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Top 11 World’s Deadliest Martial Arts Revealed – Ranked

Lethwei fights
Photo by Lethwei Master

Most people associate martial arts with fighting sports like MMA or Boxing. These are combat sports where athletes fight under the rules. In war or on the street, however, fair rules do not exist where your attacker’s intention is to inflict as much pain as possible, which can lead to death. To counter against these lethal attackers, people have created some of the deadliest martial arts to defend themselves. As you’ll see below, these martial arts can be very brutal and can also cause death. Even though you may see sports versions of the following martial arts in some cases, these deadly martial arts were first designed to prepare you for any situation that may bring harm to you.

Keep reading this article to find out about these deadliest martial arts. We will explore their origins, and what makes them lethal.

11. Kalari (Kalaripayattu)

Kalari is one of the oldest martial arts that comes from India and this art was designed for war. The earliest records go all the way back to 3,000 years ago and the name “Kalari” means “battlefield”. It covers both armed and unarmed combat and is an all-around system. It includes punches, kicks, grappling, as well as healing methods. Students also learn how to attack body pressure points that can cause extreme pain, injury, or result in death.

When it comes to training, Kalari students first learn weapon-based techniques. Later on, they would start learning hand-to-hand combat and how to mix it with weapons. The emphasis is on mobility, fast and violent attacks, and causing as much damage as possible. In modern times, there are two main styles of Kalari: Northern and Southern 

10. Combat Sambo

Combat Sambo is a famous fighting system that emerged in the 1920s in Russia. Most people know it by MMA fighters who use it to compete in cage fighting or as a very popular sport, notably in the eastern world and former Soviet republics. Still, let’s not forget that Sambo is also a very brutal art developed for war and real combat. 

Back in the 1920s, the Russian military created Sambo to improve the fighting abilities of its soldiers. The system is a mix of techniques from various grappling and striking arts like:

  • Judo
  • Boxing
  • Folk Wrestling

There are two forms called “Sport Sambo” and “Combat Sambo”. The Combat version includes dirty moves like soccer kicks, groins strikes, and headbutts. It won’t teach you how to fight under the rules as the focus is on real combat. Students learn how to break bones, choke the opponent out and smash their faces with strikes.

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9. Lethwei

Lethwei is a very brutal fighting system that is also known as “Burmese Boxing”. Despite the fact that it includes dirty moves, this art is legal in many countries and the matches are quite popular. It looks very much the same as Muay Thai, as both arts share similar techniques and place of origins. Still, it’s fair to say that Lethwei is far more brutal. Fighters compete bare knuckle and the rules allow them to use headbutt strikes during the fight.

In its initial form, Lethwei was a hand-to-hand combat system used by the military to fight in wars. The modern version is less brutal, but still, the focus is on throwing each strike with violent intention. It is a complete striking system that teaches you all about real combat.

In training, students learn how to use the entire body as a weapon to strike. The aspect that stands out is headbutts and the fact that they fight bare-knuckle. Although this sounds brutal, this pays off when it comes to self-defense and street fighting.

For instance, most people break their fingers or wrist in a street fight when they punch bare-knuckle. Even the pro fighters tend to hurt their hands because they are not used to striking without gloves. But Lethwei teaches you how much power to use when punching bare-knuckle, and it trains your body to absorb these strikes.

8. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ)

In modern times, BJJ is often seen as the best fighting system one can learn for self-defense. Don’t look any further from how practical BJJ skills are in modern MMA if you need any proof. 

Though BJJ is a popular sport that looks safe on TV, let’s not forget that it is a deadly martial art. You can end a person’s life with ease with some of its moves as there’s no tap out in the warzone or some other street-fighting scenarios.

BJJ is an art that originates from Judo and it includes similar techniques. The Gracie family moved the emphasis from throws to ground fighting. Students learn how to secure a dominant position from which they can apply chokes and joint locks that are very dangerous. If you are not careful with these moves, it can all easily end up in a fracture, or you can put your opponent to pass out which can lead to death if you prolong the chokehold.

Training is not that dangerous because it doesn’t include any striking. You won’t break bones or choke other students unconscious. But on the other side, you can easily do this in a real fight which is why BJJ is on this list.

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MCMAP is a combat system developed by the U.S military in 2001. The full name of this system is “Marine Corps Martial Arts Program”. The program trains marines for both unarmed and armed combat they may face on the battlefield. It is a brutal system that apart from violent techniques, focuses on the mental aspect. Marines learn how to deal with the stresses of fighting, and training improves their moral and leadership skills.

MCMAP has origins in various arts like BJJ, wrestling, Judo, Thai boxing, and many, many others. In short, it includes only the most effective techniques you can apply in a real combat. Marines learn how to use all limbs to strike, grapple, apply chokes and joint locks, and deal with weapons like knives, bayonets and even firearms. Training also includes dirty tactics like throat strikes, eye-gouging, and stomps.

It’s worth mentioning that MCMAP has its own belt ranking system. Which techniques you learn is based on your rank:

  • Tan Belt — basic
  • Gray Belt — Intermediate
  • Green Belt — Intermediate
  • Brown Belt — Advanced
  • Black Belt 1st degree — Advanced
  • Black Belt 2nd degree — ultimate level
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6. Bakom

This is one of the deadliest fighting systems created by the Peruvian military in the 1980s. The founder of the system is Roberto Bazada who is a former marine and a skilled jujutsu fighter. He used BJJ as a base on top of which he added techniques from various other arts like boxing, and street fighting moves.

Although Bakom includes well-known techniques from BJJ and boxing, it differs a lot when it comes to the way you use them in a fight. The emphasis is on fast attacks, and causing as much pain with every move. Or in other words, you learn how to break bones, neck, strangle the opponent or kill them with strikes. It also teaches you how to gouge eyes or target vital organs.

On top of that, soldiers learn how to surprise their opponent with hidden weapons, or attack them from the back. In short, the focus is on doing anything in your power to terminate the opponent’s life.

5. Eskrima

Eskrima is a very brutal fighting system and national martial art in the Philippines. It is also known by the names “kali” and “arnis” and the earliest records of this system go all the way back to the 15th century. The emphasis of the art is on training a person to fight both with and without weapons like:

  • Sticks
  • Knives
  • Various bladed weapons 
  • Improvised weapons

In short, Eskrima is an all-around art used in many wars. In WW2, for instance, Filipino soldiers used Eskrima to fight against the Japanese in a hand to hand combat. It is a battle-proven system designed to kill people.

Students learn how to use footwork to fight at all ranges, with the emphasis being on short-range. The exact concept of training and techniques vary between the schools and styles. But in most, they learn advanced movement and striking, basics of grappling, and how to manipulate joints and dirty tactics.

In modern days, students spar wearing full-body protective gear. But they also often challenge each other on duels where they fight with wooden and metal sticks without any gear.

4. Silat

Silat is a martial art that comes from Indonesia. It is an all-around fighting system that teaches you how to strike, grapple, use weapons and dirty tactics. In fact, the entire system is based on dirty and aggressive moves which is the reason why Silat is so brutal. It is very effective and many military forces from this region use it as a part of their training.

The earliest records of Silat go all the way back to the 8th century and there are many forms and styles. There is even the sport version where students learn how to fight under the rules. But the purest form is the one that focuses on breaking bones with joint locks, gouge eyes, smash groins and use bladed weapons. And on top of that, students tend to spar without any protective gear while using these dangerous weapons.

The emphasis is on blitz attacks, causing the most pain with every move, and targeting vital body areas. Students learn how to strike groins, kidney, gouge eyes, and even how to stab soft body parts with a knife. 

The sport version is much softer and far less dangerous as fighters are not allowed to strike the face or below the waist.

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3. Kajukenbo

This martial art is among the most brutal ones on this list. It emerged in the 1940s, in a time when Hawaii paradise was a violent place to be. Five skilled martial artists decided to form a new hand-to-hand system that would be practical on the streets for real combat. The final result was a fighting system that consists of techniques from:

  • Karate
  • Boxing
  • Kenpo
  • Judo
  • Jiu jitsu

Although this sounds like Kajukenbo is a type of fighting style that would be perfect for MMA, it’s not. It was created for intense street fighting and on top of grappling and striking skills, it adds dirty tactics. It is very practical because it includes only the moves that you can apply in a real fight. One of the founders had a famous quote that perfectly describes Kajukenbo as a style:

“The workout isn’t over until I see blood on the floor” and “the best teacher is pain”

Although this doesn’t sound nice, it’s what real fighting is all about. Even in modern times, the classes tend to be violent, painful, and brutal. Instructors will push your nerves, mind, and body over the limits in every single class.

2. LINE (Combat System)

L.I.N.E is a hand-to-hand combat system created by the U.S military in 1989. The founder of this system was Master Sergeant Ron Donvito and U.S Marine Corps used it as a part of their training from 1989 to 2007.

Like most other military combat systems, LINE is a mix of techniques from various grappling and striking martial arts. But what makes it special was the unique design of the system and concept of training. The focus was on preparing Marines to apply the techniques in specific conditions like:

  • In the case of extreme fatigue and against the superior attacker
  • While being in a full combat gear
  • Under low visibility (night, smoke, gas)

Still, what makes LINE very brutal is the fact that the main focus was on killing the opponent. Marines didn’t have to worry too much about the rules of engagement and how much force they are using. No, the main object was to kill the enemy. 

LINE is no longer a part of the military training as it was replaced by MCMAP.

1. Krav Maga

Krav Maga is, perhaps, the most famous fighting style when it comes to self-defense. Israeli military created it as a mix of striking, grappling techniques, and dirty tactics put into a single fighting system. The main goal of the art is to train you to deal with any threat you may face on the streets. And just as real fighting is, Krav Maga training is intense and brutal.

The best thing about krav maga is that it teaches you to fight at all ranges in it covers most scenarios. It trains you to deal with:

  • Multiple attackers
  • Weapons like knives, staff, or firearms
  • Fight in close or open space

The classes are intense and the emphasis is both on the physical and mental aspects of fighting. Students do a lot of simulation exercises where they attack and hit each other with various weapons like sticks. They learn how to deal with knives, staff, or even firearms.

But the key is to train your mind to stay calm in the heat of the moment. This is the only way one can assess the situation they are in, dangers, and how to escape as fast as possible. If that means that you have to grab a bottle and blast the attacker in the head, krav maga will encourage you to do just that. Or maybe the only option is to gouge the eyes or blast the attacker with a punch to the throat, it doesn’t really matter as long as you are doing it for self-defense.

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