Jiu Jitsu vs. Muay Thai

In the past a common argument among combat sports enthusiasts and martial artists was whether grappling or striking was the superior style.

Now-a-days with the benefit of head to head testing in the octagon it’s clear that a merging of the styles is necessary to compete with the best of the best, and neglecting to train one or the other could prove disastrous for a fighter.

In this post I want to lay out the differences and similarities between two of the most common and effective arts in their respective styles as we try to discover how aspects from both styles became so essential in Mixed Martial Arts.

In order to properly contrast these martial arts for those who aren’t familiar with one or the other, I’ll give a quick primer on Jiu Jitsu vs Muay Thai below.

two girls doing muay thai

Jiu Jitsu

Jiu Jitsu or often commonly called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a submission grappling martial art and was founded by brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie in the 1920's.

They adapted Judo techniques in such a way that allows a smaller opponent to use leverage and the momentum of their opponent to gain a dominant position and ultimately submit them.

Jiu Jitsu players will often compete against one another in pure submission grappling matches under a variety of rulesets.

It really started to gain mainstream notoriety as an effective art in the early days of the UFC (which was founded by Rorion Gracie) when Royce Gracie was able to submit much larger opponents to the shock of audiences around the world.

Now a Jiu Jitsu gym can be found in nearly every US city and countless other countries to become a truly world wide phenomenon.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is a primarily striking martial art known for its use of clinches, elbows, knees, shins and fists in what is known as “the art of eight limbs”.

Founded in Thailand and tracing its origins as far back as the 16th century, this ancient and effective boxing style started to grow in prominence to western audiences more recently and is now practiced in many other countries.

Muay Thai is more commonly seen in practice in pure Muay Thai boxing matches but many UFC fighters such as Cowboy Cerrone and Jon Jones have adapted its techniques to great effect in the octagon as well.

Now that we know a little bit of background on each martial art let’s take a look at what they have in common.

Jiu Jitsu vs Muay Thai

To begin to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each art in their pure form compared to the other, here’s a quick breakdown.

 Jiu Jitsu Muay Thai
Primarily Grappling Primarily Striking
Utilizes Takedowns or guard pulls to get the fight to the ground Uses the clinch and distance management to keep the fight in striking distance
Rarely trains striking defence Rarely trains takedown defence
Ends fights with submissions Ends fights with knockouts
Emphasis on closing distance to engage in a grapple Emphasis on distance management to engage in strikes


Common Threads

On its face it may seem that a striking art and a grappling art have almost nothing in common, but one thing that I think helps to explain their effectiveness in real combat sports is a similarity between the two, that is, sparring.

Both Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai feature the ability to test their various techniques against fully resisting opponents in a controlled setting.

This basically means that a practitioner of either art can be confident after many hours on the mats that their techniques will work in a real fight scenario, whether that be in a match or in self defence.

Any martial art that can be practiced at full speed against a resisting opponent will always have an edge over those that don’t.

This fact has been demonstrated again and again and can be seen in such places as the original Gracie Challenges (a precursor to the UFC) and countless other examples all over the internet.

Head to Head

So in a fight, Jiu Jitsu vs. Muay Thai, who wins? Admittedly the answer to this question will likely be disappointing to some because ultimately it depends entirely on the fighter.

Muay Thai has a distinct advantage while standing, but on the ground Jiu Jitsu dominates.

You can find plenty of examples of great grapplers being knocked out before ever managing to take the fight to the ground and conversely many high level strikers have been choked out while being unable to employ their skill set on the ground, and there are many videos on YouTube that show both scenarios.

So like many things in combat sports there’s no clear answer, there are just too many variables to make a blanket statement.

As stated in the opening of this article it's far less common today than in the early UFC to see purely one style fighters, most if not all are training some form of both grappling and striking as both are needed to keep up in today's MMA environment.

Which is Right for You?

Maybe you came to this article not so much to find an answer to which art is “better” but are interested in training a martial art and are curious which might be best for you.

I think that answer comes down to several factors, if you’re more interested in striking in general then Muay Thai is for you, if you think grappling sounds like more fun then go find a Jiu Jitsu gym, and if you want some of both there are MMA gyms all over now to teach you a more complete system.

If you’re more interested finding a fun way to stay in shape and want to be able to train as long as possible, it's fair to say that both arts can offer great cardio workouts, but from what we now know about traumatic brain injuries and general longevity, it’s always going to be safer to not be repeatedly hit in the head and any style of boxing is going to carry more risk toward that end, so Jiu Jitsu may prove to be safer in the long run, but it is not without its own share of injury risk.

No combat sport is risk free so measure your level of comfort for risk and make your decision based on that.

Both arts are going to offer great environments for discipline, self improvement, camaraderie and ultimately developing a skill set that will be tested in such a way that you can feel confident that what you’re learning actually works in the real world.

Happy training!

About the Author

taylor alexander
This article was written by Taylor Alexander, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Purple Belt.

You can learn more about him here.