We all become targets of bullies and abusers at some point in our lives, but we must be able to resist and defend ourselves. Martial arts can help us with this, however, given the popularity they have, it is not easy to choose which is the best martial art for self-defense.
Krav Maga is the best martial art for self-defense. Although not being a martial art nor a sport, but a self-defense technique, Krav Maga was invented for the sole purpose of defending yourself.
And while we believe that Krav Maga is the best technique for self-defense, it is far from being the only one. Not only that, but some people will be better off responding to other techniques, and thus those martial arts will suit them better for protection. In this article, you can find the top 11 Martial Arts for self-defense, ranked from worst to best, even though all of them are at least good.
We also have an article about the best martial art for women’s self-defense that you can check on link.
Best Martial Arts for Self-Defense (Ranked)
11. Aikido – martial art for self-defense
Although Aikido is Japan’s youngest martial art, its roots lie deep in the past of its country of origin. Aikido was designed by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) (also known among Aikidokas as O-Sensei (Great Teacher) during the 1930s to 1960s. Technically, much of Aikido is based at Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jiu-Jitsu school, school of Martial Art Jiu-Jitsu. Aikido also possesses a significant spiritual component.
Unlike judo, which is more or less unique in understanding and systematizing the skill, there are more schools (styles) in Aikido. Although originally from Morihei Ueshiba, who gave it his name, there are now more Aikido schools in the world. Usually, a prefix is added in front of the name aikido to indicate the school or in which the style is being practiced.
People who train aikido are commonly known as aikidokas. Aikido has a system of grading, i.e., belts, in which anyone who is dedicated to exercise can progress, but this system does not exist for its own sake. It is intended to stimulate the desire for further advancement and to strengthen the individual’s confidence. Aikidokas are ranked according to their knowledge and length of exercise. There are 6 students (Kyū) and 10 master’s (Dan).
The hall where aikido is practiced is called a dojo. When entering the dojo, it is necessary to give the students gifts with respect to what is being taught.
The clothes worn during training are called Aikidogi (kimono). A kimono is most commonly white because it is very durable. To be able to close the kimono, you need to have a obi (belt).
The stages are not marked with colored belts, but rather – all those without a master’s degree wear a white belt. Aikido masters also wear black or navy hakama in addition to the black belt. Hakama is part of traditional Japanese clothing that is reminiscent of wide pants. The hakama is tied with straps around the waist and is worn by a black belt (yūdansha) wearer. Higher belt women in some clubs wear white hakama even though they do not have a dan belt.
Aikido in addition to non-weapons techniques practices weapons techniques as well. To practice Aikido, you must have a boken. Boken in its shape is very reminiscent of a katana. In addition to boken, aikido also uses tanto.
Pros and Cons of Aikido as Martial Art for Self Defense
Aikido is good as a self-defense martial art, and it is on this list as it is useful for controlling aggressive and unskilled people. It doesn’t use kicking or punching techniques, instead, it uses techniques that enable you to use your opponent’s energy and aggressiveness to control them or ‘throw’ them far from you. It is very good for bouncers, police officers, and prison officers.
You can find out more about Aikido for self defense on our link.
10. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – martial art for self-defense
Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is a martial art and martial sport focused on grappling and especially fight on the ground with the aim of gaining a dominant position and using joint-locks and choke to force the opponent to surrender.
The system evolved from a modified version of Judo practiced before World War II including some techniques from classic Jiu-Jitsu and a focus on non-waza (floor techniques).
It promotes the principle that a smaller, weaker person, using balance and technique, can successfully defend himself against a larger and stronger attacker. BJJ can be trained for self-defense, sports grappling tournaments (gi and no-gi) and mixed martial arts (MBV, MMA). Sparring (popularly called “rolling”) with an opponent plays an important role in coaching.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu emphasizes ground-holding and submission-holding techniques, including joint-locks and suffocation, already present in many other martial arts, with or without an emphasis on ground combat.
The premise is that most of the benefits of a bigger and stronger opponent come from longer reach and more powerful shots can be negated if the fight is on the ground. BJJ incorporates many techniques of throwing and sweeping down opponents to the ground, based on the main foundations of the human body: hips and shoulders. Such takedowns are hard to avoid without training.
When the opponent is on the ground, a number of attacks (and counter-attacks) are available to manipulate the opponent into a convenient position to apply the grip. Obtaining a dominant position on the ground (in the sense that the opponent is on someone’s back and facing the floor) is a sign of BJJ style innovation and involves the effective use of a guard position to defend yourself from a lower position, and pulling opponent out of the guard to gain a dominant position from the upper position with flank control, mount and back mount position.
This system of attack and manipulation can be compared to the form of kinetic chess if used by two experienced practitioners. The surrender grip is equal to a chess mat.
Pros and Cons of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as Martial Art for Self Defense
Even though BJJ is a martial art exactly made for self-defense, and even though we put it on this list, we have to put it near the end. It is great for a smaller fighter to nullify the benefits of a larger fighter, but in a street fight, and for self-defense that is usually where you will be using it, you don’t really want to be on a ground, when there is a possibility your attacker has a friend behind your back. If you could be sure you are 1 on 1 with your attacker, then it would be much better placed on our list, but in a street fight, you can never be sure.
9. Wrestling – martial art for self-defense
Wrestling is a martial art as well as a standard Olympic sport. It is a fight between two opponents, the aim of which is to defeat the opponent using different procedures, but they are forbidden to strike of any kind. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in general, practiced in ancient Greece, and has been in the program of the modern Olympic Games from the earliest days to the present.
As a traditional sport, wrestling has evolved in a number of styles and rules, from sumo wrestling, judo to various freestyle variants. It is often used in soldier training, so called chest to chest fights. All these styles have in common that it is forbidden to hit an opponent with their hands, feet, elbows or head, as well as unsportsmanlike moves such as scratching, bites, genital strikes, etc. The difference between individual styles is the duration of the fight (number and duration of the period). scoring of individual moves, list of permitted moves, etc.
The goal of wrestling, depending on style, can be:
- to make such an operation by which the opponent is brought down to the floor and brought into a subordinate position
- knock your opponent to the floor
- get the opponent to touch the floor with any other part of the body except the feet or push him out of the space provided for the fight (this is the rule in sumo wrestling)
- raise the opponent above head height
- move the opponent’s body to a subordinate position in another orderly manner
Wrestling is considered one of the three core MMA techniques, together with kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It is a martial art that involves grappling-type techniques such as clinch fighting, throws and takedowns, joint locks, pins, and other grappling holds.
Wrestling is very hard to train and requires a lot of waivers if you want to be good at it. On the other hand, it enhances agility, speed, balance, flexibility, coordination, endurance, muscular strength (explosiveness), aggressiveness, and discipline.
Pros and Cons of Wrestling as Martial Art for Self Defense
First, if you want to be good at wrestling you have to train really hard. Then, the problem with self-defense is, wrestling won’t teach you how to hit, and you have absolutely no chance against multiple numbers of opponents. Also, if you are in small spaces, it’s not exactly useful. But, if you find yourself against one opponent, and your personal skill level is good, you will probably destroy your opponent. Even so, this wouldn’t be my first choice for a self-defense martial art.
8. Taekwondo – martial art for self-defense
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art created in the 1940s by combining various skills that were practiced at the time. Its name comes from the word Tae (태, hanja 跆), which means to kick, Kwon (권, hanja 拳), which means to hit with hand, and Do (도, hanja 道), which means way.
Taekwondo is a punching skill characterized by attractive leg techniques and speed. Today, taekwondo is considered one of the most popular martial arts and sports, with the number of practitioners worldwide estimated at more than 100 million.
The name TaeKwonDo was allegedly first suggested by an associate of General Choi-Hong-Hi in 1955 but it was not accepted then. In 1965 when General Choi Hong Hi became President of Korea Tae-Soo-Do Dae-Han (the joint work of the striking kwans), he immediately changed its name to TaeKwon-Do and using military power practically imposed his “Oh-Do-Kwan” style, and virtually banned other styles that “survived” abroad, mostly in America and interestingly in Japan, where the Koreans are the largest national minority, under the names Tang-Soo-Do, Han-Moo-Do, Kuk-Sool-Won, Tae- Kuk-Sul, Hapkido, and others.
Taekwondo is divided into five components:
- Basics (Kibon)
- Forms (Poomsae; Forms = Paterns, Compose; in v.WTSDA Hyung or v-ITF Tull))
- Self-Defense (Hosinsul; MuSul))
- Breaking (KyokPa)
- Fighting (v.WTF Kyorugi; v.ITF Daeryon)
Most clubs nowadays specialize in the competitive part of taekwondo (combat training and form training), but all parts of taekwondo are important for mastering.
Nowadays, traditional techniques are not devoted much time and in most schools they have been replaced by exercises of constant movement, stretching, jumping with exercises on objects or light bags and with focusers.
The basics of taekwondo are divided into
- postures (eg riding posture – juchun seogi, front posture – ap kubi or rear posture – dwit kubi),
- blockages (eg upper block – olgul makki or lower block – arae makki),
- hand strikes (eg fist bump – jumok jirugi or outer palm punch – sonnal chigi), and
- leg kicks (e.g., roundabout – dollyo chagi or side kick – yop chagi).
The goal of learning the basics is to develop the right technique, use the whole body, and preserve the taekwondo tradition.
Forms or technical assemblies “Patterns” (Hyung; Tull; Pumse) are choreographed fights against the onslaught of an imaginary attacker, performed by the trainee alone with the aim of developing balance and refining basic techniques
While the sport of combat is rule-based, self-defense techniques are used in situations where there is insufficient distance or standard taekwondo techniques are impractical: gun attacks, rear-end attacks, and situations where the attacker has control by choking or holding the victim.
Self-defense consists of kicks with hands and legs, elbows, knees, grasps and levers on the arms and legs, choking, throwing, etc. Unlike other parts of taekwondo, self-defense is not standardized and depends on the instructor.
Breaking demonstrations are a test of strength and precision. Exactly punched, the trainee seeks to break objects such as boards, tiles, bricks or baseball bats. Breaking demonstrations are generally performed as part of taekwondo presentations and when laying for higher belts.
The last and by far the most important part of taekwondo is the fight. We can roughly divide this category into an agreed fight (one, two or three step combat, and combat exercises with or without a shield) and a free fight (with or without a shield). Taekwondo fights use hand and foot punching techniques, but not hosinsul throwing, sweeping or choking.
Pros and Cons of Taekwondo as Martial Art for Self Defense
Taekwondo as a martial art for self-defense is sometimes criticized. Critics say that it is flashy and less than practical in self-defense. But, Taekwondo emphasizes kicking, much more than any other martial art, and if you master it correctly, to be strong and fast as your arms are, it can be excellent martial art for self-defense.
Also, be sure to check out our article about Taekwondo for self-defense where we give a more in-depth review of it.
7. Wing Chun – martial art for self-defense
Wing Chun was developed by a Buddhist priestess at the Shaolin Temple in the early 17th century. According to legend, she was inspired to create this unique kung-fu system by watching the fight of snakes and girdles. Wing Chun was first taught publicly in the 1950s and has since become a world-renowned martial art technique. By practicing kung-fu techniques, we get to know our bodies, as well as ways we can protect it.
The structure of kung fu Wing Chun training can be defined as the process of advancing an individual according to his or her own capabilities. Anyone who exercises regularly and continuously enhances their capabilities in an area.
Emphasis is placed on regular and continuous exercise, as it is a basic requirement for mastering a subject or material in any domain. Looking at Wing Chun as a martial art, it should be noted that the individual who exercises in the group needs a partner as well. Partner is the key setting of the training itself.
In addition, when an individual, or a potential student, comes to Wing Chun’s training room for the first time, his or her staying depends primarily on the first impression; whether it be the teacher (sifu) or the students who are already in that training room. The potential learner does not know what is waiting for him or how the learning process will go, but the structure of the training certainly exists.
Structurally speaking, Wing Chun training can be divided into learning phases by form with their sub-phases or intermediate phases.
Pros and Cons of Wing Chun as Martial Art for Self Defense
Wing Chun as a martial art for self-defense is good because you develop very precise hits to the head, and can defend while striking. On the other hand, it is not so easy to intercept or deflect punches with its techniques when someone stronger and bigger pulls strong hooks on you. The footwork is pretty bad as well.
6. Muay Thai – martial art for self-defense
Historically, Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, was a martial art created during the migration of Thai people from southeast China to present-day Thailand.
According to the rules, striking and kicking with the use of knees, elbows and holding, pushing and throwing (without the use of levers) are allowed in Thai boxing, which makes it different from other similar sports (K1, Kick boxing).
As a martial art that requires strength, endurance, balance, and coordination, Muay Thai is a sport that makes significant progress in an individual’s general physical condition, developing a range of motor skills, but also having a positive impact on mental health, self-esteem, self-awareness, and security.
During Thai boxing training, the leg muscles are continuously activated, both in striking and kicking movements and in constant movement throughout all training segments. This type of activity increases muscular endurance, force production, agility, and forms the legs and buttocks that are continuously involved in movement.
Core muscles and their strength are a prerequisite for good health, proper posture and injury prevention. Core muscles mean all the muscles of the torso, and they are precisely those that are continuously activated during Muay Thai training, especially with different rotations, occur at every stroke. Core muscles are equally activated in hitting and defense, as well as in the clinch, which requires stability and strength.
All of this makes Muay Thai great martial art for self defense, as well as get into the shape, and get self-esteem, self-awareness, and security.
Pros and Cons of Muay Thai as Martial Art for Self Defense
With Muay Thai you will learn how to use your elbows efficiently, as well as punches and clinch, but the big problem is lack of ground training (it’s not like you want to get to the ground in street training).
Also, be sure to check out our article about Muay Thai for self-defense where we give a more in-depth review of it.
5. Karate – martial art for self-defense
Karate founding cannot be accurately dated. All respected sources say that karate is a couple of thousand years old. The first clues are about the Indian monk Bodhidarma who came to China around 500 BC at the invitation of the Chinese emperor.
In karate, you exercise full-body muscles. Through the training process, speed, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, precision and coordination are developed. Particular emphasis should be placed on enhancing personality and self-confidence, as well as the nobility of karate as a sport (discipline, control, respect, responsibility towards work and school responsibilities).
In karate combat training, hand and foot techniques are used, which should be performed vigorously, quickly and technically correctly, taking care not to hurt the opponent. Strictly prescribed techniques are performed in the discipline of kata, and competitors should demonstrate a complete understanding of the techniques, proper rhythm, speed, balance, and correctness of the techniques. The demand for karate sports requires a variety of training processes, and thus rapid development of all motor skills. Also, the variety of karate training has a great impact on health. It is excellent for asthmatics, strengthens natural immunity and affects healthy metabolism.
Karate is often thought of as a purely combat sport, however, the true purpose of karate is self-defense, not aggression. Karate is a martial art that uses all body parts for self defense.
Pros and Cons of Karate as Martial Art for Self Defense
Karate is on our list of the best martial arts for self-defense for a reason – it develops fitness, as well as strong punches and kicks. Its downside is that is maybe a little too stiff, and uses too many blocks.
4. Judo – martial art for self-defense
Judo is a Japanese martial art and Olympic sport created as a set of tried and tested Jiu-Jitsu techniques.
Jiu-jitsu was a common name in Japan for all martial arts (striking and wrestling). The founder of Judo – Jigoro Kano (1860 – 1938), who mastered several styles of jiu-jitsu, decided to take the best of each style and discard unnecessary rest.
There are nine students (Kyu) and ten master’s (Dan) degrees with associated colored belts. Although the highest rank, Dan 10, is marked with a red belt color, sometimes masters of that rank opt for the white belt, thus emphasizing the life cycle and the fact that something new can always be learned regardless of current knowledge.
The hall where Judo is practiced is called a dojo. When entering the dojo, it is necessary to give the students gifts with respect to what is being taught. People who practice judo are usually called Judoka. Judokas are trained in a special type of kimono called Judogi (kimono). To be able to attach a kimono, you need to have an obi (belt) whose color matches the judoka’s rank. In 1907, Kano introduced the Judogi as we know it today, and belts were used, initially white and black. Second color belts came into use only when judo began to be practiced outside Japan. Mykonosuke Kawaishi began teaching judo in Paris and saw that students in the west are making faster progress when they have different belt colors as visual evidence of their knowledge.
Competitive judo is mostly based on throwing techniques (Nage-waza), about 80%, which are divided into manual techniques (Te-waza), hip throwing (Koshi-waza) and knife techniques (ashi-waza). It also consists of techniques in the parterre (katame-waza) that are divided into postures (Osaekomi-waza), suffocation (Shime-waza) and leverage on the arms (Kansetsu-waza). Parterre is rather neglected in competitive judo because, for the sake of attractiveness, fights stop very quickly unless one of the contestants makes significant progress.
Pros and Cons of Judo as Martial Art for Self Defense
Judo as a martial art for self-defense is much different than other arts in this list. When training judo, you don’t learn strikes or blocking, but instead, you learn to throw, choke, and armlock your opponent. So why is it great as a self-defense martial art? Because you’ll learn how to throw someone on the floor really well, and when he hits the concrete with full power, this usually means injury for the attacker.
3. Boxing – martial art for self-defense
Throughout history, two people have fought with their hands to prove the power and strength known from the very beginning of civilization. In doing so, the rules varied substantially, from the manner and duration of combat, the use of gloves, the type of rules, etc. Often, these struggles were brutal and even deadly.
The first boxing rules of modern times date from London, wherein the 18th century the rules were defined for the space of fighting, banned head, and under-belt strikes, etc. In 1867, IX. The Marquis of Queensberry published systematic rules of combat in line with those London rules, and today these ‘Queensberry’ rules are considered to be the first official boxing rules. These rules specify three-minute rounds, specify ring size, banned under-the-belt strikes and other unsportsmanlike punches, and passed the bulk of the rules that remain in the boxing world today.
Today, there are two basic areas of boxing: amateur (often called Olympic) boxing practiced at the Olympics, and professional boxing, managed by several different boxing federations. Each federation sets its own specific rules regarding the ranking of the boxer and the ways of winning the title, although the boxing rules themselves are basically very similar or even identical.
Boxing is a martial art in which opponents of similar body weight are struck with the hands-on which the gloves are padded. The fight takes place in a fenced rectangular ring, in 3 to 15 rounds of three minutes each.
The object of the fight is to give the opponent as many blows to the parts of the body above the belt (head, torso) as possible while avoiding the opponent’s blows. It can be won by knockout (KO mark, from the English term knock-out), ie when the opponent fails to rise for ten seconds after being thrown to the ground, by technical knockout (TKO mark), ie when one fighter has no power to continue or the winner is determined by the decision of the referees after the agreed number of rounds.
Due to the fact that boxing is not allowed to hit the opponent while on the floor, and that there are strict rules in which part of the body and how the opponent is allowed to hit, boxing is often called a ‘noble art’.
Pros and Cons of Boxing as Martial Art for Self Defense
Boxing is similar to judo, in terms of self-defense. You learn only one aspect of the fight, but that aspect you learn extremely well. Boxers are surely not complete fighters, but they have lethal punches with hands and amazing condition.
2. MMA – martial art for self-defense
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), also known as ultimate-fight, free-fight, and Vale Tudo is a martial arts in which to win over your opponent uses a combination of the vast majority of martial arts.
There are three stages in which combat can take place:
- a fight on your feet
- a fight in the ground
Each fight and round starts on the feet, and boxing, kickboxing and Thai boxing techniques are most commonly used in such combat.
If a leg fight turns into a clinch fight, techniques from boxing and Thai boxing are most commonly used to strike.
If a fighter wants to get into a ground fight, he uses wrestling, samba, and judo techniques. Fighters use the same techniques in the clinch when there is an unlikely possibility of finishing the fight, that is, finishing the fight with a grip.
When the fight goes into the ground, the techniques of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, sambo, and judo are most used.
Pros and Cons of MMA as Martial Art for Self Defense
Training is extremely hard for your body, as you learn all kinds of techniques to be as best as possible in a fight. Therein lies another problem – you train only to attack and to win, not for self-defense. You have no training against a knife attack or multiple opponents. On the other hand, depending on your training, you will become very dangerous in all parts of a fight – standing, clinch, or/and ground.
You can find out more about MMA for self defense on our link.
1. Krav Maga – martial art for self-defense
Krav Maga originated in Israel, under the pressure of real life requirements and conditions. The method was developed by Imi Lichtenfeld and continued to be developed and modified by Eyal Yanilov.
Krav Magu is used by military forces, police forces and secret services (CIA and FBI) from around the world. Since 2010, due to the expansion of the system, while maintaining the quality of training, Eyal Yanilov has founded an organization – Krav Maga Global. KMG is recognized today as the most professional and internationally active Krav Maga organization in the world.
Krav Maga is a self defense system with a unique and logical approach, easy to learn and remember, it runs naturally and instinctively. Due to the wide range of techniques it covers, Krav Maga provides tools to neutralize and resolve potential conflicts. Some of the more important features of Krav Maga are the unique pedagogy, methodology, and training.
Krav Maga training is for everyone who wants to be (more) fit, strengthen their confidence and learn self defense techniques. They are designed for people who have similar ideas and goals: learn to defend yourself and/or your loved ones and have fun along the way. It fits perfectly into the hectic style of everyday life as it can lead to a specific goal in the short term.
The main goal is to train Krav Maga trainees to achieve their desired goals, be it through solving stressful and problematic situations, lose weight or become stronger. Teaching methods and a variety of training allow all participants to come and gain benefits for themselves, regardless of age, gender, fitness and prior knowledge of martial arts.
Pros and Cons of Krav Maga as Martial Art for Self Defense
The only real con of this martial art is that there are many different standards and styles around the globe. Some are specified for self defense, while others look more like Kickbox training. Krav Maga is the best martial art for self defense because you will learn how to defend against gun, knife, as well as striking, grappling, and many, many more techniques needed in a street fight.
Now that we have come to the end of the article, be sure to check out our detailed guide about Krav Maga for self-defense.
Hope we helped you with the decision of choosing a right martial art for you!