Your capacity to slow, reduce, or defeat a threat using only your body is an important part of home security planning. But, in a world of YouTube videos, self-styled ‘gurus,’ and an expanding spider’s web of untested self-defense systems, what are the best martial arts for use inside your home? 

Ideally a threat to your family or yourself should not pass the threshold of your home, i.e. be able to successfully navigate your protective security. However, in the real world no plan is fool-proof and no security system impregnable, so preparing a final and potent last layer of defense is a wise move.

Unlike competition, the aim here is to defeat the threat quickly and decisively by whatever means necessary in order to protect your home and reduce the risk of injury. If you engage in a violent confrontation, you will get injured. The other thing to consider is that you will likely be fighting in a confined space, such as the entrance to your home, so martial arts requiring more than a minimum fighting arc are best avoided.

The good news, however, is that the simplest tactics are often the best. Basic competence can be achieved relatively inexpensively and quickly. So, let’s take a look at some options.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai, or more commonly “Thai Boxing,” is a well-established full contact system centered on kicking, punching, and the delivery of elbow and knee strikes. Developed several hundred years ago with the intention of using the whole body as a weapon, Muay Thai is known for its swift and devastating effects when employed by skilled practitioners. In addition to its historic uses, such as in actual conflicts between tribal groups, in recent decades this martial art has been widely adopted and incorporated by the mixed martial arts (MMA) community.

This is largely because of Muay Thai’s effectiveness and utility, but one criticism of this particular system in terms of self-defense is the lack of ground fighting elements. To enable a full menu of tactical options, ground fighting and ground defense in particular should never be neglected. This gap can be plugged by adopting simple and easily-learned techniques from other systems. Conversely, and whilst it is absolutely necessary to prepare for all outcomes, being on the ground during a real-world violent altercation is very bad idea, so your primary focus should always be on defeating the threat within the first few seconds.    


Perhaps one of the best-known martial arts, and Olympic sports, Judo is a full contact system with a specific focus on close-in grappling. There is little in the way of defensive technique and the main focus is on throwing and taking down opponents quickly, thereafter immobilizing or forcing submission. Many consider this lack of defensive activity an asset when it comes to self-defense; the argument being that you shouldn’t defend against a threat, but take it out.

Whilst this style of martial art may appear cumbersome and perhaps not as clinical as other forms when considered in a real-world setting, think of the effect of being thrown to a hard surface and having the wind knocked out of you in the first three seconds of an altercation—potentially game-over for the attacker.


Originally hailing from Japan, Jiu-Jitsu is a traditional martial art focused on defensive tactics and has been developed over centuries. The system utilizes joint locks, strikes, and throws to counter a range of different attacks. The essence of Jiu-Jitsu is the ability to fluidly move between techniques whilst reacting to threats, including armed threats, in a dynamic fashion, thereby controlling the situation and the attacker.

Jiu-Jitsu has many clear benefits in leveling any size advantage between opponents and means that it is a great option for people with smaller frames. Originally developed as a fallback system for disarmed Samurai, and so that they could continue the fight, when this martial art reached Brazil it transformed into a worldwide phenomena and has been adopted by modern MMA practitioners. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has clear application in the home defense setting.  

Krav Maga

Due to its origins and simple brutality, Krav Maga is arguably the most effective unarmed combat system for fighting in combined spaces, such as a home. Developed by the Israeli military, and absorbing elements of various other types of martial art, the primary focus is on quickly and efficiently disabling attackers. This is achieved by aggressive tactics such as inflicting multiple blows in quick succession, pre-emptive strikes, and employing nearby objects to deliver maximum damage to an opponent.

Due to this ethos and the techniques employed, an experienced Krav Maga practitioner is more than capable of leveling multiple attackers like a bulldozer through drywall. Moreover, in addition to defeating unarmed threats, and again due to Krav Maga’s military lineage, students will also learn effective techniques to counter close-in gun and knife threats. Unlike many other martial arts which didn’t make the list, Krav Maga techniques have been successfully tested in real-world situations across the globe by police, military, and private citizens alike. This combination of effectiveness, simplicity, and aggression makes Krav Maga ideally suited to self-defense in the home.    

Bringing It Together

Regardless the martial art you choose, and as with the use of defensive weapons, without the skill and the will to deploy your defense, your defense will be useless. This means that in addition to practicing your newly found martial arts skills, you will also need to build up your fitness and mental resilience. The first is fairly straightforward as long as you don’t have a medical condition; eat right, find an exercise regiment and work at it, your fitness will develop. The second is slightly trickier, and arguably more important.

Remember that you will be employing this skill for real and not in controlled environment. This means that once initiated there will be no rules, no going back, and you may get seriously hurt. It is important to fully understand this risk beforehand and accept it, otherwise you will very likely waiver at a critical point.

Aside from practicing with other people to get used to the intensity of physical violence (practicing alone has limitations), a useful technique is to visualize potential threats in great detail, alongside the action you will take. If you are reading this and you have never been involved in a serious fight or been confronted by raw aggression, it is important to understand the reality of what these situations are like. Do not visualize delivering devastating blows or easily winning. Instead, imagine being out of breath, internally panicked, and filled with the sense that most of your blows are having little effect.

It is a visceral, intense, and confusing kaleidoscope of sensory inputs which you must resolve to power through. You also won’t necessarily feel blows like you would imagine, yet those blows will have a debilitating effect and sap your energy further. If you’re not fully committed to the win, your brain will soon start to assess the mounting damage and issue surrender impulses. Due to these factors, your aim should always be to shut down the confrontation as quickly as possible, but retain a willingness to fight on.

Choose your martial arts carefully and when planning for self-defense in the home, keep it simple, keep it effective, and if you are facing a lethal threat, be extremely violent.

Photo: Fredj/Wikimedia Commons