Best Martial Art for Self Defense: Learning to Survive on Your Own

Best Martial Art for Self Defense
David Dawson
Written by David Dawson

These days, more people would like to know what the best martial art for self defense is, or at least which ones make the best options to learn. If you ever find yourself in a survival situation, it will be important to know how to defend yourself. During times of natural or human-made disasters, there may be a breakdown in law and order and people may resort to looting.

Someone may attempt to steal your vehicle or supplies and there may very well be no police or law enforcers to turn to for help. In these situations, your ability to defend yourself could mean the difference between returning home with food or equipment, and returning home empty handed. Self defense skills become even more important in the event that a natural disaster drags on. This is because other people, especially those who have no stockpiles or supplies of their own, may become desperate. When individuals are hungry or sick, they become even more likely to be willing to hurt others to get what they want.

In addition, as weeks and months go by, people may no longer have access to the usual weaponry that they may have depended on for self-defense. Ammunition may have run out, with no way to replenish stocks. Over time, weapons may wear out or may become damaged from exposure to the elements. This means that you need to have ways of defending yourself, even when the situation is not ideal.

Martial Arts

Physical benefits of martial arts

This is where martial arts come in. The reality is that people have been developing ways to defend themselves, from both single and multiple attackers, even before the advent of gunpowder and modern weaponry. Different types of martial arts evolved, with varying philosophies and techniques.

But all of these offer key benefits that could be crucial in any life or death, or self-defense situation, that you may find yourself in. While some types of martial arts may favor offense over defense, the ability to avoid injury as well as resist attacks is generally going to be part of any martial art.

One of the benefits that just about all martial arts will provide is a stronger and faster physique. Physical fitness and a more capable body are going to be a huge advantage in a self-defense situation. If you are able to move faster, that gives you a better chance of getting away, in case the odds are against you. Or if you have greater endurance, you’re more likely to leave your pursuers panting for breath behind you. Those are just some of the benefits of speed and endurance.

Self Defense

There’s also the increased toughness that comes with martial arts training. Ideally, you’ll be quick enough to avoid or have blows glance off of you. Or if an attacker manages to land a punch or a kick, your body will be strong enough so that you can shake off the impact.

And then, the increased strength that comes from more well-developed muscles should allow you to hit your attackers, with more effective results. Your quicker reflexes and ability to snap punches or kicks will also allow you to land your attacks more often. So these are some of the general advantages that come from martial arts training.

However, if you are not interested in learning a whole new sport and you’re just looking for a few techniques, you should take a look at our tutorial on self defense techniques.

Mental benefits of martial arts

One other advantage to consider involves changes in the mind. Being able to defend yourself from attackers requires you to be open to the possibility that you may have to inflict serious or even fatal damage on others. This is something that many people are not able to do or consider, even if their own lives are put at risk.

Martial arts training allows a person to practice, through sparring, the various moves and techniques which are designed to defend as well as cause damage. Over time, this continued training and practice can help to overcome any lingering hesitation or resistance.

This is important because, if you become more able to inflict serious damage in order to defend yourself or your loved ones, then your chances for survival increase. Also, if you no longer hesitate to cause injury at close proximity to your attacker or attackers, then this also makes you more able to defend yourself using a longer range weapon, such as a firearm or crossbow. This is something that should not be underestimated because, in a life or death situation, even a minor hesitation may already be enough to give your adversary an insuperable advantage.

So these are some of the key benefits that come with general martial arts training. Ideally, you will choose a martial art that you are personally comfortable with. This is important because learning a martial art will take a serious commitment of time, practice and concentration. This becomes somewhat easier if you love the martial art that you are learning, and if you are genuinely interested in its specific techniques, or even the philosophy behind it. So keep this factor in mind when choosing a specific martial art, because it will help to make your learning more effective.

As you can imagine by now, knowing martial arts is not an advantage only for a survival situation, in an end of the world scenario. It is an advantage even for the day-to-day life, when you could be cornered by an attacker on the street. For this case, we have a great article on martial arts for street fighting that you should not ignore.

Types of martial arts

That said, if you feel able to learn one of several martial arts, you can choose the ones which offer the most benefits in terms of self-defense and survival. One thing to consider is learning a martial art which teaches you how to use basic weapons. After all, even in a disaster situation, and even if advanced weaponry such as rifles and bows are not available, you will still be surrounded by objects which can make effective weapons. You can also increase your odds by having your own weapons somewhere easily accessible or on your person.


One of the best martial art for self defense is Arnis. This is a martial art which teaches the use of stick weapons from the very beginning of the training process. The sticks are generally made of wood and are around 26 inches long. Arnis teaches people how to fight with either one stick in one hand, or one stick in each hand (2 sticks).

This martial art focuses on the flow of the various techniques so that movements are smooth and strikes are effective. People learn how to parry an attacker’s weapon with the sticks, as well as how to disable or disarm an attacker by striking that person’s limbs.


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Arnis is particularly useful in a survival situation because of the type of weapon that people are instructed on. Since these are simple sticks of light wood, it is actually possible for an arnis practitioner to have these handy at all times. Sticks can be kept at home or in the place of work. It is also easy to carry around sticks in a bag or other holder. Even if disaster were to strike suddenly and without warning, this person would never be caught in a situation without a weapon.

In fact, since sticks seem relatively innocuous, it would be possible to bring them inside places or aboard vessels which would never permit other weapons such as firearms or knives. An attacker may not even realize that you are armed, or may underestimate the effectiveness of your stick weapons, which will already give you an advantage.

The sticks are also made of light and sturdy wood. This means that they are relatively easy to carry around, even for long durations, and they last a long time. Another advantage that they have over bladed weapons is that they do not need to be sharpened, to maintain their effectiveness.

Another benefit of Arnis is that, if the usual sticks are not around, it is fairly easy to replace them with other found objects with the approximate shape, size and hardness. This means that, even in the worst kinds of survival situations, you will always be able to find something to use as a weapon or weapons, and you will have the skills and training needed to use them to great effect. In the event that you need to merely disarm or incapacitate an attacker, as opposed to dealing a fatal injury, these sticks are also more able to do just that.

So, as far as martial arts for self-defense purposes are concerned, particularly in a disaster-hit world, arnis is one of the options to consider. This martial art also sometimes goes by the name of eskrima or kali. Now, this does not mean that arnis is the only viable weapon-based martial art out there. There are others, so if an arnis instructor is not available where you live, you can consider some of these. As far as fighting with sticks is concerned, there is also bojutsu which makes use of a long stick or staff.


One additional benefit of Bojutsu is the increased reach that you are given with the weapon. Whether the staff is being used to strike, slash or stab, you’re more likely to damage your attacker without incurring injury yourself, simply because of the distance your weapon can cover. It also helps that long sticks or staves are something that can be found in the wild or scavenged from all around, even in a post-disaster scenario. So there will be no reason to go without a weapon. However, there are some downsides to the use of such a long staff.

One downside is the loss of control for self-defense purposes. The increased reach and length of the staff is good for getting in the first strike, and going on the offensive. But once an attacker has been able to close the distance that increased length can make it more difficult to parry attacks or otherwise defend. This is unlike the twin arnis sticks, which offer greater control and maneuverability, which helps with parrying attacks. Another downside to the long staff is a loss of portability. It’s more unwieldy and more difficult to bring around wherever you go.

Another well-known martial art is Tai Chi, but this practice is less violent and more focused on your inner self. If you want to learn more, we prepared a great article that explains this ancient art in detail.

Disadvantages of bladed weapons

There are also many martial arts schools which teach pupils how to fight and defend with swords. While this will still offer benefits in a self-defense situation, there are some clear disadvantages. Even if you do have a sword of your own, it’s less likely to be allowed into certain places. There’s also the challenge of keeping it sharp, in an extended survival situation. That said, bladed weapons also offer some additional survival benefits, in terms of hunting game and preparing meat. But for self-defense purposes, blade-based martial arts may not be the best way to go. We have a great article where we present the best self defense weapons you could use so, if you’re interested, take a look.

Another thing to consider is that there may still be situations where you will need to defend yourself, even if you do not have your weapon of choice. One worrying possibility would involve being unarmed and having to fend off multiple armed attackers. In order to be truly prepared for any survival situation, you need to know how to fight unarmed and use your own body as an effective weapon. As far as this objective is concerned, there are a number of unarmed martial arts which stand out in terms of their self-defense effectiveness.


One good place to start is with straightforward boxing training. This martial art does a number of things that are very effective in terms of protecting yourself. Just watch the best boxers in action. One of the things that a person will learn is the right defensive stance. This involves multiple layers of protection. The arms and fists are up, which will help to protect both the torso and face from incoming blows.

Proper footwork will also be learned so that it may be possible to move away from an adversary’s line of attack, or an incoming blow could potentially be dodged. Even when contact is made, you will learn how to adjust the angle of your body so that an incoming blow is more likely to glance off. This allows you to deflect most of the weight of the punch.

Boxing also allows your body to become tougher, through the constant physical training. Your reflexes, ability to anticipate and react, and more will also be improved through the constant sparring with other boxers. There is nothing unrealistic or academic about punching things out in a ring. In this way, boxing helps you to develop the mindset of a fighter. Now, while boxing offers these advantages, there are some aspects that are lacking. For instance, attacks that you carry out are limited to punches.


While punches are a good start, boxers do not learn how to use the other parts of their body, such as elbows, knees and feet in order to slow down or keep an attacker at bay. At the same time, boxing also does not have as much to teach for situations where an attacker has managed to pull you down or pin you to the ground. To learn about these aspects, it becomes necessary to turn to other martial arts.


Judo can also be considered the best martial art for self defense when it comes to learning how to deal with a situation where an attacker has managed to latch onto you, and is pulling you around or attempting to force you to the ground. These are actually very common scenarios in real life fights. There’s a lot more pulling, pushing, grappling and pinning, as opposed to elegant strikes and flying kicks. Learning judo will give you insight in how to get out of a situation where an opponent is attempting to choke the life out of you, or has you pinned to the ground.

Another advantage of judo is that it allows a smaller defender to effectively protect against or even take down a larger attacker. By shifting your position and channeling existing momentum, it becomes possible to throw an attacker, even if there is a relatively large weight or height difference. It becomes more a matter of timing and technique. It also becomes possible to subdue a larger attacker, by focusing on the more fragile or vulnerable parts of that person’s anatomy.


In a survival situation, people will tend to go after those people who they feel are weaker or smaller than them. If you have gained proficiency in judo, you will have less to fear even if you are smaller than or not as muscular as your attacker.


While kickboxing is relatively lighter on defensive techniques compared to other martial arts, it does offer a number of benefits for the survivalist. The general idea is that, if you are forced into unarmed combat, the disadvantage of attacking with fists is that your reach will be limited. This is a problem if your attacker is armed with a weapon that has a longer reach like a pole, chain, piece of wood or a cleaver. There is something to be gained by being able to attack with your legs and feet. At the very least, the increased range that these offer will help to keep attackers at bay.


While there are some martial arts that stand out in terms of maintaining an effective self-defense, remember that, in choosing the best martial art for self defense there is no one correct answer. Instead, what is more important is to find a martial art that you can commit to, for the long term.

All forms of martial arts training will offer benefits in terms of upgrading your physical capabilities, increasing your mental toughness and alertness, and preparing you to face the prospect of coming under attack. Be sure to start learning soon. The more knowledge you have at your disposal, the higher your chances are in case disaster strikes.

About the Author

David Dawson

David Dawson

David Dawson is a retired security specialist with over 20 years of experience. He worked for a secret manufacturing facilities and hospitals in Illinois. David's responsibility was to protect people in case of any disaster or cataclysm that might occur. Now he keeps on doing it through teaching others about how to prepare and survive flood, earthquake or even war.