If you’re like me, you’ve seen a few martial arts movies in your day. And by ‘a few,’ I of course mean ‘far too many.' It's fast-paced, entertaining cinema: there’s no time of day where I’m not in the mood to watch someone catch an Iron Palm to the ribcage, or get his hand lopped off by a samurai sword. There are plenty of guys who dream of being as good a fighter as, say, a Bruce Lee (or even a Jet Li).
But these movies, while undeniably binge-worthy, paint a less-than-accurate picture of how martial arts can factor into a real-world fight. Fights rarely last for several minutes, but just a few intense seconds. And that's the thing: a fight could happen any time, anywhere, and most people don't know how to effectively defend themselves. You don't Jason Bourne or Bruce Lee to end a fight in a flurry of fists and spin kicks — you just have to know a handful of moves to defend yourself on the street.
With this in mind, here's a short guide to the best martial arts to explore if you want to stay alive in the middle of a street fight.
Krav Maga is the official self-defense system created and used by the Israeli military, a group widely recognized as one of the most hardcore armed forces in the world. It focuses on threat neutralization, efficiency of movement, and brutal effectiveness.
Krav Maga is famous for its pragmatic approach to self-defense, bypassing the time-wasting solo drills of other fighting styles, and giving its practitioners the tools necessary to quickly end a street confrontation. Technique training ranges all the way from proper punching and kicking to gun disarms and defending against multiple attackers. Here's a video of Krav Maga in action:
Ignore the silly music. There guys could tear you to shreds.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu came into the spotlight when Royce Gracie won the first ever Ultimate Fighting Championship and quickly cemented its spot as the world’s foremost martial art for one-on-one, unarmed combat.
Royce’s father Helio Gracie developed the system in Rio de Janeiro partially because he wasn’t strong enough to pull off some of the more muscle-based traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu techniques. Instead, he came up with his own system that relied on intelligent use of body mechanics to allow smaller fighters to overcome bigger opponents. It's perfect if you're not necessarily built like Hulk Hogan.
Rather than throws, Gracie focused on taking the fight to the ground and finishing it with a choke or a joint lock. Everyone has at least some idea of how to throw a punch, but it turns out that when you put someone on their back, most people have no idea what to do. This provides an opportunity for someone trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to come in and finish the job quickly and easily.
Muay Thai is another martial art that’s gotten a lot of attention because of its association with UFC fighters (and, more recently, Victoria's Secret angels). And with good reason — there’s not a single fighter in the UFC who hasn’t trained in Muay Thai.
The notoriously savage style of kickboxing from Thailand is also called “the science of eight limbs,” because in addition to the usual two hands and two feet, it also makes extensive use of knees and elbows. As any stand-up fighter will tell you, there’s no place you want to be in less than a Muay Thai fighter’s clinch, where vicious knees and elbows can come from almost every angle. Muay Thai is a style that focuses on sparring and the actual act of fighting, so you can be sure you’ll be strapping on the gloves in no time.
The world is a vast, beautiful place, and people have been trying to kill each other in it since the dawn of time. Over the years, they’ve created thousands of different combat systems to aid them in this pursuit. But when it comes to the one that’ll keep you safe on the street, not all are created equal. If you’re going to learn to fight, remember to fight smart.