Well, here we are in 2012 and there are still discussions about the "best" martial arts.
Everyone seems to have an opinion.
There are tons of "martial arts" and all are good at providing various benefits. If you're interested in an activity to improve your coordination, flexibility, stamina, confidence, etc... there seems to be an almost unlimited list of various "disciplines" from which to choose.
I have no argument with those who want to train in these activities for all their various fitness benefits.
However, when the discussion turns to self-defense, the list narrows considerably.
Thankfully, due to the rise of MMA and the influence of the Brazilian culture, the days of knuclehead instructors, like the one from Napolean Dynamite teaching Rex Kwon Do, are mostly gone. The Gracie family introduced MMA to the United States through the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and the Brazilian culture as a whole taught Americans that you didn't have to be a half-crazed, pseudo-militant nutjob to be an effective martial artist. Most Brazilian instructors seem to resemble laid-back surfers more than stereotypical martial arts instructors. They smile, welcome you into their schools, beat the stuffing out of you, then help you off the mat, give you a hug, and thank you for attending their class.
Unfortunately, there are still some people who just don't get it, so I thought I would create a list of what I believe are the best martial arts for self-defense. These arts are designed to help you protect yourself and disable an attacker. While the exact ranking in the list is up for some discussion, if the art you're considering isn't found here-- and you want to learn a style that actually helps you defend yourself and not just to increase your fitness-- save your money until you find a school where one of these styles is taught.
Here's my list. Let the angry and highly offended emails now commence.
Okay, I'm biased, I've trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) for the past few years and have many friends who are instructors and/or participants. However, I sought out this art because of its effectiveness.
The UFC began as an infomercial for this martial art. Rorian Gracie helped organize the first UFCs and then entered his slightly built brother Royce Gracie into the competition. Though Royce was the smallest competitor, he won every match and introduced the United States to a truly effective martial art.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a grappling-based martial art that includes submission holds and focuses on fighting on the ground. Ask any law enforcement officer or bartender-- most real fights end up on the ground. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teaches you how to take the fight to the ground and how to thrive once you get there.
For those looking for an effective base for self-defense, look no further than this Brazilian martial art.
Once you begin learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you would be wise to couple it with this Asian striking art.
Unlike most striking arts, Muay Thai is extremely effective in a real combat situation because it focuses on fighting from the clinch-- a very realistic scenario for most combat situations.
Expert Muay Thai practicioners are incredibly efficient at breaking down their opponents and are adept at using not only their fists and feet as weapons, but also their elbows, knees, forearms, and shins. Watching a Muay Thai expert fight is like watching a human blender in action. For an example, check out the highlights of Anderson Silva in the UFC (who also happens to be a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu).
Learn this martial art to understand a real-world striking style.
I can already hear the protests: "But wrestling isn't a martial art!"
Wrestling absolutely is a martial art, and a very effective one.
Check out the best fighters in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Many of them have significant wrestling backgrounds.
Wrestling teaches how to effectively close the distance (to stay out of the range of punches and kicks from opponents), take the fight to the ground, and proper balance and control to keep your oponent immobilized and dominated while on the ground.
If you live in an area where there are no BJJ schools, try to find a wrestling club instead. It's not as "sexy" as some of the other arts, but it's much more effective than most.
Judo is a Japanese sport that had its origins in Japanese Jiu Jitsu (as does BJJ).
Jigoro Kano eliminated many of the dangerous techniques in jiu jitsu in order to turn the art into a sport.
While judo definitely is a sport, it still teaches effective self-defense techniques through efficient take downs, proper ground control, and a few submission holds.
It should be noted that three of the first four arts on this list are grappling arts. Why is this?
Grappling arts allow their participants to practice full speed-- no shadow boxing, no pulling punches, etc... so their parcticioners develop true awareness of their actual skills. If you can beat a resisting opponent in practice or a competition, you know you can use your techniques in a self-derfense situation. Practicing at full speed is the only way to know your level of competency for certain, and judo, wrestling, and BJJ all offer this opportunity as grappling arts.
5. Krav Maga
This Israeli combat system prides itself on taking nonathletic, untrained individuals and quickly teaching them basic combative principles and techniques they can use to protective themselves.
While not as well known as some other martial arts, Krav Maga is truly a nonsport, effective combat system.
This is a great art for the nonathletic or those who are uninterested in any sport aspect of their art and just want the self-defense.
It's also a great self-defense system for women because Krav Maga particpants specifically train to deal with real-life situations and focus their training on purposeful, simple strikes and maneuvers that reap high-yield results.
Krav Maga students train in street clothes and perform high repetition excercies that increase fitness and endurance. However, it's the focus on simple strikes, effective counters, and real-life situations that make this system one of the best for self-defense.