Judo Black Belt vs BJJ Black Belt: Differences and Similarities

What’s the difference between a BJJ black belt and a judo black belt?  Everything and nothing.

How do these two black belts compare? Who would win in a match? 

The answers may surprise you. 

BJJ vs Judo Black Belts in Competition

Let’s first take a look at how BJJ and Judo match up in the competition context.

There have been countless competition matchups between BJJ and judo black belts over the years.

Taking a look at one of the most famous fights is useful for background.

Perhaps the most known and significant was that between Helio Gracie and Masahiko Kimura. 

Gracie vs Kimura

This encounter has become something of a legend in the martial arts community.

In 1954, Helio challenged Kimura to a submission grappling match in his native Brazil. The match ended with Gracie’s team throwing in the towel due to Kimura’s dominance over Gracie. 

Despite the loss, the Gracies claimed a moral victory due to Helio’s alleged smaller size. 

There is limited available footage of the match, but what is preserved makes for interesting material to analyze the BJJ vs Judo debate. 

What is interesting about the footage is how Kimura is essentially throwing Helio around like a ragdoll with Helio seemingly unable to do anything about it.

True to form, Helio stays in the fight on the ground but seems to be in defensive survival mode the entire time.

On some level, the match holds up well to prove the best of each sport’s best qualities: first, a judo player can smash his opponent on to the ground, and second, a BJJ player can survive and outlast his opponents on the ground to the bitter end. 

Modern-day BJJ/Judo Matchups

Thanks to Youtube, modern BJJ vs Judo matchups are easier to find than ever.

A judo player can smash his opponent on to the ground, … a BJJ player can survive and outlast his opponents on the ground to the bitter end. 

Local competitions are often the best place to see how black belts competitors fair against each other. However, most matches are probably not at the black belt level. 

Examine this classic clip of BJ Penn, who was well into BJJ at the time, competing in a local Judo tournament. He dominates on every level by taking advantage of the ground rules (and his opponent’s lack of depth in newaza (matwork)).

Here is an interesting clip of a judo black belt losing in the blue belt division of a local tournament. 

As you examine these other clips, notice how each black belt lets his base shine through, but also how they have adapted to the ruleset.

From watching hundreds of hours of BJJ vs Judo videos I have concluded that two primary factors will predict which competitor will win:

  1. The ruleset
  2. Overall grappling experience

A judo guy competing in a BJJ match is at an inherent disadvantage because the techniques that make him successful in Judo will have less impact.

Likewise, a BJJ black belt with modest tournament experience will not face off well with a judo black belt who has 1000s of hours of competition under his belt. 

I think the analysis should not be surprising. 

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but when it comes to BJJ vs Judo matches, it’s less about the strength of each art, and more about the rules of the game and how many hours of grappling experience one has. 

The chart below maps out some of the advantages that each black belt might have in a match.

BJJ Black Belt AdvantageJudo Black Belt Advantage
Depth/Range of ground techniques
Taking and receiving throws
Grip Fighting from the ground
Grip Fighting from standing
Endurance/Patience
Grind and grit mentality

Black Belt Equivalency?

How equivalent are BJJ and Judo black belts?

This is a very interesting question given the shared history and origins between the two sports. 

In my view, Judo and BJJ black belts are not equal, but they do share some similarities. 

Ultimately, there is no scientific way to compare these belt ranks from a broad level. 

Individual skill level is easier to compare. Watching black belts in a competition is perhaps the best way to get a sense of the differences in play and skill level, but the analysis will only go so far. 

My analysis is subjective and pure conjecture. It is based on my experience and observation.  

If I had to choose, a judo black belt should have the ground game of at least equal to a solid BJJ blue belt.

Of course, if the black belt has studied newaza thoroughly then their level might be much higher. Conversely, if this person has focused mostly on Tachi Waza (standing techniques) then their skill might be closer to a well rounded white belt. 

A BJJ black belt is perhaps a little harder to pigeon hole because standing techniques are often disregarded in BJJ curriculum.

Overall, a BJJ black belt should have the skill set of a solid judo brown belt (sankyu or nikkyu). 

Black Belt: Perception of Skill

What does it mean to have a black belt in Judo or BJJ?

In Judo, a black belt signifies that one has finally achieved a core competency in the art and is now only a beginner. In Japanese, the first rank of a black belt is shodan which means “beginning step” or “first level.” 

Notably, there are many reports of people training in Japan with black belts only to be surprised about the relatively underdeveloped skillset.

Outside of Japan, a judo black belt should be expected to have a strong competency in all basic judo techniques. While a judo black belt takes a few years to achieve, it does not necessarily mean that you can throw anyone and everyone. 

In BJJ, a black belt means you have put in years of training. One should expect that you will be very tough to beat and no pushover. One can assume that a BJJ black belt is very adapt. While philosophically they may still be “just a student,” in practice, they are at an expert level. 

Time spent training to become a black belt

In most cases, a BJJ black belt takes much longer to achieve than a judo black belt.

It typically takes 10 years of practice to earn a BJJ black belt

A newly minted BJJ black belt will have perhaps double the mat time than an average judo black belt at the time of his or her promotion.

The time taken to achieve a black belt in judo will vary from country to country and federation to federation, but it’s common to achieve a black belt within 4-5 years for adults with regular practice (in America).  In countries like Japan, a Judo black belt can be achieved in even less time.

Knowledge of the Ground Game

JiuJitsu black belts know the ground like the back of their hand. Dollars to donuts, a BJJ black belt will dominate an average judo black belt.

Of course, there might be exceptions. For instance, a high-level judo black belt competitor with a wrestling background might be able to hold their own or beat a weekend warrior bjj black belt.  

Judo black belts will no doubt have good knowledge of groundwork. Training in ground techniques is always required for further advancement in rank in Judo. Newaza is also a fundamental aspect of judo competition (albeit slightly minimized these days). 

The differences between the belts are more pronounced in the depth of their knowledge of the ground game. Since BJJ favors essentially unlimited time on the ground, a BJJ black belt knows how to sequence techniques and strategies from every angle and position. 

Judo’s approach to the ground is usually “one and done.” Once the match stalls, there is no further need for groundwork. 

Naturally, this approach is somewhat limited compared to Brazilian jiujitsu’s “let’s see where the techniques take us until you tap” mentality. For these reasons, BJJ black belts have a clear edge on the ground. 

Knowledge of Standing Techniques

This may be obvious, but a Judo black belt will have way more know-how and experience with throws and standing techniques than an average BJJ black belt.

This is truer now more than ever as Judo’s rules have favored less groundwork and more standing in recent decades. 

Yet, a BJJ black belt is no pushover on standing. But just as it is hard to gauge how good a judo black belt is on the ground, it’s just as hard to predict a BJJ black will be with stand up.

Double Threat: A BJJ and Judo Black Belt 

A Black belt in judo and BJJ should not be reckoned with. These days judo and BJJ cross-training is more common.  It is now common to see Judo instructors teaching directly at BJJ gyms. 

Some famous dual bjj/judo black belts include Dave Camarillo, Claudio Calasans, Leonardo Leite, and Moacir Mendes Jr.

Here is a great clip of dual black belt Claudio Calasans demonstrating his competency in both BJJ and Judo.

Who do you think has the edge? BJJ or Judo Black Belts?

Let us know in the comments.

Leave a Comment:

2 comments
Sebastian Ellinghaus says November 19, 2019

Well, I am a Judo Black Belt and a BJJ Purple Belt. I do agree with most of the experiences and conclusions. But I have to remark, that in my case the time from White Belt to Black Belt took about ten years. That was during the 80s and early 90s in Germany. And I am sure that there were not many guys around me being faster at this time. Well, that included only 4-6 hours of Training/week and usually BJJ practicioners maybe spending a double amount of time on the mats. Nevertheless from my point of view it took nearly a similar number of years to grow to a well rounded Black Belt on both sides of the medal.

Reply
Nick K says November 19, 2019

Sebastian,

Thanks for your comment. That 10 year mark still holds up as far as these things can be measured. See my other post: https://bjjmotivation.com/bjj-belt-system/#2-the-bjj-belt-progression-timeline

I am sure you have some great stories and experiences. Let me know if you ever want to share them here.

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