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Greetings, self-defense enthusiasts!

Are you prepared to learn how to protect yourself and others?

Step into our self-defense sports list, sorted by popularity.

From experienced martial artists to complete beginners, there’s a sport here for everyone to acquire essential self-defense skills!

Self-Defense Sports List

  1. Boxing
  2. Taekwondo
  3. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
  4. Judo
  5. Karate
  6. Kickboxing
  7. Muay Thai
  8. Wrestling
  9. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)
  10. Krav Maga

#1 Boxing

Boxing

Boxing, a combat sport that involves two participants throwing punches at each other, has a long history dating back to ancient civilizations in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece.

Modern boxing was developed in England in the 18th century, with the creation of the Marquess of Queensberry rules in 1867. Today, boxing is popular worldwide, with major professional bouts drawing large audiences and generating significant revenue.

The sport became an Olympic event in 1904, and there are various international championships, such as the World Boxing Association (WBA) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) titles.

#2 Taekwondo

Taekwondo

Taekwondo, a Korean martial art, traces its origins back to ancient Korean fighting techniques combined with Chinese and Japanese martial arts.

It gained international popularity in the 20th century and was officially recognized as a distinct martial art in 1955. Taekwondo focuses on high, fast kicks, and jumping and spinning kicks, typically targeting head-height.

World Taekwondo (WT) governs the sport and organizes the biannual World Taekwondo Championships. Taekwondo became an official Olympic sport in 2000.

#3 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a ground-based grappling art originating in Brazil in the early 20th century, influenced by Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and Judo.

The Gracie family, particularly Helio and Carlos Gracie, played a pivotal role in the development and popularization of BJJ. The sport focuses on using leverage and technique to overcome larger, stronger opponents, with an emphasis on submissions, such as joint locks and chokeholds.

The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) hosts the annual World BJJ Championships. Besides, the sport has become a crucial element in modern mixed martial arts competitions.

#4 Judo

Judo

Judo, a Japanese martial art and combat sport, was developed in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Kano aimed to create a practical self-defense system by combining elements of Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling.

Judo emphasizes throws, joint locks, and pins to immobilize or submit an opponent.

The International Judo Federation (IJF) governs the sport and organizes the annual World Judo Championships. Judo became an Olympic sport in 1964, with women’s events included in 1992.

#5 Karate

Karate

Karate, a Japanese martial art, has roots in Okinawa’s indigenous Ryukyuan fighting techniques, Chinese martial arts, and Japanese martial traditions.

Developed in the 17th century, Karate emphasizes striking techniques, such as punches, kicks, knee strikes, and open-hand strikes. The sport gained popularity in mainland Japan during the early 20th century and eventually worldwide.

The World Karate Federation (WKF) organizes the World Karate Championships, held every two years. Karate made its Olympic debut in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

#6 Kickboxing

Kickboxing

Kickboxing, a stand-up combat sport, has origins in Karate, Muay Thai, and Western boxing. Developed in the 1950s-1960s, kickboxing combines the punching techniques from boxing and the kicking techniques from Karate and Muay Thai.

The sport gained popularity in Japan and North America before spreading globally. The International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) organizes the annual IKF World Championships.

While kickboxing is not currently an Olympic sport, the World Association of Kickboxing Organizations (WAKO) is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

#7 Muay Thai

Muay Thai

Muay Thai, the national sport and cultural martial art of Thailand, dates back hundreds of years. Known as “the art of eight limbs,” Muay Thai emphasizes striking techniques using fists, elbows, knees, and shins.

The sport has gained international popularity in recent decades and has influenced many other combat sports, such as MMA and kickboxing.

The International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) hosts the annual IFMA World Championships. Muay Thai is aiming for Olympic inclusion in future Games.

#8 Wrestling

Wrestling

Wrestling is one of the oldest combat sports, with origins tracing back to ancient civilizations, such as Egypt, Babylon, and Greece.

The modern sport has two main styles: freestyle and Greco-Roman, which differ in rules and permitted techniques. Wrestling focuses on grappling, throws, takedowns, and pins to defeat an opponent.

The International Wrestling Federation (United World Wrestling) organizes the World Wrestling Championships, held annually. Wrestling has been part of the Olympic program since the first modern Games in 1896.

#9 Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a modern combat sport that combines techniques from various martial arts and disciplines, such as boxing, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and Karate.

The sport gained prominence in the 1990s with the inception of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which has since become the most popular MMA organization globally.

MMA fighters employ striking and grappling techniques to defeat their opponents, with fights typically taking place in a caged octagon. Several regional and international organizations, such as Bellator and ONE Championship, also host MMA events.

#10 Krav Maga

Krav Maga

Krav Maga, a hybrid martial art and self-defense system, was developed by Slovakian-Israeli martial artist Imi Lichtenfeld in the 1940s.

Initially created for the Israeli military, Krav Maga focuses on practical techniques and real-world scenarios, drawing from various martial arts styles, such as wrestling, boxing, and Judo.

The sport emphasizes neutralizing threats quickly and effectively with strikes, takedowns, and submissions. While Krav Maga is not a competitive sport, various organizations, such as the International Krav Maga Federation (IKMF), offer training, certifications, and workshops.

More Self Defense Sports

  1. Kung Fu: Kung Fu, also known as Chinese martial arts, has a diverse history spanning thousands of years, tracing its origins back to ancient China. Many different styles and techniques fall under the Kung Fu umbrella, such as Shaolin, Wing Chun, and Tai Chi. Kung Fu focuses on forms, hand techniques, and low stances, emphasizing strength, flexibility, and fluid movements. While Kung Fu is not an Olympic sport, there are many local and international competitions, such as the World Wushu Championships.
  2. Aikido: Aikido, a Japanese martial art, was developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the early 20th century. The sport emphasizes joint locks, holds, and throws to defend against attacks. Aikido’s philosophy focuses on using an opponent’s energy against them while minimizing harm. The International Aikido Federation (IAF) organizes the World Aikido Championships, held every four years. Aikido is not an Olympic sport.
  3. Capoeira: Originating from Afro-Brazilian slaves in the 16th century, Capoeira is a martial art that combines elements of dance, music, and acrobatics. The sport emphasizes fluid, rhythmic movements, such as kicks, spins, and flips. Capoeira has gained popularity worldwide, with practitioners known as capoeiristas. Although not a competitive sport, there are many demonstrations and capoeira-related events worldwide. It is not part of the Olympic program.
  4. Fencing: Fencing is a European martial art and modern sport tracing its roots to the 15th century. The sport involves sword fighting, with three weapons used in competition: the foil, epee, and sabre. The FΓ©dΓ©ration Internationale d’Escrime (FIE) governs the sport, organizing the annual FIE World Championships. Fencing has been part of the Olympic program since the first modern Games in 1896.
  5. Hapkido: Hapkido is a Korean martial art developed in the mid-20th century, combining elements of Judo, Taekwondo, and Aikido. The sport focuses on joint locks, throws, grappling, strikes, and kicks for self-defense. While not as widely known as other martial arts, Hapkido has a global following, with various international organizations and competitions. It is not an Olympic sport.
  6. Jujutsu: Often considered the precursor to Judo, Jujutsu is a Japanese martial art that dates back to the 15th century. Jujutsu emphasizes throws, grappling, joint locks, and strikes to defend against attackers. The sport has evolved over time, with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) emerging as a distinct offshoot. Jujutsu is not an Olympic sport, but many practitioners compete in other martial arts tournaments.
  7. Sumo: Sumo, a traditional Japanese martial art and sport, has roots dating back over 2,000 years. The objective of Sumo is to force an opponent out of the ring or make them touch the ground with any body part other than their feet. The sport is marked by its unique rituals and traditions, with professional Sumo wrestlers, or rikishi, going through strict training regimens. Sumo is not an Olympic sport, but the International Sumo Federation (ISF) organizes the Sumo World Championships.
  8. Tai Chi: Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, has origins dating back centuries, with roots in Daoism and traditional Chinese medicine. The sport is characterized by slow, measured movements, focusing on balance, relaxation, and fluidity. While Tai Chi is primarily practiced for health and relaxation, it has a following as a competitive martial art. It is not an Olympic sport, but there are various international competitions, such as the International Wushu Federation (IWUF) Tai Chi Championships.
  9. Wing Chun: Wing Chun, a Chinese martial art and Kung Fu style, is thought to have originated in the 18th century. The sport emphasizes close-range combat, with a focus on quick, close-quarters strikes and self-defense. Wing Chun, popularized by martial arts legend Bruce Lee and his instructor Ip Man, has a dedicated following worldwide. The sport is not part of the Olympic program, but practitioners may compete in Kung Fu and other martial arts competitions.
  10. Pankration: Pankration, an ancient Greek martial art and sport, combined elements of wrestling and boxing. It was one of the most popular events in the ancient Olympic Games, with its modern revival gaining interest in the late 20th century. The International Federation of Pankration Athlima (IFPA) and United World Wrestling govern the sport, which emphasizes a mix of striking and grappling techniques. Although not part of the modern Olympic program, Pankration has a growing following and could be showcased in future Games.
  11. Eskrima: Eskrima, also known as Arnis or Filipino Martial Arts, is a weapon-based martial art from the Philippines, dating back to the pre-colonial period. The sport focuses on the use of sticks, knives, and other weapons, as well as empty-hand techniques. Eskrima is popular in the Philippines and has an international following. The World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF) organizes the biennial WEKAF World Championships. It is not an Olympic sport.
  12. Savate: Savate, a French martial art and combat sport also known as French kickboxing, was developed in the 19th century. The sport combines elements of English boxing with French street fighting techniques, emphasizing high, precision kicks. The FΓ©dΓ©ration Internationale de Savate (FISav) governs Savate, organizing the annual Savate World Championships. Although not part of the Olympic program, Savate has a devoted following in France and other countries.
  13. Silat: Silat, a group of Southeast Asian martial arts, has roots in the Malay Archipelago and encompasses various styles from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The sport focuses on strikes, joint locks, and weapon techniques. The International Pencak Silat Federation (PERSILAT) governs Silat, organizing the World Pencak Silat Championships held every two years. Silat is not an Olympic sport but has a growing global following.
  14. Shorinji Kempo: Shorinji Kempo, a Japanese martial art developed in the mid-20th century, combines elements of Shaolin Kung Fu, Japanese martial arts, and Zen philosophy. The sport emphasizes strikes, joint locks, and grappling for self-defense and spiritual development. The World Shorinji Kempo Organization (WSKO) governs the sport and organizes the biennial Shorinji Kempo World Taikai. Shorinji Kempo is not an Olympic sport.
  15. Kenjutsu: Kenjutsu, a traditional Japanese martial art, focuses on the art of swordsmanship using a katana. Originating in feudal Japan, Kenjutsu today attracts practitioners interested in preserving and practicing ancient sword-fighting techniques. The sport is not part of the Olympic program, but there are various Kenjutsu schools, demonstrations, and competitions worldwide.
  16. Shootfighting: Shootfighting, a hybrid martial art and combat sport, emerged in Japan in the 1980s, blending various martial arts techniques, such as kickboxing, wrestling, and submission grappling. The sport emphasizes full-contact striking, throws, and submissions, with its roots in professional wrestling’s catch wrestling style. Though not part of the Olympic program, Shootfighting has gained a following worldwide and has influenced the development of mixed martial arts (MMA).
  17. Arnis: Arnis, also known as Eskrima and Kali, is a Filipino martial art that focuses on weapon-based fighting, primarily using sticks and bladed weapons. It has become the Philippines’ national sport and is popular among martial arts enthusiasts for its emphasis on practical self-defense techniques. The World Eskrima Kali Arnis Federation (WEKAF) organizes international competitions like the WEKAF World Championships. Arnis is not an Olympic sport.
  18. Combat Sambo: Developed in the Soviet Union in the early 20th century, Combat Sambo is a martial art and combat sport combining elements of judo, wrestling, and traditional Russian martial arts. The sport emphasizes throws, submissions, and striking techniques, with a particular focus on self-defense. The International Sambo Federation (FIAS) oversees the sport and organizes the annual World Combat Sambo Championships. Combat Sambo is not part of the Olympic program.
  19. Glima: Glima is a traditional Nordic martial art and wrestling style dating back to the Viking Age. The sport emphasizes throws and balance, with competitors trying to make their opponent touch the ground with a body part other than their feet. While primarily a folk wrestling style, Glima has gained some interest among martial arts enthusiasts and historians. It is not an Olympic sport.
  20. Iaido: Iaido is a Japanese martial art focusing on the art of drawing and wielding a sword, primarily the katana. The sport emphasizes precise and quick sword movements, with practitioners seeking to develop mental and physical discipline. Iaido is not an Olympic sport or competitive discipline but has gained followers among those interested in traditional Japanese sword arts.
  21. Kyokushin: Kyokushin, a style of Karate, was developed by Masutatsu Oyama in the mid-20th century. The sport emphasizes strength, endurance, and full-contact sparring, making it one of the more aggressive styles of Karate. Kyokushin Karate is not an Olympic sport, but it is popular among martial arts enthusiasts and has various international competitions and organizations.
  22. Lethwei: Lethwei, also known as Burmese bare-knuckle boxing, is a traditional martial art from Myanmar. The sport is similar to Muay Thai but allows headbutts and does not use gloves. Lethwei is gaining popularity worldwide, with fighters competing in events like the World Lethwei Championship. While not an Olympic sport, Lethwei has a devoted following among martial arts fans.
  23. MCMAP: The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) is a combat system developed by the United States Marine Corps, combining techniques from various martial arts such as boxing, judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Muay Thai. The program focuses on self-defense, physical fitness, and mental discipline. MCMAP is not an Olympic sport or civilian martial arts competition but has gained attention due to its military origins and use.
  24. Ninjutsu: Ninjutsu is a traditional Japanese martial art centered around the skills and tactics employed by the historic ninja. The sport focuses on stealth, deception, and unconventional weapons and techniques. While not an Olympic sport or widely recognized martial arts competition, Ninjutsu has gained a following among those interested in historical Japanese martial arts and espionage.
  25. Pencak Silat: Pencak Silat is a collective term for various martial arts originating from Indonesia and the surrounding Southeast Asian countries. The sport includes various striking, grappling, and weapon techniques, often accompanied by traditional music and dance. The International Pencak Silat Federation (PERSILAT) governs the sport and organizes competitions such as the Pencak Silat World Championship. Pencak Silat is not an Olympic sport but has a growing international following.
  26. Russian Systema: Systema, a Russian martial art, has its roots in ancient Slavic fighting techniques and the Soviet combative training. The sport emphasizes fluid movements, improvised techniques, and mental discipline, focusing on self-defense and body control. While not widely recognized as a competitive martial art or Olympic sport, Systema has a following among martial arts enthusiasts and law enforcement personnel.
  27. Shuai Jiao: Shuai Jiao is a Chinese martial art and wrestling style dating back thousands of years. The sport focuses on throws, takedowns, and grappling techniques, with a rich history as part of ancient Chinese military training and competition. Shuai Jiao is not an Olympic sport, but it has gained interest among martial arts historians and practitioners of traditional Chinese martial arts.
  28. Vovinam: Vovinam, a Vietnamese martial art, was developed in the early 20th century, combining elements of traditional Vietnamese martial arts and foreign fighting styles such as Karate and Judo. The sport emphasizes a balance between hard and soft techniques, including strikes, grappling, and self-defense. Vovinam is not an Olympic sport, but it has a following in Vietnam and worldwide, with the Vovinam World Championships organized by the International Vovinam Federation.
  29. Bojutsu: Bojutsu, a Japanese martial art, focuses on the use of a staff called a “bo” for self-defense and combat techniques. The sport has its roots in the feudal era of Japan when the bo was used by samurai and commoners alike. Bojutsu is not an Olympic sport or competitive discipline, but it is practiced by martial arts enthusiasts interested in traditional Japanese weapons training.
  30. Bujinkan: Bujinkan, a Japanese martial arts organization, was created by Masaaki Hatsumi to teach the traditional martial arts taught by the historic ninja and samurai. The sport encompasses various martial arts, including ninjutsu, taijutsu, and kenjutsu, with an emphasis on practical self-defense and adaptability. While not an Olympic sport or mainstream martial arts competition, Bujinkan has a devoted following among martial arts practitioners.
  31. Combat Hapkido: Combat Hapkido, developed in the late 20th century by John Pellegrini, is a modern martial art and self-defense system focused on practical techniques. The sport combines hand strikes, joint locks, throws, and ground techniques from Hapkido, Judo, and other martial arts. Combat Hapkido is not an Olympic sport, but it has gained popularity among martial arts enthusiasts for its emphasis on self-defense and real-world application.
  32. Defendu: Defendu, a British martial art developed in the early 20th century by William E. Fairbairn and Eric A. Sykes, focuses on practical self-defense and close-quarters combat. The sport combines elements of Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and boxing, with an emphasis on rapid, simple techniques for disabling attackers. Defendu is not an Olympic sport or civilian martial arts competition, but it has influenced modern law enforcement and military close-quarter combat training.
  33. Kalaripayattu: Kalaripayattu, an ancient Indian martial art, originates from the Indian state of Kerala, with roots dating back over 2,000 years. The sport combines striking techniques, kicks, grappling, and a variety of weapons, such as swords and shields. Kalaripayattu is not an Olympic sport, but it has a following in India and among martial arts enthusiasts interested in the history and techniques of ancient martial arts.
  34. Kempo: Kempo, also known as Kenpo, is a generic term for various martial arts that developed in East Asia, combining elements of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean martial arts. The sport emphasizes practical self-defense techniques, using strikes, kicks, joint locks, and grappling. Kempo is not an Olympic sport, but has various international organizations and schools teaching the different styles.
  35. American Kenpo: American Kenpo, also known as Kenpo Karate, was developed by Ed Parker in the mid-20th century, combining techniques from Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese martial arts. The sport focuses on self-defense techniques, using strikes, joint locks, and grappling. American Kenpo is not an Olympic sport, but it has gained popularity in the United States and internationally, with various schools and organizations teaching the style.
  36. Mauy Boran: Mauy Boran, an ancestor of modern Muay Thai, is a traditional Thai martial art dating back to the Ayutthaya period in Thai history. The sport combines striking techniques using fists, elbows, knees, and shins, as well as some grappling techniques. Mauy Boran is not an Olympic sport or widely recognized martial arts competition, but it has gained interest among martial arts enthusiasts and historians.
  37. Bartitsu: Bartitsu, developed by Edward William Barton-Wright in late 19th-century England, is a hybrid martial art combining elements of Jujutsu, boxing, Savate, and stick fighting. Focused on self-defense and practical techniques, Bartitsu sought to provide a comprehensive system for personal protection. Though not an Olympic sport or widely known martial arts competition, Bartitsu has gained historical interest and a small following among martial arts enthusiasts.

FAQ

What are the most popular self-defense sports?

The most popular self-defense sports include Boxing, Taekwondo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Karate, Kickboxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and Krav Maga.

How many different self-defense sports are there?

Our self-defense sports list includes 47 unique self-defense sports.

Max is a sports enthusiast who loves all kinds of ball and water sports. He founded & runs stand-up-paddling.org (#1 German Paddleboarding Blog), played competitive Badminton and Mini Golf (competed on national level in Germany), started learning β€˜real’ Golf and dabbled in dozens of other sports & activities.

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