Throughout human history, countless forms of martial arts have been created. Some martial arts were developed as hand to hand combat systems, whilst others were created for self-defense.
Many practitioners and experts have had countless arguments on which is the deadliest martial arts system developed. Here is our take on the 15 deadliest martial arts in the world.
In this article, we will go through our list of the 15 deadliest martial arts in the world and discuss the history of each fighting system.
Let’s dive in.
The first martial art on our list is the Japanese art of Judo. It may seem strange that a grappling art starts our list, but if you’ve seen Judo competitions, you won’t argue.
The history of Judo
Judo was developed by Master Jigoro Kano during the late 1800s. He developed Judo off of Japanese jujutsu techniques and other early Japanese martial arts.
Master Kano’s idea behind developing Judo was using techniques with maximum efficiency and little effort. He was a smaller man, but his Judo ability made him nearly impossible to take down. With a small amount of effort, Kano could throw even the biggest man over his head.
Judo spread rather quickly after being developed, and this was by design. Kano sent his best students across the world to spread the art of Judo.
Pretty soon, the entire world was practicing Judo. Today, Judo is practiced by millions and is a highly competitive sport.
While there is no striking in Judo, the physicality of the grappling and throws can be quite brutal.
Some may argue that BJJ is not a deadly martial art. But what it lacks in brutality, it makes up for in effectiveness. It’s called the gentle art, but anyone that practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu knows it isn’t so gentle.
The history of BJJ
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was developed in the early 1900s by the Gracie brothers and Oswaldo Fadda. Carlos Gracie Sr was one of Judoka Mitsuyo Maeda’s early students after he immigrated to Brazil.
After a few years of training under Maeda, Carlos Sr began showing his younger brother Helio Gracie some techniques he learned. They realized that Judo was good, but smaller people had problems doing some of the more dynamic techniques.
They began developing their own system that would become known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).
BJJ is a ground-based martial art designed to help a smaller person defeat a bigger person using technique and leverage. It isn’t the most brutal martial art, but it’s extremely effective.
The martial art grew and developed in Brazil through practitioners competing against other martial arts in Vale Tudo fights. It grew internationally thanks to the first UFC event, which Royce Gracie easily won using BJJ.
Today BJJ is one of the most popular and effective martial arts practiced today.
At number 13 on the list, we have the earliest known martial art of wrestling. Wrestling may not seem like a deadly martial art, but it is a grueling sport that requires skill and heart.
Also if you ever see a wrestler’s face or cauliflower ears, you won’t argue that it isn’t a tough sport.
The history of wrestling
Wrestling is probably the oldest martial art in human history and was one of the first sports. It was also one of the first Olympic events along with Pancrase and Boxing.
In ancient Greece, Wrestling played an important part in Pancrase. Death wasn’t uncommon in sporting events due to lax rules and competitors not being held responsible for an opponent’s death.
Of course in sport wrestling, there are no striking or submissions, but it doesn’t make it any less brutal. If you have seen a match between two elite wrestlers, you know that it is a war of attrition.
Coming in at number 12 on the deadliest martial arts in the world list is the Korean art of Taekwondo. A martial art based on powerful athletic kicks that have proven to be quite deadly.
The history of Taekwondo
Taekwondo is actually one of the younger martial arts that is widely practiced. It began being developed in 1945 when WW2 ended, which also ended Japan’s occupation of Korea.
During this 35 year occupation, Japan tried to erase Korean culture and replace it with their own. Once the occupation ended, Koreans wanted to restore their identity, which included Korean martial arts.
The leader of the Kwans or Korean martial arts schools began to get together to make one unified martial art. What they came up with was what we know as modern Taekwondo.
A heavy kicking based martial art that features some of the most beautiful and even deadly techniques. The use of jumps and spins are used in many of Taekwondo’s kicks to create more power behind the strikes.
Taekwondo got popular rather quickly after being developed and now has over 70 million practitioners worldwide. It has also been an Olympic sport since 1988.
Karate is probably the most known out of all of the world’s martial arts. While it is the most widely known it is also one of the most effective.
The history of Karate
The art of Karate was developed on the Japanese island of Okinawa. The martial art was formed from Chinese martial arts and the other indigenous martial arts developed on the island.
Karate took off in popularity during the 1900s after Shotokan Karate founder Gichin Funakoshi’s demonstration to the Japanese Ministry of Education. After the demonstration, numerous Japanese universities founded Karate clubs and the Japanese military began teaching their soldiers it before WW2.
There are numerous different types of Karate, but they all have similar principles. The martial art was created around counter-attacking an opponent using precise and hard strikes. Generally a 1-3 strike combination using a variety of punches, kicks, knees, elbows, and also small joint locks.
10. Kung Fu
Kung Fu comes in at number 10, but the term Kung Fu is more of a blanket phrase for Chinese martial arts. There are too many styles of Kung Fu to count, but some can be extremely deadly.
The history of Kung Fu
Various styles of Kung Fu have been practiced for thousands of years. Some of the more notable types of Kung Fu include Shaolin Kung Fu, Wing Chun, Chinese boxing, Wing Chun, Tai Chi, and Drunken Master.
Each style has its own principles and approaches to fighting.
Many are still widely practiced with Shaolin Kung Fu being the most popular of all the Kung Fu styles.
Sambo is one of the deadliest martial arts in the world. If you watch MMA, you will have seen the sport gets dominated by fighters with Sambo backgrounds. Sambo teaches aggressive striking and grappling that fighters like Khabib used to win the UFC championship.
The history of Sambo
Sambo was created by Russians Viktor Spiridonov and Vasili Oshchepkov, who learned Judo directly under Jigoro Kano. They brought what they learned from Judo and mixed it with amateur wrestling, which the Russians excelled at.
There were actually two forms of Sambo created called Sport Sambo and Combat Sambo. Sport Sambo is a mix of wrestling and submissions under a grappling format, while Combat Sambo includes striking.
We have seen countless Combat Sambo athletes from Fedor Emilianenko, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Petr Yan dominate MMA. Sambo fighters use a mix of wrestling, Judo, and kickboxing to beat their opponents.
Thanks to their success, the popularity of Sambo has exploded in recent years.
Featured at number 8 on our list of the deadliest martial arts in the world is the Indo Asian martial art of Silat. If you have watched The Raid action films, then you have seen Silat and know it can be quite deadly.
The history of Silat
Just like Kung Fu, there isn’t just one type of Silat, but hundreds of forms. It is a blanket term for indigenous martial arts practiced within Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and other southern Asian countries.
The styles of Silat taught range from hand to hand and weapon combat. Silat puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of footwork in its training. That way, students can be prepared for any type of attack and respond with a vicious array of kicks, punches, elbows, and joint locks.
While it isn’t practiced much in the west, Silat has a large following of practitioners in southern Asia. Many fighters in the Singapore based MMA promotion One Championship have backgrounds in Silat.
The art of pugilism or boxing is probably the most known fighting style on the list of deadliest martial arts. It has a rich past, as well as a violent history. Numerous participants have died in a boxing ring, which is why it makes our list.
The history of boxing
Boxing dates back as far as the 3rd millennium BC. Various cultures were discovered to practice styles of boxing and even used primitive gloves. Everything from cloth or leather wraps was worn by ancient boxers to protect their hands.
Modern boxing began to be developed in 1867 under Queensbury rules. As the sport began to modernize, gloves were added, and later safety rules to protect the fighters.
Even though boxing has added rules to protect fighters, there is still a risk to the participants’ lives. Since the implementation of Queensbury rules, there have been over 500 deaths in organized boxing rings. As many coaches and fighters say, “you don’t play boxing.”
Kickboxing is a high paced martial art that we see in Glory Kickboxing. The aim of Kickboxing is to hurt or knock out your opponent using a barrage of punches and kicks.
The history of Kickboxing
Kickboxing was founded in Japan during the 1950s. The sport combines many of the kicking and punching elements of other traditional striking martial arts.
Soon Kickboxing spread internationally, and different cultures developed their own form of Kickboxing. American Kickboxing, for example, was developed by the Professional Karate Association (PKA). Then you have Dutch Kickboxing developed by Jan Plas, who learned Kickboxing in Japan.
The techniques were proven to be quite effective and powerful, which is why Kickboxing spread so quickly.
It first started as a sport but has since turned into a full-fledged martial art. Mixed martial arts has come into its own as one of the most effective and deadly martial arts in the world.
The history of MMA
The history of MMA actually starts with Vale Tudo in Brazil, but we’ll tell that story later. In the 1990s, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was formed and was originally a no holds barred tournament between different fighting styles.
The UFC realized for the promotion to survive, they would have to add rules. Making MMA a legit sport.
Doing this not only created a new sport but created its own martial art. MMA is now a complete martial art that derives its techniques from various striking and grappling disciplines.
Now not only do millions of fans watch MMA, but they now can practice it around the world.
4. Krav Maga
You could not make a list of the world’s deadliest martial arts without mentioning the art of Krav Maga.
The history of Krav Maga
The history of Krav Maga dates back to the 1930s Jewish martial artist Imre Litchenfeld. Imre was a champion wrestler and boxer who saw his people were being tormented by Nazis and wanted to help.
He would begin developing Krav Maga as a deadly all in one self-defense system. When Litchenfeld moved to Israel, he would combine a weaponised defense system alongside physical fitness. Litchenfeld stressed that you need to always be at your physical best to defend yourself from an attacker in a life and death situation.
Imre would go on to teach the Israel paramilitary Krav Maga. It has been the official martial art of the Israeli military ever since.
When civilians began learning Krav Maga, this became the big selling point for why it became popular so fast. Krav Maga allows people to learn a highly effective self-defense system that is used by elite military forces.
3. Muay Thai
The art of 8 limbs, Muay Thai comes in third on our list of deadliest martial arts in the world list. It goes without saying that Muay Thai would make the list, but we’ll give a little backstory as to why.
The history of Muay Thai
Before Muay Thai became a sport, it was a fighting system used by Siam soldiers to protect the King of Siam. Muay, as it was called, was used as a form of unarmed combat during warfare.
Muay Thai utilizes a combination of punches, elbows, knees, and kicks to brutally dispatch enemies. Thai Boxing also uses various grappling techniques within the clinch to get opponents to the ground.
It would then evolve into a sport, where early participants would wear hemp rope around their hands. Fighters would compete to entertain the Siamese King at numerous events.
In the 19th century, Muay Thai grew significantly as a sport under King Rama V. British boxing was mixed into the techniques along with gloves being used, and contests being held in a boxing ring.
Muay Thai has quickly become one of the most-watched and practiced combat sports in the world. It is not only a martial art but it is ingrained into Thai culture.
2. Vale Tudo
Number 2 on our list is the incredibly violent Brazilian no rules fighting format known as Vale Tudo. A fighting ruleset with a long and violent history.
The history of Vale Tudo
Let’s first state that Vale Tudo itself is not a martial art. Vale Tudo fights were no holds barred bouts held in Brazil during the 1900s. The name Vale Tudo translates to English means “anything goes.”
In these fights, participants from different disciplines would fight to see whose style was superior. Through these fights, the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was legitimized as an effective self-defense system.
Even though Vale Tudo fights no longer occur, the name and history still lives on. Without those violent Brazilian no holds barred fights, MMA would look a lot different than it does today.
Number one on our list of the 15 deadliest martial arts is Burmese Boxing or, as many know it Lethwei. It is by far one of the most violent and even deadly martial arts in the world. If you’ve never heard of Lethwei, strap yourself in.
The history of Lethwei
Lethwei was developed around the same time as Muay Thai in the country of Myanmar. While Muay Thai is known as the art of 8 limbs, Lethwei is the art of 9 limbs.
In Lethwei, you use your hands, elbows, knees, feet, and also your head. That’s right, headbutts are allowed in the martial art of Lethwei.
In the clinch, headbutts are a big part of the fights in Lethwei. Not only are fighters getting into position for knees and elbows, but also headbutts.
The sport of Lethwei has also stayed true to its violent roots. Lethwei fights are done with no gloves and only hemp rope wrapped around the participant’s hands.
Describing Lethwei does not do the martial art justice. You must go watch it and see why it’s number one on our most deadly martial arts in the world list.
What’s The Deadliest Martial Art In The World?
All of the martial arts listed are among the deadliest martial arts in the world. Not only do they have aspects within them that make them deadly, but they are also extremely effective for self-defense.
Let us know what your list of the deadliest martial arts in the world is.
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