K2Promos is reader-supported. When you purchase through one of our links we may earn an affiliate commission (at no cost to you).

Best Martial Arts For Self-Defense: Top 15 Combat Maneuvers

Best Martial Arts For Self-Defense

Last Updated on May 20, 2024

The best way to win a fight is to run away. This is one of the things that seasoned practitioners of martial arts will teach you. 


Turning your back on an attacker is not always the most practical choice. For instance, you might find the other person remaining aggressive, despite you retracting. If that’s the case, then you should know the best way to fight back. 

Read on as we walk you through some of the best martial arts for self-defense. Learning these practices can be a lifesaver. It can even spell the difference between life and death. 

15 Best Martial Arts For Self-Defense 

Learning martial arts delivers a plethora of benefits. It is a full-body workout that will increase your flexibility and coordination. It can also be effective in teaching self-discipline. Not to mention, your social skills can improve. In this post, however, our focus is on utilizing martial arts for self-defense. 

1. Krav Maga 

Krav Maga

The word Krav Maga is Hebrew, which translates to contact combat in English. It was developed in the 1950s and was originally intended for the training of the Israeli army. In the 1970s, however, civilian instruction began. Today, Krav Maga is one of the most popular combat systems and martial arts in the world. 

If you want to learn Krav Maga, you will first have to master various techniques such as striking, getting up after a fall, and basic stance. The training also includes awareness of your surroundings and how to perform even when you are under stress. It is meant to be an intuitive system, so the presence of the mind is crucial in a fight. 

In many martial arts, common rules include no groin strikes and eye-poking. However, Krav Maga is different as the practice advocates attacking the weakest spots to neutralize the opponent quickly. This makes Krav Maga a great martial art if you are confronted with a life-or-death situation. 

2. Muay Thai 

Muay Thai

An ancient form of fighting, Muay Thai is one of the best martial art systems that you should learn for self-defense. 

Known as The Art of Eight Limbs, Muay Thai relies on using the power of your two hands, two knees, two legs, and two elbows. 

Those who are interested in learning this martial art should practice various kicking techniques. Muay Thai also includes punching and clinching, which are techniques that you will find useful as well in several martial arts, such as wrestling and judo. 

While it is unknown to many, Muay Thai is a highly ritualized practice, which you don’t often see outside the ring. One of the rituals in Muay Thai is known as Wai Kru, which is a dance that the fighters perform before a fight. In self-defense, no one has the time for such a ritual. 

3. Boxing 


There are many martial arts that you can learn, but one of the most basic and practical is boxing. Classes are available in many gyms, and you can practice even at home. You do not need professional training to master skills that you can use for self-defense. 

Training boxing includes high-intensity interval training, metabolic conditioning workouts, plyometric exercises, kickboxing, weightlifting, and strength training, among other things. 

One of the best things about boxing is that you will learn a variety of attacking and defensive maneuvers. It also teaches distance control and effective footwork. Whether it is western boxing, Thai boxing, or any other type of boxing, this martial art is sure to be useful once you find yourself in a street fight. 

4. Combat Sambo 

Combat Sambo

A popular form of Russian martial art, SAMBO is an acronym for SAMozashchita Bez Oruzhiya. The latter is a Russian word that means self-defense without weapons. It first became popular in the 1920s when it was introduced as a part of the training of the Soviet Union’s Red Army. 

One of the reasons why combat Sambo is great for self-defense is because it incorporates almost all types of grappling arts. These will make it easy to submit the attacker on the ground when you are defending yourself. 

The main principle of this effective martial art for self-defense is to finish a fight as quickly as possible. It is short, explosive, and quick, so you can expect it to be effective. Another goal is for you to remain standing as you throw your opponent to the ground. This makes it easy to stop the attacker without ending in ground fighting. 

5. Judo 


By harnessing your judo skills, you will learn one of the most effective martial arts for self-defense. It has few physical limitations, so almost anyone can do it. There are no strikes, punches, and kicks, making it a great option for newbies. 

Judo is a Japanese word that means the gentle way. It is a derivative of fighting styles that were used by samurais and feudal warriors for hundreds of years.

Interested in mastering judo techniques? You will need to study throwing, locking, sweeping, and other grappling actions. You should use your hands and arms for holding and grasping but not for striking an attacker. 

Additionally, judo focuses on tug-of-war drills, teaching you how to win real-world street fights. It has a single-minded approach with the objective of crippling your opponent on the ground. 

6. Taekwondo 


Another popular style in the martial arts world, Taekwondo originated in Korea. It is a scientific and systematic style that goes beyond physical fighting. It focuses on training the mind and body to enhance life and spirit. 

"Tae" is a Korean word for foot or leg. Kwon, on the other hand, means fist. Meanwhile, do means discipline. 

A taekwondo instructor will teach you the right way of using fists and feet. More so, lessons will also center on calming down or controlling fights, teaching you how to find peace. 

Some of the best taekwondo moves that you need to learn for self-defense include straight punches, front kicks, push kicks, round kicks, target elbow strikes, knee strikes, palm heel strikes, and defensive side strikes. Training will also focus on making your legs fast and strong, which will help you quickly neutralize an attacker when street fighting. 

7. Karate 


Traditional martial art with its roots in Okinawa; now a part of Japan but used to be an independent country, karate has an extensive history that dates thousands of years. It is an umbrella term that refers to other arts, such as Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu. 

Like most of the other martial arts listed, karate focuses on self-discipline and mental strength. It teaches a wide array of devastating techniques that will help you bring down an aggressive opponent in the quickest way possible.

In real-world street fighting, one of the most useful karate techniques is a straight punch. A crisp shot at great speed will surprise your opponent. Open palm strikes are also useful. Punching the skull of your opponent with the strongest force that you can is one of the best ways by which street fights end. Blocking techniques are also essential, which will help you guard yourself against an attack. 

8. Filipino Martial Arts 

Filipino Martial Arts 

Level up your self-defense knowledge by learning Filipino martial arts. It does not refer to a single martial art for self-defense but a group of techniques that are popular in the Philippines but now practiced around the world. 

Eastern and western styles are apparent in Filipino martial arts. Aside from hand-to-hand combat, it also includes stick and knife fighting. 

Arnis is a popular martial art for self-defense that started in the Philippines. Also called kali and eskrima, it is the county’s national martial arts. It is most commonly done with sticks, but knives and blades can also be used. While it is weapon-based fighting, you can also use the techniques that you will learn for self-defense, such as disarming techniques and joint locks. 

9. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu 

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A grappling-based martial art, the central theme in Brazilian jiujitsu is to control a resisting opponent by forcing submission. Most of the techniques that you will learn here are for ground fighting. While it starts standing, those who are interested to learn should master how they can put the opponent to the ground as quickly as possible. 

In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, defense and attacks are done without strikes. Striking often damages the perpetrator and victim and may not be effective in neutralizing. It also does not rely on brute force, which is why even smaller individuals have a high chance of taking down a larger opponent. 

People who teach this martial art often have extensive experience in the sport. To reach a black belt, you need to practice for over a decade, so you can see how dedicated practitioners in this field are. 

10. Wing Chun 

Wing Chun 

Wing Chun is another martial art that you might want to learn to improve your skills for self-defense. It is a type of kung fu, so you will find that the two have several similarities. 

Legend has it that Wing Chun was developed by Ng Mui, a Buddhist nun who was also a Shaolin Kung Fu master. She introduced a compact martial art form meant to exploit the weaknesses of other combat sports at that time. 

One thing that makes Wing Chun effective for martial arts is that it is a close-contact sport. You will be close enough to your opponent, giving you a better ability to control the fight and make it in your favor. 

The direct approach of Wing Chun makes it effective if your goal is self-defense. More so, it has no sporting applications, so the main reason why people learn it is to guard themselves against attackers. 

11. Jeet Kune Do 

Jeet Kune Do

One of the most practiced martial arts globally, Jeet Kune Do is another great choice to learn for self-defense. 

The loose English translation of Jeet Kune Do is the way of the intercepting fists. It was created by Bruce Lee. As a hybrid combat system, it combines the disciplines of boxing and Wing Chun. 

People who are learning Jeet Kune Do will focus on the mastery of unassuming and simple forms combined with chic and seamless movements. To be effective in self-defense, this martial art requires the application of maximum impact at a super speed. 

The huge variety and depth of Jeet Kune Do can make it quite more complicated to learn compared to the others on this list. After all the training, however, you will gain valuable skills that you will find useful in a self-defense situation. 

12. Silat 


If you are looking for the best martial art for self-defense, you should not miss Silat. It may not be as popular as others on the list, but it is deadly, making it an exceptional choice when defending yourself. 

Silat is a practice that originated in Southeast Asia, specifically in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei. It is influenced by many martial art systems, including grappling, groundwork, and weapons. 

With Silat, you will learn both offensive and defensive techniques. It includes several combat styles, including grappling, blocking, and punching. You will also learn how to defend yourself to prevent being wounded in a fight. 

This martial art is from the same family as karate. Hence, it uses pressure points for hurting the opponent. As you advance your training, you might even learn the basics of Krav Maga. 

13. Kung Fu 

Kung Fu

One of the quintessential martial arts, it is another great practice for those who want to learn self-defense. Most people will assume that it is a specific type of martial art, but it is an umbrella term that encompasses several martial arts, including some that we have already talked about in this guide. 

This martial art originated in China. It was originally practiced by monks in a Shaolin Temple during their quest for enlightenment. 

Historically, it was practiced by Chinese government leaders and scholars. It was looked up to because it was believed to teach important life values, such as morality, humility, patience, and respect. 

It is a common misconception that it is a soft martial art. However, it combines both soft and hard fighting techniques.

14. Aikido 


A Japanese martial art, Aikido takes advantage of an enemy’s attack for redirecting the force instead of defeating it. It is a flowing and dynamic form that does not rely on violence when defeating an opponent. 

Some of the principles that you will learn in Aikido are being centered, focused, and relaxed. The aim is to have a peaceful resolution, but that does not mean that you will not do anything to defend yourself from an opponent. 

To better understand what this practice is all about, let us break down the words. Ai is a Japanese word that means harmony. Ki, on the other hand, means mind, spirit, or universal energy. Meanwhile, Do translates to the way. So, Aikido translates to the way of harmony with universal energy. 

15. Mixed Martial Arts 

Mixed Martial Arts

Also called MMA, it is one of the youngest martial arts on this list. Despite such, it is amongst the most popular, especially in mainstream media. In the past, people view it as primitive and barbaric. Today, it is among the fastest-rising sports in the world. 

As the name implies, it is a mix of different practices, making it good to learn if you are looking for the best martial art for self-defense. Its fundamentals are rooted in boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai. 

Training for an MMA fight will also prepare you for real-world scenarios on the street. Grappling, striking, and ground techniques are some of the things that you will learn, which will help in self-defense. Aside from the body, your mind will also be under stress during training, which is a great way to condition yourself. 

Knock-Out Point: If you want to focus on specialized self-defense forms for women, then read our article here -- Best Martial Arts For Women.

Watch This!

Frequently Asked Questions 

Which martial art is best for self-defense? 

Some of the best martial arts for self-defense are Krav Maga, Muay Thai, boxing, combat sambo, judo, tae kwon do, karate, Filipino martial arts, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, Silat, kung fu, and mixed martial arts. 

What are the deadliest martial arts? 

If you are interested in self-defense, then you might want to learn some of the deadliest martial arts, including Silat, kung fu, tae kwon do, karate, and Muay Thai. These martial arts will help you transform the human body into a lethal weapon. 


People have different motivations for martial arts training. For some, it is a way to hone the body and the mind. It can even be an exercise for achieving spiritual harmony. Nonetheless, one of the most practical reasons to learn a martial art is to defend yourself against attackers. You’ll never know when someone might turn aggressive, so it is good that you prepare. 

Are there other martial arts that we should learn for real-life self-defense? Leave a comment below and let us know! 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top