps, squats, pull-ups, and many more explosive movements with and without weights.
BJJ vs. Muay Thai For MMA
BJJ and Muay Thai are the two most prominent martial arts in all of MMA, covering the grappling and striking aspects of fighting, respectively. If one thing has become crystal clear, one cannot go without the other in a cage fight, and each MMA fighter needs to be able to hold his own on the feet and the ground.
BJJ is the most comprehensive system for submission grappling, and especially in its self-defense version, it is exceptionally effective in MMA. After all, its popularity arose directly from the early success of fighters such as Royce Gracie and other grapplers in MMA.
On the other hand, Muay Thai includes more weapons in a standup arsenal than other striking martial arts and combat sports, making it a perfect fit for MMA. Then in Muay Thai, there is extensive clinching and close-range fighting, making it the preferred striking discipline of many MMA fighters.
BJJ and Muay Thai are crucial for MMA and are considered two of the four main pillars of the sport, so they are equally important and effective in MMA. Of course, like with every other martial art, many techniques and concepts must be modified before they are usable in MMA.
Muay Thai vs. BJJ for Self-Defense
BJJ and Muay Thai are equal in their self-defense applications. BJJ was created as a self-defense system, and the live training with constant sparring preserved that purpose.
BJJ ground fighting skills teach anyone, regardless of size, how to control and subdue an opponent on the ground. The only downside of BJJ for street fights is the lack of striking and situations with more than one opponent.
Things become more difficult to predict when sports BJJ is brought into the mix. Many of the main positions and average distances used in grappling matches are not appropriate for self-defense where striking is present, so this is something to keep in mind- self-defense BJJ is very different than sports BJJ.
Muay Thai is also excellent for self-defense. The extensive arsenal of powerful and deadly strikes that includes punches and kicks at a distance and knees and elbows up close makes Muay Thai effective at all striking ranges, which is very good in unpredictable real-life situations. The clinch is the most common position in a street fight, and this is Muay Thai’s domain.
Full-contact sparring and training in Muay Thai prepare the body and mind for violence, which is also an important point missing from some martial arts. Then the negative side is that if the fight hits the ground, if Muay Thai is all you know, you may be in deep waters without the ability to swim.
So BJJ and Muay Thai are both excellent for self-defense but in different ways. One can be better than the other, depending on the specific situation.
Muay Thai and BJJ have unique strengths and weaknesses, so depending on the situation, either one can win over the other. From what we know from MMA, if the fight goes to the ground, BJJ will win every time, but if the fight stays standing, the Thai fighter will dominate.
Whether the fight will go to the ground depends mainly on the personal skills of both fighters. It’s worth noting that Muay Thai fighters are much harder to take down from the clinch, where most BJJ practitioners transition to the ground.
Comparisons of virtual styles vs. styles are usually easier because one has a clear advantage. But in the case of BJJ and Muay Thai, when both have such field-proven effectiveness and representation in MMA and real-life altercations, both have equal chances of winning.
Should You Start Muay Thai or BJJ?
The best option to become a complete martial artist is to train in both, even if one receives most of your time and effort. But each martial art has immense benefits on its own as well.
The biggest decision you need to make is the choice between striking and grappling. Some people have an affinity for one or the other and will always choose based on that.
While with some martial arts, you have to make compromises in effectiveness for self-defense or MMA, in the case of BJJ and Muay Thai, both bring much to the table. The choice again comes down to personal preference, accessibility, and goals.
If you are looking for competition, both offer well-developed scenes from amateur levels all the way to world championships. Both are great for fitness development, each with its intricacies and specifics.