When ranking the deadliest martial arts in the world, it doesn’t necessarily matter how effective a fighting style is, but how lethal. For example, if Aikido was well known to be the best martial art ever created, it would still not make the list since it is relatively non-violent when put alongside other fighting forms.
Another example of this would be wrestling. Whilst you can physically dominate an opponent with good wrestling, it is not a lethal sport. Wrestling is often utilized in MMA by a huge number of fighters in order to get their opponent to the ground. After this, wrestling is not very useful at actually finishing the fight, so other styles such as ground and pound and Brazilian jiu-jitsu take over. This does not mean wrestling is useless, but simply means it is not a deadly martial art.
Lastly, it should be noted that MMA has been excluded from this list since it is a mixture of all other martial arts. Otherwise, by way of logic, MMA would be the deadliest martial art since it has absolutely every technique from every form of fighting there is.
Table of Contents
What Makes A Martial Art Deadly?
A deadly martial art is a style that can hurt, or even kill an adversary. Whilst almost all martial arts are capable of hurting people, this differs from one style to another.
This can be seen when comparing aikido to judo. Whilst both of these martial arts throw the opponent to the floor, judo does it with a lot more venom and intent to hurt the opponent – especially if the throw was on concrete.
It also goes without saying that martial arts that use of weapons are far more deadly than those which only use the human body. Whilst judo, wrestling and boxing are all fantastic martial arts for self defence, compared to something like kendo, they are no where near as deadly. This is simply because a sword is a far more dangerous weapon than a closed fist. Due to this obvious point, martial arts with weapons have been grouped together in the list.
The Mindset Of The Individual Practitioner
One important to make is just how aggressive and deadly the mindset of the practitioner is. In short, different people have different personalities and styles. If you’ve trained any martial arts at all, then I’m sure you’ve come across at least one or two “crazy” people in the gym. These people seem to have a different idea about what light sparring is compared to the average person.
The point is, you may have one person who spars kickboxing in a very light and controlled manner, whereas another person who is trying to hospitalize their opponents. The outliers from either end of this spectrum should be ignored so that we can truly find out which martial arts are more dangerous and deadly than any other.
The Deadliest Martial Arts
#10 – Judo
Many people who have not trained judo may just think it is an Olympic sport with a restricting ruleset. On the surface of judo, this is true. As judo is now a heavily bureaucratic sport, there are some silly rules such as banned submissions and limited throws. However, pure judo was created by Jigoro Kano and is far more diverse than anything you will have ever seen on TV.
Judo is also one of the only martial arts that allows you to completely control the bodyweight of your opponent and use it against them. Anyone who has taken a hard judo throw and felt the pressure of a seasoned black belt will know that it’s no joke – and this is inside a padded dojo.
Outside of the gym, judo becomes even more dangerous. Since so much of the developed world is covered in hard surfaces, taking a fall from a great height hurts a lot. If taking a hip throw onto concrete wasn’t bad enough, judo also has a large selection of ground fighting techniques that are shared with jiu jitsu.
#9 – Kung Fu
Kung Fu is an umbrella term for a variety of Chinese fighting styles which mostly use striking with either hands or weapons. Whilst grappling is not completely redundant within kung fu, it is very limited.
Due to the huge variety of styles (which are often based on animals), it is difficult to say truly how deadly kung fu is. Some styles such as the crane, are a lot more elegant and less brutal than style such as the panther or tiger.
Each style is generally performed with its own weapon that fits well with the animal it was named after. Like many other martial arts, Kung fu has certainly been watered down over time, with only a few schools in China truly teaching it to its fullest degree. These schools are extremely brutal and require many hours of physical training each day. In short, Kung fu is too fragmented to be ranked any higher than this but is certainly deadly if trained in the proper manner.
In modern day, ninjutsu has been taken over by bad actors, westernized and is almost completely devoid of its natural style. When ninjutsu first appeared some 1500 years ago, it was anything but this and is a martial arts style based around espionage. Not all of ninjutsu is simply assassinating an enemy as clinically as possible.
Since ninjutsu was commonplace in feudal Japan, it is difficult to compare it with any modern martial arts, or even something with a rich history such as karate. Due to the political instability at the time, survival was a lot more difficult than anything we will experience in the 21st century. Therefore techniques such as poisoning political rivals, shooting them with arrows any general intelligence gathering were all 100% necessary.
Ninjutsu would be a lot higher on this list if it had any modern day implications. Techniques from ninjutsu may still be used today, although many of the skills such as shooting arrows are completely useless due to guns being far superior. Not only this, but it is extremely difficult, if not impossible to find a legitimate teacher of this art outside of Japan.
#7 – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a deadly martial art purely because of the number of joint locks and chokes the style has. Throughout the years we have seen BJJ end countless fights in the UFC and MMA in general. The applications of jiu-jitsu have also been caught on video in various street fights, often ending with one person being choked unconscious.
Although Brazilian jiu-jitsu might be considered a more gentle martial art due to no striking being permitted, it still has the capacity to deliver serious damage with submission holds.
These submission holds can be anything from broken shoulder, to knee ligaments being torn apart, not to mention the aforementioned variety of chokes. In sport BJJ and MMA, competitors can simply tap and make sure that their bodies remain relatively undamaged. This is a great feature of the grappling martial art since it allows you to train for a lot longer without injury. However, as a self defense martial art, the attacker would likely not be given a choice of simply tapping out – making BJJ a deadly martial art if trained without restraint.
#6 – Muay Thai & Lethwei
Muay Thai is one of the toughest martial arts in the world. Much like karate, Muay Thai is a striking art that has many crossovers with other forms of kickboxing, the difference being that you’re allowed to elbow and knee your opponent in the head and body.
Thai boxing is a brutal sport that often involves intense weight cutting from fighters who already have seriously low bodyfat percentages. Combined with the fact that you are trying your best to knock your opponent out makes Muay Thai a truly deadly sport. Since Thailand is a poor country, children are often training daily from aged 6-7 and having full contact fights age 8 or 9 onwards. This may seem wrong, but these children can provide for their families by fighting, so is often a way out of poverty for them.
Everything above also applies to Lethwei, which is the national sport of Myanmar. The main difference between these two sports is that Lethwei is even more brutal – being the sport of 9 limbs. All strikes with hands, knees, feet, and fists are allowed, as well as headbutts.
#5 – Combat Sambo
Perhaps the closest thing to MMA whilst still being its standalone sport is combat sambo. Mostly practiced in Russia and the former Soviet states, sambo was created by the communist army in the 1920s.
Combat sambo involves judo throws, wrestling takedowns, submissions such as chokes and joint locks, as well as strikes (depending on the ruleset). In other words, sambo has a lot of ways to injure your opponent and is not a sport generally practiced just for fun. Fighters who excel in sambo need to be well rounded martial artists and being a simple grappler or striker isn’t going to be enough to win at the top level.
Anyone with sambo experience is going to be a well rounded fighter and capable of dealing an adversary serious harm.
#4 – Silat
Silat is yet another martial art that would likely be higher on this list had it been created 200 years ago. However, it has been significantly watered down since its inception and now has some semi and non contact competitions.
When we think of eastern martial arts, many of them are associated with spiritual development and inner journies. Whilst silat is not completely devoid of this, it is still primarily focussed on violence and winning than enlightenment. Silat is a martial art that uses both empty hands as well as weapons, so depending on what you’re holding it can be extremely dangerous.
As Silat was created in the 1500’s it made sense to train weapons based martial arts at this point in time. The reason this trend has decreased in recent years is that the world is a much safer place than it once was and people can train for fun rather than life preservation.
#3 – Eskrima & Other Knife/Sword Arts
Eskrima is one of many Filipino weapon martial arts which involves the use of bladed weapons such as swords and knives. It would be unfair to say this is any more deadly than Kendo, Japanese Samurai forms or any other sword based martial art since all of them involve legitimate danger and life ending techniques.
As all of these forms involve swords or knives, it is very fair to say that they were made in order to kill your opponent. Although sword fighting styles were all formed at different points in history, they all came about from their nations being threatened either internally or externally.
Once again, had this list been made at an alternate point in history, it could well be that Eskrima was the most deadly martial art in the world since it would have been practiced to a more serious degree with an intent to kill.
#2 – Systema
Trained by the KGB, Systema was once a complete secret from the west and involves many hand to hand combat exchanges, some of which use weapons. Systema is similar to other military styles of fighting in that it’s 100% fine to kill your opponent in a non-training setting. This makes the martial art very different from something like judo which demands respect and bowing to your adversaries.
Systema is a versatile martial art and does not have any strict forms, rules, or ideals. This ideal is also seen in Krav Maga (mentioned below) as life threatening situations require extreme violence and therefore create deadly training systems.
Sadly the name of Systema has been dragged through the mud in the western world. The all too familiar story of foreign secretive martial arts has led men with Russian names and basic army experience to start teaching their own forms of Systema in both Europe and America. To be blunt, if you really want to learn Systema you need to go to Russia and find someone who has been employed by the KGB (not an easy task).
#1 – Krav Maga
There is no real doubt that Krav Maga is the deadliest martial art on the planet. Without getting too political, Israel is one of the most dangerous countries on the planet, especially when it comes to militarized borders, checkpoints, and terrorism. Therefore it makes sense that a dangerous area of the world would require a martial art that goes one or two steps further than something people practice for fun.
Much like Systema or any other form of military combat fighting, you may find that the forms are often misrepresented in the west by bad teaching. However, the IDF clearly do not mess around and are teaching their armed forces how to defend themselves in literal life or death situations.
As a result of this, you will find a lot of gun and knife defense, as well as life ending blows being taught as normal within krav maga. It may be that these techniques are low percentage – after all, if someone has a gun pointed at your head, they have to make some big mistakes for you to disarm them. However, in real military situations, perhaps a 5% of escaping with your life intact can be very appealing given the alternatives.
In summary, due to the extreme nature of krav maga and why it needs to be this way, it is by far the deadliest martial art in the world.