The guiding principle of many martial arts is that they should be used for self-defense and only when absolutely necessary. However, even in the most passive of martial arts, its disciples possess skills that can be deadly in the right (or wrong!) circumstances.
While that’s true, there are also other martial arts that have been created for the purpose of providing lethal force in real-world scenarios. That leads to the fascinating question of what are the deadliest martial arts? It’s a question I was fascinated to answer, so read on to find out more!
Table of Contents
- 30 Deadliest Martial Arts
- 30. Wing Chun
- 29. Judo
- 28. Wrestling
- 27. Hapkido
- 26. Taekwondo
- 25. Jeet Kune Do
- 24. Kendo
- 23. Kickboxing
- 22. Bokator
- 21. Sibpalki
- 20. Kapu Ku’ialua
- 19. Aikido
- 18. Keysi Fighting Method
- 17. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- 16. Bojuka
- 15. Lethwei
- 14. Kajukenbo
- 13. Karate
- 12. Rough and Tumble
- 11. Shaolin Kung Fu
- 10. Combat Sambo
- 9. Silat
- 8. Boxing
- 7. Vale Tudo/MMA
- 6. Muay Thai
- 5. Eskrima
- 4. Bakom
- 3. Ninjutsu
- 2. LINE/MCMAP
- 1. Krav Maga
30 Deadliest Martial Arts
I must admit, ranking these martial arts was very difficult. Many martial arts aim to be peaceful but give you deadly skills, whereas others aim to be deadly but are less refined. In the end, I opted for a balance of how deadly the techniques are along with how easily they can be applied in real-world scenarios. With that in mind, let’s get started with the most deadly martial arts ranked.
30. Wing Chun
Wing Chun is generally not seen as a violent martial art but as with many on this list, a fairly peaceful martial art can become deadly when it needs to be. Wing Chun specializes in allowing smaller fighters to beat larger opponents through its use of control and efficient striking.
There are many strikes in Wing Chun such as Thrusting Fingers that are designed to neutralize opponents and cause them a lot of damage in soft spots, such as the eyes. There is also a knife form in Wing Chun which puts emphasis on knives being an extension of the body. While it may take the 30th and last spot on my list, Wing Chun can still be deadly.
Judo is one of the biggest combat sports in the world and has been a feature of the Olympic games since 1964. This Japanese martial art is renowned for its use of grappling and throwing, which is why it’s a common technique used for MMA fighters.
Along with this, judo also utilizes joint manipulation which can be used to subdue your opponent. Of course, the sport of judo has plenty of rules in place but the techniques it teaches you could easily be transferred into real-world settings.
The quick reflexes required for judo and the ability to throw your opponents off balance means you can easily put them in a vulnerable position for a strike.
Wrestling has many similarities to judo in terms of how it can easily be utilized to overwhelm your opponent. It’s known as being the oldest practiced martial art in the world and its exponents are able to lean on that history and can make it into a deadly art should they need to.
Traditionally this was made for hand-to-hand combat but has developed into one of the most popular sports in the world, especially at amateur level. In a dangerous situation, you could hold down your opponent for as long as you wish while you deliver any force you need to.
Hapkido has many similarities with Wing Chun in regard to its core principles. Both have a focus on being able to redirect and control your opponent’s force with high efficiency. However, there are also plenty of differences with Hapkido being a much more violent martial art.
There are a wide variety of moves utilized in hapkido including joint locks, throws, and the manipulation of pressure points. It’s a highly adaptable martial art that gives its exponents the versatility to respond to any fight situation.
While hapkido emphasizes self-defense, its techniques allow students to easily take the attack to their aggressors and subdue them however they see fit.
Taekwondo is a unique martial art in many respects as it places a huge emphasis on kicks. The beauty here is that our legs are longer than our arms which means that a taekwondo expert can easily control distance if they need to.
It’s a hugely popular martial art that relies on both speed and precision. The UFC has shown us many times just how brutal kicks can be when your opponent isn’t hearing headgear. While taekwondo isn’t a deadly sport due to the use of protective equipment, without that protection it becomes a different story.
A taekwondo specialist against a brawler? The brawler would have a heel across their jaw in a blink of an eye.
25. Jeet Kune Do
Jeet Kune Do is a hybrid martial art created by Bruce Lee. He took parts of all of his teachings and placed them into one effective martial art. One of those art forms he learned was Wing Chun and he utilized its focus on reacting to your opponent’s moves to deliver your own deadly strikes.
The reason this martial art can be so effective is that it places a huge amount of importance on practicality and adaptability. By incorporating many different elements, Lee hoped to create a fighting style that could have real-world applications.
What made Jeet June Do deadly is that it could tailored to your specific strengths and circumstances. Sadly, Lee didn’t live long enough to formalize the martial art otherwise it would likely be much more popular today.
Kendo is a Japanese martial art that puts a huge emphasis on swordsmanship. In kendo, they use a sword made from bamboo (called a shinai) and protective armor (called bogu) to practice their craft and compete in sparring matches.
What makes kendo deadly is that these sword skills can be transferred easily to real life, but a few marks are taken off as the use of a weapon is required with no other types of training involved. It’s an honorable martial art and one that places a huge emphasis on movement, reflexes, and precision to overcome your opponent.
Kickboxing is one of the more modern martial arts on this list but its ability for inflicting violence is obvious. It has the kicking skills of taekwondo that we mentioned above along with the striking ability of boxing to give it a well-rounded skill set.
The sport puts a big focus on striking power, along with the need to be agile in the ring and lightning reflexes. It has become hugely popular worldwide and is a good martial art to learn for those looking to get some self-defense skills.
The only reason why it doesn’t feature more highly in this list is that it’s primarily seen as a sport and doesn’t focus on any particular deadly skill.
Bokator is one of the oldest martial arts systems in the world which can trace its origins to around 2,000 years ago. This Cambodian martial art was designed to be used on the battlefield and excels in both hand-to-hand combat as well as the use of weapons.
There is a huge range of techniques used in bokator which involves the use of all of your limbs, as well as ground fighting. What makes it incredibly effective is that it covers all bases so you’ll never find yourself in a situation where you can’t use your bokator skills.
That is shown by there being between 8,000 and 10,000 different techniques that you can learn. Whatever your size or strength, bokator can be used to overwhelm your opponent.
Sibpalki is a martial art that has its origins in Central Asia, specifically in the countries of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It’s another martial art that focuses on defensive combat, specifically with the use of close-range strikes.
What makes this particularly deadly is that its practitioners get taught how to use a variety of weapons, including sticks and knives. Along with this, they are taught more basic grabs, throws, and blocks that are associated with many martial arts.
Sadly this isn’t very well known outside of its homeland but there is no doubt that masters of sibpalki can be deadly when they need to be.
20. Kapu Ku’ialua
Can you guess where this martial art is from if you don’t know already? With a name such as Kapu Ku’ialua (also called simply Lua) you won’t be surprised to learn that it was developed in Hawaii. While the state may be known for its kindness and hospitality, this is a violent art form.
The main focus here is on disabling your opponent as quickly as possible, which includes learning how to lock their joints and break their bones. It’s designed to inflict the maximum amount of pain and its teachings even include the use of firearms and weapons.
Interestingly, the translation of Kapu Ku’ialua is “two hits” which shows that this is a martial art designed to overpower your opponent in the blink of an eye.
Aikido is another powerful martial art that comes from Japan. While it puts a heavy emphasis on self-defense, it can also be used offensively to devastating effect. It can be an effective fighting style due to its techniques that focus on joint locks and throws.
Those who are proficient in Aikido are able to easily redirect an attacker’s momentum to deliver their own strikes. Along with this, the mental discipline it gives you allows you to stay focused when in the heat of battle.
Aikido doesn’t rely much on strikes but the techniques it teaches mean you can place any aggressor in a highly vulnerable position, allowing you to execute a deadly strike.
18. Keysi Fighting Method
The Keysi Fighting Method (KFM) is another martial art that was developed for real-life scenarios. It was developed in Spain and takes the best parts of many specific martial arts and blends them together into one effective fighting form.
It’s a great martial art for those who are often at a size disadvantage. This is because it uses plenty of pressure point strikes, throws, and joint manipulations to minimize the difficulty you have when facing a larger aggressor.
Added to that, the stance in KFM is lower than most other martial arts which is more suited to smaller, agile fighters. It’s a brilliant way to defend yourself and in a life-or-death situation, you’d have a deadly skillset.
17. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
BJJ is a martial art that I found to place. The likes of KFM use BJJ techniques in their teaching, but there is a lot to be said about being a master in one specific martial art as opposed to being a jack of all trades.
If you’re facing an elite BJJ practitioner, then your only chance is knocking them out before they can take you to the ground. If you don’t succeed, then you’re basically a toy to them as they’ll use their skill to put you in any position they please.
What makes this so deadly is that by knowing BJJ, you can easily get your arm around someone’s neck and strangle them. An added benefit of BJJ is that it gives smaller fighters an even playing field as it’s less about strength and more about technique.
Bojuka is one of the more recent martial arts, having been developed in the 90s by Tom Schrent. It incorporates many different martial arts together such as boxing, karate, and BJJ into a deadly combination of techniques.
The ethos of bojuka is rapid incapacitation. The techniques are designed to not only be brutal but also fast. This allows its exponents to get in and out of deadly situations quickly, all the while dealing a lot of heavy damage.
It comes as no surprise that Schrenk has been able to teach his martial art to enforcement officers and military personnel alike. Its real-world effectiveness is what sets bojuka apart from many other martial arts.
Lethwei is a combat sport that has been described as like Muay Thai, but more violent. There are a few reasons for that, with one of them being that headbutts are allowed. Along with that, you must knock your opponent out if you want to win the contest.
The use of headbutting sets it apart from many other martial arts and can lead to some brutal knockouts. The clinches in Lethwei can also be brutal with plenty of knees and elbows thrown. The only reason that I’ve not ranked it as highly as Muay Thai is that it doesn’t quite have the same level of finesse or history.
Kajukenbo is another blend of martial arts, and you can tell that by its name. The ‘Ka’ comes from karate, the ‘ju’ from judo, the ‘ken’ from kenpo, and the ‘bo’ from boxing. Developed in Hawaii, it takes techniques from these four martial arts to create a deadly fighting style.
During World War II in the 1940s, Hawaii was placed under martial law and violence was rife. Kajukenbo was used as an effective self-defense system that you could turn deadly should you need to. It was specifically developed for the streets to protect yourself in life-or-death situations.
There is no doubt that karate is one of the best martial arts in the world. While there are many styles of karate, its most dangerous and deadly version is Kyokushin.
One common theme in all styles of karate is that the strikes are simple yet incredibly effective. That means in the heat of battle, its exponents are able to stay calm and rely on their teachings to deliver powerful blows.
Karate is probably the most renowned martial art of self-defense. The use of force is only applied when absolutely necessary. Kyokushin is especially deadly as it’s a more violent type of karate which can be easily translated into a real-world scenario if you need to fight for your life.
12. Rough and Tumble
Most of these martial arts are either used in self-defense or just to incapacitate an opponent through the likes of holds and joint manipulation. In contrast, rough and rumble was a completely brutal form of fighting that was often used to settle disputes in the early days of the United States.
The reason it was so brutal is the emphasis it placed on disfigurement such as with eye gouging and biting. No body part was safe in the world of rough and tumble as the likes of lips, noses, lips, and fingers were a target, and even the genitals.
The reason it doesn’t rank more highly as these were generally fights for honor and not fights to the death. Added to this, it was an uncultured form of fighting that probably couldn’t cope with modern-day elite martial arts techniques.
11. Shaolin Kung Fu
All forms of Kung Fu have the same ethos of striking your opponent at ferocious speeds and quickly overwhelming them with your skill and power.
Kung fu has an incredible history, which is part of the reason it ranks so highly. It has been used countless times over the years to deadly effect. Its well-rounded techniques mean its fighters are able to easily adapt to any situation and strike deadly blows.
The deadliest form is probably Shaolin Kung Fu which along with classic techniques, also uses eighteen different weapons. There is a reason that Kung Fu is one of the most famous martial arts, and that’s because it has a long history of being highly effective.
10. Combat Sambo
Sambo is a sport that was very similar to judo before it began to evolve and include more striking elements. Over time, this Russian martial art developed into many different styles, including combat sambo which was adapted for the military.
There is a huge number of strikes allowed in combat sambo, which includes headbutts, soccer kicks, and groin strikes. The fact that this was designed for combat situations is a clear indicator of how deadly sambo can be.
Combat sambo gives you the skills to end any face-to-face battle extremely quickly by either knocking your opponent out or incapacitating them with bone breaks or holds.
A little like kung fu, Silat is a collective term. Here it represents the martial arts that have traditionally been practiced in Maritime Southeast Asia which in the modern day includes the likes of Brunei and Indonesia, along with the south of Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam.
Silat places a strong focus on violence and a significant part of your training is completed with a small sword, called a kris. With Silat, you can quickly expose the weaknesses of your opponent while striking your own quick and deadly blow.
An expert in Silat is able to deliver a lot of damage incredibly quickly to leave their opponent unconscious, or worse.
I found boxing to be the hardest martial art to rank. I didn’t know whether to rank it at number 30, number one, or not include it at all. In the end, I opted for the eight spot, as anyone proficient in boxing immediately has a deadly ability.
Many talk about street fights or drunken brawls. While the movies may suggest that one expert martial artist could wipe out a dozen guys, the reality is that most fights are over very quickly and after one punch.
The ability to punch, and avoid being punched, is quite simply the most important part of any street fight. For example, if you are both a judo and boxing expert, you’re likely to end a fight with your boxing skills before ever needing to call on your judo skills.
7. Vale Tudo/MMA
Vale Tudo is the precursor to MMA and these two sports have many similarities, which is why I combined them into one. Vale Tudo translates into “everything goes” which gives you a good insight into this bloody art from.
What gives these martial artists a huge advantage is they become experts in both striking and grappling. That allows for incredible flexibility to overpower your opponent in any situation and apply any violence you see fit.
Ironically, MMA isn’t seen as a deadly sport at all, with no deaths ever recorded in the UFC. However, if your MMA skillset was taken into a life-or-death situation, it could easily become lethal.
The only thing that holds it back being higher in this list is that both Vale Tudo and MMA are sports. Even though the skills can be deadly, it wasn’t created for real-life deadly situations, unlike my top five.
6. Muay Thai
I found it hard to place combat sports in this list as, by their nature, they are not designed to be deadly and instead are there for entertainment. That being said, it’s clear that Muay Thai has many techniques that could be deadly in a real-world environment.
Many see Muay Thai as a sort of mix between boxing and MMA as it has the stand-up style of boxing but allows many more strikes. It’s for this reason that it’s called the art of eight limbs, as that counts elbows and knees along with the feet and hands.
The history of Muay Thai is disputed but many believe that it originated from self-defense techniques taught by the Siamese army. The use of any body part to deliver strikes and its use of the clinch means that Muay Thai would be supremely effective in a life-or-death situation.
This martial art goes by a few names, including arnis, kali, and escrima. Whatever term it goes by, this is a deadly martial art from the Philippines that places an emphasis on weapons-based fighting with sticks, knives, and other bladed weapons.
While weapons are a big part of Eskrima, there is also a huge range of other open-hand techniques that help to make it a well-rounded martial art. It makes it a highly effective way to kill people quickly should the situation call for it.
Whether they have a weapon in their hand or not, anyone who knows Eskrima will be an extremely dangerous opponent, capable of high-level fighting in any situation.
Many of the deadliest martial arts have been created for military use, and Bakom is no different, as this was designed for the Peruvian military. This is one of the lesser-known martial arts but one that teaches its students to kill their opponents in any way they can.
To do this, it mixes street fighting with elements of Jiu-Jitsu to create a form of fighting that can be used in any scenario. There is a large emphasis on creating powerful strikes but also sneakier techniques, such as using hidden weapons.
Sadly, it’s not taught much outside of Peru, but that’s possibly due to how violent it is.
There are many myths and legends about the martial arts of ninjutsu but its place as a deadly martial art can’t be doubted. This was specifically created for the ninja who specialized in guerrilla warfare and espionage.
There are many different facets to ninjutsu which gives its practitioners a wide variety of exceptional skills. Along with the likes of survival and stealth, here you are also taught about fighting with your bare hands as well as with weapons.
It has a long history as one of the most effective martial arts and aims to take down opponents exceptionally quickly. Its versatility is what makes it so dangerous as any ninjutsu expert could easily overpower their opponent in any scenario.
Many lists put these as two separate martial arts but as MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) was developed from the previously used LINE system (Linear Infighting Neural Override Engagement), I thought it was better to include them as one.
As with many martial arts on this list, it was invented to be used in combat. Due to this, there are many techniques to learn in both unarmed and armed combat. That armed combat includes the use of rifles as well as bladed weapons.
This is a martial art designed to be used when you’re fighting to the death. It gives you the ability to strike damaging blows that expose your opponents’ weaknesses and allow you to go for the kill. Not only this, but you also get taught to use these skills in any conditions such as in low light or through smoke.
1. Krav Maga
Coming in at number one on my list of the most deadly martial arts is Krav Maga. Many of the martial arts on this list were developed for either self-defense or as a sport. Krav Maga was developed for survival which is why it’s the deadliest fighting style. It was created by a man called Imre Lichtenfeld in the 1930s to help Jewish people fight for their lives.
While most martial arts would need to be adapted for real-world scenarios, Krav Maga was created solely for the purpose of use in real attacks. It makes it a complete self-defense system as many of its techniques are used for deadly force.
Along with disarming and disabling your opponent, a large component of this martial art is weapons training. It’s obvious that in a threatening situation, you wouldn’t want to be against anyone who knows Krav Maga.
If you feel as though your life is threatened and want to learn a martial art that could help, then learning Krav Maga is the way to go as my top pick of the most dangerous martial arts.
What martial arts should I learn for self-defense?
The strongest martial art is hard to pick as they are all going to be useful. All 30 in this list will give you skills to give yourself at an advantage against any aggressor. However, some do have some serious drawbacks if you want to defend yourself in any situation.
For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend picking just one martial art that specializes in striking or grappling. For example, someone skilled in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu may not be able to defend against punches, and a boxer would struggle during a grapple.
In terms of what’s realistically available to most people, I’d recommend MMA training as this will give you a well-rounded skill set. Of course, an alternative is to learn both striking and grappling separately, such as learning both judo and Muay Thai.
What is a lethal martial art?
All martial arts have the ability to be lethal when they need to be. Wing Chun is 30th on the list and even I have doubted its effectiveness in a real fight. But while that’s true, it still teaches you an excellent array of skills you can use if your life is on the line.
Of course, some are deadlier than others which is why I’ve made this list. While Krav Maga may be the deadliest martial art, all the entries here are also highly effective should you be in a life-or-death situation.
Is there anything better than Krav Maga?
Not in my opinion, no. However, the top 10 in this list are all quite close in terms of their effectiveness. What gives Krav Maga the edge is it’s a martial art that encompasses all forms of fighting with not just grappling and striking, but also the use of weapons.
The only downside here is that not every town or city will have a good school to learn Krav Maga. Due to this, it can be a good idea to choose a martial art that is in your area, with the most popular often being the likes of boxing, MMA, karate, and Jiu-Jitsu.
Is Eskrima effective in a street fight?
Another similar question I see is how effective is Silat in a real fight? And both answers are the same. They are excellent for use in a real fight as both were created for real-life scenarios where your life is in danger.
All martial arts would be useful in a street fight, but some are more adaptable than others. If you don’t have an eskrima or silat school near you, then any of the martial arts on this list are going to be useful.
Do you have to be fit to start martial arts?
No, not at all! If you want to learn a martial art but are worried that you’re not in the right shape, then you have nothing to fear. While you need to be fit to master martial arts, any good martial arts school will work with your current skill level and fitness before gradually building yourself up to where you need to be.
When you go to any martial arts school, you’ll see people from a whole range of abilities and fitness levels. You’ll find a supportive environment where you can learn some great real-life skills and a strong sense of community.