Any martial art which was designed to kill or maim an opponent in warfare in the hands of a highly skilled practitioner will have the potential to be deadly in a fight. Not all of today’s martial arts still have this objective in mind, as many of them are now regarded as combative sports rather than the true martial arts. There are and will be many differing opinions of what the most deadly martial art is.
The deadliest martial art is all of them, in my opinion. When taught correctly and practiced well, any martial art, where the teacher has a good understanding of physiology, the biomechanical principles of fighting and the physics of how to generate force, can be deadly.
Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defense.Choki Motobu (1870-1944)
Ultimately, what can be considered the deadliest martial art will be down to the skill and training of the individual and the situation they are in.
Top Most Deadly Martial Arts
The list below details the world’s most lethal martial arts – from traditional martial arts, modern military combat systems through to more obscure martial arts.
Krav Maga is not based around combative sports. It’s a fighting style that was originally developed for the Israeli Defense Force to inflict the maximum amount of pain possible. It’s highly aggressive, fast-paced, and often uses techniques that can deliberately end an opponent’s life.
There are no clear combat rules with Krav Maga. Instead, the goal is to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. Pretty intense, right? With Krav Maga, you are able to quickly disable a gun-wielding attacker or fend off multiple attackers simultaneously. This is why it is incorporated into the United States military and law enforcement training programs as well.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Krav Maga is ‘better’ or that its practitioners could become UFC champions. It all depends on how well you are taught and how you choose to use your knowledge. Here’s what Joe Rogan has to say about Krav Maga:
Lethwei is a brutal Burmese martial art that is also known as “The Art of Nine Limbs” or Burmese bare-knuckle boxing. There is quite a bit of crossover between Muay Thai and Lethwei fighters. Lethwei allows the use of all 8 limbs as in Muay Thai but also incorporates headbutts, which is how it gained the name of the art of 9 limbs.
You can think of Lethwei as a more brutal, raw form of Muay Thai. The knockout’s you see in a Lethwei fight are pretty epic. One of the most famous Lethwei fighters is Dave Leduc. Watch this highlight real and tell me that Lethwei isn’t a deadly martial art:
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – BJJ
Made popular by the Gracies, BJJ taught the world that sometimes the smallest individual can submit someone who outweighs them using balance, technique and employing body leverage. BJJ is primarily a self-defense based grappling system, designed for smaller or weaker practitioners to succeed against a larger combatant.
The system includes some techniques from classical Jujutsu and also focuses on grappling and ground fighting with the aim of gaining a dominant position. BJJ utilizes joint locks and choking to force the opponent to surrender.
Offensively it’s highly effective, even against the world’s best martial artists. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has also been tested against other martial art systems for years and has repeatedly come out on top. It can be a very deadly martial art and remains one of the dominant styles in mixed martial arts. But, like all martial arts it all depends on the conditions under which it is used.
Muay Thai (Thai Boxing)
Muay Thai, also known as Thai Boxing, is the national sport of Thailand. Muay Thai is built to deliver versatile and devastating attacks. Broken ribs and shattered orbital bones are not uncommon. Expect to have your legs destroyed after a practice session!
Muay Thai is an extremely dangerous martial art that features brutal knee and elbow strikes. Muay Thai is commonly seen in MMA and particularly in the UFC. Muay Thai is widely considered to be the world’s most effective striking art, commonly referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs.” Muay Thhai allows the use of fists, elbows, knees and feet.
Like Taekwondo, kicks can be used to keep an opponent at range, but if an opponent gets into grappling range, sharp elbow strikes, and powerful knee strikes come into play. There have been a multitude of deaths in the Muay Thai ring. A brutal and absolutely lethal martial art.
Vale Tudo is a martial art that originated in Brazil, with full contact, no-hold bar ruleset. The term, Vale Tudo, is Portuguese, which translates to “anything goes” in English.
Although still very much focused on pure combat, competitive Vale Tudo now has a number of rules helping it become a safer sport. Combatants now wear gloves and are no longer allowed to head-butt, strike the neck, throat or testicles. It can be compared very closely to mixed martial arts. They both share a common philosophy of pitting different fighting styles against each other, in competition with very few rules.
Vale Tudo is on the more extreme side compared to MMA. While MMA does have a unified set of rules and a number of areas, you are not allowed to attack, as shown by the name, anything goes in Vale Tudo. In this sense, it lot closer to the early days of MMA, such as the first UFC events, where fights were essentially no hold-barred contests.
One of the oldest martial sports on the planet will teach how to take and land hard punches effectively. Boxing requires speed, agility, finesse, power, endurance, and mental toughness. A boxer needs to master the four elemental punches before progressing to the more extreme blows. The first punch is the jab, a swift punch which is the easiest punch you need to learn.
The cross is the second and the most powerful punch. This punch is the riskiest as it exposes the boxer to a counterattack. There is the hook which is a surprise attack and comes from the side to hit the opponent. Flexibility is crucial to delivering the hook in the right fashion.
The knockout punch is the final blow; it is also called the uppercut. In this punch, the delivery of the punch comes from underneath and is aimed at the jaw. Make sure the balance is right to deliver the uppercut with the most power.
Boxing isn’t just about delivering devastating punches, boxers need great agility and balance. Boxers develop their footwork skills to be able to defensively avoid attacks and offensively find new punching angles. A pivot can be useful for counter-punching by taking you out of harm’s way and still keep you in range to throw counter punches.
You need only look at the number of people who are known to have died from boxing injuries to realize boxing can cause devastating injuries. It’s a sweet science but at the same time also a raw and brutal sport.
Judo is underrated as a martial art. One of the only reasons it’s not more popular in MMA competition is because many techniques rely on gripping, which is missing in MMA. But outside of competition, where an attacker would be wearing clothes, Judo is very dangerous.
Judo throws are vicious and can very quickly disable an opponent. If you’ve ever trained this Japanese martial art, you’ll know that the most important skill to learn is how to land correctly. A strong Judo throw will not only knock the wind out of you, it can also snap tendons and break bones.
Judo practitioners go full intensity when throwing their opponent down. Imagine if their was no safety mat to land on but instead a hard sidewalk. Ronda Rousey, an Olympic Gold Medalist in Judo, proved how effective Judo can be when she decided to transition over to MMA. She won her first 15 straight fights, with only one bout lasting more than a single round.
Wrestling is one of the oldest martial arts, it was one of the fighting styles used by Roman gladiators in fights to the death, and it is still highly effective today. Many of the UFC’s top fighters base their MMA strategy around wrestling. A study carried out by Sebastian Rivera found 40% of the all-time UFC champions had been fighters with a wrestling base.
One theory for the comparative dominance of wrestling is the advantage wrestlers have in close combat.
Fighters with striking backgrounds can find it hard to defend themselves from wrestling takedowns. Additionally, while wrestling may lend itself to dramatic knockouts as much as other disciplines, wrestling might be less exciting but more effective, as wrestlers can outlast opponents and gain an advantage.
Wing Chun? You might be surprised to hear me mention this martial art on a deadliest martial arts list. But it’s true! Some high level UFC fighters have called for the Chinese martial art of Wing Chun technique’s to be banned in MMA competition.
Wing Chun’s techniques can be brutal when put into practice. They’re not designed for sport, but to incapacitate an attacker. Many Wing Chun hand strikes aim to cause eye and throat damage.
Rampage Jackson and Wonderboy Thompson are just two of the big names in MMA that have called for a ban on Wing Chun techniques.
Silat is all about violence. It is all about exploiting your opponents weaknesses and incapacitating them as quickly as possible. There are hundreds of different styles (aliran) and schools (perguruan) which tend to focus either on strikes, joint manipulation, weaponry, or some combination thereof.
The style is characterized by a fast attack in which it is important to get close to the opponent, break them in ten seconds and then knock them unconscious with a strong blow to the face, throat, or kidney. No honor, no fame, just dirty punches, and exploitation of weaknesses. They even encourage blows to the crotch!
Silat sparring sessions are traditionally done with no protection at all, and almost always involve one of the fighters walking away with injuries. Defense forces across Southeast Asia still use Silat as part of their training.
An ancient Cambodian martial art having its origins on the battlefield, its name literally translates to “pounding a lion.” By using a diverse array of strikes and weapons it may not be surprising to know that Bokator has been responsible for numerous deaths.
Bokator features around 10000 different techniques. This enormous quantity makes the art so difficult to defend.
This is because it offers skill sets to perform against almost any style of fighting
Jeet Kune Do
Developed by Bruce Lee, this hybrid martial art style was his response to the “flowery” techniques used in other systems. Bruce felt that although these stylistic forms certainly had aesthetic appeal, their practical usefulness was nearly zero.
Jeet Kune Do was conceived to be dynamic, to enable its practitioners to adapt to the constant changes and fluctuations of live combat.
Bruce Lee believed these decisions should be made within the context of “real combat” and/or “all out sparring” and that it was only in this environment that a practitioner could actually deem a technique worthy of adoption.
Originating on the streets of the crime ridden Palama settlement in Hawaii, this highly effective and to-the-point martial art style combines numerous influences and was developed specifically to give locales the ability to defend themselves against not only gangs but also drunk navy sailors who had a tendency of starting fights.
It’s name is a derivative of the 4 martial arts that compose the bulk of the techniques:
JU: Judo / Jiu Jitsu
Hawaii in the 1940’s was a very dangerous and violent place. Any martial art that was developed in this area, at this time, truly had to have been deadly to be effective and stand the test of time.
Keysi Fighting Method
The deadly fighting style originated in Spain in the 1980’s. Founded by Justo Dieguez it was specifically designed to be effective in street encounters.
The Keysi fighting method is intended to be used for self defense in violent street level encounters. It has gained widespread popularity in recent years and was the martial arts system that Christian Bale based his fighting style around in the Batman movies.
In addition to the Batman series, Keysi was one of the main fighting styles featured in Mission Impossible 3 and numerous other Hollywood action movies.
Sambo is a deadly combination of judo, boxing and wrestling that was developed for the Russian Army in the early 1920’s. It was originally created specifically to improve the Soviet special force’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but after a surge in crime, the government began training security guards and public law enforcement as well.
Sambo has multiple disciplines. Sports sambo is reminiscent of judo because opponents compete without punches. Combat sambo is intended primarily for the army and police. Almost everything is allowed, elbows, punches, kicks, knees, throws, chokes, headbutts, groin strikes, locks and and soccer kicks to the head!
UFC lightweight World Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is a 2x World Combat Sambo Champion. He’s currently 29-0, undefeated in MMA competition.
Karate is a Japanese martial art originating from Okinawa located in the south of Japan. Karate uses all parts of the body for self-defense.
Karate incorporates punching, kicking, elbows, throws, and open-handed “knife strikes”. Kyokushin Karate allows blows with full force, and fighters wear no protection and is practiced by Bas Rutten.
Karate can be a very effective and practical martial art regarding self-protection if it’s taught and trained correctly.
Taekwondo is a fast, Korean martial art that makes this list due to its vicious and forceful kicks. The emphasis of Taekwondo is on kicking. As the longest, strongest limb, fighters realized that using legs in combat gave them an edge over other fighting styles that focus on punching.
The devastating power of a Taekwondo kick can drop opponents in seconds, and that is the main reason why it is on my list of deadliest martial arts.
From the roundhouse to the axe kick, there’s a wide variety of techniques that can knock you unconscious before you have a chance to blink. In fact, there’s no shortage of brutal Taekwondo knockout footage online: Video
Wrapping Things Up
Are you considering training in a martial art for general self-defense? If so, then MMA training is perhaps your best option. But if you want the skills to inflict lethal force on an attacker in a short-time frame, I think Krav Maga comes out on top.