5 Most Effective Martial Arts Moves for Self Defense

Functional fitness is what helps you in your day-to-day life, not just in your fitness journey.

A great example of this is self-defense: what use is constant training if it can’t protect you in the real world?

Martial arts focus on filling this gap and bringing together health, fitness and safety. While there’s debate on the best type of martial arts for self-defense, it can be useful to pick and choose moves from each to keep in your back pocket in case push comes to shove.

We’ve collected five moves from martial arts coaches, self defense instructors, and fitness trainers that are both effective and easy to learn.

The Trip-and-Take-Down

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a popular mixed martial art for self-defense, as it focuses on overpowering your opponent and forcing them to the ground. This puts you into a position of control, and hence can be great help when faced with an attacker. There are various takedown techniques in BJJ, and the trip takedown is the simplest to learn for novices. 

As is clear from the term, destabilizing your opponent is the name of the game. When the assailant moves towards you, move backward to make them stretch their leg forward toward you. Move your legs closer together so as not to overextend them while reach out for the trip. Quickly hook your opponent’s leg with yours, pulling their weight forward and ruining their balance.

Practice this until you can perform it as a swift motion. Once your attacker is on the ground, this gives you the chance to run or to hold them down. This is not recommended with attackers who have weapons.

The Open-Fist Punch

Some experts recommend the open-fist punch, which borrows from Taekwondo. This differs from the classic punch as it is less likely to injure your hand, a common problem when punching without protection or practice.

An open-fist punch is easy to learn, and will keep your hands intact as well. To build power, work on your core stability and legs as well as your arms, as these compound movement are what determine the force of your strikes.

To practice this move, try it with a punching bag. Assume a fighting stance and hit the bag parallel to your shoulder. Ideally, this is the opponent’s face. Keep your wrist bent backward and your finger curled slightly. Your thumb should be tucked into your hand, pressing your palm. Use this technique to practice jab combinations till you get the hang of it.

The Wrist Lock

When you’re in close proximity, you have to think fast about how to make your attacker succumb. Assuming they are trying to pin your arms, you have to pull out a quick counter move to escape. Enter the wrist lock: a low-risk and high-impact move that borrows from Jiu Jitsu.

Targeting the wrist is effective as it is a weak joint and can help you incapacitate your opponent. If your opponent’s wrist is gripping your arm, bring your hand from underneath theirs and grip their wrist. Put your other hand over theirs, effectively sandwiching their hand. Use this position to exert force downwards on their wrist, bowing forward and pushing your opponent down onto their knees.  The opponent’s positioning can change the technique but it comes down to the same fundamentals: using your grip on their arm or wrist to force them to the ground.

Elbow Strikes

Elbow strikes work at close range and are multidirectional. They are used in various martial arts and are a powerful move which pose little risk to you if you choose to employ them. Use elbow strikes in place of a punch, as an untrained punch can lead to you breaking your hand. This versatile move can also be more painful for an assailant due to the hard nature of the elbow.

To perfect the technique, bring your hand close to your body, then throw your elbow outwards. Imagine an opponent and try to push your elbow in their direction. Elbow strikes can also be upward, downward, or across. Make sure to practice in each direction to get a full grip on your stance.

Turning Kick

Your opponent usually won’t be in one place, so a move that is dynamic and practical is what you need in a real-life situation. A turning kick uses the power of your glutes and flexors to hit a target that’s not head on. Plus, a kick takes stock of the force in your entire body to push forward and injure your adversary.

Raise your hands to guard your face and balance on one leg. Raise the knee of your other leg and, pulling it behind you. Opening it sideways, keeping your knee, hip and ankle in the same plane, similar to performing fire hydrants. Then extend your knee forward, and you have a turning kick that’ll have to ready to take on your opponent.

With these moves on hand, you should feel confident to take on an adversary if the situation calls for it. But keep in mind, all these are defensive moves. After all, the best martial arts move for self-defense is awareness: stay keenly aware of what is happening around you, and use these only if the need arises.