So you’re considering taking up a combat sport. You might have heard about all of the amazing benefits of training in fight sports: self discipline, confidence, exercise, improved coordination, and of course, self defense. There’s only one question.
Which combat sport is right for you?
In order to answer that question you first need to ask yourself why you want to learn a combat sport. Do you want to learn how to defend yourself? Get some exercise? Are you looking for a social outlet to make friends? Are you interested in spirituality and meditation?
There are many reasons why people want to learn a combat sport. Below we will cover some of the best combat sports internationally practiced based on the most common motivation.
Best Combat Sports for Self Defense
Violence should always be avoided but if you ever find yourself in a bad situation it may be the only solution. Defending your personal safety and the safety of others is an important skill that all styles of martial arts teach. Among the top self defense martial arts are Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or BJJ, is a martial art based on ground fighting and grappling and is one of the fastest growing arts in the world. Since 95% of street fights end up on the ground, this style teaches you how to take your opponent down and keep them there. BJJ, also referred to as a “gentle art” allows smaller and weaker opponents to use submission techniques such as chokes and holds to fight off larger opponents.
Should you ever find yourself in a sticky situation, strikes and kicks may only last so long before you’re knocked to the ground. BJJ arms practitioners with the ability to use their body for leverage in those situations.
Getting Started with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Because BJJ is designed for a weaker, smaller fighter to subdue larger and stronger opponents, it’s the perfect combat sport for women, men, and even children. For your first class, should you decide to wear regular workout gear, we recommend wearing clothing without big pockets or extra material that an opponent could get caught in. BJJ practitioners normally wear a GI or BJJ Kimono and belt and rash guards since much of the training is full body contact on the floor.
Combat Sports Equipment Needed for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
- BJJ GI and belt
- Groin Guar
- Water Bottle/Towel
- Mouth guard
Krav Maga, or “contact combat” in Hebrew was originally taught to the Isreali army. This style of fighting combines the most effective techniques from various martial arts and fight training. It’s a pure self defense and strike system designed to neutralize threats.
Krav Maga offers a mixed focus but concentrates on skills for defending yourself while simultaneously attacking vulnerable areas such as eyes, nose, neck, and groin. Taking advantage of any weapons or object nearby are also skills taught to students. There are no competitions or elaborate choreographies, Krav Maga teaches you pure self defense and survival.
Getting Started with Krav Maga
Krav Maga doesn’t require former experience in a martial art. It welcomes students of all levels of fitness and experience level. In the beginning, combat sports gear for Krav Maga is fairly simple and inexpensive, though as you progress you may want to invest in MMA equipment such as boxing gloves, shin guards and mouth guards.
Combat Sports Equipment Needed for Krav Maga
- Athletic gear - track suit or gym clothes
- Trainers or Boots
- Groin Guard
- Water Bottle/Towel
Best Combat Sports for Fitness
Physical fitness and weight loss are some of the many benefits of any combat sport. To get a great workout, choosing a fighting sport that combines strength training, cardiovascular endurance, flexibility and agility is your best option.
Known as the “art of eight limbs”, Muay Thai, developed in Thailand is a combat system designed with heavy emphasis on stand-up strikes, kicking, and clinching. Because Muay Thai uses everything from fists, knees, elbows, and shins, training involves intense conditioning of these parts to become an efficient fighter.
Workouts for Muay Thai are rigorous and sparring even more intense. There is a high level of flexibility and balance that goes into many of the movements which leads to strength and core improvements as well as better stamina.
Getting Started with Muay Thai
Because of the physical intensity of Muay Thai, having some previous physical training is recommended. You can prepare by improving your endurance through running or swimming. Should you decide to just dive right in without any fitness level, that’s ok too, but be prepared for some sore muscles.
Combat Sports Equipment Needed for Muay Thai
- Athletic gear - track suit or gym clothes
- Training Gloves
- Hand Wraps
- Shin Guards
- Mouth Guards
- Groin Guard
- Head Gear
- Water Bottle/Towel
In addition to Muay Thai, Karate and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are also great fitness combat sports
Best Combat Sport for Discipline and Spirituality
Many people place a heavy physical focus on martial arts but there are certain disciplines, specifically in the eastern styles, that also provide an element of spirituality, mindfulness, and religion. These martial arts disciplines such as Aikido, Thai Chi and Taekwondo connect health, spirituality, and meditation which benefit the physical part of training.
Aikido is a Japanese Martial Art also known as “the way of harmony of spirit”. It is a martials art discipline that doesn’t look to treat violence with violence but rather with spherical movements through which an attacker’s aggressive force is turned against themselves. Using an opponent’s momentum is key for Aikido’s main techniques.
Aikido practices techniques against a variety of attacks such as kicks, punches, strikes, single-hand or two-hand grabs from the front or rear, chokes, multiple person attacks, and attacks with weapons. Students of Aikido are taught to always attempt to resolve the conflict in a non-lethal, non-disruptive, yet effective manner.
There is also an emphasis on the importance of achieving complete mental calm and control of one’s body to master an attack learning how to deal with your own energy and an attacker’s. Respect and courtesy are vital parts of the discipline.
Getting Started with Aikido
Aikido is usually trained in a dojo (or training facility). Since Aikido does not require intense physical strength it can be practiced by anyone, experienced or not.
Combat Sports Equipment Needed for Aikido
- Aikido gi jacket, pants and hakama
Best Combat Sports for Fighting with Weapons
If you are interested in learning a combat sport that also focuses on weapon use, there are many great options. What types of arts and weapons appeal to you? Japanese styles such as Kendo focuses on sword fighting while Bojutsu uses a staff.
Since choosing a combat sport for weapon training relies heavily on the type of weapon and style you’re interested in, we’ve put together a list of options based on weapon type.
Competitive Combat Sports
A lot of competitive fighting focuses on style and technique just as much as the direct defeat of your opponent. Unlike street fighting where anything goes, competitive fighting is usually governed by a set of strict rules that must be adhered to during a match. These rules inform scoring practices that award points.
For example, combat sports like Wushu and Karate can offer different types of competitions where students will perform a sequence of movements and will be judged on their aesthetic abilities rather than a physical match. However, these sports also have a heavy competitive sparring component as well.
Many martial arts offer great competitive components such as Taekwondo, Jujutsu, Judo, Boxing, Kickboxing, Kendo, Mixed Martial Arts, Muay Thai, and Wrestling. Once you choose your preferred combat sport, seek out a school that gets involved in competitions, especially if they have a winning track record.
Best Combat Sports for Socializing
All combat sports can be social in nature since you’re often in a group setting, being paired with partners or sparring. The best social combat sports don’t necessarily depend on the sport but rather the school. Obviously choosing a very popular combat sport such as Kickboxing or Karate is likely to attract more people than a less known martial art. Take a look at Livestrong’s list of the most popular martial arts.
Your school should have a good social atmosphere with like-minded people. Some schools will even allow you to view or trial a class for free or at a discounted price before committing.
Most Dangerous Combat Sports
A common question from many people starting out is “what is the most dangerous combat sport?” While all combat sports teach skills to fight and defend, there are particular arts that have been deemed as the deadliest. Through training, style, and physical conditioning these arts arm students with the ability to turn themselves into a human weapon.
According to an article posted by CBS News, some of the top deadliest full contact combat sports include:
Muay Thai is a very dangerous sport since striking with knees and elbows is considered part of the “eight limbs” style. Delivering hard, quick blows from a knee or elbow can be extremely damaging to opponents. Check out our Muay Thai for Beginners guide if you’re looking for the best way to get started.
Silat is a tough and powerful martial art from Indonesia and is translated into “skill for fighting”. Silat was designed for war but focuses on efficiency. Silat is not a martial art designed to knock someone out, it's about survival and taking your opponent out quickly.
Lethwei, or Burmese bare knuckle boxing, is considered one of the most aggressive and brutal martial arts in the world. Opponents fight bare knuckle with only tape and gauze for protection. Aside from striking with fists, feet, elbows, and knees, Lethwei is also known as “the art of 9 limbs” because it encourages headbutts as well which is forbidden in other arts.
From Aikido to Muay Thai, there are so many great martial arts options to choose from depending upon what your goals are. Like with any sport, choosing the right school and dedicating the time and discipline to it will get you the best results. Most combat sports are physically demanding and it’s not uncommon for injuries to occur. No matter which discipline you choose, wearing protective MMA gear and maintaining your personal safety should always be a top priority.