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Learning martial arts is an activity with many benefits. It improves your fighting skills and also helps to improve discipline, physical health, and humility. As a result of this worldwide interest in the martial arts, they are more popular today than ever before
One of the reasons behind the creation of martial arts was self-defense. When modern MMA competitions like UFC or Bellator were created, we had a chance to see almost all types of martial art in a safe environment. That gave us some new insights into their effectiveness.
In this post, we will be looking at what are the best martial arts for self defense. To do this we will be basing it on the following criteria:
- How effective is this martial art?
- How hard is it to learn?
- The availability to learn.
I have come up with a list that ranks the most effective martial art for self-defense from least effective to most efficient.
It is worth noting that in some regions, martial art can be really effective. However, if they are not as accessible or difficult to find in parts of the world, I ranked them lower than a less effective but more universally accessible martial art.
If you are interested, read on to learn how to choose the martial art that is right for you and hopefully you can find one you can use most effectively in potential street altercations, although the best martial art for self-defense in a street fight is to simply run…
The Best Martial Art for Self Defense
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art founded in 1948 by Choi Hong Hi and a couple of army officials. It was developed during and after the Second World War to solidify Korean martial arts.
The core concept of Taekwondo is that it’s based on the Theory of Power by Choi Hong Hi. This theory relies on reason and Newtonian physics, which he used to describe a martial art that can be more effective than any other.
For instance, Newton observed that a strike’s power increases quadratically with the speed of the limb and only linearly with an object’s mass. This led to him realizing that it is not critical to have enough muscle strength in order for your strikes to be powerful.
This led to the development of a style of martial arts that utilized leg strikes more often than arm strikes.
While this is what makes TKD unique, it also limits its effectiveness. In an ideal world, a martial art would be able to deliver the most potent strikes known. This, unfortunately, isn’t possible in self-defense and for that reason, additional skills like jabs are more beneficial.
One of the most difficult aspects of self-defense, especially with a drunk or mugger is that they will not always stand at a reasonable distance away from you. You may struggle to have enough space for kicks, and even if the person does fall back it will not be long before they are walking in your range again and pressing into you.
Training in TKD also includes shorter and closer-range kicks, but they are not used frequently and not pressure tested during training. In a self-defense, situation a TKD practicioner is likely to struggle
Besides the range mismatch, sport TKD training is not rigorous enough for contact sports. Competing in TKD tournaments like points. A taekwondo practitioner will sometimes kick powerfully and confidently but more likely use their legs to tap their opponent a few times to score a point.
In TKD, the style relies too heavily on kicking. The problem is that when you are in a fight, grappling or boxing can happen very quickly and your knowledge will disappear.
Compared to many other martial arts for self-defense, TKD is a less effective choice. With practice, you will still be able to protect yourself against most opponents and increase flexibility, agility, and power. However, it will not help produce the same effects as many different forms of self-defense.
Many famous martial artists, like Bas Rutten or Valentina Schevchenko, start their training in Taekwondo. Because of this it is both an excellent starting point but it’s not a complete fighting system on its own.
Though Taekwondo ranks as one of the more popular martial arts in the world, it’s not usually accessible to most people because schools are heavily concentrated in major cities.
The next on the list is Combat Sambo. Developed in the 1920s by Russian military leaders, it sought to improve hand-to-hand combat. It features a combination of strikes and kicks, clinches, throws, grappling, and wrestling.
However, there are a couple of flaws in Sambo. One of the main issues is that as many people who revolve around the world of martial arts would agree, it’s not really that Sambo is so special, but instead it’s because the Russian people make it so.
I would like to begin by mentioning that Sambo is the official combat system of Russia and, as a consequence, has an extremely positive reputation because it is their military’s foremost discipline. There are also many people from Russia and Kazakhstan practicing Sambo, which contributes to its fame.
Their toughness and weakness of hardship project into extreme discipline in their gym sessions or groundfighting, which is the reason Sambo wrestling is renowned as such a fantastic art. This doesn’t mean it isn’t-it’s ranked number 10 after all-but this is not exactly for its own sake.
Sambo is a modified form of MMA. The variations from boxing, wrestling, grappling and the lack of depth in certain aspects puts Sambo below some other martial arts on the list but it isn’t the most important reason why it’s on the list.
One of the most surprising reasons for Sambo being less popular than other martial arts is availability. Out of all the martial arts on this list, Sambo probably has the worst availability rate.
There is a shortage of sambo schools around the world, and this includes in America. There are very few schools in the country as well. It is extremely rare to find reputable and successful sambo school because there aren’t many to go around.
If you had the opportunity to receive training in Combat Sambo in Moscow, then you would walk out feeling pretty confident about protecting yourself from a variety of scenarios. However, it’s limited availability leaves it behind other arts on this list.
In our list of the world’s martial arts today, we are taking a closer look at Karate. Contrary to popular belief, it is not originally Japanese but instead Okinawan. Despite Okinawa being a part of Japan today, it was actually an independent country during and immediately after World War II, giving rise to many notable aspects that would become known as Japanese-Okinawan martial arts.
Funakoshi is often considered the founder of Okinawan Karate. Funakoshi pioneered its popularization and created Shotokan, which is the most popular style today.
Despite challenges in tracing back historical information about remoteness Okinawa, it is thought that roots of karate stem thousands of years back to the Chinese kingdom or possibly the Philippines ̶ though this conflicts with some unknown historians because they say Gichin Funakoshi was a “founder” since he paved way for modern-day popularity and created Shotokan style.
The most prominent styles of karate are Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Kyokushin, Shito-Ryu, and more.
Shotokan Karate is a very effective and tough martial art that has also evolved in an attempt to combat Western boxers. In spite of its general failure against most other arts, Shotokan is still quite useful for people looking to learn self-defense.
Karate is a martial art consisting of powerful strikes and blocks, as well as linear kicks. It is often criticized for being too formal or rigid, but if learned in the right dojo with dedication it can be very useful to a student.
Regardless of being the most popular Karate style, Shotokan is not effective as a self-defense system. The title of ‘most effective’ is given to Kyokushinkai and Goju Ryu.
Kyokushin Karate is the tank of all Karate styles. It’s not fancy and doesn’t have large movements, but the focus on sparring, competitions, and developing muscles conditioning and that makes it a powerful martial art.
Aside from being one of the most widely practiced martial arts, Kyokushin is not the best style to learn if your goal is to become well-rounded in combat.
One of the major drawbacks to Karate is that it has been watered down by McDojos, which are ineffective schools that exist solely for monetary gain and to dish out as many belts as possible without caring about skill.
However, when you find a Karate school that is within reach, it may be worth your trouble to sign up. It could give you the ability to defend yourself should the worst happen in a self-defense scenario.
One of the most popular martial arts around today is Judo and it’s also been recently seen as the choice for MMA fighters and even Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Judo was developed in Japan by Jigoro Kano and is one of the first martial arts to be formally organized. He helped Judo reach international fame by founding many teaching centres for it.
Judo is a grappling based martial art that centres on throws, locks, sweeps and other techniques used while grappling. Strikes are considered rare and are mostly utilized as feints or for show rather than fighting.
The greatest strength and weakness of Judo is its singular focus on grappling. The limb that humans often use in open hand fighting, our arms and hands evolved to grasp with rather than strike with which makes it more natural. A doubling down on this aspect could create an effective martial art like Judo has shown before.
Strictly focusing on one aspect of fighting and martial arts for self-defense is a mistake for any willing martial artist. This is why Judo doesn’t rank as highly in the world. It has so many heavy aspects that outweigh its benefits.
One big downside to using it for combat purposes is the lack of any type of striking and no real set rules for entering takedowns, throws, locks or holds with arms extended across an opponent’s neck or spine (Kesa Gatame).
Judo is one probably one of the best martial arts for availability and realism.
Judo martial arts schools are everywhere. Cities, especially large cities, have multiple judo schools to choose from, and medium-sized cities typically offer training opportunities too. If you choose to study Judo, it is very likely that there will be a school near you.
Within realistic effectiveness, the opponent is resisting. Although combat is not balanced due to grappling being the focus of battle, these grapples are against a fully resistant opponent who resists by performing techniques similar or equal in proficiency on you.
As such, this means that judo is pressure tested and practiced with nearly all of the force you would use against an attacker in real life. Point sparring, as often seen in karate, many other martial arts.
Street fights often turn to grappling, and in 99% of cases, a judo practitioner will win a grappling war when their opponent isn’t also trained in some kind of martial art.
Boxing deserves a high ranking in any self-defense articles, but it often doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Western Boxing has origins that can be traced back thousands of years to ancient civilizations; there has never been an official moment when boxing became mainstream.
Boxing is a natural way of fighting for humans, which has been around since millennia. The popularity of boxing began to rise in the decades after movies like Rocky were made, but despite this and other similar events it never really declined.
Again, what makes boxing extremely effective is also its major drawback: it only teaches the ability to stand in the ring and hit. As a result, many boxers grow up not being skilled in any other area outside of their striking techniques.
Boxing is an effective self-defense system because you learn a wide range of skills in-depth, which gives you fundamental knowledge about how fighting works and also teaches you how to knock people out when necessary.
Boxing is an exercise in constant motion, that relies heavily on footwork. Footwork is a must-have if you want to get the upper hand against your opponent and stay outside their range of reach.
Training in boxing provides a number of benefits, including improved hand-eye coordination, general fitness and cardiovascular health.
Boxers and other martial artists engage in tough, unrelenting workouts to build stamina, core strength and flexibility. Skilled fighters are able to defend themselves while defeating opponents with a single hit – even when facing multiple attackers if street fighting.
The reason boxing is not higher up on the list is that it does not use grappling, wrestling, takedowns, ground-and-pound or any other aspects aside from striking. However useful and effective this may be, it still could be improved by adding some of these skills to its arsenal.
Nonetheless, you can expect to be confident in your skills if you train in boxing for six months to a year and what is even better, it may be the most common and best martial arts on earth. You will have trouble finding something that is more widespread than boxing.
Learning boxing is relatively easy at the basic levels, though the learning curve gets steeper as you get more advanced. That’s why we’ve included it on our best martial art for self-defense post.
Western wrestling is an ancient combat sport that might have been around as long as humans.
Western-style wrestling, referred to in France and other countries as French Wrestling or Greco Roman style, has its origins in at least 15000 B.C.
Many accomplished UFC fighters have a background in wrestling, such as Daniel Cormier who’s one of the best heavyweights of all time. This is why wrestling is considered to best base for Mixed martial Arts
Wrestling is a grappling-based martial art that focuses on throwing and potentially incapacitating the opponent quickly using a variety of different techniques.
Wrestling is an excellent form of combat sport for those who don’t want to deal with strikes. A wrestling takedown typically happens in less than a few seconds, and there are many type of takedowns practised by wrestlers.
In a self-defense scenario, if attacked, the attacker usually tries to show dominance by posing up for a fistfight or posturing up to their opponent.
When it comes to shots in wrestling, you’re most likely going for double-leg takedowns. This happens so quickly, your opponent may not have time to react. If they don’t know what do on the ground or grappling arts like wrestling or jiu-jitsu, you will capitalize and take control of them.
This is one of the most accessible martial arts, available in many schools and cities around the United States.
One of the reasons wrestling falls behind other martial arts is because it entails ground fighting. While this makes for an easy victory on a one-on-one situation, it might not be ideal in actual self defense scenarios, especially if multiple attackers are involved.
Wrestling is a martial art that can be used for self-defense. This fighting form improves one’s confidence, muscular strength and stability which will help you have more success in your defense and also makes it one of the most effective martial arts against untrained adversaries.
Although there are some significant differences between these two forms of self defense, I consider Kickboxing and Muay Thai to be effectively the same and in no way less important than one another.
Muay Thai, also known as Thai kickboxing or Thai boxing, is a martial art that originated in Thailand hundreds or thousands of years ago. It is traditionally practiced in close quarters combat and uses the whole body to fight.
Feeling the need to get fit but not wanting to head for a typical workout regime, many people are choosing to take up kickboxing. This martial art has seen some popularity in recent years as it was developed from Muay Thai and several other self-defense techniques derived over time.
Muay Thai is also called the art of eight limbs, which represent the idea that by using elbows and knees just as much as punches or kicks to strike. This what makes Muay Thai deadly and so versatile, and this what gives it a really good ranking in terms of self-defense.
Muay Thai is the number one stand-up fighting art. Along with the conditioning of bones, the rigorous training of an effective striking strategy makes it arguably the best form of fighting.
Aside from its effectiveness in a self-defense scenario, the versatility of Muay Thai makes it advantageous in real-life situations.
These include long range strikes such as a roundhouse kick or short range elbow strike and medium distance jabs.
The Muay Thai fighting style includes a lot of clinch, the shortest-range stand-up combat that exists. Clinch happens when opponents are holding each other by their arms, head, and shoulders to try to secure some close-range elbows and knees. Muay Thai is arguably the best stand up clinch art due to its success rate in competitions.
This style of fighting allows you to battle in any combat position standing, on the ground, or moving around. Throws are also incorporated into the system so that you can develop a well-rounded understanding of defense when in different situations.
There are two factors that hold this martial art back from higher rankings on the list: availability and the learning curve.
Muay Thai, while increasing in popularity by the day, is still uncommon. Every city or town has a boxing or wrestling gym but Muay Thai gyms are hard to come by.
Also, when learning Muay Thai, there is a steep learning curve and often physical pain involved. This means that dedication and perseverance are crucial for success.
At the fourth spot on today’s list, we have one of the favorite martial arts among some of the most popular commentators and practitioners in the world of martial arts and combat sports like Jocko WIllink and Joe Rogan. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) has arguably risen to fame more than any other martial art because a few of its founders have only recently passed away within this past couple decades.
At the turn of the 20th century, a Brazilian man by the name of Carlos Gracie met Mitsuyo Maeda, a world-renowned Judo champion and practitioner. This is the beginning of what we now know as BJJ or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in most of the English-speaking world.
When he was able to master the martial art of judo, Carlos Gracie worked with his brothers to develop this modern grappling techniques that are seen as the pinnacle of ground combat.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a highly effective martial art for self-defense because it relies on calculated technique and skill instead of chance, luck, and physical power.
Despite the dynamic differences between fighting on the ground and in a standing position, Joe Rogan, an advocate of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu among others, points out that even an inexperienced fighter can knock out a champion with one stray hand landing in the right place.
The drawback of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it’s not well suited for standup fighting. Fortunately, when an experienced practitioner does get a hold on their opponent, they are likely to win.
In a strict self-defense context, as Jocko Willink points out on repeated occasions, you can run from a boxer. You may not getaway, but at least you have the choice to move away when they square off against you and want to fight. But once someone grabs hold of you, there’s nothing left that you can do but fight your way free.
This is why he emphasizes the importance of learning this skill first, as it’s great for handling problems that can’t be avoided.
There’s a reason why Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are considered two of the best base for mixed martial arts (MMA), their ability to control a person on the ground is second to none, and when you’re on top of a grounded opponent, no amount of martial arts training can help you if you can’t stand back up.
Krav Maga is a military combat system designed to prepare people in the toughest of places to be able to neutralize threats as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
It is also the fighting system taught to the Israeli military, which contributes largely to its reputation.
Developed by Imi Lichtenfeld, a Hungarian martial artist living in Czechoslovakia, Krav Maga was made to be a system that is straightforward and which can help people survive the challenging atmosphere of pre-World War Eastern Europe.
One of the most compelling things about Krav Maga that is not present in other martial arts systems, surprisingly, is its lack of depth and expertise. What sets Krav Maga apart from other systems are the realistic self-defense tactics and its simplicity.
In martial arts, it is common to find a set of things you cannot do. These include eye-poking, groin strikes, and throat strikes. Krav Maga is focused on these exact things to quickly disable an opponent. The striking techniques are fast, brutal and effective.
This is one of the world’s best systems for training self-defense in mind. It can be learned quickly and intuitively, with estimates stating that it takes approximately six months to reach a high level of skill. Although someone will not become an expert in self defense after this length of time, they won’t necessarily fear walking home at night.
In addition, Krav schools tend to focus on verbal de-escalation techniques and a variety of other skills that might be employed in order to avoid a physical altercation. Nonetheless, if the soft skills do not work out, Krav Maga practitioners are trained for any potential threat.
Krav Maga fares well in most combat situations, but it cannot be deepened too much and it does not offer sparring or competition. Such surface-level knowledge is sufficient for many self-defense scenarios, but some individuals might want more than that.
Sparring is also an important ingredient of martial arts training since it helps you prepare for fully resisting opponents and this aspect of Krav maga is where it falls down.
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is one of the most popular Martial Arts in recent years. It has not only provided a platform for organizations like UFC and Bellator, but it’s also been shown to be the best way to test different styles.
MMA, or mixed martial arts, is not a singular type of fighting. Rather, it is the process by which individuals try to become excellent at all types of fighting–throwing punches and kicks, grappling on the ground, and wrestling from up close.
With many martial arts, like boxing or wrestling, I have even mentioned that their one drawback is their unidimensionality. Well, that’s just not the case with MMA as it clearly focuses on filling all the gaps in one’s fighting knowledge.
An MMA fighter may not be the best at any one fighting style, but this much is certain: they will never lack in their ability to defend themselves.
When self-defense is the topic, it is imperative to know how to fight both stand-up and grappling. The skillset of MMA includes the aspects of striking with punches and kicks, but also takedowns and submission holds. It prepares you for any situation in which you are attacked by someone who has a specific skill such as boxing or wrestling; because if they’re bad at one thing, then their weakness can be targeted when fighting on the ground.
MMA is also available in many places, seeing as the rise of UFC and other competitions has fueled a massive search for this fighting practice. The learning curve is customizable to the individual, which makes MMA all that much better.
So what makes MMA even better for self-defense? Combining it with Krav Maga. While a pure MMA fighter may be able to defeat any other single discipline, fighters who also know how to use illegal moves and are also trained in UFC-style boxing will destroy them.
What MMA lacks in self-defense is illegal moves. It’s hard to think of any rules that would help you escape an altercation on the street or at home, but legalizing groin strikes or eyeball pokes could make a difference.
MMA can give you the confidence to handle nearly anyone on the street, but in a life or death scenario, Krav Maga might just help. Combining these two fighting styles will produce powerful defensive moves – making it hands-down the most effective combination for self defense if your primary goal is to defend yourself or others.
Based on your search for “self-defense” martial arts and the article you came across, it’s likely that you’re interested in learning or joining a martial arts training program.
And ultimately there is no single martial arts best for self defense, the true answer is a combination of them. That’s why we recommend that people look at training MMA if they need to defend themselves in a street fight.