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Jiu-Jitsu Benefits: Karate World Champion Compares Karate to BJJ

in this month’s blog, we interviewed sjja member and karate world champion and 5th dan karate black belt josephine ngan, to hear all about her comparison of jiu jitsu to karate, and the unique benefits jiu jitsu has offered her since she commenced her bjj journey.

For how long have you been training Karate and BJJ? also can you talk to us about your key achievements/titles in karate?

I’ve been training Shotokan Karate for 27 years and BJJ for 9 months so far (so hooked). 

In between, I’ve also trained in Hapkido and boxing and did one amateur boxing fight. 

My key achievements in karate include setting up and running my own karate dojo, and last year grading to 5th Dan Black belt.

Competition highlights are representing Australia and winning gold, silver and bronze at the Shotokan World Championships. This was my 4th World Championships, but what made this one special was competing in the team events with two of my closest friends and competing alongside three of my students made it extra special. 

This year I also won my 9th Shotokan Nationals.

Other competition highlights were bronze at the Oceania Championships, and Commonwealth Karate Championships.

What motivated your decision to pursue Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? What sparked your interest in acquiring a new martial art, specifically BJJ?

I love martial arts!! 🙂 I’ve been wanting to start BJJ for a few years, but I didn’t think I could fit it in with my existing commitments. On the 6th of January this year, I decided to make that change and give it a go and do my best, even if it’s only 1 or 2 sessions a week….3 weeks later I’m doing 5-6 sessions a week! Glad I took that plunge.

I was first introduced to jiu jitsu at one of the karate training seminars called the Sydney Shotokan Gasshuku, where a couple of the instructors (who are both Karate and BJJ instructors) taught some basic jiu jitsu and MMA in one of the sessions. At the time I found it a little confronting, yet intriguing and fun! BJJ just seemed to flow from one position to another and had endless possibilities in how you could apply the techniques. 

What is the difference between Karate and BJJ?

A few things. The obvious difference is karate is mostly a striking art and jiu jitsu is a grappling art, so the use of energy, distance and repetitive movement patterns are also going to be different. 

For example, in karate you benefit from being explosive, whether punching, kicking, defending/reacting, or moving around to close distance etc.

Therefore, you’re going from being relaxed, to maximum energy spent in a short space of time, then back to being relaxed. A lot of start and stop. In jiu jitsu if you constantly apply explosive energy and tension, you gas out very quickly and you won’t be able to transition well.

The use of distance is also different, in jiu jitsu the distance is very close contact – often you’re working to close the distance/gap to apply pressure, locks, or block the other person from moving a certain way. Even when you want to increase distance to free yourself, you maintain contact with the other person to control the movement. E.g. by gripping the sleeves, lapel or pants.  

In karate the use of distance is constantly changing; going from a safe distance where both people cannot hit nor be hit from that position, to closing the distance when ready to engage. You need the right distance to deliver effective punches or kicks so footwork becomes essential in controlling and bridging that gap.  Close contact is also needed for takedowns, and techniques like elbows, and knees, so you need an understanding of where you want to be in relation to the other person.

There are also some cultural/etiquette differences in that there seems to be more emphasis on the formal etiquette with karate, due to the influence of Japanese customs, compared to a more relaxed approach in BJJ, though the same thread appearing throughout both is respecting the art, those before us, our training partners, the place we train in, and yourself.

There are other differences of course, but karate and jiu jitsu share similarities too.

What are some benefits that BJJ offers, that perhaps Karate doesn’t offer? Are there any nuances specific to BJJ?

Jiu jitsu focuses on joint locks, applying pressure with the body and “chokes”, and all the skills relevant to achieving those submissions in grappling. You learn to be aware about where your weight is being applied when moving from one position to another in relation to another person. 

Karate does include some of those skills to varying degrees (depends on where you train), but not at the depth of what you learn in jiu jitsu.  But when it is applied, it’s often practised in conjunction or following the use of striking techniques (or defences) and take downs, or it is used to apply certain moves in kata (pre-set pattern of techniques performed solo). 

What are some benefits that Karate offers you, that perhaps BJJ doesn’t?

Karate offers a very wide range of skills to learn and methods to train those skills, such as combinations of striking techniques, defensive techniques, take downs, locks, weapons (some styles) use of distance, strength, speed and agility. You learn to control your body and how much power you use, and when – this attribute has also been useful in other sports. 

One of the benefits of karate is that you can train most techniques solo or with a partner, and this was apparent during the lockdown period where we were able to continue to train effectively through Zoom within a small space, where other sports could not continue.

In Jiu jitsu you can train some things solo, but most techniques would require a partner (or dummy!). 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I often get asked if training in jiu-jitsu hinders or interferes with my performance in karate, being so different. 

So far, I have found that they complement each other because they are different. It is also easier to form muscle memory for a completely different set of movements than those that are similar but slightly different. 

One flows to the other quite well, and jiu-jitsu has improved my karate – by opening my mind to a whole other world of techniques, ways to move, and conserve energy.

Both karate and jiu-jitsu help you build mental and physical resilience which you apply in everyday life, and you get to meet like-minded people from all walks of life.  Sometimes it’s not just about the training, it’s about the coffee after! Training is hard, but it’s worth it.

A shout out to the amazing Professors and coaches at SJJA Crows Nest, your dedication, effort and passion in teaching BJJ can be seen in every session and inspires me to keep going and improve every time. I find the sessions fun, challenging and rewarding so thank you!!

Thanks to my teammates for pushing me in training and rolls, and for all the valuable tips in between rolls!

*Built under pressure* Oss!!


Photo credits go to Graeme Thom.

Want to know about taekwondo vs Jiu Jitsu, read here.

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