THE BLOG
01/08/2013 04:18 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

Top Martial Arts for Self Defense

If you want to work up a sweat, get in shape and find a sport that can help you pick up a self-defense skill, mixed martial arts is the way to go. But which of the disciplines are the best when it comes to learning how to defend yourself? Christian Montes, head coach of New York-based Ronin Athletics, talked with us about how he would rank the martial arts when it comes to self-defense.

He ranks the martial arts disciplines in the following order:

• Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
• Muay Thai
• Boxing
• Filipino Martial Arts
• Track & Field (not a martial art, but an important self-defense skill)

Montes, who teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, says that the discipline "will teach the average person how to handle pressure and grappling," things that are part of any real violent encounter. In addition, Muay Thai uses both striking skills, as well as fighting in close quarters. Both these sports are taught in a way where students don't just get tougher and stronger, but they develop confidence and skills via live training. That goes as well for boxing.

He says that Filipino Martial Arts has a big focus on "basic weaponry (improvised) skills," and the most important thing in self-defense is that you make it home safe, so a skill like that can help you maneuver your way out of there.

Needless to say, Track & Field is not a martial art, but a traditional sport. However, Montes says it is "always both the first and last step to handling a violent encounter." That's because the most important thing is to simply "get out of there" when facing such a situation, Montes notes.

No one way to learn self-defense

But there is no such thing as one "magic bullet," the coach says, "when it comes to the reality of self-defense." He does recommend remembering this cheat sheet acronym of self-defense techniques called ETGS, which stands not just for an acronym of Escape To Gain Safety, but it also stands for target areas like Eyes, Throat, Groin, Shin. Those letters stand for a way to either get away from an attacker, or to fight back in order to get away, or, as he says, "create a distraction so a window to escape the situation may present itself."

Montes says it doesn't take very long to learn such basic techniques as how to "gouge an eye, stomp on a shin or throw a good knee with the proper body mechanics." But he argues that this is a very small part of what "true martial arts have to offer the average person," although he acknowledges that many people are introduced to martial arts because of interest in self-defense.

The coach says that MMA training helps students master physical challenges and goals, as well as express themselves through the disciplines in a way that was missing from their lives. Working at martial arts builds confidence, helps you trust your own instincts and helps "keep off the radar of those who we could label 'societal predators,'" he says. That means that "you are not prey when you have a sense of who you are," and know what you can do, as well as what you cannot do, with the courage to act.

How a book can help at self-defense

However, Montes recommends that those who are only interested in self-defense to skip marital arts training and read Gavin de Becker's New York Times bestseller The Gift of Fear. The book talks about how our gut feeling and intuition can help us recognize and get us away from what can be dangerous situations. He says the book is "great for understanding the action signals your brain gives you to help keep you safe while not falling into the trap of living in a paranoid state" that some self-defense trainers in martial arts classes use as a "paradigm for their students," a paradigm he thinks is unhealthy. Instead of being afraid of everything, de Becker's book teaches what people really need to fear.

Lisa Swan writes articles for sites like Ronin Athletics, a New York-based MMA studio.