Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Best style of martial arts for self-defense?

  1. Oct 22, 2014 #1
    Might seem strange that I post about martial arts here, but it would make sense given the physical nature of martial arts. I watched a video one time on youtube titled "The physics of tae kwon do". It was very intereting, using physical laws and equations to describe why how devastating a certain punch or kick is.

    So which style of martial arts is best for self-defense? I'm guessing it's between tae kwon do and jujitsu. Tae kwon do because its focus on kicks that are not only devastating but also allows one to attack without being too close of proximity. Jujitsu because of its no-frills nature is tailored for sole purpose of self-defense, whereas most other styles of martial arts have many spins and jumps that are more akin to gymnastics than combat/self defense.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 22, 2014 #2
    tae kwon do is pretty but it's useless because it relies on too much fancy kicking. Any wrestling or grappling martial arts will be much more effective. Say Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. For modern defensive arts you can look at Krav Maga and Sambo.
  4. Oct 22, 2014 #3
  5. Oct 22, 2014 #4

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I've heard good things about Judo and Aikido, but I'd say that you should do self defense training to learn self defense, not martial arts.
    Visit a bunch of schools in your area and see which you like - liking it is important too. Whatever you can do well is the best - the exact style won't matter much.

    I learned Tae Kwon Do - but off a Korean ex-military guy I lived with. It's what he learned in the army.
    Very little kicking or fancy stuff - hit hard and run away philosophy. The biggest bonus, though, was psychological: I was unconsciously carrying myself different to the effect that people stopped bothering me - which was useful because I had to go to bad ends of town by myself a fair bit.
    Getting fit didn't hurt either.

    The self defense part of a martial art is not usually all that big-a part of what you learn - most of it is about discipline.
    For defense: you need to know how to punch and grapple and fall down and gets lots of practice at everything.
    The practice part is actually the important bit - street brawlers who are good got that way without formal training ... just getting into lots of fights.
    Keep it simple - a real fight is not exciting to watch, very confusing to be involved in, and you rarely get time to think anyway.

    A good self defense course will provide that kind of training without worrying too much about the arty parts of the martial arts and without so much risk of getting killed that street brawlers have.

    Oh the fancier stuff - high kicks and breaking boards - is good for parties... gets you a tough reputation without much effort.

    Bear in mind - I am in New Zealand. Cultures differ in violence as well as peace. You need to adjust for where you live and what you need to do.
  6. Oct 22, 2014 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Krav Maga, as Greg mentioned, is the one that I consider most practical. It was taught to Israeli military by the developer when he was in his 60's and maybe even 70's. (Any Israeli's feel free to correct me; I'm going only by what Ive read here in Canada.) It seems to cover everything that most "kung fu" arts do, but is based upon down-and-dirty street fighting. To paraphrase the one quote that stuck with me (although I can't remember the exact wording); flying wheel kicks are well and good, but if the guy knocks you down and you find your hand resting on a brick, clock him with it.
    My personal philosophy has always been that a .44 Magnum beats a black belt any day.
  7. Oct 22, 2014 #6
    Oh. I also forgot to mention that I am female, so I dont have much upper body strength. Because I need self-defense to fight mostly males, would a style of martial arts that focuses on gabbling still be good for me? Would something that focuses on kicks (albeit fancy) be better?
  8. Oct 22, 2014 #7
    This is very good point. I think I should focus on learning self-defense instead of a type of martial arts, and then maybe learn a few cool kicks by watching youtube.. you know, for the parties ;)
  9. Oct 22, 2014 #8

    Simon Bridge

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Its really good if you can break a brick ... but breaking your hand is always popular too ;)
  10. Oct 22, 2014 #9


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Maybe to bystanders, but as someone who once landed a punch with the outer two knuckles instead of the inner two and ended up in a cast for 6 weeks, it ain't that much fun for the party involved. I've never been so glad to be ambidextrous.
  11. Oct 23, 2014 #10


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

  12. Oct 23, 2014 #11
    A sparing partner is really the most important thing if wanting to be able to fight. You've gotta do a lot of sparing and practice against another person.
  13. Oct 23, 2014 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I have found that the same applies to... oh, never mind; I'll just get into even more trouble...
  14. Oct 23, 2014 #13
    Oh a sparing partner is a good idea!
  15. Oct 23, 2014 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    In fact, Brazilian Jiujitsu became famous because it allowed a much smaller person (Royce Gracie) to beat many opponents who were far bigger than him (in the early days of UFC and Pride). Royce, who weighs about 160-180lbs famously beat a sumo wrestler who was like triple his size. But of course, Royce is a (6th degree lol) BJJ black belt and has trained in BJJ since he was like 4 or something ridiculous, and in addition, none of his opponents really knew anything about ground fighting back then, so I wouldn't expect to be like him when I'm just starting off. That being said, Brazilian Jiujitsu IS a legitimate threat to anybody, no matter the size, on the ground. No matter how big and powerful you are, you are not immune to a carotid choke, and you will go unconscious in 6-10 seconds. So, going to learn BJJ is not a bad option, even for a smaller person, or someone with less strength.

    There are some problems with BJJ as a self-defense art; however. The first problem is that it has become a sport. This same problem is found in many martial arts, including Judo, Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling, MMA even. The problem of turning a martial art into a sport is that a sport has rules, and those rules will limit you in some way (some, e.g. MMA, have fewer rules than others) and because of this limitation in what you are ALLOWED to do to your opponent, you will not learn how to defend against something that you could face in the street where there are no rules. Taking BJJ as the prime example, in the sport of BJJ (as well as Judo and Wrestling), striking is absolutely not allowed. If you learn the sport version of BJJ, you will be very taken aback during a street fight because quite many of those positions you thought were safe (from submissions - i.e. being choked out or having a limb caught and potentially broken) are not safe anymore due to the possibility of being struck. For example, a BJJ guy would feel very comfortable on his back with his opponent in his guard (i.e. between his legs so that his hip and his butt is basically resting on his opponent's crotch). From a BJJ sport standpoint, there are very few submissions that work from the top position, and so that's quite a "safe" position for the BJJ guy to be in. In a street fight, you DON'T want to be on your back with your opponent bearing down on you. ESPECIALLY if that opponent is bigger and stronger than you, and even worse if that opponent knows a little ground fighting (a lot of guys like MMA these days and have started to take some classes). Of course, as with any problem, this problem of "sport BJJ" is solvable. There are "street-fight" versions of BJJ that you can learn which would be much more of use in a street-fight.

    A secondary problem with BJJ and grappling arts in general, as applied to self-defense, is that they basically tie you up with one opponent. They are of the mind set that you will be facing one aggressor, most likely, and so you "bring him into your world" by grappling with him, bringing him to the floor, and then submitting him there. There's a problem now if there is more than one aggressor. You DO NOT want to be on the floor if your opponent has a friend who will soccer kick you in the head, or stomp on your face. That being said, a large number of fights will end up on the ground anyways, whether you like it or not. So, a knowledge of ground fighting will be very good in a self-defense situation, IF ONLY so that you know how to get up quickly, and without taking damage, after being taken down. I DO NOT advise you to TRY to go to the ground in a street fight. There are times when you just simply don't know, and don't anticipate that your opponent has a friend who will kick you in the face while you are down there.

    In these respects, I would prefer Judo to BJJ, as it does teach you ground fighting, without putting too much emphasis on getting a fight to the ground. In addition, if you execute a GOOD judo throw on your opponent, on the street, on hard concrete, you will likely break something of his (maybe his skull or neck if you throw him on his head). The major problem with Judo is that it has been a sport for like 150 years...so it's pretty hard to find a self defense version of Judo instead of just the sport version.

    Onto the pure traditional striking arts. The problem with these striking arts, including Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, Muay Boran, Savate (French kickboxing), traditional Chinese martial arts like Wing Chun, Hung gar, Xing yi, etc., is that they don't tend to have much of a ground game, and they tend to function well only at certain distances. For example, Tae Kwon Do functions VERY well at kicking range and farther, while Wing Chung is better for closer ranges like punching range and grappling range. Although the idea "kicks are harder than punches, so I should kick my opponent" (central idea of TKD) is a GREAT idea, it becomes very hard to execute a kick if your opponent is grabbing your head in a Muay Thai clench. Also, although the idea "I will strike the vital organs of my opponent in order to incapacitate him" is, again, a good idea, it becomes very hard to aim for the small vital regions when you are under stress, in a real fight situation. In addition, many of the more traditional martial arts requires a LOT of training to get good at. I mean, you're not going to be making spinning tornado kicks when you are just starting out.

    Now we are onto the hybrid, modern, self-defense styles. This includes such things as Krav Maga (mentioned earlier, employed by the Israeli IDF), San Shou (sometimes called Chinese kickboxing, employed by the Chinese paramilitary forces), CQC (close quarters combat, employed by US forces, including the Navy Seals), etc. These will be the ones that modern militaries employ, because these tend to be the most effective and direct and easy to train methods of self-defense. An added bonus to these arts is that these arts will also have focus on defense against weapons that are often used (e.g. knives, handguns, sticks, bats, etc.), whereas most other martial art styles may not include weapons, or include only traditional weapons that you wouldn't expect to see on the street (who carries a katanna around these days?). Whereas a traditional martial art like TKD might take 10-15 years to master, you can train a soldier in Krav Maga in 3-6 months of boot camp and turn him into an efficient fighting machine. I myself train Krav Maga, just so you know my background. These are quite good for self-defense, but they are not without faults. Because these types of self-defense rely more on gross motor skills, they value absolute aggression above technique. If you train Krav Maga, you will find that, sure, technique is taught and your instructor will want you to execute the techniques correctly, but more importantly, you need to have an overwhelmingly aggressive mindset. You must make yourself believe that you are fighting for your survival, and every punch and kick better carry deadly intent. Of course, this mindset is expected for soldiers, but it's not for everybody. Krav Maga is not a noble art. Aikido, for example, treasures each human life and strives to disarm your opponent without harming him. It's a noble art. In Krav Maga (at least the lower levels), you want to put as much harm on your opponent as is humanly possible in the shortest amount of time possible. In higher levels, you will begin to learn a few techniques (e.g. wrist locks and arm locks) that are not as harmful, and which can be used with restraint.

    So there you have a very broad overview of the current landscape of self-defense techniques. The way to become the most complete martial artist, of course, is to learn from Bruce Lee, and be adaptable. Be like water, like he said, and take only what's useful and effective. Of course, we are not all Bruce Lee. What works for Bruce Lee will not work for me. I couldn't do 1/10th of the things he could.

    Now comes the main question. Given that you are probably not going to become Bruce Lee, what should you do for self-defense? Here I will give you perhaps a different answer than the others. I would advise you, first and foremost, to learn situational awareness. Situational awareness, above all else, is by far the most useful skill you can have. Don't allow yourself TO BE in a situation where you may be hurt. Be AWARE of where you are at all times. Do not be so absorbed in checking out your cellphone late at night that you don't see the 6'4" guy rounding the corner to kidnap you. Know where your exits are, know where you might run to to get help. Because, no matter how much you train, if that 6'4" guy lands a sucker punch on you, it's not going to matter that you're the female version of Bruce Lee, you will be knocked the f-out. Humility, and the understanding that you are human, is important. Do not be arrogant and think "I know how to fight! So I don't care if I put myself in dangerous situations". No matter how many times someone says "well XXX can teach a smaller person to beat up a bigger person", know that the bigger person will have the advantage in every fight, period. You can mitigate those advantages through training and good technique, but you can't erase them.

    The second most important aspect of self-defense? Fitness. All martial arts will require fitness on your part. The ability to run away from a situation is a very important ability. No amount of having perfect technique is going to help you if you can't stand after 20 seconds in a fight. 20 seconds sounds like it's a short time, but in a fight, 20 seconds feels like forever and will exhaust you beyond belief if you are not prepared for it. The sheer amount of exertion you will put out in a fight, and the stress, and the not breathing properly, is what will exhaust you in such a short time.

    The third most important aspect of self-defense, I would say, would be to know your distances. As Helio Gracie once said "the person who controls the distance is the person who controls the damage" (I think...sorry if I misquoted). Basically, in fighting there are 5 distance ranges:

    1) Out of range. This is too far to reach with a kick, even the front kick, but perhaps reachable with an advancing kick. At this range, the danger is pretty low. Best policy is to defuse the situation before it elevates to actual fighting. Not having a huge ego, but being confident in yourself, helps a lot with that. Know that you don't have to fight this person, you don't have to prove that you are stronger. Most bar fights, etc., happen because people can't put down their egos. This is of course assuming your opponent is without a weapon. If he has a gun, or a knife, things become very different.

    2) Kicking range. This is the range where Tae Kwon Do excels at. This is the range where all your kicks can be thrown and land with maximum power. The best policy to defend against kicks? Get out of the kicking range. Either go out of range, or close in. If you are close to your opponent, his kicks land with much less power.

    3) Punching range/Boxing range. This is the range where the jab/straight punch are your most effective weapons. This range starts to become a range where a lot of damage can be dished out in a very short amount of time. Do not stay in this range very long.

    4) Grappling range. This is there range where punches, except perhaps short uppercuts and hooks, become jammed. In this range, knees, and elbows become important. This range and punching range are the 2 ranges in which the MOST damage can be done in the shortest amount of time. Do not stay long in this range. End the fight, or get out.

    5) Pinned completely to your opponent. Strangely enough, having gone from less danger to more danger, this range is relatively safe because it's just too close for your opponent to throw any strikes with any effect. This range would be where your head is taped to your opponent's head and you have grabbed on. This is the range BJJ excels at, and if used correctly, you can transition to a submission from this range. This range is NOT GOOD if you have more than one opponent, because you will be trapped here by your opponent as his friend can be free to wail on you and damage you.

    So, what I would ultimately advise you to do, is to find a martial art that you personally like, and take it. You will find that the biggest benefit of learning a martial art is not really in learning the techniques, nor is it in learning how to fight, nor is it in learning how to beat somebody or even learning how to defend yourself. The biggest benefit will be an overall improvement to your health, to your mental toughness, to your ability to not break down under stress, to your confidence in yourself, knowing that you have done everything you can to first and foremost avoid conflict, and then, if conflict is unavoidable, to prepare yourself to engage and end the conflict in a manner favorable to you. ANY martial art will give you these things, so it really doesn't matter which one you choose. (Note: although all martial arts are good, not all instructors are good. Research your instructor before hand. Make sure you're not training at a so-called "Mcdojo". )

    So, in conclusion, choose the martial art that is right FOR YOU. If you want the fastest way to learn some self defense, and you are OK with being very aggressive, then learn Krav Maga. If you prefer the beauty of Tae Kwon Do's kicks, then take TKD, but know that you will have to devote yourself to some training in order to become proficient. If you like the flashy moves of traditional Chinese kung fu, then go ahead and learn that, but know that in a real fight, flashy moves are not your go to moves. If you admire the spirit of the Samurai and Bushido and value your opponent's well being as well as your own, then take Aikido or Judo, but again, know that in a real fight, you might not have the option to really NOT hurt your opponent if you want to not be hurt yourself.

    Lastly, there are a million different martial arts, many of which I have not mentioned here, including Kali/Eskrima, Silat, Pancrase, Hapkido, Karate (the two most famous branches being Shotokan and Kyuokushin), Kaijukenbo, Kenpo, Bagua, Jeet Kune Do (although this is more a philosophy than a specific style), Taichi (originally this was a self-defense method, it has since evolved to more or less become a fitness exercise like yoga), and boxing, so you can discover them for yourself!

    Whew! That's a lot of text! I hope it's worth the read!
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
  16. Oct 23, 2014 #15


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I would like to address this mindset, as it bothers me. I see a lot of people (on youtube, forums, other places, etc.) who espouse the idea "well, learn whatever martial arts you want, I'll just shoot you in the face with my gun". Perhaps this is not really your mindset, and your comment was meant to be simply off the cuff, but still, there is a fundamental flaw in this type of thinking. The fundamental flaw is the inability to recognize and assess the dynamics of a situation. Bringing a deadly weapon into a fist fight is an escalation. In most jurisdictions, the rules set out allowing you to shoot somebody in self-defense, are quite strict. If you get into a bar-fight and you end up shooting the other guy with your .44 Magnum, you are going to jail for second degree murder (or maybe you can make a plea and just go for manslaughter). Furthermore, from a moral perspective, and not just a legal one, shooting someone with a .44 magnum (which, make no mistake, will destroy that person) should be the very last resort. Sometimes this is the only thing you can do, to save yourself or your family. If it comes down to your family and some guy who is threatening them with severe bodily harm, then you are in the moral right to do all you can to stop that guy, including shooting him with a .44 magnum. But we should not engender a culture where "well, I don't care you have a black-belt, I can just shoot you" is something that we just say to each other. What kind of a culture is that? Not only is this statement morally abominable, it simply does not recognize that a .44 magnum is a weapon to end a lives and is not a joke. You are destroying your opponent completely, and utterly. He will not get back up. He will never stand back up. Everything that was him is no longer.

    In addition to being a morally reprehensible thing to say, this statement also does not recognize the practical nature of fights and aggression. It does not recognize that all important principle of range. A trained police officer requires about one and a half seconds to two seconds to react to a situation, draw his gun, aim it, and shoot it. In this one and a half seconds, an aggressor can cover 5-10 ft in distance and stab you with a knife. Unless you walk around with your gun un-holstered, and always at the ready, you better keep everybody at least 15 feet away in order to reliably be able to draw and shoot. You also better train yourself in the art of weapon retention so the other guy doesn't take your gun and shoot you with it. Of course, assuming you don't get knocked unconscious (which is not a guarantee by the way), if the other person is unarmed, then you certainly will neutralize any "black belt training" they have by shooting them with your gun. Of course a .44 magnum beats any human any day. Even Bruce Lee himself couldn't dodge a bullet, or take a bullet without dying. But that just brings us back to point 1. You are the guy with the deadly weapon, the other guy is using his fists. Under some circumstances, using a gun there might be justified. But even then, be prepared to defend yourself in court.

    TLDR: If you want to carry a gun around, you better be a RESPONSIBLE gun owner, and statements like "well I can just shoot him" show a marked LACK of understanding of firearms and self control.
  17. Oct 23, 2014 #16


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I'm with Simon - don't base it on the name of the style. Visit the local dojos and see how good the sensais are - that's your biggest (smallest?) bottleneck. A poor teacher from a well-renowned style can set you back, while a good teacher from a style that nobody mentions on physicsforums can move you forward.

    The last style I studied was tang soo do, but my teacher had shaolin (kung fu) training and would teach us akido. His own sensai would come in once in a while and teach us dirty moves like fish hooks and elbow locks. Point being, it wasn't really restricted to one style in the first place - it was based on the diversity of the sensai's knowledge and his willingness to utilize techniques from other styles.
  18. Oct 23, 2014 #17
    Against a man, use kick-in-nuts-jitsu. Against a woman, I'd suggest learning boxing. If you're being attacked somewhere, the last thing you want to do is be on the ground at foot level for one of her friends to kick you right in the eye socket.
  19. Oct 23, 2014 #18
    I don't know about best style. I have been practicing muay thai for a little more than a year now. I don't do it so I could kick someone if they attack me. I enjoy the training and it has a purpose, opposed to lifting weights at a gym, although, it can help. It's more about discipline. The ability to defend myself is there, I hope I would never have to use it against someone in a real situation.

    Jiu jitsu is definitely something I can recommend. I find it is the most neutral discipline in self-defense.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
  20. Oct 23, 2014 #19
  21. Oct 23, 2014 #20


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I'm not going to quote and address everything that you said, because a lot of it was redundant and a lot of it was inapplicable. In an ideal world, I would agree with your stance. On the other hand, in an ideal world there would be no inter-human conflict.
    I'm very familiar with proper firearms handling, and also the results of ballistic impact. I carried sidearms for over 35 years. Only once in that time did one of them leave the holster in a potentially threatening situation, and that was resolved with no shots fired. Considering that I was in the security industry and also worked in a cowboy bar, that should tell you how restrained I can be.
    Also, being a semi-militant Atheist, I probably have an even higher regard for life than you do. When it's over, that's all she wrote, so I avoid killing anything other than stinging insects. My rules about fighting are: 1) walk away; 2) run away; 3) crawl away if necessary; 4) threaten the attacker verbally; 5) threaten the attacker with a weapon; 6) if he's stupid enough to continue attacking, kill him beyond any chance of resuscitation.
    You're right about the results of a .44 Magnum in action. In particular circumstances, shooting someone in the arm with one can kill him due to hydraulic shock in the blood vessels propagating and rupturing the heart. At the least, the arm would be amputated by either the bullet or the attending surgeon. I also know that due to my stature, even at my physical peak, my .44 was far too heavy and unwieldy to use as a carry weapon. What I actually wore daily was a .45 auto with home-made explosive rounds, my back-up being a 7.65mm (.32 ACP) auto with hot-loaded steel jackets. (I should also point out that I'm Canadian, and carrying a handgun is strictly illegal here. The police knew whose side I was on, and never addressed the issue.)
    Presently, and for the rest of whatever life I have, I can't leave my home without a walker, and carry a 15kg portable oxygen generator in a backpack just to remain alive. I defy you to come up with any unarmed combat technique appropriate for my self-defence.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?
Draft saved Draft deleted

Similar Discussions: Best style of martial arts for self-defense?
  1. Martial arts. (Replies: 144)

  2. Martial Arts (Replies: 15)