Which Martial Art Is Best For Self Defense?

This question has sparked many debate and maybe even a friendly fight or two.

Most people think of self defense when they think of martial arts.  They may not think it is self defense that works but they do think that self defense is why people learn.

But, Which martial art works best when it comes to self defense?

While at one time every martial art was focused on being able to defend yourself as the highest priority, not every school currently has that as the number one. Now, the world we live in no longer demands this of every school.

This means that where you train and who you learn from has more control over if a martial art will be great for self defense or not.

At TransformDojo, our main focus is on fitness.  We want all of our members to feel confident and capable when they are being active.  With this in mind, we also put a great deal of attention on making sure that what we teach will work if it is ever needed.

Martial Arts in Concord New Hampshire

It's All About The Instructor


If your instructor is focused on if the self defense works, it will!

As I said above, not every school has self defense as a top priority.  They could put fitness, discipline, the sport, or any number of the amazing benefits in front of self defense.

I am not going to judge any school that lets sell defense that works fall to a lower priority.  At the end of the day, we are all trying to provide for our members and if they believe that they can do that better by giving them discipline, focus, and confidence then there is nothing wrong with that.

That also means that if your top priority is self defense then you need to search out a school that believes as you do.

Is Mixed Martial Arts The Best Self Defense?

Mixed Martial Arts or MMA is one of the styles that I often hear people talking about as one of the best or the best when it comes to self defense.

MMA has some great "pros" going for it.

  • MMA Is Well Rounded when it comes to the style of fighting.  Fights can have a variety of distances that they are fought at.  MMA teaches techniques that work at most, if not all, of these distances and this can be very helpful if you need to defend yourself.
  • MMA Is Practical in how it is taught.  The techniques you learn are often practiced against people that are actually trying to stop you.  While it often takes a little longer to learn this way, when you have it down you know it works.
  • MMA Is Aggressive and helps you close the distance.  When you are defending yourself sometimes you need to be confident enough to get very close to the person that is attacking you.  MMA quickly trains this level of confidence into its students.

The "cons" for MMA include.

  • MMA Is Not Focused when it comes to the style of fighting.  This means that if your attacker excels at a specific distance you may not be able to stop them.
  • MMA Is A Sport and sports have rules.  Self defense has one rule, get away or stop your attacker.  That means many of the things that could maximize your defense aren't taught in MMA because they are not acceptable in the cage or ring.
  • MMA Is Aggressive and could lead to you being in a bad position.  Defending yourself is not a fight. Fights are fought to be won.  If I fight while defending myself I am trying to get away or stop my attacker.  Retreat is sometimes the best option and this is not an option that is talked about when you are training to step into a ring or cage.

Is Brazilian Jiu Jistsu The Best Self Defense?


I don't know if I have ever met a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) artist that did not believe with every fiber of their being that BJJ is the BEST art when it comes to self defense.

It can be hard to argue with them given the "pros" that BJJ offers.

  • BJJ Is Unmatched at fighting on the ground.  As far as I have experienced, there is little no art that can hold a candle to what BJJ is capable of on the ground.
  • Many Fights Do Go To The Ground. If a fight goes to the ground the BJJ artist has the advantage.  They break limbs, put you to sleep, and stop their opponents whether they are on top or below their attacker.
  • BJJ Artists Can Move Their Opponents. It is a huge advantage to understand body mechanics when you are trying to defend yourself.  If you can't move your attacker in the direction you want you will find it very difficult to stop them.

Unfortunately, there are some major "cons" as well.

  • Self Defense Does Not Equal Fight. Fights are meant to be won, they have a victor. In self defense I don't care who wins as long as I am safe.  If I am in a fight I might stick around too long and find myself out numbered or out matched.
  • BJJ Is Too Specific. Self defense may require you to fight more than 1 opponent, someone with a weapon, or any number of other scenarios. Yes, BJJ has an un matched ground game but that will help you little if you can't take them down, they have a weapon, or if there is more than 1 attacker.
  • BJJ Often Lacks Striking. The way that BJJ is usually taught there is little to no striking involved. (this may be different at other schools but I have been to a few now and all of them focused on no striking) This lack of striking leads to people that do not know how to handle someone trying to punch or kick them while they are on the ground.  I'm sure you can imagine how this would be an issue.

Is Kenpo Karate The Best Self Defense?

This is the one that I believe most in as a stand alone art but I also have 20+ years of experience in Kenpo. 

Kenpo Karate has the "pros".

  • Kenpo Is Well Rounded when it comes to the style of fighting.  Just like MMA, Kenpo teaches a variety of distances. Unlike MMA, Kenpo places a higher focus on striking distance then others.  This means that we (kenpo artists) are most comfortable on our feet but also have at least some experience with kicking, takedowns, and ground fighting.
  • Kenpo Has A Variety Of Techniques. These techniques are for the various scenarios that good self defense will require.  We have variation for grabs, punches, pushes, weapons, and multiple attackers.
  • Kenpo Emphasizes The Difference between self defense and a fight.  Kenpo artist understand that their wallet is not worth dying for and the distances that required you to go on the defensive or the offensive.

Unfortunately for me,  Kenpo also has some glaring weaknesses. The "cons" include

  • Kenpo Is Traditional. This means that we do not always teach the techniques in a very practical way.  The way we practiced is almost scripted at times and it can take a while to adapt to real life situations because of this.
  • Kenpo Is A Sport and sports have rules.  We do not teach for the sport at TransformDojo but there are tournaments and our students don't always place well because of this. What impresses judges is not always the most practical self defense.
  • Kenpo Has Point Sparring. I kind of hate point sparring because it tricks kenpo artist into thinking that they are good a self defense or fighting.  I (Sensei Jacob) always struggle when I compete in sparring because I will intentionally let a strike through so I can land a more devasting one and in point sparring this means I lose.  Point sparring is NOT practical!

Did my bias show or did I favor Kenpo?


In my opinion, there is no art that is best for self defense.  

If you want to be amazing at self defense you should combined arts.  Training in both BJJ and Kenpo Karate will make you a pretty tough opponent whether you are defending yourself or stepping into the ring.

Don't forget the instructor and school philosophy matters.  If you want to focus on self defense find a school that shares that focus.