Almost every day at Black Belt, we’re asked the same question: “What’s the best martial art for self-defense?” To find out the answer, we asked Dr. Mark Cheng, an expert in Chinese medicine and martial arts. “I chose the following arts because of my personal experience with them,” Dr. Mark Cheng says. “While I’m sure there are plenty of other arts, systems and schools that teach outstanding self-defense, I can’t recommend them on reputation alone. It’s the actual physical experience that makes styles recommendable in my eyes.”


Muay Boran

“It’s 100-percent application from the get-go. As Col. Nattapong Buayam taught me, its simple, brutal responses make it an outstanding choice in ‘shortcut’ streetwise self-defense. It’s the forefather of the ring sport of muay Thai.

Combat Shuai Chiao

“Nothing hits harder than the ground, and combat shuai chiao capitalizes on that debilitating impact. Unlike many systems that teach throws only from a pre-established grip, it uses high-amplitude throws against the full range of unarmed and armed attacks.”

Wing Chun

“Developed as a streamlined system of self-defense for smaller, weaker practitioners, it’s one of the best-known Chinese systems, and it was the basis of Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do. Wing chun earned its reputation as a street-fighting art in the mid- to late 20th century in Hong Kong.”

Sil Lum Fut Ga

“An archetypal system of southern kung fu, it’s part beauty and part brutality. Using open-hand strikes that can break the skin, along with deft kicks delivered to unlikely targets, it’s the perfect blend of artistry, culture and fearsome fighting techniques.”

Inosanto Kali

“The Filipino system taught by Black Belt Hall of Famer Dan Inosanto is far more than just the sticks and knives that the casual observer sees. Including every possible weapon and range of combat, Inosanto’s system is one of the most sought-after and imitated arts in the world when it comes to practical self-defense.”

Jeet Kune Do

“Made famous by its founder, Bruce Lee, it places heavy emphasis on streetwise dirty fighting that employs any and every means to achieve victory. Biting, eye gouging and all sorts of techniques and tactics go beyond the usual fare taught in most traditional arts.”

Krabi Krabong

“While some would argue that this ancient Thai weapons art has no place in a discussion of modern self-defense, I beg to differ. By training the practitioner to respond reflexively to a variety of weapons in countless ranges with both armed and unarmed defenses and counterattacks, it ranks toward the top for battlefield self-defense.”

Hwa Rang Do

“This comprehensive Korean art encompasses more techniques in just its joint-manipulation section than some systems have in toto. While that breadth makes the learning process rather arduous, it also develops superb combative attributes in all ranges.”

Savate

“The French kickboxing art makes it a point to use the tip of the shoe in street and ring combat. Not just another form of sportive kickboxing, it’s superb at developing a mastery of the standing range.”

Target Focus Training

“Former Navy SEAL candidate Tim Larkin created a system that ignores stylistic boundaries and focuses on a three-part goal: penetrate, rotate, injure. Its unique training methods allow everyone from the hardened combat vet to the stay-at-home mom access to its benefits.” Disagree with our picks? Let us know your choices in the comments field. (For more insights on the top martial arts for self-defense, check out the complete series in the August and September issues of Black Belt magazine. To contact Dr. Mark Cheng, go to www.facebook.com/DrMarkCheng.)
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