Krav Maga and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu both boast some of the most dedicated practitioners. They are also similar in that they are both relatively young martial arts. One of the reasons these two styles have such big followings, is that they both have roots in culture. BJJ is a part of Brazil’s history, and Krav Maga is the official hand to hand combat system of the Israeli military.
Its common locker room talk to compare martial arts, and Krav Maga vs Jiu Jitsu is a perennial match-up. The question: “What is the most effective martial art?” is one that can be debated endlessly. Every conclusion made will always have another “yeah but…what if?” at the end of it. While we may never have a definitive answer, this article will give the information you need to decide which is the best for you.
What is Krav Maga?
Krav Maga (Crov- Mag- AH) is often described as a “system” which teaches how to survive in a street or combat situation. It incorporates striking to vulnerable regions, like the eyes, or groin,a s well as some ground techniques like takedowns, sweeps, and ways to get back up to your feet in a fight. It utilizes powerful aggressive bursts to overwhelm an opponent.
The techniques in Krav Maga are actually a patchwork of effective techniques from other martial arts, similar to Jeet Kune Do; a martial art developed by Bruce Lee. For example Krav Maga incorporates the arm bar and closed guard from BJJ (as well as a few other choice techniques), but does not include techniques like the butterfly sweep.
The reason Krav Maga was set up this way was to accelerate how quickly someone could become proficient in hand to hand combat. Someone who has never been in a fight would learn the high percentage moves from striking and grappling and become proficient in a few months. Today all Israeli soldiers receive different levels of Krav Maga training.
History of Krav Maga
Krav Maga was founded in the 1940’s by a Jewish man named Imi Lichtenfeld. Imi developed Krav Maga as a way for Jewish citizens to defend themselves against anti-semitic attacks. When he joined the Israli Military he was promoted to “Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness” and started teaching Krav Maga to the Israli Defense Forces (IDF.)
Lichtenfeld had competed in wrestling and boxing competitions before, and he had done very well. However Lichtenfeld believed there was a difference in combat sports and self defense. As a result it was important to him that Krav Maga was focused almost entirely on self defense and survival.
Krav Maga Today
Today Krav Maga gyms are found all over the world, not just in Israel. Some martial art gyms offer a Krav Maga class to individuals who are serious about learning self defense. Some Krav Maga gyms may even incorporate weapons training, teaching students how to defend against knife and blunt object attacks.
Some Krav Maga academies even offer lessons on how to use firearms.
It is important to note that Krav Maga schools have a curriculum that varies widely from gym to gym. Many Krav Maga instructors have a background in other martial arts and the Krav Maga curriculum they have might resemble that martial art. It is also important to note that much of the Krav Maga training in gyms in the U.S is not the same training Israeli troops receive.
In Israel the words “Krav Maga” are just used to describe hand to hand combat. In colloquial conversation these words could be used to describe a multitude of martial arts. The Krav Maga training the IDF receives is much more intense than it is commonly seen here in the U.S. The drilling in class is done in a military fashion, and there are some curriculum changes that emphasize military tactics and scenarios.
Krav Maga vs Jiu Jitsu – The Key Differences Between the Two
The main differences between these two arts is the techniques taught, rule sets, ranks, combat sports, and weapons training. BJJ does not train defense with any weapons, and has rules in sport Jiu Jitsu. There is also a difference in how these two arts set up their rank system. Krav Maga actually has two ranking systems, while BJJ sticks with a single belt ranking system.
BJJ uses a 5* belt ranking system similar to many traditional martial arts. The ranks in BJJ are:
- White Belt
- Blue Belt
- Purple Belt
- Brown Belt
- Black Belt
*There are also two coral belt ranks, and a red belt rank awarded instead of a 10th degree black belt. However these belts are not normally included when describing the ranking system.
On average it takes more than 10 years to become a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Being a black belt in BJJ means someone has a huge knowledge of grappling martial arts. Because BJJ has live sparring (known as rolling) in every class, it is incredibly difficult to lie about being a black belt in BJJ. If someone doesn’t have black belt level skill in BJJ, it’s very obvious.
Krav Maga Ranking System
Krav Maga actually has two ranking systems and they are both used depending on the gym. Krav Maga originally used belt ranks like other martial arts to describe ability. The belts in Krav Maga are:
Many Krav instructors still wear belts, however in 1987 the Krav curriculum was updated to replace the belts with patches. This was done because Krav Maga’s leadership wanted to distance their art from other martial arts. Imi and Eyal Yanilov (Imi’s protege) wanted Krav to be more military based than a martial art.
The patches in Krav Maga are:
- Practitioner, ranks 1-5
- Graduate, ranks 1-5
- Expert, ranks 1-5
Whether a Krav Maga academy uses patches, or belts depends entirely on the Krav Maga academy. Some academies don’t use any rankings at all.
Krav Maga was designed as an accelerated way of taking people who had no experience, and quickly making them proficient. As such it’s feasible to say that someone can progress much quicker through the ranks of Krav Maga than BJJ. It’s not uncommon for someone to receive the rank of “expert” in 3-5 years.
One significant difference between Krav Maga and BJJ are tests. In many Krav Maga schools tests students must test before they can rank up. These tests include technique and knowledge of the history of Krav Maga. The vast majority of BJJ schools do not have tests. Skill is determined by someone’s ability to roll with higher belts and their coach’s evaluation.
In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, competitions have certain rule sets depending on the competitors’ rank. BJJ is both a martial art and a sport that has many competitions. There are some BJJ competitions that are submission only, but most BJJ competitions have a point system, and some techniques that are illegal. Competitions divide competitors into weight classes, further distancing BJJ from “the streets.”
Krav Maga on the other hand was developed primarily for self defense. As such they have far fewer competitions and virtually no rules. It’s not uncommon for Krav Maga gyms to drill groin strikes and eye gouging.
Techniques like this make it difficult for Krav Maga practitioners to have competitions. However there are a few competitions held in Israel that more closely resemble kickboxing matches. The practitioners wear pads, gloves, and face protection.
BJJ practitioners refer to sparring as “rolling.” During rolling two BJJ practitioners will grapple and attempt to secure a submission (like a choke hold or joint lock) on each other. To the untrained eye it might appear as if the two students are rolling around on the ground. Hence the name “rolling.” Rolling is typically included in all BJJ classes.
Feeling live pressure in every single class is a facet of BJJ that separates it from other martial arts. Nothing will prepare you better for self defense than knowing what it feels like when someone grabs a hold of you and is trying to attack you for real. The term “combat sports” might be misleading to someone who doesn’t train. BJJ absolutely teaches self defense.
Krav Maga also has sparring, although it is not done in every class, once again because you can’t really train with eye gouging or groin strikes. Some Krav Maga academies make sparring optional, and students wear pads when training.
Something Krav Maga includes that BJJ generally doesn’t is weapons training. Almost all Krav Maga academies train how to defend against attackers with knives, blunt objects, and firearms. Students learn how to defend and create openings for escape, and how to disarm people. Some Krav schools even offer firearm training, including how to shoot and responsibly carry a firearm.
In every BJJ academy, you will find classes wearing the gi, and no-gi classes without it. However Krav Maga you will find that the uniform is different for every academy.
In the early days of Krav, practitioners did wear gis. As mentioned earlier, there was a movement to distance Krav Maga from other martial arts. A result of this was that Krav Maga ditched the kimono jacket and kept the pants and in some cases the belt.
Today the Krav Maga uniform varies from academy to academy. Some Krav Maga schools have gotten rid of all the traditional martial arts apparel. Practitioners show up wearing workout clothes. This comes from the mindset that when a street altercation happens you won’t be wearing martial arts gear, so you should train wearing normal attire.
It should be noted there is a misconception of the realistic nature of the gi. Walking around every day you might not see someone wearing a martial arts gi, but many of the collar chokes BJJ teaches still work with t-shirts and jackets. Despite the funny way it looks, training in the gi offers many realistic moves.
How do you pronounce Krav Maga?
Krav Maga: “Crov Mag-AH”
This literally translates to “Contact Combat”
How do you pronounce Jiu Jitsu?
Jiu Jitsu: “Jew Jit-soo”
This translates to “Gentle Art”
Are their belts in Krav Maga?
There are belts in Krav Maga, but depending on the gym you go to they might have patches instead, or even no rank indicators at all.
Does Krav Maga Have Competitions?
Krav Maga generally does not have competitions. However there are some that are held in Israel for certain practitioners.
What’s the Difference Between Krav Maga and BJJ?
Krav Maga likes to describe itself as a “system” rather than a martial art. Krav Maga incorporates striking for escape, while BJJ is a submission grappling martial art. Krav Maga incorporates some BJJ moves.
So which is better, Krav Maga or Jiu Jitsu?
The question “Which is best?” can only be answered with “it depends.” It depends on your temperament and what you are looking for. Krav Maga academies might help you form “situational awareness,” while BJJ gyms might offer you live pressure so you can learn how it feels to really be attacked.
Is Krav Maga better for self defense than BJJ?
At first glance it might appear Krav Maga is better for self defense because it doesn’t have rules, and it was built strictly for self defense. However BJJ has a pretty phenomenal track record in this category. Although Krav Maga has “no rules,” BJJ was originally developed for Vale Tudo mixed martial arts fights in Brazil, which notably had little or no rules governing matches.
Getting to know the feeling of live pressure, and becoming accustomed to it is something BJJ does better than every martial art. It lets you feel the gap between an inexperienced fighter and a black belt without getting seriously hurt. Many UFC fighters come to the octagon with a background in BJJ. It has justified its effectiveness time and time again.
That being said, BJJ doesn’t offer weapons training, and many gyms focus more on preparing practitioners for sport competitions rather than street altercations. There is also something to be said for Krav Maga’s emphasis on situational awareness and learning behaviors that help avoid confrontation in the first place.
Which is More Difficult to Learn?
It takes a significant amount of time to earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. BJJ is known for having a high attrition rate at white and blue belt. BJJ black belts have speculated this is because it can be demoralizing for beginners who roll and get submitted quickly. Also rolling can be uncomfortable, despite the sport’s moniker of “gentle art.”
The BJJ community has been adamant about maintaining the quality of skill generally held by black belt level practitioners. This is why there was so much controversy when Mica Galvo was promoted to black belt at the age of seventeen.
Krav Maga prides itself on taking untrained individuals, and making them dangerous in a short amount of time. It takes less time to reach an advanced rank in Krav Maga than it does in BJJ.
Even Krav Maga instructor Ryan Hoover admits that it can be difficult to find a good Krav Maga gym. This is because Krav Maga gyms don’t compete and so it can be difficult to evaluate the quality of education. BJJ gyms often work hard at producing high level practitioners because it looks good when the gym wins in competition.
When it comes to the question of Krav Maga vs Jiu Jitsu the answer is clear: do the one which you want to do. Whether your goal is to become better able to defend yourself or just to have a hobby you’ll love, ultimately the “best martial art” is always the one you will train consistently at.
Jack is a BJJ purple belt who holds a bachelors degree in English Literature. He enjoys traveling, reading, and the Bow and Arrow choke. One day he hopes to teach English overseas and become a published author.