Best Martial Arts from a Military Perspective

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The Best Martial Arts Styles for Self Defense
Photo by Marko Zamrznuti Tonovi

Imagine feeling confident that you can come out as the victor of an attack without a weapon. That is what mastering a martial art can give you. Whether you want to feel safe on the streets or boost your military training, you won’t regret learning martial arts techniques for attack, self-defense, or just to boost your confidence.

There are many different forms of martial arts. You could spend years training in any of them. So, it is important to know what the best martial arts will be for you, and to understand that not every form of martial arts will help you fight off an attacker or win in combat situations.

With years spent in military training and hand to hand combat, this is my take on the best martial arts to learn broke down into the two categories of moves/techniques:

  • Striking: when you aim to strike an opponent using punches, kicks, or knee and elbow strikes
  • Grappling: when you use certain grips and locks to decelerate the fight

And based on my experience, from a military point of view, these are the best martial arts that will be best to cover the two categories above:

  • Boxing
  • Muay Thai
  • Wrestling
  • Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Not only these four will improve your discipline, that you can take into any competition (MMA for instance), they also have practices that are unquestionably applicable in real-world self-defense situations.

Before we get into detailing each art, I want to first discuss the most important consideration to make before delving into the world of martial arts:

Have the Right Mindset When Choosing a Martial Art

Always remember: knowing the moves is not enough; you have to have the head for a fight as well.

It won’t help you to wonder, “What is the best martial arts in the world?” There isn’t an answer to this question. Each practice is invaluable, but not every discipline will help you in combat. Instead of choosing the best, you’ll want to find the best martial arts to learn for your goals.

It’s fine to learn a martial art as a hobby, or for tournaments, or even to master your art so well that you can compete in huge sporting events like the Olympics. However, it’s important to recognize that not every form of martial arts will be useful in the real world. For instance, learning Taekwondo is great to learn discipline, get fit and master a skill – but it would not help you in a close combat situation. If you’re in the military, you need to choose a discipline that will help you in real combat situations. This is a central point to keep in mind when choosing a martial art.

To help with your choice, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which martial arts are going to strengthen my weaknesses? What techniques are going to develop my strengths?
  • What will be most effective if I get attacked in the street?
  • What do I want to fight for? Competition, as a hobby, or to prepare for a real life combat situation?
  • Which martial arts is best for me as a military personnel?

Not every person interested in learning martial arts has the desire to fight – but when you’re in the military, learning to fight is essential to keep yourself safe. Unfortunately, learning the best martial arts for self defense won’t always help you in a dangerous situation like when you’re on the battlefield in a military deployment. That’s why it’s critical to know what you need to get out of a martial arts practice, and which ones will help you achieve those goals.

So, what is the best martial arts in the world? Now that we’ve covered what to look for in a martial art, I want to share my top four martial arts from a military perspective. These four have real-world applications, will help you win a fight, and ultimately keep you safe in military situations. These are:

1) Boxing

Boxing is a traditional form of martial arts, and in a nutshell, it comes in most handy when you need to strike an attacker in combat situations. This form of combat sport has been around for thousands of years, proving its effectiveness.

Wondering what the best martial arts for street fighting is? Boxing techniques are very well suited for street fighting, so is a great choice if being a good fighter is your goal. With this martial art, you’ll learn to stay on your feet and be able to strike an adversary with full-force.

All this makes it a great choice of martial art for military personnel, but of course, it has many other benefits.

The Benefits of Boxing

The main benefits of boxing are that it gives you total body strength, improved balance, and great hand-eye coordination. Having good balance and stance in any fight is crucial and will put you at a huge advantage against an opponent. If you can hold a proper balanced stance in a fight, your punches will be more powerful and effective. Footwork is also a central tenet to being a good boxer.

Below, I’ll go over the benefits of these teachings and some other important and useful things you’ll learn during boxing training.

Balancing

You’ll learn to keep your balance with a good stance, so that if you’re struck in a fight, you won’t overbalance and fall. Your coach will teach you the best way to stand, but essentially, your feet should be shoulder-width apart, and your knees bent slightly to promote lightness on your feet. This way, you can move quickly when needed.

Footwork

This leads us to footwork. Boxing teaches you to move fast – which is essential in fights so you can move out of the way of punches, and do so without falling. Exercises like skipping are used outside of the boxing ring to improve your speed, so that in the ring (or in real combat situations) you can quickly move to safety. 

Punching

Punching is the main mode of attack in boxing. Master boxers can take out opponents with one punch, meaning that those proficient in this martial art can win multiple fights without expending too much energy. This is integral for soldiers and military personnel – getting tired on the battlefield leaves you susceptible to losing a fight and puts you in danger. A boxing coach will show you how to throw powerful punches, and to punch with purpose.

Uses in Real Combat Situations

Boxing moves are extremely useful to anyone who is likely to find themselves in real combats – making this a perfect martial art for military personnel. There are four main punches you’ll master as you learn to box. These are:

  • The Jab – a quick punch
  • The Cross – a straightforward punch
  • The Hook – a side punch, short
  • The Uppercut – a short, upward punch

It is important to learn when and how to use these striking moves. Working with a knowledgeable coach who can guide you during actual fight exercises will give you the tools you need regarding this timing.

Striking is the main real-life application you’ll learn as a boxer. Boxers, more than any other martial artist, are trained to punch with accuracy, speed and power. If this is the central thing you want to learn from martial arts practice, I can tell you as a military veteran that boxing is the smartest route to go down.

2) Muay Thai

Another of the best martial arts to learn for self-defense striking, and for attacking an opponent when necessary, is Muay Thai. The martial arts form of Muay Thai is essentially Thai boxing. It makes use of various kinds of strikes, kicks, and clinches to combat an opponent. This martial art utilizes the sharper points of the body against an adversary – the elbows, shins, and knees.

Its moves are classed as either ‘major’ (Mae Mai) and ‘minor’ (Luk Mai) strikes. Most Muay Thai movements involve the use of the entire body, making them excellent for a workout – keeping fit for military duties – and for fighting or protecting yourself in combat.

Sudsakorn Sor.Klinmee vs. Cody Moberly at King of Muay Thai
Sudsakorn Sor.Klinmee vs. Cody Moberly at King of Muay Thai – Photo by Nattanan Srisut

The Benefits of Muay Thai

Muay Thai strikes are incredibly effective and powerful, making it a great martial arts form to study from a military perspective. As when learning any type of martial arts, it is best to work with a trainer to develop your moves correctly; but there is no harm in educating yourself in the meantime.

Kicking

In Muay Thai, a good stance is just as necessary as it is in boxing, however, the stance in this discipline differs a bit. The stance is square and forward, with hands up and aligned with the forehead, and the elbows out a little. The hips face forwards, unlike in boxing where the one foot leads. This stance allows for freedom and efficacy of movement when it comes to using the kick and strike techniques – which isn’t needed in boxing, as kicking doesn’t come into play. If you want to add kicking to your attack arsenal, I would advise you to take up Muay Thai over boxing.

Punching

As we covered in boxing, learning to punch properly is important to taking out your opponent quickly and efficiently, without injuring yourself or tiring yourself out. Muay Thai will help you do just that, alongside kicking, so you can use all four limbs in a combat situation.

Develops Your Inner Warrior

Muay Thai is highly recommended for those who expect to engage in real-life combat. Not only do you learn how to attack and defend yourself, you’ll also learn how to think quickly and strategically, plus stay calm when faced with aggression.

Uses in Real Combat Situations

Knowing that you have the power to quickly out-think your opponent and use your whole body to deflect violence is key to being effective in combat. Muay Thai can give you all this and more, which is why I advise anyone in the military to take up this martial art form. Learning to fight properly gives you confidence, and in the face of adversaries, that could be the quality that enables you to win.

In Muay Thai practice, you’ll learn how to master different types of punches. The main ones are:

  • Kradot Nueng – a jab
  • Kradot Chok – the ‘Superman Punch’
  • Mat Soi Dao – an uppercut strike
  • Mat Wiang Klap – the back fist punch
  • Mat Trong – a straight punch, reverse punch, cross punch, etc.

As you can see, these sound a lot like Western boxing strikes, so don’t be put off by thinking you won’t understand the moves. A good Muay Thai coach will help you understand what each term means and how they’re useful in real fights.

Muay Thai kicks are formidable when delivered correctly. The kicks may initially seem hard, and put you off using them in an attack situation, as they may feel a bit too ‘Chuck Norris’ for you. Nonetheless, they’re easy to master once you get into it and are great for using in your fitness training if not in an actual fight.

The famous roundhouse kicks seen in many Asian movies are taught in Muay Thai. These are more difficult to master, as they involve starting from a circular stance, and rotating the hips mid-air, mid-kick. This rotational force is where the power comes from. Again, it is best to learn these moves under the watchful eye of a good coach. This is so that you can avoid developing poor form, as well as injury.

As I also mentioned, Muay Thai incorporates striking with sharper points of the body, like elbows and knees. These can include:

Knee strikes:

  • Khao Dot – a jumping Muay Thai knee strike
  • Khao Chiang – the diagonal Muay Thai knee strike
  • Khao Loi – the flying knee strike

Elbow strikes:

  • Sok Ngat –an uppercut with the elbow
  • Sok Klap – a spinning strike with the elbow
  • Sok Chieng – a diagonal elbow strike

The elbow strike is actually the coup de grace of Muay Thai martial arts. Muay Thai elbow strikes use the elbow as a weapon as opposed to a closed fist – and quite effectively. They are considered the most treacherous strikes of this martial art. Elbow strikes are aimed at the opponent’s eyebrow, the point being that the blood-flow will interfere with their vision. These strikes are also most often used as a finishing technique because they can be powerful enough to knock out an opponent.

To summarize, as you might guess, Muay Thai techniques are dangerous and very powerful. Masters of this art learn to effectively strike to injure, and disadvantage them in fights. If your aim is to be able to wipe your opponent out of their ability to continue fighting, Muay Thai is the discipline for you.

3) Wrestling

Traditional wrestling, one of the most ancient forms of fighting, is a type of combat activity that focuses on grappling moves to defeat an opponent. These moves include clinches, joint locks, throws, take-downs, pins, and other types of holds.

The art of wrestling dates back around 15,000 years. Cave paintings in Egypt and Babylon show wrestlers in grappling positions still used today. This historical value makes wrestling one of the best martial arts to learn for self-defense. There is a variety of different styles and approaches in competitive wrestling. These include Greco-Roman, Judo, Sombo, Folkstyle, and Freestyle, among others. Many of these techniques were adopted by other forms of martial arts as well as by the military.

Like with boxing and Muay Thai – or any other sport really – it is crucial to develop a good stance or initial position. A solid stance sets you up for the success of all your other moves and techniques.

So, let’s take a look at the benefits of wrestling from a military perspective, and how it translates to real-world situations.

The Benefits of Wrestling

There are many things you’ll learn by undertaking wrestling practice, but perhaps the most important is how to overpower an opponent in close contact, and conversely how to escape an opponent’s grip. These are the basic tenets of grappling. Here are some of the things you’ll learn for combat situations through wrestling:

Breathing

It is important to employ proper use of breath when practicing wrestling. The body needs a lot of oxygen to perform the intensive activity that wrestling moves demand. Slow wrestling movements must be accompanied by slow breathing through the nose. Then ‘explosive breathing’ can be done before an attack. This involves breathing in slowly through the nose and exhaling quickly. This firstly gives the body enough oxygen and energy to engage in a fight, but also triggers your ‘fight or flight’ response (in this case, the ‘fight’ aspect) which will allow your innate instincts and quick-thinking to help you in combat.

Escape Methods

If you get taken down, wrestling gives you methods you can use to escape.

If pinned by an adversary’s left foot, move the left foot to the right, while also lifting the right knee and placing the right foot on the ground. Then lean back into the opponent by pushing into the right foot and trying to get up.

Moves like this and more are incredibly useful for military personnel to know in case they ever find themselves being restrained by an enemy.

Attacks

Wrestling has some effective techniques for getting your opponent onto the ground. Some of the most typical and effective moves in wrestling are:

  • Penetrating Shot – a low-angled move whereby an attack is advanced by first placing the lead foot between the opponent’s legs. Next, lower onto the mat with the front knee. At this point, the attacker can grab the opponent’s legs and try to pull him down.
  • Lifting – lifting the adversary as a means of take-down. From behind, wrap the arms around the opponent’s waist, then slowly lower the adversary to the ground.
  • Single-leg Take-down – can be used for opponents with a great defense strategy. Performed by shooting forward and grabbing the adversary’s back leg, then tripping or twisting him down.

Uses in Real Combat Situations

Wrestling is based on the use in real-life situations where you’re in close contact with an enemy who is unarmed. This can sometimes be the case in combat, and you need to know how to overpower someone without the use of a weapon.

I personally recommend wrestling for its focus on escape methods. Unfortunately for military personnel, there is always a risk of kidnap or being apprehended. Knowing how you can escape the grasp of an enemy could save your life.

Aside from escape methods, it also teaches methods to attack and hold enemies. This is useful if you yourself need to apprehend someone.

Besides these unique features of wrestling, becoming disciplined in its practice, building your strength and increasing your athletic abilities are also outcomes, which are indispensable to soldiers and those in the military. If you’re wanting to be sure you can apprehend an enemy in battle, escape from grasp yourself, control your breathing, and become stronger, I recommend wrestling as the martial arts form for you.

4) Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Finally, we have Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. With similar techniques to Western-style wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a form of martial arts or combat sport that focuses on grappling techniques. Based on the original Japanese Jujutsu and Judo approaches, it is typified by grounded fighting and submission holds.

Many experts consider this form of Jiu-Jitsu as the best because anyone can use it – children, adults, and even older people. Loosely translated, Jiu-Jitsu means “the gentle way.” This martial art was made by and for people of smaller stature around 1914. It gives smaller fighters the edge over opponents larger than themselves.

One potential drawback is that there are so many different moves to learn, meaning it takes more time for a student to reach black belt status. With a little time, however, anyone can learn to use the techniques well enough to defend themselves.

Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-jitsu Championship 2016
Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-jitsu Championship 2016 – Photo by Yurgentum

The Benefits of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

There are plenty of benefits to learning this form of martial arts. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is quite different from the other forms I’ve talked about so far, so let’s run through some of its unique benefits.

Targeting Weak Points

A Jiu-Jitsu fight generally starts with the opponents employing distance control. Then, once one of the fighters lets the other close in, they will grapple together using a series of moves to isolate targeted body parts. This will eventually lead to one fighter finding the other fighter’s weak point via a submission lock technique that the martial artist cannot break away from, at which point they will face defeat. 

Of course, you’ll hope that in a real-life military combat situation, your opponent will not be fully martial-arts trained. This automatically gives you an advantage. It won’t take you, as a trained martial artist, long at all to isolate where your opponent’s weak spots are, and to use those against them.

Lifestyle

This martial arts form has numerous benefits for anyone, whether military-based or a regular citizen. Besides being an excellent workout, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu helps to develop personality traits and mental strengths that help on and off the battlefield. Some are:

  • Physical, mental, and emotional fortitude
  • Self-discipline
  • Improves focus
  • Gives confidence
  • Teaches weight control
  • It teaches peaceful but powerful conflict resolution
  • It helps develop goal-setting skills
  • Knowledge of using the exact amount of force to scale down an aggressive situation
  • Offers a peaceful alternative for those who want to be able to defend themselves rather than use forceful measures like striking to overcome an attacker

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gives a focus on these mental aspects of discipline and combat due to the fact that it’s designed for smaller people. It is predicated on the fact that while you might not be able to attack people bigger than you in combat, you can defend yourself and escape from trouble.

So, if you’re a smaller person and you’re anxious that you won’t be able to stand up against a combative opponent, this is the martial arts form for you.

Uses in Real Combat Situations

Despite not being heavy on attack moves, some of the top Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the best martial arts for self defense, techniques include:

  • The Triangle Choke
  • The Bow and Arrow Choke
  • The American Armlock
  • The Sleeve Choke
  • The Cross Ankle Lock

Some of the above may not be legal when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu competition, but these moves could save your life in the instance of an attack on the street. It is a good idea to learn as many of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu moves as you can so that you have a diverse understanding of ways you can defeat an attacker. Each fighter is different, with different moves, countermoves, and strong suits. The more you know, the better off you will be safety-wise. 

Proper Jiu-Jitsu training should teach you enough to get someone down as soon as the opportunity arises. The only thing is that if you end up in a fight where your opponent does not give you much opportunity to get them down to grapple with, you don’t have a huge arsenal of moves that will enable you to do so.

Essentially, the fitter and more educated you are in your chosen martial arts, the safer you will be in the event of an attack. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of the best martial arts for those of smaller build or stature, and one of the best martial arts for self defense. But for people of average height and build or bigger, learning a martial art that teaches attack methods might be better for you.

It’s Not Just About Fighting

Ultimately, I’ve talked you through how to choose a martial arts discipline based on the ability it gives you in combat situations. But, it’s also important to remember that choosing the best martial arts only to win in a fight is missing the point.

Martial arts can help learners to develop other great skills and qualities that are especially helpful to soldiers and military personnel. Self-discipline, self-control and increased mental stamina are all outcomes of learning a martial art. People who are dedicated to their study can achieve a better memory, concentration, focus and willpower. The learning process also teaches respect, confidence and coordination.

Martial arts don’t just teach fighting techniques or self-defense lessons, but they can be an opportunity to overhaul your whole lifestyle. These disciplines are based on ancient Chinese and Indian styles that promoted a hierarchical style of teaching, where more experienced learners would teach and guide newcomers and a ‘family’ was created. All learners would look out for, respect and help each other, fostering a closer bond between all students. This inevitably helps in combat situations, where nobody is left to fight attackers alone or fend for themselves.

There are many benefits to learning these arts that will develop you as a person and a soldier – not just a fighter. Knowing the fight moves is never going to be enough to master these arts. There is a lot of psychology behind the fighting, self-defense, and training. You need to develop the key traits I’ve talked about to have the strength and confidence to weigh up your opponent quickly, help your teammates, and win in a fight.

Overall, becoming a martial artist gives you the strength of mind and naturally builds your commitment, so that you continue with your study and become dedicated. In turn, this helps you be a better person, fighter, and soldier.

Committing to a schedule to become a martial artist will help you achieve your goals. Just like in military situations, you have to learn to show up rain or shine for your martial arts studies. This routine will develop not only your strength and technique, but also your self-discipline, perseverance, and humility. Luckily, as someone in the military, you’re likely to already have some sense of discipline, which will be strengthened through martial arts practice.

However, discipline doesn’t guarantee a win. You must learn to control your emotions and keep from getting anxious or angry during a fight. Keeping a cool head will help you make the best decisions for your survival in the moment. Martial arts teach you to think quickly and rationally and make considered moves in combat. 

These qualities make for a mentally-strong person as well as a great fighter: one that does not give up but pushes harder in every aspect of life. The discipline required – especially to train in jiu-jitsu methods – will help you develop these key mental strengths, both on and off the battlefield.

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed learning about martial arts training methods and their benefits that I experienced in military training. This guide is just the tip of the iceberg; there are so many more aspects of martial arts that you will learn by doing, not by reading. So stop wondering “which martial arts is best for me” – and find yourself a trainer in one of the four I’ve highlighted above.

The best way to get the results you want is by working with a fight trainer or coach who is highly experienced in the martial art method you choose. Having a coach will help keep you motivated and push you to work harder. To be an experienced coach, they will abide by the lifestyle aspects of these arts, and can help you immerse in them to reap the full benefits.

I wish you all the best in choosing the best martial arts for you, finding a good trainer, and enjoying all the advantages that mastering a martial art brings you. Both as a soldier and a human being, you won’t regret learning these disciplines which will set you up for life, both on and off the battlefield.