Do you want to learn how to defend yourself? Then it’s good that you’re comparing Brazilian jiu jitsu and Krav Maga. Both are great self defense arts, and both have their own advantages and disadvantages. I’ve done both, and in this article I compare BJJ and Krav Maga. I will tell you what they are, what the main differences are between Krav Maga and BJJ, which is better for self defense and which one you should choose.
What is Krav Maga?
Krav Maga is a self defense system that was developed in Israel. It was created in the 1930s by Imi Lichtenfeld, a former boxer who was also a fighter in the Israeli army. The main goal of Krav Maga is to neutralize an attacker as soon as possible. That’s why Krav Maga focuses on quick, effective techniques.
Krav Maga was taught to the Israeli army, Mossad, Shin Bet, and many other organizations. Krav Maga is a great art for self defense in dire situations, but you can also use it for MMA and sports fighting. And of course it’s great for self defense for women. As a matter of fact, Israeli women are famous for their self defense skills.
What is BJJ?
Brazilian jiu jitsu is a grappling based martial art. It was developed in Brazil by the Gracie family. The Gracie family was involved in vale tudo (mixed martial arts) in the early 20th century. The Gracie family started with judo, but when one of the brothers challenged a boxer to a fight, they developed Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Brazilian jiu jitsu is all about control. You don’t want to injure your opponent, you want to make him submit. The main principle of Brazilian jiu jitsu is the position of the body, more than the position of the arms. A lot of techniques are based on taking your opponent’s balance away. When you are on the ground you are on top and you want to neutralize the opponent’s force.
Key Differences Between Brazilian jiu jitsu and Krav Maga
Brazilian jiu jitsu and craft Maga are both combat sports that can be used for self defence. However there are also some important differences between BJJ and Krav Maga.
Jiu jitsu vs Krav Maga: Sport vs combat system
The main difference between Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga is that Brazilian jiu jitsu is a sport while Krav Maga is a combat system. Both have their benefits.
Brazilian jiu jitsu is a very technical and skillful sport. It is a martial art that focuses on the use of technique and leverage. The goal of Brazilian jiu jitsu is to submit another skilled opponent under full resistance.
Krav Maga, on the other hand, is a combat system. It focuses on the effectiveness of its techniques and teaches you how to defend yourself on the street. Krav Maga doesn’t care about rules, points and time. The goal of Krav Maga is to defend yourself and stop the attacker. The attacker may or may not be skilled, and it’s preferential to beat him before he starts resisting.
Assumptions about self defense and violence
The type of self defense that you learn in BJJ and Krav Maga is different. Both sports make different assumptions about what a realistic self defense situation looks like.
Brazilian jiu jitsu assumes that there are no weapons or multiple opponents. Why? Because if there are, you lose anyway. BJJ believes no martial art can ever enable you to beat multiple people reliably, or to beat a guy with a gun or knife. Therefore, jiu jitsu focuses on what you can control, namely on 1 vs 1 unarmed altercations. Further, BJJ assumes that 70% of street fights end on the ground, so ground fighting skills are emphasized.
Krav Maga assumes opponents can be armed and always intent to kill you. Why? Because it was developed for the Israeli army. Therefore, Krav Maga often opens with eye gouges, and other severely illegal actions in most countries. For Krav Maga, every self defense situation is life or death.
Techniques of Krav Maga vs Jiu Jitsu
Let’s consider another main difference between the two martial arts. Jiu Jitsu is a grappling martial art that focuses on locking, choking and ground fighting. In other words, you will be on the ground most of the time. You will learn how to defend yourself from the bottom position and how to submit your opponent. And unless you do Gracie jiu jitsu, you won’t learn striking techniques.
Krav Maga is a complete combat system that mixes different fighting styles. It borrows striking techniques from boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai. Its training system uses kata’s, similar to other traditional martial arts like wing chun, aikido and Karate. In these kata’s you will learn how to disarm your opponent, how to use strikes, kicks, elbows and knees. You will also learn some techniques that are not allowed in BJJ, like eye gouges, throat strikes and groin strikes.
Belt systems of Brazilian jiu jitsu vs Krav Maga
Both Brazilian jiu jitsu and Krav Maga have a series of belts that indicate progression through the ranks. However, their belt systems are completely different.
In the BJJ belt system you don’t have to pass a belt test to progress to the next rank, but your coach watches you in training and when you’re ready for the next belt, you get it. This unstructured belt system is why the BJJ black belt takes the longest to get of all martial arts.
but in Krav Maga you have to pass a test.
In Krav Maga you pass certification tests to get your next certification. The advantage of this is that you’re able to progress through the ranks much quicker if you study well for the test. The drawback is that some people game the system. They focus only on the tests and not on the martial art as a whole.
Gear and clothing – Jiu jitsu vs Krav Maga
There are also some differences in the gear and clothing used for BJJ and Krav Maga. For Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you need a gi (a uniform that looks like a judo uniform). You can use other training gear too, such as a rash guard and shorts. Which gear you need depends on whether you choose gi or no gi jiu jitsu. In both you can also use other gear such as a groin protector, tape and headgear.
Krav Maga, on the other hand, doesn’t use a uniform and the training gear is very simple. You will need a set of clothing that you will use during the class and a pair of shoes. You don’t need any other gear.
Does Krav maga use BJJ?
Yes and no. Krav Maga uses some grappling techniques, but Krav Maga doesn’t want to be on the ground for long. So most grappling techniques of Krav Maga are performed shortly from a standing position.
Krav Maga grappling techniques list
The main grappling techniques of Krav Maga are:
- Technical stand up: Krav Maga doesn’t want to be on the ground, so the first rule is always to stand back up again. They use a technical stand up technique for this.
- Headlock escape: Krav Maga also teaches escapes against the most common headlock positions on the ground. Think of the schoolyard bully headlock. Again, the rationale behind this is to get up again.
- Ground strikes: Krav Maga also uses short and quick strikes on the ground. The goal of these strikes is either to quickly neutralize the opponent, or to distract him to find the space to get up.
- Submission escapes: Krav Maga does not teach submission escapes. So you won’t learn how to escape an arm bar, Americana, or choke. The reason for this is that Krav Maga assumes that 99% of people don’t know these techniques anyway, so it’s a waste of time to learn the defenses against them.
What’s wrong with Krav Maga?
I just want to emphasise some of the disadvantages of Krav Maga to people that don’t have experience with martial arts. To an untrained person Krav Maga may sound like the ultimate self defense system, but the following are actually huge drawbacks of Krav Maga:
- There’s no sparring in Krav Maga, so you don’t learn to do the techniques under pressure. Krav Maga is a self defense system, not a sport. Moreover, its techniques are violent, such as groin strikes and eye gouges. This implies that you cannot do sparring in Krav Maga – that means you cannot try your techniques in full force against a fully resisting opponent. Therefore, you almost certainly won’t be able to perform the techniques in a real altercation.
- Krav Maga techniques are too violent. You may think this is a good thing, but then you are probably picturing a life or death street fight situation. You need to realise that 99% of self defense situations are not life or death at all, they’re just scuffles. In these situations, it’s preferable to neutralise your opponent while using as little violence as possible (also from a legal liability perspective).
- Weapons training is nearly useless. Krav Maga focuses a lot of time on weapon defense techniques, which is almost a complete waste of time. You need to accept that no combat sport can prepare you for combat situations against an armed opponent. I don’t care if you’re Helio Gracie, an MMA champion, or a Krav Maga practitioner with a thousand Krav Maga classes under your belt, a random guy with a gun or knife is still going to kill you.
Krav Maga vs Jiu Jitsu for Self Defense
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is better for self defense than Krav Maga for 99% of people. I’ll explain why I have such a strong opinion about this.
Sparring is essential
BJJ training involves sparring and violence scalability. Sparring teaches you to apply your techniques in full force, against fully resisting people, in a stressful situation. Because you spar every day in BJJ, you’re sure you can count on your techniques in a real self defense situation.
Krav Maga training doesn’t involve sparring. It couldn’t have it, because you can’t practise eye gouges and groin strikes in full force – you’ll injure yourself in training. No sparring means no actual experience with self defense situations.
You need violence scalability
Krav Maga is extremely violent, which is good if you’re fighting in a war. But, most Krav Maga techniques aren’t even legal in normal self defense situations. If somebody pushes or threatens you in a bar, it’s not legal to gouge his eyes out in a surprise attack. Moreover, from an ethical standpoint it’s preferable to neutralise opponents with as little violence as possible.
BJJ has extremely violent techniques too. You can literally break someone’s leg or choke someone to death with BJJ. But, you can also just take double underhooks and hold him until he calms down. You want to be able to scale your violence to what’s needed for the situation, and you can do this with BJJ.
BJJ is better than Krav Maga for self defense
The combination of sparring and violence scalability make BJJ better than Krav Maga for self defense. I know that this can come as a surprise to untrained people, who assume that more violence is always better, and who value weapon defense techniques. My best advice is to quickly try a class in any martial art to experience the stress and difficulties of sparring, and I’ll think you’ll be quickly convinced.
The only time Krav Maga is better than BJJ
There’s only one situation in which Krav Maga is better than BJJ for self defense: war. If your opponents all want to kill you and probably have weapons, you want to learn Krav Maga. In war you’re also allowed to use extreme violence.
Is BJJ better than Krav Maga?
Yes, BJJ is better than Krav Maga for self defense, fitness, and sportsmanship. The reasons for this are that Krav Maga lacks sparring and violence scalability, both of which are strong suits of Brazilian jiu jitsu.
However, Krav Maga is still a thousand times better than doing nothing. So don’t let me discourage you from trying out Krav Maga if that’s what you want to do. The most important thing is that you start somewhere. I started with Japanese Jiu jitsu, which is more similar to Krav Maga than to BJJ. And I don’t regret it, because it was a great entry point into martial arts.