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Practicing martial arts has become a widely practiced thing in the United States due to a number of factors one of which being the rise of the UFC. While most of us will not make it to be professional fighters, many of us do enjoy the benefits we receive from training in our own free time. In this article, we list the deadliest martial arts that you can train (in no order) and why they made the list.
Different Types Of Martial Arts
There are at least 190 different martial arts in the world and different people train these different martial arts for different reasons. Some want to develop an incredibly high standard of fitness and potentially compete in a highly demanding sport martial art, such as Taekwondo, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, Thai Boxing, MMA, kickboxing, or even Kyokushin Karate.
Some people become interested in ancient martial arts with centuries of history as a pastime, to explore culture, make friends, relax, or keep a tradition alive, such as Aikido, or Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Others take up a martial art to protect themselves, build confidence and feel safer walking home at night.
While some people train their chosen martial art for a mixture of all three of these reasons, there are several ways martial arts can be divided into subcategories. One way of doing this would be to divide them into subcategories based on their geographical point of origin – Japanese arts include Judo, Aikido, Bujunkan, Jiu Jitsu, etc. Chinese arts such as the various forms of Kung Fu – Wushu, Wing Chun, Sanda etc. Korean – Taekwondo, Hapkido, etc., South East Asian martial arts – Muay Thai, Lao, Lethwei, etc.Western arts – boxing, wrestling, Savate, historical European Medieval Martial arts.
An arguably more informative way of subdividing martial arts would be based on their primary focus – Muay Thai and kickboxing, for instance, are much more centered on throwing strikes such as punches and kicks and are therefore seen as striking arts, while judo, BJJ and wrestling are seen as grappling arts due to the techniques which involve using grappling and joint manipulation techniques on an opponent. Lastly, some, martial arts such as HEMA, Kendo, Kali/Eskrima or fencing are almost solely about using weapons such as swords, batons, or knives to defeat another armed opponent.
Martial arts have also been developed for military personnel with examples being Krav Maga, Bacom/Vacon, Muay Boran, or the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program are typically designed to equip troops with the weapons they need to defend themselves in a situation where they find themselves either without ammunition or without the means to fire it entirely. This may mean finding makeshift weapons within a given environment, or hand-to-hand combat.
Deadliest Martial Arts
A martial art can be defined as deadly if it is not just efficient but has a high potential to maim, cause life-altering injuries, or even death itself. It should probably go without saying that martial arts that involve weapons are generally more deadly than those without.
If you punch a man in the head and you could injure your hand on their skull; hit a man in the head with a stick or baton and their skull is more likely to break than the stick. That being said, weapon-centered martial arts have fewer self-defense applications, given that depending on where you live there may not be many instances where it is socially or legally acceptable to carry a weapon on your person. But hey, if you live in Florida, apparently anything goes!
Deadly martial arts may use techniques such as strikes to vulnerable areas like the throat, eye gouges, chokes, or joint locks. The training sessions related to these martial arts may also have a high-intensity rate and depending on the art, involve mental and physical conditioning to equip the student with a mindset suited to violent real-life encounters. Military martial arts almost always involve this intensity because losing a weapon and resorting to hand-to-hand combat is seen as a worst-case scenario.
1) Krav Maga
Krav Maga was initially invented in the 1930s by martial artist and athlete, Imi Lichtenfeld as a way for Slovakian Jews to defend themselves against anti-Semitic violence. When Lichtenfeld left Bratislava during World War II, he took it to what was then Palestine. In Palestine and later Israel, the martial art developed with its use by the Israeli Defence Forces in the years that followed. Over the last three decades, Krav Maga has been having become increasingly popular with and has been taught to anyone looking to learn one of the deadliest martial arts on the planet.
Krav Maga is effective as it focuses on practical techniques for real-world self-defense or war situations. Its techniques include striking areas such as the groin, eyes, throat and nose, joint locks, chokes, and throws. Krav’s syllabus which is typically governed by the International Krav Maga Federation emphasizes quick, powerful strikes which can be executed in extreme circumstances.
While some instructors suggest using the techniques to escape to safety, other instructors seek to instill a kill-or-be-killed mentality in their students, making the brutally efficient Krav Maga even more deadly.
2) Muay Thai/Muay Boran
Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, or “The Deadly Art of Eight Limbs” is the national martial art of Thailand and a full-contact combat sport that sees competitors use kicks, punches, knee and elbow strikes to knockout, incapacitate or out-point their opponents. The intense training is rivaled by a few other martial arts styles. The training allows fighters to become physically and mentally tough, which can be incredibly useful in self-defense scenarios, or in mixed martial arts. However, what makes Muay Thai deadly is that it uses the elbows and knees in a way that few other martial arts do as effectively.
Thai boxing is an effective martial art on its own, but it traces its roots to Muay Boran and some of the other South East Asian kickboxing styles. Muay Boran was practiced on the battlefield by ancient Siamese warriors and is still used today by the modern Thai army. Unlike Muay Thai, which has a defined rule set and rules, Muay Boran practitioners do not wear gloves and as a consequence, eye gouges and throat strikes are within the curriculum.
As my old Muay Thai/Boran coach once told me “If you get in a serious fight, you stick your thumb in their eye and elbow in the throat until they stop moving. Then you get your passport and leave the country. If anyone asks, you didn’t learn this from me!”
3) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Developed in Brazil, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a grappling-based martial art that traces its roots to judo and the Jiu-Jitsu of Feudal Japan. While referred to as the gentle art due to its lack of strikes BJJ has an array of joint locks, chokes and other techniques which can immobilize an opponent. Like Muay Thai, most successful MMA competitors practice BJJ as part of their training regime and grappling techniques are part of their typically wide arsenal.
BJJ has become one of the most popular martial arts on the planet as it is also one of the safest yet effective martial arts to train. This is due to the lack of strikes and the sparring practice known as “rolling” incorporated into most clubs’ syllabi. While again, this safe practice would make BJJ appear to be quite low on the deadly scale, grappling is one of the most effective ways to control an attacker and any choke left on for too long can lead to permanent brain damage or even death.
4) Combat Sambo
Initially used by the Soviet Red Army soldiers and its elite Spetsznaz unit, Combat Sambo incorporates techniques from judo, boxing, and Muay Thai. It is considered deadly as it focuses on ground fighting and utilizes grappling techniques such as joint locks and chokes which like those of BJJ can lead to permanent injury or death if not applied with care.
In addition to this ground fighting focus, Combat Sambo emphasizes the use of strikes to vital areas of the body such as eyes, throat, and groin, often opting for open palm strikes to avoid damaging the practitioner’s hand. These strikes are designed to rapidly injure or incapacitate an enemy.
Both combat and special sambo (sport form) practitioners engage in a lot of sparring, allowing them to highly competent at what they do. Legendary MMA fighters such as Khabib Nurgamedov, Fedor Emelianenko, and Islam Makhachev, its combat equivalent have been utilized by security guards and private bodyguards for years. As the use of this discipline has increased, various weapon innovations, such as the use of knives and batons have been added.
5) Kung Fu
Kung Fu is often used as an umbrella term for the various styles of Chinese martial arts, this includes the kickboxing-like sport known as Sanda (formerly Sanshou), some of the oldest martial arts such as the various styles named after animals such as tigers or cranes, and wing chun the style used by Bruce Lee before he developed his Jeet Kune Do system which suggests abandoning the concept of “martial arts styles” in favor of having a style for each individual.
Depending on the style of Kung Fu, it may equip the student with efficient and deadly strikes.
6) Kyokushin Karate
Karate may not be one of the fighting styles you associate with h
Sometimes referred to as “The Strongest Karate”, Kyokushin was developed in the late 1950s by Masutatu Oyama, Kyokushin emphasizes full contact sparring and rigorous physical conditioning which allow its users to break boards with their bare hands or feet without feeling the same intense pain an untrained person may experience.
A Korean martial art first practiced in the 1940s by combining different skills practiced at the time, Taekwondo is both a popular martial art with self-defense purposes and an Olympic sport with a huge global following.
In its sport form, Taekwondo heavily favors fast kicks over punches, and most bouts are won on fights. However, this sport form is often regarded as a watered-down version of the style used by military personnel. While Taekwondo kicks are often trained by Mixed Martial Artists, few schools still teach “old school” Taekwondo.
Another martial art originating from Korea is Hapkido, which although it contains punches and kicks is much more akin to Judo or Jiu Jitsu and other grappling based martial arts due to its heavy reliance on efficient grappling techniques. Hapkido can be used in the same deadly fashion as BJJ for this reason.
Although largely seen as an Indonesian martial art, silat is the collective term that refers to indigenous martial arts from Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and other surrounding geocultural areas of Southeast Asia. There are hundreds of different schools with their styles and syllabuses containing strikes, joint manipulation, or weaponry.
Unlike various forms of kung fu or karate, Silat does not place much focus on spirituality, honor, or self-development. Instead, Silat is a deadly fighting style centered on exploiting weaknesses and violently incapacitating the enemy as quickly as possible, whether that be via throat strike or groin shot.
Some schools will go as far as use metal bars in their conditioning routines, by having students bash them against their bodies. Other schools will practice both unarmed and armed attacks, some incorporating the use of a dagger called the “Kris” or “Keris”. This is a corrugated knife that can be used to quickly stab into an opponent’s softer body parts. In warfare, this dagger was coated with a powerful neurotoxin that would kill an opponent in less than a minute. As if regular knife strikes weren’t bad enough!
Ninjutsu, also known as Ninpo and Shinobijutsu, is a Japanese martial art that originated in the 13th century. It encompasses multiple disciplines beyond fighting techniques, including stealth, espionage, disguise, and assassination tactics, as well as skills for survival, and navigation. The art involves strikes, throws, joint locks, and other techniques to quickly disable an opponent.
Ninjutsu was most likely practiced by renegade peasants who sought safety in the mountainous areas of Ig and Koga, on the central Japanese island of Honshu. During the 1970s and 1980s, art gained widespread interest in the West due to its exotic and secretive nature, and it was portrayed in films, comics, novels, cartoons, and manuals. This saturation in pop culture has caused the ninja to become associated with cool.
Despite this “cool” factor, it is difficult to say if ninjutsu is an efficient martial art for modern-day if you’re not a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Although it contains techniques found in most martial arts, many were developed for the very different times of Feudal Japan, for specific reasons. Unless you’re training for espionage, ninjutsu may be more of a fun hobby than a form of self-defense. Despite this, ninjutsu is practiced by tens of thousands of people worldwide and should be noted for having lethal techniques.
9) Mixed Martial Arts/Vale Tudo
Mixed Martial arts (MMA) first appeared as a sport in the 1990s and sees different fighters use a wide variety of different martial arts including boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, wrestling, and Sambo, often combined for maximum effect.
While it can be compared to the Ancient Greek Olympic sport of Pankration, much of MMA came from Vale Tudo or “Everything goes”, a fighting style that was popular in underground fights in Brazil during the 20th century.
Whether you’re practicing modern MMA or “old school” Vale Tudo, with its fish hooks and eye gouges, practicing a variety of martial arts can make anyone a serious threat.
10) MCMAP – Marine Corps Martial Arts Program
Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) is a combat system developed by The United States Marine Corps developed that blends both new and pre-existing hand-to-hand and close-quarters fighting styles. Its objective is to instil the Warrior Ethos in its trainees and give them understanding of fighting styles while promoting morale and team-building.
Since its inception in 2001, the program has trained Marines and attached US Navy personnel in unarmed combat and weapons training – particularly with edged weapons, temporary weapons of opportunity, and rifle and bayonet techniques. Over time, MCMAP has evolved to incorporate the best techniques from various martial arts around the world, including improvised weapons, bayonets, and weapon parts for inflicting pain.
Before MCMAP, the US Marines Corps used the LINE training system, and later by the US Army Special Forces until 2007. LINE is undoubtedly a very deadly martial art system, designed to be executed in specific combat-oriented conditions and required techniques that were not vision dominant, effective in low-light or impaired visibility conditions, and usable by soldiers wearing full combat gear. The system’s techniques were meant to cause death to the opponent and be gender-neutral. Flamboyant, unnecessary techniques were excluded, and the system focused on easily learned and repeatable techniques.
There were various criticisms of the LINE training program – one was that it required constant drilling, which was difficult for personnel with limited time. Another was that LINE caused serious casualties in recruit training. Consequently, MCMAP replaced LINE.
Kali, Eskrima/Escrima, or Arnis are three roughly interchangeable terms for the traditional martial arts of the Philippines. These martial arts emphasize weapon-based combat with knife strikes, sticks, spears, batons, and other improvised weapons. The art also contains quick punches and open-hand fighting techniques.
The people of the Philippines have developed these various arts and the skill of strikes, grabbing hands, disarming and even killing their enemies. Eskrima’s philosophy means that even without weapons, you are equipped to cause lethal harm to an opponent. Today, Eskrima has various sport versions – one where competitors wear full-body armor and protective masks, and other more brutal variants, sometimes seen in Filipino underground fight clubs.
The Peruvian martial art, Bakom was founded by Roberto Puch Bezada and is a hybrid fighting style that emerged from Peru in the 1980s. Bezada, a former marine and jujutsu master, incorporated street fighting techniques into Bakom, making it a unique mix of jujutsu, boxing, and street fighting. It shares some similarities with Krav Maga as the fighting style emphasizes power and destabilizing an opponent’s balance, while also using hidden weapons for deception and surprise.
Unlike other fighting styles, Bakom is rather unusual in that it is designed to inflict maximum pain on an opponent, making it difficult for them to continue fighting. Unfortunately, fights utilizing Bakom often end in death for one of the combatants.
On the other hand, Vacon (pronounced like the Spanish Bacom) is a martial art known for its brutality to the point that it is illegal to teach. The techniques used in Vacon are so dangerous that sparring could result in catastrophic injuries or even death. It is one of only two martial arts classified by the military as “eol craft” or “end of life tradecraft.” Instructors teach three special techniques to operators who may face imminent capture or who are unconscious, facing torture or death.
Advanced Training And Techniques
The world’s deadliest martial arts have a wide array of advanced training and techniques. Any given martial art style can take years to learn, due to the depth and understanding of the techniques involved. Usually, the longer you practice a martial art, the more likely a coach or teacher will be prepared to give you advanced techniques and ways to practice them. Some of the most important things you can develop in training involve footwork, timing, distance management and speed. Arguably boxing is the best martial art to learn and arguably the most popular martial art on the planet.
What is the benefit of Learning Martial Arts?
Whether you learn a lethal martial art, or a more gentle one, you can experience numerous benefits, both physical and mental. Some of the key benefits include:
Improved physical fitness: Practicing a martial art involves a lot of physical activity, such as stretching, strength training, and cardiovascular exercise, which can help improve overall fitness levels, have you lose weight, and tone up.
Self-defense skills: Effective martial arts are primarily designed for self-defense, so learning martial art can help you develop the skills you need to protect yourself in potentially dangerous situations.
Increased confidence: As you progress in your martial arts training and develop new skills, you may feel a greater sense of confidence in your ability to defend yourself and handle challenging situations. Remember though, that training a martial art doesn’t make you invincible. Don’t go looking for fights and don’t get cocky.
Stress relief: Hitting pads, kicking bags, grappling, rolling around and grounds can all be incredibly cathartic practices, thereby relieving stress and tension, allowing the martial artist to focus their mind and energy on something positive.
Improved mental focus: You don’t have to train the deadliest martial art to gain a great deal of mental focus and concentration, which can help improve your ability to concentrate and stay focused on tasks in other areas of your life. This can even be seen in the more gentle Chinese martial arts such as Tai Chi or Qi Gong.
Discipline and self-control: Almost all arts in the world emphasize discipline and self-control, which can be valuable skills in all areas of life, from work, diet, vice-control, household management, and to relationships.
Sense of community: Even when you’re training deadly martial arts, you can find yourself meeting friends. Many schools and clubs foster a strong sense of community and camaraderie among students, which can be beneficial for socializing and building relationships.
Overall, learning a martial art can have a wide array of benefits to building your mental and physical resilience, allowing you to develop as a person.
How To Train Safely
Whether you’re training the deadliest martial arts or some of the softer ones, there are various steps you may want to take to prevent injury to yourself or others and ensure you’re able to train for years to come.
Start slow: When starting, it’s important to take things slow and focus on proper technique before increasing speed or intensity. This helps to prevent injury and allows you to build a solid foundation.
Warm-up and stretch: Jumping straight into practicing one of the deadliest martial arts in the world without having a body adequately limber can put a lot of strain on your body. Light aerobic exercise such as jogging, jumping jacks, shadow boxing, or skipping will get your blood flowing. Once it does, make sure you stretch – particularly the waist, lips, and back muscles.
Use proper protective gear: Many martial arts incorporate protective gear such as gloves, shin guards, gum shields, or headgear in their training routines and sparring sessions. Consider investing in high-quality gear and make sure it fits you.
Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels during training. If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, speaking up and letting your instructor know is important. Unless you’re in a military setting and your drill sergeant calls the shots, you should consider when to push past your limits. Remember, if you are training in one of the deadliest martial arts, there can be a severe risk of permanent injury. You may need to modify a technique or take a break to prevent injury.
Train with a qualified instructor: Unfortunately, there are a lot of “McDojos” – profit-orientated schools with money-grubbing coaches teaching ineffective, or dangerous “bullshido”. Ensure you’re learning from a qualified instructor with experience in your chosen martial art. They can help you learn proper techniques and provide guidance on how to train safely.
Don’t push yourself too hard: While it’s not uncommon for martial artists to want to challenge themselves and get out of their comfort zone, it’s important not to overdo it. Rest and recovery are important for preventing injury and improving performance. Even if you’re intending on entering sports grappling tournaments for BJJ or wrestling, over-exertion without appropriate recovery can be a seriously bad idea. Saunas, plunge pools, yoga, swimming, and going for walks can help with the recovery process.
Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before, during, and after your training session to prevent dehydration and fatigue.
By following these guidelines, you can train in martial arts safely and minimize the risk of injury.
Online Learning Resources
There are many online learning resources available for training in various martial arts, including:
YouTube: Almost every martial art has hundreds of YouTube channels where practitioners discuss and provide tutorials on techniques, drills, and workouts.
Udemy: Udemy offers a wide variety of martial arts courses for beginners, intermediates, and more advanced practitioners alike.
Gracie University: This online learning platform offers courses in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, with instructional videos and interactive quizzes to help students learn and practice the techniques.
FightCamp: This subscription-based service provides online boxing workouts, including access to virtual trainers and live classes.
Krav Maga Worldwide: This online learning platform offers courses in Krav Maga, with instructional videos, online classes, and a community of fellow students. It is linked to the international Krav Maga Federation.
JiuJitsuX: Jiu-Jitsu X is an online platform that offers instructional videos and training resources for practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). The platform was founded by BJJ black belt and competitor, Nick Gregoriades, in 2020. Jiu Jitsu X offers a wide range of instructional videos from world-renowned BJJ instructors.
BJJ Fanatics: BJJ Fanatics is an online platform that provides instructional videos, books, and other resources for practitioners of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). BJJ Fanatics offers a selection of books, e-books, and digital downloads covering various aspects of BJJ.
It’s important to remember that while online resources can be helpful, it helps to be discerning with your choice of course. It’s also best to train with a qualified instructor in person to ensure proper technique and safety, particularly if they’re teaching something which could lead to long-term damage like joint manipulation!
It is difficult to determine what is the deadliest martial art, but an exploration of the subject can be interesting. Whether you train in traditional Chinese martial arts such as kung fu, a Japanese martial art, or a more modern deadly martial art, remember that for the most part, the primary goal of martial arts is self-defense and protection. It’s always better to avoid dangerous situations and conflicts altogether, and the various arts in the world provide valuable skills for de-escalation and peaceful conflict resolution.
It’s also important to prioritize safety and avoid using excessive force or breaking the law, even in self-defense situations. Just because you train one or more lethal martial arts, doesn’t mean you should be looking to use every technique. It’s a real joy to practice martial art as an art form, and ultimately, the true value of martial arts training lies in promoting personal growth, physical fitness, mental discipline, and a sense of community, rather than just the ability to inflict harm.