The world can seem like a scary and dangerous place. Women especially can feel like they can’t fully enjoy the freedom of daily activities because of the risk of being attacked by someone who may be bigger and stronger than they are.
However, by learning martial arts for self-defense, women can build the skills and confidence to keep them safe at all times. With this in mind, I wanted to find the best martial arts for women that can help to flip the roles and give them an advantage. Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
- Why Martial Arts for Women Are So Important?
- 10 Best Self-Defense Martial Arts for Women
Why Martial Arts for Women Are So Important?
Just like an insurance policy, self-defense skills are something you want to have in case of disaster, with the hope that you’ll never really need to use them in a life-or-death scenario. But learning martial arts has many other benefits for women, even if you never get attacked.
Learning martial arts can increase your situational awareness, which can make you look like a less appealing target to some attackers, as well as enhance your own well-being. Also, martial arts are a healthy way to exercise, burn fat, and build muscle tone.
Finally, many martial arts have a self-development component that can help you build self-esteem, stress relief, focus, and peace of mind during stressful situations. While self-defense skills may be the top priority, there are many more reasons for women to learn martial arts.
10 Best Self-Defense Martial Arts for Women
Using my research and personal experience, I’ve come up with ten martial arts which are perfect for women. These will give you a well-rounded self-defense style along with all the added benefits. No matter what your size, these martial arts can help you keep you and your loved ones safe.
The best martial arts for female self defense can vary based on various factors, so I’ve not ranked this list in any particular order.
1. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) was developed in the 1920s by five Brazilian brothers who traveled to Japan to learn judo and jiu-jitsu. They combined the two to develop their own distinct martial art, which has become the foundation for many of the best MMA fighters and one of the best martial arts for girls and women.
There are many different schools of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, with some having more of a competition/MMA focus and others with a pure self-defense focus. No matter which kind of gym you choose, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a highly effective system for women’s self-defense.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling-based martial art with a focus on joint locks, chokeholds, and other submission holds. These techniques allow a smaller opponent to control a larger and stronger opponent.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches students to take the opponent to the ground right away to help take away the advantage their strength and size may give them. Once the attacker is on the ground, locks, and holds can be used to disable the attacker and give the would-be victim a chance to escape.
Many women feel uncomfortable grappling at first, so practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be a way to learn effective self-defense techniques and build confidence in their ground fighting at the same time.
The most notable downside of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it doesn’t have a striking (punching) element, which you’ll probably need. Due to this, it’s often a great idea to combine BJJ training with a stand-up martial art, such as boxing.
I’ve just mentioned it there, so let’s talk about boxing. Generally, the sport itself isn’t ideal for when you’re outmatched by your opponent. However, the skills you’ll learn during boxing training may become invaluable to you time and time again.
The ability to punch properly is something that most human beings don’t possess. Yet, I think it’s by far the most crucial element when it comes to self-defense. Even a petite woman could easily break a man’s nose with the right technique.
Boxing training for women can be a great way to improve your technique and learn this vital skill. It can help to get you out of many situations and show any aggressor that if they are coming after you, they are going to get hurt.
But boxing won’t just teach you how to punch. The sport has a huge reliance on balance, footwork, composure, and patience. These are all skills that will help you to remain focused when in the fog of a dangerous situation where others may panic. It will also teach you how to take a punch and still remain calm.
The two key downsides to note here are that there isn’t a grappling element to this martial art, and there is no inherent advantage for a smaller fighter. However, if you train in both BJJ and boxing, then you’ll have all bases covered.
Aikido, which can be translated as “way of the harmonious spirit,” is a martial art whose focus is on redirecting the energy of the attacker. Unlike many other martial arts, the goal in aikido is to end the fight without harming the attacker.
This unique philosophy can make it especially useful in fights where you may not want to hurt the attacker, such as a loved one in a dangerous mental health crisis. Aikido also teaches students to stay calm and peaceful during stressful situations, which can help prevent students from making mistakes out of fear or anger. Women who are looking for a more peaceful martial art that can double as meditation will find a lot of useful techniques in aikido.
Techniques in aikido include throws and joint locks, as well as some striking, grappling, and basic weapons training. Unlike many other martial arts, the strikes in aikido are designed more to distract the attacker than to hurt them, and the grappling is designed for holding without causing excessive damage.
Where aikido really shines is tripping or throwing off an opponent’s balance, which can make an opening to subdue them with a joint lock. A person using aikido techniques doesn’t need to be huge because it’s the redirected force of the attacker that makes them fall to the ground rather than the strength of the person using the techniques, making it a great choice for women’s self-defense.
However, the lack of aggression in aikido can be its downfall. If you’re battling against a stronger opponent, you may need to make the most of any opening you have. Not harming your opponent when you have the opportunity can give them a second chance to get back at you.
Judo is a martial art that specializes in using leverage to throw opponents. Originally derived from jiu-jitsu, judo has evolved over the years into a popular Olympic sport but hasn’t lost its potential for self-defense.
While the sports version of Judo doesn’t allow for strikes, the throws, armbars, and chokes of judo still make it an effective way for women to learn self-defense skills, especially when learned in conjunction with other martial arts.
Because the throws in judo are based on leverage, they can allow a smaller opponent to use their attacker’s strength and momentum against themselves. This was beautifully proven by the legendary Ronda Rousey when interviewed by a reporter.
Throws can catch attackers by surprise and knock the wind out of them, giving their would-be victim a chance to gain the upper hand in the confrontation or escape to safety.
When combined with a striking art, judo can be the foundation of a strong self-defense system. Women who are looking for a way to use an attacker’s strength against them will find judo throws highly effective.
5. Krav Maga
Krav Maga was developed in the mid-20th century by Imi Lichtenfeld, a Jewish boxer and wrestler who fought in resistance groups against the Nazis during World War II and is still used by the Israeli Defense Forces today.
This modern martial art combined facets of traditional martial arts with street fighting techniques, making it a highly effective self-defense system and the most deadly martial art. While there is a sport form of Krav Maga that is sometimes used in MMA, this martial art is much more popular for self-defense than for anything else.
One of the basic principles of Krav Maga is to end a fight quickly and aggressively. The meditative component that is common in many other martial arts is omitted from Krav Maga. Groin kicks, eye gouges, throat strikes, and other techniques that would be illegal or dishonorable in a competitive setting are utilized because the point is to end the threat rather than have a friendly competition.
In addition to the techniques, learning Krav Maga can help teach women the no-mercy mentality that they may need to save their lives from an attacker. Krav Maga’s most effective techniques should be reserved for life-or-death situations because they can cause permanent damage or even death to the attacker.
It’s a great choice for women who live in dangerous areas or who work jobs that take them to risky places. In many ways, it’s the opposite of Aikido above, as this is not a peaceful martial art. If you fear for your life, knowing Krav Maga can keep you alive.
Okay, this isn’t really a martial art, but I wanted to include it. Whether man or woman, if you’re in any situation where your life is in danger, the best course of action is to almost always run if you have the chance.
Parkour is the art of getting from one point to another as efficiently as possible. This modern art originated as obstacle course training by the French military and was formalized into a distinct discipline by David Belle in the mid-1990s.
Parkour became a hit on the internet as practitioners filmed themselves vaulting, climbing, and jumping through urban landscapes. Many practitioners enjoy including flips and other flashy moves or by performing runs in time with music, but at its core, parkour is all about efficiency and being able to flow through the environment without stopping or slowing down.
While not a martial art, being able to escape is just as important to self-defense as being able to fight. If you can quickly and efficiently clear obstacles such as fences, handrails, and ledges, you can put critical distance between yourself and your attacker, and you may even be able to get away without risking a fight at all.
After all, an attacker who can’t catch you will never be able to overpower you, no matter how strong they are. The strength, balance, and situational awareness you can gain from practicing parkour make it a great option for women who want to learn how to make a safe and speedy getaway while their attacker is stumbling over obstacles.
Parkour is a powerful addition to women’s self-defense systems, especially when combined with other martial arts for situations where escaping isn’t possible.
Karate, which translates as “Empty Hand,” is a martial art that originated in Japan and focuses primarily on striking, especially with hands. This martial art enjoys widespread popularity, and dojos offering classes for all age groups can be found easily all across the world. Some dojos may have more of a competitive or recreational focus, so you might need to visit a few to find one to suit your self-defense needs.
There are four main schools of karate, each with its own particular focus. Shotokan is considered a good choice for street fights and self-defense and focuses on powerful strikes. Shito-Ryu focuses on techniques and speed. Goju-Ryu utilizes Jiu-Jitsu style grappling and defensive moves. Finally, Wado-Ryu incorporates evasion and redirects, similar to Aikido. All are effective for self-defense in their own particular way,
Karate is also well known for its use of kata, which is choreographing a martial arts technique in the open air rather than on an opponent. The purpose of kata is to practice the techniques to perfection and commit it to muscle memory.
By using kata to practice and then sparring to put the techniques to use, karate can add effective striking techniques to a self-defense system. Karate is a popular choice for introducing children to self-defense because of the widespread availability of age-appropriate classes.
Karate is a great choice for women who are looking for an effective martial art that the whole family can learn together. Along with the striking techniques, karate is also fantastic for learning self-discipline, focus, and composure.
8. Muay Thai
Muay Thai is a more violent form of kickboxing that utilizes elbow and knee strikes, earning it the name “The Art of Eight Limbs.” This martial art originated in Thailand and became internationally popular in the 20th century when it blended techniques from traditional martial arts and boxing.
This aggressive martial art is often combined with Brazilian jiu-jitsu for MMA fights. It is popular with women as well as men for being both a strong self-defense system as well as excellent exercise. The elbow and knee strikes used in Muay Thai make it a particularly useful form of self-defense in close quarters.
It’s a great option for fights in alleys or hallways, where there might not be room for grappling or a readily available escape route. Quick jabs from knees and elbows can be a good way to open up an attacker for a more powerful strike, suck as a roundhouse kick or cross punch.
The heavy use of sparring can also make it easier to take hits without getting surprised, frightened, or hurt, which can be critical in fights where the attacker expects little resistance.
Practicing Muay Thai also doubles as highly effective cardiovascular exercise, and can build up your energy and endurance without the tediousness of running on a treadmill. Women who are looking for a way to learn aggressive striking techniques will find Muay Thai useful.
Taekwondo is a striking art originating in Korea that has a heavy emphasis on kicks. Taekwondo rose to popularity in the mid-20th century, as World War II and the Japanese occupation of Korea came to a close.
Like karate, taekwondo enjoys widespread popularity and is another favorite martial art for beginners and children. Taekwondo is a good martial art for women to learn because it utilizes the strength of leg muscles rather than upper body strength.
Because of its widespread popularity, there are many opportunities to compete and try out techniques at full speed to keep your self-defense skills sharp. Also, there are countless classes available with varying levels of intensity.
It’s important to select a school that matches with your self-defense needs, whether you’re looking to learn to fight or even build up your self-confidence with a multipurpose hobby.
Women who want to learn how to effectively use their leg strength for self-defense can learn a lot from a taekwondo school. However, its focus on kicks can be limiting in a real-world scenario, especially if you’ve been grabbed or space is at a premium.
Sambo was developed in the early 20th century in Soviet Russia. Sambo combines grappling techniques with strikes for a well-balanced martial art and was developed to give smaller or injured fighters an advantage.
There are both sport and combat levels of sambo, but both will help build confidence and self-defense ability. While not as widespread as Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai, some fighters have been using sambo effectively in MMA competitions, most notably with the Hall of Famer Khabib Nurmagomedov.
A unique feature of sambo is the heavy use of leg locks. This is a type of grappling hold that involves incapacitating the ankle, knee, or hip and can cause a significant amount of pain and potentially damage the joint.
Leg locks don’t require much muscle power because they typically use the full force of the fighter’s body on one vulnerable joint. Depending on the lock used and the force exerted, you may even be able to get up and run away to safety afterward without the attacker being able to pursue you.
Women who want to make sure their attacker can’t get back up to chase them will find sambo techniques an important addition to their personal self-defense system. The only real downside here is that you may find a lack of sambo classes in your local area.
Which fighting style is best for women?
There is not one perfect fighting style for women. It depends on what your strengths are and what you want to achieve. To find your perfect fighting style, you need to know how to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
For example, if you’re a shorter woman, then you may wish to choose a fighting style that focuses on chokes and joint locks. If you’re taller, you may think striking martial arts are more suitable for your skills.
Which martial art should women learn?
Linked into our answer above, this can depend on what your strengths are. However, you don’t want to limit yourself to just one discipline. Ideally, you’ll want to learn how to strike effectively while also learning what to do if the fight goes to the ground.
With this in mind, I’d recommend learning a striking martial art such as boxing or Muay Thai, along with a grappling martial art such as judo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu. This will cover all bases and give you the best preparation for a real-world scenario.
There are many places that will give you general MMA training that can be the best of both worlds. In a similar sense, Krav Maga will also teach you all forms of fighting in life-or-death situations, but not all areas will have a high-quality instructor.
What is the best martial arts for short girls?
I see this asked a lot of times along with the similar question of “what is the best martial art for skinny girls?” and the answer is the same. When you’re at a big physical disadvantage, then martial arts that use leverage, chokes, and joint manipulation will be the best fit.
Another line of thinking would be to use striking martial arts such as boxing to stun opponents, allowing you time to run away. In such a situation, knowing parkour could get you away from danger quickly.
Can a woman learn martial arts at 30?
Anyone can learn martial arts at any age. There is no barrier to starting in martial arts, and whether you are 30, 40, 50, or beyond, if you’re in need of self-defense skills, head to your local gym/dojo/school, etc.
That being said, it’s important to choose a martial arts school that isn’t competition-focused. There will be a huge range of places to choose from that will be more than happy to teach anyone willing to learn, regardless of their age.
Is Wing Chun a good martial art for women?
Wing Chun is highly focused on economy of movement, and teaches students to attack in direct straight lines quickly. Deflections can be combined with rapid-fire return strikes, which can disable a strong opponent by targeting vulnerable areas.
Many of its techniques use a strong offense as the best defense. Women who are looking for a direct and efficient way to deal with an attacker can learn a lot by studying Wing Chun. However, its lack of power, grappling, and competitive sparring can hold it back compared to others on this list.