Best Martial Arts For Self-Defense

November 29, 2021

There are hundreds of different martial arts and combat systems. But which one is the best for self-defense and why?

The best martial art one can learn for self-defense has to be Krav Maga. It is a versatile fighting system created by the Israeli Military for actual combat. The entire emphasis is on self-defense and preparing a person for any scenario they may face on the streets.

Keep reading this article to find all the pros and cons of all the best martial arts for self-defense. Let’s dive right into it!


best martial arts for self defense

Boxing is one of the oldest forms of combat and a very effective one in a street fight. Although boxers use “just” their hands as weapons, they are the ones who know how to deliver a knockout blow. And don’t make mistakes about boxing; there is a reason it is often called the “Sweet Science.”

Why Is Boxing Good For Self-Defense?

Punches are the most common way of attacking in a street fight. An average person won’t throw a wild spinning kick or dive for a takedown. No, most people throw punches because this is the fastest and most natural way to hurt others. And not a single martial art out there will teach you how to counter these attacks better than boxing.

To be fair, boxing is a bit limited compared with other arts on this list. Still, not a single other art would teach you better footwork, how to create angles, block, or throw punches. On top of that, boxers know how to judge distance, slip/dodge attacks, and knock a person down with a powerful shot.

Boxing is a chess match on the feet where throwing punches is just one aspect. Training is very hard as the emphasis is on endurance and preparing your mind and body for an intense fist fighting for 36 minutes in total.

Why Boxing Is Bad For Self-Defense?

Though boxing is very effective for street fighting, you can’t say it is the best. This is because it focuses just on hand strikes and competition. You won’t learn any self-defense tactics apart from using your hands as weapons in a fight. It lacks kicks, fighting in the clinch, or grappling.

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what are the best martial arts for self defense

Judo is a martial art that focuses on powerful throws and ground fighting. Its techniques are among the best for self-defense, probably the best for fighting at close range.

Why Is Judo Good For Self-Defense?

Judo is all about balance, core strength, powerful throws, and top control. The emphasis is on securing a strong grip, weight distribution, positioning, and executing a perfect throw. 

Street fighting is a chaotic brawl where there is a lot of grabbing and pulling from both sides. In most cases, people also wear clothes, so it all looks like a mess. However, judokas feel like fish in the water in these types of situations. They know how to use the attacker’s clothes and weight against them to throw them down.

Judo skills are perfect for a scenario where the attacker gets in your face or tries to sucker punch you. You would need to grab just a single part of their body, and they are going for a painful ride down to the ground. 

Why Judo Is Bad For Self-Defense?

The downsides of judo are quite obvious. It doesn’t include striking, dirty tactics, weapon-based training, and in the end, arts like BJJ are far better when it comes to ground fighting.

Muay Thai

10 best martial arts for self defense

Muay Thai is a national sport in Thailand and martial art with a long history. It is often seen as the complete striking system as it teaches you how to use all limbs as weapons in a fight. Students learn how to mix punches, kicks, elbows, and knees and how to do as much damage with each strike. They also learn basic trips and throws, which is always good to know in a street fight.

Why Is Muay Thai Great For Self-Defense?

First of all, Muay Thai training is brutal and intense and will teach you all about real fighting. Though you learn how to strike with all limbs at all ranges, the main focus is on hard kicks, and dirty fighting with elbow and knee strikes in the clinch.

The main goal is to knock the opponent out cold or hurt as much as possible. This is big for street fighting, where there are no scoring points or decision wins.

Muay Thai includes only the best and most effective techniques. Each punch or kick you learn in the Thai boxing gym works in real life, and it may help you get out of trouble and go back home safe. You won’t spend a second doing katas, breaking boards, or learning fake techniques that work only in movies.

Next, training is cardio intense, and you would have to go through many grueling workouts. For instance, pro fighters in Thailand tend to run 5 miles to warm up before training. The classes also include a lot of heavy sparring as the best way to develop automatic reactions, timing, or feeling for distance.

What Are The Downsides Of Muay Thai For Self-Defense?

The biggest downside is that Muay Thai doesn’t teach you how to fight on the ground. Though not all, many street fights end up on the ground at some point. So, you have to know how to fight there or at least a procedure to get back up. And on top of that, you won’t learn how to use or defend against dirty tactics, weapons, or multiple attackers.


Best martial arts for street fighting

Lethwei is the most brutal striking art that is very similar to Muay Thai. These two arts share a lot in common, but Lethwei is less popular and far more brutal. Its fighters compete bare-knuckle, which is why fights look violent and bloody. Still, the entire concept is close to ideal for self-defense, and here is why.

Why is Lethwei Good For Self-Defense?

Lethwei fighters use nine limbs as weapons to cause damage. They learn how to strike using kicks, punches, elbows, and knees. On top of that, it adds dirty moves like headbutts that are very brutal and dangerous.

If that’s not violent enough, fighters compete bare-knuckle and under the rules with no decision wins, just knockouts. How that’s good for self-defense, you may ask?

Well, street fights are not a pro match where there are rules and full padded boxing gloves. No, it is a chaotic brawl where no one can save you apart from yourself. It’s crucial to know how to punch bare-knuckle and not break your hand, which many people do.

And the same stands for absorbing these shots as it’s not the same when you receive a punch with and without the gloves.

Lethwei goes a step further in realism, which is why it is more brutal than other arts like boxing or Muay Thai. But at the same time, this is what makes you stronger and more capable on the streets.

Why Lethwei Is Bad For Self-Defense?

Lethwei doesn’t include any grappling apart from basic throws and trips. But the biggest downside is the fact that it is illegal in most countries outside of Myanmar, and it is not popular at all. If you live in the western world, it’s almost impossible to find a gym to train.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

most effective martial art in a real fight

BJJ is often seen as the best martial art for self-defense, and it is hard to argue against that. It is a fighting style that proved its worth in the chaotic world of MMA, where it emerged as the most effective. And when it comes to self-defense, it is the only art that allows a small person to beat a much bigger opponent.

Why Is BJJ Good For Self-Defense?

First of all, BJJ is the most versatile martial art for grappling and ground fighting. It teaches you how to use judo trips and throws to take the opponent down, secure a dominant position and finish the fight with chokes and joint locks.

The focus is on leverage and technique, which gives you a significant advantage in a fight. An average person doesn’t know how to defend against a takedown or get out of the choke or joint locks.

It takes a lot of effort and time on the mats to learn the exact procedures. An attacker can block or throw a strike, but they would all look desperate against skilled BJJ fighters.

BJJ truly shines during the close-range exchanges. In most cases, its fighters need to grab just a single part of the attacker’s body to score a takedown. And once they do that, it’s game over. Even if the opponent is a trained striker, that won’t help them much.

Above all, BJJ techniques are safe and allow you to neutralize the attacker without causing injuries. Don’t get us wrong; you can break bones and choke people unconscious with some moves. But as a skilled fighter, you would know the limits and how to keep it all safe.

Why BJJ Is Bad For Self-Defense?

The biggest downside of BJJ is the lack of striking techniques. You won’t learn how to strike, nor how to block punches or check kicks. On top of that, it doesn’t include any dirty tactics or weapon-based training.


best martial arts for self defence and fitness

MMA is a popular combat sport and a versatile martial art that is often seen as the best self-defense. As its name “mixed martial arts” suggests, it is a mix of grappling and striking techniques put into one fighting style. It prepares you to fight in standup, clinch, or on the ground.

Why Is MMA Good For Self-Defense?

MMA is the best when it comes to how to mix grappling and striking together. Students learn only the best techniques from wrestling, BJJ, Muay Thai, Boxing, and many other arts. It doesn’t matter if it’s Aikido or Kung Fu. If a specific move works in actual fighting, it will become a part of MMA at some point. And, of course, it has to fit within the rules of the sport.

Training is a bit hard because students have to practice at least three different martial arts in a single week. At the same time, this is the only way to develop all-around skills and cover all the aspects of the sport.

One day you will wrestle hard or roll on the mats. The other day you may spar in boxing classes. But with a lot of effort comes a high reward as you will feel confident fighting at all ranges and places. And of course, training never gets boring.

What Are The Downsides Of MMA For Self-Defense?

MMA is a versatile martial art that works really well in street fighting. But in the end, it is a combat sport that trains you to fight under the rules. Or in other words, it won’t teach you how to deal with multiple attackers, different scenarios, or dirty tactics. But still, MMA skills are close to ideal for 99% of street-fighting scenarios.

Combat Sambo

best form of self defense for real life situations

Combat Sambo is a martial art created by the Russian Military in the 1920s. It is a comprehensive combat system that covers all the aspects and elements of street fighting. In modern times, it is a very popular option among people who want to learn self-defense.

Why Is Sambo Good For Self-Defense?

Sambo has two forms: Sport Sambo and Combat Sambo. In this article, we will focus on the Combat version as it is more effective for self-defense.

In some way, Combat Sambo resembles modern MMA fighting. It consists of only the best grappling and striking techniques, and it covers both the grappling and standup aspects. Students learn all types of wrestling and judo techniques and how to apply chokes and joint locks on the ground. When it comes to striking, it includes basic techniques from western boxing and Muay Thai.

Since the focus is on actual combat on the streets or battlefield, Sambo does not play around. It is an aggressive fighting system that trains you to hurt the attacker as much and as fast as possible. Fighters trained in Sambo are explosive, tend to fight at a relentless pace, and constantly push for a finish.

What sets Sambo above the rest is its emphasis on dirty tactics and relentless pace. It teaches you to use soccer kicks, groin and throat strikes, and many other dirty moves. Though this may sound brutal, these moves can save your life on the streets.

What Are The Downsides Of Combat Sambo For Self-Defense?

Sambo is a comprehensive military combat system that doesn’t have any significant downsides. Still, the biggest one is the fact that it is not popular in the western world. You might have a hard time finding a gym to train, and even if you find one, the quality of coaching staff might not be the same as in Russia.

Krav Maga

best martial arts for self defense against weapons

Krav Maga is a combat system created by the Israeli Military and the best martial art for self-defense. It is an all-around combat system that focuses entirely on street fighting and self-defense tactics. But on the other side, a lot of ordinary people find it to be too brutal.

Why Krav Maga Is The Best For Self-Defense

Krav Maga is a brutal martial art that is all about violent street fighting. It doesn’t include any competition, neither are there any rules. The entire emphasis is on real-life fighting scenarios you may face in the bar, on your way back home and many others.

Students learn how to use all limbs as weapons to strike and grapple. They also learn how to deal with weapons, multiple attackers, and use dirty tactics. Basically, Krav Maga trains you to do anything in your power to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Training is intense and can even be scary for some people. This is because Krav Maga focuses on the realism of fighting. For instance, the instructors or other students might start hitting you with sticks or strikes for no reason to simulate a real attack.

Although this sounds brutal, it’s the only way you can learn how to stay calm, assess the situation you are in, and react in the most effective way possible.

Why Is Krav Maga Not Good For Self-Defense?

Krav Maga is as close to perfect for self-defense. The only downside is that training is too intense and brutal for most people. 

About the author 

Tomislav Zivanovic

Since 2017, Tomi has been working within the martial arts media, writing unique and creative articles about martial arts, and covering the most famous combat sports events. He works with some of the biggest martial arts blogs and websites like Middleeasy and Martial Arts Unleashed.


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