BJJ vs Muay Thai: Which is better? MMA, Self Defense, Fitness & More

BJJ vs Muay Thai: which is better? I trained both and in this post I compare Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and tell you the pros and cons of each for:

  • Self defense
  • MMA
  • Fitness (strength, flexibility, endurance and more)
  • Injuries

After this post you should know which you should choose, BJJ or Muay Thai, depending on your goals. Let’s get into it.

bjj vs muay thai

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are both martial arts that deal with fighting, but they are not the same. Muay Thai is a martial art that originated in Thailand and is a form of kickboxing. Muay Thai fighters use their fists, elbows, knees, and shins to strike opponents. Thai boxing is more about power than speed. Muay Thai is a good martial art for self-defense and as a form of cardiovascular and strength training.

What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that originated in Brazil. It is a form of grappling. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighters use joint locks and chokeholds to immobilize opponents. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is less about power and more about leverage and technique. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a good martial art for self-defense. It is also good for athletes and those who want to get in shape.

BJJ vs Muay Thai for self defense

Both are great for self-defense if the individual knows how to use them in real life situations. Both integrate live sparring in their training, which is the most important thing for learning self defense.

Live sparring teaches you to stay calm under pressure when somebody attacks you. It also gives you a realistic perspective of what works in a real fighting situation.

Pros and cons of BJJ and Muay Thai

The most obvious pros and cons of BJJ and Muay Thai are that BJJ doesn’t teach striking and Muay Thai doesn’t teach ground fighting. So they’re both limited.

However, both can used to great effect, as long as you use their strengths.

In fact, I believe that BJJ is great for self defense, but only if you use the correct BJJ self defense strategy. Otherwise it’s actually dangerous to use BJJ in a street fight.

But there’s a very important way in which BJJ is great for self defense but Muay Thai isn’t.

Why BJJ is better than Muay Thai: Violence scalability

The biggest con of Muay Thai is that it doesn’t have a lot of violence scalability. This means that almost all of its techniques are very violent.

If you want to neutralize someone with BJJ, you can grab him while standing (least violent), put him on the floor and hold him down (still not very violent), choke him unconscious (more violent but leaves no damage), or punch him down on the floor (very violent).

If you want to neutralize someone with Muay Thai, your only option is to start punching and kicking him until he’s down. 

Why violence scalability matters

Violent techniques such as punches and kicks sound great if you picture yourself in a fully escalated street fight.

But in reality, you want to be able to win fights without doing major damage.

Firstly because you want to protect yourself from legal ramifications. if you knock somebody out you can definitely get a fine or even go to jail.

Further, a lot of situations can be deescalated if you just hold somebody down, instead of punching him. 

If you punch someone, you start a fight. If you pin someone, you end a fight.

Furthermore, many fights occur between friends or friends of friends. If you’re at your brother’s wedding or at a party with your company and somebody is being toxic,  it’s not acceptable to start punching the guy. But it’s acceptable to grab the guy and put him in a corner, and if he doesn’t calm down to hold him down on the floor.

And there are also many occasions in which you might not want to hurt somebody even if he attacks you first. For example if you get attacked by a drunk I would prefer to deescalate the situation while still doing no damage to the drunk. Maybe you don’t agree with me but I just feel like even if somebody is being toxic doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to get injured for it.

So is Muay Thai useless for self defense?

Hell no!

Muay Thai still teaches you confidence and how to stay calm in fight situations, which is the most important thing for self defense.

And Muay Thai even teaches some basic trips and takedowns which are useful in street fights.

And although it doesn’t teach ground fighting, most people that might attack you can’t fight on the ground either, so overall you’ll still have a massive advantage if you do Muay Thai.

BJJ vs Muay Thai for fitness

Muay Thai focuses a little bit more on strength and power than BJJ. ‘Jiu-Jitsu’ translates to ‘the gentle art’ and that’s because of the emphasis on technique rather than strength.

Therefore if you’re looking to build muscle and get in shape Muay Thai has a slight advantage over Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

However if you’re looking to get fit by far the most important thing is that you do the martial art that you enjoy doing the most.

Enjoyment is what gets you into the gym more often, and there’s nothing better for getting in shape than training more often.

BJJ vs Muay Thai for weight loss

Both of these martial arts are very good for losing weight. Muay Thai is a good workout for building muscle and burning fat. Because of the high intensity of Muay Thai training, you will burn a lot of calories and lose weight. BJJ is also great for weight loss because sparring is a large part of every class, and it’s a very intensive workout.

However, the main reason people lose weight is not because of the martial art that they practice, but because of their diet and exercise. So it is important to set goals and follow a healthy diet and exercise plan.

BJJ vs Muay Thai for flexibility

Both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai are good for flexibility. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is good for flexibility because you are constantly in a position to stretch, especially when playing guard. Muay Thai is good for flexibility in the legs because you need to throw high kicks.

BJJ vs Muay Thai for strength

Both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai are good for building strength. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is good for strength because the positions that you use in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques require strength. Muay Thai is good for strength because you need to use a lot of different kicks and strikes.

BJJ builds mostly isometric strength and pulling strength in your back and biceps, whereas Muay Thai builds more explosive strength in the shoulders and chest.

BJJ vs Muay Thai for speed

Both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai are good for improving speed. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is good for improving speed because the techniques that you use in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques require agility. But Muay Thai definitely builds up more speed in your hands, legs and footwork. It’s a faster paced sport.

BJJ vs Muay Thai for endurance

Both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai are good for endurance training. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is good for cardio training because you are constantly in motion. Muay Thai is good for endurance training because it requires a short burst of energy every time that you throw a combination.

BJJ guy vs Muay Thai guy: Who would win?

A BJJ guy has a better chance of beating a Muay Thai guy than the other way around.

We know this because it’s just the classic grappler vs striker situation which the early UFC events proved are always won by the Grappler.

Why does BJJ beat Muay Thai in MMA?

The reason for this is that the only way for the striker to win is to knock out the Grappler while they’re still standing.

The grappler on the other hand, just needs to hit a takedown to bring the fight to the ground (because the striker can never get back up again and is helpless on the ground). 

And taking the fight to the ground is much quicker and easier than knocking somebody out.

But what if the Muay Thai guy knows takedown defense?

Of course this question gets harder if we assume that the striker learnt some grappling or takedown defence.

Or, if we assume that the grappler learns some basic striking.

The early UFCs were the best case studies for comparing different martial arts, because the different arts didn’t spy on each other yet.

Nowadays, everybody in the UFC trains all aspects of MMA, even if they specialise in some aspects. So it’s harder to compare styles.

You have the same problem with Youtube videos. If you check the video below, you’ll see they advertise the fight as a ‘BJJ guy vs Muay Thai guy’. However, the BJJ guy seems to actually be better at boxing than the Muay Thai guy…

So it’s very hard nowadays to compare martial arts styles against each other.

Ultimately, a combination of different martial arts is better than any 1 martial art. 

And which combination of martial arts is the best. is what UFC athletes are now trying to figure out.

Bjj vs Muay Thai for Injuries

Both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai can cause injuries, but the most common injuries in both are different.

Muay Thai injuries

Muay Thai can cause injuries because you are throwing, punching and landing kicks. The types of injuries muay thai causes are sprains, bruises and concussions.

BJJ injuries

BJJ can cause injuries because you’re throwing overextending joints. You can expect to get minor injuries when you tap too late to submissions, and bigger injuries can happen when somebody falls on you during a takedown. 

My experiences with injuries in BJJ and Muay Thai

I’m pretty lucky that I never got a serious injury in either sport. But, I’ve broken my nose in Muay Thai, which sucked because it really hurts.

I’ve gotten black eyes from both (in BJJ because people accidentally Muay Thaied me).

I broke my hand doing backyard Muay Thai with a friend. This didn’t hurt as much as you would think.

And I tweaked my ankles and elbows dozens of times in BJJ from tapping too late, but this always healed within a week or so.

I’ve seen my friends have more catastrophic injuries in BJJ than in Muay Thai. These were all during chaotic takedowns, when somebody fell with their full weight on the side of someone’s knee. This type of injury requires surgery and takes people out for more than a year.

Final thoughts on BJJ vs Muay Thai

BJJ and Muay Thai are both awesome martial arts. Doing either is a million percent better than doing no martial art.

However, BJJ is better than Muay Thai for several purposes. 

BJJ is better than Muay Thai for self defense because of its violence scalability.

BJJ is better than Muay Thai for MMA, because grapplers beat strikers, as was proven in the early UFCs.

BJJ and Muay Thai both have pros and cons for fitness, strength and cardio training.

And Muay Thai is harder to learn than BJJ, which is a reason to start learning BJJ first.

But again, the real answer to whether Muay Thai or BJJ is better comes down to your preference. Whichever you enjoy more is the one that you should train.

FAQ about BJJ and Muay Thai

Is Muay Thai harder to learn than BJJ?

Yes. Muay Thai is much harder to learn than BJJ because it relies much more on timing, and timing takes a long time to develop. BJJ relies more on knowledge, which you can learn instantaneously.

Another reason is that ground fighting is less intuitive than stand up fighting, which makes untrained people worse at it. Not that people are intuitively great strikers, but they do instinctively try to block and dodge punches.But they don’t instinctively dodge guard passes and chokes, because they don’t know what those are.

To give a very broad comparison, after doing BJJ for 2 years, you have a 95% chance to beat untrained opponents. But if you do Muay Thai, you may only have a 75-80% chance to beat untrained opponents. Because untrained people can still throw basic punches, but they can’t do anything on the ground.

Should I learn BJJ or Muay Thai first?

If you are interested in learning either martial art, you can definitely choose either. Both BJJ and Muay Thai are awesome martial arts. Both are great for self-defense and for getting in shape. It does not matter which martial art you learn first. You can also learn both.

That being said, Muay Thai sparring is much harder on the body than Brazilian jiu jitsu sparring. So if you want to immediately start sparring I would advise you to start with learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu first. This will get your body used to some amount of impact before you start taking heavy blows in Muay Thai.

Also, Muay Thai takes longer to learn. So if you want to get better at fighting fast, you should learn BJJ first.

Can I combine BJJ and Muay THai?

I think combining BJJ and Muay Thai is a fantastic idea. I think they’re the best grappling martial art and the best striking martial art, so if you do both, you become a well rounded fighter.

Of course, the obvious question is why you wouldn’t just train MMA then. But I think there’s value in learning each art separately. 

The truth is that MMA guys are worse at grappling than BJJ guys, and worse at striking than Muay Thai guys, so you don’t get the best of either. (Of course the upshot is that you immediately learn how to combine them in an effective way.)

BJJ and Muay Thai are also an effective combination in the UFC. Basically, you can use your confidence on the ground to throw kicks constantly without fear of being taken down. Ryan Hall is an example of someone who uses this strategy.

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