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Which Martial Arts Should I Learn (Flowchart Included)

Wondering which martial arts should I learn?

There are many different types of martial arts and over the last 10 years I have trained a good number of them. I currently hold a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and have trained in karate, boxing, aikido, wrestling, judo, muay thai, and mma so let me try to be your guide!

Learning martial arts is the number one thing that you can do to improve your confidence and better your life.

Which Martial Art I Should I Learn – Highlights and Flow Chart

  • To choose a martial art you should first take a look at your own:
    • goals
    • atheltic level
    • training preference
    • how much time you can dedicate
  • The most effective, accessible, and proven martial arts for self defense are:
    • judo
    • boxing
    • wrestling
    • muay thai
    • brazilian jiu jitsu
  • Lastly, while you can learn some martial arts at home, training in class is always best – also be sure to research local gyms and instructors as they will have a massive effect on how much you enjoy a martial art

If you’re still trying to figure out which martial arts are right for you, check out the below flow chart:

First, let’s take a look at which martial arts training are best for certain types of people – ranging from strength to athletic ability to even health considerations like whether or not you have any disabilities.

After that, we can start to narrow down the specific types of martial arts in general, until we hit on the perfect one for you!

This flowchart is designed to help you figure out which martial arts are best for you. We’ll go over the different types of martial arts and then help you pick which one might be best for you.

Comparing the Most Effective Martial Arts

In the above inforgraphy we have included some of the most popular martial arts including:

  • Brazilian jiu jitsu
  • Boxing
  • Wrestling
  • Karate
  • Aikido

We wanted to compare these martial arts with key factors that you should look at when choosing a martial art.

From this infographic, you can see that the best martial arts for self defense are bjj wrestling and boxing since they include:

  • live sparring
  • are safe to train
  • have been proven in the UFC/MMA

What Martial Art Should I Learn Based on Body Type

In terms of which martial arts you should learn based on body type, it should be understood that each body type will have its benefits and disadvantages across different martial arts – so there’s really no one specific martial art that fits a body type best.

However, for a quick breakdown on which body types line up with which martial arts best check out the below table:

Body TypeRecommended Martial ArtReasoning
Tall and lankyBrazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, BoxingBJJ can leverage long limbs for certain submissions. Long reach in striking arts like Muay Thai and Boxing can definitely be an advantage.
Short and stockyWrestling, Judo, SamboLower center of gravity helps in takedowns and throws. Stocky build can be advantageous for control and power in grappling.
Average buildKarate, Tae Kwon Do, MMAVersatility in strikes and movement. MMA offers a mix of styles catering to a balanced physique.
Muscular and powerfulWrestling, Boxing, Muay ThaiStrength and power can be beneficial in clinch work and takedowns, as well as in throwing powerful punches and kicks.
FlexibleBrazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Tae Kwon DoFlexibility is beneficial for high kicks in Tae Kwon Do and for certain BJJ techniques.
Endomorph (Round, soft body)Judo, Aikido, WrestlingTechniques that focus on using an opponent’s momentum against them or grounding work might be more suitable.
Ectomorph (Thin, lean)Boxing, Karate, Tae Kwon DoSpeed and agility-based techniques may be emphasized.
Mesomorph (Muscular, athletic)MMA, Muay Thai, BoxingBalance of speed, power, and agility. MMA’s varied techniques can cater to this balanced build.

Which Martial Art Should You Learn First?

If you would like to become a well-rounded martial artist and maybe even train MMA, you may be wondering which martial art you should learn first.

The first martial art you train should offer a solid base, be effective and practical, and work well with other martial arts. For this reason we recommend the first martial art you learn be:

  • Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
  • Wrestling
  • Boxing
  • Muay Thai

All of these martial arts can work well with each other and have been proven extremely effective in the world of MMA and in the UFC.

While you can always choose other martial arts, these will be the best to learn first.

Don’t be like me and try ineffective martial arts like aikido first. Dive into martial arts that include live sparring!

What Are the Best Martial Arts for Self Defense

Now let’s look at the best martial arts for self defense.

After all, if you’re looking for the most effective self-defense martial arts, you might want to consider a different set of martial arts since your guiding criteria is how effective the martial arts is in self defense situation.

After all, a practical martial art is designed to help you protect yourself in any situation – whether you’re on the street or facing off against an opponent in the ring.

So, what are some of the best martial arts for self-defense?

  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
    • Why: Focuses on ground combat, allowing a person to defend against bigger and stronger opponents by using leverage and technique. Teaches submissions like chokes and joint locks.
  • Muay Thai
    • Why: Known as the “Art of Eight Limbs,” it utilizes punches, kicks, elbows, and knee strikes. It also incorporates clinch fighting, making it versatile in various ranges of combat.
  • Boxing
    • Why: Prioritizes footwork and powerful punches. Good for improving reflexes and defensive maneuvers like bobbing and weaving.
  • Judo
    • Why: Emphasizes throws and takedowns. It can be useful for defending against grabs and redirecting an opponent’s energy.
  • Wrestling
    • Why: Excellent for controlling opponents and understanding leverage. Wrestling skills can prevent someone from being taken to the ground or help them take down a threat.
  • Sambo
    • Why: A Russian martial art that combines elements of judo and wrestling. It includes both strikes and submissions, providing a comprehensive self-defense system.

Somewhat Less Effective Martial Arts for Self Defense (that aren’t recommended):

  • Karate
    • Why: Teaches striking techniques and emphasizes power generation from the hips. Some styles also incorporate self-defense techniques against grabs and holds. Depending on the school it may or may not include practical self defense training and live sparring.
  • Tae Kwon Do
    • Why: Known for its high and fast kicks, it teaches distance management and quick footwork. Kicks may not be the best for self defense since they can leave you vulnerable and may be difficult to accurately land.
  • Systema
    • Why: A Russian martial art focusing on biomechanics, breathing techniques, and fluidity of motion. It emphasizes relaxation and efficiency to deal with threats. However, it may not be as accessbile and might be hard to find quality instruction.
  • Kali/Escrima/Arnis
    • Why: Filipino martial arts that teach defense against weapon attacks, particularly bladed weapons, and the use of improvised weapons for self-defense. Again, like System, it may be hard to find quality instruction and legitimate training.
  • Aikido
    • Why: Focuses on using an attacker’s energy against them, redirecting their momentum and applying joint locks. However, there is no live sparring and only drilling – it also has yet to be proven in MMA
  • Krav Maga
    • Why: Developed for the Israeli Defense Forces, it’s a practical system focusing on neutralizing threats quickly. However, quality of instruction and lack of live sparring make it less ideal
  • Capoeira
  • Why: A Brazilian martial art that combines dance, acrobatics, and music. It emphasizes fluid movements, evasive maneuvers, and unpredictable kicks. However, effectiveness and quality instruction may be rare in this martial art.

Types of Martial Arts – Grappling vs Striking

So lets breakdown two types of martial arts – grappling and striking based.

When it comes to the different types of martial arts, there’s a lot to break down. By understanding, this separation, you can better choose which martial art is best for you

Martial arts tend to fall into three different categories:

  • striking arts
  • grappling arts
  • and a combination of both which we consider combination martial arts.

Now, even though there are three main categories of martial arts, there are actually quite a few different types within these categories.

BoxingWrestlingKrav Maga
Kick BoxingSambo
Tae Kwon DoJudo

For example, within the striking arts, you have boxing, Muay Thai, and tae kwon do. Within the grappling arts, you have wrestling, judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

And finally, within the combination category, you can find martial arts that combine different types like krav maga and MMA.

Breaking Down Different Martial Arts

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial arts discipline that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. It uses leverage and proper technique to gain an advantage over an opponent, and then word toward a submission usually in the form of joint locks or strangulation.

Jiu Jitsu has strong influences from judo, wrestling, and sambo and a heavy emphasis on control and submissions.

It is a fun, addicting sport that does take a good amount of time to master.

For those interested in one day obtaining your black belt in bjj, the average time to achieve a black belt is ~10 years.

BJJ is a very approachable martial art, as it doesn’t require you to be particularly strong or fast. Instead, it focuses on technique, flexibility and patience.

BJJ is credited with a number of health benefits, including

  • increased flexibility
  • better posture
  • improved cardiovascular health
  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • great full body workout

What Is BJJ Training Like?

In BJJ training, classes are generally 1-2 hours and are made up of three general sections:

  • warm up movements
  • drilling (guided instruction)
  • sparring

This class structure is pretty similar throughout many martial arts and are a good general guide for what to expect in an average martial arts class.

Note: You are not pressured to spar in BJJ and shouldn’t feel required to do so. Once you are comfortable it is recommend to spar as soon as you are ready with training partners who you trust.

Link: What to Expect in Your First BJJ Class


MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, is a great example of a martial art that combines several different types of martial arts together – including grappling and striking

In fact, MMA is probably one of the most effective martial arts for self-defense – given that it’s designed to teach you how to defend yourself in an actual fight against an opponent who is trying to take you down and knock you out.

What Is MMA Training Like?

MMA training may involve movement or exercises from other martial arts.

For example,

  • you may do striking focused training like hitting the heavy bag
  • you may do grappling training (similar to BJJ)
  • or you may do partner drills which you practice light strikes and movements again non resisting partners.

In an average bjj class you can expect some of the below (similar to BJJ):

  • warm up
  • drills
  • sparring

MMA classes may also offer dedicated classes for different specific martial arts like a wrestling/bjj class, boxing class, or muay thai class.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai is good for beginners, but it’s also challenging enough for more advanced martial artists. Plus, it has a focus on self-defense, which means you can use your skills in a real-life situation.

It is considered an all encompassing martial art where you are able to strike without limits like:

  • boxing – only lets you strike with your fists
  • kickboxing – only lets you strik with fists and feet (no elbows)
  • tae kwon do – only lets you strike with fists and feet

Muay Thai is a striking martial art that focuses on footwork and leg movements, as well as various hand and arm strikes. It’s a very physically demanding martial art that can burn a ton of calories and help you get fit quickly.

It’s great for people who want to challenge themselves, but who also want a martial art that can be useful in a real-life situation.

What Is Muay Thai Training Like?

A typical Muay Thai class is usually some form of the below:

  • warm up (stretching, jumping rope, or running or shadow boxing)
  • some strength and conditioning
  • technique instruction
  • then either sparring or padwork

This can, of course, vary from gym to gym but generally these are some things you can expect in an average Muay Thai class.


Boxing focuses on punches, footwork, evasion, and guarding techniques. Its emphasis on reflexes and defensive maneuvers makes it highly effective in close-range self-defense scenarios. The power and speed developed in boxing can definintely neutralize threats effectively.

If you find MMA or Muay Thai to be too much to learn initially, boxing can be a good start into martial arts where you can specifically focus on learning punches and punching techniques.

It makes a great intro martial art.

What’s Boxing Training Like

Training in boxing typically involves heavy bag work, speed bag drills, shadowboxing, sparring, and conditioning exercises.

Similar to other martial arts you will usually do:

  • warm ups (jumping rope/shadow boxing)
  • heavy bag work
  • partner drills
  • padd work
  • conditioning (planks/situps/burpees)


Wrestling teaches you how to control opponents using takedowns, holds, and pins. The art of grappling and close contact control makes it a very solid base for self-defense.

Wrestling should be among your top considerations if you are interested in self defense or in learning effective ways to control your opponent or an attacker.

What to Expect in Wrestling Class:

Wrestling classes typically begin with a warm-up of jogging, tumbling, and stretching. This is followed by technique demonstrations, drilling moves with partners, and practicing setups and takedowns.

Like other martial arts, sessions often end with live wrestling, where students spar against each other, trying to apply learned techniques on a fully restisting opponent.


Judo mainly emphasizes throws and ground control using pins. Effective use can definitely render an opponent incapacitated quickly.

In Judo the goal is to off balance and throw your opponent then once on the ground you can utilize some pinning positions and submissions similar to BJJ (However, much less time is spent focusing on ground fighting and most of the training is based upon throws and takedowns)

Typical Judo Class Experience:

A judo class usually starts with ukemi, the art of break falling, followed by practicing specific throws or pins (nage-waza and katame-waza).

There is also randori, which is free practice where students try to throw one another.

Newer students often start with grip-fighting exercises and basic throws before advancing.

Other Martial Arts to Be Aware of:


Karate is a striking art, using punches, kicks, and knee and elbow techniques. It can be powerful in neutralizing threats with precise and fast strikes, but unless specific focused on self defense and including live sparring it may not be as effective as other the other martial arts mentioned above.

  • Typical Class Experience: Karate classes often begin with kihon, or basic techniques, drilled either in place or moving up and down the dojo. Students also practice kata, choreographed patterns that represent fighting scenarios. Kumite, or sparring, can either be point-based or continuous.


Self-Defense Benefits: Aikido emphasizes blending with an attacker’s movements, using their force against them through throws and joint locks. Aikido doesn’t include any live sparring so it truly has not been prove to be effective against a resisting opponent.

  • Typical Class Experience: An Aikido class often starts with rolling and break falling practice. The instructor then demonstrates techniques against various attacks, which students practice in pairs. Emphasis is on fluid movements and harmony rather than combating force with force.

Krav maga

Self-Defense Benefits: Developed for the Israeli military, Krav Maga is about quickly neutralizing threats. It incorporates strikes, grappling, and defenses against weapons. Be weary when looking to train Krav as it may lack the quality of instruction that other martial arts posses (like BJJ, muay thai, mma)

  • Typical Class Experience: Krav Maga sessions are high-intensity. After a warm-up, classes often involve practicing specific self-defense scenarios like defending against grabs or weapon attacks. Sparring is more scenario-based, simulating real-world encounters.


Self-Defense Benefits: Known for its dynamic kicks, Taekwondo practitioners learn to maintain distance and deliver powerful, precise strikes. TKD while effective may not be the best for practical purposes as kicks may leave you vulnerable to attacks. Plus if it doesn’t include live sparring during training their is no guarantee that the martil art works.

  • Typical Class Experience: Classes start with a warm-up and stretching, emphasizing flexibility. Poomsae (forms) practice is a staple, followed by drilling techniques in lines. Classes may include breaking boards or sparring sessions, which in many schools are point-based.

Kung Fu

Self-Defense Benefits: “Kung Fu” encompasses various Chinese martial arts. Depending on the style, techniques can range from strikes and kicks to throws and joint manipulations. Again, be wearing about quality of instruction and if it include safe, live sparring – without this it may not be considered legitamate for self defense.

  • Typical Class Experience: Warm-ups include stances and movement drills. Students then practice forms, which are choreographed sequences. Partner drills, application practice, and sometimes sparring or push hands (in styles like Tai Chi) follow.

Tang Soo Doo

Self-Defense Benefits: Tang Soo Do blends techniques from traditional Korean and Chinese martial arts, offering punches, kicks, and blocks.

  • Typical Class Experience: A Tang Soo Do class starts with warm-ups and basic techniques. Forms (hyung) are practiced, ranging from basic to advanced, depending on student rank. Sparring, either point-based or continuous, often rounds out the session.

Tai Chi

Self-Defense Benefits: At its core, Tai Chi is a martial art with principles centered on redirecting or neutralizing the force. Its techniques involve subtle shifts in body weight, joint locks, and deflections. It’s commonly practiced for health and meditation in the West and not as a practical self defense martial art.

  • Typical Class Experience: A typical Tai Chi class starts with warm-up exercises that promote relaxation and awareness of one’s body. This progresses to the practice of forms—a series of movements performed in a sequence. These forms can be practiced solo or, in some classes, with partners to understand the martial applications.

Martial Arts for beginners (which martial arts are the best for beginners)

If you’re looking for martial arts for beginners, you’ll want to consider a few different things – like your fitness level, health considerations, mental and physical strengths, and weaknesses and martial arts background.

From there, you can start narrowing down the types of martial arts in general, until you hit on the perfect one for you!

For example, if you’re relatively fit and healthy, and you have a decent amount of mental and physical abilities, feel free to dive into more physical martial arts such as wrestling, judo, or bjj.

Physically Demanding Martial ArtsLess Demanding Martial Arts
JudoTai Chi
Muay Thai

However, keep in mind that while some martial arts may require more athelticism all martials do offer beginner programs so if you are interested in a certain martial art always go for it!

Alternatively, if you’re not really fit or healthy enough for a more physically demanding martial art, you can start with something like yoga or weightlifting and work your way up to more active martial arts.

How to learn martial arts?

The best way to learn martial arts is to find a school that offers a variety of different martial arts classes. This way you’ll have a better chance at finding something that you enjoy and is suited to your skill level.

In addition to martial arts classes, martial arts gyms also offer great social opportunities that can help you meet new people and stay motivated.

While for most, if not all, martial arts – in person learning is best – especially when learning basic techniques of the discipline, there are many other ways to learn as a complement to your in person training such as instructional videos, books, and free other free resources found online.

If you’re interested in learning a certain discipline but don’t know where to start, most martial arts schools are more than happy to help you choose a class that’s right for you and offer an intro class

Once you’ve decided on a martial art, it’s important to start out with an instructor who is patient and able to accommodate to your skill level.

Thanks for reading and best of luck on your martial arts journey!

Other Related Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Decide Which Martial Art to Learn?

To choose a martial art you should first take a look at your own goals, atheltic level, and training preference then consider which martial arts are most practical, effective, and available in your area.

Some good options are Brazilian jiu jitsu, boxing, muay thai, wrestling, and mma.

Can I Teach Myself Martial Arts?

While you can grasp some martial artsbasics on your own, the essence of martial arts often requires a knowledgeable instructor for guidance, corrections, and partner drills.

Furthermore, sparring and live application are crucial components that definitely can’t be effectively replicated solo. So, while you might initiate your journey at home, joining a reputablegym is indispensable for genuine progress.

What Martial Art Should I Learn as a Woman?

Some good options for martial arts to learn as a women are Brazilian jiu jitsu and Muay Thai. However, gender really shouldn’t be a limiting factor if you are interested in a specific martial art, you should find a reputable school and do a trial class.

Choosing a martial art truly depends on personal goals, whether you’re seeking fitness, self-defense, or sport. All martial arts can empower, instill confidence, and improve physical prowess. Do what resonates with your spirit and aspirations.

Link: Tips for Starting Jiu Jitus as a Woman

Which Martial Art Is Best for a Fight or Self Defense?

For practical self-defense in a real life confrontation or fight, muay thai, Brazilian jiu jitsu, boxing, wrestling, and judo come highly recommended due to their real-world applications.

These arts teach students to handle varied scenarios, from striking at a distance to defending against takedowns or managing ground situations.

What Martial Art Should My Child Learn

Depnding on your child’s age, some excellent martial arts to start with are wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and even karate.

These will expose them to taking instruction, learning how move their body effectively, and deal with winning and losing.

Ultimately, the environment and the instructor’s approach can be more influential than the specific art. Choose a school that prioritizes respect, patience, and positive reinforcement.

How to Choose a Martial Arts Gym?

The gym’s ambiance, instructor credentials, and class structure are paramount. Visit multiple gyms, observe classes, and maybe take a trial session. Speak to students and instructors. Ensure that the atmosphere promotes respect, learning, and safety. Cost, location, and class timings are practical considerations, but the quality of instruction and community feel are invaluable.

Link: How to Choose a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gym

What Martial Art Does Batman Use?

Batman uses a hybrid martial arts system derived from multiple disciplines. His combat style includes elements from judo, boxing, jiu jitsu, taekwondo and many others.

Obviously, being a fictional character, his martial expertise is vast and not limited to what an individual can learn in a single lifespan.

What Martial Art Does John Wick Use?

John Wick’s fluid and lethal combat style is a also fusion of multiple martial arts, prominently featuring judo, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and gun-fu (a fictionalized blend of gunplay and kung fu).

The John Wick films include many techniques from Judo and Brazilian jiu jitsu

The films also portray a seamless integration of hand-to-hand combat with firearms, making his style unique and not necessarily realistic.

Is Keanu Reeves a Black Belt?

Keanu Reeves, while obviously incredibly dedicated and skilled in his training for roles like John Wick, does not hold a black belt in any martial art.

However, his rigorous training has likely familiarized him with multiple martial disciplines including jiu jitsu, judo, and striking martial arts like karate, kung fu, boxing, and muay thai

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