It’s a question that you hear all the time ‘what are the best martial arts for street fighting’. Well here is the definitive answer to that very question and a whole lot more!
Firstly, I am going to assume that you are asking this question as you are interested in finding out which martial arts will give you the best foundation to defend yourself in an altercation in the street. I will assume that you have no intention of engaging in a backyard brawl type of street fight such as those made infamous by the late Kimbo Slice. If your looking for information on the latter, you probably need a psychiatrist and not a martial art.
Secondly, this probably won’t make you any better at this legendary game either.
What is a street fight
So, this is the first problem we need to address, if you’re talking street fights its pretty hard to define what a street fight is. Any physical disagreement that occurs between two or more individuals can be considered a fight, it probably doesn’t even have to include a physical element for some people to call it a fight. When assessing how ‘street effective’ a martial art is we need to remember no two altercations are likely to be the same, this is what makes applying a martial art to this situation so difficult.
If you’re a reasonable person trying to keep themselves out of trouble the likelihood of finding yourself in circumstances where you are forced defend yourself is slim. Most people will only ever face a handful or these situations in their entire life, so how exactly do you learn the skills to manage these situations and is it even possible to be prepared with so many variables?
This is where you must decide if you want to learn a fighting system or a collection of situational defences. But before all of that lets start with the best advice anyone will ever give you.
Always avoid fighting
First let’s deal with the sensible bit, pretty much every self defence expert or martial artist will tell you if you are able to manoeuvre away from a situation without using physical force then do so. Even a seasoned martial artist or self defence guru knows that this is always the best and safest outcome, far too often a macho pride kicks in and people decided to throw down. The only exception to this rule should be if you or someone else is in immediate danger.
Most self-defence focused classes will cover topics such as controlling distance and de-escalation which are great ways to ensure self-protection and lots of traditional martial arts will cover elements of this too. Its important to be aware of your environment and the potential the assailant will be joined by accomplices so always try and have an escape route in mind.
Unfortunately, in life no matter how much you may want to avoid a conflict there may come a time where the other person is so hellbent on fighting that you have no other option. It is for these situations that we have assessed the pros and cons of some of the most popular martial arts out there today.
Most effective martial arts in a real fight
When considering which martial arts are going to be effective in a street fight the first thing we need to think about is tactics. When the adrenalin starts pumping and the heart beat is rising you want to have developed a set of skills that can be easily implemented in a high-pressure situation. No amount of training in any martial art will truly prepare you for this moment, you can do all the sparing, pressure testing or drilling you want.
It’s no different to taking a penalty in the world cup final, you might have done it tens of thousands of times before, but nothing can replicate the pressure of the real thing. And just like penalties in self-defence situations, some of the best practitioners can find themselves coming up short. Under extreme stress surely the best solution is to stick with the simplest techniques rather than those that involve complex movements.
Where does the fight take place
Most street fights will usually take place in one of the three areas listed below. These aren’t physical locations but more areas of fighting all of which will have their own martial arts dedicated to them. Some martial arts might cover more than one area and others will be focused purely on one. A street fight might involve moving through all three phases or predominantly take place in just one.
This is the place most street fights will start from with an attacker swinging a punch. Lots of fights are ended with a single punch and its often because a thug has been able to move into range on the victim and land a sucker punch. Learning a striking art allows you to understand range so that you can keep out of the reach of the aggressor.
By remaining on the feet, you can exit the situation quickly, if another person attacks you should be able to identify the danger and defend from it. Fights that take place on the feet tend to have more explosive conclusions. Striking techniques can be taught in a relatively short period of time so you can become reasonably efficient quite quickly.
This kind of street fight is often initiated when one party reaches out and takes hold of the other, this might be in the form of grabbing a part of the body, clothing or an attempt at a takedown. From this position a tussle usually ensues in which one person attempts to assert control of the other. In this scenario fights typically either end up on the floor or breaking apart and engaging in striking.
This area of martial arts is probably best represented by Judo or Wrestling. If you were to adapt these arts for a street fight your goal would be to close the gap and getting hands on by attempting to control the situation without resorting to the use of strikes. The offensive options are to throw, trip or get the attacker to the ground by whatever means. Adept grapplers may seek to control the assailant on their feet by utilising joint locks or by controlling parts of their body (e.g wrists, head).
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In all honesty this is the worst possible outcome in most situations. As the name suggests it involves getting the attacker to the ground and utilising ground fighting techniques like those taught in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). Sometimes an attacker will attempt to take the fight to the floor straight away and you will have no choice but to fight off the ground.Options from the floor can include striking, controlling attacker and using joint lock and chokes.
Being on the ground and facing an unknown number of attackers can be a really bad situation which your likely to come off far worse. Against a single attacker these techniques can be very effective when applied properly. A fight can end up on the floor weather you intended to take it there or not, so it would be foolish to neglect this element.
Pros and Cons of popular Martial Arts
Alright so we’ve broke the fight down into three basic elements (I know you could break it down further but the basic three is a good starting point) now it’s time to consider the pros and cons of some of the biggest martial arts. This is only going to cover the bigger martial arts that are widely accessible along with some of the in vogue martial arts of today. Unfortunately some the smaller arts and self defence systems are not going to be found here.
Although not thought of as a martial art by many westerners, probably because of its place as the premier combat sport for so long, western boxing is what your grandparents would have turned to if they wanted to learn to defend themselves. For several centuries this was the pre-eminent form of fighting in the western hemisphere and remains incredibly popular today.
- Boxing is great for building reflexes and learning how to land effective strikes.
- It teaches you how to put together combinations which can have devastating impact.
- Boxers are effective at controlling the range at which a fight takes place which is an important skill in a street fight.
- Boxing can be trained and spared at close to full intensity which means that boxers can really refine their skills.
- Considering most street fights will start on the feet boxing can provide a good base to work from
- Boxing lacks any ground fighting and it doesn’t allow its fighters to work in the clinch very effectively, most of the time its just waiting to break.
- Smaller fighters usually struggle to generate power in the same way a larger fighter can, this leaves them vulnerable to being caught with harder punches which they can’t take as well.
- These are significant holes in the effectiveness of boxing and can be easily exploited in a street fight.
- Most boxers when facing a threat adopt a boxing stance which is immediately identifiable to an attacker, this gives them an advantage of knowing a boxer’s strengths and weaknesses which they can exploit.
This is a classic grappling martial art that has been around for over 130 years. Judo is predominantly trained as a sport and is currently an Olympic event. Most Judo training focuses on the sporting aspect, but Judo techniques can be adapted for self-defence.
- Judokas are known for executing throws against strong and powerful opponents.
- The art is designed to be utilised by smaller defenders to overcome larger attackers.
- Judo incorporates some ground work such as joint locks chokes and pins, these can all be effectively used in a street fight on the ground.
- Part of Judo training involves training with fully resistive partners who are attempting use their own skills to throw and submit you. This makes Judo great for replicating a street fight level of intensity in training.
On the negative side there is a lack of striking in Judo, strikes are only trained at some clubs and this is usually as a ‘form’ rather than actively using the techniques.
- Most untrained aggressors will look to use their fists to attack so this leaves a significant void in the defence capabilities of someone who trains Judo.
- Judo is practiced in a Judogi which is a traditional martial arts uniform, many of the techniques in Judo rely on gripping the Gi to perform them effectively but on the streets a Judo player may struggle to replicate these grips.
Originating in Brazil with direct linage to Judo BJJ takes the ground work element of Judo to a whole new level. BJJ is essentially a ground fighting system that focuses on getting opponents to the floor and applying superior grappling skills to defeat them. BJJ is predominantly taught as a sport but it does have a self-defence variant that deals specifically with handling street fights. On top of this Combat Jiu-Jitsu (CJJ) has been gaining popularity and this style allows practitioners to use open palm strikes on the ground which adds to a more realistic ground fighting scenario.
- BJJ has built a reputation as being the ultimate ground fighting system, it teaches its practitioners how to control and perform submissions which can be used to great effect in a self-defence situation.
- Like Judo BJJ has been developed so that it can be used by a smaller defender to over come a larger and stronger attacker.
- The self-defence focused style of BJJ can help practitioners gain situational awareness and develop skills that can utilised in street confrontation.
- Whilst lots of people can be quite adept or at least unpredictable in a standing fight on the floor a BJJ practitioner should be able to easily manage an untrained fighter.
- Being on the ground neutralises the threat of being knocked out as its much harder to generate power from the ground unless you can work your way to a dominant position.
- As BJJ spends most of its time working off the ground and most clubs only have limited training of techniques that can take the fight to the ground achieving this goal can be difficult.
- In a street fight pulling guard would be a terrible move but this is common practice in competition BJJ.
- There is no striking training in BJJ so its heavily reliant on being able to get the fight to the ground to begin with.
- Taking the fight to the ground could be a fatal error if facing more than one attacker as it puts you in a vulnerable position.
- BJJ takes a long time to learn and requires a large time commitment to become proficient although you can become better than the average guy in a few months.
Is a martial art which traces its roots back to modern day Thailand. Muay Thai is a striking based martial art renowned for its brutality. Essentially like an upgraded version of western boxing Muay Thai allows its fighters to utilise 8 points of contact (fists, elbows, knees and legs) rather than the two in boxing (fists only).
- Mauy Thai fighters are exceptional strikers, this can be seen in the number mixed martial arts fighters who have trained in this art.
- Despite being a striking art fighters are incredibly effective at landing strikes from the clinch position, in fact it is probably the area where Muay Thai fighters are most feared.
- By applying techniques such as push kicks Mauy Thai can be used to keep an attacker at a range where they are unable to land a strike.
- Like boxing Mauy Thai fighters are good at controlling range and landing damaging combinations.
- The weakness of Muay Thai are common to all striking based styles, they are ineffective on the floor as they don’t train ground work but the strikes from the clinch mean they can be excellent opportunists when engaging in standing grappling.
- They don’t train any throws, but they are effective in sweeping the legs of an unbalanced opponent.
- Muay Thai tends to lean quite heavily on sparing as a training method so if your going to start training this art then you’re probably going to be taking a lot of strikes to the head and body which will probably result in more damage than that street fight you want to be able to handle!
Although not trained as widely or as popular as its sister art Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Japanese Ju-Jitsu remains accessible. Ju-Jitsu differs from BJJ as it doesn’t just focus on the ground work element of Judo, in fact Ju-Jitsu was the art from which Judo was founded. Practitioners of Ju-Jitsu are taught striking, grappling and ground fighting techniques based on the ancient martial art that was developed by the Samurai.
- Ju-Jitsu these days is taught less as a sport and more as a self-defence system which makes it ideal for defending yourself in a street fight.
- It covers all the basis of striking, grappling and ground fighting so its practitioners can develop well rounded skills without excelling in one area.
- It teaches its students how to defend from attacks with weapons and part of its training often involve fighting when outnumbered.
- Ju-Jitsu can be trained at close to full intensity most of the time with rules to prevent injuries.
- In some Ju-Jitsu clubs less, emphasis being placed on sparing than in other martial arts so the amount of time developing skills against a resistive opponent is lessened.
- Sometimes too big a commitment is made to preserving the art and training techniques that are ineffective or very complicated and unlikely work in a real situation.
- The lack of active competition in this area means its hard for students to chart their progress against their peers.
- All the above has allowed poor-quality instructors to survive and mislead students about their abilities.
Over recent years this art has been blessed with rising popularity and recognition. Its not so much a system but a collection of the most effective techniques from lots of different martial arts, many of which are already on this list. Originating as a form of hand to hand combat taught to the Israel Defence Forces Krav Maga has been taught to the public for over 40 years. It is known for teaching its students to use pre-emptive strikes and to counter in the most efficient way possible.
- Krava Maga is a complete martial art in the sense that it covers all basis including striking, grappling and ground fighting.
- It teaches situational awareness like no other martial art and practitioners are even taught to look for things in their surroundings that they can use as weapons to strike an attacker.
- Krava Maga is taught to military personnel around the world which is testament to how effective it can be in a combat situation.
- It has the added benefit of teaching techniques that can be used to defend from weapon attacks.
- Krava Maga is designed to be used in a quick and effective manner and its results can be devasting when applied properly.
- Although it might sound like training Krav Maga will make you a street fighting machine there are a few things you will need to consider.
- The art has fragmented quite a lot so not all schools are made equal.
- Some are tough and intense and frequently use sparing, whilst others teach Krav Maga in a softer slower way distancing it from its origins and producing a much less effective system.
- Practitioners never become an expert in a skill and instead focus on dealing with situations, with the different variety of situations there’s not a ‘system’ to fall back on if your caught unaware.
- Little to no competition and a reliance on techniques that aren’t usually trained at full tilt such as groin strikes mean its hard to properly replicate the situations Krav Maga trains you for.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
This is not so much a martial art but a collection of martial arts taught with the intention of being used in mixed martial arts competition. Over the last two decades the sport of MMA has risen to prominence through promotions such as the UFC. MMA has a set of rules which allow competitors to use their skills in striking, grappling and ground fighting to achieve victory.
- MMA teaches a wide range of techniques which can be used in the cage.
- In the original contests fighters would have come from a specific fighting background but these days a good MMA fighter needs to be able to fight from anywhere.
- MMA can provide a great base for street fighting skills as the rules allow for much greater range of fighting skills to be used in competition.
- In MMA it’s obvious which techniques work, and which don’t, with such a focus on competition students can be sure what they are learning will be effective if they ever had to use it in a street fight.
- Of all the sports on this list MMA is most reflective of a street fight in the way in is trained and fought.
- MMA is still a sport and as such there will be gaps in a fighter’s skills.
- An MMA fighter wouldn’t ever have to train whilst thinking about being attacked by multiple people as all contests are 1 vs 1.
- All MMA fights take place under a set of rules which must be adhered too.
- Training in MMA will not teach you the situational wareness needed to survive in a street fight.
8. Russian Combat Sambo
Created as a fusion of multiple martial arts and driven by the principle of only teaching and retaining effective techniques, Sambo has enjoyed great popularity in the former Soviet Union states. Most recently Sambo has come to the attention of martial arts enthusiasts in the west following the success off its fighters in mixed martial arts competition.
Sambo is taught to members of the Russian military and combines grappling with striking and hand to hand combat techniques.
- Sambo comes in many different forms so it offers practitioners the chance to decide which is most suitable to there needs.
- The blend of sport and combat mean that techniques which are learn in a sporting environment can be carried over and adapted for a real combat situation.
- Taught to military personnel so you know these techniques are going to work if there really needed.
- Has provided a base for some of the greatest MMA fighters from Eastern Europe in the last two decades.
- Its hard to find good quality training outside of Eastern Europe as the art hasn’t really migrated west with the same success as other martial arts.
- Similar to Krava Maga some of the techniques cannot be trained with 100% intensity.
- There are differences between the sport version and the military combat versions so not all techniques will transfer through to self defence situations.
- The sport variation does rely on taking opponents to the ground which as we have previously mentioned is a risk place to be.
Quickest martial art to learn
If speed is your primary concern I would recommend seeking out a specific self defence class which should be able to teach you some basics quickly. Whilst martial arts can be effective in a street fight most take a significant amount of time and dedication to master to a competent standard. Most self-defence-based classes can teach good basics, but they don’t equip you with the same tools of combat that a martial art can. This is in part why so many people turn to martial arts.
If you are set on learning a martial art and speed of development is paramount in my opinion Boxing would probably be the best place to start. It only relies on the use of both hands and you can drill footwork and head movement away from the gym to develop quicker. Whilst after a few months you may have improved your punch and fitness it still takes many years to become adept at boxing.
Self-defence and Situational Awareness
This is probably the single most important factor to consider when selecting a martial art with the goal of being able to defend yourself in a street fight. If you learn an art in a purely sporting or traditional manner, then it’s not going to be as effective in a street fight scenario. To truly be able to rely on your knowledge you need to have trained with the aim of utilising these skills in an unpredictable situation.
Although it sounds like a contradiction when you train a martial art for a sporting purposes there are very clear rules. If you train and spar in Judo you know no one is going to throw a punch, the same goes for kickboxing you know no one is going to try and take you to the ground. Training specifically for self defence will make you think about these situations and possibly come to terms with the reality of how vulnerable you may be.
If you want to be able to survive a street fight, make sure your training is focused towards that objective. If you already train martial arts I would be warry of become to complacent about making the transition from sparing success to street fight success. Outside of the gym without the rules the situation is much less controlled.
Which is the best
As you can see from the breakdown every martial art has its pros and cons and there’s not really one fighting system that can properly prepare you for all situations and scenarios. If a superior system existed nobody would be reading about which is the most effective and everyone would be training in that system!
One final important factor to consider is the quality of instruction. If there’s a great coach in your area teaching a style you’re interested in training, then you should give it a try. You can learn so much more being taught by someone who excels in a discipline than from someone who is making dubious claims about there abilities. Sometimes its not a question of which is the best but who is the best to learn from.
So the definitive answer to what is the best martial art for a street fight is it depends, the important thing to do is cover all bases of striking, grappling and ground fighting. Make sure you training is geared towards self-defence and is not just purely a sporting club, so the techniques can be transferred to a real life situation. Above all try and avoid conflict whenever possible especially if it’s over something trivial like a parking space or getting bumped in a bar or even worse getting bumped in a car.
A Final Thought
Most martial artists don’t want to engage in street fights. Martial arts teach a person discipline, so a trained fighter is less likely to lose their cool in an aggressive standoff. Fights start over a whole range of different things but fear, whether that is fear of being attacked, or fear of losing face plays a big part.
A trained martial artist knows they can defend themselves and have nothing to prove to themselves or others by engaging in a fight. This allows them to act in an assertive manner without being aggressive and still be able to walk away without feeling like they have damaged there reputation.