Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which One to Train?

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First off, I am not going to compare which is the better martial arts between Muay Thai vs BJJ. That’s like comparing apples to oranges and we all know Muay Thai is better of the two. Just kidding!

While both Muay Thai and BJJ are martial arts that are widely practiced around the world, they are unique and effective skills in their own ways.

Muay Thai is a stand-up striking sport that utilizes punches, kicks, elbows, knees and clinching (a form of stand-up grappling). BJJ is a ground-fighting grappling sport that focuses on chokes, locks and holds.

Both Muay Thai and BJJ can be practiced for self-defense purpose and are popular with mixed martial artists (MMA). 

In this article, I will go into more details comparing the differences between the two popular combat sports and why they are both arguably the most effective combat art in their respective fields.

Also, if you are trying to decide which sport to train in, this article may be able to help you.

About Muay Thai

Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand, from where it originated. It is commonly known as the “art of 8 limbs” from the use of both fists, elbows, knees and shins (kicks).

Muay Thai originated from the ancient martial arts of Thailand, now known as Muay Boran. It was created for unarmed combat during the country’s turbulent years of conflict with neighboring countries between 13th to 18th century.

Muay Boran transitioned gradually into a competitive sport beginning from the late 19th century. Then King Rama V sanctioned royal competitions between Thai warriors.

The sport gained nationwide popularity over time. In the early 20th century, boxing ring, set rounds, and protective equipment such as gloves and groin protectors were introduced through the influence of western boxing. This became known as Muay Thai.

In the 70s and 80s, Muay Thai gained popularity worldwide when Thai fighters defeated exponents of other martial arts including kickboxing, karate and taekwondo in international meets.

The sport received a further boost in early 2000s when Buakaw dominated K-1, the biggest international kickboxing promotion of its time.

For more about the history of Muay Thai, read “Blessed with Venom: History of Muay Thai“.

About Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

muay thai vs bjj

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s name gives a hint of its background. It is a Japanese-inspired martial arts that was developed in Brazil.

BJJ came to be around the early 20th century when Brazilian Gracie brothers founded and developed their own self defense system. Carlos Gracie had learned traditional Judo from a travelling Japanese Judoka and it formed the basis of Gracie Jiujitsu. 

The Brazilian martial art is a grappling and ground-fighting system that uses locks and chokes to defeat or force an opponent into submission. Many liken BJJ to a game of chess, where skills and intellect plays a more important part over pure brute strength.

In fact, one of BJJ’s ideals is that it allows practitioners to overcome larger -less skilled- opponents. Size do matter in BJJ as with all combat sports but perhaps to a lesser degree as shown by Royce Gracie.

BJJ came to worldwide prominence in the 90s when BJJ expert Royce Gracie won the first, second and fourth Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC). This prompted many MMA fighters to take up BJJ.

Gracie submitted a number of his opponents during his UFC years who often had significant weight advantages over him. The most notable “David vs Goliath” victory of his came in 2004 when he submitted 484-lb Chad “Akebono” Rowan. Gracie weighed around 180 lbs. 

A Muay Thai “David vs Goliath” Story

Size matters in Muay Thai and a lot of emphasis is given on weight divisions. Elite Muay Thai competitors typically fight within 1-lb weight difference and make a big fuss when an opponent comes in -however little- above the fighting weight. 

There’s one Thai fighter unlike the rest and has made a name for himself taking on massive opponents. He is none other than Kaoklai Kaennorsing, a Rajadamnern and WBC world champion who fought out of the renowned Jocky Gym.

Kaoklai was a light heavyweight who fought at 172 lbs (78kg). He competed in the open weight category in K-1 between 2004 to 2007, taking on international opponents twice his size.

Although he had never won a K-1 world grand prix championship title, Kaoklai fought many massive opponents including Alexy Ignashov (105kg), Mighty Mo (130kg), Ray Sefo (120kg), and Hong Man Choi (140kg).

He earned himself the nickname of “Giant Killer” and proving the effectiveness of Muay Thai against larger but less-skilled kickboxers. 

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which is Better?

Looking at the prominence of the two martial arts in modern combat sports history, they are arguably the top systems in their respective fields (stand-up striking and ground fighting).

In order to make a fair comparison of the two martial arts, we have to look at them from a few different aspects. As a Muay Thai fan primarily, I will do my best to be as objective as possible.


Most martial arts are created for the purpose of military combat or self-defense.

Both Muay Thai and BJJ do not focus on katas (forms or choreographed pattern of movements) unlike most martial arts. They were made for use in close combat to defeat an opponent by physical force. Muay Thai and BJJ training emphasizes on sparring and partner training.

Muay Thai and BJJ techniques are designed to inflict pain or defend against an opponent/enemy/aggressor. As such, both Muay Thai and BJJ function well as self-defense skills when mastered to a certain level.

Most physical confrontations start off in stand-up, which is where Muay Thai skills come in. If you get knocked out at this point, no ground-fighting or grappling is going to help.

However, a good percentage of street fights do end up on the ground. Being equipped with BJJ skills can end a fight or at least minimize risks. You can force an aggressor into submission or put him to sleep with a proper, deep choke.

How Many Street Fights End up on the Ground?

There is a widely-quoted LAPD study concluding that 90% of street fights end up on the ground. The study was believed to be first quoted and the idea propagated by the Gracie family.

Many dismiss it as a shamless attempt by the Gracies at self-promotion and marketing the BJJ martial art.

The LAPD study did in fact exist but is erroneously misquoted. The actual study was done in 1988, revealing statistics that physical altercations between police officers and suspects end up on the ground 62% of the time. 

This study led the LAPD to institute a ground control skills training program based on Judo and grappling. So a good proportion of physical confrontations do end up on the ground, just not to the degree that many believed it to be.


While all aspects of fitness play a part in both sports, BJJ is more about strength and muscular endurance while Muay Thai is more on power and cardiovascular endurance. Muay Thai practitioners tend to be more lean while BJJ practitioners are more muscular.

Muay Thai training focuses on techniques, striking power, as well as body conditioning, cardiovascular endurance (stamina) and muscular endurance (crucial for clinching). BJJ training also focuses on techniques, but also muscular endurance, grip strength and less on traditional cardio like running.

Training in either sport will make you fit -provided you put in the effort to train regularly- and can help lose weight so long as you also take care of your diet.


The Nak Muay has a wide range of weapons at his/her disposal to avoid the fight going to the ground. A true Nak Muay would also be proficient in clinching (think of it as stand-up grappling).

In his attempt to bring the Nak Muay down, the Jiujitsuka would ultimately render himself vulnerable. Attacks like the knee and elbow strikes can quickly end the fight in close-range scuffle. And the fight can potentially end at this point.

However, most grapplers have at their disposal, basic striking skills like punching. If he is able to successfully take the Nak Muay down onto the ground, that’s the end. It is safe to say that a well-trained Jiujitsuka will finish the game.

At the end of the day, it is not what you know but how proficient or competent you are.

Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which one should you learn?

muay thai brazilian jiu jitsu

There have been a few bouts between Muay Thai vs BJJ over the years but results have been mixed to say the least.

Muay Thai will absolutely dominate in stand-up. But the BJJ fighter will totally wreck the Nak Muay as soon as the fight is taken to the ground. Likewise, all it takes is one small mistake for the Jiu Jitsuka to be knocked out.

Many MMA gyms these days offer both martial arts training. Many mma fighters and fight fans do end up training in both but will have preference for one over the other.

Try both if you are still cannot make up your mind. Trying training a month or two each and you should eventually know which one is more your vibe. Or, you may end up training both and why not?

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2 thoughts on “Muay Thai vs BJJ: Which One to Train?”

  1. Great article, I will only add that it’s not even about how well trained you are in your given discipline, but how well you’re able to apply it under the pressure. E. g. GSP, oss


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