The increasing popularity of mixed martial arts sport has brought much attention to two of the most effective martial arts in the world: Muay Thai, the most effective stand-up striking martial art and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the most dominant grappling martial art.

About Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or more commonly known as BJJ, is both a martial art and a sport. It developed from the Japanese martial art of Judo sometime around 1882. The “jiu” in Jiu-Jitsu and “ju” in Judo are merely anglicized nuances and are actually the same Japanese word, which means “gentle” or “soft”.

BJJ’s rise to fame and prominence came in the way of Royce Gracie’s dominance in the beginning years of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the 90s. Royce Gracie is a member of the prominent martial arts Gracie family that was pivotal in the development of BJJ. Royce’s excellence in ground combat brought attention to the effectiveness of BJJ and since then, the grappling art has developed into a permanent fixture in every mixed martial artist’s repertoire.

About Muay Thai

Muay Thai, or Thai kickboxing, developed from the traditional Thai martial arts of Muay Boran by incorporating elements of western boxing in the early twentieth century. Like boxing, competitive Muay Thai involves set rounds, rules, padded gloves and takes place within the confines of a ring. Muay Thai came to international prominence in the seventies and eighties when Thai fighters defeated notable practitioners of other martial arts in well-documented and sanctioned fights.

Muay Thai is most differentiated from other pugilistic arts by the use of elbows, knees and push kicks (teeps). Except for the head, every part of the body is utilized. Muay Thai fighters are well known for being the toughest fighters through intense body conditioning into essentially a human weapon. Over the years, Muay Thai has evolved from a fight sport where practitioners train to compete, into an physical activity that also encompasses people of all social strata who train for fitness or recreation.You can read more about Muay Thai here.

Which is better?

This remains a much heated debate with proponents of both sides putting forth their respective arguments. Supporters of Muay Thai believe that well-trained Nak Muay will KO the BJJ guy to sleep easily. Likewise, BJJ fans are confident of strangling the Muay Thai fighter into submission once the fight is taken to the ground. So which of the two is more effective when pitted against each other? 

In a hypothetical situation where the 2 martial artists meet, the Muay Thai fighter who has zero experience of ground combat can be rendered completely helpless once taken to the ground. So, a pure Nak Muay with no training in grappling stands little hope of escaping the numerous submissions of BJJ. On the other hand, a pure BJJ practitioner would likely resort to ineffective untrained punches in a stand-up exchange and will be vulnerable to a flurry of Muay Thai low kicks, teeps, punches and body kicks. For someone who is not conditioned to withstand body blows, being hit by a seasoned Nak Muay will be an excruciating experience. 

In a street fight, punches are the most intuitive weapon of choice. A person with experience in Muay Thai will be able to defend and counter-attack effectively, gaining an advantage from being equipped with knowledge of using various parts of the body to strike. The BJJ practitioner will ideally tackle to take the fight to the ground and most people will not have the know-how of escaping the submissions. In reality, street fights come with no rules. Biting, weapons, hitting below the belt and multiple opponents are all possible scenarios. It is hard to say which will be more effective although it is safe to say that they are both valuable skills against untrained antagonists.

Much of the videos between the two that are regularly circulated around the internet frequently show a handicapped or misrepresented version of Muay Thai where certain moves are deliberately restricted. In cases where a Muay Thai exponent is shown to overpower a Jiu Jitsu practitioner, the former may have had some training to avoid takedowns. Unless a series of fights is sanctioned where fighters of equal amount of experience are matched up and allowed their entire range of weapons, any conclusion on one martial art’s superiority will be just mere speculation.

To compare Muay Thai to BJJ is like comparing apples to oranges. Muay Thai is fundamentally stand-up striking combat while BJJ is ground fighting grappling combat. In terms of techniques, while there may be a long list of submissions in BJJ, Muay Thai can be very technical in the right hands (and legs) with infinite combinations of strikes and movements. Muay Thai basics may be picked up very quickly, but both systems are difficult to truly master without years of hard work and grit. They are both most effective in their respective arenas under their respective rules. However, it is interesting to note that there is a higher percentage of KO finishes than submissions in UFC which may attest to the advantage of effective striking in mixed martial arts.

Picking the Right Martial Arts to Train In

For anyone with even a passing interest in MMA, they are surely familiar with BJJ moves like armlocks chokes, and leg locks. One of the biggest appeals about BJJ is learning the wide range of techniques that can be executed to force an opponent into surrendering or until a joint breaks or someone passes out from being choked.

BJJ has often been described as a game of human chess, an intellectual combat in which a smaller person can successfully overcome a bigger person with the proper techniques and a good strategy. A prime example is Royce Gracie’s 2004 fight against famous Sumo wrestler Akebono with a massive 300-pound weight advantage. Gracie was able to wrist-locked the behemoth Akebono into submission within a mere 133 seconds.

Muay Thai, on the other hand, is a very candid fighting system. It is designed to hurt the opponent, in the most direct manner and in the most painful way. The training itself is cardio-intensive and involves a lot of conditioning and rote learning. This is a sport that can really strengthen a person both physically and mentally.

To an audience not trained in martial arts, Muay Thai can appear brutal and devoid of any technicalities. While some fighters do adopt a forward-pressure strategy, favoring unrelenting punches and kicks, there are actually different styles of fighting in Muay Thai. For example, there is the Muay Khao who fights with his knees as the main weapon; the Muay Sok who likes to use the elbow; and the Muay Femur (technical fighter) who is an all-rounder adept with all weapons of Muay Thai. The most famous Muay Femur is the living legend Saenchai who is the technical fighter par excellence, frequently taking on taller, heavier opponents and then outclassing them in the ring.

For anyone who is still undecided at this point on which martial art to pick, the best way is to simply go for trial sessions for both and then see which is more appealing. Almost every fight gym caters to beginners and with more MMA gyms are offering both of these classes. Ultimately, there is no barrier preventing anyone from pursuing the 2 martial arts all at once. Many mixed martial artists train both of these to develop a well-rounded game. But if you can only pick one, consider the points brought out in this article and decide only after attending a few trial sessions. Whatever the choice may be, learning martial arts come with many benefits that will translate to an active, meaningful and more fulfilling life.