14 Best Martial Arts for Self Defense Compared

Martial arts are known to instill discipline and focus, allowing participants to build their stamina while developing their mental and physical strengths. However, although useful, not all forms of martial arts are effective in real-life situations. So, what are some of the best martial arts for self-defense?

The best martial arts for self-defense are as listed below:

  1. Krav Maga
  2. MMA
  3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  4. Muay Thai
  5. Freestyle Wrestling
  6. Boxing
  7. Judo
  8. Savate
  9. Combat Sambo
  10. Pencak Silat
  11. Wing Chun
  12. Shuai Jiao
  13. Jeet Kune Do
  14. Karate

Curious to learn more about the types of martial arts you can use in real-life situations? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Read on as we take you on an in-depth look at 14 of the best martial arts for self-defense.

1. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is a hand-to-hand combat system that’s widely used in self-defense training as it relies on practical techniques and a no-nonsense physical approach.

The good thing with Krav Maga is its practicality since it doesn’t require gloves, equipment training, or wearing oversized GIs during training. Put simply, it’s a martial art form that allows you to make great use of your instincts, especially during combat situations.

Although Krav Maga is founded on the principles of patience and avoiding fights, it still teaches you how to neutralize threats using everything at your disposal, allowing you to stay extra calm and confident under pressure.

As you continue with your Krav Maga training, you’ll learn striking techniques, basic stances, techniques for falling down (safely), and how to defend against attacks like headlocks and chokes.

At the advanced levels, you’ll become an expert at dealing with multiple attackers (simultaneously), neutralizing armed attacks, getting out of complicated situations, and advanced ground or stand up combative techniques.

Learning Krav Maga is a great way to prepare for street fights as you’ll learn the art of fighting under pressure, minimizing the impact of attacks, and using everything in your immediate environment to gain an advantage.

2. MMA

Although widely viewed as a sport, MMA is detailed (and physical) enough to help you in street combat.

MMA stands for Mixed Martial Arts, meaning you’ll be combining various martial art styles like wrestling, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and boxing to get the better of opponents.

Learning MMA and its ins and outs won’t suddenly make you the street king, but it’ll boost your chances of defending strikes and launching attacks on an aggressor.

Put simply, it’s a type of martial arts that teaches you to use your body to fight. As you gain more experience in MMA, your situational awareness, reflexes, and flexibility will increase significantly, allowing you to put up a solid defense in street fights.

First, MMA will train you to juggle between different types of martial arts and gain an advantage over opponents. You’ll learn how to blend the principles of Muay Thai, boxing, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which can come in handy during fights.

Not only will MMA improve your striking skills, but it’ll also make you better at groundwork as most street fights are often won or lost on the ground. Consistent MMA training will improve your overall stamina and flexibility, allowing you to outperform and overpower an aggressor.

Another advantage of MMA is you’ll have extra power since you won’t be fighting without shoes, meaning your kicks are likely to land harder than they would in a typical octagon.

3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

As a combat sport and martial art based on submission holds and ground fighting, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) can come in handy during street fights, especially when dealing with larger-sized opponents.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is guided by the principles of gaining a dominant position during attacks, taking opponents to the ground, and controlling their movement to allow you to perform chokeholds and joint locks.

Although one might question the principles of Jiu-Jitsu in street fights, the techniques can help you neutralize opponents, more so those armed with knives or hidden weapons. This is because pinning opponents to the ground limits their natural movements (legs, and hands control). which reduces- or eliminates- the impact of their attacks.

Since street fights tend to end up on the ground, having enough BJJ knowledge will allow you to take control, thereby acting as your second line of defense if striking isn’t your best skill.

Another reason why BJJ is a great martial art for street fights is its ability to sharpen your mind, allowing you to anticipate attacks. You’ll also learn many useful grappling and submission techniques, which give you extra control during fights regardless of your opponent’s size.

Did we mention that regular BJJ training improves your overall flexibility and mastery of your body? You might not notice immediately, but your body will start responding gradually to the constant sparring and drilling sessions, ensuring you anticipate and dodge attacks with relative ease.

4. Muay Thai

Muay Thai is, without a doubt, one of the best martial arts for street fights. Not only does it teach you to defend yourself against multiple attackers, but it also brushes up your defensive tactics while also honing your attack strategies.

After regular training, you’ll naturally improve your instincts when fighting. This explains why Muay Thai is a great discipline to master if you plan to venture into professional MMA or other fighting styles.

Through Muay Thai, you’ll learn to gauge opponent distance, fight in tight spaces, and use footwork to confuse (and destabilize) opponents.

So why is Muay Thai ideal for street fights? Muay Thai is a great martial art for street fights as it teaches you to use all body parts as weapons. This discipline utilizes elbows, knees, shins, and fists to deliver powerful, ultra-explosive strikes that can easily subdue even the toughest of opponents.

If you end up in a street fight with an assailant who’s inexperienced in hand-to-hand combat, chances are you’ll overpower him thanks to your fluid and intricate body movements.

With Muay Thai, you’ll learn how to execute flying knees and spinning back elbows, which, combined with punches and kicks, can overpower even the fiercest of opponents.

Regular Muay Thai training will make you lethal with your hand and leg movements, allowing you to deliver powerful strikes in deadly combinations. The speed of launching attacks will make it hard for your opponent(s) to launch a defense.

5. Freestyle Wrestling

Wrestling is a popular martial art that heavily relies on balance, technical skills, leverage, and explosive power to control and overpower opponents.

In freestyle wrestling, the harder you train, the stronger and more effective you become. Over time, you’ll develop excellent reflexes and body control, which will help you to know when to make attacks and when to defend.

Freestyle wrestling is all about executing perfect throws, holds, takedowns, and outmaneuvering opponents to get an advantage. Considering freestyle wrestling rules don’t allow opponents to flee attacks, you’ll learn to defend against holds as you continue training and becoming better at freestyle wrestling.

Unlike Greco-Roman wrestling that prevents below the waist or leg attacks, freestyle wrestling prepares you better for real-life fighting situations.

Moreover, freestyle wrestling also involves a lot of gym work and cardio training, which allows you to boost your stamina and endurance levels, making you better prepared for defending and launching attacks.

And since the laws of freestyle wrestling prohibit passivity, your natural instincts will lead you to launch attacks instead of waiting for the aggressor to attack. In simple terms, freestyle wrestling teaches you to anticipate an opponent’s attack, allowing you to launch effective defenses.

6. Boxing

Boxing is a great martial art for street fights as it teaches you to anticipate attacks, defend well, and use your feet to launch your attacks. Most untrained street fighters won’t stand a chance against you if you’re well versed in boxing.

The good thing with boxing is you don’t need to be an expert to use your skills in street fights. As long as you can execute the basic techniques, then you’ll be good enough to defend yourself and win a street fight.

So, what practical fighting lessons can boxing teach you? Boxing will teach you to plan, defend and execute attacks. It’s also a great martial art to teach you timing as you’ll need to block, slip, and parry punches to stand a chance in the ring.

Boxing also teaches you to use your footwork to gain balance and maneuver attacks. You’ll also learn to use your jab to set up different combinations and maintain a good enough distance to avoid random attacks.

As a boxer, you’ll have a powerful punch compared to almost all non-trained assailants. Your basic boxing skills, especially leg positioning and torso rotation, will allow you to deliver hot, effective knockout punches.

Another advantage of boxing in real-life situations is defensive training. Defense is a huge part of boxing and trains you to remain patient and improve your reflexes. This increases your chances of succeeding in a street fight, especially when dealing with a single attacker.

You can also handle two attackers if you’re well experienced in boxing. Not only will boxing allow you to dodge attacks in lightning fashion, but it also enables you to deliver solid punches that can knock out one aggressor, leaving you to fight it out with the other.

7. Judo

Judo is among the best martial arts for self-defense as it teaches you close-range combat using your hands only. The use of hands in Judo gives you increased fluidity and power, making it a lot easier to fight in tight spaces.

As long as you train regularly and effectively, then you can count on your Judo skills to come to your rescue during street fights. This is because you’ll learn to wrestle, throw, grapple, and use a combination of arm-locks and chokeholds to subdue your opponent.

Besides working on muscle memory, Judo also helps you improve your fall technique. This ensures that in case you take a serious hit during a street fight, you’ll land strategically in such a way that you minimize injury and get back up quickly.

Judo teaches you to neutralize an opponent when on the ground, which makes it a lot easier to gain an edge over opponents during street fights.

Since Judo revolves around throwing and grappling opponents, you’ll be well placed to fight multiple opponents, throwing them one by one. As a Judoka, your throws will be naturally stronger than that of your opponents, allowing you to inflict a significant amount of injury and neutralize the threat.

8. Savate

Savate is a martial art that started out as street fighting in France before morphing into the sport it is today. In Savate, both your feet and hands can be used as weapons, making it a great martial art for self-defense.

But, unlike Muay Thai that allows you to kick with the knee and shin, Savate only permits foot-based kicks. And while this might come off as a disadvantage, it does come with some pros, especially in street fights.

Practicing kicking with the foot isn’t as straightforward as most people initially perceive. You’ll need to develop your foot technique and generate enough power to make the kicks worth it. And considering you’ll be wearing normal shoes outside, using your foot to kick an opponent in the head can knock him off of his perch.

Therefore, if you’re skilled enough in Savate, you’ll be well placed to shower your opponents with high volumes of kicks and repetitive punches, thereby neutralizing the threat with relative ease.

9. Combat Sambo

Sambo is a Judo-inspired combat sport that combines a variety of wrestling techniques. Once you become a professional sambist, you’ll know how to grapple your opponent to the point of neutralization.

On their feet, Combat Sambo players are allowed to throw punches, elbows, knees, kicks, and even headbutts. Similarly, sambo fighters can also throw different types of strikes on the ground – the only inhibition being striking a grounded opponent while in a standing position.

Therefore, a lot of people argue that Combat Sambo is the closest martial art to street fights due to the basic principle of being able to use all body parts to fight an opponent when standing and when on the ground.

In Russia, Combat Sambo is used as a training sport for training military personnel on close combat and self-defense. In real-life situations, you can easily overpower an unskilled aggressor, especially if you’re well trained in Combat Sambo.

Combat Sambo requires strength, strategy, and concentration to execute, especially when fighting an equally skilled opponent. When street fighting, however, you’ll have a huge advantage over other opponents as you’ll be able to use multiple body parts effectively.

The tough nature of Combat Sambo makes it among the best martial arts for self-defense. Not only will Combat Sambo help you throw powerful punches, but it’ll also teach you the art of fighting quickly and using each body part as a weapon.

Moreover, the fluidity and improved reflexes that come with regular Combat Sambo training will allow you to take on more than one aggressor in a street fight. But to do so, you’ll need to maintain high levels of concentration.

10. Pencak Silat

Although not as popular as the likes of Karate and Kung fu, Pencak Silat remains one of the deadliest martial arts for both armed and unarmed combat.

Pencak Silat focuses on both attack and defense, making it a great type of martial art for street fighting.

During Silat training, you’ll learn different combat styles from blocking to grappling and punching. On the other hand, Pencak Silat will also teach how to defend yourself when involved in sword fights or fighting with armed people, making it among the best martial arts for self-defense.

Pencak Silat combines different techniques, meaning it can take you longer than other martial arts to master. After months and years of consistent training, you’ll be able to execute powerful foot kicks, low hand blocks and improve your hand movements.

Training usually starts with unarmed combat before learners are introduced to combat involving spears, swords, and knives. Pencak Silat teaches you to be prepared for all eventualities and can help you take on opponents twice your size, provided you’re skilled and experienced enough.

As an attack-minded form of martial art, Pencak Silat teaches you to observe your opponents and focus on their weaknesses, which means maintaining the highest levels of concentration. Additionally, Silat also teaches you to be aware of your immediate environment, making you less prone to an opponent’s random attacks.

And since weapons training is a crucial part of Pencak Silat, you won’t have any problem dealing with armed aggressors in a street fight, provided you’re experienced enough. However, you’ll still need to be extra careful when dealing with armed opponents regardless of your experience in the martial art.

11. Wing Chun

Wing Chun is a martial art that prioritizes both attack and defense. Practitioners are trained to use fast kicks, coordinated stances, quick punches, and a powerful defense to overpower opponents.

Therefore, in a street fight scenario, implementing the skills you learn from Wing Chun training can help you defeat your opponents. The martial art encourages practitioners to get close to opponents and focus more on disarming or immobilizing them through powerful kicks and punches.

Wing Chun also boosts your chances of winning street fights through its defensive approach.

You’ll be trained to improve your forward focus and concentration in order to trap or jam an attacker’s limbs, which in turn will give you enough time to attack.

Instead of relying on sheer strength to overpower opponents, your focus will be on the aggressor’s bone alignment, targeting joints and other parts that can help give you an advantage.

Therefore, as a martial art that teaches you to defend and attack simultaneously, Wing Chun can help you get out of tricky situations and overpower opponents by targeting their limbs. Immobilizing an aggressor should give you enough time to launch multiple attacks and effectively end the fight.

12. Shuai Jiao

Shuai Jiao is an ancient form of Chinese wrestling that incorporates throws similar to Judo, only that they’re more detailed and powerful. Shuai Jiao practitioners must learn the art of focusing on the tiny details as it’s more about skill than muscular strength.

In Shuai Jiao, trainees are usually advised to avoid making direct impact with an opponent’s power.

The trick is to get close enough to the opponent to use his power against him. This means you’ll need to be fast to dodge potential attacks and get in a strategic enough position to throw off the opponent.

Compared to Judo, Shuai Jiao is better suited for street fights, especially when dealing with more than one opponent. This is because Shuai Jiao focuses more on quick, swift movements, which can make all the difference in close-range combat.

13. Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do (JKD) is a fairly modern martial art pioneered by the legendary Bruce Lee for the purpose of street fighting. JKD specializes in quick fluid attacks as it doesn’t lean on a specific principle like most other martial arts.

JKD incorporates both kicks and punches and requires practitioners to try being as unpredictable as possible. By being flexible and trying to be as formless as water, JKD will allow you to react accordingly to attacks and know when to launch an attack of your own.

Therefore, as can be seen, JKD is a great martial art for street fighting.

Not only was it invented for street fighting, but it also insists on fast leg and hand movements, which can play a huge role in determining whether you win or lose unregulated matches.

Additionally, JKD also insists on being versatile and adjusting to the strengths and weaknesses of an opponent, making it ideal for unpredictable street fights.

14. Karate

Although Karate doesn’t incorporate violent moves like Pencak Silat, its concept can help you out in street fights. In Karate, you’ll learn techniques that allow for fast, flexible movements that can help catch an opponent off guard in a real fight.

However, for Karate to be effective, you must try improvising as the discipline doesn’t promote violent attacks like the more physical martial arts.

The good thing with Karate is it teaches you the art of patience and examining the threat before retaliating. And while this won’t be enough to help you win a street fight, it can help you know when to launch an attack and when to defend.

Karate will also help improve your leg movements and overall reflexes, making you a genuine threat to unskilled attackers. But to boost your chances of winning a street fight, you’ll need to combine Karate with other martial arts.

Can All Martial Arts Be Used for Self Defense?

Unfortunately, not all martial arts can be used for self-defense, as some focus on principles that cannot be used in street fights. For example, Taichi focuses primarily on flexibility and stamina, and isn’t the most ideal martial art for self defense.

Similarly, a martial art that’s heavily reliant on attacking large spaces might leave you disappointed and severely disadvantaged during fights in close quarters.

The problem with leg-reliant forms of martial art is they take years to master, and even more years to learn how to recover quickly from kicking combos when under attack.

In real street fights, you won’t have the luxury of executing flashy kicks and recovering at your own pace. For instance, even a Taekwondo guru might struggle to recover from a spinning hook kick or might even fail to successfully execute a move when fighting in tight spaces. However, the principles of Taekwondo can help you have an easier time when fighting, just not a huge advantage over a knife-armed amateur smelling blood.

What Is the Best Martial Art for Street Defense?

The best martial art for street defense is Combat Sambo because its techniques are the most suitable for defending yourself in a street fight. Combat Sambo also teaches you how to take down more than one opponent, in case you find yourself being outnumbered in a street fight.

What Is the Most Effective Martial Art in a Real Fight?

Some martial arts are better suited for personal discipline and physical fitness, while others can come in handy in practical situations where self-defense is required.

Martial arts like Combat Sambo, MMA, and Muay Thai are the most effective martial arts for street fights because their approaches to attack and defenses are ideal for unpredictable scenarios.

For instance, in Muay Thai, practitioners learn to use all body parts to neutralize opponents. Similarly, Combat Sambo teaches you to use all different body parts like elbows, legs, knees, and even the head to launch attacks both while standing and on the ground.

MMA can also help you win street fights, provided you improvise and abandon the rules you normally use in the octagon.

When picking martial arts for self-defense, it’s best to settle for options that teach both attack and defense strategies.

And since all martial arts mentioned in this article are excellent for self-defense, the trick is to take your training seriously to gain the confidence and skill needed to neutralize potential threats, whether armed or unarmed.


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