The first step to get started in martial arts as a beginner is to choose a discipline. With so many martial arts to choose from - Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, Muay Thai, boxing, karate, Judo, wrestling and many more - it can feel a little overwhelming to choose a martial arts discipline as a beginner. Which martial art is the best to start MMA? What’s the best martial art for street fights and self defense? What’s the best martial arts to learn if I want to become a fighter?
The honest truth is that it doesn’t really matter that much. You should choose the discipline that you think is the most interesting or you’d enjoy the most. You might find that you love your choice - or you may completely hate it and switch to another discipline. Either way, getting started is the most important step.
It’s probably not a good idea to just start with general “MMA” training - training everything at once, that is. MMA requires some basic knowledge in at least a few martial arts, so it’s not a great choice to train for MMA if you’re a beginner. You’ll want to choose a specific discipline and stick to it, then you can consider branching out into other martial arts. MMA should be a goal, not a beginning.
STRIKING VS. GRAPPLING - WHICH IS BETTER TO LEARN FIRST?
You have two main areas of MMA to start with - striking and grappling.
Within these two areas, there are three core skills that you’ll develop and refine:
Striking involves punching, kicking, knees and elbows. Striking disciplines include boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, karate, Taekwondo and several others. Of the striking disciplines, you’ll find Muay Thai and kickboxing to be the most useful as a beginner to MMA.
Muay Thai is a popular striking discipline for beginners because you learn to use most of the striking tools available during an MMA fight. In Muay Thai boxing, elbows, knees, punches and kicks are all fair game, whereas boxing and kickboxing are a little more restrictive. You’ll also learn how to deliver strikes and fight for leverage in extremely close-range scenarios and stand-up grappling via the clinch.
Kickboxing is also a great option as a beginner. Although it doesn’t include the use of knees or elbows, kickboxing will teach you how to manage distance and use punches and kicks to overcome your opponent.
Boxing is a good choice if you’re particularly interested in footwork, movement and striking with your hands. Although you won’t get to practice kicks, knees or elbows, a good boxer will have far better head movement and strikes than any other discipline.
If your goal is just to be able to defend yourself, Muay Thai is likely your best option since it’s the most versatile of the striking disciplines.
Grappling doesn’t involve striking (when it’s used alone - remember that striking is always fair game in MMA). The goal of grappling is to gain a physical advantage, escape from your opponent, or force your opponent to submit. During an MMA fight, grappling is typically used by fighters to get into a position where they can beat their opponent via submissions or strikes.
As a beginner in MMA, Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling are the best options to learn ground game. The combination of both grappling disciplines will teach you how to take your opponent down, gain/maintain the advantage on the ground and finish them with submissions or striking.
Being well-versed in wrestling can be a huge advantage in a sanctioned fight or if you need to defend yourself. Take a look at some of the top MMA fighters in the world - Kamaru Usman, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Henry Cejudo, Justin Gaethje, Stipe Miocic, Georges-St-Pierre, Khazmat Chimaev, Islam Makachev - all of these fighters have a strong wrestling background.
Submission involves using chokes, body joint locks or strikes to get your opponent to submit. Without a doubt, the best MMA discipline for submissions is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). BJJ will teach you how to gain leverage over your opponent to get into favorable positions as well as how to perform and defend against submissions.
In combination with wrestling, you’ll become a force to be reckoned with in close range.
As a beginner to martial arts, we recommend that you pick up a main discipline and another on the side. For instance, Muay Thai to develop your striking and BJJ for grappling. Another option is to pick a striking discipline and mix in both BJJ and wrestling.
WHICH MARTIAL ARTS IS BEST FOR SELF DEFENSE AND STREET FIGHTS?
Although it’s best to not put yourself in a situation where you’ll have to defend yourself / get involved in a street fight, sometimes it’s unavoidable. Regardless, you’ll want to be prepared.
Most street fights and brawls happen in close range - whether you’re at a bar, on the street or anywhere in between, you’ll need to be able to adapt and act quick to neutralize your opponent. While you might be able to land a kick or combination, it’ll probably get messy. For that, you’ll need wrestling. Even having some experience wrestling will put you in a favorable position. You can bring the opponent to the ground and neutralize him - that way, neither of you gets seriously hurt.
If you’re in a street fight where you can deliver strikes, Muay Thai is your best option. You’ll learn to kick for long distances, punch, knee and elbow for shorter distances, and how to fight in the clinch in extremely close range scenarios.
So overall, the best martial arts for street fights or brawls are wrestling and Muay Thai.
SO WHICH MARTIAL ARTS STYLE IS THE BEST?
Each martial arts discipline has its pros and cons. Some teach you great ground game and submission techniques while others teach you to use your hands, knees, feet and elbows.
It might sound cliché, but the best martial art to learn as a beginner is the one you think you’ll enjoy most. Most people never get anywhere with martial arts because they quit too soon. Pick a starting position (striking or grappling) and dive in. Find a local gym, sign up and start training. You might find that you love your first choice, or you may completely hate it. Maybe you thought you’d like striking and picked up Muay Thai, but after a few weeks you realized that it wasn’t for you. Consider switching to kickboxing, for example.
Maybe striking isn't as fun as you thought - try out BJJ or wrestling instead!
Eventually, you’ll find the right martial arts discipline for you, then it’ll be hard not to train.