Self-defense is often a large motivator for many people who decide to practice combat sports. Wanting assurance that you can competently protect yourself in a violent situation is natural. But which martial art is the most effective for self-defense? Well, there is always going to be a difference in opinion even among elite martial artists so there isn’t one clear answer. However, we’ll be going through our top 10 picks in this article and explaining why they are worth considering.
- MMA Mixed Martial Arts
- Muay Thai/Kickboxing
- BJJ Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Combat Sambo
- Krav Maga
While knowing how to fight proficiently in hand-to-hand combat is an incredibly useful skill, I think it important to mention the reality of self-defense. In most cases walking away from a potential conflict is the best option, especially if it can be avoided.
The truth is, we don’t know what anyone is capable of in terms of violence. Being a competent martial artist will allow you to flatten the vast majority of people in unarmed fights. However, in reality, things don’t work this way. You don’t have to be trained to be violent, you don’t need to be strong or either. True violence extends to shooting, stabbing, or even hitting someone with a car. There is nothing that anyone can do to prepare for such situations apart from avoiding them in the first place. That being said, these are our top 10 best martial arts for self-defense.
MMA – Mixed Martial Arts
MMA is without a doubt the best when it comes to self-defense. It allows you to encompass all aspects of fighting and how to put it all together in an efficient and effective manner. MMA fighters are comfortable standing up and throwing punches as well as wrestling and chasing submissions.
This means that you’ll be the most prepared for a physical altercation regardless of where it takes place. Whether you find yourself face-to-face with someone, on the ground, or in an open space, you’ll always have weapons in your arsenal.
Tony Bellew was speaking about MMA fighters recently and he was brutally honest about how effective MMA fighters are when it comes to pure unarmed combat. He effectively said that there isn’t a single boxer that would stand a chance against a Mixed Martial Artist of equal stature in an unregulated fight.
While MMA is definitely the best for self-defense, it does have one major downside. It does take a long time to learn and become good. One martial art is hard enough to learn on its own and unless self-defense is a priority for yourself, you may be better off just taking a few boxing classes and learning how to throw a solid cross.
Muay Thai and Kickboxing are the best options for striking. They teach you how to properly punch, knee, and kick. Muay Thai also encompasses elbows which are another useful weapon for self-defense. The reason that we have Muay Thai above traditional boxing is that it covers more areas of fighting. While boxing will allow you to protect yourself competently in the vast majority of situations, knowing how to throw a knee or an elbow is definitely a useful skill in regard to self-defense.
However, they aren’t with issues. MMA, kickboxing, and Muay Thai take a substantial amount of time to learn before you can effectively use all of their weapons to defend yourself. Whereas learning how to throw a solid cross in boxing will take much less time.
The reason I really like boxing for self-defense is that you don’t need to master the sport in order to be able to competently defend yourself. Having a strong understanding of the fundamentals will be more than enough to protect yourself in most situations. The difficulty of boxing becomes apparent during actual contests where your technical ability from a sporting perspective is challenged. This means that its relatively easy to grasp the fundamentals that you’d need for protection but incredibly difficult to become a high-level sophisticated boxer simply because of how technical the sport is.
However, among all this technicality, it’s important not to get carried away by some of the flashy blocks and parries in boxing. The big gloves will allow you to catch and block shots that you wouldn’t be able to in a self-defense situation. The larger gloves also are more forgiving and will let you punch with improper technique with less severe consequences. So if you do plan on using boxing for self-defense, I’d recommend getting some practice in with small 4-ounce gloves to get a better understanding of punching.
Wrestling is an excellent form of self-defense as it really allows you to control where the fight takes place. If you have a strong wrestling background you’ll almost always be able to dominate someone if you’re able to get ahold of them. However, there are a couple of issues with wrestling for self-defense. Firstly people are much more likely to throw a haymaker than they are to shoot a single leg in a street fight. This means its important to have some concept of striking coupled with your wrestling so you don’t walk into something trying to secure a takedown.
The other issue is that being on the floor leaves you compromised regardless of your position. It means you are not in a good position to run away, you’re more vulnerable to other people and the person that you’re wrestling with. While they may not be able to wrestle, they could easily have a knife or gun in their pocket which they may be able to use at such close quarters. But generally speaking, wrestling is a great method of self-defense in most situations.
BJJ – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
There are many high-level martial artists that swear by jiu-jitsu and for good reason. Having the ability to submit to people and use their strength against themselves is brilliant. In the cage or in a fair hand-to-hand fight I don’t think there is any dispute on how useful jiu-jitsu is. Knowing just a handful of submissions like the rear-naked-choke, kimura, guillotine, and triangle choke will leave you very confident on the floor.
But that’s the issue with jiu-jitsu for self-defense, you have to take it to the floor. As we mentioned with wrestling, being on the floor is not an ideal situation on the street because you don’t know what could happen which is why its best to be on your legs. The other issue with jiu-jitsu is that unless you have a wrestling background it will be difficult to bring someone to the floor. Many jiu-jitsu throws are designed for competitions, not pure unarmed combat.
Sambo is a Russian martial art that was created by the Soviets to improve hand-to-hand combat. It incorporates techniques from various martial arts and combat systems, including striking, grappling, and submission holds. This versatility allows practitioners to adapt to different situations and engage effectively at various ranges, whether standing or on the ground.
Combat Sambo places a strong emphasis on realistic training scenarios, simulating real-life self-defense situations. This includes practicing against multiple opponents, dealing with strikes, and learning how to defend against common attacks such as punches, kicks and grabs. This type of training helps develop practical skills that can be applied in real-world encounters.
In the MMA world, Khabib Nurmagamedov and Islam Makhachev are the most well-known practitioners as they both competed in Sambo before MMA. This has proven to be an incredibly successful route for fighting in general.
Judo can be an excellent martial art for self-defense in close quarters where you can grab someone. udo focuses on throws, joint locks, and pins, which are designed to quickly incapacitate or control an opponent. These techniques can be highly effective in real-life self-defense situations where the goal is to neutralize an attacker and escape safely.
However, the main issue with Judo is that it’s very difficult to use. Especially in a street altercation. To be able to effectively use Judo you have to get close to your opponent and unlike wrestling, you can’t shoot for a takedown. You have to stand in front of your opponent and look for a trip or a throw. This can leave you vulnerable to punches and leaves you open if they are carrying a weapon. I think Judo is great when you use it in the appropriate situation. But if its your primary method of defense, you may find yourself forced to use it in a particular method that compromises your safety. Similar to BJJ in a lot of ways.
I think most people have a hugely wrong perception of Karate. I’m sure many of your growing up would’ve considered Karate to be the ultimate form of self-defense. However, this simply isn’t the case. Karate is an ancient and very useful martial art when applied in the correct way but on its own, I don’t believe its an effective martial art for self-defense.
UFC star Stephen Thompson showed that Karate can be highly effective in fights providing that its coupled with good kickboxing practices. The best things about Karate in my opinion are the movement and the kicks. Conor McGregor also famously used a Karate stance throughout his UFC career. While the kicks are extremely powerful they can be difficult to use for self-defense. For instance, if its a tight area, if the floor is slippy, or if you’re wearing jeans, kicks may not be an option. However, the Karate stance is brilliant, it allows you to quickly move in and out of range very effectively. If you couple that with good boxing fundamentals, it can be a great style for self-defense.
Krav Maga is a martial art developed by the Israeli Defense Forces and it takes a little bit from every martial art to create an efficient martial art targeted towards real-world situations. This means that there really isn’t one set style but rather it’s about using whichever technique is best in that situation.
It does work and many people have used Krav Maga effectively. However, the lack of sparring and technical combat means it’s portrayed as a safe martial for everyone to learn which makes it ideal for classes. These classes often teach you some fundamentals but leave you with a false sense of security because you’ve done some drills. Krav Maga is a brutal martial art. However, learning it is challenging as most instructors have catered to the masses.
In my opinion, you’re much better off learning Mixed Martial Arts. Especially if you want to know how to defend yourself in every situation.