Joe Lewis’ Top 10 Martial Arts for Self-Defense

Joe Lewis was an expert in analysis of fighting principles who had the chops to back up his ideas. When he talked, people listened. Did your style make his Top 10 List?

This list is in no particular order. I could have put krav maga, haganah and others in there, but when I got to 10, I stopped. This list will piss off many instructors, but they have to realize, for example, that with a system like kyokushinkai, which came from goju-ryu and has many descendants like asahara, enshin, yoshukai and zendokai, they were not left out. Krav maga, for example, has nothing that the Okinawan, Japanese and kickboxing systems do not. If I were to include all of them, the list would go into the hundreds.


Kyokushinkai Karate

Kyokushinkai has a great history of physical toughness and conditioning, as well as an arsenal of leg kicks, sweeps and knee strikes from the outside and from the pocket. Most K-1 champions come from this style. It's weak on ground maneuvers, though.

Outlaw Tai Chi

It has an effective composition of quick strikes (cutting and tissue-ripping moves) to vital areas like the eyes, ears, face, neck and groin. The emphasis in training is on pure nonclassical maneuvers, as is seen in most other Chinese systems. However, outlaw tai chi is weak on structure and ground maneuvers.

Bando

Although strictly a weapons-based style, bando lends itself to highly effective defensive techniques (without weapons) from old-school monk tactics largely developed years ago in Southeast Asia along trade routes. It contains bleeding techniques, head striking, low-level flange kicks, drop kicks and farewell kicks not taught in other kickboxing styles.

Kajukenbo

It's a hybrid system that uses the best parts of other styles, from upright maneuvers to grappling. It was designed strictly for self-defense instead of adhering to traditional rituals or sporting competition. Its weaknesses are a lack of movements to control the horizontal relationship with assailants — like all styles — and always using the hands as the primary means of defense.

Chinese Kenpo

Chinese kenpo has a curriculum that encompasses all areas of self-defense. Practitioners learn a range of attacking angles, realistic scenarios and methods for defending from any position with any weapon. The main weakness is a lack of emphasis on ground maneuvers, along with limited kicking and knee striking.

Okinawa-Te

The original system had a complete arsenal of weapon and non-weapon skills. It had the perfect blend of old-school, pain-tolerance training with scientific skills that utilized the least amount of effort and time to produce the maximum amount of damage. Its weaknesses are the amount of time it takes to learn all the long animal forms (there are 36, with one having up to 500 moves) and a lack of “balanced" ground maneuvers.

Judo

Although it was created along the lines of a non-jutsu activity — which means it was designed mainly for exercise and sport — the best bouncers I've ever worked with were judo black belts. Because judoka spend most of their time doing tug-of-war-type drills with partners on the mat, they're very successful in reality combat, even with their limited striking ability.

Aikijutsu

Its tactics for off-balancing an opponent before leveraging him — as opposed to jujitsu, which is more concerned with straight leverage — is a good system to bridge the gap between the sport/exercise aspects of the old-school (read: hard-core) jutsu forms and the free-flowing sport forms we see on TV. Beware of the "consumer" atmosphere found in some schools today and the lack of effective striking skills when practicing self-defense drills.

Kickboxing

This style can offer the very best of realistic, upright striking skills, hands down. If you learn the old muay boran knees, the head butt, the bleeding and cutting techniques, and the old-school takedowns, this system cannot be beat. Its weakness is a lack of attention to self-defense as opposed to sport. The conditioning drills taught at most authentic schools make up for any need to practice purely self-defense scenarios.

Boxing

Few martial arts teach these two defensive skills: Use the head to protect the head and the body to protect the body. Instead, they use weapon-fighting tactics — using the hands to protect the head or the body. For self-defense from the pocket, it would be hard to defend against a good boxer. Of course, boxing's lack of elbow strikes, groin attacks and ground defense is limiting, but for pain tolerance and conditioning, it can't be beat.

About the Author: "[Joe Lewis] was one of the most significant figures in the history of the American martial arts," writes Mark Jacobs in his tribute to Lewis published in the December 2012 issue of Black Belt. "From his early advocacy of boxing to his creation of kickboxing to his analysis of key fighting principles like critical distance and angles of attack, his influence was vast and his passing is a loss to the martial arts world."

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