This topic has been one of the most frequently debated within the martial arts community. Which is the best martial arts for self defense?
We at LowKickMMA are going to put our two cents on the matter and list our best martial arts for self defense. Below are the 6 choices that we picked for the best martial arts for self defense on the planet.
Complete with descriptions of each martial art and why we selected them as the best systems for self defense.
Starting off our best martial arts for self defense with the sweet science of boxing. It has been a go to martial art for self defense for decades, because it works.
Here is a quick history lesson about boxing along with the advantages and disadvantages of the striking art for self defense.
Quick history on boxing
The art of pugilism is one of the oldest sports/martial arts in the world right there with wrestling. In the late 1800s it started to become the legitimate sport as we know it starting with the Queensbury rules.
Soon after Queensbury rules were implemented, boxing governing bodies added gloves and boxing rings. With time, the sport continued to progress into what we know it as today.
One of the most watched and practiced self defense systems in the world with millions of practitioners around the world.
Advantages of boxing for self defense
- Learn to punch properly: Everybody that’s never trained thinks they know how to punch, but in reality, they don’t. The advantage of learning boxing is that you’ll learn proper form for throwing punches. A great thing to know, so you don’t break your hand.
- Learn to block punches: Knowing how to keep your hands up to see punches coming and block is a big advantage with boxing. In a street fight, an attacker will more than likely be throwing wild punches and you’ll be ready to block them.
- Know basic striking range: Learning boxing will give you a basic knowledge of punching range. You’ll know where to stand to not get hit and where to stand to land strikes.
Disadvantages of boxing for self defense
- Boxing is one dimensional: Boxing is great for what it is, but it’s one dimensional. You’re good if a street fight stays standing, but may be in trouble if the fight hits the ground.
- No grappling: As we saw in UFC 1 when Royce Gracie submitted Art Jimmerson and again when Randy Couture submitted James Toney. Whenever a boxer goes against a trained grappler, they are more than likely going to lose. No grappling has always been boxing’s biggest flaw.
Judo is our pick for the 5th best martial art for self defense. Without Judo, there would be no BJJ or Sambo and many of the techniques from both were taken from it.
Also if you don’t believe it belongs on the list, then just take a look at this highlight of Travis Stevens.
Quick history on Judo
Judo was created in the late 1800s by Grandmaster Jigoro Kanu. He learned various older forms of grappling and began developing his own style.
A series of more simple grappling techniques that relied more on technique and leverage than sheer force. He would call it Judo and its effectiveness quickly made it taught throughout Japan.
Kano would also send his best students around the world to spread the teachings of Judo much like a religion. This led to many countries around the world becoming big proponents of Judo, which helped it become an Olympic sport.
Advantages of Judo
- Grappling: The grappling in Judo will give you a big advantage in a self defense scenario. More than likely in a fight, someone will try to grab you. If you have proper Judo training, you’ll have no problem fending them off and sending them to the ground.
- Understanding of grips and leverage: Judo training will give you an understanding of grips and leverage. An attacker coming at you wildly will be easy pickings to take grips and send them flying.
- Never be out of base: One of the best things about Judo is that it teaches you to have a solid base. You’ll never be out of base with your stance and always be ready to step into sweeps and throws.
Disadvantages of Judo
- No Striking: While Judo is great for self defense, it’s biggest flaw is that striking isn’t taught within it. You may be able to land takedowns, but you could also eat a few shots that could hurt you.
- Training in the Gi: If you only train Judo in the Gi and not No-Gi, this could leave you at a big disadvantage. Meaning you may rely on getting grips and if your opponent isn’t wearing a shirt, that could be a problem.
#4 Muay Thai
Muay Thai makes our list at #4 as the best martial art for self defense. The art of 8 limbs is known for its brutal effectiveness, but is also great for self defense.
It is ingrained within the culture of Thailand and has a long history of being used for self defense. Even once used with wars.
Quick history of Muay Thai
The story of Muay Thai goes back nearly 800 years, when Thailand used to be the kingdom of Siam. Siamese soldiers would use an early form of Muay Thai in battle to defend themselves.
Using their entire body as a weapon from their fists, feet, knees, and elbows to land devastating strikes. Later within the timeline of the Siamese kingdom, the best soldiers would battle one another to entertain the king.
This practice would continue for a couple centuries until the 19th century when Muay Thai started to become a legitimate sport. Muay Thai would be heavily influenced by western boxing and also added gloves and a boxing ring to hold the bouts.
Today, Muay Thai is the official sport of Thailand and is beloved by those within the country and also the world.
Advantages of Muay Thai
- Variety of strikes: Muay Thai has a wide range of strikes that way more dimensional and complex than boxing. You learn not just to throw punches, but also your 6 other limbs as well. Giving you tools to defend yourself if you need to.
- Know striking ranges: Boxing is good for learning punching range, but Muay Thai teaches you kicking range, kneeing range, and elbow range. You’ll be able to strike your opponent within multiple ranges depending on what you want to do.
- The clinch: Muay Thai does have an element of grappling, which comes from the clinch. In a clinch you can control your opponent’s posture and keep them from hitting you. From a good clinch, you can decide to strike your opponent or sweep them to the ground.
Disadvantage of Muay Thai
- No ground techniques: Muay Thai teaches clinch and sweeps, but it does not teach ground techniques within the martial art. It is a very formidable self defense system, but many techniques are canceled out once on the ground.
After the first UFC ppv, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu proved it is one of the best martial arts for self defense. From that point on, everyone knew that grappling must be included within any self defense system.
Short history of BJJ
BJJ began to take form in the early 1920s. Carlos Gracie along with Luiz Franca were students of Judo master Mitsuyo Maeda.
The most known story of BJJ is that Carlos took the techniques he learned from Maeda and showed his brother Helio.
They realized that to give smaller people an equal playing field against larger opponents, the fight must go to the ground. This was how they began developing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
A grappling martial art that was more ground based and relied on leverage and technique and finishing fights with submissions.
As the martial art continued to develop, it started to gain a large following within Brazil. In the 1970s, BJJ would reach the US, particularly within California.
Then Rorion Gracie with the help of Art Davie and Bob Meyrowitz would put on the first UFC ppv in 1993. Royce Gracie’s performance would prove the effectiveness of BJJ and helped the martial art expand its reach internationally.
Advantages of BJJ
- Grappling: Like with Judo, BJJ has the grappling advantage, but is more refined for ground fighting. By being able to take a fight to the ground, you’re less at risk of getting hurt. You also have the option of choking your opponent or keeping them on the ground until help arrives.
- Cut the distance: By learning takedowns in Jiu Jitsu, you’ll be able to cut the distance and get your opponent to the ground. Not having to worry about getting his if you cut the distance and get a hold of your attacker.
- Fight off your back: Sometimes, you might find yourself on your back in a fight and this where BJJ can save your life. Knowing how to use a proper guard will allow you to either lock in a submission or sweep your opponent.
Disadvantages of BJJ
- No Striking: Again, why we can’t make BJJ the best martial art for self defense, because there is no striking taught within it. Not having striking or striking defense taught within the martial art will always be BJJ’s flaw.
- Sport Jiu Jitsu: BJJ has become more sport based and this has really hurt the self defense aspect of the martial art. Pulling guard or lapel guards are good within the sport, but will get you seriously hurt or killed on the street.
Not only is MMA the most popular combat sport in the world, but also great for self defense. After the UFC rose in popularity, those looking to learn self defense realized not just one martial art was the answer.
Taking elements of striking and grappling martial arts became the answer they were looking for. Thus leading more people to take up MMA for self defense.
Quick history of MMA
Before the UFC was established, an early form of MMA was used with Vale Tudo fights held in Brazil. Brazilian fighters from different martial arts backgrounds started to learn each other’s styles to beat them in combat.
When the UFC was established, what martial artists in Brazil were doing started to be done globally. The UFC started to become a legitimate sport and the fighters realized they would need to become more complete fighters.
Not just relying on their fighting background, but also learn various forms to have a more complete skill set. This not only created what we know as the sport of MMA, but also views on proper self defense.
It’s now widely recognized that you must know both striking and grappling skills to have more rounded self defense skills.
Advantages of MMA
- More well rounded striking: MMA allows its practitioners to study every style of striking from boxing and Muay Thai. Giving you a more well rounded striking set to defend yourself.
- Ground striking: Not only will you be taught ground techniques like in Jiu Jitsu, but also learn how to strike on the ground. Adding another skill set to your self defense skills.
Disadvantage of MMA
- MMA is sports based: MMA was not created as a self defense system and more as a sport. Since MMA is sports based it gives MMA a major disadvantage within a self defense situation. It is taught as if both participants are respecting the rules of sport and there are no rules on the streets.
#1 Krav Maga – The Best Martial Arts For Self Defense
Our choice at LowKickMMA’s best martial art for self defense goes to Krav Maga. The main reason came down to the whole reason Krav Maga was created was for self defense.
It isn’t a sport, but a full fledged self defense system used by various special forces around the world.
Quick history of Krav Maga
Krav Maga was created by Hungarian martial artist Emrich “Imi” Lichtenfeld. Imi was a Hungarian Jew that lived in a turbulent time in Europe and especially so for Jewish communities.
His people were constantly under attack from anti semites and full fledged Nazis. This led to Imi to create Krav Maga as a way to defend his people against evil.
He began developing his self defense system through conflicts on the street. Litchenfeld realized that the sport aspect of the martial arts he knew were holding back his self defense system.
Leading him to do away with the respected rules of other martial arts and making Krav Maga strictly for self defense.
Once he fled to Israel is when Imi really began to develop Krav Maga. Adding weapons defense to the system and becoming the head self defense instructor of the Israeli military.
First teaching Israeli’s elite forces and then the rest of the Israeli military. Upon retiring, Lichtenfeld set out to teach Krav to civilians.
During the late 1970s, he began teaching civilians Krav Maga around the world with the help of his top students.
Today, Krav Maga has exploded in popularity and there are numerous great schools around the world.
Advantages of Krav Maga
- It’s legitimately for self defense: While other martial arts have become more sports based, Krav Maga is strictly a self defense system. Krav Maga was made to “help one walk in peace” as its creator eloquently put it.
- Weapons Training: By far the biggest advantage Krav Maga has over other martial arts on the list is weapons training and defense. On the street, an attacker may have a weapon and will not hesitate to use it, so you must be prepared.
Disadvantage of Krav Maga
- Beware of fakes: When a martial art like Krav Maga gets popular, there are always imitators and fakes that arise to con people. Do your research and make sure your potential Krav instructor is certified and legitimate before giving them your money.