10 Hardest Martial Arts to Learn

martial arts, fighting

Recently, I wrote about the 10 easiest martial arts to learn, but what about the hardest? As I mentioned in that article, I wouldn’t say any martial arts are easy, but some have a steeper learning curve than others. Here, I wanted to find those martial arts that challenge you most physically, mentally, and technically.

Most of these martial arts will be quite familiar, whereas others are a little more niche. What they all have in common is that it can take a long time before you feel you’re at a competent level. Read on as I look into a little more detail about what makes a difficult martial art.

10 Hardest Martial Arts to Learn

Finding the most difficult martial art is no simple task. Answering the question of what is the hardest fighting style to learn will depend on your own skills. For example, some people are more naturally adept at grappling martial arts than striking.

I’ve tried to rank these tough martial arts fairly from easiest to hardest, but bear in mind they are all difficult. With that in mind, let’s get started!

10. Combat Sambo

The popularity of combat sambo has increased in the last few years, in no small part due to the success in the UFC of Khabib Nurmagomedov. The reason it’s challenging is due to its multifaceted approach to combat, which integrates elements of both grappling and striking.

Those features help to make it a comprehensive and versatile self-defense system. Not only do you need to learn all of these elements, but sambo has an emphasis on rapid transitions between standing and ground positions. This means you not only need technical skills but also a high level of adaptability with quick decision-making.

In combat sambo, you’re taught to deploy your skills in realistic conditions. It adds a level of complexity and increases the pressure, as there’s no hiding place if you get it wrong. Overall, combat sambo demands a well-rounded skill set that not many people can master.

9. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

One of the hallmarks of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) is that it doesn’t rely heavily on striking or brute force. Due to this, it not only requires a high level of technical proficiency but also plenty of intelligence. To be great at BJJ, you need to master leverage, technique, and strategy.

There is a vast array of positions, transitions, and submissions that you need to learn. This is why BJJ often gets compared to chess. They are both positional sports where you need to think a few steps ahead of your opponent. The biggest difference is that in BJJ, you need to go through this thinking process in the head of battle.

You not only need to focus on your own skills but also have a heightened level of awareness and ability to predict the movements of your opponent. This means that BJJ is as mentally demanding as it is physically demanding.

In BJJ, you’ll also need to participate in sparring, or “rolling.” This places you in competitive situations, meaning the martial art isn’t ideal for those looking to learn something for fitness and leisure.

8. Shaolin Kung Fu

Is kung fu hard to learn? It’s a question I often see asked, and the answer is: it depends on what style of kung fu. In the article I linked to in the intro, I write about how Wing Chun is one of the easiest martial arts to learn. Shaolin Kung Fu is another style of Chinese martial arts, but it is much more difficult.

Shaolin Kung Fu is rooted in the ancient martial traditions of the Shaolin Monastery in China. It’s well-known for having an extensive set of techniques, making it a challenging martial art to master. It also encompasses a range of both armed and unarmed combat styles.

A part of Shaolin Kung Fu also includes acrobatic techniques. These require plenty of athleticism and flexibility, which can be a significant barrier to some people. Its intricate forms require both conditioning of your body and many hours of practice.

There is also the philosophical aspect of Shaolin Kung Fu. This emphasizes moral values, meditation, and a holistic approach to life. Along with the technical aspects, there’s a huge amount to learn, which helps to make it one of the most difficult martial arts.

7. Kajukenbo

Kajukenbo is a hybrid martial art, and its name is a contraction of all these martial arts. It is a blend of karate (KA), judo/jiu-jitsu (ju), kenpo (ken), and boing (bo). With such a wide mix of martial arts, it’s easy to see why many find it so difficult.

Mastering kajukenbo means mastering a broad range of fighting styles, including both grappling and striking. This martial art was designed for real-world situations, which means you must quickly learn how to assess and respond to threats. This adds a mentally challenging aspect to the martial art along with its technical difficulties.

Without a comprehensive understanding of both standing and ground combat, you’ll struggle to progress in kajukenbo. Another part of its difficulty to learn is that its teaching isn’t widespread, meaning it can be a challenge to find high-quality coaching.


Whats the strongest martial art? There’s a good chance it is MCMAP. Going by the full name of the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, it was specially designed for the United States Marine Corps, but it is now taught to civilians by high-quality instructors.

As you can imagine with it being designed for the U.S. military, it is a comprehensive and demanding approach to combat training. It incorporates elements from many different martial arts disciplines and teaches both armed and unarmed combat.

To become highly adept at MCMAP, you need to showcase physical prowess, mental toughness, and a strong ethical framework. Along with this, you need to have proficiency with a range of different weapons.

While it is a hard martial art to learn, progression is aided by its tiered belt system. And while it may be difficult, it gives you a fantastic skill set you can use in real-world combat scenarios.

5. Bokator

Bokator is an ancient martial art that comes from Cambodia. What makes it so tough is many intricate and challenging techniques make it demanding to learn. It combines a little bit of everything, including grappling and striking, as well as having a rich history with cultural significance.

A part of the reason its movements are so intricate is they are inspired by animal movements. This includes dynamic footwork and a wide range of techniques. It requires not only a good memory but a level of artistic expression to execute them.

It’s due to these demands that you need to be in excellent condition to practice bokator. This includes having both strength and flexibility. Added to these, the incorporation of traditional weapons further adds to its difficulty.

Overall, the combination of intricate techniques, upholding cultural traditions, and its physical demands make it very difficult to learn.

4. Silat

Silat has many similarities with bokator in terms of it having a wide range of intricate techniques. It makes it a challenging discipline to learn and an even harder one to master. With many styles, unique movements, strikes, and grappling techniques, it’s a multifaceted martial art.

One of the most difficult aspects of silat is the fluid and continuous movements it requires. It means you need to seamlessly transition between offensive and defensive maneuvers. Unless you have exceptional balance, coordination, and flexibility, this can be very difficult.

Added to its challenges, it uses a diverse array of traditional weapons such as the kerambit. This adds to its complexity and means you have a huge amount to learn. On top of all this, you need to have an appreciation for strategy, situation awareness, and adaptability to be a silat expert.

3. Kali/Eskrima/Arnis

Filipino martial arts often come under the name of kali, eskrima, or arnis. It generally revolves around the use of sticks and knives, but also incorporates empty hand techniques for self-defense. It aims to give you a practical martial art that can be used in any situation.

The transition between armed and unarmed combat can be challenging to learn, as is the use of various weapons. The flow and rhythm needed to execute its techniques require immense coordination and plenty of patience as you gradually improve your team.

Added to its physical demands, kali also requires precise timing along with spatial awareness. One of the greatest aspects of kali is its realistic approach to combat situations. While that can be a huge advantage, the requirement to adapt to any scenario adds to its difficulty.

2. Ninjutsu

Due to its glamorization in films, ninjutsu is one of the most famous martial arts but one that is very difficult to learn. It’s well-known for its secrecy, elusive techniques, and strategic philosophy. It means a highly diverse skill set is needed to master it.

The difficulty of ninjutsu comes from its complex requirements. Not only do you need to master unarmed combat, but you also need to learn stealth, espionage, and unconventional warfare tactics. This includes using a wide range of tools, such as shuriken and grappling hooks.

As with all of these marital arts, ninjutsu goes well beyond simple techniques and body conditioning. It also requires a deep understanding of body mechanics, timing, and the psychology of combat. It’s a fascinating historical martial art, but sadly, one that’s not widely taught.

1. MMA

Is it a martial art? While certainly not a traditional one, the fact it literally stands for mixed martial arts means I think it deserves to be included. With MMA, there is nowhere to hide, and if you lack skills in any key area, you’ll soon be found out.

To become a master of MMA, you need to know how to blend striking, grappling, and clinch work. This means you need to be an expert in a striking martial art such as boxing or Muay Thai along with a grappling martial art such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Not only this, but you must seamlessly transition between them during a fight.

In other hybrid martial arts, you can get away with being sub-standard in one discipline, but not in MMA. Not only that, but you also need an immense level of cardiovascular fitness as well as a high level of natural strength.

The final difficulty with MMA comes from the immense bravery required. Even in sparring, you need plenty of courage, and you’re most likely going to get hurt. With all of this in mind, it makes MMA the hardest martial art if you want to get to that elite level.

Hardest Martial Arts – FAQs

What is the hardest martial arts sport?

The hardest to learn must be MMA. As you need to be an expert in many different facets, it can be very challenging to get to a high level. However, there are many hard martial arts sports out there, and even a fairly simple sport like boxing needs technical mastery and many years of practice to get to a professional level.

Is jiu-jitsu one of the hardest sports?

Yes. The moves in jiu-jitsu are technically challenging and also require plenty of mental planning. These combined aspects make it one of the most difficult martial arts to learn. While it is difficult, I view hybrid martial arts as generally being harder to learn.

What is the strongest martial art in history?

I see this get asked a lot, but it’s a bit of a weird question. If the strongest people mean the deadliest, then that would be Krav Maga. In general, strength is an overrated part of martial arts, as technique is vastly more important.

How many years does it take to master a martial art?

I’d say around 10 years before you can think of yourself as a master. But martial arts are a little strange as, with dedicated practice, many people can get to a good level of proficiency in just a few months. However, getting to that elite level requires many years of study and practice.

How hard is it to become a black belt?

Technically and physically, I’d say most fit and active people could realistically achieve a black belt. The biggest hurdle to overcome is that it takes many years of hard work and commitment to achieve. Many people give up long before they can get there. Overall, getting a black belt is very difficult, but achievable.

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Span Chen
Span Chen
I have been practicing karate for more than 6 years, and now at the sixth level (green belt) of the Okinawa Goju-Ryu Karatedo Kugekai. Though I haven’t earned my Black Belt yet, I am deeply passionate about my training.