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The 10 Best Martial Arts For Self-Defense

This article will help you decide the best martial arts for self-defense

There are many different types of martial arts, but not all of them are good for self-defense. Finding the best self-protection discipline can be challenging. This article will help you decide the best martial arts for self-defense. From ancient martial arts to modern fighting systems, we will guide you in choosing the suited discipline for you.

Benefits of Learning Martial Arts for Self-Defense

Martial arts training has many additional benefits other than just learning how to defend yourself. Studying different disciplines of effective martial arts can improve your self-confidence, increase your physical health, teach you control, help develop your self-discipline, relieve stress, and improve environmental awareness. Below are some more details of the additional benefits you will get studying one of these top 10 martial arts.

Develop Self-Confidence

Many people think that self-confidence is something that people are born with. Most of the greatest speakers were shy kids during their childhood. If that is the case, then how did they build their confidence? You can develop your confidence by continuously going out of your comfort zone and trying new things. Learning Martial Arts can help you build confidence, especially when you get good at it. It will also keep you fit making you confident about your body.

Environmental Awareness

Studying a martial art discipline can help hone your environmental awareness. It will condition your mind to stay vigilant, which means you are more likely to notice signs of danger. Mentally preparing for events and your consequent reactions will become second nature. Most of the people unable to escape danger are those with a lack of awareness.

Self-Discipline and Control

You will often hear from students of all types of martial arts that the longer they study self-defense, the more they realize that violence is not needed. You will learn to control your anger and be more patient with others. You should always keep in mind that martial arts were invented for self-protection and not to inflict injuries on others. Thus, the longer you study the art, the more in control you become. Your work ethic also increases and you will develop self-discipline.

Retreating is Always the Priority

Having combat knowledge does not mean that you should engage everyone who is trying to assault you. Your best option is to de-escalate the situation and/or run. Fighting is a last resort. Even if you are one of the greatest combat practitioners in the world, there is no guarantee that you will come out of an encounter unharmed (or alive). You never know what your opponent is capable of, and it only takes one lucky punch to get through your guard to turn a fight around. So be smart, vigilant, and only engage if you have no other choice.

The 10 Best Martial Arts Styles for Self-Defense

1. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is a modern martial art developed by Imi Lichtenfeld to help the Jewish people defend themselves from Nazi forces. These days it is the signature martial are of the Israeli Defense Force, so it is no surprise it has made it onto this list of top 10 strongest martial arts.

The principle of Krav Maga training is to inflict the most amount of pain in the shortest time possible, which makes this one of the most practical martial arts disciplines for the street.

You might be asking, “What type of martial arts should I learn?”. Well, if you are looking to learn self-defense moves fast that you can immediately apply, then you should consider taking krav maga classes. Unlike traditional martial arts that emphasizes kata and forms, Krav Maga teaches you techniques that you can apply on a case to case basis. 

2. Wing Chun

Wing Chun Kung Fu became popular in the West first by Bruce Lee, and more recently in the Ip Man movies. The name literally translates to “beautiful springtime” and is a type of Kung Fu that originated in Southern China. Some say that a woman developed Wing Chun after observing a battle between a crane bird and a cobra. 

Wing Chun has three main principles including simultaneous defense and attack, the economy of motion, and protecting the centerline. It is known for techniques that aim to overwhelm opponents with repetitive striking. The centerline is the most important aspect of this martial art when it comes to positioning for either defense or offense.

3. Jeet Kune Do

Jeet Kune Do is a fighting system developed by Bruce Lee. Arguably, the foundation of Bruce Lee’s fighting method is from Wing Chun. It uses the centerline principle and economy of motion.

Bruce Lee refused to acknowledge Jeet Kune Do as a style, rather, he referred to it as a philosophy. According to him, there is no perfect plan, training, or regime for everyone to follow. Instead, every individual Jeet Kune Do practitioner will arrive at his own style. This is explained perfectly in the Jeet Kune Do principle, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is not.”.

Jeet Kune Do is one of the most effective martial arts for street fighting since that is the way Bruce Lee developed it. One of his concerns was that a lot of traditional martial arts contain inefficient moves that would not work in a street fight.

You can see Jeet Kune Do in action in the movie “John Wick”. In it, the main character uses Jeet Kune Do techniques such as low kicks to the shin.

4. Keysi Fighting Method

Like Jeet Kune Do, the Keysi Fighting Method has a philosophy where the art grows along with the practitioner. It is a self-defense method developed by Justo Serrano and is one of the most useful martial arts for dealing with multiple attackers. It is also the fighting method used by Batman in the movies.

The Keysi Fighting Method will also teach you knife fighting and knife defense training. Knife fighting training is essential if you want to survive an attack from multiple enemies because most of the time, at least one of your assailants will carry a knife.

The goal of Keysi Fighting Method is to protect the vulnerable points of the body from the attacker. Most of the schools teaching this discipline are in Europe, but there are also some schools and seminars  in the US and it is gaining popularity as one of the top martial arts styles for self-defense.

5. Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) uses knowledge and techniques from many different forms of martial arts. This includes boxing, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wing Chun, and various other western and Asian martial arts. Training usually consists of a combination of striking, takedown, and submission moves, as well as physical fitness since it is primarily a combat sport.

Mixed martial arts is continuously improving. This first become clear when Gracie dominated combat sports by utilizing Jiu-Jitsu grappling moves to defeat bigger opponents. This forced other practitioners to adapt with other styles and thus, mixed martial arts started to evolve.

MMA is one of the best martial arts for female self-defense. Most women who know boxing can defend themselves while in the striking range, but getting pinned to the ground is another matter since men are naturally stronger. In mixed martial arts, women are taught what to do when taken to the ground, including how to choke out or otherwise incapacitate an attacker.

6. Western Boxing

Western boxing is one of the biggest spectator sports in the world, but is also as effective (if not more) than many street fighting martial arts. It incorporates footwork, head movements, and a variety of punches including jabs, hooks, crosses, uppercuts, and straights. A capable boxer creates combinations of these punches to fight effectively. With emphases on counters, speed, and physical fitness, one well-timed is can be enough to knock down your opponent.

When facing unarmed assailants, boxing is one of the best martial arts styles, however, we do not suggest using it against armed assailants.

7. Vortex Control Self-Defense

Vortex Control Self-Defense is a close combat martial art that draws different techniques and methods from various sources such as Kung Fu, Wing Chun, Eskrima, and other Asian martial arts. This discipline is one of the best martial arts for street fighting since it teaches how to use and defend against various weapons. 

8. Military Self-Defense Training

Military self-defense training is one of the most intense martial arts training you can undertake. The methods and techniques being taught are usually for life and death situations. Going through military training will improve your survival skills, and you will also learn how to handle weapons. It is one of the best martial arts for multiple attackers since special forces and soldiers are trained to take on a lot of enemies at once. If you are someone who has an interest in guns and does not want to spend time perfecting katas and forms, then military self-defense training would be a great choice for you.

Like Krav Maga and Systema, military self-defense training is one of the toughest martial arts disciplines to study and borrows knowledge from different traditional martial arts. It is modern and teaches techniques you could use on a case to case basis. We would highly suggest this discipline because of the efficiency of the techniques which are designed to immediately subdue an opponent.

9. Filipino Escrima/Arnis

Escrima/Arnis is a martial art that originated in the Philippines. It is a fighting art that focuses on the use of weapons such as sticks and knives. The term Eskrima came from the Spanish word for fencing. In the West, this art is commonly known as Kali. This is a dangerous martial art and is considered deadly to the point that Spanish invaders had to ban the study of it. The art of Escrima/Arnis only survived because it was disguised as a dance. 

When it comes to the use of weapons in fighting, this would be the best martial art to learn for self-defense. It teaches the proper ways of using a knife, stick, and even a sword as well as techniques to disarm an opponent. It also covers joint locks, strikes, throws, and grappling, making it one of the top martial arts in the world as an all-round defense system.

10. Systema

The Russian Martial Art of Systema is a modern hand to hand combat martial art developed for the Russian Special Forces. Most of the techniques include the use of and defense against weapons as well as unarmed techniques such as strikes and grappling

Systema Martial Arts is not a singular style,  but a set of common principles which you can adapt to find your own style. Some techniques come from traditional Russian martial arts such as Skobar and Hopak fighting. 

Systema translates to “the system” and it is does not only teach self-defense. It also covers skill sets such as shooting, evasive driving, boating, mine clearing, and other survival skills. Since Systema is developed for special forces, most of the techniques are lethal designed to take down multiple attackers. This is the best martial art to learn if you are willing to go through intensive and hard training. 

Survival Fitness Plan Self-Defense

Okay, this is a bonus one. We couldn't have a list of the best martial arts for self-defense without mentioning Survival Fitness Plan Self-Defense.

SFP Self-Defense is not really a martial art, but more of a no-nonsense fighting system. It uses only the most effective techniques from many of the martial arts mentioned above and covers the essentials of hand-to-hand combat, ground fighting, and weaponry for use in self-defense and street fighting scenarios.

The Best Martial Art for Each Range of Fighting

When in a fight it is important to understand the five ranges of fighting. Projectile range, handheld weapons range, striking range, clinching range, and ground fighting range.

Projectile Range

Projectile range refers to where there is a use of long-distance weapons. This includes rifles, rocks, arrows, handguns, or any other equipment that can shoot a projectile. For this range, among the different kinds of martial arts mentioned above, the best choice would be military self-defense training. Military personnel and special forces usually study different forms of martial arts, but the truth is, they rarely find themselves in a hand to hand combat situation. Instead, they specialize in defending themselves under heavy fire. Usually, the most popular martial arts are only applicable in close combat. This is why military self-defense training is the best for this fighting range.

Handheld Weapons Range

Handheld weapons range refers to weapons that can be held in the hand, such as sticks, clubs, knives, swords, staffs, and daggers–but not guns. The best type of martial arts for this range are those that have disarming techniques. Among the different martial arts in the world, Filipino martial arts are usually regarded as the most effective fighting form in the handheld weapons range. We would highly recommend that you learn the art of Eskrima/Arnis. You will not only learn how to disarm but also how to use these weapons against the enemy.

Striking Range

Striking range is where a punch, kick, knee, or elbow could reach you. This is the category most hand to hand combat street martial arts fall under. The best martial arts for fighting in the striking range are Wing Chun, Jeet Kune Do, and Boxing. These self-defense disciplines all have solid offensive and defensive techniques that are superior to other styles. We also recommend these three for this range because of their efficiency in switching from offense to defense and vice versa. The most effective martial arts for self-defense when it comes to the street are those which focus on efficiency.

Clinching Range

In the clinching range, the goal of an individual is to establish a grip or to throw the opponent to the floor. The ground fighting range usually comes after the clinching range and most of the practitioners of ground grappling also have a knowledge of clinching. This is because, in order to take the fight into the ground, they need to take down the opponent first.

The best martial arts in the world for this range are judo, sambo, and wrestling. Mixed martial arts is also another great discipline to study for this because it teaches techniques that are effective in transitioning from the clinching range to the ground fighting range. 

Ground Fighting Range

Ground fighting is the closest type of fighting range. In this range, an individual uses chokes, armlocks, leg locks, and cranks to force the opponent into submission. Basically, it is a battle of positional dominance. In a one-on-one situation, ground fighting arts such as Jiu-Jitsu and Wrestling are the most practical martial arts to study. However, when you find yourself in the face of danger and have to face multiple enemies at once, we strongly suggest avoiding a ground fight.

Although ground fighting is important to know, in a self-defense situation it is better to use techniques from street martial arts such as the ones outlined in this article. Only enter the ground fighting range if you are against a single enemy or if you want to subdue a friend of yours without inflicting an injury on them. The best form of martial arts for self-defense in this range is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Krav Maga, and MMA.


There is no single answer as to what is the best form of martial arts in existence. One particular art might be the most effective self-defense method for striking range, but would not work in the ground fighting range. The truth is, there is something you can learn from each of these top self-defense martial arts. 

Many people are curious regarding how to learn martial arts and whether you can learn it on your own. While is is possible to learn the basic concepts and some useful techniques on your own, you can’t achieve mastery without the guidance of  a seasoned teacher.  

My advice is to choose one or more from the list of martial arts styles above that appeals to you and read up about each of them–perhaps do some in home martial arts training to get a feel for each of them. Then once you find one that you like, join a class to hone your skills.

Did you find this article about the top 10 martial arts in the world for self-defense useful? If so, please share it with your friends.

Article by Sam Fury

Sam Fury 3 png
Sam Fury 3 png

Sam Fury is the creator and owner of the Survival Fitness Plan.

He has had a passion for martial arts and outdoor pursuits since he was a young boy growing up in Australia.

As a young adult he joined the military and studied outdoor leadership in college. After that, to further his skills, Sam started traveling to learn from the best in the world in various fields related to the Survival Fitness Plan including various martial arts in China, SE Asia and Brazil, Parkour in Singapore, Surf Life Saving in Australia, and others. 

These days, he still enjoys learning new things, traveling and sharing what he has learned via the Survival Fitness Plan. 

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