When it comes to martial arts, there are many different styles to choose from, each with its own unique abilities. Taking up a martial art can be a rewarding experience, you will make new friends, learn new skills, become fitter, and gain a degree of confidence.

So which one should you learn first? What is the best martial art for self defense? The answer will ultimately depend on your personal goals and preferences, whether that is to become a professional competitor or you just want to get fit while learning something new, this guide will break down each martial art and help you find what style would suit you best.

Things to consider

There are some trade-offs when it comes to learning martial arts. The main costs of learning a martial art is time and money. You would have to consider paying for gym fees and equipment such as gloves, clothing, mouthguard, etc. You would also have to dedicate some time to learning, generally a couple of classes a week at minimum. 

Types of Martial Arts

So you’ve decided to take the jump and learn a martial art, this is exciting and will only make your life better. There are many styles of martial arts that are available to learn by anyone of any age. Whether you’re a child learning taekwondo or 50 years old starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, there should never be an age limit on learning and acquiring new skills. There are many self defense martial arts you can learn, this guide will help give you a better idea on what each style focuses on and if its right for you. 


What is Boxing

Boxing is a combat sport where two competitors, typically wearing gloves, throw punches at each other with the goal of knocking out the opponent or scoring points through a system of scoring. 

What you will learn from Boxing

You will learn various physical and mental skills. Physically, you will improve your punching technique, footwork, balance, hand-eye coordination, speed, stamina, and endurance. Mentally, it can teach discipline, focus, self-control, and strategy and decision-making under pressured environments. 

Is Boxing right for you?

Boxing is great for self defense, as most fight situations start on the feet, and knowing how to punch correctly is a great life skill to have. One thing you have to be okay with when it comes to boxing is that you will get punched in the face and body. Don’t let that deter you as you are not made of glass and a lot tougher than you think.  As a beginner, a good boxing gym won’t throw you to the wolves straight away and will help you gradually build up your confidence and skillset day by day so that you become a better boxer safely. 

How to get started with Boxing

Your first step is to find a good boxing gym near you. A simple google search will do the trick and be sure to have a look at the reviews. Generally, most gyms will offer a free trial class and would have spare gear for you to use, such as boxing gloves, if you don’t have any. 

What does a Boxing training session look like?

A normal training session usually goes for 60 minutes. It can consist of technique training, conditioning training, and cardiovascular exercise. A typical session may look like this: 

  • Warm-up: Generally, you would start with a light cardiovascular warm-up such as jumping rope or running to get the heart rate up and blood to the muscles.
  • Shadow boxing: You would then start shadowboxing, this is where you practice punching and moving around with an imaginary opponent. A staple exercise in most striking sports, this helps to improve technique and coordination. 
  • Drilling: The trainer would then show a technique for you to drill and you may perform this solo or with a partner. 
  • Bag Work: You may work on the bag, practicing punches and combinations. This helps build power and endurance.
  • Pad Work: The trainer may work individually with participants holding pads for them to practice combinations, this helps improve technique and accuracy. 
  • Sparring: Experienced boxers may participate in sparring sessions, where they can practice their drilled techniques in a simulated fight. 
  • Cool down and stretching: A light cool down with some stretching at the end of the session to prevent injury and improve recovery.

Note: This is a general outline and training sessions will vary depending on the gym, trainers, and participants’ level. Gyms generally dedicate one whole day/session to sparring as this tends to be the heaviest workout of the week. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

What is BJJ

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) is a combat sport that focuses on grappling and ground fighting. BJJ is widely practiced around the world. BJJ involves the use of leverage and technique over brute strength and has a focus on submission holds such as chokes or joint locks to force your opponent to submit. 

What you will learn from BJJ

BJJ is a dynamic and constantly evolving sport. Training BJJ involves learning and adapting to new techniques and strategies. You will learn how to escape and avoid bad positions or submissions while also learning how to get to a good position and apply submissions.

Is BJJ right for you?

BJJ is considered one of the most effective forms of self defense as you will learn how to control and subdue a person if need be. BJJ is a pure grappling sport so if you have concerns about getting punched in the face but still want to learn a martial art then this would be perfect for you. 

How to get started with BJJ

BJJ is quite a popular sport, especially over recent years. There would most definitely be a few BJJ gyms within driving distance from your home. Look for an established gym with high level black belt instructors with extensive experience teaching beginners so you can learn things the right way from the beginning. 

Most BJJ academies generally offer a free one-class trial, so make sure to look up their timetable and do the beginner class. I recommend trying a few and experiencing the vibe of each gym and seeing what suits you best. 

There are two variants of BJJ, Gi, and No-Gi. Gi is more traditional where you train in a Jiu Jitsu Gi and No-Gi is where you train with a rash guard and fight shorts. I recommend trying both, you can freely train both variants although people tend to have their favorite and only train in one.

What does a BJJ training session look like?

Like boxing, a normal BJJ session normally goes for 60 minutes but will mainly consist of technique training and live rolling. A typical session may look like this:

  • Warm-up: Dependant on the gym, the class generally starts with a light cardiovascular warmup such as running to get the blood flowing to your muscles and joints. Although, some gyms just go straight into light technique drilling.
  • Drilling: Now the trainer will show a technique and you will pair up with somebody and start practicing what you were shown. This can include guard passes, submissions, or escapes.
  • Rolling: This is where you test your techniques on a resisting partner, generally the rounds go for five minutes and you would do multiple rounds. 
  • Cool down: A light cool down with some stretching at the end of the session to prevent injury and soreness. 

Muay Thai

What is Muay Thai

Muay Thai, also referred to as “The Art of Eight Limbs,” is a martial art that originated in Thailand. It has been around for centuries but become a sanctioned combat sport in the 20th century. Muay Thai also includes the art of clinching which is where you fight from the clinch position. 

What you will learn from Muay Thai

You will learn how to strike using your kicks, punches, knees, and elbows. You will also learn how to clinch and fight in the clinch which involves knees, elbows and sweeps. Muay Thai is a high pace striking sport and if your goal is to move into MMA, you will be ahead of most people when it comes to striking. 

Is Muay Thai right for you?

Muay Thai involves striking all parts of the body. You are able to punch, kick, knee, and elbow to all parts of the body. Taking a kick to the leg is a foreign experience to most people but don’t worry, your legs will become conditioned over time. 

How to get started with Muay Thai

There would be Muay Thai gyms near your location or even MMA gyms that will offer a Muay Thai class. If you decide that Muay Thai is something you want to take seriously, you would need to invest in a good pair of gloves, hand wraps, shin guards, and a mouthguard. 

What does a Muay Thai training session look like?

  • Warm-up: Generally you will start jumping rope for 5-10 minutes. This tends to be a staple warmup wherever you go. 
  • Shadowboxing: You will then start shadowboxing to further warm you up and get you focused and prepared for the session.
  • Pad Work: Working with the coach or partner hitting pads and you will also learn how to hold them for your partner too. 
  • Bag Work: You may go onto the bag and work on a specific technique that will build power, endurance, and coordination. 
  • Sparring: Thai boxers tend to spar a lot but they save the heavy sparring for specific days and do light sparring almost every session. Treat light sparring as a fun game of tag and a time to try new things to see what works for you.
  • Conditioning: Once sparring has finished you will start doing some conditioning such as push-ups, sit-ups, repetitive kicks, etc. 
  • Cool Down: You will then do some light stretching to finish off the session. Sometimes in a group led by someone or on your own. 


What is Judo

Judo is a martial art that focuses on throws, pins, and joint locks. Training in judo will develop strength, balance, and coordination. Like BJJ, Judo is also performed in a GI. Judo is also a sport recognized in the Olympics. 

What you will learn from Judo

You will learn many techniques and throws which are performed with a partner. Your partner will also perform these techniques and throws on you and you will learn how to fall correctly to avoid injury to yourself.

Is Judo right for you?

Judo is a grappling martial art and there are no strikes involved, so if you’re not down to get punched in the face and would like to throw people to the ground then this is the martial art for you. 

What does a Judo training session look like?

  • Warm-up: Light cardiovascular warmups such as jogging and mobility work to get the body primed for the session ahead
  • Drilling: The coach will then demonstrate various throws and pins and you will get a partner and practice these over and over. (Be prepared to be tossed around quite a bit!)
  • Sparring: You will then start practicing the techniques you learned in a live situation against a partner with some resistance.
  • Cool-Down: Ending the session with a light cool down and some stretching. 


What is Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a striking martial art that originated in Korea. It’s heavily focused on kicking techniques with some hand striking and throws. This sport is a popular form of physical fitness and self-defense and is also recognized as an Olympic sport. 

What you will learn from Taekwondo

Due to Taekwondo being a kick-dominant sport, you will learn how to kick with great technique while developing strength and flexibility in your legs. 

Is Taekwondo right for you?

If you are interested in improving your dexterity, flexibility, and kicking prowess, then taekwondo is for you. Some gyms prefer to spar more while others won’t have much sparring and will focus more on hitting pads and learning techniques. 

What does a Taekwondo training session look like?

  • Warmup: Light cardiovascular warmups such as running, air kicking, etc. To get the blood flowing to your muscles and joints
  • Technique Drilling: Normally done with a partner, you will drill certain strikes by hitting pads and or work on combinations or choreographed sequences of movements. 
  • Sparring: Where two partners simulate fighting in a controlled and safe manner, applying the techniques they have learned. This is done while wearing protective gear
  • Cool down: Light stretching to help the body recover and reduce the risk of injury.


What is MMA

MMA is an abbreviation for Mixed Martial Arts and has exploded in popularity over the years. MMA combines every martial art into one and it involves striking, submission grappling, and wrestling. MMA can be used in all situations such as stand-up fighting or ground fighting. If you’re interested in starting MMA, check out my MMA for Beginners Guide.

What you will learn from MMA

Not only will MMA teach you how to strike, grapple and wrestle, but it will teach you how to combine all these styles together and how to transition from one to the other.

Is MMA right for you?

MMA is the most complex yet most rewarding martial art of them all. The upside to learning MMA is that you learn everything. The downside to learning MMA is that you have to learn everything. If you are able and willing to dedicate yourself to learning everything and be okay with facing adversity in almost every training session, then MMA would be the right option for you.

How to get started with MMA

You would want to find a gym that offers MMA classes and striking or grappling classes. It is highly recommended that you also participate in striking or grappling classes on top of your MMA sessions as these skills will be carried over. 

What does a MMA training session look like?

  • Warm-up: Light cardiovascular warmups to get the blood flowing to your muscles and joints. Normally it’s a group warmup with someone leading the activities. 
  • Shadowboxing: One round of shadowboxing to further warm the body up and get you focused for the session.
  • Drilling: The trainer will show a series of techniques which you then go off with a partner and drill these techniques. These can range from striking drills to grappling drills and everything in between. 
  • Sparring/Rolling: This is where you test your techniques on a live, resisting partner. Generally, the rounds go for five minutes and you will do multiple rounds. 
  • Cool Down: A light cool down with some stretching to aid recovery and prevent injuries. 

Note: These session guides are basic outlines of what a typical session looks like but every gym will have its own style and approach, so it is important you get out there and try multiple gyms to see which suits you best.

Final Say

Learning and becoming proficient in martial arts takes a lot of time and dedication. If you put in the work and show up when you need to, regardless of how you’re feeling that day, you are bound to improve and reap the benefits of your work. The best piece of advice I’ve been given as a student is to never take more than two days off between sessions so you keep some sort of momentum and keep progressing. Good luck on your martial arts journey! 

By Emil

Emil is a currently active professional MMA fighter. He was ranked 1st in the Aus/Nz region in his weight class as an amateur, with the most KO’s, and is now actively working up the professional ranks.

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