Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs Muay Thai

Published by Jason Narog on

UFC Performance Institute

In the battle of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs Muay Thai who would win?

Now, rather than break down which sport is better…. or who would win in a fight…. or any of that stuff (mixed martial arts is all about practicing multiple disciplines so my answer would be why not do both) I’m going to cover the aspects of both, where I personally think one excels over the other strictly from a fitness perspective, and what to look for in a school or academy based on your own comfort levels so you find a school you’ll like and stick with.

For the record, I’m a BJJ blue belt in the Gracie system, I’ve been on a Jiu Jitsu Cruise with top level BJJ competitors, was enrolled in an Americanized Muay Thai program, and flew to Costa Rica to train Muay Thai with the Muay Thai Guy Sean Fagan… I’m also a Certified Conditioning Coach under Joel Jamieson and took part in an NSCA conditioning clinic at the UFCPI.

Jason with Sean

Long Distance Conditioning

Which discipline would cross over the most when it comes to things like 5K fun runs, obstacle course races, etc? I give the edge to Muay Thai. No running, no Muay Thai is an expression in training circles. I ran more when training for Muay Thai than I did doing Jiu Jitsu. Muay Thai requires (in my opinion) more endurance to handle things like circuits on heavy bags (ladder drills, pyramid drills, burn outs) as well as rounds sparring. The intensity of throwing elbows, knees, punches, and kicks requires you to be able to breathe out while executing any move and maintain a level of power and speed behind each movement without burning out.

Don’t get me wrong, a competitive BJJ player is going to need a high level of conditioning as well, as they need to be ready to go for each round of a competition. But your “normal” student in a BJJ class does not need as much long distance conditioning as a “normal” student in a Muay Thai class. Jiu Jitsu is an art of reducing unnecessary movement, you try to beat your partner to grips, you force them to make mistakes while recovering your energy.

Grip Strength

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu beats Muay Thai hands down when it comes to needing grip strength. Everything in Jiu Jitsu is about grips. Gi, no gi, doesn’t matter. You need grips. When you start or haven’t practiced for awhile your fingers and hands will get torn up and your fingers will be sore. You grab sleeves, collars, pant legs, belts, and pretty much anything else you can get your hands on. There’s little things here and there you can do to get better grips without having to use “as much strength” but still you need grips. Multiple points of contact to control your partner / opponent is the name of the game.

Not to say you don’t have grips in Muay Thai, as you do when it comes to clinching. But its a different kind of grip. And you’re wearing gloves. Grips in Muay Thai are more along the lines of an upper body thigh master. You’re grabbing your partner using your forearms, biceps, and triceps. The core comes into play as well, but this kind of grip is more about positioning and repositioning yourself.

Sweaty Contact with Others

I had to put this in here…

Jiu Jitsu is (probably) better for germaphobes than Muay Thai….

At least Gi Jiu Jitsu is.

Why?

Less clothing in Muay Thai.

But either way you’ve got someone else’s sweat on you.

Explosive Endurance

While important to both sports, I feel explosive endurance is more important in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu than in Muay Thai. This would be your ability to explode quickly, then recover quickly. Think of this in terms of sweeps and escapes in BJJ. If you’re in a bad spot, you need to explode out when your opponent gives you the opportunity. Then you get into a better spot and recover.

A quick flurry of combination strikes in Muay Thai would use the same fast twitch muscle fibers, but I feel the long term sustained cardio demand is a “higher priority” in Muay Thai than explosive endurance is in BJJ. You want both in both sports, but if I’m ranking on what’s “more important” I gotta go one direction with one sport and another direction with the other.

Kettlebell swings are the perfect exercise for BJJ practitioners for this exact reason. It’s a strength and explosive endurance activity. You can switch it to more of a long distance activity by lowering the weight and increasing the duration, but typically hard style kettlebell training falls into the explosive endurance category. The same is tru-ish with Bulgarian Bag training.

Most Expensive

Jiu Jitsu can get expensive as you start buying lots of gis. I’ve had the same 2 Sanabul gi‘s for awhile, and they stand up pretty good at under $100. I get a lot of complements on my new Sanabul gi. They retail for under $100.

Rash guards, pants, mouth guard, it does start to add up. But it’s not as bad as Muay Thai.

What Muay Thai stuff did I buy?

  • Wraps
  • Gloves
  • Mouth Guard
  • Head Gear
  • Thai Pads
  • Focus Mits
  • Shin Pads
  • Cup
  • Thigh Pads
  • Belly Pad

The deeper you get into Muay Thai, the more stuff you acquire, especially in America. In a beginner class you can get away with the wraps and the gloves. Maybe you want a cup and a mouth guard. You’ll use the focus mits and Thai pads provided by the academy.

But as you get deeper into training you’ll start buying your own gear. Why? Because using sweaty gear from the school is kinda gross…. And each person in the academy has their own style and brand loyalty. Plus, its quicker to switch from pad holder to driller when you have all your own gear and aren’t running around class looking for things.

Muay Thai is more expensive than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the deeper you get into it.

What to look for in an academy?

Go to the school and watch a class, or take a trial class. Chat with the people there. I believe there are 2 types of BJJ academies

  • casual laid back academy for office dwellers
  • murder gyms

The head instructor sets the tone for which of the two your school falls into. Murder gyms focus more on tournaments. A school can change direction from one or the other based on what the lead instructor is currently into. I was at a casual academy until the lead instructor wanted to get his kids into tournaments and the vibe changed.

Pick whichever is most comfortable for you. You’ll have to get better faster in a murder gym, but you’ll also get better faster and burn more calories.

As for Muay Thai, there are also two types of academies:

  • Westernized with a focus on belt ranks
  • Thai focused on lots and lots and lots of drilling

The Westernized version incorporated in belt ranks to give people a feeling of ranking up. BJJ has a belt system so that didn’t need to be “westernized.” It just is. Traditional Muay Thai has no belt system, no ranking system. It’s for us short attention span Westerners.

Depending on the number of schools around you, try out a few before signing a long term contract to get a feel for what you like. If they offer multiple disciplines (I did BJJ then immediately went into Muay Thai [7pm BJJ, 8pm Muay Thai class] for several months and that was fun) then take advantage.

In the battle of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu vs Muay Thai, you’re the winner regardless of which discipline you choose. You’ll have fun either way and will get into great shape while also making yourself a better person.

 

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