As the world of modern martial arts continues to grow globally, each year there are now more and more people starting to learn a martial art. Three of the biggest are boxing, BJJ, and MMA. If you want to know which one to learn either for yourself or for your child, keep reading.
In general, if you want to learn only striking with punches and footwork, learn boxing. If you want to learn only grappling with takedowns and submissions, learn BJJ. However, if you want to do all of these techniques and more, learn MMA. All are good to do for self-defense and for fitness.
I personally have enjoyed participating in boxing, BJJ, and MMA as a hobbyist, both to keep fit and to learn how to defend myself. So, to help you decide which to learn in this article I’ve covered:
- What you will learn
- What to expect in the classes
- and the pros and cons of each sport
You can scroll down to the section you’re interested in or read through them all to compare. But first, let’s take a quick look at a side-by-side comparison.
Boxing, BJJ & MMA: Table Comparison
|Striking only: punches||Grappling only: takedowns & submissions||Striking: punches, kicks, knees & elbows|
|No grappling||No striking||Grappling: takedowns & submissions|
|Great for fitness & weight loss||Great for fitness & weight loss||Great for fitness & weight loss|
|Good for self-defense||Good for self-defense||Best for self-defense|
|*Minimal cost & equipment||*Medium cost & equipment||Most cost & equipment|
The Cost of Boxing, BJJ & MMA
As you can see in the table above, the cost of learning boxing, BJJ, or MMA does vary. The cost of each can differ from one school or gym to another, and can also depend on where you’re located.
For example, a boxing gym located in a big capital city is most likely going to charge more than one which is in a small town. But in my experience, in general, boxing has lower costs involved than BJJ, and MMA is usually more expensive because it requires more equipment.
As you probably already know, boxing is a stand-up striking sport that has been around for centuries and is massively popular around the world, attracting a wide range of people for a range of different reasons.
What You Will Learn in Boxing
In boxing, you will learn both how to defend against, and attack with punches including, straight punches (such as the jab and straight cross), hooks, and also uppercuts.
Although boxing only teaches punches, you will also learn to mix them up, using your punches both to the head and the body of your opponent. As well as learning how to strike with punches, you will also learn to use footwork, head movement, and distance management to become proficient in the sport and well equipped to defend yourself.
What To Expect in Boxing Class
You can expect boxing classes to be divided into multiple different sections, although some boxing gyms may do their classes slightly differently, all of the ones I’ve tried out have followed a very similar class structure.
Boxing Class Structure
At the start of a boxing class, you can expect to first do a warm-up, this usually will consist of either running on the spot or going outside of the gym for a run – anywhere from 1-2 miles. It will also include bodyweight exercises such as squats, press-ups, sit-ups, and sometimes even pull-ups.
The class will then move on to boxing training itself. This can either consist of pad work with a training partner, hitting the heavy bags, or maybe light touch sparring. If you’re more serious about boxing training and depending on the gym you train at, after a few weeks or months, you may even start to do live sparring.
To learn more about the fitness elements of a boxing class and what is expected of you – check out my article boxing fitness (what to expect).
The Pros of Boxing
There are many general benefits to boxing, whether you’re getting into it seriously, or just as a hobbyist. Just some of the benefits of boxing include:
- A good workout for fitness and cardio endurance
- Learning self-defense
- Release stress & pent up frustration
- Gain confidence & discipline
The practical benefits of boxing in a fight are, 1) you will become very proficient at punching, 2) you will become confident at avoiding punches with head movement and footwork, and 3) you will learn to stay on your feet and manage the distance in order to get away.
The Cons of Boxing
In terms of self-defense, boxing does not teach you any form of grappling, whether it’s on the ground or in close in a clinch. You only need to watch a boxing match and watch how quickly the referee will break up a clinch, and how quick the fighters are to protest any form of clinch.
This is fine in boxing as it follows the rules of the sport. However, in a real-life self-defense situation, being able to defend in all areas is important, this includes grappling.
Another potential con (depending on the gym you join) is that some boxing gyms are very aggressive, unwelcoming gyms for people who may just be there for fitness. I personally have experienced both friendly welcoming boxing gyms, and the opposite. If you’re looking to get into boxing just for fitness and health, check out my other article: boxing just for fitness.
“Boxing will make you proficient in stand-up striking with punches only, but with no grappling.”
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling martial art with the majority of its focus on ground-based grappling, including takedowns, trips, throws, and submissions such as choke holds and joint locks.
Formed from centuries of other grappling martial arts like judo and Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, BJJ has since been popularized due to the massive expansion of modern mixed martial arts because of its unquestionable effectiveness.
What You Will Learn in BJJ
In BJJ you will learn a grappling system that starts on the feet and ends on the ground. The BJJ system follows the following process:
- Close the distance while standing
- Initiate a clinch
- Takedown your opponent
- Transition to a dominant position
- Finish with a submission
1. Close the distance while standing – The first step in the BJJ process is to get close enough to your opponent to get hands-on and start grappling. So, in BJJ you will learn how to safely close the distance and get in close to your opponent while standing.
2. Initiate a clinch – Next, you will learn how to get hands-on with your opponent by initiating a clinch to begin your grappling.
3. Takedown your opponent – Like in other martial arts, BJJ starts standing. But 90% of BJJ techniques are ground techniques, meaning you’ll learn how to take your opponent to the ground with a variety of takedowns, trips, and throws – much like in Judo.
4. Transition to a dominant position – Once you have taken your opponent to the ground, you will learn how to transition from one position to another using leverage and technique. Regardless of what your opponent does, you will learn how to counter their every move to get yourself into a dominant position.
5. Finish with a submission – And finally, the fun stuff. In BJJ you will learn how to successfully perform a range of submissions from choke holds to joint locks, just like you see in modern mixed martial arts like the UFC.
What To Expect in BJJ Class
In general, BJJ classes last for 1 hour and will start out with a warmup, including light cardio and bodyweight exercises. Then the instructor will demonstrate a handful of techniques which you will drill with your training partner. Followed by either specific training, or live rolling.
Specific training is where you and your training partner start from an agreed position and work at 60-70% effort to fight your way from there while focusing only on a handful of techniques. Once one of you is successful, you both stop, reset your position and go again. Training like this helps you improve specific areas of your game.
Live rolling is where you go head-to-head with your training partner, either 60-70% effort or full-blast, and use all and any technique you know in order to win the roll. It can also be done at a more chilled pace while allowing each other to gain certain positions and just going with the flow – known as flow rolling.
The Pros of BJJ
There are many benefits to learning BJJ, but just some of the pros to learning BJJ are:
- BJJ is good for self-defense
- BJJ is good for fitness
- You will gain an in-depth understanding of grappling fundamentals
- You will learn how to effectively use submissions like chokes and joint locks
In my experience too, most BJJ schools are very welcoming to newcomers regardless of what your goals are. Meaning, that whether you’re there to learn some grappling as a hobby, or whether you want to take it all the way into professional competition, your training partners will be accommodating to you and help you learn.
Unlike in some other fight gyms I’ve trained at, where the other students are fairly hostile to new students and use them just simply as training dummies or punch bags. Of course, some BJJ gyms are still like this, but if you choose a quality BJJ gym, the bullies in the class don’t last and are pushed out.
The Cons of BJJ
The most obvious con of BJJ is that it doesn’t teach how to use striking. Some BJJ schools do focus a part of their curriculum on strike defense using grappling, but it isn’t a big part of what you will learn in BJJ, and you will not learn how to use strikes offensively.
In terms of self-defense, this is of course a big hole in a student’s defensive techniques if they find themselves needing to defend themselves against someone throwing wild swinging punches.
Gracie Academy, however, does a great job in their training program at focusing a good portion on strike defense which has been used by the US Army and even US law enforcement agencies – which is a huge accolade for the effectiveness of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and their training program.
Gracie Barra also has a portion of their curriculum dedicated to striking defense, mainly avoiding strikes to close the distance and initiate grappling. You can check out my Gracie Barra review for more details.
“BJJ will teach you in-depth submission grappling, but no offensive striking.”
The age-old question of which martial art is best was finally put to the test for all to see in the formation of mixed martial arts.
At the beginning of MMA, it was a competition of one martial art versus another, but over time the sport and its athletes evolved to cross-train all the most effective martial arts and techniques – giving birth to what we all know now as mixed martial arts.
What You Will Learn in MMA
If you choose to start learning MMA, you will learn a wide range of techniques from multiple different martial arts, including striking from Muay Thai and boxing, and submission grappling from BJJ, wrestling, and Judo.
As mentioned, MMA uses only the most effective techniques from a wide range of martial arts and combat sports. Some of the most common are Muay Thai Kickboxing and boxing, which means that if you learn MMA you will learn the techniques of these sports.
You will learn a range of punches including straight punches, hooks, and uppercuts just like you would in a boxing class. However, in MMA you will also be taught how to properly use kicks, knees, and elbows taken directly from Muay Thai and Kickboxing – things you would not learn in a regular boxing class.
Unlike in other sports, in MMA the fight is allowed to continue once it reaches the ground. This means in MMA you will learn a whole host of grappling techniques to both get your opponent on the ground, but then to also control and submit them once they are there.
These techniques are commonly taken from wrestling, Judo, and BJJ – meaning in MMA you will learn how to pull multiple techniques together into one well-rounded style of fighting. This, mixed with your striking ability will mean you are well equipped to defend yourself should you need to (more on self-defense below).
What To Expect in MMA Class
The first thing to expect when you join an MMA class, like in BJJ and boxing, is a group warm-up. This is an important part of the class to get your blood flowing and your muscles warmed up ready for training and to help prevent injuring a muscle.
An MMA class warm-up usually consists of light cardio workouts like running around the room or running on the spot, and bodyweight exercises like pushups, situps, and squats. Some MMA gyms will get you doing jump rope, and others may even get you running outside of the gym out on the road.
Most MMA gyms will have a time schedule that is divided into different classes covering different disciplines, for example, one class will be a BJJ class, another a Muay Thai class, etc.
Depending on which class you’re doing, you can expect a difference in what you’ll be learning and how you’ll be learning it, for example in BJJ you’ll be grappling one-on-one with your training partners, in Muay Thai you’ll either be hitting the bags or pads or maybe even sparring.
However, the classes will follow a similar setup of an instructor demonstration, followed by you practicing what you’ve been shown. At the end of the class, you will likely have some form of cooldown giving you the opportunity to have a good stretch.
The Pros of MMA
The biggest pro to learning MMA over boxing or BJJ alone is that you will learn a much wider array of techniques and be able to mix them up into one well-rounded style, meaning you will be better equipped to defend yourself.
Another big benefit is that you can mix up your training schedule each week and always be learning something different to avoid getting bored or hitting a rut in one particular style. One week you could do just grappling, then the next just striking, or you can mix it up day by day.
The Cons of MMA
There is the potential in MMA to only begin to scratch the surface of each technique or style and not go deep into a particular martial art. Whereas, if you just did BJJ for example, you would learn the techniques in-depth because they’re all you focus on.
However, I would argue that having a wider arsenal of techniques in your tool kit, makes up for the lack of expertise in just one area. And the longer you train, you will get to learn each technique in more and more depth over time anyway, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Plus, it only really matters if you’re looking to compete in any one of the individual martial arts or in MMA itself. If you learn MMA just for self-defense though, you will be sufficiently prepared to defend yourself by even only having an intermediate knowledge and ability of techniques.
“MMA will teach you a wide array of techniques from striking to submission grappling, and how to effectively mix them up.”
Your Goals vs Boxing, BJJ & MMA
Now that you’ve got a bit more of an overview of each sport and what to expect, the next best thing to do is to ask yourself what are your goals and why do you want to learn boxing, BJJ, or MMA, because this can help you a lot in your decision of which to learn.
This is important because not every martial art will be a good fit for what you want to achieve, and if you start learning a martial art that doesn’t meet your goals, you may find yourself wasting your time and wanting to quit.
Ask yourself, why do you want to learn a martial art? Well, for most people it will be one of the following four goals:
- To compete
- Get fit
- Have fun
So, with that said, I’ve covered each goal below and how boxing, BJJ or MMA can help you achieve those goals.
Goal 1. Self-Defense
If self-defense is your goal, then boxing, BJJ, and MMA are all going to be a great fit and a good option for you to get started. All three of these will give you the opportunity to get hands-on real-world training experience with your training partners which is essential for becoming effective at a martial art.
However, the things you learn in training day to day will be different depending on which one you choose and is another thing to think about when making your choice. If you’re not sure what you want to learn, you could do a couple of MMA classes to try out a range of things to see which you prefer and then make your decision.
“Not every martial art is good for self-defense! Discover the 5 best martial arts for self-defense & why in my other article”
Goal 2. To compete
If you want to compete in a martial art then again, boxing, BJJ, and MMA all have options for you to do so as you progress on in your training.
However, it’s important to think about how far you want to take it and how serious you are. BJJ competitions are great for hobbyists looking to improve their BJJ game. Whereas in boxing and MMA, competition can be for the more serious competitors, but they still offer amateur leagues too if you don’t want to go professional.
Goal 3. Get fit
All three options are great for getting fit because they are all active sports. However, boxing and MMA are usually more intense workouts and focus more of the class time on fitness too, such as cardio and bodyweight exercises.
Goal 4. Have fun
If you just simply want to learn a new sport, socialize and have fun, then all three can be a good option, but it will depend more on the gym you choose to learn the martial art at.
Every martial art school is going to have different levels to their classes, from beginner right through to advanced, and some students who are taking it more seriously than others with different goals and intentions.
Meaning, that some students are going to go hard and be intense with their training, while others are going to be more relaxed and only there to have fun. Some schools are going to be hobbyist gyms and open to all, while others are going to be die-hard, fighter-only gyms. If you’re only here to have fun, it’s probably best to avoid these types of gyms as they’re not suited to your goal.