Is Jiu-Jitsu A Sport? (Sports vs. Martial Arts Explained)

Quite often, when it comes to sports, the distinction between their origins and their modern formats is pretty clear.

Whilst many sports have historical routes as forms of combat, such as fencing and archery, their modern equivalents are firmly set in the realm of sportsmanship.

Is Jiu-Jitsu A Sport?

This is especially true for many sports, such as football and basketball, where they were established explicitly as sports with no direct connection to older practices.

However, when we start discussing various styles of martial arts, the line starts to blur.

Whilst many of the highest levels of competition are explicit shows of sportsmanship and technique, many also like to make a point of how these forms are not just sports in the same way that the others we have already mentioned are.

Quite often, the most senior practitioners of martial arts, such as Jiu-Jitsu, also describe these arts as philosophies, or genuine strategies that can be deployed in aggressive or combat situations.

So, which of these is it? Are martial arts like Jiu-Jitsu a sport? Are they a philosophy? Or are they combat styles?

The answer is a little complicated, and it is a question that we are hopefully going to answer in this article.

We are going to touch briefly on the history of Jui Jitsu, where it came from, and how it became a widespread martial art practiced across the world.

We are also going to discuss if it is practiced as a sport, as well as how else it has been used and applied across the world outside a dojo or sporting event.

A Brief History Of Jiu-Jitsu

So, to get a decent understanding of where Jiu-Jitsu comes from, both as a martial art and as a sport, we are going to cover a little of its origins and history.

Starting at the beginning, Jiu-Jitsu describes a family of martial arts that were developed in mainland Japan over the last thousand years.

It is often contrasted against martial art styles that were developed in both China and Okinawa, where a greater emphasis was placed on strikes from a practitioner’s hands and feet.

In Jiu-Jitsu and its variations, a martial artist makes greater use of throws and grabs, incapacitating an opponent by making an opponent unable to make full use of their range of movement.

One of the things that distinguish Jui Jitsu from many of its counterparts around the same time was how early it was adopted and formalized.

Whilst many other East Asian martial arts, such as the precursors of modern Kungfu and Karate, were being practiced and developed at the same time, Jiu-Jitsu seems to have been adopted as a combat sport around the time of the 17th century, predating the adoption of Karate and judo by quite some time in Japan.

It is also interesting to note that, whilst it was adopted as a sport that was practiced in schools and dojos, it also had explicit combat value, as it was seen as a way of supplementing sword skills for a soldier.

Jiu-Jitsu was also one of the earliest East Asian Martial Arts to have practitioners from all over the globe, especially in the last 200 years.

Not only as a sport, as it developed into one of its most famous descendant arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but also for its self-defense uses.

Edith Garrud, a British Suffragist from around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, was one of the first British teachers of martial art and would teach any of its defense techniques to other radical feminists to resist arrest during women’s suffrage protests.

In a similar vein, law enforcement and military organizations across the world, from the United States to the former Soviet Union, would use many principles of Jiu-Jitsu in their own self-defense/combat training regiments.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, many armed forces around the world have adopted at least some of the principles of Jiu-Jitsu as the basis for their hand-to-hand training.

Jiu-Jitsu As A Sport

Jiu-Jitsu As A Sport

So, with so much history behind this particular martial art, the question of whether or not Jiu-Jitsu is a sport seems pretty clear.

Since the mid to late 19th century, there has been a consistent effort to establish a set of rules by which a successful Jiu-Jitsu practitioner is measured and judged, both in form and in sparring.

This has only become more evident in how the sport has evolved through the 20th century, both in its original form and in the increasing popularity of its Brazilian counterparts.

Contests of Jiu-Jitsu skills in Brazil date back as far as the 1920s, and official matches and contests have been held in this sport since the 1960s.

The advent of official tournaments and events, allows practitioners to view this martial art as athletes at a sporting event, something to be prepared for and practiced, as well as developing specific styles and strategies to combat other practiced competitors.

Jiu-Jitsu In Other Forms

However, it should not be forgotten that Jiu-Jitsu was originally intended as a form of combat or self-defense, and many of its techniques, incapacitating opponents by grabbing and throwing them, have real-world applications to them that is still clear to see just by watching a match.

Not only that, but considering that so many different people and institutions have adopted at least some of these techniques for their purposes, specifically to attack or defend themselves from both professional and non-professional practitioners alike, it certainly feels that way, although it may be a stretch to call these specific uses Jiu Jitsu themselves.


As we can see, Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that has run a very similar course to other sports, such as fencing and archery.

However, the fact that, unlike these other examples, this is a non-weapon sport, makes its techniques much more applicable for other uses.

Christopher Anderson
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