best martial art for self defense

What’s the Best Martial Art for Self Defense?

With the popularity of MMA rising, more and more people are beginning to discover how useful Martial Arts can be for self-defense situations. Although I’ve talked about this topic a lot, I still continually get questioned on which Martial Art is the best for Self-defense. I believe all Martial Arts are great for building character, especially in young children, however, not all of them are useful for self-defense.

There are many useful martial arts that train self-defense techniques, even MMA is very useful for self-defense techniques. We’ll talk about the differences between MMA and Martial arts in this article, we’ll also talk about the best martial arts for self-defense. It’s important to realize that while many martial arts such as Karate and Taekwondo are great for character building in children, they aren’t too useful for self-defense situations.

If you’re looking for Martial Art training to become a well-rounded fighter, I highly suggest looking at “Which Martial Art Should I Learn First?

What’s the Difference between MMA and Martial Arts?

Martial Arts are modified systems and traditions of combat practiced for a number of reasons such as self-defense. The various styles of Martial arts include Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, Tae-kwon-do, Aikido, and much more. MMA is the combination of all martial arts and the act of using all of these various techniques for competition or self-defense situations.

Many skills and techniques that MMA fighters learn are very useful for self-defense, however, all the training in the world can’t predict the things that can happen in a street fight. To understand more about which Martial Art is the best for self-defense, you must understand that cage fighting and self-defense are two completely different things. The techniques that MMA fighters learn are ones that are allowed to be performed in the octagon, however, there are no rules in the street which means you need to be prepared with a self-defense mindset.

MMA is great for self-defense because the specific martial arts practiced for cage fighting are primarily learned for dismantling fighters in the octagon. Let’s hope you won’t be defending yourself on the street against a trained fighter. However, if you find yourself in a situation that brings danger to you or your loved ones it’s important to understand useful skills for unarmed combat.

It’s important to understand the difference between self-defense for unarmed combat and self-defense for armed combat. Martial arts are useful for self-defense in unarmed combat situations and even in some armed combat situations, however, it’s important to realize the dangers of armed situations that can’t always be resolved with martial arts training.

The Best Martial Arts for Self Defense

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

best martial art for self defenseMMA is an abbreviation for “Mixed Martial Arts”, and has risen in popularity as of late. MMA isn’t just about fighting in the UFC, it actually has many practical self-defense techniques because it takes the best of every martial art technique and blends them together. This type of training gives the fighter a wide array of styles and techniques that they can use in a fighting style competition. MMA is great for self-defense situations because you learn all forms of fighting. In MMA you’ll train standup fighting, ground-and-pound, grappling, and more.

I personally train MMA and absolutely love it, I believe it’s made me much more confident in my real-life relationships as well. I don’t fear any man, however, I also don’t go around starting problems. A true martial artist doesn’t have any hate in their heart. MMA is the best of both worlds, an awesome workout and a great self-defense skill.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

best martial art for self defenseBrazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a ground-based grappling technique that involves the use of joint locks and chokeholds. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) promotes the concept that a smaller person can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger, and heavier assailant by using proper technique and leverage. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the best martial arts for self-defense because it teaches you how to use your body as leverage to properly defend against a bigger opponent.

I have been training BJJ for years and it’s taken my MMA game so much further, it’s a great compliment to wrestling. It’s also very useful in real-life situations, the rear-naked choke can end any fight against a larger opponent. BJJ can be practiced either with the traditional Gi, or No-Gi (in shorts and a rash guard).

Muay Thai (Kickboxing)

best martial art for self defenseMuay Thai (Kickboxing) is a great first martial art to learn and is also a great martial art for self-defense. Muay Thai is a kickboxing style sport that started in Thailand. People call Muay Thai the “Art of eight limbs”, which include, punches, elbows, kicks, and knees. Muay Thai also focuses on the clinch technique which is useful for many other martial arts such as judo and wrestling. If you plan on trying out Muay Thai, you should know what to expect from your first Muay Thai class.

If you’re someone who is thinking about participating in Cardio Kickboxing primarily for self-defense, you should instead consider learning Muay Thai. Cardio Kickboxing is more so for “fitness” and losing weight. I recommend Cardio Kickboxing if you are looking to get in shape and learn some self-defense techniques.


best martial art for self defenseBoxing, or better known as the sweet science, is a great form of self-defense. Believe it or not, Boxing is one of the original “martial arts”. Not only is Boxing great for self-defense, but it’s also highly effective in MMA as well, teaching fighters head movement and footwork technique. Boxing and Muay Thai are great for self-defense because all fights start standing up. Training Boxing allows to you get much more proficient in self-defense in the short term (such as 6 months training time) and all you need is hand wraps and a set of gloves.

Although boxing is great for self-defense, I personally would prefer Muay Thai training as you would know more about the clinch and have a longer striking range. I compared the pros and cons of Boxing and Muay Thai, however, both are useful martial arts for self-defense.

Krav Maga

best martial art for self defenseThe literal Hebrew translation of Krav Maga is “battle contact”, and that’s as good of a description you’re going to get for Krav Maga from me. It was developed by the Israeli Defense Force to be used in real-life combat situations, so basically, this was developed to be a deadly martial art for the military. In addition to punches, kicks, and throws, Krav Maga teaches real-life scenarios like how to disarm an attacker. Rubber knives and guns will make appearances in your training sessions.

Krav Maga training sessions aren’t for the faint of heart however, I recommend checking out “which martial art should I learn first” and reading more about Krav Maga before you join.

Which Martial Art Should I Learn for Self Defense?

All of the martial arts listed above would be great for training self-defense techniques. It’s now up for you to decide which martial art (or a combination of martial arts) would be best for your specific goals. If your goal is to become a professional MMA fighter, then you’ll probably want to learn a mixture of BJJ, Boxing, Muay Thai, and Wrestling.

If you can’t decide yet that’s fine! Remember, it’s okay to try a few things out at first, most MMA/BJJ gyms have trial periods. I first started training Muay Thai years ago and I eventually branched out to other martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Now I train whatever martial arts make me happiest, this includes MMA. I now enjoy life knowing that I can defend myself in all types of unarmed combat situations.

8 thoughts on “What’s the Best Martial Art for Self Defense?”

  1. Nick A.

    Great article! I agree with your list 100%. Efficient and straightforward, the martial arts you list will get the job done and complement each other perfectly. Krav rounds out any missing pieces that would be required for true self defense on the street, for instance sharp object or other weapon attacks, and multi-person attacks.

    1. The MMA Guru

      Hey Nick,

      Thanks for the comment, although Krav Maga techniques aren’t really useful for MMA competition, it would be foolish to ignore the benefits of this type of training for “worst case” scenarios. Learning to disarm an attacker is an important skill to learn at any stage in life. All of the martial arts listed above can be beneficial in some way and I implore everyone to learn some basic self-defense!

    2. Spen

      From my experience, all martial arts are good for street defense. It’s finding effective self-defense techniques that work. I used to teach Northern Praying Mantis to my students. One successfully defended himself against three attackers in the subway. He sent the three attackers to the hospital. Some systems teach you how to defend with your hands, legs, or grappling. There are so many more fighting systems you failed to mention. One system of fighting may not be good for everyone. For example, a short person would do better to learn Karate or boxing instead of learning Tae Kwon Do or Northen Kung-Fu. But I do agree to take techniques from different styles can improve self-defense skills. When MMA first gained popularity, people would say a fight always end up on the ground. I said not true when it comes to street fighting. And in MMA boxing styles (stand-up) started to defeat grapplers (ground and pound). I watched an MMA champion fight someone taller and strong with no experience. There was no way he could beat the taller and stronger opponent by grappling. So, it’s like playing cat and mouse, who will have the best technique today. It’s not about what style or system you are trained to do. Do you process the right moves to defeat your opponent at that given moment?

  2. Emely Manago

    i want to learn MMA.

  3. Jean Kutzer Jr

    Thanks for your website. I wasn’t sure where to start with my grandson who just turned 16. If it wasn’t for training in my youth I would have had a notch worse experience two years ago when two guys jumped me at 9:30 pm walking home 3 blocks away. They thought I was someone else and came at me in a V left and right. Remembering proper foot placement saved my but as I did take a hit to my ribs and upper stomach area but remained on my feet. He did not as I got him with my right to his left eye and cheek bone. I was recovering from a long illness and no where near optimal strength so I have a concealed carry permit. Don’t worry I didn’t fire it but did pull it out as the other guy came at me from my right. I just hung on to the revolver and spun to my right hitting him with with the barrel on his right cheek bone and cutting him down to near his lip. Lots of blood and a healthy scream from this one they hauled off yelling it’s not him run! I didn’t fire as they were running away and too many homes in the direction they ran. I called it in but refused to file a report as I could in no way provide a description and they could find out who I was. I on the other hand know most of my neighbors and traced down where they had been visiting. They never returned and were picked up for questioning at an ER. Next time I won’t even get hit. I’ll be ready. I also carry an oosik at night. Look it up! Lol. You never know how you react until it happens. Spend 15 min a day playing out in your mind different scenarios to play out. It never ends.

  4. vanhollebeke joosts

    for many years I’ve been in the world of martial arts and self defense, but I get a headache when I see people and hear people talking about this technic and another technic. self defense is more then just applying kicks and punches and all that stuff.
    A real fight takes just 10 seconds and ends for the defeated on the ground, not for the other one. self defense is not about moves it is about concepts, concepts that gives you a certain strategy. I’ve seen so many instructors talking about knife fights etc, but knifefights doesn’t exist. You always will get hurt when you encounter a blade. One who does not know how to use a blade, does not know how to defend himself from a blade.

  5. Mike Stone

    If a system does not train in defenseS against multiple attackers and adversaries armed with weapons, it is essentially worthless in the street. BJJ does well in MMA because there are specific rules prohibiting illegal strikes, weapons, multiple attackers, etc. As self defense training, Krav Maga and other eclectic styles such as Jen Do Tao, which incorporate the WWII combative techniques, are far more practical and effective. Going to the ground is the last thing you want to do in a street fight.

  6. BeZea

    Which style for self-defense would you recommend for a child to start, and at what age? I’m not too versed in martial arts so I don’t even know where to start looking or what to research. I just know that I want my daughter to be able to defend herself from kidnapping, and then from sexual assault as she gets older. Thanks in advance for any responses!

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