Striking martial arts are forms of training that involve hitting your opponent with kicks, knees, punches, and elbows. However, from kung fu to krav maga, the strikes and techniques used vary greatly. As a result, there is often fierce debate about which striking martial arts are best and which martial arts are not so effective. 

Here are the 10 best striking martial arts: 

  1. Muay Thai 
  2. Kickboxing
  3. Boxing
  4. Krav Maga  
  5. Lethwei
  6. Karate 
  7. Taekwondo 
  8. Wing Chun 
  9. Kajukenbo
  10. Kung Fu 

Keep reading to learn more about the different forms of striking martial arts. This list follows no particular order in terms of which is best. However, I will discuss the advantages and drawbacks of each fighting style, from world-famous fight disciplines to lesser-known martial arts. 

1. Muay Thai

Muay Thai is one of the most effective forms of fighting globally. It’s the national sport in Thailand and has a reputation for producing challenging and dangerous practitioners. 

Muay Thai involves various techniques designed to break down an opponent. In English, it means “Thai boxing.” However, the sport is more commonly known by its Thai name. 

Must Thai involves:

  • A variety of punching, kicking, knees, and elbow strikes. 
  • It also involves clinching, unlike other disciplines on this list. 
    • Clinching is when some forms of grappling are involved while standing.
    • Trips and strikes are common during clinching in Muay Thai. 

If you are a fan of UFC or professional MMA, you will likely have seen several Muay Thai practitioners and techniques. The techniques have transferred seamlessly into mixed martial arts as they are effective against various fight styles. This has led many MMA experts, including UFC commentator Joe Rogan, to claim that Muay Thai is the most effective striking martial art. 


Check out this video to see just how effective Muay Thai kicks can be:

2. Kickboxing

Kickboxing is a practical martial art and professional sport that involves:

  • Kicking
  • Boxing
  • Knees
  • Elbows 

However, in kickboxing, fighters can’t grapple or clinch on their feet as they can in Muay Thai. Kickboxing also follows the ten-count rule from boxing during contests. 

Still, kickboxing is a highly competitive global sport and has produced some fighters who transitioned into MMA. In addition, kickboxing facilitates excellent movement with devastating power, making it a powerful fighting discipline. 

While kickboxing is highly effective, it’s not as practical as sports with an emphasis on grappling, like Muay Thai. Since kickboxers don’t train in grappling, they can lose to other martial artists. 

However, kickboxing does allow for more strikes than other martial arts, like boxing. 

Kickboxers typically only train for competitions, meaning they tailor their techniques to suit official rules. As a result, kickboxing would be less effective than other martial arts in self-defense. 

3. Boxing

Boxing is the most popular combat sport on the planet. Because of this, superstars like Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson have become household names. 

This led to both amateur and professionals practicing the sport globally. 

Boxing is perhaps the most limited style of fighting on this list. For example, under boxing rules, you must strike your opponent above the waist, using only your hands. On top of this, it’s also against the rules to give blows to the back of the head and kidneys. 

Nevertheless, boxing is an effective fighting style. In a boxing match, you can expect to see:

  • Several punches and combinations designed to injure or down an opponent. 
  • Techniques intended to hit with as much force as possible while still protecting the fighter.
  • Defensive movements to avoid incoming hits.
  • Downed opponents have ten seconds to get back on their feet before the referee calls a knockout. 

Check out this video to see some of the most brutal boxing knock-outs:

As you can see, each of these fights focuses solely on punching, with some knock-outs hit appearing relatively mild. But from the audience, it’s impossible to grasp their strength and fighting styles.

However, while boxers can produce devastating blows with their hands, they wouldn’t fare well against a martial artist who can kick. 

4. Krav Maga

The Israeli Special Forces developed Krav Maga using various techniques from a range of martial arts. 

The result of this is a deadly form of combat practiced by militaries around the globe for use in real-world situations. 

Krav Maga differs from other martial arts on this list. Here’s how:

  • Strikes to the groin, eyes, and throat are encouraged. 
  • Krav Maga is designed not to defeat an opponent in competition but to annihilate them in a hand-to-hand contact situation. 

In this video, you’ll see how Krav Maga is instructed and how they put emphasis on taking opponents down by any means necessary:

Modern combat situations regularly use Krav Maga, and its teachings and techniques are frequently updated. Unlike older martial arts that center around tradition, Krav Maga’s instructions modernize to remain effective. 

Krav Maga takes techniques from: 

  • Judo 
  • Boxing 
  • Wrestling  
  • Aikido 
  • Karate  

This gives Krav Maga a wide range of techniques to pull from. Therefore, Krav Maga experts will have well-rounded offense and defense when dealing with kicks, punches, and grappling. 

Krav Maga is not a great martial art to learn if you wish to compete in connections; it’s too extreme. However, it’s probably the best martial art you can learn for real-life self-defense situations. This is because Krav Maga experts train for realistic and dangerous scenarios, like defending yourself against attackers. 

5. Lethwei

Lethwei is undoubtedly one of the lesser-known striking martial arts. Hailing from Myanmar, it follows a similar style or rule set as Muay Thai. However, the roots of Lethwei date back as far as the 2nd century BCE, making it an ancient martial art. 

The critical differences between Lethwei and Muay Thai are: 

  • Lethwei allows headbutts.
  • The lack of gloves in Lethwei. 

Lethwei fighters usually just wrap their hands with bandages instead of wearing gloves. These wraps prevent bones from breaking, allowing for more brutal strikes. 

Lethwei is also a professional sport, where competitions are held in stadiums to declare champions. During a Lethwei competition, fighters have minutes to recover from a knockdown, rather than 10 seconds. 

As a result, fighters are often knocked completely unconscious before getting up and carrying on. A spectacle that is often difficult to watch. 

Check out this video to see Dave Leduc discussing Lethwei, and its effectiveness as a martial art:

The brutal nature of Lethwei has seriously hindered its excellence outside of Myanmar. The risk of injury and the vicious nature of competitions prevent this martial art from expanding into a global interest. 

Nevertheless, Lethwei is the meaner alternative to Muay Thai, which is a demanding fight discipline. 

6. Karate

Karate is a Japanese martial art that originated on the island of Okinawa. Consisting of kicks, punches, and blocks designed to hurt your opponent, its philosophy hinges on peace and respect. 

Karate contains similar techniques as traditional Kung Fu, as it’s where the practice comes from. However, karate and Kung Fu differ in movements:

  • Karate fighters generally move forwards and backward 
  • Kung Fu fighters move sideways

As a result, karate produces aggressive and damaging offenses. 

Karate fighters have reached high levels of success across the combat world. For example, UFC legends Lyoto Machida, Georges Saint Pierre, and Chuck Liddel are all trained in karate. This proves the efficacy of karate, even when competing against other martial arts. 

7. Taekwondo

Taekwondo is a martial art born in Korea. Just like karate, taekwondo was also developed from the techniques and teachings of Kung Fu. 

However, taekwondo takes a kick-heavy approach to combat, with most techniques involving powerful kicks. 

Taekwondo is:

  • Famed for spinning kicks and sidekicks that fly out quickly and cause devastating harm.
  • Limited when it comes to punches or grappling techniques. 

As a result, a taekwondo fighter would likely struggle against a more well-rounded martial artist, like a Muay Thai fighter. 

Taekwondo practitioners are vulnerable in defense to fighters who take a punch heavy approach. This is because they train to be more watchful and masterful of kicks. As a result, taekwondo fighters can struggle to keep up with punching and kicking.

Nevertheless, other martial arts, including MMA, often adopt specific techniques from taekwondo. In fact, some of the greatest fighters in UFC history have used taekwondo techniques and teachings in their fight styles. 

Some of these greats include Anderson Silva and Rose Namajunas. 

8. Wing Chun

Wing Chun is another Chinese martial art with roots in Kung Fu. It’s a discipline that uses deadly leg and hand movements to subdue opponents, such as:

  • Hand strikes
  • Elbows
  • Arm blocks 

Similar to Krav Maga, Wing Chun focuses strikes on the eyes and throats of opponents. While these techniques can’t be applied to most professional sports, it’s effective for self-defense. However, the stances, blocks, and elbows from Wing Chun often appear in combat sports. 

Wing Chun bases itself on five fundamental principles which center around logic and practical uses. As a result, Wing Chun fighters learn valuable and practical techniques. 

The five principles of Wing Chun are: 

  • Simplicity 
  • Directness 
  • Practicality 
  • Minimal use of brute strength 
  • Economy of movement 

Wing Chun techniques and training practices are standard among high-level MMA artists, including UFC great Jon Jones. In fact, Wing Chun elbows are one of Jones’s trademark moves to great success. 

Wing Chun is also highly effective in self-defense scenarios. 

9. Kajukenbo

Kajukenbo is a Hawaiian-born martial art that is a combination of numerous fight disciplines and styles. The name Kajukenbo breaks down to show the various fighting styles involved:

  • ‘Ka’ stands for Karate
  • ‘ju’ for Judo
  • ‘ken’ is for Kenpo
  • ‘bo’ at the end represents boxing 

Kajukenbo is a modern and adaptive fighting style that adapts various striking and grappling techniques. As a result, kajukenbo practitioners have well-rounded fight styles with effective defense and offense skills.

This makes kajukenbo an excellent martial art to study if you are interested in competing in MMA. 

Kajukenbo is renowned for its brutal, no-nonsense approach to self-defense situations. It has numerous defensive and offensive maneuvers designed to inflict harm on an attacker. 

It’s no surprise that Kajukenbo is effective in self-defense as it began in an area plagued with fistfights and stabbings.

There are 20 levels in Kajukenbo with various belts that you can earn when practicing. It usually takes a disciplined student between 3-5 years to obtain a black belt in Kajukenbo. This is the equivalent of roughly 800 hours of training. 

Kajukenbo has made appearances on the highest stages of professional sports, with UFC legend Chuck Lidell practicing this martial art. 

10. Kung Fu

Kung Fu is a world-renowned and ancient martial art. Developed in China, Kung Fu is so old; there are only myths about its true origin. However, professionals estimate that Kung Fu is at least 4,000 years old. 

This practice contains several kicking and punching techniques that can take decades to truly master. 

Kung Fu as a martial art includes thousands of substyles. However, all of the variations of Kung Fu can be attributed back to the original discipline practiced in China. 

This form of martial art involves a lot of circular movement. As a result, Kung Fu is much more effective for blocking and defensive moves than attacking. Nevertheless, Kung Fu contains several effective strikes, which can cause significant damage. 

Kung Fu has been shown in many movies and is well-known worldwide. Its principles and techniques laid the path for other striking martial arts. Unfortunately, Kung Fu isn’t very effective against other martial arts due to its defensive nature.

Still, fighters display Kung Fu techniques in high-level kickboxing and MMA events. That said, you likely won’t find any fighters who only train Kung Fu competing at this level. 

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