Best Martial Arts for Self Defense in the Streets

Updated on November 10, 2015
NateB11 profile image

I've been training in martial arts since the 80s, consistently since the 90s. I am a 2nd degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.

When choosing a martial art for self-defense, obviously, you want one that has practical application in the street and other situations in which real-life attacks occur. You want a system that takes into account a good range of scenarios and uses sound principles that are effective for keeping you safe from harm and that could save you in a real situation.

At the same time it is important to realize that no martial art is magic. It depends on how you apply your art and how well you train. Consistent training is important for burning technique into muscle memory and neural-pathways of the brain so that the moves become second-nature and so you are so used to doing them that you can execute them with speed and power. The way you train is the way the techniques will be executed. Know that from the outset.

Certain martial arts are particularly practical for self-defense and street application, taking into account scientific and logical principles of power generation and consideration related to what will actually work against a lively and resistant attacker. Simply put, you need something that will effectively deter and stop an attacker. More often than not, this means grabbing the adversary and/or using strikes and other immobilizing technique that totally cancels him and his attack.

I would like to note, also, that when dealing with multiple opponents, striking arts are the most efficient because time is scarce in such a situation and you need all of your weapons available readily when dealing with more than one person wanting to do you harm. An effective self-defense system must, at least, make use of some striking.

So, let's explore the most effective martial arts for street self-defense.

The late Grandmaster Ed Parker, founder of Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate, also known as American Kenpo.
The late Grandmaster Ed Parker, founder of Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate, also known as American Kenpo. | Source

Kenpo Karate

Kenpo Karate is a system of martial arts that applies scientific principles of motion and physics in addition to using common sense and logic. It is the study of what kind of natural laws and motion generate enough power in strikes to deter or stop an attacker from doing you harm. It also considers the angles and positions needed to execute these techniques effectively and how to check the opponent with use of grappling, control of the attacker's body and use of the position of yourself and the adversary to stop attacks.

Kenpo takes into account the myriad of real attacks that occur in the street and students are encouraged to examine the various possibilities in dealing with and stopping these attacks. Kenpo is designed for self-defense and the street.

Dan Zan Ryu includes:

  • Japanese Jiu Jitsu
  • Okinawan Karate
  • Chinese Kung Fu
  • Filipino Knife Fighting

Dan Zan Ryu Jiu Jitsu

Dan Zan Ryu was developed in Hawaii, as did Ed Parker's Kenpo Karate, by Professor Henry Okasaki. Many of the arts in Hawaii developed in an environment in which there was an exchange of information between the arts, even resulting in hybrid arts like Kajukenbo, which is a combination of boxing, Jiu Jitsu and Kenpo. I have personally known practitioners of Dan Zan Ryu who, while primarily grapplers, were skilled strikers too. Like Kenpo, Dan Zan Ryu breeds real fighters that use whatever is necessary. It's foundation is in Jiu Jitsu, grappling, and its techniques are very effective. But it's not unusual to see a Dan Zan Ryu fighter applying strikes. In fact, Dan Zan Ryu has elements of Karate, Kung Fu and Filipino knife fighting.

For this reason, generally, I consider this art to be street-effective because it encompasses more than a narrow field of knowledge and artists from this system understand the value of both grappling and striking techniques.

A fun Jiu Jitsu throw.
A fun Jiu Jitsu throw. | Source

Which martial arts would you prefer for self-defense?

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Boxing and Kickboxing

Boxing technique is efficient and strong. It is fast and makes use of effective body mechanics for generating power behind punches. It also makes use of multiple angles of attacking and defending. Simply put, people have been using boxing to defend themselves for many, many years.

Add kicks to those boxing techniques and you really will bewilder an attacker.

Training for speed and power is the essence of boxing, with rapid punches that use body weight and torque to knock out the opponent. Adding a vicious Muay Thai kick to the thigh nerve can only help your self-defense endeavors.

Boxing and Kickboxing also make good use of movement for defense. After all, the best defense is to not have the target available to be hit; making use of head and body movement to avoid getting hit is a boxing stand-by and very effective. You have to keep moving in a real self-defense situation.

Grandmaster Cacoy Canete, practitioner of Doce Pares Eskrima and Eskrido, a system that incorporates the use of grappling, striking and multiple weapons.
Grandmaster Cacoy Canete, practitioner of Doce Pares Eskrima and Eskrido, a system that incorporates the use of grappling, striking and multiple weapons. | Source

Eskrima and the Filipino Martial Arts

Filipino martial arts, like Eskrima, are good for understanding the use of weapons. Many of these arts are rooted in the use of blades and sticks and translating the movement of those weapons into empty-handed self-defense techniques. In addition, the arts emphasize making use of what's available in the environment, making use of pipes and hair-brushes, if need be, to defend yourself. The Filipino arts are based in being open enough to understand that techniques can be translated across the board, whether you are using a stick, empty-hand or a soda bottle.

Eskrima encompasses a wide range of arts, including grappling, striking and weapons. If you study Eskrima you will get in-depth knowledge of disarms and use of weapons, knowledge which is very necessary when it comes to street self-defense.

Like Kenpo, the Filipino arts make use of checking (stopping or preventing the attacker's movement by grabbing him or positioning him or yourself so you can't be hit), angles and keeping yourself out of range of attack while putting yourself in a position to attack and defend yourself. It makes use of very logical and practical principles of self-defense.

Canete Showing Locks, Throws and Disarms

So, there you have it. These are the martial arts that emphasize power, control of the opponent, practical considerations for the street and logic and common sense. They are arts that are effective for street self-defense and real fighting.

Questions & Answers

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      • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

        Nathan Bernardo 

        14 months ago from California, United States of America

        I absolutely agree with you, Xavier, about street fighting. The last thing I'd want to do is get tied up with one person on the ground in the street where anything goes. With Kenpo, it kind of depends on the instructor whether they will teach how to deal with getting on the ground. My instructor did specifically teach some techniques for dealing with ground fighting and we would often spontaneously apply techniques while sparring when the fighting end up on the mat. There are techniques you learn in the system that can be applied on the ground too.

      • profile image

        Xavier 

        14 months ago

        Hi Nathan!

        In a street fight situation the last thing i would try to do is ground-fighting, but nowdays ground-fighting is very popular and the people is getting crazier and more stupid, so it is no surprise that in a street fight situation someone probably would try to apply some BJJ techniques. That is why i think that ground-fighting techniques are very important to learn, maybe not to apply them but for escaping from them.

        Does American Kempo teach how to confront/escape from ground-fighting situatiuons?

        (Sorry for my english, i live in spanish speaking land)

      • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

        Nathan Bernardo 

        14 months ago from California, United States of America

        My opinion is that Kajukenbo is a good art for self defense. It is a combination of Karate, Judo, Kenpo and boxing, so it is pretty well-rounded with some grappling and striking and with some modern art in there with proven effectiveness, like boxing. It's another art from Hawaii that to me is pretty solid as a street art. Chuck Liddell, who has been pretty impressive in the UFC, was trained by John Hackleman, who is an instructor of Kajukenbo. Many of those Hawaiian arts are a pretty good mixture of elements, are really non-classical styles that emphasize what is effective in a well-rounded way.

      • profile image

        Nathaniel Smith 

        14 months ago

        Hi Nathan,

        I know this article is a little old now, but can you tell me your opinion of Kajukenbo? The only martial arts school near me that I can afford teaches Kajukenbo. Is that still a good art for self-defense?

      • profile image

        Dave 

        18 months ago

        What about Wing Chun?

        - Dave

        dvzen42@yahoo.com

      • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

        Nathan Bernardo 

        18 months ago from California, United States of America

        Thanks, Scott. Interesting to hear from someone who's practiced martial arts. There is a bit lacking in terms of ground fighting in some of these arts. Sometimes you'll get an instructor that will include in the curriculum. However, it's probably good for those wanting to be well-rounded, to add an art to their regimen that has some ground work. Of course, there are situations in which you don't want to end up on the ground if you can help it, and in such case a person should train how not to go to the ground. Conversely, you'll want to know what to do if you do end up there.

      • promisem profile image

        Scott S Bateman 

        18 months ago

        I took kenpo as a teen (blue belt) and tae kwon do / hapkido as an adult (black belt). Both offered techniques that could be used for street fighting, but they seemed more focus on standing techniques than ground work. If someone got me on the ground, I don't know that either one would help much with what to do next. That said, I loved both forms.

      • profile image

        anitabooks888 

        24 months ago

        Fascinating hub. I don't know much about Martial Arts but I have seen

        a very positive growth and outlook in my grandson since he took up Martial Arts.

      • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

        Nathan Bernardo 

        4 years ago from California, United States of America

        Thank you, too, Leland. Like me, you grew up with the martial arts and I can tell you have that same spirit that I've had my whole life. I'm not into putting down any of the arts either, there is a common thread to many of them and it's truly about the individual and how they put their heart and soul into it. Glad you stopped by.

      • RealLee916 profile image

        LELAND MICHAEL FONG 

        4 years ago from SACRAMENTO, CA

        as a student of wing chun and jeet kune do...every bit of what i read was the exact thinking and way i was taught by my father and cousin since the age of seven until thirty five years of age...now fifty three and not training as i used to i do have all taught to me in everyday actions awesome awesome you definitely are a man who loves and understands all martial arts and what and why it is useful..all styles are awesome always thought this never ever put one down for another its all about you and training..thank you brother

      • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

        Nathan Bernardo 

        4 years ago from California, United States of America

        Exactly, Bill. Good information to have and hopefully never necessary to use. Thanks again, always glad when you stop by.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 years ago from Olympia, WA

        Very nice summary of some of the basics of self-defense. Hopefully, none of us will ever need to use it. :)

      • NateB11 profile imageAUTHOR

        Nathan Bernardo 

        4 years ago from California, United States of America

        Thanks, JG11Bravo. I thought about including one like Krav Maga because of it's use in special forces and secret police and for the Jewish population fighting Nazi terror; I decided to focus on these arts which I've seen used and have practiced personally. I do understand the principles of police/military arts and their effectiveness and some of it is included, for instance, in Kenpo. Glad you took the time to stop by and read the article and gave your attention to it.

      • JG11Bravo profile image

        JG11Bravo 

        4 years ago

        Interesting hub. I tend to lean toward some of the more modern police/military martial arts (Krav Maga, Sambo, U.S. Army hand-to-hand combat) for what I'd consider street-effective, but your perspective on these certainly give me something to think about.

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