The Top 15 Deadliest Martial Arts in the World

Martial arts have been around for centuries and were originally created for use in battle. Today they are practiced for a number of reasons including self-defense, law enforcement, military applications, competition, entertainment and physical, spiritual and mental development. Considering their origins and the fact that martial arts are used for law enforcement and self-defense it is no wonder that many of the martial arts are rather deadly.

Here are the top 15 deadliest martial arts in the world from least to most deadly.

15. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was invented around 1920 by five Brazilian brothers, one of whom had learned Kodokan judo from a traveling Japanese judoka. It is based on ground fighting and submission holds. It focuses on the skill of taking an opponent to the ground, controlling one’s opponent, gaining a dominant position and forcing one’s opponent into submission.

The idea is that smaller, weaker opponents can take control of larger, stronger opponents by getting them to the ground and using choke holds and joint-locks to force them into submission. It is thus an ideal choice for smaller bodied fighters.

The principals of Jiu Jitsu are: size doesn’t matter, technique always overcomes strength, a good grip gives you the upper hand, press on no matter how tough it gets, focus and be present in the moment, what you give is what you get and always be kind to yourself.

Like so many martial arts, there is a focus on spiritual and mental development as well as physical. The aim is not to kill but to defend oneself and fight if necessary.

14. Karate

Karate, meaning ‘the way of the empty hand’, is a Japanese martial arts form which is said to be influenced by Fujian White Crane, a form of kung fu originating in Southern China.

Karate’s focus is on unarmed fighting. It incorporates the whole body, using kicks, strikes, blocking with both arms and legs, throws and strikes. The emphasis is on concentrating as much of the body’s power into the point of impact. Timing, tactics, physical condition and spirit are equally important. Mental attitude and rituals of courtesy play an important part in karate training.

Karate training involves ‘kumite’ and ‘kata’. Kumite is fighting or sparring and full contact is seldom used. Blows are usually stopped short, preferably within an inch of contact. Hands, feet, elbows, knees and forearms are toughened by striking various padded surfaces and wood.

Kata is a set routine of moves put together to simulate a fight. It consists of blocks, punches and kicks which flow from one into the next.

The ethos of Karate is effortless action and confidence, humility, openness and peace brought about through the unity of mind and body. Despite this peaceful sounding ethos, karate can be a deadly fighting style when applied in the real world.

13. Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a Korean martial arts form and is recognized as one of the oldest in the world. Its ethos is courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. Mental and spiritual development are thus as important as physical conditioning. They believe in the theory of power which includes reaction force, concentration, equilibrium, breath control, mass and speed.

Although the main focus is on kicking, punching also forms an important part of training in Taekwondo. Head height kicks, jumping spinning kicks and fast kicking techniques are emphasized. The stance is narrower than many other martial arts stances to enable higher and faster kicking. Speed and agility are important as well as physical conditioning and fitness. In competitions more points are given to spinning kicks and head height kicks. These kicks are also particularly lethal if used in the real world.

12. Kung Fu

Kung Fu originated in China as a training and fighting technique for warriors. It is also said that monks were the guardians of Kung Fu. It emphasized both attack and self-defense and honed the bodies and minds of warriors into lethal fighting tools of war.

The stances and moves were worked out with a keen knowledge and application of physiology, particularly the muscular and skeletal systems. Many of the moves in Kung Fu are inspired by the fighting styles and techniques of animals. There are five main stances called dragon, frog, horse riding and snake. All movements are initiated from either one of these stances or normal upright position.

In China Kung Fu refers to any study, learning or practice that requires patience, determination and energy to complete. It does not only refer to martial arts but it conveys the ethos of the martial art. Learners of Kung Fu martial art must be patient, practice hard and be mindful in order to succeed.

The surge in Kung Fu based movies in the late 20th century increased its popularity seeing many people across the world taking up the sport.

11. Sambo

Sambo is a Soviet martial art and was developed in the early 1920’s by the Soviet NKVD and Red Army to improve hand-to-hand combat in the soldiers. It is an acronym loosely translated as ‘self-defense without weapons’. It drew on various martial arts creating a deadly combination. It combines the ground fighting and wrestling techniques of Judo with the upright fighting skills of kicking, punching and blocking of kickboxing, Thai boxing and boxing. It is a good all round martial art.

One of Sambo’s pioneers was a man named Vasili Oshchepkov who spent several years living in Japan and training in Judo. Viktor Spiridonov was the other pioneer and each man developed his own style. Later the two styles melded and became what is known as Sambo today. Spiridonov’s version was much softer and less brutal and relied less on physical strength and size. Oshchepkov’s style was known as ‘free wrestling’ or ‘catch wrestling’.

Sambo is differentiated into three categories: Sport Sambo, Combat Sambo and Freestyle Sambo.

Sport Sambo is a combination of catch wrestling and Judo. Unlike Judo, it allows leg lock and other takedowns which are allowed in catch wrestling. Choke holds are not allowed.

Combat Sambo is similar to MMA and is the only form of Sambo that allows strikes. It is used primarily by the police and the army. Special Sambo is a form of combat Sambo whose techniques are kept secret, known only to the special forces and units that practice it.

Freestyle Sambo is very similar to sport Sambo except it allows submissions such as neck crank and twisting footlocks and is not practiced in classic sports clubs.

Sambo is a lot less restrictive than the martial arts it is based on and thus makes for a very deadly style both on the street and in the ring.

Sambo was recognized as an official sport in the USSR in 1938. It is internationally practiced and is a recognized style of amateur wrestling.

10. MCMAP – Marine Corps Martial Arts Program

MCMAP was developed by the United States Marine Corps. From the late 1980’s to 2001 soldiers were trained in a LINE fighting. But this was deemed too dangerous in 2001 and the MCMAP fighting style was developed to train soldiers in hand-to-hand combat, bayonet and rifle skills and techniques to disarm an enemy carrying a rifle.

Unlike its predecessor, LINE, MCMAP focuses on mental and character development, stressing responsible use of force, leadership and teamwork. Its aim is to develop ethical warriors which fits with the Marine Corps core values of honor, courage and commitment.

Despite MCMAP being a martial art it is important to understand that it is designed to assist soldiers in wars fought with weapons. The soldier who wins the hand-to-hand fight is the one whose buddy arrives first with a gun. Aggression and a willingness to engage with the enemy are also key factors in being a good MCMAP practitioner.

As in many martial arts systems ranks are displayed with colored belts with beginners wearing a tan belt. But regardless of the color of a marine’s belt it is imperative that training is kept up and a strong moral code is followed.

9. Muay Thai (Thai boxing)

Muay Thai is known as ‘the art of eight limbs’ and emphasizes elbow and knee strikes. It originated as a full-contact self-defense martial art during the battles between the Burmese of the Konbaung Dynasty and Siam in the mid-18th century. It was originally one of the ‘warrior skills,’ which included fencing, spear handling, horse riding and archery. But during the 1780’s Burmese-Siamese wars it became obvious that a fighting technique that could be learned quickly was needed. Muay Thai was born out of this need.

Later, Muay contests were fought to entertain an audience. These contests became an integral part of festivals and celebrations. Fighters hands were wrapped in rope to cause more damage to the opponent while protecting one’s own hands. Later, after a death in the ring, modern day boxing gloves were implemented and cotton coverlets were worn over the feet and ankles.

8. Silat

There are many origin stories of Silat but the most popular is that it was developed by Rama Isruna from Sumatra. The legend goes that she created the style by looking at a fight between a tiger and a large hawk. Today Silat is used by many military groups throughout the Malay Archipelago and surrounding lands, and by the notorious pirate clans of the South China Sea.

Unlike most martial arts, especially those that developed in Asia with the Buddist influence, Silat does not focus on mental and spiritual development. It is all about violence! It focuses on exploiting one’s enemy’s weaknesses in order to take your enemy out as quickly and efficiently as possible. It uses speed, leverage and disabling moves to accomplish this. Even blows and kicks to the crotch are encouraged.

There are hundreds of different styles and schools. Each focuses either on strikes, joint manipulation, weaponry, grappling, throws or a combination of all of these. All styles agree that the main aim is to get in close to your enemy, break him within 10 seconds, knock him unconscious and get out. It is dirty and effective.

A dagger, known as a ‘kris’ or ‘keris’ is used for quick stabs into soft body parts. The dagger is dipped into a neurotoxin which causes almost instant death in one’s enemy.

Silat’s relatively low popularity as a sport is due to the fact that many of the moves are designed to cause serious damage or kill one’s opponent, which are not acceptable in a sporting environment. As in other martial art forms, adjustments and changes have been made to transform it into an acceptable sport. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most deadly martial arts.

7. Eskrima

Eskrima, also known as Arnis or Kali, is the national sport of the Philippines. Although it is defined as hand-to-hand combat it also employs weapons such as sticks, knives and blades. It was banned during the Spanish invasion but survived as practitioners disguised the fighting movements as dance.

The Spanish also banned the carrying of full sized weapons and thus stick and small knives were used. This led to the development of a complex stick-based technique and blade-orientated techniques. Filipino’s have what is known as a blade culture and, unlike other cultures of sword fighting and blade wielding that have died out, the Filipino blade culture is still strong today. The people of Palau refer to Filipino people as chad ra oles which means ‘people of the knife’.

Skrima was practiced mainly by the poor and uneducated and thus its history is almost entirely anecdotal or oral. It can be traced back to native ‘Pintados” fighting techniques during battles between the Prehispanic Filipino tribes. Today’s version also shows signs of influence from Spanish fencing, Silat and Chinese, Arab and Indian martial arts due to settlers and traders traveling through the Malay Archipelago.

Eskrima had no traditional belting or grading system. The techniques were often passed on from father to son and were taught informally and secretively. Masters who later began to teach Eskrima publicly were criticized by elders for making public a part of their culture that had been preserved through secrecy for centuries. Today, Eskrima has adopted the belt ranking system seen in Karate and Judo.

6. Bacom

Bacom, also known as Vacon, was born on the streets of Lima and is native to Peru. It was founded by Roberto Puch Bezada. Bezada was a former convict, a marine and trained in jujutsu. Bacom combines several martial arts, including jujutsu, with Vale Tudo-style street fighting, creating a deadly style that’s aim is to inflict maximum injury on one’s opponent. The focus is on power and one of the main tactics of attack is to ruin your opponent’s balance.

Common moves are bone-snapping arm locks, merciless chokeholds and ruthless strikes to the vital organs. The emphasis is on speed. The idea is to overwhelm one’s opponent before he has even had time to realize he’s in a fight. Bacom’s vicious nature stands it apart from other martial arts. Many Bacom fights have been known to end in death due to this viciousness as well as hidden weapons and deceptive tactics.

Bacom is very useful in real life combat as it is brutal and efficient. It teaches the use of various weapons and how to kill if need be.

Top 5 Deadliest Martial Arts in the World

5. Rough and Tumble

Rough and tumble, also known as ‘gouging’ which aptly describes it, is one of the few fighting styles native to America. It was developed during the 17th century American Revolution and gained popularity though the 18th and 19th centuries. It was not an organized style or system and fights were organized by the fighters themselves. It focuses on causing maximum damage with dirty techniques and nothing is prohibited. Eye gouging, biting and punching vital organs are par for the course.

Some fighters have been known to take the brutality to the next level by filing their teeth into razor sharp points to enable them to bite off opponents ears, fingers and lips. It is due to this intense brutality that Rough and Tumble is rarely spoken of and seldom practiced.

4. Vale Tudo

Vale Tudo means ‘anything goes’ and is a full contact martial art. It originated in Brazil during the 20th century where it gained popularity as a side-show at festivals and carnivals. Two men were pitted against each other in a ring or open space for the entertainment of the crowd. These Vale Tudo fights were the predecessors of the Mixed Martial Arts matches known today.

MMA is often referred to as Vale Tudo in Brazil. Vale Tudo was not a sport but more an entertainment and participants did not receive belts or promotions. There were no weight categories. Fighters represented their styles and just about anything was acceptable.

Today there are still very few rules and tournaments are particularly brutal thus often held in secret.

3. Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu was developed for military spies in feudal Japan and practitioners were known as ninjas or hinin, non-human. The focus of this deadly martial art was on warfare, espionage and assassination and training included the arts of disguise, escape, concealment, geography, meteorology, medicine and explosives.

Although Ninjutsu does not focus on the development of mind and spirit its name indicates these do play a role. Nin means ‘to apply ones thoughts, ego and heart to the edge of the sword’. Jutsu means ‘technique’. Ninjutsu is thus the technique of eradicating the ego and developing an iron will realizing that if you behave in an egotistical way you will get hurt. It is also known as the ‘art of remaining unseen’ or ‘the invisible art’.

Ninjutsu embodies patience. A practitioner will wait for the perfect moment, not allowing himself to become rushed or flustered. He will exploit timing to his own benefit. He will endure hardship and pain in his patient wait for the most opportune time. The ninjutsu practioner controls information and time.

Ninjutsu dates back to the Genpei War of 1180 – 1185 when Minamoto no Kuro Yoshitsune chose warriors to serve as shinobi during battle. Shinobi were primarily scouts and spies. They avoided contact but were effective assassins if the need arose. They were often hired by territorial lords known as daimyo. Ninjutsu was developed as a collection of survival techniques in a feuding and warring Japan. The deceptive techniques of ninjutsu can be seen today utilized by military forces like Rangers, Seals, or Black Ops.

2. Line

Line stands for Linear Infighting Neural-override Engagement. It was developed by retired marine Ron Donvito who did extensive studies of both human anatomy and various martial arts. It was used by the US Marine Corps between 1989 and 1998. It was also known as ‘the 7 deadly moves of combat’. As the Marine Corps began to take on more peace keeping roles, Line was deemed too brutal and a new, less deadly form known as Marine Corps Martial Arts Program or MCMAP was developed. LINE is still used by various special forces today as a deadly conflict technique.

1. Krav Maga

Krav Maga was developed by the Israeli Defense Force to equip its soldiers with a fighting chance when they had no weapon and were faced with an enemy. It’s focus is thus mainly self-defense with the goal being to inflict the maximum amount of pain quickly and efficiently. It is a well-rounded style encompassing a little of everything: basic striking, clinch work, ground fighting, throws, weapon disarms and a self-defense mindset of awareness and aggression when attacked.

It is the most deadly and effective form of martial art and thus, not surprisingly, is a non-sport martial art form. It is not concerned with spiritual or mental development but focuses exclusively on disarming, disabling and destroying your enemy. The unofficial slogan of Krav Maga, according to the New York Times is, “Hurt them real bad and then get away.”

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