As innate and natural as fighting is to humans, actual mastery of combat is extremely hard to attain. People have systemized the knowledge and ability to do battle for thousands of years, and today we have many martial arts, each with its distinctive advantages and disadvantages.
But if we have to point out which is the hardest to learn, it has to be mixed martial arts because of the huge number of techniques and high competitiveness.
However, MMA features a myriad of combat styles, and for the sake of argument, we have to dissect the main ones a little further to try and compare how hard each of them is.
It’s all personal
Unarmed fighting has many aspects, and each person has a distinct inclination towards at least one. Some people are natural strikers, while others are better suited to wrestle, and still others may find submissions much easier to grasp. So, each martial art has a different level of difficulty for each person. This doesn’t mean you can’t learn in all the areas, but you will have to put in a lot more work in some.
Starting with the hardest one, we will list the main combat sports in order of their difficulty. With respect to traditional Asian martial arts, the sheer level of competition in boxing, wrestling, BJJ, and Muay Thai makes them much harder than the rest.
The Art of Pugilism
Boxing may seem easy at first glance, as it allows only punches. But this simplicity actually masks an extremely deep complexity. A high level boxing contest is a violent game of distance, positioning, and movement. The aim of every boxer is to obtain a position from which they can deliver a powerful punch while their opponent is out of position to return meaningfully. This level of mastery of body mechanics, positioning, and timing is extremely hard to master. Add to that an extremely high level of competition for the bounty of glory and riches in amounts not found in other combat sports, and you can see why boxing may be the most difficult.
The other side of the same coin is wrestling. A constant battle for a better position that requires immense physical effort. Wrestling requires a lot of physical power and agility to perform the moves, mental toughness that is pitted against that of the opponent and the ability to choose the best possible move in each moment. All these things make it one of the hardest martial arts to take part in. It’s no coincidence that some form of wrestling has been a part of human culture for as long as there have been written records. Wrestlers are often praised as being the mentally toughest combat athletes of all.
The “gentle” art of Jiu Jitsu
The sheer number of techniques and positions in jiu-jitsu makes it extremely hard to master. It’s often, and rightfully so, referred to as a chess game. Each part of the body has a role to play in each position and has to be taken into account. Then movements must be stringed one after the other and fighters have to think a few moves ahead and anticipate what the opponent will do in the situation. An added layer of difficulty is that, for most people, throwing punches and kicks and even the movement patterns of wrestling come more naturally than the techniques used in jiu jitsu. BJJ is perhaps the hardest martial art to learn as a beginner.
The Art of 8 limbs
Adding kicks, knees, and elbows to boxing takes away from the subtleties of positioning, but it adds a whole new level of danger and brutality. The art of 8 limbs is as brutal a striking sport as it gets, and it’s the fourth pillar of modern MMA. Reaching a high level of mastery in Muay Thai requires immense dedication and years of suffering countless kicks, knees, and elbows. When the aim is to separate the opponent from consciousness with all your available weapons, it is inevitable that the combat sport will be very hard.