The 14 Best Martial Arts for Self Defence

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

Welcome to the complete guide to the best martial arts for self defence.

In this post I will walk you through the most effective Martial Arts and why I believe these this to be true.

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 most effectuve martial arts out there, and  you cant really go wrong with any of them.  

14. Aikido

Aikido has one of the worst repuations in Martial Arts for self defence and this is something I am hoping to change a little with this ranking.

It is true that Aikido is next to useless against anyone that has decent Martial Arts skills, so while it features on this list, I also need to be clear....it is not an art I would rush to do if I needed a self-defence system.

So why have I included it?

Well, because Aikido is incredibly useful for people who have to control aggressive and unskilled people 'all the time'.

Police officers, security officers, prison officers are people who in my opinion would benefit from Aikido as it focuses on control of the arrms/ redirection of energy and has a heavy use of wrist locks. 

As we will see, there are numerous arts out there that will teach you how to knock out an attacker, but professionals in security can't do this, they would have broken knuckles and have videos of them going viral.

So Aikdo does have some excellent usage for professionals.

Origins of  Aikido

Aikido was created by Morihei Ueshiba who combined his experiences in several Martial Arts to create a system of self defence that is every bit a spiritual system as it is a self protection one. 

The physical techniques draw heavily from swordsmanship which can be seen as the Aikido specialist looks to grab the wrists of the attacker.

Aikido For Self Defence: Why Is It Good?


I am not going to lie, Aikido is a mixed bag. 

On one hand you have some incredible wrist lock techniques and throws that are similar to those seen in Judo.

Yet when faced with anyone with decent striking and or grappling skills the Aikidoist will be destroyed. 

That being said I have worked as a police officer with some highly skilled Aikido experts and they tossed people around like rag dolls and hand their wrists locked up at lightning speed.

However as stated if you are involved in professional security I feel it has some good applications because it is a low impact system for dealing with aggresive and unskilled people. 

People who you would come across a lot in your duties and just need some techniques to deal with those.

So my advice really would be to only study Aikido if you already have Martial Arts experience in another art (one of those on this list). 

Check out this video to see some highl level Aikido on display: 

13. Silat

Silat is a Martial Art that will feature as an influence in many of the systems of Martial Arts or self-defence on this list.

The reason behind this is because Silat is such an effective Martial Art for self-defence. 

The dance like motions of Silat contain within an explosive style of fighting that features super fast strikes and manipulation of balance and destruction of limbs.

Origins of  Silat

Silat is a Martial Art from South East Asia and is practised in Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. 

There are a number of origin stories around Silat but it is not known which is accurate.

Silat For Self Defence: Why Is It Good?


Silat is system of self defence that covers a wide range of fighting aspects. Weapons, ground work and even grappling are all featured making it incredible dangerous.

However the speed of application of these techniques in often both spell binding and overwhelming.

Anyone that attacks a Silat expert will find themselves on the receiving end of strikes and limb destructions that would make anyone run for cover.

Check out this video below that showcases some stunning power strikes of Silat.

12. The Approach

It gives me great pleasure to place The Approach on our list of most effectuve Martial Arts for self-defence.

The Approach isn't a Martial Art but a system of striking that is drawing attention from law enforcement agencies globally.

It can be learned in hours yet can help people to deliver the most fearsome strikes.

I have personally seen Eddie teach these strikes and it has blown me away and also been on the pads for one of his instructors. Let me be clear, the power displayed is chilling!

Origins of The Approach

I won't pretend to know the true origins of The Approach but I believe it was created as a result of the founder Eddie Quinn's journey through Silat.

However also behind the system is Eddies true life experience of being a victim of a stabbing. Eddie is lucky to be alive and this experience has shaped his life and his system.

The Approach For Self Defence: Why is it Good?


The issue with Self-Defence is that you can be defated by someone who hits harder than you.

It doesn't matter if you are a boxer or a top striker, if you meet someone who can outpunch you then your options are limited.

The answer is to be able to destroy them with strikes and this is what The Approach does. It allows you to strike with incredible power no matter what size or age you are.

I personally think The Approach is so powerful it could change Self-Defence forever. Check it out below:

11. Muay Thai

Muay Thai

Muay Thai deserves a place in any list of Martial Arts for self-defence

Muay Thai or Thai boxing as it is largely known is a devastating  system of kicking, punching, elbows and knee strikes.

Thai boxing is known for delivering some of the most powerful leg kicks in Martial Arts and has been a go to source of training for MMA fighters but it is equally superb for street self-defence.

Origins of Muay Thai

Muay Thai was developed several hundred years ago and many believe that it developed as  a result of tribes migrating from China before settling in Thailand.

Due to the close proximity of neighbouring countries the art was in regular use during battles.

Needless to say Muay Thai has proven itself both in the battlefield and the sporting arena.

Muay Thai For Self Defence: Why is it Good?


Muay Thai is a tough Martial Art to train in but it is one that uses all the skills you need in the street.

From elbows that cut the skin of the opponents and can cause terrifying KO's to punches and clinch work that is similar to wrestling.

The big issue with Muay Thai is the ;ack of ground fighting which was badly exposed by grapplers in the early UFC tournaments.

But we know that going to the ground is the worst idea in a street fight situation so while this area is lacking you could consider cross training with MMA, wrestling, BJJ or Judo to give you a more rounded skill set. 

Either way Muay Thai is an excellent system to learn from and would make you a serious threat to anyone who attacks you!

To see Muay Thai in action check out this video below:

10.Karate

karate for self defence

Karate- 

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.

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 wingchunmasters.com​ 

"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.

Sambo​

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​

5.Boxing

boxing

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:

Conclusion

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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