Judo and Jiu Jitsu

Difference Between Judo, Jiu Jitsu, and Jujutsu

Jiu Jitsu and Judo are “sister martial arts” with a shared history and a lot of overlap in their techniques, and today Jiu Jitsu is further divided into both Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which are very different from each other. In this article, I’ll explain the difference between Judo and Jiu Jitsu and how they came to be the sports they are today.

Are Judo and Jiu Jitsu the Same Thing?

Today, Judo and Jiu Jitsu are very different, both as martial arts and as grappling sports. As a martial art, Judo teaches a series of techniques for off-balancing a standing attacker and throwing them to the ground. These techniques are drilled in a structured way, called “uchikomi” and practiced in live sparring, called “randori”. In Judo competitions, points are earned for throwing one’s opponent in a match. The match is won instantly if a clean throw is performed where the person lands with their whole back touching the mat (called “ippon”).

Photo of a judo throw
Judo is best known for its impressive throws that can happen in the blink of an eye.

Jiu Jitsu has evolved into two branches: traditional or Japanese Jiu Jitsu, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I will discuss both of these in more detail later in this article, but since Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is far more common, I will describe it here as a system of ground fighting techniques, where the goal is to take one’s opponent to the ground by any means possible, and then to control and submit the person using a choke or a joint lock. In a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition, points are scored in various ways, including taking down one’s opponent or achieving a dominant and controlling position. The match can be instantly won by making the other person “tap out.”

Jiu Jitsu armbar
A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner forcing his opponent to tap out or else have his arm broken.

What is Jujutsu?

In order to understand what Judo is, you first have to understand Judo’s predecessor, Jiu Jitsu, a.k.a. Jujutsu.

Jiu Jitsu and Jujutsu are the same word in Japanese (柔術). The word means “the gentle art” and loosely describes the fighting techniques developed in feudal era Japan that use leverage and joint manipulation instead of weapons to defend oneself against an attacker. Over time, these techniques were organized into subsets of techniques according to their specific focus, including the martial arts known today as Judo, Aikido, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, among others.

For example, Judo primarily teaches the Jujutsu techniques that involve taking someone’s balance and throwing them to the ground. Aikido focuses on using joint manipulations to move and throw an opponent, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s primary focus is controlling and submitting an opponent while fighting on the ground. All of these techniques were originally part of “Jujutsu”.

The English spelling “Jujutsu” is more often used to refer to the traditional Japanese techniques. “Jiu Jitsu” is how the word is spelled in Portuguese, the language of Brazil, so “Jiu Jitsu” is how the words is spelled in English when referring to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

What is Judo?

Judo refers to a specific curriculum of Jiu Jitsu techniques developed by Japanese martial arts instructor Kano Jigoro in the late 1800’s. As a child, Kano had a difficult experience learning Jujutsu due to his small size, but through his own perseverance he figured out which techniques worked best for using leverage rather than strength to defeat larger opponents. He codified these techniques into a curriculum that became widely taught throughout Japan overseen by an organization he founded called the Kodakan, which to this day is the governing body of Judo.

The word Judo means “the gentle way.” The “do” part of the word carries the same meaning as the Chinese word “Dao” or “Tao” (as in “The Tao de Ching”). This is worth mentioning because to Kano, Judo was about more than self-defense; it was a means of character development. In 1898, Kano wrote, “By taking together all the good points I had learned of the various schools and adding thereto my own inventions and discoveries, I devised a new system for physical culture and moral training as well as for winning contests.”

Today, Judo has evolved into an Olympic sport, and at some judo schools there is less emphasis on the character development aspect and more emphasis on competition training and strategy, but many people are still attracted to Judo for its original ideal of developing patience and timing as a means to defeat strength and aggression.

You can see all the Judo throws that are part of the Kodakan curriculum demonstrated in this two-minute video:

What is Japanese Jiu Jitsu?

Japanese Jiu Jitsu schools endeavor to preserve the Jujutsu of ancient Japan by teaching a comprehensive series of techniques, including some of the throws found in Judo, and joint locks found in Aikido and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as well as some striking and weapons training. Japanese Jiu Jitsu is very different from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which evolved in the early 1900’s and primarily focuses on ground fighting. The techniques of Japanese Jiu Jitsu were originally designed to be used by and against Samurai who were wearing armor, and are still taught with that in mind.

Here’s a video demonstration of some of the techniques of Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Anyone familiar with Judo or Aikido will recognize many of these techniques:

Japanese Jiu Jitsu tends to focus on developing the skill to perform techniques beautifully against a willing opponent rather than using them to win a fight. In this sense, Japanese Jiu Jitsu can truly be considered a “Martial Art” rather than a combat sport, which is what both Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu have become.

What is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

In the early 1900’s, a Brazilian man named Carlos Gracie learned Judo, reportedly from the Japanese Judo master Mitsuyo Maeda, a student of Kano Jigoro who had immigrated to Brazil. Gracie became famous in Brazil by using these traditional techniques to win prize fights. After Gracie opened a school teaching others the techniques he had learned and adapted to be more geared toward street fighting, the sport became popular throughout the country of Brazil, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was born.

In 1993, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu became internationally famous when Carlos Gracie’s nephew Royce Gracie used it to win the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. Since then, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools has skyrocketed in popularity and is a key part of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training.

While today’s competitive BJJ retains many of the techniques of the traditional martial art it descended from, it is also heavily influenced by wrestling, and includes many newer techniques developed in recent decades which are useful for winning competitions but are not practical for self-defense.

Graphic promoting The Buggypedia online course by Jacob Rodriguez
The “Buggy Choke” is one example of a modern Brazilian Jiu Jitsu technique that would not be taught in a traditional Judo or Japanese Jiu Jitsu class. This photo is advertising an online course that teaches the Buggy Choke.

Which is the Best Martial Art to Learn?

If you are trying to decide whether to study traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or Judo, you need to consider what you are hoping to accomplish and what you are looking for in your training experience.

If your goal is to learn how to effectively defend yourself, you will want to choose a school that emphasizes live sparring in addition to drilling techniques, and for most people Brazilian Jiu Jitsu will be the best option for finding this simply due to the fact that there are currently far more BJJ schools than Judo or Japanese Jiu Jitsu schools in existence, and at those schools you are more likely to find a variety of highly skilled training partners to learn from and test yourself against. Within the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community, there are schools which focus more on competition and schools that focus more on Jiu Jitsu for self-defense. Visiting both styles of schools will help you decide which one is more to your liking.

Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu both give students a more formal martial arts training experience where they will drill a specific set of techniques until they reach a high degree of mastery of those specific techniques, unlike Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in which athletes are given the liberty to develop their own style.

Some students may gravitate toward Japanese Jiu Jitsu because of the greater variety of techniques, including striking and joint locks as well as throws, and because of its connection to Japanese culture. Others may prefer Judo because of its stated aim of developing the student’s character as well as their fighting ability, or because Judo offers more opportunities for students to compete, even as far as the Olympics.

Many people choose to train both Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in order to get a comprehensive education in both standing and ground fighting techniques along with the practical application that comes from live sparring. Some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools even offer kickboxing and Judo classes in order to give their students a more well-rounded education.

In the end, the best way to decide which martial art is best for you to study is probably to research the options that are available in your area and to visit several academies in order to see which one you enjoy the most.

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