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    5 Best Martial Arts for Self-Defense

    Well, here we are in 2012 and there are still discussions about the "best" martial arts.

    Everyone seems to have an opinion.

    Here's mine:

    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.

    1. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

    Royce GracieOkay, 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.

    2. Muay Thai Kickboxing

    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.

    Anderson SilvaExpert 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.

    3. American Wrestling

    I can already hear the protests: "But wrestling isn't a martial art!"

    Au, contraire...

    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.  

    2012 U.S. Olympic Trials - Wrestling Web Trailer from U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials on Vimeo.


    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.

    4. Judo

    Judo is a Japanese sport that had its origins in Japanese Jiu Jitsu (as does BJJ).  

    Jigoro KanoJigoro 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.


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    Reader Comments (2)

    Hi, just thought i would share my views on the article :)

    Although i admire greatly the practitioners of the aforementioned arts, i respectfully disagree with 4 of the 5 choices (Krav Maga being the exception).

    I will try not to blabber too much, but i will share my reasons.

    BJJ & American wrestling: Both are for competition not for warfare. Before the UFC the gracie family held "The gracie challenge" which as you probably know was an opportunity for the Gracies to fight against different systems and prove how effective BJJ was in a friendly one on one setting. Now BJJ may have started as a "Self defence" system (albeit a poor one) but it's focus swiftly turned to sport. BJJ excels in a one on one setting but due to it's limited focus on striking it is ultimately useless in conflicts involving more then one opponent. Especially in cases of an unexpected ambush. American wrestling is very similar in that case. Yes, a good wrestler would make short work of most unarmed opponents in a one on one situation but these days that is unlikely. And in situations such as home invasions, or ambushes shooting a double leg on a guy with a machete may not be a good idea.

    Muay Thai & Judo: I am a big fan of both of these sports and hold the practitioners in high regard, unfortunately they are now so far away from their battlefield roots they are no more then a fitness class for mommy and an olympic sport respectively. Unlike BJJ, Wrestling & Judo Muay Thai does have some great striking skills if you are to ever find yourself in an unarmed confrontation. It does have a few glaring weaknesses however, firstly it has no defence against weapons. So unless you are so awesome you can kick a knife or gun out of someones hand perfectly, you are probably going to be shot or cut up during a home invasion, hostage situation etc. Secondly, it has no ground game (Unlike the more superior Sanshou) & 3rd it does not teach you how to use any near-by weapons properly if you do disarm an opponent. Judo (although in my opinion superior to BJJ) still suffers from the multiple opponent & weapons issues. Some Dojo's will teach you Knife defence etc, but it is nothing like the original proven Jujitsu techniques.

    Now it is not to say that these arts can't help you in a life or death situation, it is just not where their focus lies. If i am to protect myself or loved ones, i want an art that focuses 100% on survival techniques in worst case scenarios, not a sport that can "Help out".

    This is not even taking into account, situational awareness, adrenalin or incapacitating high & volatile opponents. You ever tried to grapple with a 6 foot 6 man on PCP? Good luck.

    After all, you wouldn't bring Boxing gloves to a gunfight.

    October 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTbag

    Thanks for the comment. The truth is, whatever the discipline, the odds of winning against an armed opponent are slim.

    The benefit of the grappling arts over the other arts is the simple fact that students go full speed against resisting opponents. The non-grappling arts may teach good techniques, but without full speed training these are mental notes and not ingrained habits-- sort of like the difference between a practicing surgeon and a person who's read a surgery textbook.

    I stand by my list, but appreciate the feedback.

    October 29, 2013 | Registered CommenterGH Bledsoe

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