Written By Dylan Knostman
Despite being vastly different sports in practice, the question is often posed to newcomers and veterans of combat sports alike, Muay Thai or BJJ? Of course the question is much more complex than a simple answer, as both sports provide many benefits and challenges in their own unique ways. Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is deeply cultural and the most popular sport out of Thailand. Muay Thai translates to “The Art of Eight Limbs”, as during a Muay Thai fight competitors strike with their hands, elbows, knees, and feet. While the competition side of Muay Thai is quite brutal, it has become widely popular for a wide range of people, all the way from people looking for a good working hitting pads, self defense, and, of course, amateur and professional fighters.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on the other hand, is a grappling sport that was created in the early 1920’s by the Gracie family in Brazil, after taking Japanese Jiu Jitsu and adding elements of wrestling, Judo, and Vale Tudo. Jiu Jitsu is focused on control and submissions while fighting on the ground. No strikes are allowed, therefore to finish a match someone must either show dominant control throughout their match or find a way to make their opponent “tap out” with a joint lock or choke submission. Jiu Jitsu has also become widely popular, as it is easily practiced by people of all body sizes and ages, but the elites in jiu jitsu are some of the most respected combat sports athletes in the world. Without Jiu Jitsu, modern mixed martial arts would not be the same, and the UFC likely never would have found the success it has today. Both martial arts are very valuable and complex sports to pursue, and this article will help you understand the differences and benefits of each.
The history of Muay Thai extends deep into south Asian culture; most people credit the creation of the art in the late 1600’s into the early 1700’s. It takes its origin from the hand to hand combat training of the Siamese army, along with influences from the striking sport Bokator which originated in Khmer empire, which is modern day Cambodia. The sport has become an incredibly integral cultural icon and piece in Thai culture, as it is regarded as the most popular sport in the country, ahead of Soccer and Volleyball. Muay Thai is practiced by children as young as four years old, and due to the economic circumstances and opportunity in fighting, many children fight professionally to provide for their families. Many of the greatest Nak Muays have over 300 fights and have been competing since childhood. Lumpinee Stadium and Rajadamnern Stadium are the two largest in the country, where many of the largest bouts occur. Over the years Muay Thai has spread around the world, and organizations such as ONE Championship have promoted fights internationally, featuring athletes from a variety of nationalities.
Muay Thai fights are typically held in a boxing ring with three three-minute rounds of action. Before the fight starts, most traditional Muay Thai has a full ritual for both fighters called the Wai Kru, which is a ceremonial dance and show of respect to the sport and your opponent. The goal of a Muay Thai match is very similar to other striking sports, as to win you must outstrike your opponent over the distance to secure the judges decision by points, or by knocking out your opponent before the final bell. Muay thai is unique as you are allowed to use all parts of your limbs, meaning punches, elbows, kicks and knees are all legal for use. The other aspect that makes Muay Thai unique is the use of clinchwork, or stand up grappling. Competitors are allowed to grab their opponents’ head and arms for control, and from there can strike or sweep their opponent, which is great on the judges scorecards and is very demoralizing for the fighter who ends up on their back. Bouts are scored on the 10-point must system, which is the same as boxing and MMA. Unlike many other striking sports, leg kicks are not only encouraged but are one of the primary strikes Nak Muays throw. Thai boxers employ a very squared stance, making it easy to throw punches and kicks from both sides of the body. Many of the best kickers in all of combat sports come from the sport of Muay Thai, and the skillset built within the ring are extremely valuable and applicable to many disciplines. The gear worn in a Muay Thai fight can vary based on the level of competition, with amateurs wearing muay thai shinguards, muay thai gloves, headgear, and elbow pads. Generally, one fighter will be the red corner, wearing red boxing gloves and the opposing fighter wears blue gloves. Sometimes the shorts match the gloves, but oftentimes fighters use their own custom shorts. At the professional level, only gloves are worn, with many Muay Thai organizations making the switch from 10oz boxing gloves to 4oz MMA gloves. Fairtex is one of the most well known and trusted brands, which we carry here at ATL Fight Shop.
Muay Thai may be a very intimidating sport, but that should not deter anyone from getting down to their local gym and giving it a try. Even with professional Muay Thai bouts being brutal, that is simply a small part of the overall practice within the sport. In the gym, you will kick and punch pads, gain tremendous core strength and cardio, drench your favorite muay thai shirt in sweat, and build very applicable self defense skills. Muay Thai is one of the best bases for self defense, as you learn how to use every part of your body to strike, and the clinch work is very valuable in a sticky situation. The confidence built from Muay Thai is beyond valuable, and just as many martial arts can translate to other areas of your life. Muay Thai is a very honor and respect-based sport as well, meaning it is rare that you’ll find any competent Nak Muay who is not willing to help and guide you through the process of training this wonderful sport.
On the other side of the combat sports spectrum lies Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (also called BJJ or just Jiu Jitsu). BJJ is a ground fighting sport invented in Brazil in the 1920’s, with influences being taken from Japanese Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, Judo, and Vale Tudo. The sport of jiu jitsu skyrocketed in popularity in the early 1990’s with the start of the UFC, as the unassuming welterweight Royce Gracie dominated the early MMA scene in his gi, using traditional BJJ techniques to submit larger and stronger foes. This gave Jiu Jitsu a reputation as an almost “David vs Goliath” type sport, meaning a smaller and weaker opponent could out-grapple and fight a larger and stronger one. While this perception has certainly waned over time, what remains true is how valuable and important Jiu Jitsu is in a grappling and fighting context. There has been a divide in recent years between gi or no gi jiu jitsu, one where the traditional kimono is worn, and no gi being more influenced by MMA/wrestling and is typically done in shorts and a rash guard(a tight compression shirt). There are many worldwide grappling promotions such as ADCC and the IBJJF, and even more than muay thai, jiu jitsu has benefitted from worldwide exposure and is now one of the most commonly practiced martial arts in the United States and around the globe.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has one the largest varieties and variations in rules of any combat sport. Jiu Jitsu matches are not considered a fight, as there is no threat of strikes and by tapping out at any time you can end the match, albeit with a loss. They are still intense physical struggles, and certain submissions can do damage to the opponent's body. A jiu jitsu match is very similar to wrestling, as the goal is to not only get your opponent to the ground, but also control and submit them to get the win. Most BJJ matches last five to ten minutes with no rest period, and points are awarded for takedowns, guard passes, and dominant positions. Some of the most common positions are closed guard, half guard, mount, back mount, and side control. In terms of submissions, leg locks, rear naked chokes, arm bars, lapel chokes, and front chokes are some of the many tools in the arsenal of a jiu jitsu practitioner. Some weaknesses in jiu jitsu are takedowns and the habit to lie on your back or sit on your butt, which can be easily taken advantage of by good wrestlers. The gear typically worn during training or a match can differ from gi to no gi, but a gi and a belt are worn for gi competition and practice, while no gi is much more lenient with the uniform. Regardless of your preferred style, a mouth guard should be worn at all times.
BJJ has become incredibly popular over the last 10 years in particular, with many people seeking their local gym or club to get on the mats. Jiu Jitsu is a very accessible and approachable martial art for people of all ages and styles. While it can be used in great effect during fights, competition, and self defense, jiu jitsu training is a great option for virtually anyone. One of the beautiful aspects of jiu jitsu is how every body style and shape has its own unique advantages that allow almost anyone to find their own method of practice. The cardiovascular workout and confidence built on the mats is outstanding, and can translate to many other areas of life. Injuries can occur, but the jiu jitsu community is known to be one of the most diverse, kind, and supportive communities and a small search on the internet can show the countless stories of people falling in love with this sport. While no activity is going to be for everyone, anyone who feels like they may benefit from such a martial art should absolutely head to their local gym and take a trial class.
While both Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are very popular and useful combat sports, the differences between the two are quite vast. Muay thai offers the most comprehensive opportunity to learn a variety of strikes, whether that be punches, kicks, knees, or elbows, while jiu jitsu can give you the widest array of submissions to learn of any grappling art. Generally, jiu jitsu can provide a much more calmly paced environment, making it important and beneficial for anyone from a former college athlete or MMA fighter, to someone who hasn’t exercised in a while. Muay Thai is one one the best bases for competitive striking sports, but that doesn’t mean there isn't plenty of opportunity to build your skills while having no intent to compete. One major benefit of learning muay thai is how well clinch work translates to self defense. Since these two martial arts are so vastly different, the question is would you like to become a fearsome puncher and kicker like the champions of Lumpinee stadium, or learn to control and submit people on the ground like the earlier pioneers of MMA and some of the current best grapplers in the world?