best martial art for self defense

The 10 Best Martial Arts for Self Defense (or a Street Fight!)

With the popularity of mixed martial arts 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 is the best martial art to protect one’s self in the streets.

There are many useful martial arts that train self-defense techniques. MMA in particular is very useful in that regard, simply because of the fact that it is a synergy of various styles, which allows practitioners to have a truly wholesome experience.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the ten best martial arts, including MMA, for self-defence. Additionally, 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. Some of the most popular martial arts include Muay Thai, BJJ, Karate, Taekwondo and Judo.

MMA is the combination of multiple styles. Most, if not all, MMA fighters have sound grappling and striking fundamentals. Wrestling and BJJ are the most commonly used grappling based martial arts in MMA, while boxing, kickboxing and karate cover the striking portion.

Many skills and techniques that MMA fighters learn are very useful for self-defense, but not all styles are the same. Some offer more weapons than the others, which is why it’s important to understand more about which martial art is the best for self-defense.

It’s important to keep in mind that MMA is a sanctioned sport, with rules and a referee, whose duty is to ensure safety of fighters. In a street fight, there are no rules, and since dangerous weapons can come into play, one has to be a lot more watchful.

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. Let’s take a look at some of the best martial arts in the world.

The Best Martial Arts for Self Defense

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Conor McGregor and Eddie Alvarez

MMA has risen to unimaginable heights of popularity during the past couple of decades. The sport 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, grappling, ground and pound and more.

I personally train MMA and absolutely love it. I believe it has made me much more confident in my real-life relationships as well. I don’t fear any man, but 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

Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a ground-based grappling technique that involves the use of joint locks and chokeholds. The gentle art of twisting limbs promotes the concept that a smaller person can successfully defend themselves against a bigger, stronger, and heavier assailant by using proper technique and leverage.

BJJ 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 defense

Muay 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 defense

Boxing, or better known as the sweet science, is a great form of self-defense. Believe it or not, boxing is one of the best martial arts for self defense, because most fights start on the feet and people instinctly trade punches in a fight or flight situation.

A trained boxer is way better at moving, dodging and punching with venom and has a better reaction time than an average Joe. 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 defense

The 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.


karate, sunset, fight

Karate is hands down one of the most popular combat sports in the world, thanks to it being a permanent fixture in pop culture. A Japanese martial art, Karate teaches a way of life that encourages peace and develops strength, agility and coordination.

Although the roots of Karate date back thousands of years, with China and the Philippines credited for introducing it to the rest of the world, Japanese legend Gichin Funakoshi is considered the founder of Karate. Funakoshi was sent to Okinawa, now part of Japan, to learn the best martial arts and strengthen his body since he was a sickly child.

Years later, he revolutionized the sport by adding his own flair and creating it’s most popular style, Shotokan. Funakoshi goes by the ‘karate ni sente nashi’ philosophy, which means ‘there is no first strike in Karate’. Therefore, it’s safe to say that Karate is a self-defense martial art through and through.

It’s worth mentioning that Karate is simply an umbrella term for various styles of combat, like Shotokan, Kyokushin, Shito-Ryu and Goju-Ryu. Every style is different in terms of effectiveness in a street fight. Shotokan, for example, is the toughest to learn out of all the different styles of Karate. The style was mainly introduced to tackle western boxing, but it has so far failed to achieve that goal since it is very limited. Shotokan focuses on attacking specific parts of the body.

Kyokushin is far more effective in the streets since it focuses on full-body contact with maximum force. Shito Ryu and Goju Ryu are more of a mixture of both Shotokan and Kyokushin, since they incorporate both hard and soft strikes. While all four Karate styles are good enough for self-defense, Kyokushin is the winner by a good margin.

However, one important thing to keep in mind when choosing Karate is that you should find an authentic dojo with world class teachers. Since the martial art is extremely popular, you may find tons of dojos everywhere, most of which are watered-down schools that don’t provide a satisfactory experience.


martial arts, aikido, japan

Judo is another popular martial art that is an excellent style for self-defense. The martial art, which is based on Ju Jitsu, allows smaller people to take out bigger adversaries without either taking much damage since the martial art doesn’t incorporate striking.

Judo was founded by Japanese martial arts legend Jigoro Kano in 1882. He started his journey at 17-years-old when Ju Jitsu master Yanosuke Fukuda took him under his wing. Within four years, Kano mastered the different styles of Ju Jitsu and incorporated them into a new martial out, which he called Judo.

Like BJJ, Judo is a gentle art of combat, which uses efficiency and control to neutralize adversaries. Judo techniques use position and control to throw down and choke out threats, without causing life-threatening damage. The idea behind practicing Judo is mutual welfare of the society, which is achieved by teaching individuals to become a better version of themselves, both physically and mentally.

The biggest advantage of adding Judo skills to your arsenal is that they are not as complex as some of the other styles mentioned in this article, and its techniques can be learned and applied with ease, given that one has a significant amount of experience performing them in the gym. Since Judo follows a takedown and control approach, practitioners don’t usually need to expend a lot of energy, which is a huge advantage in a street fight.

Combat Sambo

Combat Sambo is a martial art that originated in Russia, and MMA legends like Fedor Emelianenko and Khabib Nurmagomedov popularized it.

The martial art mainly focuses on throws and takedowns, but it also incorporates punches, kicks, elbows, knees, chokeholds and what not. It is one of the best martial arts in the world, and if you learn it, you’ll easily be able to defend yourself on the feet and on the ground.

Combat Sambo is the shorter version of SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya, which translates to self-defense without weapons. Since the sport is rooted in Russian military and dates back early twentieth century, it was introduced as a means to prepare soldiers to defend themselves without weapons. One thing to keep in mind while training Combat Sambo is that it differs from Sambo.

Although they may sound exactly the same, Combat Sambo incorporates striking and grappling, whereas Sambo is mainly a grappling sport, which only allows subduing techniques like leg locks and armbars, whereas no strikes are allowed.

Combat Sambo is a fierce sport and the intention is always to strike your opponent with full force.


Taekwondo, fighting, martial arts

Taekwondo is another popular martial art that originated in Korea and teaches more than just physical fighting. It teaches us ways to enhance the standards of life by training mind, body and soul.

Tae means foot or leg, Kwon means fist or fight and Do means the way or discipline. In simple words, Taekwondo is the way of fighting with foot and fists.

Taekwondo is more than 5000 years old, and has been a huge part of the Korean fighting culture. In ancient times, it was referred to as ‘Subak’ or ‘Taekkyon’ and was used to produce leaders of the country.

With the passage of time, and incorporation of techniques from neighboring countries such as Japan, Taekwondo evolved and is quite different today from what it used to be. However, the fundamentals are pretty much the same.

Physically, Taekwondo is very challenging since it requires quite a lot of movement to maneuver and exhibit striking techniques, ranging from punches and kicks.

By definition, Taekwondo is more of a kick-centered martial art than a punching one. The martial art is popular for its flashy kicks, like head kicks and spinning attacks, so it demands quite a lot of strength, endurance and agility.

Like all martial arts in the world, Taekwondo follows the principles of integrity and self-control, even in situations where self-defense becomes a necessity.

It’s important to neutralize an enemy when it’s time to fight, but Taekwondo’s main objective is to create peace and harmony through sport. If you are looking for dynamic martial art for self-defense, look no further than Taekwondo.


wrestle, wrestler, sports

Wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat sports, with references dating back 15000 years. Moves used by early Egyptians and Babylonian are still relevant today, whereas the sport has held an important place in the Olympics since it was and still is vastly popular in Greece.

Wrestling is a sport first and foremost, but it’s one of the most effective styles of self-defense. Due to its sporting nature, wrestling has a rule set and focuses on winning, and winning comes through controlling opponents and taking them down. The key in wrestling is to secure a dominant position and put your opponents in positions they have a hard time moving out of.

A major reason why wrestling is great for self-defense is that its strength and endurance conditioning is second to none. If you have ever rolled with a wrestler on the mat, you’d know how strong and overwhelming they are. Once they take you down on the ground, you’ll have to work exceptional hard to get back to your feet, and it’s mentally and physically very draining.

For a one-on-one combat, wrestling is one of the best martial arts for self-defense. However, if you are up against more than one adversary, then you’ll be better off with a striking style.

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 self defense is your goal, make sure you have at least one grappling skill (like Jiu Jitsu) and one striking skill (like boxing). Realistically though, do not get into street fights if you can avoid it! It’s just not worth the risk. You could get seriously injured, or in legal trouble. Very few states have mutual combat laws allowing street fights to occur without legal repurcussions.

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 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 “The 10 Best Martial Arts for Self Defense (or a Street Fight!)”

  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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