The Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Martial Art for Self-Defense
There are many reasons someone may want to train in a martial art, from improving their health to competing at events. One of the most common reasons, however—and arguably one of the most important—is for self-defense. When it comes to self-defense, each martial art brings its own set of strengths and weaknesses to the table. In order to help you decide which martial art we teach will best equip you with the skills you need to defend yourself, here are the strengths as well as weaknesses of each one:
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
It is very often that a fight will end up on the ground, and this is where Brazilian Jiu Jitsu shines. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teaches you how to control your opponent on the ground, fight for dominant positions, and submit them via techniques such as chokeholds and joint-locks, either from a dominant position or from a losing one. The fact that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gives you the techniques to win a fight even from a position that most would see as a big disadvantage (such as lying on your back) is huge. An assailant who attacks a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner may think he is winning the fight handily one second, then the next second be staring down at his limp, broken arm.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also a great martial art for smaller people, as it leans on principles such as leverage and positioning in order to overcome a stronger opponent. Many people who grapple with a trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter will often times swear they are twice as strong as they look, when in reality it is the technique providing the illusion of superior strength.
For one, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teaches no striking. It really isn’t all that heavy on takedowns either, so if you as a fighter trained only in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are going up against a proficient striker who is determined to stay on his feet, you may be in some trouble.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is also wholly inadequate at fending off multiple attackers. While you are on the ground putting a rear naked choke on one attacker, his buddy could be kicking you in the back of the head, searching around the alley for a crowbar to finish you with, or doing pretty much anything else he wants to do—there’s not much you can do about it whatever he decides. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was built to be effective solely in one on one situations.
Muay Thai is a devastating, strike-oriented martial art that teaches you to use every weapon on your body to the best of its ability. It identifies eight points of contact for you to take advantage of (two fists, two elbows, two knees, and two feet/shins) and shows you multiple ways to incapacitate an attacker with each one.
Muay Thai is a martial art with an emphasis on power. It teaches you to go for the knockout blow. This is great for life and death situation where the only way to stop an attacker is to turn out his lights. Unlike Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai is great for taking on multiple attackers, since it allows you to quickly finish them one at a time while remaining moving and on your feet.
Lastly, Muay Thai fighters are trained to be tough. Their shins and fists are hardened from hours on the heavy bag, and thanks to full contact sparring they are just as used to taking a blow as they are delivering one. The mental and physical toughness that is learned through Muay Thai proves incredibly valuable in real hand-to-hand combat where you may be forced to fight through the pain in order to survive.
Muay Thai does not teach any ground techniques, and though a Muay Thai fighter is usually pretty good at staying on their feet and working the clinch if their opponent does start grappling with them, they will be out of their element if the fight goes to the ground.
Judged purely as a striking martial art, Muay Thai does not teach you to have the same “good hands” that boxing does. A trained boxer would be able to parry strikes, throw jabs and hooks, and fight with his hands much better than someone disciplined in Muay Thai. While being trained to use other points of impact such as knees and elbows is certainly an advantage, Muay Thai places a little less focus than some martial arts on the point of impact people rely on the most—the fists.
If you consider your two fists to be your weapons of choice, boxing is the art for you. Boxing teaches the best hands of any martial art and people skilled at boxing are able to block, dodge, and parry punches with practiced ease all the while delivering punches of their own that are both fast and powerful.
In self-defense scenarios where you don’t want to kill the guy or even permanently damage him (such as a bar fight) boxing is great. It allows you to leave your opponent snoring on the ground without having to tear his arm off at the shoulder (like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu would have you do) or kick him in the ribs hard enough to shatter them (like Muay Thai would have you do).
That’s not to say boxing can’t be used in other, deadlier scenarios. Quite the opposite, anything that teaches you as excellent maneuvering and hand work as boxing can certainly be used to fend off even the most aggressive attackers.
If Muay Thai is limited due to the fact that it doesn’t teach you to fight from the ground, boxing has limits on top of limits. Not only does it teach you no groundwork, it also only teaches you how to make use of two weapons on your body—your hands. There are no kicks in boxing, no knees, or elbow strikes either. And sometimes a self-defense scenario calls for you to take advantage of everything you have at your disposal.
Being a little more traditional and based in competition, boxing is not quite as brutal as some martial arts either, and its techniques are designed to knock someone out, not kill them. While 99 times out of 100 that is a good thing, life-and-death scenarios against a belligerent attacker hyped up on adrenaline and/or drugs sometimes call for measures that are a little more drastic that what boxing offers.
Jeet Kune Do
Invented by martial arts legend Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do has the advantage of being incredible well rounded. Whether you are in kicking distance, punching distance, in the clinch, or on the ground, Jeet Kune Do gives you the ability to defend yourself. This makes it great for self-defense scenarios where you simply cannot predict where the fight is going to end up.
Jeet Kune Do also focuses on the principle of delivering maximum results with minimal effort, making it great for finishing a fight quickly and effectively without having to expend too much energy.
Lastly, Jeet Kune Do does teach aggressive or “dirty” tactics such as eye rakes and groin kicks, giving it a leg up in self-defense situations over cleaner martial arts such as boxing or even Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Ever heard the expression “a jack of all trades but a master of none”? This is, in essence, Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do teaches you to fight from the clinch, but Muay Thai does it better. Jeet Kune Do teaches you to submit your opponent on the ground, but Brazilian Jiu Jitsu does it better. Jeet Kune Do teaches you to box and fight with your fists, but boxing does it better.
In a situation where your life is threatened, having a range you are completely comfortable at and a specific arsenal of tactics that you are so familiar with they are second nature is sometimes better than being just okay at all ranges. While Jeet Kune Do’s flexibility is certainly its strength, it can, in some instances, be a weakness as well.
Kali is an effective Filipino martial art and is the technique favored by many of the world’s special forces units. That alone should tell you how effective it is.
Unlike some martial arts, Kali places emphasis on teaching you how to not only defend yourself against edged and impact weapons but also use them yourself. And since Kali teaches you to defend yourself against weapons such as a knife, where taking even one blow is not an option you can afford, you learn incredible defense.
Lastly, Kali is brutal. It is a merciless martial art full of real-world tactics meant to put an attacker down for good—qualities that are great for a self-defense oriented martial art.
One of the only weaknesses of learning Kali for self-defense is that you may find yourself spending a lot of time training with weapons—such as swords, staffs, and batons—that would unlikely be available to you should you find yourself in a life and death situation. Most of the times, people are attacked when they least expect it and are unlikely to be carrying around a sword. While learning how to use these weapons is both exhilarating and practical, it isn’t always applicable to self-defense situations.
If there is one takeaway here it is this: no one martial art is perfect, but being proficient at any one of them will make you magnitudes more prepared should you ever find yourself in a situation where you have to fight for your life. Another important thing to notice is that where one martial art lacks a little, another may excel, meaning that training in combinations such as Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Boxing and Kali can make you a far more well-rounded fighter.
Whichever martial art you choose to train in, we hope this guide is helpful to you and that your training will leave you prepared should you ever have to use it to save your life.
For a FREE 14 Day Trial , please fill out this form.
Sign up for the Kombat Newsletter. There’s a form on the right hand side of this page.