I created a survey to write this post, asking the simple question ‘What’s the hardest martial art to learn?’ with 6 of the most popular martial arts as choices.
Overall, Brazilian jiu jitsu is the hardest, followed by wrestling, judo, kickboxing, karate, and finally boxing. A survey of over 425 people found that Brazilian jiu jitsu was overwhelmingly considered as the hardest martial art.
Below, I will cover:
- The results of the survey
- Explain why each of the martial arts is harder than the other
- Some general tips about when it makes sense to learn one martial art over another
- Which martial art is the safest?
- Some comparisons between various martial arts
What Martial Arts Are the Hardest To Learn and Do
Learning a martial art is a commitment of time. You need to go to the academy, meet the instructor, and take your first class. Whether you’re in shape, or go to the gym quite often, it’s a great way to make new friends, so here is what martial arts are the hardest to learn and do.
Overall, Brazilian jiu jitsu is the hardest martial art to learn based on the results of a survey of 425 people. Brazilian jiu jitsu got significantly more votes as the hardest martial art. It had 44.9% of the total votes. The next closest is wrestling, which got 16.9% of the votes.
I did a survey and over 425 people responded. The question asked was ‘which martial art is the hardest?’. The options given were:
- Muay Thai or kickboxing
- Brazilian jiu jitsu
Here’s a table that shows the number of votes each martial art got. I ordered them from lowest number of votes to the highest number of votes.
|Martial Art||Number of votes||Percentage of total votes|
|Muay Thai or kickboxing||52||12.2%|
|Brazilian jiu jitsu||191||44.9%|
From the table, you can see that the martial art that got the overwhelming majority of votes is Brazilian jiu jitsu. It received 44.9% of the votes, nearly half.
The martial art that got the second highest amount of votes – wrestling – had significantly fewer votes.
Why Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Is Considered the Hardest Martial Art
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is considered the hardest martial art because:
- It’s physically one of the most demanding
- There are a near-infinite amount of techniques
BJJ is physically one of the most demanding martial arts
Brazilian jiu-jitsu involves the whole body, and also involves moving the whole body from very different angles. For that reason, people who don’t do jiu-jitsu regularly easily get tired.
The other main factor that makes jiu-jitsu tiring is that beginners often use a lot more energy than they need to.
On the other hand, experienced practitioners are very precise in their movements. They move much less, and use the least amount of strength and physicality.
BJJ has a very large number of techniques
It has been said by Rickson Gracie, arguably one of the best Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners of all time, that ‘the book of jiu jitsu techniques is 2 inches (5 cm) thick [paraphrased]’. Therefore, you can imagine how many techniques there are in a book with that many pages.
On the other hand, in some other martial arts such as boxing or kickboxing, the total number of techniques is very small.
An example would be that in boxing there are only 4 major punches. The jab, uppercut, hook, and straight. In kickboxing, there are only 8 major strikes and a handful of sweeps.
If you look deeply into the history of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, it came from Judo and there is a lot of overlap with Judo. Like Judo, it involves standing throws and submission locks, as well as submissions on the ground.
Both also involve escapes. They both involve joint holds on many joints of the body.Also, there are a range of choke holds to consider. All of these are done from many different angles, and in many different ways.
Therefore, the number of techniques is incredibly large.
The other two martial arts that made it into the top three are wrestling and judo.
It’s well known that wrestling is very physically demanding. Also, that wrestlers are very tough people, needing a high pain tolerance, and the ability to keep going even when they are very tired.
There are two main factors that make a martial art difficult to learn. There are the number of techniques, and the physical toughness required to perform the moves.
For this reason, I’ve put together a table below where I have rated each of the top hardest martial arts based on these factors:
|Martial Art||Toughness required (1 to 10)||Number of techniques (1 to 10)|
|Brazilian jiu jitsu||9||10|
|Muay Thai or kickboxing||9||2|
It’s very likely that the vast number of techniques involved is part of the reason why there are so many white belts that quite the martial inside the first two years. This interesting youtube video discusses some other reasons why this might be the case:
Mental and physical toughness required is about the same
In general, most martial arts require a high level of toughness, both mentally and physically.
The most physically demanding part about martial arts is competing and sparring. The level of mental toughness required for sparring differs based on the school where you train.
For example, some martial arts schools do very hard sparring that is full contact, or 100% effort.
Others do light sparring which is more fun and playful. This is referred to in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as ‘light rolling’, and in striking martial arts as ‘touch sparring’.
For this reason, the mental toughness required can vary based on the intensity of the sparring you do. However, if you ever go to a tournament to compete, or do a full contact match in a ring, the mental toughness is always a 10 out of 10.
The physical fitness and physical toughness required to do each martial art is also largely the same.
The reason is competitors at the highest levels will almost always do a similar workout, that involves a mix of cardio, as well as, weight training.
Therefore, the major difference between them is the number of techniques.
Here’s a summary of the total score for each martial art based on the toughness, and the number of techniques.
|Martial Art||Total score (toughness + techniques)|
|Brazilian jiu jitsu||19|
|Muay Thai or kickboxing||11|
As you can see, what people voted as the hardest martial art, and the overall difficulty of each martial art based on the toughness and number of techniques is identical.
BJJ, Wrestling, and Judo Are of Similar Difficulty
It’s clear from the qualitative metrics of the number of techniques, and the physical toughness required, that BJJ, wrestling, and judo are of about the same difficulty. All three involve using the whole body a lot, and combine both fighting while standing, and while on the ground.
However, based on the results of the survey, BJJ was voted as the most difficult. The reason could largely be due to the teaching methodology, and what a person is trying to achieve.
One important point about judo there is a very clear curriculum that varies very little from school to school.
And wrestling is largely quite easy to grasp overall. You grab the person and try to force them to the ground, and then pin them there.
Striking Focused Martial Arts Are of a Similar Difficulty
Striking martial arts all have a limited number of techniques. I have purposefully not included traditional less practiced martial arts like Wing Chun and Kung Fu. This is because these have been found to not be effective in a real fight.
While martial arts like Kung Fu have strikes that do work, the most effective strikes overlap with boxing and kickboxing. Also, there are no Kung Fu or Wing Chun specialists in ‘real life’ type fighting such as mixed martial arts (MMA).
So, setting aside other less ‘real world’ martial arts like Kung Fu, all of the striking martial arts have a limited number of techniques, and have a maximum of about 8 to 10 strikes total.
These include elbows, punches, kicks, and knees. Each of these can be aimed low, middle, and high to target the legs, body, or head.
Because there are so few techniques, it’s much easier to learn the entire arsenal.
Beyond that, there are combinations. However, these are in response to what an opponent does.
There are also certain rules around that, which are easy to learn. For example, if one person throws a jab, then to counter the other person will throw a hook on the same side. Or a kick to the body to the same side.
Whereas, in Brazilian jiu jitsu, wrestling, and judo there is very subtle positioning that makes a huge difference, and applies to every position.
This involves understanding where to put the entire body to be effective. Due to the fact that there are so many positions, it requires a lot more time and practice to learn.
MMA Is the Most Difficult Overall – Involves 4 Core Martial Arts
The main point of difference that makes one martial art more difficult than another is how many techniques there are. For this reason, MMA is more difficult to master than one individual martial art.
It’s true that some martial artists in the UFC are specialists. For example, some UFC fighters have a long and decorated career in wrestling such as Daniel Cormier, who competed at the Olympics in wrestling.
Or, Rhonda Rousey who was excellent at judo. While these fighters will tend to dominate in the area of the fight they are specialists at, they still need to have at least a basic level of skill in the other core martial arts for MMA: wrestling, BJJ, kickboxing, and boxing.
Which Martial Art Is the Safest
Martial arts are full-contact sports. However, they differ in the moves they have.
Some martial arts are trained very intensely, whereas, others are trained very lightly. So, here is which martial art is the safest and why.
Overall kickboxing is the safest martial art. Kickboxing has an injury rate of roughly 10% per competitive match. Boxing is the next safest with an injury rate of 17.1% per competitive bout, followed by MMA, BJJ, and judo which each have an injury rate of approximately 28.6% per fight/match.
It’s widely known, in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu community, that the most common injuries occur at the white belt level until people become blue belt. White belt is the first belt that any person who starts BJJ gets.
After about 2 years a person will typically be awarded their blue belt.
When a person is new to jiu-jitsu they tend to use too much strength, and also do jerky and reckless moves. Therefore, they are prone to injure themselves, as well as their training partners.
With that said, objectively based on the data the safest martial arts in order are:
- MMA, BJJ, and Judo
The injuries in training can be reduced by taking it slow. However, in competition, both fighters will almost always go for broke and do anything necessary to win.
This accounts for the reasonably high injury rate in competitive martial arts.
Is Judo Safer Than Boxing?
Judo is a grappling martial art, whereas boxing is a striking martial art. They use virtually none of the same techniques but are both contact sports.
Contact sports have more injuries than non-contact sports, but here is which is safer out of judo or boxing.
Overall, a judo competition match is safer than a boxing bout. The injury rate in a judo competitive match is 1.1%. Whereas, in a boxing match the average injury rate is 17%. In judo training, the injury rate is 12.3% to 30%. Whereas, in boxing training, the injury rate is about 17%.
Therefore, the chance of injury in judo training has a wider range. But, on average, injuries sustained are roughly the same when training judo or boxing. The major difference is the rate of injury sustained in competition. And, therefore, Judo is FAR safer than boxing.
- Reddit.com: what’s the hardest martial art to learn?
- Bjsm.bmj.com: Zazryn TR, Finch CF, McCrory PA 16 year study of injuries to professional kickboxers in the state of Victoria, AustraliaBritish Journal of Sports Medicine 2003;37:448-451
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: Hinz M, Kleim BD, Berthold DP, Geyer S, Lambert C, Imhoff AB, Mehl J. Injury Patterns, Risk Factors, and Return to Sport in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: A Cross-sectional Survey of 1140 Athletes. Orthop J Sports Med. 2021 Dec 20;9(12):23259671211062568
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: Błach W, Smolders P, Rydzik Ł, Bikos G, Maffulli N, Malliaropoulos N, Jagiełło W, Maćkała K, Ambroży T. Judo Injuries Frequency in Europe’s Top-Level Competitions in the Period 2005-2020. J Clin Med. 2021 Feb 19;10(4):852. doi: 10.3390/jcm10040852. PMID: 33669568; PMCID: PMC7922358