The Art of Grappling: Japanese Jujutsu and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Contrast

Last Updated May, 2024

A Japanese Jujutsu practitioner and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner

Though Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has gained widespread recognition and acclaim, its roots trace back to a martial art less explored by many: Japanese Jujutsu (JJJ).

While BJJ enthusiasts revel in the art's ground-based grappling and submission techniques, the lineage and techniques of JJJ remain lesser-known. We aim to uncover the shared threads of tradition and the divergent paths that have shaped these two distinct yet interconnected martial arts.

Japanese Jujutsu, with its ancient origins intertwined with Japan's feudal era, embodies centuries of refinement in combat techniques designed for samurai warriors.

In contrast, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emerged years ago from the innovative minds of the Gracie family in Brazil, focusing on ground fighting and leveraging technique over brute strength.

In this examination, we embark on a journey to unravel the mysteries of Japanese Jujutsu, illuminating its techniques, principles, and historical significance.


Imagine a samurai warrior on the battlefield, disarmed and facing a formidable opponent. This is the very scenario that birthed Japanese Jujutsu (JJJ), a centuries-old martial art designed for survival in close combat.

JJJ's history is a captivating tale steeped in tradition and martial prowess, tracing its origins to the turbulent era of feudal Japan. Developed centuries ago, it was honed by samurai warriors as a comprehensive system of unarmed combat for battlefield encounters and personal protection.

During the Sengoku period (1467-1603), a time of constant warfare, samurai warriors relied on JJJ to master the art of unarmed combat, often facing life-or-death situations where their survival hinged on their ability to subdue opponents without relying solely on weapons.

Rooted in the principles of using an opponent's energy against them, JJJ evolved to encompass a wide array of techniques including strikes, joint locks, throws, and groundwork.

Origin of schools

Over time, various schools (ryu) emerged, each refining and specializing in particular aspects of the art.

  • Kito ryu: Focused on striking and close-quarter combat
  • Daito ryu: emphasized joint locks and throws.

Despite its ancient origins, JJJ's enduring legacy persists in modern martial arts, influencing disciplines such as Judo, Aikido, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Philosophy and Principles

The philosophical underpinnings of BJJ and JJJ reflect the distinct cultural and historical backgrounds of each martial art.

While both disciplines share a commitment to self defense, personal growth and self-improvement, their approaches diverge based on their unique origins and cultural influences.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian jiu jitsu focuses on ground fighting. It's philosophy revolves around the concept that technique and leverage can overcome size and strength. This emphasis on strategy, timing, and positional dominance fosters a problem-solving mindset, encouraging practitioners to adapt and innovate on the mat.

It's a philosophy that celebrates the triumph of the underdog, where a smaller, weaker individual can overcome a larger opponent through superior technique and strategic thinking.

Japanese Jujutsu

In contrast, traditional Japanese jiu jitsu places greater emphasis on traditional values such as discipline, respect, and honor, drawing from Japan's feudal warrior ethos.

JJJ philosophy encompasses a holistic approach to martial arts training, integrating physical, mental, and spiritual development. It emphasizes harmony with one's opponent and surroundings, as well as the cultivation of character and self-control.

This philosophy reflects the values of a warrior class trained not only for combat but also for self-discipline and mindfulness.

Japanese Jujutsu Techniques

JJJ encompasses a diverse array of movements and techniques, each meticulously designed to neutralize threats and overcome opponents with efficiency and precision.

From dynamic throws to intricate joint locks, JJJ offers practitioners a comprehensive arsenal for both armed and unarmed combat.


JJJ throws, like the powerful hip toss (o-goshi), utilize leverage and body mechanics to swiftly take down an opponent.

By manipulating an opponent's balance and applying well-timed force, practitioners can gain control and transition to advantageous positions.

Joint Locks

JJJ joint locks, such as the wrist lock (kote-gaeshi), target vulnerable joints, applying pressure to force submission.

These techniques require precise control and understanding of body mechanics to effectively subdue an opponent without causing permanent damage.


Grappling techniques emphasize control and manipulation of an opponent's body, often utilizing leverage and momentum to transition seamlessly from standing to ground positions.

JJJ practitioners train extensively in groundwork, developing the skills to dominate their opponents on the mat.

Striking techniques

While JJJ is renowned for its grappling and joint-locking techniques, its striking aspect also holds significant importance within the art.

JJJ practitioners are trained in a variety of striking techniques including punches, kicks, elbows, and knees, which are seamlessly integrated into their combat repertoire.

These strikes are not merely standalone techniques but are often utilized as setups for throws, joint locks, or to create openings for further attacks. With an emphasis on precision, timing, and efficiency, JJJ striking techniques aim to incapacitate opponents swiftly and decisively. Japanese Jiu jitsu also has a techniques for striking defence

Additional Techniques

JJJ also incorporates various other techniques such as:

  • Atemi-waza: Striking techniques targeting vulnerable points on the body.
  • Weapons training: Some JJJ schools train with traditional weapons like swords and staffs.

Through this diverse arsenal of techniques, JJJ practitioners develop a well-rounded skillset that equips them to handle various combat scenarios with confidence and effectiveness.

Training Methods and Competitions

Training methods and competitions in JJJ are characterized by a blend of traditional practices and modern adaptations.

JJJ training typically encompasses a holistic approach, integrating physical conditioning, technical drills, and practical application of techniques.

Students engage in partner drills to refine their striking, throwing, joint-locking, and ground fighting skills, with an emphasis on controlled, full-contact sparring to simulate real-world combat scenarios.

Differing form BJJ training, forms (kata) are also an integral part of training, allowing practitioners to practice techniques in a structured manner and develop muscle memory.


While JJJ competitions are less common compared to BJJ competitions, they do exist and may include demonstrations of forms, controlled sparring (randori), and sometimes limited rule matches.

These competitions serve as opportunities for practitioners to test their skills, gain experience, and showcase their proficiency in the art.

Additionally, many JJJ practitioners engage in cross-training with other martial arts disciplines to further enhance their abilities and broaden their understanding of combat.

Belt systems

The belt system of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and JJJ differ in several key aspects, notably in the number of belt colors used to signify rank.

In BJJ, practitioners typically progress through a hierarchy of five colored belts, commencing with white and advancing through to the prestigious black belt (and sometimes beyond black belt).

Conversely, JJJ often employs a more expansive array of colored belts, including additional intermediate belts before the coveted black belt.

This contrast in the number of belt colors reflects the distinct traditions and approaches embraced by each martial art, with BJJ emphasizing simplicity and focus, while JJJ incorporates a broader spectrum of progression and development.

The order of colored belts in JJJ can vary between different schools and lineages. However, a common progression for colored belts in traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu usually follow this order:

  • White
  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Brown
  • Black

Parting Thoughts: Embracing the Journey of BJJ and JJJ

As we conclude our exploration of BJJ and JJJ, it's clear that these martial arts transcend mere combat techniques. They represent a rich tapestry of culture, tradition, and personal growth.

BJJ's focus on ground fighting and strategic grappling reflects its modern, dynamic approach, while JJJ's diverse techniques and emphasis on discipline harken back to centuries-old traditions of Japanese warriors.

Through their unique philosophies and training methods, both BJJ and JJJ offer practitioners a path to:

  • Physical Fitness: Developing strength, endurance, and coordination through rigorous training.
  • Mental Discipline: Sharpening focus, strategy, and problem-solving skills.
  • Camaraderie: Building a sense of community and belonging within a supportive group of practitioners.

So, whether you find yourself on the mats of a BJJ gym or in the dojo of a JJJ school, embrace the journey, learn from every experience, and let the lessons you take shape not only your skills but also your character.

Remember, the true essence of BJJ and JJJ lies not just in mastering techniques but in the personal transformation that unfolds along the path of practice and dedication.

Whether you're drawn to the intensity of BJJ's competitions or the timeless wisdom of JJJ's forms, one thing is certain: the journey through these martial arts is as rewarding as it is challenging.