The 10 Best Martial Arts for Self Defence

Which Martial Art is Best for Self Defence: Our Guide Will Tell You  All  You  Need To Know

In this post you will learn what the best martial arts are for self defence and why​.

The question of which martial art is best for self-defence has been debated  and discussed on-line for years. However, it is a subject I have given a lot of  thought to over the years due to my career.

As a policeman who joined the job at 18 years of age and was 10 stone in body weight, I quickly realised that I was not the biggest or strongest person in the world and this made me vulnerable unless I learned how to look after myself.

As a result, I went looking for a martial art that would give me the skills I  needed to become great at self-defence. I researched every martial arts use and functionality and gave a lot of different ones a go. Sadly most were lacking.

I have compiled a list of martial arts for you, and I will give my honest view on each one and its ability for self-defence. Now while I  have listed these arts in a number fashion that is not because I am ranking them in any particular order. Everyone's needs are different and as such what works for one will not necessarily work for another. However these are the ten most solid martial arts out there, and  you cant really go wrong with any of them.  


karate for self defence


It may come as no surprise that I have included Karate as one of the top martial arts for self-defence.  The reason behind this is due to the sheer solid nature that the system has. Kicks, punches, blocks and even grappling are all parts of the Karate syllabus. 

Low cost to start, the student of Karate will develop very strong strikes both in punching and also kicking. I did Karate for a very short while in my younger days and have nothing but respect for it however on a personal note I do think that it lacks the defences and smoothness of other martial arts. The straight strikes and power kicks of Karate steal the show. 

As a youngster, I was heavily influenced by the Karate Kid film. Who didn't want Mr Myagi to be their teacher?? Karate is a solid system, and one that I believe has great self-defence applications. 

​Origins of Karate

The exact origins of Karate are unknown however it is generally considered that it was created and developed on an Island called Okinawa and due to various bans on weapon use in the Islands history it was originally an empty hand style although further refinements were made over the years.

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Karate For Self Defence: Why is it Good?

I have been around the martial arts for many years, and one thing that I know is that Karate is a very solid style of martial art. Almost everyone I have ever met who trained in Karate can hit hard and kick even harder. Karateka are also very fit, that speaks volumes for the fitness applications of the art. 

The downside of Karate for me was the overuse of blocks, as I am of a boxing background I have always felt that Karate was quite 'stiff'. However that is not always a bad thing, and we have seen MMA fighters such as Lyota Machida do very well in the cage using Karate as a base. 

Overall, with great fitness, powerful punches and kicks Karate is an excellent martial art for self defence.

  • Karate In Action Video
  • Karate In Action Video 2

9. Keysi Fighting Method

Andy and Buste Reeves - Batman Stunt Double

I have reviewed Keysi before on this blog however there is no doubt that it is still one of the best self defence systems around.

Created by 2 men, Justo Duieguez and Andy Norman it can be described as a Spanish street fighting style which was inspired by Justo's time in Spanish mines as a child. It is a gritty and dynamic style that is designed for  a person who is attacked by multiple opponents. It was even featured in several films most notably Batman Begins. 

Sadly the two creators of this system split company a few years ago and Justo went onto create Keysi by Justo and Andy Norman created Defence Lab.However, Keysi is still a very solid self defence system and is highly recommended. The two video tabs below show the various keysi styles in action

  • Video 1  Keysi in  Batman
  • VIDEO 2 Keysi By  Justo

8.Wing Chun

wing chun self  defence

Martial arts training in Wing Chun Kung Fu style on a wooden dummy in the training gym or dojo

Wing Chun is a style of Kung Fu that has gained huge popularity in recent years, largely due to the success of the Ip Man movies starring Donnie Yen. 

The actual origins of Wing Chun are open to debate but according to​ 

"The most popularized story of Wing Chun’s origin is that of the Buddhist Nun, Ng Mui. It is said that she was one of Five Elders of the Shaolin Temple that managed to escape prior to its destruction. With her high level of Shaolin martial arts, she created a form of self-defense which could transcend size, weight and gender. She drew her inspiration for Wing Chun from the movement of animals, primarily the crane. When applied to the human form, these delicate but natural movements required little force to block and strike effectively and efficiently.

Ng Mui’s first student of the yet unnamed form was a beautiful young girl named Yim Wing Chun who was being pressured by a bandit warlord into marriage. After mastering the art so as to defend herself and eventually drive off the bandit, Yim Wing Chun would have the form named after her as the first student of Ng Mui. This is how the lineage of Wing Chun began according to popular legend."

Wing Chun​ For Self Defence

With zero sporting applications, Wing Chun needs to be able to deliver solid self-defence skills, and I am pleased to say for the most part it does. Yes, as with any art there are going to be good and bad instructors but it is a very solid and practical close range self-defence system.

There are of course many people that would disagree, however having met a few Wing Chun instructors I have really had my views changed over the years, as I too failed to see the structure behind the art.  The power of Wing Chun lies within its direct approach. In the art, the practitioner becomes very strong and has almost laser targeted strikes to the face, a bit like being hit with a pole, repeatedly. 

Wing Chun for self defence is rarely captured on film however this amazing 'challenge match was captured on camera which shows a Karate student against a Wing Chun person, why would they do this? Who knows. The point is, you get to see the beauty of the technique of Wing Chun in action:

My personal view is that Wing Chun is one of those arts that is excellent for self defence, however it is unlikely that you will ever get to see it in action, and as such a lot of people will disagree. Solid straight punching is the hallmark of great skill and this is what Wing Chun delivers. 

7. Jeet Kune Do

jeet kune do self defence

Jeet Kune Do is translated into The Way of the Intercepting Fist, and it is one of the most well practised martial arts in the world. However essentially there is a lot of confusions about what exactly Jeet Kune Do really is. 

Created by the legendary film actor and martial artist Bruce Lee, the art is often described by many as a philosophical journey for the martial artist and not actually a system of martial arts. 

Bruce Lee ​was himself skilled in Wing Chun having learned directly from Ip Man himself, however after years of exposure and study of different systems and experience in real fights, Bruce developed Jeet Kune Do or JKD as it is known. 

I do not claim to be an expert of JKD but as Bruce died so tragically at a young age, we will never truly know what JKD would have ended up as. However for now, we can easily say that JKD is the embodiment of martial arts ethics and study. A good JKD school will often have instructors that are highly skilled in numerous arts.

Jeet Kune Do For Self Defence: Is It any Good?​

If you take the time to read Bruce Lee's books on Jeet Kune Do you will see pure genius on paper. Every technical improvement is backed up with sound reasoning such as placing your strong side towards the attacker, and a range of other strategies.

As a result, JKD offers a really detailed look into the physical applications of martial arts with a variety of options. It is likely that no two JKD schools will be the same however all are based on solid fundamentals.  JKD is a great martial art for self-defence, it has huge depth and variety, and I highly recommend it.   Take a Look at some Jeet Kune Do instruction below

6. Judo and Sambo

Judo for self defence

The sport of Judo is perhaps one of the most well known martial arts due to its inclusion in the Olympic Games. Judo is free to watch and is broadcast live across the world on You Tube. So what makes this sport so great for self-defence?

Judo For Self Defence​

Judo has a rich history dating back to the samurai. However today it is a modern grappling sport with very strict rules. Since 2008 there have been even more rule changes that have shocked the Judo world by taking away a lot of the core techniques. Despite this the sport is bigger than ever and for self-defence it offers a unique journey.

If you train Judo you will do zero self defence training, it is all about learning to throw, pin, choke and armlock an opponent. There are zero blocks, zero strikes (unless you look deep into the art) and for that reason you would think Judo as being very poor as a self defence system. 

The thing that makes Judo so good for self defence is its single-minded approach to throwing people on the floor. A throw on a thick Judo mat can take the wind out of your sails yet a throw onto concrete will cause serious injury.

Judoka spend almost 80% of their time learning how to throw people who don't actually want to be thrown, so how do you think a non-Judoka will do against the Judo player. Simply put, if a Judo player gets their hands onto you then you will be hitting the ground with serious force.


What happens if you set out to make a combat system for the military that soldiers can use as a sport?  Well the end result is Russian Sambo. A truly amazing and devastating art, According to the Sambo Unplugged Website "It could be described as combat sport and a self defence system  rolled  into one"  

Sambo athletes train to sue punches, kicks, grappling and arm and leg locks to deal with their opponents. Check the videos out to see what I mean.

 Whilst very similar Sambo  has a more combat orientated approach and  as such I recommend it over Judo for self defence, sadly there is a lack of Sambo instructors in  the world  so you might be able to find a Judo  club far easier.

I have trained in both Sambo and Judo and love them both​



I started learning boxing at an early age and the skills I learned are perhaps the ones that have allowed me to do well in other arts. On the surface boxing is  simple, no grappling,  no kicking, just a few types of punches. Yet it takes years to master boxing but only months to grasp its fundamentals. 

It is this simplicity that makes boxing such a great art or self-defence. Like Judo is focused on just one thing boxing has become a specialist at punching.

It would be impossible to describe boxers as 'complete' in their training when their focus is on such a narrow field, however, they often possess amazing footwork, defence and fast powerful combination punches. 

The video below shows a boxer in a self defence situation and it is easy to see just how useful boxing is.

Other great aspects of boxing are the fitness drills

The conditioning in boxing is one of the most strict and most punishing regimes in martial arts. Skipping, press ups, burpees and much more will make up a boxing session along with sparring and bag work.

4. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an art that needs to be mentioned. On a one on one situation, BJJ is pretty amazing as a system of self-defence. It does however have weaknesses when it comes down to weapon defence and group attacks. 

The art is the offspring of Judo and is focused almost completely on the ground and it became world famous when it was the style used by so many to win in the early days of MMA. 

The system is well known for its  locks and chokes and as we can see from the footage of a street fight below it is a very capable style.  BJJ does not focus on sefl defence these days and has become more of a sport. Guard passing, mount  and other postiions earn points for the player in competition

BJJ  is a great art to train in for fitness, fun and sport and yes it does have some great self-defence applications, however it also areas that are weak such as striking, knife defence a vulnerability to group attacks

3. MMA Mixed Martial Arts

The sport of MMA has become a global phenomenon and for good reason, explosive takedowns, striking, chokes and leg and arm locks. The sport of  MMA has created the modern gladiators proving ground. 

The downside of MMA is the training is seriously hard on the body​. I did it for a long time and suffered more from MMA than I  ever did in Judo or boxing. 

An average MMA class will be very testing on your fitness levels. You will perform grappling, striking, and a lot of sparring. ​

​The plus side of MMA is that your skills levels increase very quickly in all areas. As such you soon become a very skilled opponent for any attacker. The downside of this is of course that you are focused on sport and not self defence. There is zero knife defence and no multiple opponent training however your individual unarmed ability becomes very impressive. 

2. Krav Maga

krav  maga self defense

Krav Maga is perhaps the most well know of any self defence system in the world.   The word Krav Maga in Hebrew means "contact fighting" and it is the official self defence system of the Israeli Defense Forces,

It was created by ​Imi Side-Or (Lichtefield) and it is totally self defense orientated. 

Sadly today's Krav Maga differs in standard across the globe. We have hard core self defense versions and far softer ones that appear as if they were kick boxercise classes. 

However despite these differences Krav Maga is one of the best martial arts for self defense.​ You will learn both  gun and knife defense along with striking, grappling and much more. You just need to  ensure your instructor is qualified. The below video is of Keith Collyer from Cross Krav Maga showing his excellent skills. 

1. Defence Lab

defence lab

Defence Lab is my favourite martial art and whilst this list is not in a specific order I have to say I feel Defence Lab or DL as is it called is the best martial art in the world for self defence. 

Created by Andy Norman after he left the Keysi Fighting Method, it heavily features aspects of the training that made KFM so popular.

Defence Lab however, has evolved the KFM model and taken it even further. DL is focused completely on self-defence situations that are both armed and unarmed, group attacks and also it now covers MMA style opponents with its growing technique range.

Defence Lab uses a range of elbows and 'shapes' that are created with the arms  to build a fearsome style of fighting, however the training environment has zero ego's and is both fun and friendly. Check out the explosive footage from DL below to  see what I mean:


So there you have it,the best martial arts for self defence.

So what are your thoughts?

Comment below and let me know.

This article was written by Andrew Holland

Andrew is a UK SEO Expert and Copywriter as well as being a former Police Officer and Judo Black Belt

If you would like to learn more about how he can help you click the link to get in touch 

Andrew Holland

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