Top 5 Martial Arts For Women’s Self-Defense

So what we are going to suggest is 5 martial arts that are suitable for women to learn self-defense. The criteria for choosing them is based on several things. One is the techniques they use and their applicability in no rules combat situation, armed or unarmed, against one opponent or more.

Then, we considered the dangerous situations that are common for women, such as rape, and the martial arts ability to deal with those. We also considered the availability of these fighting systems, since the best martial art won’t help you if the nearest club is 5000 km away.

You will notice that all of the martial arts listed have some things in common. First, they are full contact systems. That’s incredibly important if self-defense is your primary focus. Nobody will tap you to get a point when trying to rob you or rape you.

Second is that they all include sparring. Sparring is ESSENTIAL if you want to learn how to fight and defend yourself, because you have to be able to apply your techniques on a RESISTING OPPONENT. Also when people constantly hit you, throw you, choke you, or put you in joint locks, you will become less afraid of those things.

Here are our 5 picks for best martial arts for women’s self-defense.

1. Krav Maga

Groin shot by a girl in Krav Maga

Hard hitting and no-nonsense, Krav Maga has no goals other to teach you how to defend yourself. No sporting aspect in this one. In this fighting system, you practice for the worst possible scenarios. That means you practice striking, grappling and ground fighting. But let us be clear, every technique you practice is oriented towards your escape from the position you don’t want to be in. If you get end up on the ground, you will learn how to escape and get back to your feet, you won’t specialize in submissions. Same goes for clinch fighting, you want to defend from being taken down. Because you always think of the worst possible situation. That means you assume that the opponent who took you down might have friends who will kick you, therefore your expertise in ground fighting won’t help you. That approach is present in striking, so no flying kicks. You will also be taught various tactics and techniques to deal with armed opponents (guns, knives, sticks, and so on). Multiple opponent scenarios are extensively covered. Techniques used are not pretty. Apart from regular striking, you will learn how to eye gouge, hit the groin, pull hair etc. What is good about this approach is that women don’t have to become athletes. They are taught to use what they have. Long nails? Poke your opponent’s eyes with them.

2. BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu)

Girl sparring with a man in BJJ

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is based around ground-fighting, and the techniques it focuses on are submissions (chokes and joint locks). No striking is practiced in this one. Yet this is the basis of a lot MMA fighters today, and has proven very effective in no holds barred tournaments of the old days. The idea is even if your opponent is larger than you, if you take him to the ground his size and strength are not as effective if he doesn’t have technical skills. You will see BJJ masters play around on the ground with bigger opponents. One on one it works great, but it is unfortunately useless against multiple opponents. However, it is UNIMAGINABLE that somebody could rape a BJJ black belt. Rape has to include body control in close quarters on the ground usually, or some other surface. The rapist would get choked out or get his arm/leg broken quite quickly. Some BJJ schools like Gracie Academy will teach you defense against armed opponents. The other advantage of this martial art is that it’s easier on the body compared to most martial arts, although injuries do happen.

3. Judo

Girl throwing her sparring partner in Judo

Judo is a Japanese martial art that specializes in throws, and to a lesser extent in ground-fighting with submissions. It can be amazing to see how small Judokas can throw much larger people utilizing momentum and out-balancing. And the throws themselves are not very physically demanding, despite their appearance. It is the base art of Ronda Rousey, the most famous female MMA fighter today. It shares a lot of its ground-fighting techniques with aforementioned BJJ, but it’s a bit harder on the body due to the heavier focus on throws. Not good against multiple opponents, perhaps slightly better than BJJ since the throws possibly could work against multiple opponents. No time is devoted to practicing defense against armed opponents. A great thing about Judo is that, you learn how to fall without injuring yourself, in fact the first thing you learn to do are so-called breakfalls. That alone is a good skill to learn, apart from combat instructions. It’s also good that the throwing abilities are combined with ground abilities in this one. Good throw can knock a person out, and at the very least make him easier to control in the follow-up on the ground. A good alternative to Judo is Sambo, which is very similar, but it’s not as widespread around the world.

4. Thai Boxing

Elbow strike in women's Thai boxing match

Thai Boxing (Muay Thai is the original term) is a striking martial art with very broad range of techniques. They include kicks, knee strikes, elbow strikes and punches, and it is full contact. It’s commonly called the art of 8 limbs (2 hands, 2 feet, 2 knees, 2 elbows). Plus, there are some throws included. What is great about Thai Boxing is that for every type of fighting distance on the feet, it offers some techniques due to use of 8 limbs. Your feet when opponent is farthest, your fists when he is closer, elbows and knees in the clinch. Whoever watched competitions in this sport has witnessed the powerful clinch it has. MMA fighters also use Thai clinch often. Some throws included help with unbalancing your opponent. No defense against armed opponents included. The downside is the use of elbows which cut you far too easy, but on the other side you don’t have to compete, and when you train you use headgear. This one is useful against multiple opponents to an extent, though not as much as Krav Maga.

5. MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

Ground and Pound in women's MMA match

Lastly, we recommend the uncrowned king of combat sports, MMA. It’s the closest thing to no holds-barred fighting among sports. It has multitude of techniques, all very much tested, and they give you a well-rounded fighting ability. Striking, clinch-fighting, ground fighting, all of it is covered. Also, most MMA matches happen in a cage and often one fighter presses another one against the fence. That means that they have to learn and develop tactics to fight in that situation. If a woman is pinned against the wall she can use this knowledge to fight back. It incorporates techniques from almost every combat sport (if they are effective within the rule system), so you are pretty much covered if you choose to train in MMA. It can be used against multiple opponents due to its striking practice, but it dedicates no amount of time to defending against armed opponents. The downside is that finding clubs to train in might be difficult, and trainer’s quality is difficult to determine.

Further Reading

In a perfect world you would never be a fighter, Royce” said the legendary fighter Rickson Gracie to his younger, almost-as-legendary brother Royce Gracie. But the world is not perfect. In fact, it can be downright nasty and mean, especially if you are a woman. Women are generally smaller and weaker than men, so if physically attacked, they are less able to defend themselves. If they live in a country/state where they can carry weapons, even as small as pepper spray, that might alleviate the problem.

But for those women who can’t use this option, the next best thing is to learn about self-defense. Now, you shouldn’t think of it as something extreme. Doing martial arts won’t make you butch. Not unless you want to compete at high level, and even then it is not a necessity. Ronda Rousey, Gina Carano, Laila Ali and others are good examples of high level female fighters who look pretty darn good. To be honest, Rousey is a bit more “affected” by what she does (cauliflower ear, relatively big upper body), but her experience in fighting is quite long and arduous, so it comes as no surprise. You don’t have to be a world silver medalist in Judo or a UFC champion, so you won’t train as hard as she does.

It also won’t make you more aggressive, it’s not a drug. Knowing how to fight is a skill, a useful one, not much different than dancing, in a way. Both is helpful when it comes to interaction with other people, just in different situations. As an added bonus, practicing martial arts has all kinds of benefits. Your fitness level will be much improved, therefore every physical activity will become easier. Your health will benefit, but we must make a certain qualification here.

Practicing martial arts can lead to injuries, but injuries are, for the most part, due to bad technique. This is especially true for grappling arts (those arts exclude striking techniques). Your ego plays an important part as well. When somebody, during a sparring session, has you in a joint lock, you should give up (usually done by tapping your opponent or the mat). People sometimes don’t want to do that, but in that case they can’t blame anybody but themselves. So remember, if you don’t want to get injured, try to be as technical as possible and hope your sparring partners do the same. If you don’t want to get cauliflower ears, wear headgear. Martial arts are not as dangerous as they are made out to be. You will feel better about yourself when you realize what your body (your small, weak and unimpressive body, as you might feel) is capable of. And it can be very fun to practice martial arts, since exploring the possibilities of your body is the ultimate game, so to speak, for human beings.


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