Most people nowadays are kind of oblivious by the term martial in “martial arts” and it can be safely said based on simple observation that a great deal of martial arts, the majority have become the second part of their descriptors, namely arts. Of the body, movement and coordination.
And as arts, they do require a high level of discipline, determination, study and physical development in order to be performed.
But “martial” meant, quite simply that it was meant for war. The name itself comes from the Latin god of war, Mars. So, back in the day, martial arts were arts developed for application in war, by warriors or those experienced in warfare, with their primary objective to kill opponents.
As opposed to more modern versions of martial arts, or the modern form that older martial arts have taken, which are clearly not meant for war, are not even applied in full contact sporting bouts and a great number of them do not even feature sparring as part of their curriculum! These latter being, in the opinion of combat sports champions and trainers, more akin to a cross between fitness regimens and ballet than a martial art.
However, there are recent examples of martial arts that get close to the old definition or are even spot on, as scary as that may be considering the injuries possible or even the possibility of death.
Let’s take a look at 5 top brutal effective martial arts.
1. Jeet Kune Do
As a prime example of the philosophical approach to martial arts described above (effectiveness, not form or just sport), Bruce Lee considered the martial arts of his day, in the 60s, to be to be too rigid and unrealistic, calling them “dry land swimming”, in his own words.
He put together the system in 1967 by taking the best, most pragmatic principles and techniques from some systems like Kung Fu and supplementing him with his own, which emphasize direct, simplistic movements that guarantee maximum efficiency, power, velocity and accuracy with minimum effort and expense of energy.
Other interesting concepts are attacking attacks sent against you and attacking while simultaneously parrying an attack, as well as the prime directive that you should not be blocked in patterns and forms or consider Jeet Kune Do to be a selection of rigid techniques. You are supposed to keep an open mind and react and adapt to the situation, employing whatever means necessary for that particular situation and never saying that a certain approach or technique is not part of Jeet Kune Do, so it shouldn’t be used or incorporated.
He promoted a flexible, evolving martial art, best described by his own metaphor, like the behavior of water that can take the shape of whatever recipient you put it in and can both flow or crash, depending on the situation.
2. Pit fighting
In this case, we’re probably as far as we can go from the art part in the whole “martial art” theme, because pit fighting was and is an illegal activity apparently originating in California where some infamous biker gangs, who also liked a bit of exercise in good old violence every now and then, decided to start organizing no rules, no holds barred matches between interested individuals for their entertainment and the public’s. Along with some ever-flowing cash, of course.
But before we dismiss it as simple brawling, it’s best to point out that all historical martial arts started just like pit-fighting, with one guy facing a serious struggle that might very probably leave him maimed or dead, so he did his best not to. And if he lived, he took note of what techniques worked to save his ass, added to them and passed them forward, hence giving birth to a martial art.
With the only difference, possibly, being the fact that older martial arts implied the guy in question was in actual war, on a battlefield not in a cage or ring where he came by his own free will, as was usually the case with pit-fighting.
Still, pit-fighting proved it’s potential when it started giving Mixed Martial Arts competitors of good caliber.
Is a … system, as the name hints (it literally means “The System”), invented by prominent figures from the Russian Special Forces. It’s a very varied “curriculum”, from unarmed combat, through knife and other blade work, to firearms.
A very interesting part of in this approach to combat situations is the psychological component. Systema teachers emphasize the absolute importance of calm and relaxation, with the total exclusion of any tension in the body and none of the emotions that people naturally experience in fights like anger, fear, pride, irritation or sadness and pity for themselves etc., despite the fact that other martial arts systems cultivate some of these feelings (like pride, anger or fear, the latter as a means to “keep you focused and paying attention”).
In Systema, the practitioner should be utterly in control, but not detached, obviously. Just calm. As if combat is not the dangerous out of the ordinary situation that it is, but just something that needs to be done as effectively and fast as possible.
And Systema features both drills, to make practitioners used to a certain technique, but also sparring, with no set forms (like the Kata of many eastern martial arts).
4. Krav Maga
An eclectic martial art, this one is, according to a wide number of martial arts experts, aficionados, commentators and fans alike, probably the most efficient and brutal striking martial art, meaning hits while standing, as opposed to grappling and battling on the ground.
And it’s no wonder, because it features the deadliest combination so far, as it borrows from both Western and Eastern renowned disciplines (like boxing and wrestling and Aikido and Judo, respectively), but its foundation is based on the street-fighting skills of its founder, the Hungarian-Israeli Imi Lichtenfeld.
And you know a martial art is effective when you see that the background of the founder involves him fighting off anti-Jewish fascists in Bratislava, Slovakia where he grew up.
Being aggressive in both your defense and attack is a crucial component to Krav Maga, often leading to broken limbs or the opponent’s death. It is also widely used for training Israeli civilians, police and military, who are in one of the hottest conflict zones on Earth and tend to deal with threats quite frequently.
5. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
What Krav Maga is considered to be for striking disciplines (the most brutal and effective), Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is for grappling and fighting on the ground.
Not only it’s practitioners, but many of the opponents that have faced them, especially in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bouts generally attest that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to be feared.
Because it focuses on getting your opponent to the ground and twisting his limbs to produce ruptures (and before that unbearable pain), or, if necessary, to make them lose consciousness by using one of the many effective holds that can block blood flow to the brain.
This latter application is so effective that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu trainers warn their students to hold a person in such a choke-hold for a maximum number of about 8 seconds and during this time always have a way of feeling their pulse (by placing one of their hands so they can detect it).
Because there have been cases when the person being held thus died with their eyes open and the one holding it under submission didn’t even realize it.
Also, an universal truth to remember, confirmed by anyone who has street fighting experience or has been in the ring in a full contact competition: fights can very easily end up on the ground, and usually tend to do so. Which is the basic philosophy behind Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and why it doesn’t even bother with strikes, instead focusing on getting the opponent to the ground and ending the fight there.