Getting involved in any martial art with a long tradition and history could be very beneficial to any person. Many studies have shown martial arts are a great form of physical activity. They will improve your conditioning, self-discipline, and physical toughness. Most importantly, you will learn how to defend yourself!
The first rule of any gym says you should keep the acquired fighting skills inside the gym. Sadly, the reality is a bit different. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to defend yourself, it’s always great to know your skills are above the average ones. Also, many self-defensive martial arts will train you for many intense real-life scenarios. The only problem left is to choose the best martial arts for self-defense. However, there are hundreds upon hundreds of martial arts out there. Picking the right one may sound easy, but it is actually very hard.
When the first MMA promotions began to emerge during the early 1990s, we’ve all thought that the ultimate answer was right around the corner. However, reality played out being different. Over two decades later, the question still stands. But, over the years, many self-defensive martial arts proved as very effective inside the cage.
We’ve decided to bring you closer to these proven best martial arts for self-defense, and hopefully help you make the right pick!
1. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
It’s fair to say that Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) (1) is one of the most effective self-defensive martial arts in the history of combat sports. Developed during the 1920s, BJJ is a ground-based art that includes various chokeholds and joint locks as a way to defeat the enemy. The main focus of the system is to allow a much smaller person to put on a strong resistance and defeat much bigger attackers.
But, every fight begins on the feet, right? BJJ is built on a judo base and also embraces the standup aspect of fighting. Instead of striking, BJJ fighters learn how to advance to the ground as soon as possible. They can do this by executing various judo throws, trips, and wrestling techniques.
Once on the ground, BJJ is all about positions over submissions. BJJ fighters use different scrambling techniques like “sweeps” to secure the dominant position. From the side-control or a full-mount, a fighter will proceed on executing many finishing techniques. The purpose of chokeholds is to cut off the opponent’s blood circulation to the brain. By applying the joint locks, you will put a bone-breaking pressure on a joint.
For some people, BJJ may look easy or ineffective, but don’t be naïve! BJJ is very effective in a street fight, and its training sessions are very hard. What’s more, BJJ is the fundamental of MMA and a must-have fighting tool for every modern fighter.
Sambo is a Russian martial art founded in the Soviet Union in the 1920s.(2) In that time, the Soviet military needed a new training system that would improve the fighting abilities of its members. The original creators of sambo are Vasili Oshchepkov and Viktor Spiridinov. After 10 years of development, they’ve managed to put various combat styles like BJJ, Judo and wrestling in one system. The word “sambo” means self-defense without weapons.
So, the main goal of the system is to stop the armed or unarmed enemy in the fastest way. What’s so special about sambo is that it represents one of the first “mixed martial arts” techniques ever! The style originally has two forms:
- Sport Sambo – stands for a mixture of catch wrestling and judo techniques. Furthermore, this form enables the fighters to use joint locks but they can’t use the chokeholds. The main focus is on getting powerful takedowns and finishing the opponent on the ground.
- Combat Sambo – is a military version that combines elements of striking and grappling. During the standup, fighters can throw various Muay Thai and boxing techniques. Also, the Combat version utilizes soccer kicks, groin strikes, and head-butts along with all submission moves.
For a better part of its history, Sambo lived in a shadow of more popular styles like jiu-jitsu. But, it became popular through the rise of modern MMA. Fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov and Fedor Emelianenko have put the sport on the map for future generations and we will see more of sambo in the future.
3. Muay Thai
Out of all standup martial arts, Muay Thai probably has the highest damage per strike ratio. (3) Also known as “The Art of Eight Limbs”, Muay Thai is a standup art that includes knees, elbows, and leg kicks. Thai fighters use the whole body movement to create a high amount of power and land with precision.
Everything around Muay Thai is about precision and power. For example, the brutal leg kicks can stop the attacker from further action. If the attacker gets the hold of you, it’s not going to be any easier for him. What’s more, Muay Thai produces the most damage in the clinch. During these close-range exchanges, you’ll learn how to pull the famous Thai clinch. From this position, you can land vicious knees and elbows. This can result in huge cuts as elbows and foreheads simply don’t go together.
Although all this may sound brutal or demoralizing for an amateur, don’t worry! Muay Thai facilities are well systemized and less intimidating to train. Also, with a bit more money, you can join one of many Muay Thai training camps in Thailand. They offer many beautiful training facilities in nature with top Thai coaches and nutritionists ready to enhance any fighter’s standup game. Yet, this does not apply to professional athletes only. Many people join the Muay Thai classes for fitness, losing weight or getting the necessary discipline in life.
Also known as the “Sweet Science”, boxing is the most practiced self-defensive fighting style across the globe. What’s more, boxing is one of the oldest forms of fighting as well. (4) For many, it is a one-dimensional fighting style as fighters are using “just” their wrists as a fighting weapon. But, boxing is very complicated.
Fighters must perform various techniques like footwork, balance and head movement in harmony. Not to mention that boxing training sessions are among the hardest of all martial arts!
Although the sessions are hard, the reward for your sacrifice could be very high! After a few months of training, you will spot significant improvements in your fighting capabilities. Boxing doesn’t incorporate any grappling, kicking or ground fighting techniques. However, it will teach you the two most important things:
- How to land a perfectly placed knockout blow
- How to properly defend yourself on the streets
The sport of boxing is well spread all across the world. As a result, you can easily find a place to train since almost every town has a boxing gym. Like Muay Thai, it is a great form of exercise. It will help you deal with aggression or anxiety and improve conditioning and physical strength.
5. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
Though it is the youngest on our list, MMA is by far the most popular martial art. (5) The early days of MMA are often portrayed as barbaric and primitive. However, the sport has come a long way to become the fastest rising sport in the world. What makes it so unique is that includes all the best martial arts styles. Inside the Octagon, this style represents a hybrid mixture of striking and grappling. Out of all, four styles have emerged as fundamentals of MMA: Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu.
MMA is the best self-defensive art for many reasons. It will prepare a person for every scenario inside the cage or street. As an MMA fighter, you will master striking, grappling and ground techniques. Basically, wherever the fight goes, you will enjoy a high advantage. But this advantage comes at a certain price.
To become successful or proficient in MMA, a person must learn multiple martial arts. Yet, this requires tremendous dedication, discipline, and sacrifice. Training sessions are full of grueling exercises that will put your mind and body through the huge stresses. But, they are fun and dynamic at the same time! The truth is, many combat sports like boxing or wrestling may become boring as you are continuously repeating the same exercises. But, in MMA, you will practice grappling exchanges on Monday, boxing on Tuesday and BJJ on Wednesday. This balanced training program allows you to focus on giving it all and having fun at the same time.
6. Filipino Martial Arts
Filipino martial art is a hybrid mixture of both western and eastern martial arts styles. (6) The Philippian soil is famous for its violent history and conflicts. Throughout history, Filipinos were under constant threat and involved in many wars. To protect themselves, they have developed many armed and unarmed self-defensive skills. Interestingly, Filipinos learned how to adopt only the most effective skills from the best martial arts. As a result, their system focuses on hand-to-hand, stick and knife fighting.
The most popular form is Arnis, Eskrima, and Kali (armor, fencing, and stick). Although it may seem backward, the Filipino fighters must learn the weapons first. Once they feel loose executing various defensive and attacking movements, a person will proceed to master hand-to-hand combat moves. Overall, many people believe that Filipino martial arts cover all aspects of fighting:
- Long-range – a fighter can perform different kicking techniques or use the tip of the stick/sword.
- Middle range – here, Filipinos apply boxing and Muay Thai techniques (elbows and knees) or use the body of their weapons.
- Short-range – this distance is perfect for bitting, eye-poking, and various grappling techniques. Also, fighters can use the bottom of the weapons to deliver devastating blows.
Like Krav Maga, Filipino martial arts are entirely focused on self-defense. But, the training programs are not regulated in every school. Therefore, some FMA schools focus on the grappling aspect while others prefer standup skills. But, the classes are very dynamic and fun. Constantly switching between the weapons, grappling and striking can’t become monotone or boring.
7. Krav Maga
Since its foundation in 1955, Krav Maga has been the synonym for self-defense. The Israeli military developed Krav Maga by combining the skills from boxing, wrestling, aikido, judo, and karate. (7) But, it’s not a classic blend of styles like sambo or MMA. Krav Maga includes weird moves like throat punches, eyeball gouges or groin strikes.
The primary focus of the technique is to prepare you for intense real-life situations. Sometimes, the simulation exercises are even more extreme than the ones on the street. The instructors will undertake everything to break your body and spirit. Also, you’ll have to experience pain and high stress in almost every session. As a result of these grueling actions, you will become more comfortable in stressful situations. Also, your ability to sustain pain will increase as well.
Krav Maga is the closest to the ideal when it comes to self-defense. While the other martial arts practices are focusing on competition and scoring points, Krav Maga is 100% self-defensive. But, Krav Maga is not everyone’s cup of tea. Training sessions are very intense and you can get hurt. Furthermore, most of the techniques are forbidden in other martial arts. Thus, if you’re planning on shifting to MMA or Muay Thai, you’ll have a hard time adapting to the new rules.
Which Martial Art Should I Choose?
The reality is, all the martial arts presented above are great for improving self-defense. But, it’s up for you to decide which suits you the most. It’s totally normal for you to be confused after all this information.
At the end of the day, how are you supposed to decide which martial art is perfect if you’ve never experienced any? The only way to make the right decision is to experience the art yourself and see if it meets your criteria. Many martial arts gyms offer a trial month. Don’t be shy, go and try as many as possible. Once you discover the right one, that’s when the fun starts and the life-long martial art journey!