4 Best Martial Arts For Women (& Advice On How To Choose)

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Updated on October 2, 2022

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So you’re a woman, and you want to learn to protect yourself in case of a troubling situation.

Well, I’m here to tell you that learning a practical martial art that suits women well will undoubtedly give you confidence and, most importantly, self-defense skills to avoid danger.

There are many kinds of martial arts which can make it difficult to choose.

And many articles out there will direct you to women’s self defense classes that I believe are not going to be the best solution, keep reading and I’ll explain why.

4 Best Martial Arts For Women To Choose From

First, let’s get into my top suggestions of the best martial arts for women while explaining what you should be looking for in a martial art study.

For most of these options, get a pair of boxing gloves designed for women to make your training sessions a safe learning environment.

4. Krav Maga

Woman performing an elbow attack in Krav Maga self defense

Krav Maga originated from the Israeli army and focused on causing the most violent damage to your attacker as efficiently as possible. This could be an intelligent martial art to learn because it has none of the tradition of other martial arts as it just focuses entirely on self-defense techniques.

In essence, this martial art borrows techniques from the entire spectrum of other martial arts to find the most lethal methods of stopping an attacker and eliminating the threat.

Krav Maga doesn’t shy away from using tools like groin hits, eye gauges, and throat attacks to forcefully defeat the opponent or at least make them reconsider their life choices.

I’m including Krav Maga in this list because it does have a specific lethality that could be especially effective for women trying to defend themselves. Still, I wouldn’t call it the very best option.

Suppose you have been learning a particular martial art for a few years. In that case, you will quickly notice that there is a ton of misinformation about what actually works in a fight.

Depending on the teacher, Krav Maga can sometimes be comparable with self-defense “gurus” who haven’t actually been in a fight in their life and share hazardous advice.

This isn’t an attempt to completely discredit Krav Maga, but a warning to be cautious about finding only a very reputable school with highly experienced teachers.

3. Muay Thai

Woman performing a Muay Thai elbow attack on a heavy bag

Muay Thai is known as “the art of eight limbs” because of its highly perfected use of feet, knees, elbows, and fists to deal considerable damage to your opponent. It’s an excellent fit for martial arts women who want to learn how to deal damage when defending themselves.

In the last few years of training Muay Thai myself, I’ve noticed how it is a popular choice for many women and in no small part because they are learning very powerful striking.

With practice, women can too learn to strike accurately and lethally with elbows and knees on top of the usual heavy kicks and boxing styles used in this martial art.

Your regular Joe on the street doesn’t know much about these elbows and knees in particular. Elbow strikes across the temple can knock out the enemy in one well-placed hit, removing the threat immediately.

And Muay Thai knees to the body can disrupt the organs of the attacker, causing a high degree of internal pain that can drop them to the floor and leave open an opportunity to escape.

Muay Thai would give you an excellent base in boxing and add leg kicks that can destabilize the opponent and then a strong knee into the body or elbow to the head. You’ll be discouraging any attacker very swiftly.

I genuinely believe Muay Thai is an excellent martial art for women to learn to defend themselves. It even teaches some level of stand-up grappling and leg trips that could help you to tip an opponent over to the floor and make your escape, as well.

2. MMA

Two women doing MMA grappling on the gym floor

Modern mixed martial arts for women combines some of the most effective striking and grappling martial arts for the ultimate cage fighting sport. By learning MMA, you’d be increasing your knowledge across fighting as a whole, but some strikes are illegal in the sport.

The only main drawback is that you won’t learn eye gauges, fish hooks, groin, or throat strikes. These are all illegal moves in the sport of MMA, so they’re not actively taught. In fact, they’re mostly only trained in self-defense-orientated womens martial arts, like Krav Maga or some variations of Kenpo Karate.

But MMA teaches an entire selection of effective techniques from Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, and Wrestling (to name just a few). Essentially any martial art could be combined within MMA training, depending on your school and coach, but just not any moves regarded as illegal in the Unified Rules of MMA.

Putting lethal strikes aside, mixed martial arts means you’d be learning a variety of powerful moves to do things like:

  • Have an elevated awareness of your opponent’s movements
  • Predict attacks before they happen and react counteractively
  • Shoot for the legs of your attacker and take them down to the ground
  • Trade strikes with your attacker on the feet and choose when to trip or throw them onto the ground
  • Open up many opportunities for escaping

This is what makes mixed martial arts training so beneficial for women. It gives you plenty of skills to deal with a constantly changing situation that any sole martial art might not be able to provide you with.

A primary consideration is that when learning lots of martial arts simultaneously, it can be much more challenging to progress in any individual martial art to the point of making it useful for the street or self-defense. This is the only reason I haven’t included MMA in the number one spot for this list!

1. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Woman performing a submission on a man in BJJ class

BJJ offers a unique self-defense system for women because the entire art teaches students to use technical movement patterns that don’t rely on force or brute strength. Many women can learn BJJ and use it effectively against any attacker.

I’ve decided to include Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at this number one spot because I have personally seen many women become highly proficient in this grappling art. They can quite easily beat a male with higher technical skills.

I have rolled with both guys and ladies of different sizes and strengths. I have felt the lower-body advantage women can have over men by using their natural flexibility and strength in their legs to their benefit.

Men usually have the upper body advantage; women can nullify this inside of BJJ by being the more intelligent or more skilled grappler and using their legs efficiently.

Although BJJ doesn’t teach any kind of striking, fighting on the feet is often not the best route for women in a street fight. Attackers on women are more likely to be male; they have naturally greater upper body strength that makes them very lethal against a woman when fighting on the feet.

But Jiu-Jitsu teaches something entirely different from striking. It mainly involves taking your opponent to the ground, controlling them, or submitting them from the floor.

BJJ borrows trips, throws, and shooting techniques from Judo and Wrestling to make it as effective as possible in bringing down an opponent and landing in an advantageous position.

When you get more advanced in BJJ, this martial art also includes jumping variants that allow you to wrap up an opponent into submissions with as little needed as grabbing their wrist to lock on.

I think this makes Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu extraordinarily helpful for women to nullify any attacker.

BJJ is also a great workout that will develop a high degree of core strength and cardiovascular ability, which becomes very important when fighting off an attacker.

Advice Picking A Martial Art For A Woman

Now I’ll help you with further reasoning about how to pick a martial art that is suitable for women.

Which Martial Art Is Right For Women?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the right martial art for women who want to learn an effective system for self-defense. BJJ grappling teaches women how to use technique over strength to overcome an opponent regardless of their size or weight.

In my own practice of BJJ, I’ve seen plenty of female martial artists on the gym floors who can outmaneuver and outsmart any male, given they have the knowledge and training to do so.

A striking martial art (e.g., Boxing or Muay Thai) might not be the best solution for women because they can be at a weight or strength disadvantage. But taking down an opponent and grappling can all be done with technique alone.

Ultimately, you have to choose the martial art right for you. You may have more natural skills for striking or grappling arts, and aligning with that will help you advance quicker and build up a solid base.

What Can Women Do For Self-Defense?

Women can start learning martial arts to give them the skills necessary for self-defense. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, MMA, and Krav Maga are excellent options for learning fighting skills that can help women defend themselves against an attacker.

We’ve also covered the best martial arts for self defense in another article to give you even more insight into more options you can choose from.

There are other activities that women can do for self-defense:

  • Prepare and understand basic street safety for women
  • Stay physically fit and don’t disregard strength workouts (integral strength is important!)
  • Eat real whole foods like steak, eggs, and dairy (they won’t make you fat!)
  • Try to outsmart bigger and stronger opponents (fighting is like Chess, not all about power!)

By keeping fit, and healthy, and using your smarts then you can be prepared for any potentially dangerous situations. Practicing martial arts of any kind will likely aid you in all of these things as keeping fit and encouraging you to ditch the junk food and eat healthier.

And most importantly, being aware and smart is the key for women to defend themselves either by avoiding situations entirely or by knowing how to nullify any attack before it escalates.

That has been an overview of my recommendations for the best martial arts for women and what you need to consider when making your choice. If you want to simply have fun learning a new hobby, then you can go with whichever martial art seems most attractive to you. If you really want to learn how to defend yourself, then my biggest recommendation is BJJ.

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