If you know a bit about martial arts, then you know that the vast majority of martial arts can be put into two categories: grappling arts, and striking arts.
Perhaps you’ve seen flashy Taekwondo kicks or a devasting Boxing ko, and have wondered to yourself, what are the best striking martial arts?
Well, no need to wonder my friend. In this post, I’m going to rank the best striking martial arts by how effective they are. This means martial arts that include kicks, punches, and any other kind of strikes (including some unorthodox ones on this list).
The criteria for this list is that the art can contain no grappling at all, so complete systems such as MMA are not considered. Aside from that, striking martial arts are pretty self-explanatory, so I’ll waste no further time. Let’s get started.
To kick off our list, we have Savate at the #7 spot.
Savate is an interesting martial art, that is probably the least popular from the ones on our list. Savate is a martial art that was developed as a form of self-defense from the streets of France. For this reason, it is also often referred to as ‘French Kickboxing’.
It combines elements of Boxing with a quick flashy kicking style, similar to a Karate or Taekwondo. However, unlike Karate and Taekwondo, Savate allows the use of low kicks, aimed at the shins of the opponent.
This is an interesting and unique technique, as the kick is often done in a sweeping motion, useful for tripping an opponent with an unbalanced stance. None of the other styles on this list contain such a technique (although Muay Thai does teach leg kicks).
Here is one interesting technique from Savate being used in MMA: the oblique kick. It is often seen used by Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones.
Another technique that is not often used in other striking styles is the oblique kick, which is considered the same style of kick as the one discussed previously, except this is thrown from the front.
This is a kick that has been used effectively in MMA, usually seen from fighters training out of the JacksonWink gym in New Mexico, such as Jon Jones and Holly Holm.
The rest of Savate’s kicks are very similar to the point-Karate style: sharp, quick kicks with emphasis on landing versus doing damage. However, due to the limited usage of Savate in modern-day combat, it is last on this list. Not to say you can’t learn some good moves from it though!
Taekwondo is #6 on our list of best striking martial arts.
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art that is derived from Karate, which is very noticeable, as they are very similar styles. I’ll go into more detail on the differences when we talk about Karate later on.
Taekwondo is a martial art that is focused on speed. Korean army general Choi Hong Hi, considered the founder of modern Taekwondo, created what is known as the “theory of power”.
His idea was that the power of a technique was based more on the speed of the technique, and less on the mass of the object you were striking with. From this theory, Taekwondo developed into a martial art focused on fast kicks.
Yair Rodriguez (right) is a Mexican UFC fighter with a Taekwondo base. He is often seen using Tornado kicks, Wheel kicks, and various other flashy moves.
A notable feature of Taekwondo is its relative lack of punching. Not to say Taekwondo fighters don’t punch, they simply rely more on their kicks. Spinning kicks and jumping kicks are staples of Taekwondo, and they can generate a lot of power.
Taekwondo comes in above Savate on this list because many professional MMA fighters implement Taekwondo-based kicks into their fighting style, due to the sheer amount of power a spin kick can generate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t rank higher on this list due to its lack of punching ability.
Still a very good choice of martial art, as long as you can get some real sparring sessions in.
At #5 on our list, we have the official combat sport of China: Sanda.
Sanda (also known as Sanshou or Chinese Kickboxing) is a form of kickboxing that is not too well known around the world, due to being practiced mostly in China.
Sanda is a full-contact martial art, developed by the Chinese military by combining modern kickboxing techniques with traditional Kung-fu forms. It is a very complete martial art, encompassing many different types of striking techniques.
In its arsenal, Sanda includes the basic punches of boxing, but also combines techniques used in Muay Thai and Taekwondo, including hook kicks, roundhouse kicks, and wheel kicks. It even allows spinning back fists, a technique commonly used in MMA.
Chinese UFC fighter Zhang Weili is a noteworthy practitioner of Sanda, as she is the current UFC Strawweight Champion.
It was a difficult choice putting Sanda so low on this list, as one would expect it to be superior to Karate, Boxing, and maybe even Muay Thai, as Sanda includes techniques from each of these styles.
However, Sanda was put at #5 due to its lack of definitive curriculum, as well as the fact that it is not widely practiced outside of China.
It is obviously effective, noted by the fact that it is practiced by UFC fighters Zabit Magomedsharipov, Cung Le, and Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili. In theory, it is one of the better martial arts on this list, due its wide variety of effective techniques.
At #4 on our list is a traditional Japanese martial art: Karate.
Karate is the parent style of Taekwondo, but it does come with some key differences, as well as an explanation for why it is ranked so much higher than Taekwondo.
Karate is a more complete version of Taekwondo. This is because Karate practitioners are more used to punching than Taekwondo fighters are. This is because punches to the head are banned in Olympic Taekwondo. Kinda hard to defend yourself when you can’t punch right?
Karate also more commonly uses body kicks when compared to Taekwondo. This includes the devastating spinning back kick, which can end fights instantly when landed correctly.
Cung Le (right) lands a karate-style spinning back kick.
Another reason Karate ranked so highly is due to its popularity. The techniques used in Karate are very common in MMA. Which fighter doesn’t use a push kick?
Also, a huge reason for this pick was the most noteworthy Karate-style fighter in MMA today, UFC Welterweight Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. His style has kept him a top-ranked welterweight for years, and has even earned him two shots at the title.
Of course, Sanda is still the more complete fighting style, but strictly due to popularity, Karate edges it out for the #4 spot.
At number three, we have the most popular martial art on this list, Boxing.
You likely already know what boxing is, and it definitely needs no introduction. Boxing has been practiced for centuries, and has been used as a competitive sport since as early as 1600 BC.
Boxing, simply put, is the martial art of punching. This means no kicks or other types of strikes, and no backfists or open-palm strikes. This makes the sport a very efficient one in terms of hitting without getting hit, as you have to be in closer range to box than to kick.
That is the main reason Boxing is so high on this list. Boxers are used to constantly taking a hit, and so they know the best ways to block or absorb them with minimal damage.
Former UFC Champion Cody Grabrandt (right) is an excellent boxer, known for his quick flurries and defensive head movement.
Boxers also practice head movement more than any other martial art on this list. This style of movement is very effective in avoiding punches to the head, and for this reason, boxing is a very popular style in MMA.
Former UFC champion Cody Garbrandt is one of the best boxers in MMA, putting his defensive boxing abilities on display when he beat Dominick Cruz for the Bantamweight title.
Obviously, boxing is limited by its lack of kicks, and for this reason, it is not higher on the list. However, boxing is a very popular martial art, with boxing gyms being common in every city. With its no-nonsense training style and an emphasis on sparring, it is easily one of the best striking arts.
2. Muay Thai
The second-best striking martial art on our list is Muay Thai.
Muay Thai is a kickboxing art from Thailand, and is known as “The Art of Eight Limbs”. It earned this name due to its diverse strikes, which allow striking with the elbows, fists, knees, and feet (hence 8 limbs).
It is an insanely effective martial art, and for this reason, it is widely practiced among MMA fighters. But what makes this art so effective?
Well firstly, it is a REAL martial art. By this, I mean that sparring is very common. Sparring is one of the most important aspects of any martial art, as you don’t know what works until you try it in real life, right? In this way, it is very similar to boxing, due to the tough nature of its training.
Leg kicks can be devastating in quantity, limiting the leg’s ability. The technique is unique to Muay Thai.
Secondly, it focuses on the most effective techniques. And one of the most effective techniques in any martial art, is the leg kick. Leg kicks are typically aimed at the inside of the knee joint, or at the lower thigh area.
If you have ever received a hard leg kick, then you know they work. For this same reason, Muay Thai is one of the few martial arts that includes a block for low kicks, known as a “check”.
Due to the threat of a leg kick in Muay Thai, fighters also learn to check a kick, done by lifting the knee up with the foot pointed down.
And lastly, Muay Thai is a very diverse striking art. Not only does it include the punches and kicks contained in many of the other martial arts already listed, but much more.
It teaches extensive work in the clinch, including how to wear down an opponent with knees and elbows, as well as teaching trips and sweeps to exit the clinch at will.
For all the reasons listed, it is easily the number two best striking martial art available. But if Muay Thai is so good, what could possibly be ranked higher?
At #1 for the best striking martial art ever, we have the brutal art of Lethwei.
Now at first glance you might think, “Hey that kinda looks like Muay Thai doesn’t it?”
Well, you would be right my friend. Lethwei is a form of kickboxing from the country of Myanmar (Burma), which is also why it is also known as Burmese Bare-Knuckle Boxing. Did I mention its bare-knuckle?
Yes, as you can see in the image above, competitors do not wear gloves, only hand wraps. The martial art is very similar to Muay Thai due to their geographical proximity, as Myanmar is on the northern border of Thailand.
However, there is one major difference between Lethwei and Muay Thai that puts ‘Burmese Boxing’ at #1 on the list.
Headbutts are legal in Lethwei.
That’s right folks, headbutt knockouts are legal and fairly common in Lethwei fights. For this reason, it is (funnily enough) known as “The Art of Nine Limbs”.
And this is Lethwei’s major (and pretty much only) distinction from Muay Thai. This is also the reason why Muay Thai is more popular than Lethwei, as headbutts are illegal in most combat sports, such as MMA.
So Lethwei is the best striking martial art by the allowance of headbutts.
Of course, this is a subjective list and you are free to disagree with me if you wish. However, any martial art in this list can be effective in a striking competition if you know how to use it. Thanks for reading!