Sep 20, 2023

12 Best Martial Arts for Self-Defense, Fitness, and Sport

Looking for the best martial arts for self-defense, fitness, or personal interest? Explore a comprehensive guide comparing martial arts that fit your goals.

When it comes to self-defense, selecting the best martial arts with practical and efficient techniques is crucial. Time-tested disciplines like Karate and Judo, along with the contemporary self-defense system of Krav Maga, empower individuals with the skills to protect themselves in real-life scenarios, instilling a sense of confidence and security.

Beyond self-defense, martial arts offer a comprehensive approach to physical fitness and mental well-being. Whether you seek the explosive strikes of Muay Thai, the ground-based mastery of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or just the best martial arts for street fights, each art fosters cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, coordination, and strength while promoting a disciplined mind.

Through this article, you will not only learn what the best martial arts are, but you will also know how to determine the best martial arts to learn, including each effective martial arts technique. 

What are martial arts?

Martial arts, also known as fighting arts, are a diverse range of combat practices that have evolved over centuries in different cultures around the world. The best martial arts are a blend of physical techniques, mental discipline, and philosophical principles aimed at achieving self-defense, personal growth, and competitive excellence. These arts trace their roots back to ancient civilizations, where they served as essential tools for survival and protection.

The historical significance of martial arts extends beyond only combat skills. In many societies, martial arts were deeply ingrained in cultural traditions, serving as expressions of national identity and values.

Benefits of practicing martial arts for physical and mental well-being

Martial arts training encompasses several benefits not only physical prowess but also mental fortitude. Here are some examples:

  • Physical fitness: Regular martial arts training enhances cardiovascular health, increases strength, improves flexibility, and refines overall coordination. 
  • Self-defense skills: Learning practical self-defense techniques empowers individuals with the ability to protect themselves and boost self-confidence. Accordingly, it’s important to choose the best martial art for self-defense. 
  • Discipline and perseverance: Martial arts instill discipline and the value of consistent effort, fostering a strong work ethic.
  • Increased energy levels: Engaging in regular martial arts activities boosts energy levels and combats sedentary lifestyles.
  • Enhanced mental resilience: Overcoming challenges in training builds mental resilience, aiding in coping with life’s adversities.

Now that we’ve explored the benefits of martial arts training for physical and mental well-being, let’s delve into the top martial art disciplines to consider through the list of popular martial art styles. 

12 best martial arts for self-defense, fitness, competition

Many individuals seek the best martial art for fitness while some may look for self-defense, and the thrill of competition. With a myriad of options available, it can be challenging to determine which martial art suits your needs and preferences. Here are the 12 best martial arts you should learn about: 

1. Muay Thai 

What is Muay Thai?

Muay Thai, originating in Thailand over 700 years ago, is a combat sport renowned for its potent striking techniques, placing a strong emphasis on precision and swift counterattacks. Developed during a time of war, Muay Thai was originally crafted as a martial art designed for combat on the battlefield. Its techniques were honed to be lethal, making it one of the most formidable striking arts in existence such as, Muay Thai elbow strike and Muay Thai knee strike that can cause lethal damage to an opponent.
Nowadays, the Thai traditional martial art has gained a vast practitioners worldwide because of the sport’s distinguishing features that allow the utilization of the entire body as a weapon. Moreover, it engages in high-intensity workouts that boost conditioning and endurance. So, Muay Thai is also known as one of the best martial arts for weight loss.

Pros of Muay Thai

  • Improved physical fitness: Develops strength, agility, and flexibility.
  • Effective self-defense: Equips to defend themselves in real-world situations. 
  • Mental resilience: Builds focus, discipline, and stress relief while being supported by the community. 

Cons of Muay Thai

  • Risk of injury: Due to the contact nature of the sport, there is a potential of injuries from minor to severe. 
  • Intense physical demands: Muay Thai training can be physically challenging.

Where to watch Muay Thai

If you are in Thailand, you can watch LIVE Muay Thai matches at Rajadamnern Stadium, located in Bangkok. It is the first Muay Thai stadium in the world and it hosts regular fights featuring the best Muay Thai fighter in the country like Buakaw Banchamek, and more. 

2. Karate

What is Karate?

Karate, from Japan, emphasizes effective self-defense with foot and hand strikes. Rigorous training builds speed, coordination, and mental discipline. Moreover, it is considered one of the best martial arts for beginners too. Karate Competitions can be full-contact or point-based, organized by different organizations.

Pros of Karate

  • Karate involves various movements, kicks, punches, and stances that enhance strength, flexibility, balance, and overall cardiovascular health.
  • Practitioners gain practical self-defense skills.
  • The training emphasizes discipline, concentration and respect, nurturing mental resilience.  

Cons of Karate

  • Some traditional karate styles and techniques may not be as effective in modern self-defense scenarios against larger or multiple attackers.
  • Traditional karate focuses on forms which may not translate directly to the use cases. 
  • Karate involves physical contact and the potential for injuries.

Where to watch Karate

Karate enthusiasts can witness Karate matches across the globe. Notably, the European Karate Championship showcased top talents in Spain in March. The excitement continues with the upcoming World Karate Championship set to take place in Hungary at the end of October 2023. 

3.Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

What is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a ground-focused martial art and combat sport that originated in Brazil. It emphasizes grappling techniques, submissions, and positional control that demand high core strength, balance, and agility. In competitions, fighters aim to submit opponents through joint locks and chokes.

Pros of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

  • It offers practical self-defense skills effective regardless of size or strength.
  • BJJ provides an intense full-body workout, enhancing cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and strength.
  • Practitioners can fosters mental discipline, problem-solving, and self-confidence, promoting personal growth on and off the mat.

Cons of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)

  • Ground-focused nature may not suit everyone’s preferences, as it requires training on hard surfaces. So, it might not be the best martial art for women. 
  • Injuries, particularly related to joint locks and chokes, can occur during intense training or competitions.

Where to Watch

The World IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship, primarily held in Brazil since 1996, showcases elite practitioners from around the globe, with ongoing matches scheduled throughout the year

4. Judo

What is Judo?

Judo, a famous Japanese martial art, is a disciplined combat sport founded by Jigoro Kano in the late 19th century. Judo focuses on using an opponent’s energy against them through throws, joint locks, and pins. Besides, it is a staple of the Olympic Games and various international Judo tournaments.

Pros of Judo

  • Teaches practical self-defense techniques, allowing individuals to defend against larger opponents effectively.
  • Develops physical fitness, balance, and flexibility, contributing to overall health and well-being.
  • Promoting mental discipline, respect, and humility
Cons of Judo
  • Intense training of Judo throws and grappling may lead to injuries.
  • The learning curve for mastering Judo techniques may be steep, requiring dedication and perseverance.

Where to watch Judo

The World Judo Championships is the pinnacle of international Judo competition. Top athletes from around the world showcased their skill in this prestigious event, captivating global audiences with remarkable displays of Judo excellence.

5. Taekwondo

What is Taekwondo?

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art known for its high kicks, fast footwork, and striking techniques which enhance cardiovascular endurance and agility. Taekwondo’s scoring system is based on precise and powerful kicks, making it one of the best striking martial arts that excites both participants and spectators. 

Pros of Taekwondo

  • The fast-paced nature of Taekwondo training improves cardiovascular fitness and stamina.
  • Practitioners learn to defend themselves in real-life situations and use Taekwondo to fight against other type of martial arts.
  • Taekwondo fosters discipline and mental focus, encouraging self-control and personal development, making it one of the best martial arts for kids.

Cons of Taekwondo

  • Taekwondo training involves powerful and dynamic kicks, which can lead to a higher risk of injuries.
  • Taekwondo incorporates traditional forms or patterns which may not appeal to all practitioners.

Where to watch Taekwondo

Experience the excitement of Taekwondo in action at the prestigious World Taekwondo Championships annually. The previous competition was hosted in Azerbaijan from 29th May to 4th June, 2023.

6. Krav Maga

What is Krav Maga?

Krav Maga is one of the best defensive martial arts. It is a modern and highly effective self-defense system developed in Israel, initially for military personnel. Unlike traditional martial arts, Krav Maga prioritizes real-life scenarios, providing individuals with practical skills to defend themselves in various dangerous situations.

Pros of Krav Maga

  • Krav Maga self-defense techniques are highly effective for real-life self-defense. 
  • Through practice, individuals gain confidence in their ability to protect themselves.

Cons of Krav Maga

  • Intense training can be physically demanding as the training involves rigorous workouts and high-intensity drills.
  • Unlike traditional martial arts, Krav Maga does not emphasize sport or competition elements.

Where to watch Krav Maga

Every two years, the thrilling Krav Maga World Championships convene in Israel. For valuable insights and training, Krav Maga fans can subscribe to the Krav Maga Defence Institute‘s YouTube channel, featuring instructional videos, workshops, and expert tips.

7. Kung Fu

What is Kung Fu?

Kung Fu refers to a diverse range of Chinese martial arts styles which carries its own unique techniques, and forms inspired by the movements of animals, nature, and ancient philosophies.

Pros of Kung Fu

  • Kung Fu training improves cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility. 
  • Kung Fu forms and practices encourage self-awareness and mindfulness, as practitioners focus on body mechanics, and breath control.
  • Kung Fu has a profound cultural heritage intertwined with Chinese history.

Cons of Kung Fu

  • Mastering certain Kung Fu styles demands years of dedicated practice and discipline. 
  • Opportunities for sport competitions are limited compared to other martial arts.

Where to watch Kung Fu

Kung Fu performances and demonstrations are often showcased during cultural events, martial arts festivals, and traditional celebrations. For those eager to witness live Kung Fu in action, we highly recommend visiting a reputable Kung Fu martial art school or institution.

8. Wing Chun

What is Wing Chun?

Wing Chun martial art is a Chinese discipline renowned for its lightning-fast hand movements and the ability to neutralize opponents quickly, making it well-suited for self-defense scenarios, especially in confined spaces. 

Pros of Wing Chun

  • It emphasizes quick and direct attack allowing practitioners to respond rapidly and decisively in combat.
  • Wing Chun’s compact and close-range techniques are tailored to excel in environments with limited space

Cons of Wing Chun

  • Practical application in real-life situations demands advanced training and experience.

Where to watch Wing Chun

Master Wong’s YouTube channel offers a valuable Wing Chun resource. With a variety of Wing Chun techniques available, ranging from basic to advanced, practitioners can benefit from comprehensive instructional content.  

9. Hapkido

What is Hapkido?

Hapkido is a dynamic and versatile Korean martial art that focuses on practical self-defense techniques with a wide range of skills, including strikes, joint locks, throws, and pressure points.

Pros of Hapkido

  • Hapkido provides practitioners with a self-defense arsenal for different types of confrontations.
  • Practitioners can respond effectively to a wide range of attack scenarios.

Cons of Hapkido

  • Hapkido training can be physically demanding and may carry a risk of injuries.
  • It limits exposure in formal sport competitions compared to other martial arts.

Where to watch Hapkido

Hapkido seminars and demonstrations are held in select locations, giving interested individuals the chance to witness the art’s techniques and philosophy in action.

10. Aikido

What is Aikido?

Aikido is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes blending with an opponent’s energy and redirecting their movements rather than using forceful attacks focusing on joint locks, throws, and pins to neutralize opponents.

Pros of Aikido

  • Aikido’s core principle is to achieve harmony with an attacker without causing injury.
  • Practicing Aikido Improves balance and flexibility.

Cons of Aikido

  • Aikido may lack the emphasis on aggressive strikes or offensive maneuvers.
  • It is less practical for real environments, where more aggressive and competitive techniques are typically required.

Where to watch Aikido

The Aikido World Championships are held in a different location every two years. The latest competition took place in Spain and San Diego, USA. 

11. Capoeira

What is Capoeira?

Capoeira is a unique Brazilian martial art that seamlessly blends elements of dance, acrobatics, and music. Developed by enslaved Africans in Brazil during the colonial era, Capoeira served as a form of self-defense and cultural expression.

Pros of Capoeira

  • Capoeira’s fluid and acrobatic movements enhance practitioners’ physical prowess and body coordination.
  • It embodies the rich cultural heritage of Brazil, celebrating its African roots and history.

Cons of Capoeira

  • Capoeira’s focus on dance-like movements and acrobatics may offer limited traditional self-defense techniques.
  • Mastering Capoeira’s acrobatic movements demands significant practice and skill.

Where to watch Capoeira

Capoeira performances and events are commonly featured in cultural festivals and events, where practitioners showcase their impressive movements, music, and cultural heritage.

12. Jeet Kune Do

What is Jeet Kune Do?

Jeet Kune Do, founded by the legendary Bruce Lee, is more than just a traditional martial art; it is a philosophy of combat and personal growth. It emphasizes practicality, efficiency, and directness in combat.

Pros of Jeet Kune Do

  • Jeet Kune Do encourages practitioners to adapt their techniques and movements in the art.
  • It focuses on simplicity and effectiveness by rejecting unnecessary techniques and forms.
  • It is highly applicable in real-world self-defense scenarios.

Cons of Jeet Kune Do

  • Jeet Kune Do is more of a martial art philosophy than a structured system, so it may not have a standardized curriculum.

Where to watch Jeet Kune Do

For those interested in Jeet Kune Do, we highly recommend checking out Emil Martirossian’s Youtube channel. On his channel, he provides several videos showcasing Jeet Kune Do training and techniques. 

Factors to consider in determining the best martial arts

Each martial art boasts its unique characteristics, making a thorough consideration of the following aspects crucial in making an informed decision. Here are the four factors to consider in determining the best martial arts and understanding the martial art ranking system. 

Factor 1. Purpose of learning martial arts


Understanding the primary purpose of learning martial arts for self-defense is crucial. If you are wondering, “What is the best self-defense martial art?” Muay Thai or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are your ideal choices. These arts prepare individuals to protect themselves effectively and respond to potential threats in real-life situations.


For a well-rounded approach to fitness and flexibility, consider Wing Chun or Aikido. They prioritize balance, harmony, and meditation, promoting overall health and tranquility. For dynamic workouts, try Taekwondo, Karate, kickboxing, or Muay Thai, which improve cardiovascular fitness, strength, and flexibility.


For competitive goals, choose Taekwondo, Judo, or Karate with established competition structures. They offer opportunities to test skills, promoting sportsmanship, discipline, and goal-oriented training.

Factor 2. Martial arts philosophies and principles

Each martial art is rooted in its distinct set of philosophies and principles. Some arts prioritize aggressive techniques and direct strikes, while others emphasize defensive strategies, evasive maneuvers, and redirecting an opponent’s energy. 

Understanding the underlying principles of a martial art is crucial as it influences the approach to combat and aligns with personal values and beliefs.

Factor 3. Accessibility of training opportunities

The availability of training opportunities and qualified instructors plays a significant role in choosing the right martial art. Consider the proximity of martial arts schools to your location and the flexibility of training schedules, as consistent practice is key to progress. Additionally, research the reputation and credentials of instructors to ensure they can provide quality guidance and support in your journey.

Experiencing a martial art live can undoubtedly simplify your decision-making process, as you witness the captivating physicality of the art in action. 

If you are a Muay Thai enthusiast visiting Thailand, don’t miss the opportunity to witness live Muay Thai combat at Rajadamnern. Book your ticket NOW!

Factor 4. Personal preferences and goals

Consider individual preferences and goals. Ensure the art’s physical demands, contact level, and age-appropriateness align with comfort levels. Also, choose a supportive and encouraging martial arts community for an enhanced learning experience.


The world of martial arts is incredibly diverse, offering a wide array of options to cater to various interests and goals. When choosing a martial art, it’s essential to consider what resonates with you personally, your fitness level, and what you wish to achieve, whether it’s for self-defense, fitness, or the thrill of competition. 

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