What Are The Best Martial Arts For Self-Defense? Let’s Find Out…

Self-defense is one of the most important survival skills. The ability to turn the tables on your attacker is crucial, don’t you agree? I think a lot of us put-off this aspect of preparedness: learning martial arts as self-defense training. Which got me thinking – what is the best martial art for self-defense?

I’ll bet you can throw a punch, and I’ll also bet that some of you also know how to use weapons, but wouldn’t you feel more secure if you were trained to use your body to defeat an attacker? You can’t guarantee your weapon will always be around. Martial arts training can not only help you defend yourself and your family in many situations, but it will also keep you in damn good shape!

Okay, so you want to learn a type of martial art, but you don’t know where to start. That makes sense, because there are so many to choose from! I’ve narrowed it down to 11 martial arts that can give you the skills to overcome an assault. From Kung-Fu to Karate and everything in between, let’s take a look at the origin, the fighting style, the time to learn, and let’s not forget – why a particular style is advantageous for self-defense.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

History

As far as martial arts go, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is relatively new. It comes from Japanese Jiu Jitsu, which was used by the Samurai. Japanese Jiu Jitsu was practiced by a man named Jigoro Kano, who developed a style that focused on testing skills against other practitioners who were both skilled and working against you. This is what we refer to as “Judo” today.

One of Kano’s students was a man named Mitsuo Maeda, who migrated to Brazil in 1914. Maeda became friends with a businessman named Gastao Gracie. In order to express his thanks to Gracie, Maeda taught Gracie’s oldest son, Carlos, Japanese Jiu Jitsu.

Carlos went on to show the art of Jiu Jitsu to his brothers, one of whom was Helio Gracie. Helio was a frail, small child and had trouble succeeding with the traditional moves of Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Because of this, he modified them to suit his frame.

Helio’s modifications moved the practice to the ground, where he, as a smaller, weaker person, was able to defeat larger, stronger opponents. And thus, began Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Since its introduction, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has enjoyed much success in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA), where it is commonly used as the main ground strategy of many fighters.

Practitioners

Today, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is practiced by full-time BJJ competitors, MMA fighters, police officers, and everyone in between. You may have heard of some of the MMA fighters who practice BJJ, but unless you are already involved in the BJJ world, you probably haven’t heard of the fighters that stick specifically to the sport of BJJ itself.

Some of the MMA fighters who use strong BJJ in their style include…

  • Frank Mir
  • B.J. Penn
  • Nick Diaz
  • Fabricio Werdum

In the Movies

If a martial art is any good, it has to be used in movies right? Luckily, BJJ meets that criteria. I’m no expert on fight choreography, but I’d say that the incorporation of BJJ in films has to do with its ability to make ground fighting into something more complex than one guy trying to pin the other. Plus, Mel Gibson’s triangle choke in Lethal Weapon is pretty impressive.

Why It’s Beneficial

To put it simply, BJJ is beneficial because it allows smaller people to defeat larger people, and it enables you to subdue a violent individual without striking them. It enables you to control the pace and intensity of an altercation. BJJ puts you in control, not your attacker. And let’s not forget the physical and mental fortitude that come from constantly testing yourself!

Time to Mastery

BJJ takes a long time to master. The belt system has the following levels: white, blue, purple, brown, black and red. But there is a difference between mastery and being able to successfully defend yourself. In a few months, you should be able to pick up basic self-defense techniques but it can take a couple of years to move beyond the white belt.

Muay Thai

History

Muay thai originated as a method for tribes and warriors in Thailand to defend themselves, their country, and their families. The style enabled practitioners to fight effectively in close quarters and was passed down from generation to generation. At one point, it was mandatory for all men in the Thai military to learn Muay Thai.

As its use in the military continued, it became a sport activity for many young Thai men. This trend has continued into present day. Muay Thai spread to Europe and America during the 1980s and the style is commonly used in MMA fighting today.

Practitioners

Much like BJJ, practitioners who stick solely to Muay Thai are probably people you have never heard of, but if you have turned on your TV within the past 10 years, you have undoubtedly seen practitioners using the art in MMA fights. Some MMA fighters who practice Muay Thai are Anderson Silva, Donald Cerrone, Jose Aldo, Edson Barboza, and Jon Jones.

In the Movies

Okay, so I didn’t find much related to Muay Thai being used in modern Hollywood movies, other than “Kickboxer” featuring Jean-Claude van Damme. Luckily, there are many movies outside of Hollywood focused heavily on Muay Thai. While they might be cult classics, they can definitely give you an idea of what the style is all about and whether or not it’s something you want to pursue.

Why It’s Beneficial

I’m going to point out the obvious here: Muay Thai developed out of a militaristic need for defense, so it should go without saying that it has to be pretty damn effective. But for those who need more convincing, read on!

Muay Thai is an intense sport. Training is demanding, and if you get good enough, you will engage in full-contact sparring with your partners. What better way to prepare for a physical altercation than to actually get into one?

Muay Thai is often referred to as “the art of eight limbs,” the eight limbs being both feet, knees, hands, and elbows. The style teaches you to use each of these “limbs” to deliver fast, powerful blows to an opponent while protecting your own body.

Time to Mastery

The timeframe for mastering Muay Thai is a bit murkier than that of BJJ or other martial arts, because there is no belt system. Let’s assume that your goal is to simply become proficient enough to defend yourself, rather than become a professional fighter.

Bear in mind that all of this is dependent upon how often you train, but you could be somewhat confident in your skills after one year of training. This doesn’t mean you should go out picking fights, but at the very least, you will understand the basic techniques of the art. Consistency and sparring with other fighters will provide a quicker return for your efforts.

Krav Maga

History

Krav Maga was created by a man named Imi Lichtenfeld,  who was a Hungarian-Jewish born in 1910. Imi practically grew up fighting. His father owned a gym that taught boxing, wrestling, and Judo. In the 1930s, Imi used what he learned to fight racist gangs that threatened the safety of his neighborhood.

Imi went on to fight on the British side in World War II and was able to continue to try out his fighting methods. When he left the war, he moved to Palestine, which was to soon become Israel. While in Palestine, Imi was given the responsibility of training the Jewish Defense Leagues to fight.

In 1948, the State of Israel was created and was nearly immediately plunged into battle. The country managed to fight off the invaders, and shortly after, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) was formed. Guess who was the Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga? Imi Lichtenfeld.

Imi served in the IDF for 20 years and started the Israeli Krav Maga Association upon his retirement.

Practitioners

Unlike BJJ or Muay Thai, you won’t see Krav Maga in MMA. Why is that? Because Krav Maga wasn’t developed for sport, it was developed to disarm an attacker quickly. So you may hear of people practicing Krav Maga, but you probably won’t see it turned into a full-contact sport anytime soon. That being said, there are a few actors that practice Krav Maga for their own enjoyment:

  • Daniel Craig
  • Ashton Kutcher
  • Tom Cruise
  • Leonardo DiCaprio
  • John Mayer

In the Movies

While I am sure there are quite a few movies that incorporate Krav Maga principles (knowingly or unknowingly), my search wasn’t incredibly fruitful in that department. But there are a few movies in which actors report training in Krav Maga to prepare for the role. Unsurprisingly, one of those movies is “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”

Why It’s Beneficial

As I said before, Krav Maga wasn’t developed for sport. It wasn’t created so that the people doing it would look good. It teaches practitioners how to defend themselves using their body and their wits. Krav Maga also teaches defense against weapons as well as the use of weapons when necessary.

Krav Maga was created to kick ass quickly and efficiently. It’s used by the Israeli military and a number of law enforcement organizations. Let’s be honest, Krav Maga’s resume is pretty impressive!

Time to Mastery

Krav Maga skill is not measured in belts, but in levels: Practitioner (P levels 1-5), Graduate (G levels 1-5), and Expert (E levels 1-5). The first level typically takes between three to six months. After that, each level takes about five to six months.

Judo

History

From our review of the history of BJJ, we know that Judo was created by a named named Jigoro Kano. Kano initially practiced Japanese Jiu Jitsu, but, much like Helio Gracie, he was small and weak. Kano took what he viewed as the best stuff from Japanese Jiu Jitsu to create Judo.

In creating Judo, Kano’s goals went beyond simply winning or losing; he wanted to develop a martial art that trained not only practitioner’s bodies, but their spirits as well.

Since its inception in 1882, Judo’s popularity has continued to rise. In 1960, Judo became an official Olympic event. Although it’s popularity has dwindled somewhat due to the rise of BJJ, Judo remains an effective, exciting martial art.

Practitioners

Judo practitioners range from actors to directors to politicians. Some of the most notable practitioners of Judo include the following individuals:

  • Teddy Roosevelt
  • Chuck Norris
  • Vladamir Putin
  • Guy Ritchie

In the Movies

Judo’s presence in modern movies is pretty unsurprising. Why? Because, when executed correctly, Judo looks badass. It also allows a quick transition to the ground, where other badass stuff can happen.

Why It’s Beneficial

As I mentioned in the last section, Judo allows you to take a fight from standing to the ground and maintain a position of control. It also allows you to practice against a fully-resistive opponent. This way, when shit gets real, you know that you will be able to perform the necessary moves against someone who is fighting back. Judo helps you learn the concepts of leverage to move your body in an advantageous way to put your opponent in a compromised position.

Time to Black Belt

With regular, committed practice, you could receive a black belt in Judo in about three or four years.

Boxing

History

This is just my opinion, but boxing has probably been around since people have wanted to hit each other in the face. If you want more evidence than just my opinion (I’m assuming you do), there is evidence that boxing existed as early as 1500 B.C. After the spread of Christianity and probably a bit of civility, boxing’s popularity decreased for a while.

It was revived in England in the late 1600s, where it probably should have been called “brawling;” rules were minimal. A man named Jack Broughton was the first to define a set of rules for the sport. With the introduction of rules, the sport became more appealing to the majority of society and rose in popularity over the years. It seems that boxing’s popularity has taken a bit of a downturn with the introduction of MMA, but it remains a popular sport throughout the world.

Practitioners

If I had to guess, I would say that this is the section in which you will recognize the most names. Some of the most famous boxers to ever fight include the following:

  • Muhammad Ali
  • Mike Tyson
  • Joe Frazier
  • Floyd Maywether Jr.
  • Manny Pacquiao

In the Movies

Boxing movies are some of the martial arts movies in existence. From “Rocky” to “Million Dollar Baby,” you really can’t go wrong. I’d suggest you watch at least a few boxing movies, regardless of whether or not you want to learn boxing.

Why It’s Beneficial

One of the best things about boxing is its “no-nonsense” approach. From the first day you are in boxing class, you will be learning how to hit people and how to not get hit yourself.

Much like Muay Thai, you will spend time sparring against a live, resisting opponent. Not only will this develop impressive physical fitness, it will provide you with the mental fortitude to understand how to stay calm in a tense situation and do what is necessary.

Time to Mastery

You can learn boxing techniques that will help keep you safe in just a few months. However, it will take years of practice before you get to a point where you are fully confident in your skills as a boxer.

Karate

History

“Karate” is a bit of an umbrella term. There are many styles of karate to count. The beginnings of karate, which translates to “empty hand” to signify the absence of weapons, are a bit murky. One theory is that a Buddhist monk brought some form of karate to Shaolin to strengthen the mind and bodies of the monks living there.

During its beginnings, karate was a pretty big secret. Another theory is that karate dates in the 1600s and has origins in Japan where it was developed upon Chinese martial arts skills as an advanced means of self-defense.

Regardless of how exactly it began, karate was developed as a way for people to strengthen their minds and bodies and/or defend themselves without using weapons.

Practitioners

When I think of people who practice karate, I immediately think of Jackie Chan. Here are some other people that have practiced karate:

  • Dolph Lundgren
  • Chuck Norris
  • Jason Statham
  • Jean-Claude van Damme
  • Michael Jai White
  • Wesley Snipes

In the Movies

I’m sure there are a lot of movies that features karate in some way. However, the quintessential karate movie is The Karate Kid. So if you’re interested in seeing karate in action, tap into your own inner kid and check this one out.

Why It’s Beneficial

As I mentioned earlier, there are many different types of karate. One such type is Shotokan Karate. Shotokan Karate teaches principles that enable you to remain aware of your surroundings and take quick, decisive steps to protect yourself and get to safety.

Time to Black Belt

Like any martial art, success in karate is dependent upon consistency. If you attend practice regularly, you can earn a black belt in about five to six years.

Taekwondo

History

Taekwondo began in Korea around the year 50 B.C. At this point, Korea was comprised of three kingdoms. The smallest kingdom, Silla, was regularly attacked by Japanese pirates. A king from Koguryo, another kingdom, and his soldiers helped the people of Silla defeat the pirates and taught Taek Kyon (the earliest form of Taekwondo) to some of the warriors.

Taek Kyon was initially just a recreational activity. During the rule of King Uijong, it became a fighting art. And then it turned back into a recreational activity.

During the period of 1945-1961, a lot happened in the Taekwondo world. Here’s the gist of it:

  • Taek Kyon was demonstrated in America.
  • Korea’s president required that all Korean soldiers receive martial arts training.
  • A lot of Taek Kyon practitioners and masters of Taekwondo schools (However, the martial art wasn’t officially called “Taekwondo” at this time.) got together and decided to combine their styles into one unified style called “Tae Soo Do,” which was later changed to “Taekwondo.”
  • The Korean Taekwondo Association was formed.

Taekwondo has grown to become one of most popular martial arts practiced today.

Practitioners

Here are some Taekwondo practitioners whose names you might recognize:

  • Jessica Alba
  • Criss Angel
  • Bill Clinton
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Kylie Minogue
  • Willie Nelson
  • Elvis Presley

In the Movies

It’s hard to say how often Taekwondo is featured in Hollywood action films. However there are plenty of movies about Taekwondo that you can watch. Here are a few of them:

  • Best of the Best (1-4)
  • The Foot Fist Way
  • The Kick
  • When Taekwondo Strikes

Why It’s Beneficial

Taekwondo has certainly proven that it can be an entertaining sport, but it can also be used as a means of self-defense. Taekwondo practitioners learn many striking techniques as well as joint locks and techniques to take the fight to the ground. These are all techniques that enable practitioners to strike back if they are attacked. In addition, the repetition of these movements and the familiarity with conflict obtained from consistent practice of Taekwondo enables practitioners to be “battle-ready” if necessary.

Time to Black Belt

A Taekwondo student who attends a 1.5 hour class three times per week can expect to earn a black belt in about two years.

Wing Chun Kung Fu

History

There is a debate on how Wing Chun actually began, Wing Chun is said to have begun with a woman named Ng Mui, who was supposedly an Elder at the Shaolin Temple who was able to get out before the Temple was destroyed. She created a martial art inspired by animals’ movements that was effective regardless of the size of the practitioner.

A girl named Yim Wing Chun was Mui’s first student. A warlord was trying to marry Yim, but she wasn’t interested. However, the warlord made the statement that, if Yim could beat him in combat, he wouldn’t marry her. Long story short, she learned kung fu from Ng Mui and beat up the warlord!

Practitioners 

Movie stars and martial artists alike have found Wing Chun to be a worthwhile endeavor. Here are some of their names:
Ip Man (popularized the art)

  • Bruce Lee
  • Robert Downey Jr.
  • Christian Bale
  • Nicholas Cage
  • Jackie Chan

In the Movies

There are a ton of movies featuring Kung Fu. There are less movies featuring Wing Chun, here is short list.

  • Ip Man (1-3, and The Final Fight)
  • Warriors Two
  • The Descendant of Wing Chun
  • Wing Chun

Why It’s Beneficial

Think back to the legend of how Wing Chun was named. The art itself is named after a woman who defeated a warlord. It almost goes without saying that Wing Chun can assist a smaller person in defeating a larger opponent.

Additionally, Wing Chun teaches practitioners to “shock” their opponents. This strategy could be very helpful in a self-defense situation in which you yourself may feel shocked or surprised.

Time to Black Belt

If you start Wing Chun and training consistently, you could receive a black belt in about four or five years.

Aikido

History

Aikido was created by a man named Morihel Ueshiba, born in 1883. He trained in a variety of fighting styles as he was growing up. This was mainly done with a mindset of vengeance. Ueshiba’s father was in politics and was often being roughed up for some reason or another. Ueshiba wanted to eventually avenge these wrongs done to his father through learning martial arts.

Even though he was (probably) a veritable badass, he was unsatisfied. Ueshiba sought out religion and combined it with his martial arts practice. Through this combination, he created what we know today as Aikido.

While I wouldn’t call it “widely popular,” Aikido’s popularity has been helped by actor Steven Seagal’s use of the martial art in his movies.

Practitioners

While Steven Seagal is the person who immediately comes to mind here, there are some other celebrities who have practiced Aikido:

  • Sean Connery
  • Jerry Seinfeld
  • John Denver

In the Movies

Make no mistake about it: the most obvious use of Aikido in the movies probably occurs in Steven Seagal’s movies. But you could also make the argument that Star Wars has some Aikido undertones.

Why It’s Beneficial

One of the main benefits of Aikido for self-defence is its focus on remaining calm, relaxed, and aware and avoiding a physical confrontation if at all possible. However, this pacifism that accompanies traditional Aikido can also be detrimental for a self-defense scenario.

Shodokan Aikido is essentially “sport Aikido.” In this style of Aikido, students are able to spar against one another, which, in my opinion, provides a better structure for self-defense situations than the demonstrations used in traditional Aikido.

Time to Mastery

There are no interim belts in used in adult Aikido. You’ll have to be satisfied with either white or black. Achieving the level of black belt would probably take six to seven years, at the earliest.

Hapkido

History

Hapkido’s early history is similar to that of Taekwondo’s, as both of the arts originated in Korea. Choi Yong Sul is the man credited with founding Hapkido. Sul was born in Korea and moved to Japan at a young age, where he ended up under the care of a monk.

At one point, a man named Takeda Sokaku came to the temple where Sul lived and demonstrated Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu. The monk knew that Sul was interested in martial arts and asked Takeda to take Sul as a servant and train him. Sul spent 30 years learning Daito-Ryu Aikijujutsu from Takeda.

One day, Sul was minding his own business waiting in line for free grain when he got into a physical altercation. A man named Bob Suk Suh noticed the event and, because of it, ended up becoming Sul’s student.

This collaboration led to the formalization of the art. Following this, a man named Ji Han Jae was able to increase the popularity of the art due to his political status as the presidential bodyguard’s Hapkido instructor.

Practitioners

Okay, so I’m sure there are at least a few celebrities that either practice Hapkido or have dabbled in the art. However, the only celebrity that I can say for certain has practiced hapkido is Wesley Snipes. But isn’t that enough?

In the Movies

Hapkido has been both a featured aspect of certain movies as well as the main subject of one movie, which is creatively titled “Hapkido.”

Here are some movies in which you can see Hapkido in action:

  • Best of the Best (2-4)
  • Billy Jack
  • The Trial of Billy Jack
  • The Young Master
  • Drawing Down the Moon

Why It’s Beneficial

Hapkido provides its practitioners with a whole toolbox of techniques to choose from. They can choose to punch, kick, throw, open-hand strike, or apply a joint lock. Basically, Hapkido can provide you with a well-rounded set of self-defense skills.

Time to Black Belt

If you start Hapkido and go to class three times per week, you can expect to earn a black belt in about two years.

SPEAR System

History

“SPEAR” stands for “Spontaneous Protection Enabling Accelerated Response.” As the youngest of the arts discussed here, the early history of SPEAR system is still being made. The SPEAR system was developed in 1987 by a man named Tony Blauer and is based on the idea that our instinctual flinches or first movements will always be quicker than any movement we consciously train. Today, the SPEAR system is used by some law enforcement and military personnel as a “counter-ambush” system.

Why It’s Beneficial

Like Krav Maga, the SPEAR system is not a sport; it is strictly a self-defense methodology. In addition to that, one of its main philosophies is that it is our natural reaction to flinch or react to violence in some way. So, rather than trying to calm or downplay your natural reaction to violence, you are simply using that reaction as a tool to “win” the altercation.

As I mentioned earlier, the SPEAR system has been used by some military and law enforcement personnel. These are men and women who put their lives on the line on a daily basis. I would like to think that they would choose a self-defense methodology that’s effective.

Time to Mastery

Because the SPEAR system is a methodology, rather than a “martial art” in the traditional sense of the word, there are no belts. So don’t embark on this endeavor hoping to earn a black belt! Blauer Tactical Systems (the people who teach SPEAR classes) offer 1-2 day classes for the general public. I wouldn’t say you’re a certified badass after that, but you will likely be equipped with a few tools to defend yourself if it becomes necessary.

 

While the most effective self-defense maneuver might be a swift run away from the attacker, you might not always be able to do that. One day you might need to protect those you love from danger…and you might not have access to a weapon. If that day comes, the wits, wisdom, and strength you gain from any of these martial arts could make the difference between life and death.

If you’re uncomfortable with hand-to-hand combat or believe that you are unprepared to keep yourself safe in a life or death situation, pick one of these martial arts and go try out a class.

Remember, none of these martial arts are foolproof. Even if you are a martial arts master, there’s still a chance that you can get hurt by an attacker. Additionally, none of these martial arts are an excuse to go out and be a bully. They are self-defense, nothing more.

Have you or anyone you know had to use martial arts for self-defense? I’d love to hear your story in the comments section!

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