Development via Self Defense:: Top Combat Sports for Beginners


“There are no losers in martial arts. You either win or you learn.” – Tyson Pedro. This powerful quote is a firm reminder that combat sports are much more than just an arena for competition. In fact, they have a profound impact on self-development and even provide effective techniques for self-defense.

If you are confronted by danger, running is definitely the most important thing to do. De-escalating a situation is also important. However, there are situations in which you can’t run or you have to protect those near and dear to you, so learning a combat sport is essential for you.

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the world of combat sports for beginners, highlighting those that I recommend and those that I advise to steer clear of. This is based on factors such as ease of accessibility, how straightforward it is to learn, and their utility in real-life self-defense situations.

However, before we begin, it is crucial to reiterate that your first reaction in a potential altercation should be to de-escalate the situation or escape if you can, not to fight. Now, let’s examine the choices.

Combat Sports to Avoid:

Before we look at the sports I recommend, let’s start with those I suggest you avoid. In the vast world of martial arts, not every discipline is geared towards practicality or effectiveness in a self-defense situation.

  1. American Karate Dojos: Many American Karate dojos are referred to as “McDojos.” McDojos are franchise schools that focus more on the commercial aspects of making money rather than imparting genuine combat skills. You pay, you get a uniform, you earn a belt, but without getting into any real fights or learning practical skills. A McDojo can usually be spotted if they have little kids with black belts. In a serious dojo, black belts will take many years to earn that rank. Also, American Karate taught in these dojos, is not authentic Karate. Instead, it’s a fusion between American boxing and Taekwondo, and which is disingenuous to be referred to as “karate.” Some of these gyms teach solid skills, but most of them should be avoided.
  2. Generalized “Martial Arts” Dojos: These are often just rebranded versions of the aforementioned McDojos. This rebranding is due to chasing the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and the UFC. They promise a range of martial arts or teach American Karate with this “Martial Arts” label. Before signing up, check Google reviews or get a first-hand account of their training regimen.
  3. Taekwondo: Taekwondo, while a highly respected and beautiful martial art, is more of a sport than a combat technique. It’s characterized by fancy, snappy kicks which are more for show and scoring points in tournaments than for real-world effectiveness. In a real life self-defense situation, it’s often a bad idea to use kicks to avoid losing your balance and falling onto pavement.
  4. Aikido: Although popularized by Steven Seagal, Aikido has been proven ineffective in mixed martial arts and self-defense situations time and again. It works primarily against other Aikido practitioners, which doesn’t serve well in unpredictable street encounters.

Recommended Combat Sports for Beginners:

  1. American Boxing: Accessible and effective, boxing teaches striking techniques that can be applied in self-defense situations. You stay on two feet the entire time, minimizing risk of falling or losing balance. As a bonus, you can practice boxing even when you’re alone through shadow boxing or with a heavy bag.
  2. Muay Thai: Known as “the art of eight limbs,” Muay Thai teaches you to use your fists, elbows, knees, and shins as weapons. It also incorporates clinch techniques, which can be extremely useful in close quarters self-defense scenarios. Similar to American boxing, you can practice Muay Tai alone. Typically, you can find Muay Thai classes in mixed martial arts gyms or facilities that offer a variety of combat sports.
  3. Wrestling: Wrestling provides an excellent base for self-defense. If an aggressor is physically touching you, being able to grapple effectively gives you a tremendous advantage. A successful takedown onto hard concrete can often end a confrontation quickly and decisively. Wrestling can be learned at mixed martial arts gyms, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools, and sometimes at dedicated wrestling clubs.
  4. Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ): My top recommendation is Gracie BJJ. This discipline equips you with the tools to control an attacker even when you’re on the ground, where most fights end up. It’s designed to help a smaller, weaker person defend against a bigger, stronger opponent using leverage and proper technique. There are dedicated Gracie BJJ schools around the world, but BJJ is also taught in many mixed martial arts gyms.


Each of these recommended combat sports provides not just self-defense skills, but also promotes physical fitness, boosts confidence, and contributes to personal development.

However, let me reiterate – combat sports should be your last resort in real-life confrontations. De-escalation and evasion are always the preferable options. Though, being skilled in these combat sports will provide a level of comfort and security, knowing you have the tools to protect yourself if needed.

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