Best Striking Martial Arts (Top 5)

Tomislav Zivanovic
Martial Arts Unleashed
8 min readMay 25, 2021


Photo by Michael Malherbe found on Flickr

If you are trying to find the best striking martial arts to train or you just wonder which striking martial arts are the best, then you are in the right place. We are bringing you a list of the best striking martial arts humans have created.

We will bring you closer to what each of these martial arts stands for, what the training looks like, and what you may expect. This article may also help you to decide which martial art suits you the best.

For the sake of our argument, our list consists of only the martial arts that include competition and sparring.

5. Karate

Karate comes from the Okinawan Islands in South Japan and it is one of the most popular striking martial arts. It is very effective as it teaches you how to fight using all limbs as weapons. Out of all traditional martial art, Karate might be the most useful one and it is a good base if you want to shift to MMA later.

Two female karatekas competing in a match

Why karate is among the best striking martial art styles?

Karate teaches you all you need to know about stances, footwork, and how to keep your range. Karatekas are masters in moving in to land a strike to get a point and exit fast to avoid being hit back.

Shotokan and Goju-ryu are two of the most popular styles of karate that will teach you great kicking and punching techniques. Some other forms may even teach you some grappling techniques like throws and joint locks such as Shorin Ryu.

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How does the karate training look like?

If we take Shotokan karate as an instance, each training session is made up of three main parts:

  • Kihon (basics)- this element stands for karate basics all beginners must learn first. These basics include proper stances, kicks, punches, and defensive moves such as blocks. You need to master all of these first if you want to progress to the higher belts.
  • Kata/Bunkai (pre-organized movements)- this element stands for a set of offensive and defensive movements karatekas use in a fight. You will spend time learning and practicing kata in many training sessions as they are very important. Of course, kata’s differ from the level you are at, and there is around 26 kata in Shotokan karate.
  • Kumite (sparring)- there are many forms of sparring in karate like full contact, bogu kumite, light contact or semi-contact. This depends on the style of Karate and your level of experience or belt rank. Sparring provides a lot of fun and a chance for you to practice all the moves in a simulation fight with a partner.

4. Taekwondo

Founded in the 1940s in South Korea, Taekwondo is a striking martial art that has over 100 million students worldwide. Even though this sounds crazy, there are very strong reasons why just about every town in the world has a Taekwondo school. We are not sure if any other martial art will teach you better kicking skills.

Taekwondo fighter landing a spinning heel kick to the head
Taekwondo has also been a part of the Olympic games since the 2000s — source

Even though some forms include punches, Taekwondo puts a lot of emphasis on the kicks. Taekwondo fighters are masters in throwing fast, wild and powerful kicks. The speed of their footwork and kicks is amazing, and this is what makes them so exciting to watch in MMA.

Some of the greatest K-1 and MMA fighters came from Taekwondo and they used its weapons a lot. The most famous names are former UFC champs Bas Rutten, Anthony Pettis, and Rose Namajunas.

Taekwondo training is hard and provides a lot of fun. Classes ask for respectful behavior and strict discipline. Students spent most of the time learning various kicks, punches, and blocks. Once you are ready, you can test your skills in sparring with a partner, which is always fun.

Two Taekwondo students exchanging kicks in training
Photo by Jahofker found on Flickr

Is Taekwondo good for your health?

Yes, students must stretch before and after each training session. This makes them very flexible and keeps the muscles strong. Being flexible is crucial because it allows you to perform the techniques the right way.

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Training is hard and it falls into a group of both anaerobic and aerobic workouts, which is great for your health. And, Taekwondo also includes various relaxation and meditation exercises which helps you calm your mind down and get rid of stress.

Taekwondo students stretching
Photo by mfillhart found on Flickr

3. Boxing

Boxing is one of the oldest and best striking martial arts that has a reputation for being very effective. This is mainly because one can apply boxing skills in any type of fight against any other style. Whether it’s a fight in the ring or on the streets, you can always rely on the boxing skills you learned in the gym.

Two boxers fighting in the ring
photo by mopictures found on Flickr

Some people don’t see it as effective because boxers use “only” their hands to do damage. But, boxing offers a lot more. There’s no fighting system out there that can teach you better footwork, head movement, angles, and punching combos than boxing.

In some way, boxing teaches you all the fundamentals of fighting. This is the reason why it transfers so well into other fighting styles like MMA where it plays a key role.


Boxing training sessions are cardio intensive and among the hardest. This is mainly because each boxing match consists of 36 minutes of action, which is a lot. Every boxer must have enough gas tank to go to the final bell, and to achieve this, they have to go through hell in the gym.

Beginner boxers spend most of the time working on a heavy bag and hitting the pads. After a couple of months, they proceed to take part in sparring sessions where they can feel what it’s like to be in a real boxing match. Later, they may proceed to amateur matches where they can test their skills.

Photo by Cormac 70 found on Flickr

A lot of people join boxing classes to get their mind and body in top shape. Being active in the boxing gym boosts your self-esteem, and helps you deal with stress.

2. Kickboxing

Kickboxing stands for a hybrid mixture of karate and boxing into one style of fighting. It has many forms that differ by the rules like full-contact, semi-contact, low kick, or K-1. But don’t let this confuse you. Just about every kickboxing gym will teach you how to use kicks and punches in the most effective way.

Photo by Pablo Menezo found on Flickr

The most popular form is K-1 which allows the fighters to throw kicks above and below the waist, punches, and knees in the clinch. Fights usually last 3–5 rounds with each round being 3 minutes long. The popularity of this style exploded with the birth of “K-1” which was a Japanese company that promoted kickboxing matches.

Training is well balanced between learning how to punch and how to throw kicks. You will spend a lot of time stretching, doing rounds of boxing or kicking, and mixing these two techniques together. Once a week, there should be a cardio session which can be exhausting, and be sure not to eat much before them.


After a couple of months of training, you will be ready to test the skills you learned in sparring. Even though it may look dangerous, sparring in kickboxing is safe. All students must wear head gear, shinpads, and gloves which makes the risk of injuries very low as a result.

1. Muay Thai

Muay Thai is, in our opinion, the best striking martial art one can learn. It is a complete standup style that teaches you how to use your entire body as a weapon. It is both the most useful striking style one can learn for self-defense or to fight in MMA.

Muay Thai fighters can use kicks, punches as well as vicious knees and elbows in the clinch that can do much damage. Landing a knee or elbow to the opponent’s face can lead to KOs, deep cuts, and severe bleeding. That’s why Muay Thai is often seen as a brutal martial art and a very hard sport to compete in.

Still, Muay Thai puts a lot of emphasis on powerful kicks. Unlike in kickboxing, Muay Thai teaches you to throw kicks without bending the knee while kicking. This way, one can generate a lot of power, similar to the power behind hitting someone with a baseball bat.

Photo by bread mouth found on Flickr

On top of that, Thai boxers know how to execute various trips and throws from the clinch to take the opponent down. Knowing how to fight in the clinch using elbows and knees and executing a throw is really important for self-defense.

To be honest, training Muay Thai is hard and often painful. I once heard a story that Thai boxers in Thailand run 10 miles just to warm up! Even though this sounds crazy, you will never see a single Muay Thai fighter gassing out in a match.

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Tomislav Zivanovic
Martial Arts Unleashed

Mixed martial arts analyst and writer.