The first martial art to learn

Which Martial Art Should I Learn First?

Are you interested in learning a martial art but unsure where to begin? Choosing the right discipline is essential for long-term enjoyment and commitment.

Martial arts can provide significant benefits for your fitness and well-being. Whether you aspire to become a professional MMA fighter or simply want to shed a few pounds, this guide will help you navigate the process of selecting your first martial art.

First Things First

There are many downsides to studying martial arts. First off, it’s usually going to cost you a lot of time and money. Depending on which classes you take, martial arts can start getting expensive with the various equipment required (gloves, shin guards, mouthpiece, etc). There are going to be times when you want to give up, or at minimum take a couple of days off. Your body will be sore, and there will be times that you question “is this even worth all the trouble?” The answer will be different for everyone. Only a true martial artist keeps their mind strong through the best and worst of times. If your goal from learning martial arts is to win a street fight, you’re probably learning martial arts for the wrong reasons.

Types of Martial Arts

So you’ve decided you want to learn a martial art, this is great news. There are so many different styles of martial arts that a person could learn, and they are available to learn at any age. Whether you’re 7 years old in a karate class, or 60 years old starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there is no age limit on learning. There are self-defense martial arts you can learn like Krav Maga, or more traditional arts like Tae Kwon Do. The martial arts world is yours to explore, however, this guide will give you a better idea on where to start. Don’t have time to join a gym? There are still ways to get a good MMA style workout at home.


is boxing a martial art
What is it?

Many martial artists would be surprised to see boxing on this list. However, boxing is one of the purest forms of martial arts in history. It is highly effective in MMA as well, teaching fighters head movement and footwork technique. It is also extremely effective in self-defense situations, as most fights start standing up. Boxing is a sport that has been celebrated by the masses throughout history. It’s also not that hard to become a better boxer with practice.

Who Studies it?

What would this article be if we didn’t include the notorious one, Conor McGregor. Conor is actually a fantastic boxer with a karate style stance. This is how you know MMA is special, a boxer with a karate style stance that has been able to win multiple UFC titles. Other great boxers in MMA include: Cody Garbrandt, Jorge Masvidal, and even BJJ practitioner Nate Diaz has great boxing.

What is a Normal Training Day?

A normal training day in boxing can include a variety of different training techniques. One day you could be working on head movement and footwork, while others are focused on punching power and speed. What makes boxing so great is that it’s universally popular, so it won’t be hard to find a gym in your area. There will be days you can spar with a partner, but almost every boxing gym will give you the freedom to choose whether or not you want to spar.

Is it Right for Me?

Boxing is something that almost everyone should try at some point in their lives. It’s not only a great workout, but it’s also great for self-defense as almost every single fighting situation starts standing up. If you’re hopeful of one day becoming a professional MMA fighter, then boxing is a necessary martial art to learn. Boxing helps with reaction time, footwork, and head movement.

How do I get started with boxing?

There is no substitute for a good trainer and boxing gym. Research nearby boxing gyms (you can usually find reviews from beginners on Yelp, but take them with a grain of salt) and take a drop-in class. Most boxing gyms offer at least one free day to prospective members. They’ll probably even have some free loaner gear to get you through your first class, although I’d at least recommend showing up with your own hand wraps.

If you’re on a budget or just don’t feel like you’re up for training with others at a boxing gym, you can always get started at home. The main three pieces of equipment you’ll need are hand wraps as we covered, boxing gloves, and a heavy bag.

You can check out my at home MMA workout guide for some suggested boxing combos to start with at home. If you want to jump start your progress, check out some of the instructional videos offered by Dynamic Striking (they have boxing videos from Anderson Silva, Cain Velasquez and other huge names in MMA).

Teddy Atlas, who helped train Mike Tyson and other world champion boxers, has a great Fundamentals of Boxing course with Dynamic Striking that provides a solid overview of boxing for beginners:

Muay Thai

first martial art Muay Thai
What is it?

Muay Thai (Kickboxing) is a great starting point for a beginner martial artist. Muay Thai is a kickboxing style sport that started in Thailand. Believe it or not, children in Thailand start having Muay Thai fights at the young age of 5. Thai people celebrate Muay Thai in the same way Americans do Baseball. Muay Thai is 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.

Who Studies it?

There are many professional MMA fighters that focus solely on Muay Thai techniques to help them win fights. Edson Barboza is a good example of a traditional Muay Thai fighter.

Other fighters include practitioner TJ Dillashaw, he studies “Bang Muay Thai”, which is actually a hybrid form of Muay Thai created by Duane Ludwig and inspired by Bas Rutten. Max Holloway is another example of a Muay Thai style fighter, he is very successful in the UFC.

Muay Thai is also popular with celebrities that want to both learn to fight and get in shape. Wiz Khalifa for example is obsessed with Muay Thai and you can see him on his Instagram stories training at all hours of the day.

What is a Normal Training Day?

Your first day of Muay Thai might be rough depending on your instructor. Back when I first started Muay Thai, I was forced to kick a heavy bag until my leg swelled up (yes this was the FIRST day). After time, this pain eventually went away. I no longer feel pain in my shins when I kick heavy bags. Muay Thai is extremely high intensity training that involves conditioning of the shins and core.

Is it Right for Me?

That depends on how important you value stand up fighting techniques. If you have dreams of one day competing in MMA, then Muay Thai is an excellent start. Muay Thai will teach you discipline that is needed to study any other martial art, and it will get you leaps ahead other fighters when it comes to stand up fighting. From a self-defense stand point, it’s good but not great. There aren’t too many defensive techniques in Muay Thai that will help someone. In Muay Thai, your offense IS your best defense.

How do I get started with Muay Thai?

First, you’ll need to find a Muay Thai gym near you. You’ll be surprised, there are more of them than you think and basically all MMA gyms will have at least one Muay Thai class. Call ahead to see what the schedule is, and here are some tips for what to know before your first class.

At the very least you’ll want to bring your own handwraps, and if you are going to take Muay Thai seriously you will definitely need to pick up shin guards and Muay Thai gloves.

Henri Hooft, one of the top striking coaches in MMA (he trained Rashad Evans, Allistairs Overeem, and other UFC stars) has a good course on Kickboxing Fundamentals that is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to learn Muay Thai kickboxing:

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

first martial art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
What is it?

Brazilian 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, weaker person can successfully defend themselves or another against a bigger, stronger, heavier assailant by using proper technique and leverage. BJJ is an amazing first martial art to learn because of the amazing self-defense it provides. Unlike boxing or Muay Thai, Jiu Jitsu does not allow strikes.

Who Studies it?

BJJ started to become more popular with prominence of master Royce Gracie and his use of BJJ to put on dominating performances in the UFC. Demian Maia is one of the best BJJ practitioners that was able to translate his BJJ dominance into the UFC as well. A newer BJJ practitioner that has a great guillotine and triangle choke is Brian “T-City” Ortega. A Black Belt type level in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is almost needed in this day and age of MMA to be successful.

What is a Normal Training Day?

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a normal training day starts with some basic exercises such as “shrimping”, and also various rolls that allow you to break your fall in the right way. This is followed by a lecture in technique, and students practicing that technique again and again. BJJ is a lot of repetition, and also figuring out how to use each position as an advantage against your opponent. The end of each class usually involves a live “rolling” session, where you grapple with a partner and practice submitting each other in various positions.

Is it Right for Me?

That depends on how much you value grappling and ground techniques. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is very popular for self-defense, as the average blue belt can submit 99% of the population. If you have dreams of becoming an MMA fighter than BJJ is a must-have in your arsenal. Almost every fighter that competes in MMA has some form of BJJ training. There are many defensive techniques that are taught in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that are very useful for a real-life situation.

How do I get started with Jiu Jitsu?

BJJ has absolutely exploded in popularity in the past few years, and there’s almost certainly a Jiu Jitsu academy within driving distance of your location. Jiu Jitsu schools can vary wildly. Some will have 10+ Black Belts on the mats, while others will have a Purple Belt as their lead instructor. If you’re brand new to the martial art, you can certainly still learn from a Purple Belt, but of course the more experience your instructor has the better.

Like boxing gyms, most Jiu Jitsu academies offer at least one free class to prospective students. Make sure you look at their schedule and show up for a beginner class that is friendly to new white belts. If you show up to an advanced class or open mat, you’re likely to be turned away (or be totally clueless if they do let you join). If there are multiple BJJ schools in your area, I recommend taking a free class at several of them and then choosing the gym that you like the best.

To get started training BJJ, you’ll need a Jiu Jitsu gi and belt (for a gi class) or fight shorts and a rashguard (for a No-Gi class). I put together a comprehensive guide on what to know before your first class.

There are also some online programs that can serve as a nice supplement to your training at the academy. Learning Jiu Jitsu without a proper instructor and dedicated time on the mats is basically impossible, so treat any online training content as strictly an addition to time at your academy.

Here are my picks for the best online BJJ training sites. Bernardo Faria, the head of BJJ Fanatics, also has a complete course on the Foundations of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that is worth checking out if you’re starting out:

Krav Maga

Krav Maga first martial art self defense
What is it?

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. It was developed by the Israeli Defense Force to be used in real-life combat situations. In addition to punches, kicks and throws, it teaches real-life scenarios like how to disarm an attacker. Rubber knives and guns will make appearances in your training sessions.

Who Studies it?

No reputable MMA fighter uses Krav Maga because many of the techniques would get you disqualified in an MMA fight. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t practitioners out there, it’s just really unknown how Krav Maga would be useful in an MMA competition. Krav Maga uses many self-defense techniques that involve “throat punches” and “eye ball gouges”, both of these techniques will surely get you a life time ban in MMA even if they are deadly.

What is a Normal Training Day?

Krav Maga focuses on real life situations that can be extremely intense. Fighting when you’re tired is a key skill in the Krav Maga system. Instructors focus on getting you to your breaking point so that you’ll become stronger in the long run. Kicks to the groin and joint breaks are just some of the things you’ll be learning while studying Krav Maga.

Is it Right for Me?

If you want to be an international spy then Krav Maga might be the martial art for you. Krav Maga also leaves you more likely to injury with the constant joint pressure involved with training. If you want to one day compete in MMA, Krav Maga might not be suited for you, as a majority of what you’ll be learning will get you disqualified in competition (similar to Wing Chun or Pekiti Tirsia Kali). For self-defense Krav Maga is great, but it might not be the self-defense you were looking for.


Karate good martial art for children bullying
What is it?

Karate is a traditional martial art hailing from the Ryukyu Kingdom (which is now apart of Japan). Karate is one of the most popular martial arts, and also one of the more prominent fighting styles seen in movies from the 60s and 70s. Not only is Karate popular in movies, but it is also going to be seen in the 2020 summer olympics.

Who Studies it?

The most successful MMA karate style fighter is Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. He has been able to translate his karate style of fighting in MMA successfully well. Another popular fighter with a “karate-style” stance is Conor McGregor. Although he doesn’t use many traditional karate style kicks (mostly focusing on boxing technique), he still imitates the wide stance of a traditional karate practitioner.

What is a Normal Training Day?

A normal training day in Karate is similar to the traditional training of Tae Kwon Do. There is sometimes contact, but not as much as Muay Thai or Boxing. There are many benefits of karate, these include: gaining balance, finding peace within yourself, various strikes in a traditional art-form. Karate is very popular among young children, they are able to make new friends and live healthier lives through karate.

Is it Right for Me?

That really depends on whether you’re looking for a traditional martial art, or something more focused towards fighting and MMA. Karate isn’t a martial art that translates very well to MMA, however there are fighters such as Stephen Thompson who have been an outlier in the UFC. Karate isn’t that great for self-defense, however it is great for controlling ones anger and general emotions.

Tae Kwon Do

Tae Kwon Do good first martial art kicks
What is it?

Hailing from Korea, Tae Kwon Do is one of the broadest forms of study. Statistically speaking, Tae Kwon Do has more followers than any other martial art, it’s even an Olympic sport. Attacks include quick punches, elaborate kicks, and basic throws. Tae Kwon Do is great for kids as well, it allows them to make friends and stay healthy.

Who Studies it?

There are many MMA fighters today that study Tae Kwon Do and use unique kicks in competition. Arguable one of the best MMA fighters ever, Anderson Silva, uses many Tae Kwon Do style kicks during his fights. Another great Bellator fighter, Benson Henderson, uses Tae Kwon Do style techniques during his fights as well. Anthony Pettis is also credits his MMA fighting career to starting out in Tae Kwon Do as a young child.

What is a Normal Training Day?

A normal training day in Tae Kwon Do is much more traditional than the other martial arts on this list. You’ll do many balance type drills, and some days you’ll be able to use your punches and kicks in light sparring. There are many relaxation type techniques in Tae Kwon Do believe it or not. This is because Tae Kwon Do uses the technique of staying calm while under pressure. Keeping your emotions in check is important for any martial art.

It is Right for Me?

It really depends on the type of Tae Kwon Do gym you choose. Some gyms will favor sparring more, while others might not have any type of sparring. Some Tae Kwon Do gyms are actually targeted for children, and wouldn’t be too beneficial for an Adult to join. The great part about Tae Kwon Do is that there are many options, there is bound to be at least one gym in your town.


good first martial art judo ronda rousey
What is it?

Judo is one of the oldest martial arts on this list, hailing from Japan in the 1800s. Judo concentrates on throws and chokes, almost lacking strikes of any kind. Other martial arts we’ve talked about like Jiu Jitsu actually originated from Judo. Judo is also included in Olympic sport so it’s very popular among all ages.

Who Studies it?

One of the most famous women’s martial artist studied Judo from a young age, any guesses? Her name is Ronda Rousey, and she was very successful in Olympic Judo, as well as translating her Judo game into MMA. Another MMA fighter that practices Judo is Fedor Emilianenko. He uses many Judo style throws and take downs during his fights to dominate his opponents.

What is a Normal Training Day?

Similar to Tae Kwon Do, this is more of a traditional martial art. If you want to hit someone, this isn’t the martial art for you. The only time strikes are performed are for scenario type training, which involve judo throws as a way to defend against strikes. You will also be accustomed to being throw on the ground, again and again. A basic Judo session will involve you and a partner practicing Judo throws until you perfect each style and technique.

Is it Right for Me?

Although Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has passed Judo in popularity, it’s still a vital martial art that should be learned. Judo is still popular among competitions and knowing how to throw an opponent into a favorable position is very useful for an MMA practitioner. Judo isn’t necessary to become a successful MMA fighter, it doesn’t hurt to learn however. It’s also a full body workout, but your core and grip will get the worst of it. Judo isn’t recommended for self-defense, although it may be useful in certain scenarios.


good first martial art conor mcgregor
What is it?

MMA is an abbreviation for “Mixed Martial Arts”, and has risen in popularity as of late. MMA is the combination of all martial arts we talked about above. Giving the fighter a wide array of styles and techniques that they can use in a fighting style competition competing in various weight classes. MMA is very useful for all type of situations, standup fighting, ground-and-pound, grappling, and more.

Who Studies it?

From the likes of traditional BJJ master Royce Gracie, to the boxing prowess of Conor McGregor, these are the fighters that made MMA what it is today. The greatest thing about MMA is watching these fighters transform their original style (martial art) into their style and technique today. It’s amazing to think that no matter what martial art you choose, it will have it’s own advantages, and disadvantages, in a true fight. There is no “perfect” martial art style (or martial artist), and that’s what makes MMA so great.

What is a Normal Training Day?

A real MMA class will primarily focus on all styles of MMA. This can include: Wrestling, Striking, Ground-and-Pound, Jiu Jitsu, and much more. Contact will be very common and you’ll be hit more likely than not. The common MMA class will include every martial art we talked about above (excluding Krav Maga for obvious reasons). MMA will allow you to become a well-rounded fighter.

Is it Right for Me?

If your dream is to become a professional MMA fighter, then of course MMA classes are necessary. MMA requires a big time and money commitment, you are investing so much of yourself into a sport that is the hardest in the world. You will have to invest money into equipment (many different styles of gloves, mouthpiece, headgear, shin guards, etc).

There are many risk factors to MMA including injury, so please take all of this into consideration before choosing MMA as a potential career path. Yes, you can also make money fighting MMA but the success stories are few and far between!

How do I get started with MMA Training?

Since MMA at its core incorporates all martial arts, the best thing you can do is develop proficiency in one striking art (like boxing or Muay Thai) and one grappling art (like wrestling or Jiu Jitsu). A high level of overall cardio and fitness will help you get the most out of your MMA training.

The Final Say

Martial arts offer immense benefits at any age, with traditional values being as important as mastering techniques. It’s remarkable that these art forms, created across the globe, are now studied by millions. Modern advancements allow us to explore various styles and techniques passed down through generations.

Regardless of the discipline you select, commit wholeheartedly and respect both your instructors and fellow students. Together, you share a journey of growth and learning in martial arts.

9 thoughts on “Which Martial Art Should I Learn First?”

  1. Carlos Barros

    Hi Anthony, first sorry for bothering I’ve just found out this page. Here is the thing, I want to learn a martial art, mostly for self defense, my objective is to beat my opponents if I am challenged. I am 1.81m and I have about 100kg, so i am a big guy, I’ve tried judo before, but I just hated being throwing down and doing rollouts. I am terrible at athletic feats, I was the biggest guy of my class but the worst choice in PE because I was not handy at all, so I don’t see myself throwing myself in the air in a wheel to kick my opponents in the chin with my feat, I’ve seen demonstrations of Muay Thai, where practitioners would the craziest things, wells out of kung fu movies, climbing over one guy while hitting the guy behind with a punch from above, etc, etc… Also I’m not quite sure I should try kav maga either, because I am of short fuse, when I get nervous I do the craziest things, once I almost stabbed a guy in the eye with a bic pen, I am not good at controlling my emotions. Could you help me choose a martial art that would actually fit me?


  2. Hossein

    Hi Antony,
    Your article was so useful , I hope see you in the octagon, I from middle East and was looking for how can I learn mma at home and ran into your website
    Good job boy

    1. The MMA Guru

      Hey Hossein,

      Thank you for visiting I’m so happy that you find my website useful! I wish you the best on your martial arts journey!

      – The MMA Guru

  3. Daisy Mahanta

    Very good step towards martial arts thanks for the information

  4. Karthik

    Im looking to start learning martial art. 35 years of age.
    I have karate , MMA near by.
    I’m not going to compete but just to learn for the love of martial arts , fitness and self defense.
    Which one would you suggest .
    Thanks in advance for your help.

  5. Aakash Singh

    Wonderful👌👌…so helpful it is 💛💛..thanks a lot 🙏😊

  6. in my opinion I saying boxing you have first learn to attack then lear ju jitsu as grappling then learn wing chun asb defending if there is a danger not in street fight

  7. Manisha

    Hi son is 10 years old .he wants to learn kungfu ..not karatee ….little confused .. which is more better ..n in mumbai .we dont have classes of our nearby ….n how can we know .wht they are .teaching
    …in knowledge of ..levels ..n all.. pl guide

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