The 21 Deadliest Martial Arts in the World


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Some martial arts are combat systems. But with hundreds of martial arts practiced all over the world, it can be hard to figure out which ones have the capacity to do the most damage. So, what are the deadliest forms of martial arts?

The deadliest martial arts in the world are Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Boxing. These martial arts have one thing in common – they are all designed to cause as much damage as possible as quickly as possible.

But I promised a total of 21, so don’t worry. I’ll explore all of them in this article and then dive in deep on the most common ones and the top questions surrounding the topic.

Let’s have a closer look at the deadliest martial arts and see what techniques they use.

21 Deadliest Martial Arts in the World

Below are my picks for the 21 deadliest martial arts (and self-defense and/or combat systems) across the globe. Of course, any list like this is subjective and subject to change.

I give a brief description of each, so check out the FAQs below to dive in deeper on the topic.

1. Krav Maga

An Israeli self-defense system more than a true martial art, Krav Maga is designed to inflict maximum damage as quickly as possible with as little risk to the practitioner as possible.

No spiritual components as with traditional martial arts, and developed very much in the real world with the decades of conflict in the middle east as the testing ground for the techniques.

2. Muay Thai

Also known as Thai Boxing, Muay Thai is not for the faint of heart.

There’s a reason so many UFC champions include Muay Thai in their roster of martial arts they practice. Swift, deadly punches, kicks, and elbow strikes can quickly and efficiently render an opponent beaten or unconscious.

3. Brazilian Jiujitsu

BJJ was developed on the mean streets of Belém, Brazil by Hélio Gracie. Back then it wasn’t for sport or competition; it was about survival!

Gracie himself was a small man who stood just 5’9″ and weighed 143 pounds. He originally learned Judo but was frustrated that many of the techniques didn’t work well for a man his size.

Today, BJJ dominates the UFC and continues to be a very deadly martial art.

4. Boxing

Of course, boxing is a sport and not a martial art.

But it has one goal; to knock an opponent unconscious. Not as “anything goes” as Krav Maga, and built more on muscle, learning the skills of speed, timing, and distance are crucial to beating an opponent.

Boxing gives you those skills.

5. Systema

A Russian military system not unlike Krav Maga. However, it differs greatly from Krav Maga in that it does not have choreographed techniques to learn and practice.

Instead, it focuses heavily on the breath and using the breath to rid the body of excess tension and learning how to spot and target excess tension in an opponent.

Because the moves are a lot more subtle and harder to describe, it sometimes gets a bad rap from people like the McDojo YouTube channel. But anyone who thinks Systema isn’t deadly has never been punched by someone who knows it (I have).

6. Combat Sambo

Sambo is another Russian martial art. But unlike Systema, it focuses heavily on grappling.

It has 2 distinct versions, a sport version, and a combat version. So of course, if you want to train a deadly martial art, look for the combat version.

The combat version is used by the Russian military and includes both striking and grappling.

7. Ninjutsu

Ever want to be a Ninja? Fantasize about Bruce Wayne’s training scenes in Batman Begins? Well, Ninjutsu offers you that.

Of course, it’s not just about fighting.

You also learn the skills of evasion as well as techniques and weapons to distract or disorient an opponent.

But the fighting skills are also just as deadly and effective.

8. Silat

Like the term Kung Fu is used to describe all forms of Chinese martial arts, the term Silat is used to describe many different forms of indigenous martial arts in Southeast Asia ( Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippines, and Southern Vietnam).

It features the extensive use of weapons, although typically not until a practitioner has mastered unarmed combat skills.

9. Tang Su Do

Basically Korean Karate, this is what Chuck Norris practices. And if it’s good enough for Chuck, it’s good enough for you and you know it’s deadly!

10. Eskrima

The national martial art of the Philippians, also known as Arnis or Kali.

As with Silat, it focuses on a combination of both unarmed combat techniques as well as the use of weapons such as sticks, knives, or improvised weapons from whatever materials happen to be nearby.

It features strikes and kicks with a significant focus on the best angle for attack.

11. MMA

Everyone knows MMA (mixed martial arts) as it’s hugely popular in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).

The idea was to take the best aspects of multiple martial arts to make something superior any of the individual parts.

But in its infancy, it was known as Vale Tudo and literally had almost no rules. Anything goes was the motto in those days. It began in Brazil in the 1920s in traveling circuses. Matches would often end in broken bones.

Eventually, the Gracie family became associated with it (as the Gracie Challenge), eventually morphing into modern-day MMA/UFC. And the rest is history.

12. LINE

Another military combat system like Systema or Krav Maga.

This one, however, comes from the US Marine Corps and later the US Army Special Forces. The idea behind the system was that soldiers could still kill opponents even with:

  • Fatigue
  • Low lighting or total darkness
  • Wearing full combat gear
  • Works for and against any gender

And make no mistake. With the LINE system, the goal was always to kill the opponent. Talk about deadly!

13. Jeet Kune Do

A martial art created by famed (and sadly deceased martial artist) Bruce Lee.

He began by learning Wing Chun Kung Fu (also on my list). But he became frustrated with its choreographed nature and felt it lacked practical real-life purposes where a would-be attacked wasn’t following a rule playbook.

He took the best aspects of Wing Chun, boxing, and other martial arts technically creating the first version of MMA. Fast, deadly, realistic, and adaptable.

14. Judo

Another grappling art like it’s offshoot BJJ, despite it’s name loosely translating into “gentle way”, Judo can be quite deadly.

Training it in the late 90s, I once fractured a rib and was knocked unconscious by a 70-year-old woman who was under 5′ tall (granted she was a 3rd-degree black belt).

The primary goal is to throw an opponent to the ground and either choke them unconscious or break an arm. Of course in modern-day classes, you would tap before either of those happened.

But it can be very deadly.

15. Wrestling

Wrestling is a sport, make no mistake. And while in the sport, the goal is to pin an opponent and not incapacitate them, the techniques could easily do that in a no-holds-barred match.

Taking the fight to the ground is a great way to leverage energy against a potentially bigger or stronger opponent. So wrestling, as with the other top grappling arts, deserves to be on this list.

16. Kajukenbo 

A relatively new mixed martial art from Hawaii, Kajukenbo mixes the following martial arts to form a truly deadly mix:

  • Karate
  • Judo
  • Jiujitsu
  • Kenpo
  • Boxing

Trust me. Taking the best and most effective techniques from those systems would make you unstoppable.

17. Praying Mantis Kung Fu

Kung Fu, as we’ve discussed is just an umbrella term for virtually all martial arts that come from China. So some are quite benign (like Tai Chi) while others can be quite deadly.

And often, there’s very little in common between the different styles.

Praying Mantis was literally built on the aggressive tendencies and movements of the insect the praying mantis.

It makes extensive use of a three-fingered hook which can both block or attack.

18. Lethwei

Also known as Burmese boxing, Lethwei is not unlike Muay Thai. Fast and furious kicks, elbow strikes and punches, and it also includes the use of headbutts!

It is considered one of the bloodiest martial arts.

19. Xing Yi Kung Fu

A close-range fighting system that focuses explosive movements designed to generate extreme power quickly to confuse and overwhelm an attacker.

Most techniques can be seen as offensive and defensive at the same time. It features both bare-handed training as well as the use of weapons such as spears and swords.

20. Shaolin Kung Fu

One of the oldest of the many forms of Kung Fu, Shaolin Kung Fu focuses heavily on:

  • Balance
  • Flexibility
  • Speed
  • Stamina
  • The use of Qigong to focus the mind
  • Combat skills (both bare-handed and with weapons)

21. Bacom

Bacom comes from Peru and also goes by the name Vacon. Like several other arts on the list, it was developed for military use. And it’s origins can be traced back to Jiujitsu.

And as with other military systems, it works to quickly incapacitate an opponent through a combination of weapons (often hidden) as well as quick strikes. The strikes are powerful and designed both to overwhelm an opponent and to also take them off balance.

It also focuses on causing extreme pain to the opponent and a no-holds-barred fight could easily end in death.


Frequently Asked Questions


What martial arts techniques are lethal?

The deadliest martial arts techniques are the techniques designed to kill.

In Krav Maga – more of a self-defense system than a true martial art, invented by the Israeli defense forces, you learn how to fight against bladed weapons, guns, and other threats. Krav Maga is not a sport, and there are no rules.

It is taught to the Israeli military to show them how to kill people as fast as possible.

Some of the deadliest and most painful techniques in Krav Maga include groin strikes, eye gouges, throat grabs, knee stomps, and headbutts. Krav Maga is one of the most dangerous martial arts.

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you learn techniques such as joint locks and chokes. In BJJ, you learn how to break almost every bone in a person’s body from head to toe.

Perhaps the deadliest techniques in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are the rear-naked choke, heel hook, and twister. The twister is a submission that twists the shoulders and hips in opposite directions to break the spine!

The heel hook is a move that can destroy the ligaments in someone’s knee, making them unable to walk normally for the rest of their life. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does not have striking, but it is one of the best martial arts to learn if you want to know how to permanently cripple people.

Muay Thai has some deadly techniques too, making it fantastic for street fighting. In Muay Thai, you learn how to use powerful kicks, knees, and elbows, to knock out your opponent.

Krav Maga, BJJ, and Muay Thai are so deadly that they are taught to most branches of the US Military, including the US marine corps and the legendary navy seals.

What are the best martial arts for street fighting?

The best martial arts for street fighting are Mixed Martial Arts and Krav Maga.

Mixed Martial Arts began as Vale Tudo – which is no holds barred fighting. This meant that in the early days of MMA, there were literally no rules!

People would use groin strikes, hit the back of the head, and use all kinds of terribly damaging techniques in fights.

In recent years, MMA promotions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have been running their fights under the unified rules of mixed martial arts that have over 20 foul techniques.

There are, however, still some deadly techniques in MMA, such as strikes and joint locks.

Krav Maga is one of the most effective martial arts and is a self-defense system that can teach you how to defend against guns, knives, and multiple attackers.

I recommend training MMA, as you will learn how to fight trained fighters.

In MMA, you will have to do sparring and drilling. The main benefit of MMA training for self-defense is that you get to train spontaneously in sparring without getting hurt.

In Krav Maga, there are no rules, so they don’t do sparring. Krav Maga is used in military training to get soldiers to think outside the box and remember that in a life-or-death situation, there are no rules.

Another martial art used by the military is Systema. 

Systema was invented by the Russians and has some subtle differences from Krav Maga. Check out this recent article on my site, where I explore the differences between Krav Maga and Systema and compare the hand-to-hand combat ability of the Russian and Israeli militaries.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

What are the best martial arts for self-defense?

The best martial arts for self-defense are Muay Thai, BJJ, Boxing, Wrestling, Combat Sambo, and Krav Maga. There are certain elements of each martial art that makes them so deadly.

Boxing is one of the most lethal martial arts because it is so simple yet so effective.

In Boxing, you will learn how to generate an incredible amount of power in a single punch to drop your opponent with ease. Boxing is one of the best forms of hand combat and has been around for over two thousand years!

It was the first Olympic sport alongside Wrestling!

BJJ is deadly, and to get a BJJ black belt, you will have to spend over 10 years on the mats mastering the art of manipulating joints. BJJ is best for women and smaller people, as it teaches you how to use technique and leverage to defeat a larger attacker.

Combat Sambo is a unique form of fighting that combines techniques from Judo, Wrestling, Muay Thai, and BJJ. Combat Sambo is a Russian fighting style that was developed by the Soviet army.

Some other different styles of Sambo include Freestyle Sambo and Sport Sambo.

Are there forbidden martial arts techniques?

There are no martial arts techniques that are forbidden, and most martial arts will teach deadly techniques. There are, however, many martial arts techniques that are so deadly they are banned in competitions because they can cause permanent injury or even death.

For example, in Judo, Wrestling, BJJ, and other grappling martial arts, you are not allowed to slam someone on their head, as you could break their neck and paralyze them or kill them.

In MMA, you are not allowed to use 12-to-6 (perpendicular) elbow strikes, as you could crack someone’s skull open.

In most martial arts competitions, you are not allowed dirty fighting techniques like eye pokes, throat grabs, and groin strikes, as they can cause immense pain and life-changing injuries.

So, to sum up, every single martial art will have techniques that are simply too dangerous to use in competition. The martial art that has the most techniques that are illegal in martial arts competitions is Krav Maga.

Krav Maga is an unconventional system that is not practiced as a sport or for competition.

In Krav Maga, the whole point is to fight like you are fighting for your life, and therefore the techniques are banned by most martial arts.

Do ninjas still exist?

Ninjas still exist! They aren’t like the people you see in films though – covered from head-to-toe, doing somersaults, and surviving impossible injuries. However, in some countries, particularly Buddhist countries, you can find monks that live and train like ninjas.

These monks train martial arts like Kung Fu, Jeet Kune Do, Judo, Taekwondo, and other traditional martial arts.

Kung Fu is one of the original Chinese martial arts and is all about using technique, discipline, and meditation to become a good martial artist.

The focus of Kung Fu is not damage; however, it is more about mindfulness.

Kung Fu does teach the use of weapons. However, most of Kung Fu is rehearsed and choreographed. If you want to learn how to fight with weapons in a chaotic environment, you need to do some Krav Maga.

The monks also train Jeet Kune Do – the martial art pioneered by the legendary Bruce Lee.

Jeet Kune Do is a combination of Wing Chun (a form of Kung Fu) and Boxing and takes the most effective techniques from both disciplines and merges them into one system.

Wing Chun teaches you how to use fast and deadly accurate strikes to overwhelm an attacker.

Modern-day “ninjas” also train Japanese martial arts like Judo and Karate. Judo was invented by the Japanese samurai who wanted to be able to fight in thick armor. If you live in a cold climate where everyone walks around in jackets, learning Judo would make you deadly!

You could throw anyone and everyone that you walk past!

Finally, these monks also train Taekwondo which is a Korean martial art. Taekwondo is really dangerous, as you learn how to take the most powerful part of your body (your legs) and use them to strike the head, which contains the fragile brain.

In the UFC, devastating Taekwondo, fighters like Yair Rodrigues and Petr Yan have seen massive success.

Some monks also train in the rare martial art of Ninjutsu – which is what real ninjas used to learn.

It teaches you how to fight with throwing stars, knives, nunchucks, and other unconventional weapons. Check out this recent article on my site, where I explore what makes this martial art so deadly and effective.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

What is considered the deadliest martial art?

In first place for the deadliest martial art, we have Krav Maga. Again, more of a self-defense system than a true martial art, it has no rules and is designed to kill.

It is not designed to simply harm someone or score points like other martial arts. It is so deadly that there are no mainstream competitions for it, as you would have to restrict most of the techniques.

If you want to learn more about the specific ways Krav Maga is intended to be deadly, check out this recent article on my site. I talk about the brutal philosophy of the martial art and why you should train it if you want to be a great martial artist.

The second deadliest martial arts are Boxing and Muay Thai.

Here you learn how to use powerful and devastating strikes to knock people out and break bones. There have been many instances of boxers and Muay Thai fighters dying in the ring from brain damage, spinal injuries, and even ruptured organs.

Check out this recent article on my site where I talk about the really important topic of brain damage in Muay Thai. If you train any striking martial art, this is a must-read if you want to protect yourself.

After that, we have the grappling martial arts such as BJJ, Wrestling, Judo, and Sambo.

In these martial arts, you learn how to manipulate people’s joints to break them, cut off blood flow to the brain to choke people out, and learn high-impact takedowns.

Grappling is great for smaller people, as you can use techniques to overcome strength like Royce Gracie did in the early days of the UFC.

Perhaps the “least deadly” martial arts are the traditional martial arts like Taekwondo, Karate, and Kung Fu.

These martial arts have techniques that can kill, but the emphasis of these martial arts is personal enrichment and discipline, not harming others.

But despite saying that about Kung Fu, Chinese martial arts do have some deadly techniques too.

Check out this recent article on my site where I talk about how effective Chinese martial arts are in real-life scenarios and if they are worth training. After all, Kung Fu is simply the name to describe ALL Chinese martial arts from Tai Chi to Wing Chun.

Click that link to read all about it on my site.

25 Most Lethal Martial Arts Ever Created

Conclusion

In conclusion, the deadliest martial art is Krav Maga, as it is designed to be used in military conflicts to kill armed attackers. The most lethal martial art techniques are head kicks, chokes, joint locks, and dirty fighting moves like eye gouges and groin strikes.

Most martial arts will teach deadly techniques, but they will be banned in competitions.

The best martial arts for street fighting are Boxing and Muay Thai, as they emphasize the importance of staying on your feet and delivering hard, effective strikes to knock out your attacker so you can run away.

BJJ is good for street fighting too, as it teaches you how to escape pins and defend takedowns. You should not grapple in a street fight though. Traditional martial arts like Kung Fu and Karate have deadly techniques, but these martial arts are not trained at high intensities and lack sparring.

To be an effective and deadly martial artist, you must train in a martial art like Boxing, MMA, or BJJ, where sparring is a focal element of training. Sparring will teach you how to respond to the spontaneous nature of fights and perform under pressure.


Image by pedjasayeret1 from Pixabay

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell was Academy Director for a large martial arts school for over 7 years, and has trained extensively in a variety of martial arts including Brazilian Jiujitsu, different styles of Karate, the Russian Martial Art of Systema, Aikido, and much more.

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