What is the easiest martial art to learn?

When choosing a martial art to practise, it’s important to select the right one.  It’s a huge investment of time so you’ll want to ensure you’re on the right path from the start.  One of the factors to take into account is how easy the martial art is to learn.  

I’m not talking about getting a black belt as quickly as possible from some McDojo.  There are no shortage of ‘Black belt academies’ out there that will get you black belt in no time at all, for a price.  However, do you really want to end up looking like one of the individuals in the following video?  Essentially they’ve just wasted their time (and money) learning something that will have no practical use in a real world scenario and bears no resemblance to the martial art it’s supposed to represent.

When I’m considering the question “What’s the easiest martial art to learn?”, I’m looking at it from the point of view of learning how to defend yourself; arguably the main aim of all martial arts.   From a self defense perspective, you want to be able to learn how to  defend yourself as quickly and easily as possible.

Many of the more traditional martial arts, such as Karate and Kung Fu, focus heavily on the perfection of form.  That is to say, they concentrate on the performance of its techniques in a certain way.  Any deviation from this accepted form is not only frowned upon but is quickly corrected by the Sensei or instructor.

For instance, for something as simple as a reverse punch in Karate, the stance, the retracting hand and punching hand must all be perfectly positioned and executed perfectly.

This striving for perfection has much to do with the culture of where these martial arts originate from. 

This focus on the intricate details of an activity is wrapped up in the history of Japanese culture, and not just in the martial arts.  Take for example, the Japanese tea ceremony; every movement is set down in a very prescribed fashion from which there can be no deviation.

Practitioners spend years perfecting each intricate movement.  This is very much connected with the religion of these areas, namely Zen Buddhism, which encourages the individual to be mindful and in the present moment, focussing only on the task in hand.  Indeed,  Karate has been referred to as a moving meditation.

I wouldn’t recommend them from a self defense perspective for a number of reasons.  Firstly, there appears to be an over-emphasis on technique execution as opposed to technique effectiveness.  

For example, if I’m learning how to elbow strike, I want to know a few basics like what part of my arm makes contact and broadly speaking what the movement should be.  I would then want to spend time practising this movement firstly on a heavy bag and then eventually during a sparring session.  Of course, the instructor can provide pointers but ultimately, it’s down to me to learn how to perform the movement both comfortably and effectively.

In a martial art like Shotokan Karate, you spend hours moving an elbow strike in a set way.  There’s no fluidity to it, no adapting to the circumstances; it as though it’s become too regimented.

My second reason for not choosing these more traditional martial arts is that there is seldom any realistic sparring involved.  Shotokan Karate is strictly no contact, so you won’t learn how you react to getting punched eg. do you freeze?  This could be a useful thing to know and you certainly don’t want to find out the answer for the first time whilst you’re being attacked in the street.  

Other more modern styles such as BJJ can quickly become overwhelming in their level of complexity.  It’s a highly complicated grappling art:  each move has a counter and every counter has it’s own counter.  In many ways it’s a form of physical chess.

I know when I started BJJ, the variety of moves almost became overwhelming.  It’s not just the moves themselves but also the infinite ways in which you can get into these techniques.

The other major issue I have with BJJ is that you spend all the time on the ground.  From a self defense perspective, this is the last place you want to be.  Particularly if you’re being attacked by more than one opponent: as you’re wrestling with one, their friend is free to kick and punch you.

Judo has some potential but is primarily a throwing art and  is very much rooted in competition.  As such it has no striking or blocking techniques and so is not best suited as a self defense system.  It also takes a significant amount of time to master the basic throws.

Boxing seems like a good option.  There are only four basic punches to learn (jab, cross, hook, uppercut) and a handful of defenses (dodging, bobbing, blocking, and slipping).  However, boxing is deceptively simple.  There’s also a whole host of other things to learn::  timing of punches, counter attacking, movement around your opponent, to name but a few..

Boxing also leaves a lot off the table.  It only uses two out of your four limbs as there’s no kicking allowed.  You also can’t throw so boxers have little understanding of what to do if they end up in a clinch.  They’re used to a referee separating them when they spar in a ring.

They’re also used to fighting with gloves – not only does this affect your perception of range since you’ve added at least an inch to your reach, but it allows you to hit much harder than you’d otherwise be able to do.  Typically if you punch someone in the head, you’d end up with a broken hand.  The head is extremely bony and for this reason doesn’t make a good target if you’re using a closed fist without wearing a glove.

Note all the martial arts I’ve mentioned have their roots in unarmed combat.   Sadly these  days you’re far more likely to be attacked by someone wielding a weapon.

So what is the easiest martial art to learn?  In my view, Krav Maga is the easiest martial art to learn.  There are no katas or patterns to learn such as in Karate or Taekwondo.  It’s founder, Imi Lichtenfeld, wanted to create a system that could be picked up by new army recruits in just three weeks. 

As a martial art, Krav Maga has taken all of the most effective movements from boxing, wrestling, judo and kickboxing to create a new system with the sole emphasis of teaching you how to defend yourself.    As such it incorporates punches, elbow strikes, knees, kicks throws and enough grappling to enable you to get yourself back to your feet.

It also teaches those moves that are strictly forbidden in other martial arts such as boxing and judo.  These include eye gouges, groin strikes and other disabling moves. 

There are no pre-set routines and the aim is to neutralize your attacker as quickly as possible with an onslaught of aggressive and offensive movements.   It also teaches both armed and unarmed combat.  Sparring sessions are designed to be as realistic as possible and incorporate knife attacks and gun disarms.

Other factors to consider…

It’s not just about choosing the martial art to practise, it’s also about choosing a good teacher who can communicate in a way that makes sense to you.  You should take the time to find a reputable school and not simply go to the one that’s nearest to you.

Learning the martial art will mean little if you don’t have a fit and conditioned body which can perform the techniques being taught plus can withstand a degree of punishment from an attack.   As well as practising the martial art itself, you should also focus on training your body.   I’m a big fan of isometrics, which I’ve written about previously.  Once you’ve neutralized the threat, you’ve also got to make good your escape – you need to be able to run – and so this should also feature as part of your training.

In conclusion…

Krav Maga avoids much of the fluff of other martial arts that still practise katas and forms, and has distilled the techniques of a number of fighting styles down  to only those moves that are effective.  It specialises in neutralising an opponent in the shortest possible time allowing you to make your escape.  It is the ideal choice if you’re looking for an effective martial art that can be picked up quickly.


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