Which Martial Art Is Best?

Updated on March 27, 2019
Andy Campbell profile image

I have trained and competed in several martial arts for 29 years, giving me a wealth of experience on this topic to share with others.


The common answer is, “Well it really depends on what you are looking for”. Whilst it’s true that people look for many different things from their chosen martial art such as improved fitness, self-discipline, friendships and so on. In my experience, the one thing that most people are looking for from their training is self-defence. After all, why spend valuable time and money on martial arts training if it doesn’t help when you need it most? Also, many of these other needs can be fulfilled by taking part in almost any other sport or group activity. Here are my top five martial arts for self-defence.

#1. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ, like Judo, is a martial art which derived from Japanese Jiu Jitsu. It was developed in the early 1900s by Grand Master Helio Gracie, who found the techniques being taught to his brothers by a man called Mitsuyo Maeda weren’t suitable for him as they relied on physical size to execute. Strength and size that he didn’t have. In response to this, Helio adapted traditional Jiu Jitsu moves to utilise leverage over brute strength, giving smaller men like himself a better chance to prevail.

Helio used his own style of Jiu Jitsu to defeat many prominent fighters of his time despite being heavily outweighed by most. BJJ is now practised by millions of people worldwide and considered to be one of the most effective martial arts around, particularly for the physically weaker individual. For this reason, it makes the top of the list.

#2. Wrestling (Greco Roman)

Greco Roman wrestling, not to be confused with professional wrestling (WWE), is very effective for self-defence because a skilled wrestler can dictate where a fight takes place, standing or on the ground. A good wrestler can control his opponent in upright positions and on the ground with highly developed clinch skills and positional awareness. In addition, wrestling practise is physically grueling, which develops strong bodies and extreme mental toughness. It is hardly surprising that wrestlers like Randy Couture, Daniel Cormier and Khabib Nurmagomedov have amassed several impressive wins in the UFC, making wrestling my number two pick.

#3. Judo

Like BJJ, Judo was derived from Japanese Jiu Jitsu and through time has been developed into a well-known Olympic sport. The main goal of the Judoka is to grip their opponent in the upright position and to efficiently throw/trip them to the floor using their own body weight and movement against them. Like BJJ, Judo players also practice a good range of ground fighting techniques including arm locks and chokes, which make them deadly both standing and on the ground. A famous example of this is former UFC fighter Ronda Rousey, who finished many of her opponents in round 1 via armbar.

#4. Muay Thai

Often referred to as “the science of eight limbs”, Muay Thai is the art of striking with feet, shins, knees, elbows and fists, making this one of the most all-encompassing stand-up martial arts around. A typical Muay Thai training session includes rounds of intense pad work, technique drills, clinch training and sparring, which develops expert timing, physical fitness and grit.

As far as stand up fighting goes, Muay Thai is fought under one of the least restrictive rule sets, making it more realistic than other striking arts. For example, fighters can catch each other’s kicks and counter attack, a move which isn’t allowed in most other striking arts.

A good Muay Thai fighter will have an edge in the standing aspects of self-defence. However, with no ground techniques, Muay Thai only makes number four on my list.

#5. Kickboxing

Today, kickboxing is a generic term which is used to describe various forms of stand-up competition including K1, Muay Thai and semi or light contact kickboxing competitions.

The original kickboxing or full contact karate made famous by fighters such as Bill Wallace, Don Wilson, Rick Roufus, to name a few, was a combination of karate-style kicks and boxing punches thrown above the waist of your opponent. This kind of kickboxing is fought over 12 rounds, and like western boxing, fighters can win by points decision or knockout. Kickboxers develop excellent timing, accurate strikes, defensive skills, fluid movement by training countless hours on boxing bags, pads and sparring.

There is no question that kickboxing is a tough and skilled sport. However, training for such a restrictive rule set makes it less effective for self-defence situations where anything can happen.

Which Martial Art is Best?

Which Martial Art is Best for Self Defence?

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