What are the Best Martial Arts for Women’s Self Defense?

Are you considering a martial arts class? It can be a great decision, increasing not only your confidence and safety but your overall health and wellbeing. This spills over into your mental space too, helping you to process the world intentionally and regulate your emotions.

Do a little digging and you’ll find that there are countless options for classes to take and disciplines to study. Which is the best martial art for women’s self defense? Well, it depends on your specific interests and goals, so we’ll run through a few of the most popular to help you narrow things down.

To start, we’d also recommend exploring a self defense course for women. You can find an in-depth overview of what to expect in this article, but here’s a quick recap:

  • A focus on basic maneuvers
  • Predict, recognize, and protect yourself from violence
  • Defense training against common attacks
  • Learn how to deescalate a dangerous situation
  • How to keep yourself calm and under control

What are your goals?

As you weigh your options, take a moment to really think through what you want and need from the discipline. Fitness? Confidence? Mobility? Strength? You can get a little of everything from most martial arts, but some focus more deeply on specific results than others.

If self defense is a priority, you should look for a martial art that emphasizes practical, functional combat training. Hollywood paints a picture of fancy jump kicks and spinning acrobatics, but in a real life altercation you need to protect yourself, then remove yourself, from a dangerous situation as quickly as possible. Easy, fast, effective movements.

With that said, let’s dig into some of the most popular martial arts for women’s self defense.

Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

Most fights move to the ground pretty quickly. BJJ teaches you to use ground fighting to your advantage, overcoming your opponent while using their own size and strength against them. This makes BJJ an ideal martial art for women to learn – it doesn’t necessarily require you to be large and powerful to be successful. You can “submit” much larger people by leveraging sweeps, joint locks, and chokes, giving you a massive advantage.

As an extra benefit, there is a lower risk of being injured while training since you don’t rely on strikes and traditional sparring. You “roll” with your classmates instead, practicing specific maneuvers and techniques on the ground.

Krav Maga

With roots in the Israeli military, Krav Maga teaches you to attack relentlessly and effectively, then remove yourself from the situation. In other words, there’s ideally no back and forth or trading of blows. It’s an offensive, rather than defensive, discipline, relying on a no-holds-barred route from confrontation to neutralization.

This makes it a fantastic martial art for women’s self defense, but don’t expect to ever be able to use it in professional fighting events, MMA, etc. It’s not for everyone, but it’s certainly an effective option that many women enjoy.

MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

MMA exploded in popularity over the last 15-20 years, bringing a blended set of disciplines into the limelight. Designed for combat patterned after street fighting, it teaches you to leverage multiple techniques: Muay Thai (punching and kicking), grappling (BJJ), wrestling, and boxing as well. This best-of-all-worlds approach has made it very popular for self defense courses. If you find yourself fighting hand-to-hand, draw on your boxing and Muay Thai training. If you hit the ground and are rolling, BJJ will prepare you to dominate.

Muay Thai

You may not have heard of Muay Thai, but you’ve likely heard of kickboxing. There are adaptations specifically for cardiovascular training, more like aerobics than martial arts, but a true Muay Thai class is much different. Focusing on brutal strikes (using elbows, knees, and fists), plus powerful kicks, it’s an ideal discipline for close-range combat. Especially valuable for women, Muay Thai teaches how to hit fast, hard, and efficiently, quickly taking your opponent out of commission.

Sound intimidating? It can be, but don’t worry: a reputable Muay Thai class will ease you into it, creating a safe environment for you to grow your skills and confidence.


“Karate” has become a bit of a catch-all martial art; almost everyone knows it by name, but very few really understand it. In fact, a lot of people loosely refer to any martial art as “Karate” simply because they don’t know better (the proliferation of movies and TV shows based around this world-famous discipline certainly don’t help either).

Shotokan Karate is a specific type of Karate that best fits the needs of women’s self defense. It involves strong, decisive attacks, relying less on combat strategy and finesse as it does powerful, overwhelming strikes.

What’s the takeaway?

There are universal benefits to really any type of martial art, but some are definitely a better fit for women’s self defense than others. Look for styles and classes that teach efficient, effective techniques geared more toward real-life combat situations than competitions. Talk to your prospective instructor about your goals too and see what they recommend.

As always, we welcome you to reach out to us at Hassett Jiu Jitsu with any questions. We teach BJJ, but we also offer self defense courses and would enjoy the chance to discuss your martial arts journey with you.