Updated January 30, 2024

Top 15 Best Martial Arts In The World For Self Defense

The world of martial arts has been blowing up over the last few years thanks to the rapidly rising popularity of MMA promotions like UFC and Bellator. It’s a sport where athletes can use a variety of strategies to win in the octagon, from jiu-jitsu, to boxing, to muay thai. We’ve put together a guide to help you understand martial arts and self-defense by going into a bit of the history as well as breaking down the 15 best martial arts for self defense and why we chose each one.

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Top 15 Best Martial Arts Rating: Everything You Need to Know

Before we get into what is the best martial art for self defense, we’ll get into what made us choose certain martial arts and why some other styles didn’t make the cut for us. We base our rating on several factors including the popularity of that type of martial art, how easy it is to learn, and how effective it can be in different scenarios.

The martial arts we choose also have to be true martial arts forms that are recognized, with a history and basic principles of combat. It also goes without saying that none of these martial arts can employ the use of weapons, we’re dealing only with the best martial arts that people can employ using only their bodies. 

Martial Arts History

The first evidence of martial arts brings us all the way back to ancient India in the 2nd century BCE, while its first appearance in the West occurred in Ancient Greece. Some of the earliest martial arts include boxing and kalarippayattu, but the world of martial arts didn’t really explode until the mid-19th century. 

This period is when a lot of the most popular martial arts of today took on their modern forms, such as karate, judo, and jiu-jitsu. Greco-Roman wrestling was the first martial art to be added to the modern Olympic Games in 1896 while boxing entered the Olympic fray just under a decade later at the 1904 Games. Since then, martial arts have spread to all corners of the globe and are likely at their peak of popularity right now, with world-class mixed martial artists coming from North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

Mixed Martial Arts - what is the best and how to choose it 

Choosing what is the best martial art should take a lot of consideration, and in the end, everyone has different preferences and objectives. Some people are looking for styles that make use of technique, some rely more on power, and some are all about speed and quickness. Taking that all into account, we’ve laid out the 15 best martial arts for self defense for the average Joe or Jane to help you in your martial arts decision.


What does Boxing mean? 

Boxing is one of the simpler martial arts, as it refers to the act of using only your fists to defend against attacks and respond to them, though it does take a bit of skill. There are no blows allowed below the belt and there is no use of any other body parts. 

Origins of Boxing

The earliest recordings of boxing came out of Ancient Greece and Rome, where it was used as training for warriors but also as one of the earliest spectator sports. There is much mention of boxing in Greek mythology, and over 2,000 years later it is still one of the most widely viewed and practiced martial arts in the world. 

Boxing For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

Boxing is one of the best martial arts for self defense because it teaches you to not only block the blow of an attacker, but also how to actively defend yourself with blows of your own. It also greatly improves your motor skills, your fitness and endurance, as well as your mental preparedness for an actual fight.

Boxing Equipment You Must Have For Your Training

A boxing gym is the best place to learn, and they will usually provide you with punching bags and boxing gloves for your training, which is all you really need to become a good enough boxer to defend yourself.


What does Wrestling mean? 

Wrestling refers to the grappling that happens once a fight is brought to the ground.

Origins of Wrestling

Wrestling is another martial art that the Ancient Greeks and Romans used, both for sport as well as in fights to the death.

Wrestling is a wide-ranging term, so there are many different types of wrestling that you might be interested in. There’s freestyle Olympic wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, Sumo wrestling, and many other iterations of wrestling to choose from that all have their different caveats and eccentricities.

Wrestling For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

Wrestling is a great way to neutralize an attacker by using pressure and control. However, fights on the street rarely go to the ground, so wrestling is not among the most common martial arts for self defense.

Wrestling Equipment You Must Have For Your Training

Generally, you’d want some protective head gear, wrestling shoes, and a wrestling unitard, though wrestling can just as easily be practiced without any of this equipment as well, which contributes to its popularity worldwide.

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What does Aikido mean? 

Aikido is one of the least violent forms of martial arts, as it does not aim to meet violence with violence. Instead, Aikido practitioners use joint immobilizations to stifle their opponents as well as throws that use the momentum of an attacker against them.

Origins of Aikido

One of many martial arts forms to stem from Japan, Aikido’s roots go all the way back to the 12th century. The modern version of martial art was created in 1920, and the name ‘Aikido’ has been interpreted as meaning ‘The Way of Harmony of Spirit.’

Aikido For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

Aikido is an excellent martial art to learn for self defense because it limits the amount of violence meted out. Instead of fighting back against an attacker, Aikido allows one to simply stop their attack. It’s perfect for anyone because it does not rely on strength and size, but instead on timing and technique.

Aikido Equipment You Must Have For Your Training

All that is needed to practice Aikido is a judo mat and judo/karate suits. Many trainers also employ wooden training weapons such as bokken and jo. 


What Does Sambo Mean? 

Sambo is one of the more violent martial arts you’ll come across, as there’s not much you can’t do. Punching, kicking, elbowing, chokes, locks, and even groin strikes are all part of the Sambo repertoire.

What Sambo Techniques Are Great For Street Self-Defence? 

What makes Sambo such a wide-ranging martial art is also what makes it very attractive as a form of self defense. You’re expected to use any and everything at your disposal to get the better of your attacker, and when that includes groin strikes and head butts, it means anyone can beat anyone.

Sambo Equipment You Must Have For Your Training

Other than the classic fighters’ uniform of the jacket, belt, and trousers, those who want to train in Sambo should also look into finding a good amount of protective gear, including mouth guards, groin guards, and shin guards.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

What Does Jiu Jitsu Mean? 

Jiu Jitsu is a martial art most common in Brazil that’s based much more around learning to grapple than learning to strike, which makes it great for smaller practitioners who want to succeed against larger opponents.

What BJJ Techniques Are Great For Street Self-Defence? 

Jiu Jitsu is all about the ground game and getting your opponent into a position where they have to tap. Things like rear-naked chokes, arm locks, and leg locks are commonly used. However, it’s not a great option for those with personal space issues and the fact that it takes place mostly on the ground doesn’t lend it to successful use in a street setting.

BJJ Equipment You Must Have For Your Training

There isn’t much needed to practice BJJ other than a standard mat and someone to practice against. Headgear is also recommended if you want to avoid the cauliflower ear that is so prevalent among professional practitioners.

Muay Thai/Kickboxing (Thai Boxing)

What Does Muay Thai Mean? 

While it falls under the umbrella of kickboxing, Muay Thai has a few of its own features to consider. This type of martial art also employs the use of knees and elbows more than most other martial arts. It also uses a type of stand-up grappling called clinching.

Origins of Muay Thai

Also called the “Art Of Eight Limbs,” Muay Thai has been around for centuries, dating back to the Sukhothai dynasty of 13th-century Thailand.

Muay Thai For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

Being able to use many different parts of your body to inflict damage on your attacker is a big plus, but it also teaches you how to use those body parts to defend as well.

Muay Thai Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

To practice Muay Thai you’ll likely need boxing gloves and hand wraps, as well as protective headgear and a mouth guard. Punching bags are also very useful for practicing your striking. 

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Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

What Does MMA Mean? 

Mixed martial arts are what fans of combat sports will recognize from watching UFC or Bellator, the two most popular combat sports promotions, both of which deal strictly in MMA. However, MMA encompasses all other martial arts, hence the word ‘mixed’ in its name.

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Origins of MMA

MMA can trace its roots back to Ancient Greece as well, where the military would train with pankration, which was a mix of wrestling, boxing, and street fighting, much like the MMA we see in the UFC octagon today.

MMA For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

MMA is great for self-defense because it gives you loads of different strategies and tools to use in a wide variety of situations. You can choose which form of MMA you want to focus on or use at any given time.

MMA Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

Like many other forms of martial arts, not much is needed to train for MMA other than padding for various body parts.

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Krav Maga

What Does Krav Maga Mean? 

Literally translated as “contact combat” in Hebrew, this martial art focuses on striking as well as strategies on how to disarm an attacker.

Origins of Krav Maga

Krav Maga was created by the Israeli Defense Forces as a fighting technique to be used in real-life scenarios. It’s a highly aggressive style and training will often include rubber knives and guns to replicate real-world situations.

Krav Maga For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

While this isn’t a martial art that’s conducive to competition, Krav Maga is actually one of the best martial arts for self defense because of its wide range of twisting and striking moves. The fact that it doesn’t involve grappling on the ground is a plus as well, though practice will send you home with bruises more often than not.

Krav Maga Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

There’s nothing really to it when it comes to Krav Maga equipment, as you can practice just in street clothes. More often, however, practicing Krav Maga at a gym will include a lot of padding as well as a kind of boxing gloves.


What Does Judo Mean? 

Judo is one of the most well-known martial arts, and for good reason: there are several other forms on this list, such as Sambo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, that are actually offshoots of judo. Judo involves very little striking and instead relies heavily on chokes and throws. 

Origins of Judo

Another product of Japan, Judo began as a form of martial arts back in 1882 and is now a widely known form of self-defense that is also an Olympic sport.

Judo For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

Judo is one of the more practical martial arts when it comes to self defense, though if you’re looking for practice with your striking, you’ve come to the wrong place. You’ll be going home feeling sore all over due to how often you’ll be practicing falling, which will come in handy if your attacker ever gets the upper hand momentarily. 

Judo Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

Many Judo gyms will have their practitioners wearing karate-type uniforms while they train, but the rest of the equipment is mostly mouth guards, groin guards and the like.


What Does Taekwondo Mean?

Arguably the most practiced form of martial arts is taekwondo, and the fact that it’s such a wide-ranging form probably contributes to that. There’s not much you can’t do, as taekwondo includes everything from punches, to throws, to kicks. You will spar often at training, drills will also be included and you will participate in relaxation techniques. Breaking boards and bricks with your hands and feet is another part of taekwondo training.

Origins of Taekwondo

Taekwondo derives from Korea, where martial artists in the 1940s and 1950s developed the form by combining several other Korean styles such as taekkyeon and subak with foreign combat styles such as karate. 

Taekwondo For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

There’s a wide variety of programs for taekwondo, so before locking into a gym, it’s best to just observe at first to make sure it’s right for you. Taekwondo is a good option for self defense because it not only trains your body for the fight but your mind as well.

Taekwondo Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

Most of the sparring you’ll do during taekwondo training will be in full gear, which means you’ll have to buy gloves, forearm guards, a mouth guard, a chest protector, a groin guard, shin guards, and of course some sort of protective gear for your head.

Wing Chun Kung Fu

What Does it Mean?

This martial art puts a lot of focus on balance and keeping both the mind and body ready for combat through visualization. It employs a pretty unique fighting stance, and most of the fighting happens in quick strikes while advancing on an opponent.  

Origins of Kung Fu

People have been practicing forms of wing chun kung fu for literally thousands of years, but the modern version really came together during the Ming and Qing dynasties in China, which went from the 1300s to the early 1900s. You will often see this Chinese martial art used in action sequences in movies such as “Ip Man” due to the fast paced and entertaining style of striking.

Types of Kung Fu

There are two schools of kung fu, one called internal kung fu, and the other called external kung fu. Internal kung fu, which focuses on the mind and the intangibles, includes disciplines such as Taiji Quan and Xingyi Quan while external kung fu, which is centered more on the actual fighting and the tangibles, includes styles such as Shaolin Quan and Sanda.

Kung Fu For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

This is a close-combat martial art, so people with quick reflexes will take to kung fu easily. There’s not much kicking involved and the forearms get a real workout with kung fu. Your balance and concentration will also improve mightily during training.

Kung Fu Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

Kung fu will use most of the same standard equipment as most other martial arts, but for training purposes, it will also require elastic ropes, nunchucks, and throwing weapons as well.


What Does it Mean?

Silat is a form of martial arts that can be reasonably said to be similar to dirty boxing, which means it’ll get you ready for a street fight. It includes striking as well as joint manipulation and attacks on pressure points. More often than not training will leave one of the participants with injuries.

Origins of Silat

The origins of Silat date back to 8th century Indonesia, where it was created as a form of self defense during times of war. 

Types of Silat

There are many styles of Silat across southeast Asia, where the martial art is still often used in military training. Some of the more popular disciplines include Sunda, Betawi, and Java.

Silat For Self Defense: Why Is It Good?

Silat employs a flowing style that ends with sharp force and is a great option for close-quarter combat. It doesn’t rely on traditional martial arts techniques like kickboxing or muay thai, so it’s also great to keep the other person guessing.

Silat Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

In its traditional form, Silat is practiced without any protection, but many gyms still employ the regular padding and gear common to other martial arts.


What Does Dojo Mean?

Dojos are places for practice, contemplation, and meditation surrounding whichever Japanese martial art you have decided to practice.

Origin Of Dojo

Dojos began as an addition to many Buddhist temples in Japan, a place where acolytes could go to practice and meditate. Nowadays in Japan, dojo refers to any place where physical training is done, while in the Western world it is used exclusively to mean a place where Japanese martial arts such as judo or aikido are practiced.

Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

Dojos will generally provide the equipment you need for whichever kind of martial arts you intend to practice there.

Jeet Kune Do

What Does Jeet Kune Mean? 

One of the more recent additions to the world’s catalog of martial arts, Jeet Kune Do focuses on four main areas during training: punching, kicking, grappling, and trapping. It has its roots in kung fu on the physical side and Taoism on the mental side.

Origin Of Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do was created by martial arts icon Bruce Lee in the mid-1960s as a response to what he saw as a martial arts industry that was increasingly becoming obsolete in real world situations. 

Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

Practitioners will usually don kung fu attire to practice Jeet Kune Do, and many other weapons will be included in training such as nunchucks, blunted knives, and staffs.

American Kenpo Karate

What Does American Kenpo Mean? 

This style of martial arts is really an amalgamation of several other forms, including karate, Judo, and Jiu-Jitsu. It includes everything from punches and kicks to throwing and joint locking techniques.

Origin Of Kenpo

Conceived in America, Kenpo was first taught by Thomas Miyashiro in Hawaii in 1933. This martial art can deal out blows, but its main focus has always been about defensive action and the immobilization of an attacker. 

Equipment You Must Have For Gym Training

Practice mats, combat mitts, and striking bags are a few of the things you’ll need to practice Kenpo Karate. Most of the rest of the equipment includes padding which is common with most of the other martial arts we’ve discussed.

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When considering which martial art you want to start practicing, it’s important to first know your goals, as well as your strengths and limitations. For self-defense purposes, you’ll want to go with a martial art that focuses more on striking, defensive action, and throws, whereas those that are focused more on ground fighting, such as wrestling, are a little less practical. Hopefully, this guide has helped you to get started on your martial arts journey!

Martial arts FAQ

Which martial art is the most effective?

While there are a lot of good options, MMA would have to be the easy answer simply because it encompasses all other martial arts. Nothing’s off the table.

What is the number 1 deadliest martial art?

There are differing opinions on this question and martial arts are tough to rank because they’re so different, but considering the fact that it’s not a martial art for competition but strictly for real life or death, him or me situations, Krav Maga is very deadly.

What is the best martial art to defend yourself?

We’ll have to go with MMA here again because it offers such a wide range of maneuvers to protect yourself from any number of different foes.

How Many Belts Can You Get in Martial Arts?

It varies from style to style, but generally, there are nine belts in martial arts: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, red, and black.

How Much do MMA/UFC Fighters earn?

Fighters just getting started in the UFC can expect something between $10,000 to $30,000 per fight, but those numbers balloon to six figures once they’ve moved up the rankings and become more established with a few wins in the promotion.

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Comments (1)
11/5 1:51 AM
American kenpo is certainly not the best form of karate. Again, taekwondo is never a good martial art for self-defence.
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