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Top 10 Self Defense Martial Arts Styles

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by George Pacheco Square up and get ready. Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Self-Defense Martial Arts Styles. For this list, we're ranking various schools of martial arts training and thought, specifically those where self-defense tactics are most promoted and utilized. Special thanks to our users marvel14, aldqbigsquare and Joseph Gonzales for submitting the idea at our interactive suggestion page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Square up and get ready. Welcome to, and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Self-Defense Martial Arts Styles.

For this list, we're ranking various schools of martial arts training and thought, specifically those where self-defense tactics are most promoted and utilized. We're not necessarily targeting the "best" or "most effective" martial arts styles, but rather those that focus most on keeping the practitioner out of harm's way.

#10: Arnis [aka Kali]
Self-preservation is key to the origins of this Filipino martial arts style, which is also known as Kali or Eskrima. Regardless of the term you use, they each basically refer to the usage of some manner of weapon for self-defense, with the emphasis being on techniques with blades, knives or sticks. Kali also happens to be the national sport and self-defense discipline of the Philippines. As such, Arnis brings with it a rich heritage of self-preservation techniques, which also includes grappling, joint locks and hand-to-hand combat, oftentimes with improvised weapons.

#9: Judo
The term "Judo" translates to "Gentle Way" in Japanese, and is a form of martial arts which emphasizes tosses and throws, and which are utilized in order to subdue or otherwise immobilize an opponent. Oftentimes, judo involves using an opponent's own center of balance against them, forcing a takedown or choke without the use of traditional fists or palm strikes. These latter elements - while a part of choreographed judo training and are also known as a "kata" - are not allowed in competitive Judo matches, because of the discipline's primary focus of earning an opponent's submission.

#8: Hapkido
This Korean martial art incorporates a wide variety of elements as well as techniques from other martial arts into its discipline; a sort of "best of" approach to self-defense. Hapkido takes from both the grappling and striking ends of the martial arts spectrum, while placing particular emphasis on leverage, distance and positioning to properly redirect the force of a potential opponent. Performing strikes and kicks in a circular motion is also indicative of the Hapkido discipline. The name itself can be literally translated to the "joining-energy-way," lending further credence to Hapkido's notion of the coordinated and harmonious flow of energy.

#7: Aikido
The next martial art on our list also deals with harmony and energy, although this Japanese discipline takes its notion of universal harmony even further by stressing the safety of both the defender and attacker whenever possible. The Aikido philosophy stresses the shifting of balance and using an opponent's momentum against them, before subduing attackers via a joint-lock or throw. Famous practitioners of Aikido include action star Steven Seagal, who has utilized aspects of the discipline in many his films... although Seagal's methods tend to be fairly liberal with that whole "well-being of your attacker" idea.

#6: Jeet Kune Do
The origins of our next discipline stem from arguably the most famous martial artist of all time: the immortal Bruce Lee. Jeet Kune Do is based on Lee's philosophy of martial arts, or "Fighting Without Fighting," which was influenced by the Wing Chun idea of anticipating the attacks of and then attacking an opponent. Lee's Jeet Kune Do demanded graceful, fluid body movements, never wasting energy yet achieving maximum results. Oh, and speaking of results, one need only bear witness to the influx of martial arts cinema in the 1970s to see just how impactful Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do have been to the martial arts in popular culture.

#5: Kyokushin
The karate craze that swept America in the 1980s - thanks to films like 1984's "The Karate Kid"- traces its martial arts roots back to this Japanese forebear, which was instituted in 1964 by Korean-Japanese Master Masutatsu Oyama. Kyokushin was the first full contact discipline of karate, stressing hard work and dedication in an ever-growing search for self-improvement and enlightenment. Indeed, the term "Kyokushin" itself can be translated as "The Ultimate Truth," a notion that combines both physical fitness and mental acumen into one challenging but rewarding physical lifestyle.

#4: Wing Chun
Distance be damned, for this next martial art is a self-defense technique which minimizes distance in favor of intimate, close-quarters combat. Wing Chun emphasizes a relaxed body structure - a "reed in the wind," if you will - proper balance and the elimination of wasted energy and tension. The discipline's origins date back all the way to era of the China's Qing Dynasty and the Southern Shaolin monastery. Its focus on minimal movement for maximum effort would be adopted later by Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do philosophy, and after he learned it from Sifu Yip Man, who was portrayed by martial arts star Donnie Yen in 2008’s “Ip Man”.

#3: Muay Thai
The Thai discipline at the number three spot on our list is one of the most visceral and physical martial arts in the world; a form of self-defense and a combat sport that stresses the entire body as a weapon. Muay Thai, also known as "The Art of Eight Limbs," is notable for its intense training of the body's shins and forearms, which are designed to serve as armor protection against blows. Meanwhile, strong kicks and the knees are utilized to disable an opponent, before strikes and grappling skills take the attacker down for the count.

#2: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Size isn't everything when it comes to this next martial art, as this Brazilian offshoot of traditional Japanese judo seems to follow the old adage, "the bigger they are, the harder they fall." Indeed, leverage and proper technique are key when utilizing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, with the ultimate goal of submission being linked primarily to grounded joint locks and chokeholds designed to incapacitate an opponent. The origins of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can be directly traced back to brothers Carlos and Helio Gracie, whose extended family descendants continue to teach, practice and compete within the discipline to this day.

Before we karate chop our way to the top pick, here are a few honorable mentions!
Pencak Silat

#1: Krav Maga
Hungarian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfield developed the intense and effective self-defense style known as Krav Maga for Israel's military in the 1940s. Foregoing any ritual or pomp in favor of realistic reactionary movements, the system was designed to be utilized in real life situations. Boxing, wrestling, judo and aikido are a big part of Krav Maga, a martial arts style designed to counter-act and nullify a lethal threat with brutal force. Krav Maga students are encouraged to avoid conflict whenever possible, but to efficiently eliminate any threat with swift action to the most vulnerable parts of the body, including the eyes, throat and groin.

Do you agree with our list? What are your favorite styles of martial arts? For more ass-kicking top 10 lists published every day, be sure to subscribe to!

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