The Best Martial Art for Street Fighting

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

After over 30 years of experience training and competing in martial arts, I’ve tried everything from praying mantis-style kung fu to muay thai and BJJ. Way before the first martial art, ezines, went live in the 1990s, fighters had been discussing the best martial art for street fighting. There is no definitive answer, but here are some kick-ass styles that do work on the street.

Anyone who has ever been in a real fight will tell you running away is the only way to ensure you survive with no injuries, but I’m sure that no one reading this article wants to hear that.

Here are the skills you need to be successful in a street fight; if your style isn’t teaching and regularly training these skills, it’s likely not the best martial art for defending yourself or winning a street fight.

If you want to skip ahead to find out which martial arts work best on the street, click here!

6 Questions to Determine If Your Martial Art Is Best for Street Fighting

Does Your Martial Art Teach Defensive Movement?

When you have two or more attackers in the street, staying still is a mistake; you must keep moving. Anyone who’s ever trained or faced two opponents at once will understand that with good movement, you can keep one attacker behind the other—effectively making it one-on-one.

In this type of encounter, styles like wing chun aren’t effective. With minimal movement, it will leave you being attacked from all angles at once. On the other hand, martial arts such as kickboxing, taekwondo, and karate are used to bouncing and making quick steps back and to the sides. Does that mean karate is better than kung fu? It depends on how you train it.

Does Your Martial Art Teach How to Take a Shot?

In one of my first taekwondo competitions, I got hit by a spinning heel kick (that’s what they told me afterward, anyway). I came to the medics’ tent in the corner of the competition hall. But despite competing for another decade or more in full-contact combat sports, I never got KO’d again.

My body had learned something. How to take a shot.

When I started training in kickboxing, I understood what I had learned that day. Bobbing, weaving, evasive movements, and how to roll with punches. These are all skills you need to practice and master.

Martial arts like taekwondo (I was trained by a two-time world champion) just don’t teach much about defense. In taekwondo, getting hit means losing a point; it isn’t life or death.

Does Your Style Focus on Developing Your Mindset?

This was the first thing my instructor said to me when we learned knife defense, “You will get cut, don’t expect to not to get cut.”

You might be thinking, “that sounds like exactly the opposite of what I want when I learn to defend against a knife attack, isn’t the whole idea that I don’t get cut?”

The answer is no; the goal is escaping with your life. Or the way my teacher put it, “expect to get cut, just don’t get stabbed.”

Getting slashed on your outer arms is a small price to pay if it means you don’t get stabbed in the chest.

Styles that teach you to defend against a knife without getting injured aren’t teaching from reality.

Mindset is perhaps the most critical factor in any combat situation. It’s why Mike Tyson won matches before getting in the ring. It’s the reason 300 Spartans could defeat an army of Persians, and it’s the reason that black belts lose fights to untrained brutes.

If you are learning a martial art like Tai Chi, Aikido, or Capoeira, it’s unlikely that you spend much time developing a mindset of kill or be killed.

In a street fight, you will get hurt. You might lose some teeth or break a bone; having the right mindset means expecting those things but being prepared to fight on and win regardless.

Few martial arts train this way, does yours?

Do You Regularly Practice Fight Ending Techniques?

You must aim to end a street fight as soon as possible; every additional second that the fight lasts is a chance you could be seriously injured. But if you’ve been a points fighter or never competed full-contact, you just don’t have the skills to end fights quickly.

Some styles train how to deliver fight-ending blows, whether knockout punches, chokes, or joint locks. Even a judo hip throw will end a fight, especially if you throw someone on concrete.

Do You Train to Stay on Your Feet?

Concrete, cobblestone, tarmac, or just plain dirt, do any of these sound like a place you want to hit the floor and roll around on? Though not.

Aside from the fact that bones are much more easily broken when knocking against a hard street floor, fighting on the ground makes you an easy target. Your movement is highly restricted, and you’re a sitting duck for one of the most devasting attacks (which is illegal in MMA), the soccer kick.

Staying on your feet should be your priority whenever you are accosted outside in the street. There may only be one now, but who knows how many more are around the corner?

Here are a few martial art styles that commonly break this rule:

  • Jiu Jitsu
  • Judo
  • Wrestling
  • Capoeira

Do You Train Realistic Combat Situations in Class?

Real fights are not the same as sparring or the drills you do in class.

You get hit in the back of the head and fall to your hands and knees, only to get kicked in the ribs.

Ever trained for this situation? Street fights don’t necessarily follow the usual build-up and escalation. You won’t be wearing your training gear or have bare feet, either.

Few martial art instructors will actually take you onto the street in jeans and a T-shirt to practice real combat scenarios, but those that do give you a much better chance when an attack does happen. This is a part of martial arts you can train at home with friends if you have to.

Krav Maga scored a perfect 5 out of 5 for “Realistic Training Methods” in our research.

Best Martial Art in a Street Fight Against Multiple Attackers

Boxing

Why Boxing is the Best Martial Art Again Multiple Attackers?

  • Stay on Your Feet
  • Focus on Defensive Movement
  • Develop strong mindset
What Martial Arts Should I Do? Boxing

Everyone’s seen a boxing match and knows what boxing is all about. There’s no kicking, no throws, no chokes; it’s just punching. The simplicity of boxing makes it perfect for defending yourself against an attacker on the street. You don’t need to think about hitting him with leg kicks, taking him down, or looking for a joint lock. No, you just put your hands up and box.

There are plenty of videos that show people taking on two or more attackers with fundamental boxing skills, straight punches, and a tucked chin. In any of the videos below, if the boxer had decided to try wrestling or kicking, things would have ended very differently.

Best Fighting Style Against Someone with a Knife

Krav Maga

  • Strong Focus on Mindset
  • Realistic training
  • Learn to end a fight in seconds
Krav Maga Israeli Martial Arts

Krav maga is a martial art developed by the Israeli military and is still used today by the Israeli army for real-world combat. Few martial arts were as specifically designed for street fighting as krav maga. Some of the principles that make krav maga effective on the street are:

  • Realistic Training Methods: Simple, repeatable strikes
  • End a Fight Quickly: Attack vulnerable targets such as the eyes, neck, groin, etc.
  • Mindset: Develop aggression

Again, assuming the option to run away doesn’t exist, there are a few things to consider when defending or overcoming an attacker with a knife.

Best Martial Art Against a Solo Attacker

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

  • Few know how to fight on the ground
  • Fight-ending chokes and submissions
  • Develop strong defense on the ground
BJJ for a street fight

I know I said you don’t want to roll around on the floor when you’re in an unpredictable street fight, but in a one-on-one situation, things do change a little. Being on your own opens up using the ground and all the choke holds and submissions that come with this close-quarter style.

Jiu-Jitsu is a Japanese martial art that developed from Judo, but it wasn’t until it arrived in Brazil and developed under the Gracie family that it turned into one of the world’s most formidable martial arts.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is almost entirely practiced on the ground. Jiu-Jitsu fighters learn positions such as the guard where their opponents are unable to do much damage while they set up a fight-ending position such as an arm bar or rear naked choke.

Honorable Mentions

Muay Thai

  • Stay on Your Feet
  • Focus on Defensive Movement
  • Develop strong mindset
Muay Thai for Street Fighting

Muay Thai is the martial art of Thailand. It has a strong tradition of competition where fighters use punches, kicks, knees, and elbows to knock out their opponents. Why is it so effective on the street?

Muay Thai focuses on many of the critical street fighting skills, such as staying on the feet, delivering fight-ending blows, and learning how to take a punch. With all the sparring and competition that comes along with training Muay Thai, practitioners are well-versed in defending all sorts of attacks, getting out of the way, and returning fire.

When I trained in Thailand, running was compulsory, too, so Muay Thai will ensure you can run away when the opportunity presents itself.

MMA

  • Stay on Your Feet
  • Focus on Defensive Movement
  • Develop strong mindset
Is MMA good for Street Fighting?

Much like Brice Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, MMA isn’t really a martial art; it’s a mix (hence mixed martial arts.) However, the mix isn’t always the same. Some MMA fighters have a wrestling base mixed with boxing, and others may have a karate base with some judo.

Despite MMA not being definable like other martial arts, I’ve included it in this list for two reasons:

  1. MMA focuses on fighting standing up and on the ground, and “all fights end up on the ground.”
  2. MMA gyms focus on sparring and competition, which simulate combat.

Most MMA gyms are teaching BJJ and Muay Thai, which are both on this list. So while learning MMA isn’t going to train you to take someone’s eye out or end a fight with groin strikes, it will give you the tools you need to win a fight on the street.

Judo

  • Fight-ending throws
  • Develop strong mindset
Choose a Martial Art: Judo

Judo is a bit of a curve ball. It’s not what you’d expect to see on someone’s top fighting styles list. But that’s partly why it is effective on the street – no one is expecting to get hip thrown in a street fight.

If you get into an altercation with someone on the street and it escalates to a physical fight, the average guy is going to put his hands up and start swinging. It’s the natural way people fight who haven’t had any training. They may have seen some UFC fights and know that ground fighting exists and even that leg kicks are a possibility but throws will be so far off his radar that you have the opportunity to take him completely by surprise.

Think about the meteoric rise of Ronda Rousey; she did it all off being an Olympic-level judoka. The women she fought against were mostly kickboxers or MMA fighters who just hadn’t experienced being thrown much. Remember the time she broke a reporter’s ribs with a demonstration throw? Imagine if that was on concrete!

Final Thoughts

Unless you are certain that street fighting is in your future, choosing which martial art to learn based on which is best on the street probably isn’t the best idea. Sure, you don’t want to learn something that’s completely useless (sorry, Aikido), but training any effective martial arts will give you the skills you need to defend yourself for the 40 seconds that most street fights last.

Here are some better ways to decide which martial art to learn:

  • Choose a martial art class that’s nearby – you’ll go more frequently if it isn’t too far.
  • Select a martial art that’s fun – like the idea of Shaolin Kung Fu, do it then!
  • Learn a martial art that your friends learn – you’ll always have a training buddy.