The primary aim of martial arts is to learn how to defend yourself. But with the sheer volume of disciplines out there, it can be hard to determine which is the most effective for self-defense.
Throughout this article, we’re going to be taking a look at 5 of the most effective martial arts for self-defense, taking a look at both grappling and striking martial arts, as well as a combination of both.
But first, what exactly is a martial art?
The phrase ‘martial arts’ was originally used to describe different combat systems developed in Europe during the 1500’s. Now, however, it is most commonly used when describing disciplines originating in East Asia.
With that being said, the term is generally used to describe complex systems of combat, whether that be hand to hand or with the use of weaponry. We won’t be including any weapon based martial arts on our list, as the chances are you’re not walking around with a sword or stick readily available.
Other Benefits of Martial Arts
Before we start to look at some of the best martial arts for self-defense, let’s look at some of the other main benefits they have to offer.
Apart from being able to effectively defend yourself, there’s a ton of other benefits both physically and mentally that martial arts have to offer. For example, a martial arts class is often physically demanding and is a fantastic way to work on your cardiovascular endurance and fitness levels.
As well as this, reflexes and coordination are a vital component to win in martial arts, as you must be able to effectively react to your opponent’s attacks and throw your own attacks with precision.
Finally, martial arts are a brilliant way to meet people, build friendships and bond with others training with you. I could go on about how brilliant martial arts are, but let’s get to it.
Top Martial Arts for Self-Defense
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
This is a relatively new form of Martial Art, gaining main steam interest with the rise in popularity of the world-renowned UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). However, even before the days of the UFC, when the word “MMA” wasn’t even invented, there has long been hand-to-hand combat, where no single discipline was used.
Previously called ‘Vale Tudo’, MMA has truly become a sport of its own, with its own set of rules and even a specifically designed ring called the octagon.
So, what does MMA entail? As you can probably guess from the name – Mixed Martial Arts. The sport involves the merging of different disciplines into one combat style that incorporates both striking and grappling.
This is why MMA is perhaps the most effective martial art for self-defense, as practitioners gain an understand of how to both grapple and strike effectively. Kicks, punches, elbow and knee strikes are permitted in MMA, alongside a wide variety of submission techniques such as chokes, head cranks, and joint locks.
With such a wide variety of techniques, MMA provides its’ practitioners with an arsenal of ways to defend themselves. Pair this with the fact that MMA simulates the most lifelike fighting situation, makes it easily one of the best martial arts for self-defense.
Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is a striking based martial art that incorporates a small amount of grappling in the form of the ‘Thai Clinch’. This is where both fighters have a hand or two behind their opponents’ neck.
Having said that, it’s safe to say that Muay Thai is predominantly a striking discipline that allows punches, kicks, elbow, and knees strikes. You’re also able to sweep your opponent’s legs in the aim of knocking them to the ground, however, no ground-based strikes or grappling is permitted.
Strikes delivered to your opponent with an elbow or knee provide more points, as these are seen to inflict more damage. Similarly to MMA, Muay Thai has seen a massive rise in popularity over recent years, with many western practitioners flocking to Thailand to hone their skills in the birthplace of Muay Thai.
Overall, the array of striking techniques incorporated into Muay Thai, alongside its’ grappling components, make it a fantastic option for anyone wanting to learn self-defense.
Judo is a Japanese martial art that was founded in 1882 by a man named Jigoro Kano. Since then, Judo has become an Olympic sport and one of the most popular grappling based martial arts.
Translated to English, Judo means ‘Gentle Way’, and although it may not look gentle, the philosophy and methodology behind the martial art are. The primary focus of Judo is to harness your opponents’ aggression and momentum and use it against them.
This in itself is one of the primary reasons Judo is a perfect martial art for self-defense, as it allows you to protect yourself using your attackers’ movement to your favor. Unlike MMA and Muay Thai that we just discussed, Judo is a defensive martial art that doesn’t incorporate any striking techniques.
Instead, a match is won by either throwing your opponent flat on their back, pinning them on their back for 25-second or by submitting them via a chock or arm lock (if you’re above 16). Judo provides its’ practitioners, or ‘Judokas’ as they’re called with the ability to defuse a potentially dangerous situation, without being the aggressor.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
As you can probably guess from the name, BJJ is a Brazilian martial art, that was created and made famous by a family called the Gracies’. They learned traditional JuJutsu in the early 1900’s, adapted it and made it their own.
To an outside perspective, BJJ and Judo may look very similar – both are grappling martial arts, where the practitioners wear a uniform known as a Gi. Apart from these two similarities, the aim of each martial art is very different. Unlike Judo, a match in BJJ is not won by throwing or pinning your opponent. Instead, the aim is to acquire a superior position and submit your opponent. If no submission takes place throughout the match, the winner is decided by who accumulated the most points.
Despite a match being primarily fought on the floor, BJJ is still undeniably one of the best martial arts for self-defense. This has been made obvious when members of the founding family (the Gracie’s) would openly accept fights against opponents trained in all disciplines. This later became known as the Gracie challenge, and clearly demonstrates BJJ’s effectiveness in immobilizing an opponent and submitting them.
Whilst not strictly a martial art by definition, the sport of boxing had to be mentioned. Due to the fact that boxing is strictly punching only, not many other combat sports can provide an understanding of the importance of range.
Knowing how close to an opponent is too close and the ability to move quickly in and out of danger makes boxing a fantastic choice for self-defense. The famous quote by Muhammad Ali “float like a butterfly sting like a bee” says it all. If you can’t get hit, you can’t get hurt.
While boxing is definitely an attacking sport, the defensive knowledge it instills makes it a great method of self-defense.
There we have it, some of the best martial arts for self-defense. Obviously the best way to defend yourself is to avoid confrontation, but unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. By training in these different disciplines, you’ll provide yourself with the knowledge to effectively protect yourself, if needed.
James No GiJune 21, 2020 - 12:51 pm
You explained it all in such a nice simple way. Your article was really helpful. I train in NOGI BJJ and my son wants to train in martial arts and he is asking me all these questions about different types of martial arts. I will forward him the link to your article so he can figure out which one he wants to train in. Thank you so much sharing!
Zachary TomlinsonApril 27, 2021 - 12:06 pm
I had no idea that martial arts help you get a better physical and mental state to defend yourself during emergencies. I have a friend who recently moved into a dangerous part of this country and I believe this can help her in the long run. I’ll be sure to recommend that she try out Kobudo by visiting a martial arts academy.
JoeNovember 22, 2021 - 3:53 am
You should include JKD a mixed martial art created by Bruce Lee, Krav Maga a mixed self defense system created for the Israel Defense Forces and Greco–Roman wrestling which is very effective for strong people if combined with boxing or Muay Thai.