Knowing how to defend yourself is a critical survival skill. If someone intends you harm, or wants to take what you have, knowing how to throw a punch and fighting back may be the very thing that keeps you alive. Most aggressors are looking for an easy win, a victim that can quickly overpower, and putting up a fight may just tell them you're not to be messed with.
You should learn a martial art. But they're not all the same. Of course, they will all train you on ways to defend yourself, but some are a little more effective than others when it comes to using your skills in the real world. Want to find out what you should be studying?
We'll get to that. But first I just want to mention one thing.
A truth that overrules everything you will learn studying martial arts. Weapons, like a firearm, or even a knife, pepper spray or a taser, are infinitely more effective as a self-defense tool today. A gun has range, speed, and can take down an attacker before he even gets close to throw a punch.
You need to include self-defense weapons in your survival stockpile.
But knowing how to fight if you're in a situation where you've only got your fists is important too. You don't want to be completely vulnerable when you're unarmed, right?
Muay Thai is my favorite martial art to train as it requires so much speed and stamina. Sometimes referred to as kickboxing, there are some subtle differences. Different to Western-style kickboxing, you'll learn how to effectively use knee and elbow strikes, as well as clinching. It's a very fast martial art, and if you also practice sparring you'll learn very quickly how to defend yourself from a variety of different attacks.
The downside to Muay Thai is the lack of training on the ground, and you'll get very little practice defending and disarming actual weapons.
After Muay Thai, this is one of my favorite martial arts. In Hebrew the name translates into "contact fighting" and this style of training is what the Israeli Defense Forces uses to train. The creator took the best pieces of Muay Thai, Brazilian Ju Jitsu and a handful of other disciplines, combining the most effective defensive techniques into Krav Maga. The whole focus of the training is to develop your instincts and reflexes, and you'll practice defensive moves while attacking. Survival is the priority here, and in Krav Maga you'll even learn to target the most vulnerable areas of the body.
The downside is it can be difficult to find a good trainer. Many fitness classes are incorporating "Krav Maga" into their offer, but it's really just a watered-down form of boxercise. Find a proper gym and learn the real techniques, Krav Maga is one of the best martial arts you can learn.
Brazilian Ju Jitsu
If you've watched any mixed martial arts on television, you'll have seen techniques from Brazilian Ju Jitsu. It's primary focus is throws, locks and choke holds, that you can use to takedown your opponent and put them out of commission. You'll learn how to do complex submission holds to render an attacker immobile or unconscious, so you can escape.
The downside is there's little time spent on strikes, and you won't learn how to disarm armed attackers. Plus, in a group situation you risk your safety when you're trying to choke out one opponent and the other attacks you while you're on the ground.
Knowing how to throw a strong and fast punch is vital in a fight. But not only that, you'll condition your body and also learn great footwork, so you can quickly step in and engage during a fight, striking only when the time is right. I'd highly recommend you practice sparring while learning to box, as it hones your senses and helps you react faster when someone is attacking you.
The downsides to boxing are that it uses your arms only. In a street fight you can expect kicks, stomps and more, and you need to be prepared for these too.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
With the rise of popularity of the UFC, mixed martial arts has quickly become one of the most sought-after martial arts to learn. You'll learn how to do choke-holds and locks like Brazilian Ju Jitsu, alongside flashy strikes and big takedowns. In your training you can expect a lot of sparring and hands-on practice, and it will get you very fit, very fast.
The downside is the techniques. I tend to feel MMA is just a little "flashy" (for want of a better word) and you'll not get any practice dealing with armed attackers.
I studied karate as a kid, learning one of the most popular martial arts throughout my childhood. I also grew up watching the karate kid, and I'm not ashamed to say it influenced the decision. In addition to learning a host of different strikes and kicks, you'll be taught how to effectively block, and even disarm attackers coming at you with a weapon. Plus, you feel a little badass when you start learning how to punch through wooden boards.
The downside to karate is that it's no longer seen as "cool" compared to some of the other techniques, and they teach very little on defending yourself once you're on the ground.
With similarities to Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Judo is focused on locks, pins, choke holds and what's especially fun, throwing your opponent to the ground. In a fight, if you can take your opponent's feet out from under them and toss them on the ground, you've got the upper hand. Most attackers won't even know how to defend themselves against you.
The downside is you won't learn any striking, kicking or punching with Judo, it's mostly all throws and submission holds.
Ultimately the best martial art to learn isn't a single discipline. If you want to only do one thing for self-defense I'd choose Krav Maga, but if you've the time and inclination a little time spent in the Muay Thai gym, along with practice on the Brazilian Ju Jitsu mats will give you a variety of different fighting skills you can use to defend yourself in all situations.