BJJ vs Krav Maga for Self Defense: Read Before Starting!

For thousands of years, martial arts have been an effective form of self-defense. Among the many martial arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga stand out when it comes to self defense. But there are serious differences between them.

So before you make a choice to train either one, read this article. I’ve listed the pros and cons of both, their differences, similarities and how they could be utilized in a real-life situation.

What is BJJ like?

Jiu-jitsu translates to ‘the gentle art’, but don’t be easily fooled; this martial art could prove lethal for an attacker. Since every fight begins on the feet, it uses wrestling takedowns and judo throws to take the fight to the ground.  

When the fight gets to the ground, that is where the BJJ fighter shines. It then employs the use of locks and chokes to subdue or finish the opponent. Basically, it is ‘ground-fighting’, and where your attacker doesn’t have any grappling skills, he would literally feel like a fish out of water. 

Well, it is no news that Brazilian jiu-jitsu has proven to be effective against other martial arts, going back to UFC 1 when Royce Gracie constantly used his BJJ to defeat martial artists from other disciplines.

However, one thing that bears mentioning is its effectiveness as a form of self-defense. In fact, jiu-jitsu was invented by Carlos Gracie for smaller and weaker persons to defend themselves against larger and stronger individuals.  

It is great for self-defense and besides MMA, there’s hardly any martial art better for that purpose. However, just like with everything, it has its limitations. Let’s take a look at some of its benefits and limitations. 


1. Emphasizes technique over strength. So, if you’re not the strong and athletic type, BJJ is perfect as it doesn’t depend on brute strength to defeat an opponent. Hence, why it is highly recommended for women and smaller individuals. 

2. BJJ gives you a range of responses. Although it can be used to cause serious harm, BJJ allows you to subdue an opponent without causing irreparable damage. So you can defend yourself safely without having to fear that you might kill somebody. 

3. Highly realistic and effective against other martial arts. So, in case your attacker has some fighting knowledge or skills, your BJJ could still prove vital for your safety. The same cannot be said about Krav Maga, which provides a “Jack of Many Trades, Expert of None” approach. 


1. Not a great choice when facing multiple opponents. Since it is exclusively grappling, applying BJJ in a street fight against multiple opponents would leave you open to attacks and you could easily be stomped on or even attacked with weapons. 

2. Doesn’t employ the use of strikes. So until you can grab your opponent, you’re susceptible to strikes. So, if you realistically want to defend yourself in street fight situations, you have to supplement your BJJ with some striking training. Boxing would be a good choice.

3. It doesn’t involve weapons training. If you’re solely training BJJ for self-defense, you’ve got to be aware that street fight situations tend to involve weapons. 

4. BJJ has evolved as a competitive sport. So rather than for its techniques and strategies to be optimized for self-defense situations, practitioners train with rules and a scoring system in mind; all of which do not exist in a street fight. 

BJJ application in a self-defense scenario

Although BJJ as a sport seems to be the order of the day, it is nonetheless still great for self-defense. In a real-life fight, here are some of the best submissions and techniques to apply. 

1. Guillotine choke: Since every fight starts on the feet, this submission could be crucial. It can be applied while standing, off your back, and even in mount. Even better, it can be used effectively by the most inexperienced grapplers as all you need to know are the fundamentals of hold mechanics. No wonder it is the second most used submission in MMA. 

When your opponent has some knowledge of wrestling or MMA, they’d be tempted to take you down by shooting for a double leg or a single leg, and this is when the opportunity for the choke will open. So just lock it up and end the fight in seconds. 

2. Americana shoulder lock: While off your back might be the world where BJJ dominates, you shouldn’t be too comfortable there. It is always better to be in dominant positions like mount or side control. In these positions, one of the best submissions to apply would be the Americana shoulder lock.  

To use this techinque, you pin the attacker’s arm to the ground, thread your other arm through his bicep, then grab your own wrist. What’s left would be to torque on the shoulder and submit the opponent. Even when it fails, you’d still be in the dominant position where you can simply hold him down, throw strikes, or call for help. 

3. Armbar: Of course, this list can’t be complete without the third most used submission in MMA and real-life situations. It is even one of the first submissions you’d be taught since it is really practical and can be utilized when in mount and off your back. 

When in mount, the bad guy would usually try to push you off him and that is when you snatch the arm and hyper-extend it. But when your opponent is stronger, it is best to wear him out with ground and pound before going for the armbar. 

When on your back, usually the attacker would attempt to hold you so as land strikes, gauge your eyes, or wrap their hands around your neck to strangle. That is when you grab their arm and initiate the arm bar. 

What is Krav Maga like?

Having been originally created as a form of military self-defense for the Israel Defense Forces, Krav Maga is rightfully one of the best martial arts for self-defense. It translates to ‘contact combat’ and is true to its name as it prepares you for real-life combat situations.

This martial is not as limited as BJJ, rather, it employs techniques from a variety of martial arts like aikido, boxing, jiu-jitsu, judo, etc. to develop the ultimate self-defense arsenal. 

Krav Maga is like something out of the movies. It uses very basic techniques (blocks, strikes, and holds) to quickly neutralize a threat and allows you to counterattack while defending. Unlike the gentle art, I’ve got to confess that Krav Maga is pretty violent and it uses dirty techniques. Since it was made for ‘real life situations’, it allows you to attack the eyes, groin,

throat and teaches you to use any weapons that might be available, even your keys and pens – just like John Wick. It truly prepares you for all kinds of scenarios. 


1. Great techniques for self-defense: As far as self-defense is concerned, Krav Maga is highly effective. You’d be better prepared for such situations and able to neutralize the threat quickly. The use of dirty strikes like eye gouges and groin strikes only makes it better realistic for street fight situations. 

2. It includes both striking and grappling: Unlike BJJ, Krav Maga is pretty well-rounded. Although you’d not be an expert in either striking or grappling, you’d nonetheless be skilled enough to neutralize an untrained attacker. 

3. Includes training against armed opponents. Since it was originally created for soldiers, it teaches how to defend against weapon attacks and how to employ basic gadgets as weapons. 


1. Krav Maga can be pretty expensive. On average, learning Krav Maga costs $80 per month. So consider the depth of your pockets before joining.

2. No competitions: Since there are no sanctioned Krav Maga competitions, how would you test your skills? Well, you might be thinking sparring, but that’s just another area where Krav Maga is lacking. 

3. Lack of hard sparring: Due to the violent nature of some of its attacks (dirty strikes), sparring is very limited. You cannot try techniques in full force, so it looks scripted like you’re role-playing – no wonder its techniques are frequently used in movies. 

Krav Maga application in self-defense scenarios

Krav Maga training involves hundreds of moves and scenarios that you’d likely not come across. Here are three very likely assault scenarios and how to defend them.

1. Kick the groin: Perhaps the number skill to learn is kicking the groin with lots of speed and power. When you find yourself facing your attacker, kick with your rear leg, engaging your quads and hip flexors.

Also, always aim with your shin. Using your foot or knee would mean that you could miss the target. But with the larger surface area of the shin, the impact is almost a certainty.

2. Stop an outside strike: This may seem rather basic, but it could do a great job of protecting you from slaps, punches, or even weapons. As an assaulter approaches you from the front, bring your arms out, extend your fingers, and slightly bend your elbow.

As he tries to slap, punch, or swing a baton at you, use one forearm to block it and at the same time, make a perfect fist with the other arm and punch your attacker in any soft spots on his face – eyes, nose, jaw or even throat. 

3. Escape a bear hug: Not the cozy kind of bear hug. This is when an attacker grabs you from behind, pressing your arms against your body. In this scenario, quickly drop your weight down by getting in a squat position.

With your feet wide apart, you should attack your opponent’s groin perhaps with an open palm or a punch striking hard and fast. From there you can make your escape or continue with your strikes, depending on your experience. 

Key differences between BJJ and Krav Maga

Being two of the best forms of self-defense, they do share some similarities. However,  the world of differences between them is undeniable.

Perhaps the most obvious difference is that while Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a sport, Krav Maga is exclusively a self-defense system.

In real-life situations, there is no scoring system, rules, or time; it is all about defending yourself and inflicting damage on your opponent. The shift to competition has made BJJ lose some of its effectiveness as a self-defense system. 

Krav Maga, on the other hand, has remained a self-defense system rather than a sport. There has not been any sanctioned Krav Maga competition due to the violent and dirty strikes used, hence, it has been able to maintain its priority as a form of self-defense. 

Another difference between them is the technique and strategies used. While BJJ doesn’t involve striking, Krav Maga does to some extent. Although a Krav Maga practitioner wouldn’t be an expert striker, he’d at least be able to stand his ground when strikes are being thrown.

Lastly, the absence of weapon training in BJJ is not negligible. Realistic self-defense training must involve weapon training and BJJ lacks in this aspect. Krav Maga, however, teaches how to disarm an opponent. While most of the weapon training may seem unpractical, it nonetheless teaches you awareness. 

Which is better for self defense?

Of course, as I have emphasized throughout this article, Krav Maga is better oriented toward self-defense. Not only does it prepare you for a stand-up battle, but it also teaches how to defend yourself where your opponent is armed. Even better, within six months to a year of training, you’re likely to be proficient enough in self-defense.

In BJJ, you won’t be trained for a striking battle or if your opponent is armed. Also, it takes several years to master the skills necessary. As it stands, Krav Maga appears to be taking the lead in the argument. However, it has some drawbacks.

After every BJJ class, practitioners spar putting their skills into practice. Through that, the skills become more reflexive, the practitioners become better conditioned and they get to know the techniques they are best at. With Krav Maga, practitioners have to memorize moves, and when in true danger, those memorized moves could easily fly out the window.

Another reason why BJJ might be better than Krav Maga for self-defense is the ability to scale the violence. You wouldn’t have to knock an opponent out or break their limbs to subdue them. Simply getting in a dominant position and holding the person down could do the trick.

Also, if your opponent is trained in any decent martial art, your Krav Maga could be found lacking. BJJ, on the other hand, is proven to be effective against other martial arts.


Both of these martial arts are great for self-defense, so you will definitely be better off training in either one. However, if you have only six months to learn self-defense, then, Krav Maga would be my preferred choice. On the other hand if you want a truly effective martial art where you can constantly spar and hone your fighting skills, then go for BJJ. 

Peter Jerome

A seasoned MMA practitioner and an intermediate in BJJ and Krav Maga. When I'm not knocking heads with someone in a dojo, I like chilling out with my girlfriend and our adorable pug Betsy.

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