There are plenty of options out there when it comes to grappling martial arts, but if you are keen on doing so in a Gi there are two titans worth considering: BJJ and Judo.
As similar as they are in terms of both belonging to the group of competitive grappling martial arts, the two also feature significant differences.
While training both would make you an unstoppable grappler without a doubt, it is more likely that you find yourself trying to solve the BJJ VS Judo conundrum all on your own.
Allow us to lend a helping hand.
A Brief History of Judo
Understanding is crucial when it comes to making informed decisions and understanding the roots of something is always a great place to start.
So, let’s see how our two grappling titans came to be.
First, a look at the roots of Judo, the older of the two. The person credited as the founder of Judo is Dr. Jigoro Kano, a Japanese martial arts enthusiast who was looking for a way to practice the fighting style of the Samurai in a more modern setting.
Up until the early 19th century the legendary warriors of Japan, the Samurai were practicing Ju Jitsu, loosely translated as “the gentle art”. It was a system of grappling-based close-quarters combat, allowing them to overcome armor-clad enemies on the battlefield.
The armor made striking ineffective, so the Samurai developed a system of joint locks, strangles, throws, and gouges, to be able to defeat their enemies.
The change in politics and social order resulted in the disbanding of the Samurai in the early 19th century, and with them, the practice of Ju Jitsu seemed doomed.
Enter Dr. Jigoro Kano, who took the ancient teachings of the Samurai and turned them into something more “user-friendly”.
He focused on selecting the techniques that can be used in a sport setting, strongly encompassing motion as he did, and dubbed his version of the old grappling art “Kodokan Judo”. Kano opened his first school in 1882 and is the man credited for the creation of the Judo uniforms, known today as the “Gi“.
Kodokan Judo was a system meant for the masses since there were no more warriors akin to the Samurai in need of such training. As people picked up on the sport, it grew rapidly, becoming the official martial art of the Japanese law enforcement and military structures, and a national sport.
Judo reached its pinnacle in 1964 when it was introduced in the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, gaining recognition as an Olympic sport, which it still holds to this day, which is one of the more important differences between Judo and its successor, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
A Brief History of BJJ
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling-based martial art coming from Brazil but with its roots stemming from Dr. Jigro Kano’s Kodokan Judo.
One of Kano’s most esteemed students, a Judoka named Mitsuo Maeda decided to tour the world in an attempt to learn more about grappling martial arts. During his quest, he partook in no-holds-barred matches across the globe, trying to learn as much as he could.
His journey eventually led him to Brazil, where he settled down and decided to teach his mixed style of grappling that was centered around Kodokan Judo, but also involved excerpts from wrestling, catch-wrestling, and other grappling styles he picked up along the way.
One of Maeda’s earliest students was a local scrawny kid, named Carlos Gracie. He picked up on Maeda’s teachings quickly and went on to develop his own unique style, teaching his brother Helio in the process.
Carlos Gracie decided to give respect to the roots of Judo and named his grappling style “Jiu Jitsu”, adding “Brazilian” to the name and highlighting it as a distinctive new martial art.
The brothers Carlos and Helio took Maeda’s teachings further, turning BJJ into a family affair and coming up with one of the best marketing strategies in martial arts history: no-holds-barred contests challenging martial artists from all backgrounds VS BJJ.
Eventually, the Gracies moved their challenges from Brazil to the USA, organizing the first-ever UFC event in 1993, and forever changing martial arts in the process.
What’s the Difference Between BJJ and Judo
There is no one main difference between BJJ and Judo. There are several, starting with the Olympic status of Judo, which Brazilian Jiu Jitsu lacks.
Other key areas where the two grappling martial arts differ include the design of the uniform (Gi), the competitive rules of both sports, crucial technical aspects, and the belt system used to rank practitioners.
Judo Gi VS BJJ Gi
The Gi (or as some call it, the kimono) is a traditional uniform for practicing Judo, originating from Japan. The name “Gi” translates to “clothes” and is an often used shorter version of “keikogi” which in Japanese means “training clothes”.
A Gi consists of three parts: the jacket (uwagui), pants (shitabaki), and the belt (obi). Although all three of these are present in both BJJ and Judo, there are slight differences in the design.
The Judo Gi is a modified version of the Samurai Gis, which were colored differently, signifying belonging to a specific clan. Kano tweaked the design a little, taking some parts of the Samurai Gi out (like the Hakama, those baggy dress-like pants they wear in Aikido) and making it sturdier, shorter, and tighter.
Kano also took away the color, only allowing white Gis in his Kodokan Judo Academy, for his students to feel equal on the mat, regardless of their social standing outside of the gym.
The BJJ Gi was the Judo Gi when the Gracies first started training. The small framed Helio found it difficult to grapple in the baggy Judo Gi, which has trademark wide sleeves to make gripping for throws stronger. The skirt of the Judo jacket is also designed to maximize throwing, something that got in the way of Helio’s grappling style.
The first modifications were exactly those – making the sleeves tighter and shortening the skirt of the jacket. Reinforcements in key areas such as the knees of the pants, the seams of the sleeves, and the collars followed.
The difference between the Judo and BJJ Gi nowadays is in the cut: BJJ Gis are tighter and shorter, while Judo Gis are baggier and feature a long skirt.
Color-wise, black, blue, and white Gis are allowed in BJJ competition, whereas only white and blue are the official Gi colors of competitive Judokas.
Judo Rules VS BJJ Rules
Speaking of competition, both Judo and BJJ are competitive martial arts, which means they are structured around sets of rules. These rulesets, based on the specific technical foundations of both sports, are one of the main differences between Judo and BJJ.
Judo is a bit more restrictive in terms of rules, as is any sport which is bound by Olympic standards.
The main competitive goal of a Judoka is to grab and throw their opponent on the ground, aiming to land the opponent with both their shoulder blades on the mats. This constitutes an “Ippon” or a match-winning point.
Gripping is only allowed on the upper body in Judo, with all grips below the belt deemed forbidden. Throws, foot sweeps, and trips are the usual means of getting to the ground.
In situations where the opponent does not fall on their back, the match can continue on the ground, with points awarded for the throw. Certain choke holds and arm locks are also allowed once both contestants are on the ground and a tap to said submissions also means victory.
Once on the ground in Judo, though, contestants only have 20 seconds to apply their submissions or pin their opponent. Check out the video below of high-level Judo in action.
BJJ, on the other hand, has a system of rules that is not as restrictive. The focus in BJJ is on ground fighting exchanges so no matter how somebody lands, the most they can get is points.
Positional dominance on the ground (pinning the opponent in specific positions) also earns points in BJJ, something which does not happen in Judo where grapples only get 20 seconds to work before returning to their feet.
Similarly to Judo, submission holds will win a match in BJJ, but extend not just to more choking and arm-locking options, but also leg locks as well, which remain banned in Judo.
Another rule highly specific to BJJ is the opportunity to grab the opponent and pull them on top of you in a guard position from the top, thus avoiding an exchange of throws and takedowns when standing. No points are awarded for this action, called “pulling guard”.
Both sports feature different competitive categories based on belt level, weight, age, and sex.
A crucial aspect that divides Judo and BJJ is the technical aspects.
Judo is the art of throwing someone on the mats and as such is unprecedented in terms of manipulating the upper body via grips, causing people to go off-balance before the land with force and speed to the ground.
The majority of Judo techniques explore the different ways to throw or trip the opponent to the ground. Once on the ground, there is a limited number of moves available, as the focus is on the standing exchanges.
In BJJ, things are the other way around. the groundwork is super diverse and complex with hundreds of different techniques available to attempt to get to a scoring position, advance to the next one and eventually, finish with a submission.
While BJJ matches start standing just like Judo, there are many more ways to end up on the ground, including grabbing the legs for wrestling-style takedowns and pulling guard, both of which are not allowed in Judo.
What it comes down to is that technique-wise BJJ excels where Judo lacks (on the ground) and vice versa, Judo is the strongest where Jiu Jitsu is the weakest (in standing exchanges).
The original belt system in Kodokan Judo consisted of a white belt, followed by a black belt after years of training.
As the sport spread around the world, a Judoka named Mikonosuke Kawaishi introduced the colored belts in his Paris school, understanding the Westerners’ need for immediate gratification.
The modern belt system in Judo originates from Kawaish’s system and includes the following for both adult and child practitioners:
- White belt
- Yellow belt
- Orange belt
- Green belt
- Blue belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
Beyond the black belt, there are a couple of extremely rare belts that very few Judoka around the world have earned. There are red and white, and red belts. These take a lifetime of dedication to earn and therefore are extremely uncommon.
In BJJ, the Gracies decided to modify the belts, reducing the number of belts to only five for adult practitioners:
Similarly to Judo, BJJ has an elusive belt after black belt, in the form of the Coral Belt. This is only awarded if a BJJ practitioner has been an active black belt for 30 years.
In both sports, stripes (pieces of tape on the belt) represent degrees within each belt color, including black.
Judo VS BJJ: Which is Better for Self Defense
Ah, the burning question that has been part of martial arts for as long as modern society exists.
All martial arts are useful in self-defense, and yet there is not one that is guaranteed to help you in a real-life physical altercation. Self-defense situations are hectic, violent, quick, and unpredictable, and, as such, are best avoided.
For the sake of argument, however, I would give the mantle of more self-defense oriented to BJJ over Judo, if nothing else for the mere fact that BJJ is practiced without the Gi in addition to Gi training. This means that gripping does not rely on the type of clothes worn by your opponent which in self-defense is not a variable you can control.
That said, both arts are highly effective as proven by their inclusion in many law enforcement and military organizations. The “catch” is that for either of them to work in a real-life setting, you must spend some amount of time training regularly.
Judo VS BJJ: Which Has More Injuries?
Both of these grappling martial arts are hard on the body, regardless of whether someone competes or just trains as a hobby. BJJ and Judo are both full-contact sports with regular live sparring sessions which translates to wear and tear on the body.
Statistically speaking, most serious injuries in grappling martial arts and MMA come from takedown training given that the variables during standing exchanges are impossible to control. Since both sports involve standing exchanges, the injury rate is similar. Yes, Judo does have more standing than BJJ, but there are more unorthodox positions on the ground in Jiu Jitsu which bring about a risk of an injury that is not as present in Judo.
I would say that the injury rate in training and competing in both is pretty similar. The sports rules are there to protect the contestants, and as long as you are training in a gym with competent and certified coaches you won’t be in any more danger of injury than playing basketball or football.
BJJ VS Judo: Final Thoughts
To summarise, BJJ and Judo are complementary grappling martial arts, whose differences are mainly defined by their different technical and tactical strengths and weaknesses.
While some aspects of the uniforms, rules, techniques, and rankings are different, both are effective self-defense martial arts that, when practiced responsibly, do not present a significant injury risk.
As a practitioner and competitor in both, I’d recommend trying your hand at both, rather than pegging them together in a BJJ VS Judo manner and trying to figure out which one is better.