What is the best martial art for self-defense?


With the exploding popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) has been touted as the best all-around martial art in the world. But BJJ is not the best martial art for self-defense. In order to answer this seemingly simple question, it is necessary to qualify what is needed for an average person to be good at self-defense. Like the amount of sparring time compared to classroom instruction, availability and price, ability to defend against armed and unarmed opponents, ability to defend against single or multiple opponents, practical versus sport, and the difficulty in learning the martial art.

After much research, the conclusion is that Krave Maga, the Israeli State Martial Art, is the absolute best in the world for Self-Defense.

Apologies, this was for a school assignment. Still, I'd like to know what you think.

Not a bad assumption. You get good at what you practice. If you take your definition of "all-round best martial art," to be simple, street focused, deal with multiple attackers, and cover weapon training, then compare it to martial arts systems you will find that you are looking for a system that doesn't practice other things. Time spent practicing other things takes away from getting good at what you do practice. Krav maga is a good choice based on your list... so too is some Jeet Kune Do proponents -- some of those guys would keep pretty close to your list but add grappling.

However, I'd like to challenge some of your assumptions. First, if you are in a multiple opponent situation you're likely going to lose. If they have weapons and you don't, you're likely going to die. Unless, you have a distinct advantage in striking power, striking accuracy, and the ability to control range. In the situations where a striker wins a many-on-one situation they have the ability to drop attackers on engagement; this forces the attackers to back off, giving the striking hero the ability to control range. That is a lot of things that have to go right. Boxing works well here too. They only train four attacks and have a good defence against the basic attacks. You don't want to cover block against a knife; but footwork is probably a boxer's go-to defence anyhow.

So you predicate your choice on you being athletic and big enough to drop opponents quickly; and that the opponents aren't versed in any defensive system. If you learned a knife-fighting system and always carried a knife or stick, you'd be better prepared for the "street encounter" that you are talking about. Perhaps even always wear a jacket that prominently reads "I open carry a firearm."

You ruled BJJ out at the beginning because it focuses a lot on one-on-one. However, in this method you are at least training for a situation that you have a good chance of winning. You can neutralize the larger, stronger opponent. If you reworked your list at the beginning you would end up with different conclusions. In order to be scientific you have to look at the person going in, the amount of training they are going to get, and the end scenario that you want them to be ready for. If I had to submit your project I would start with two separate cases that draw two different conclusions.

In my opinion, the best martial art for self defence is the one that teaches you not to run your mouth and avoid dangerous situations ahead of time. Be alert. Be kind. Be smart.

From my own experience with medeval re-enactment combat, multiple attackers really are hard to beat. A very skilled combatant can maybe be take two unskilled attackers at best.

There is one exception to this, and I've seen it happen. Reputation. It's the best defence. Someone with a rep as a killing machine can be surrounded by a group of attackers who know who they are facing and they all hang back hoping that someone else will do the job; they attack in dribs and drabs and as the bodies pile they lose their nerve even more and it ends in a rout.

In re-enactment this is slightly unrealistic though because we are not really killing each other and so weapons do not get stuck in bodies requiring disentangling. We also have a slightly unrealistic system of people dropping immediately when they take a body hit. Even a poor-quality hit that in practise probably wouldn't result in an instant kill.

I have done knife-fighting as part of re-enactment, it's not all armour and pole-axes. The knife stuff is a lot of fun, fast and scrappy. Not following any real system though.

I did learn Tai-Chi stick fighting, quite a few years ago. All this talk of martial arts gives me a hankering to take it up again.