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Vying for the title of most brutal fighting style can be hard to achieve. With so many deadly martial arts out there, with almost all professing to be the best at what they do. How can we know which is the most brutal fighting style of them all?
Taking into account the huge range of fighting styles that are to be found throughout the globe. When all aspects of each are taken into account, I believe that Vale Tudo originally from Brazil is the most brutal of all the fighting styles.
Although some grappling and submission styles can be both violent and extremely testing. For a fighting style to be truly considered brutal, it needs to incorporate strikes. And not just the traditional strikes, but sometimes strikes which go where others will not. As they look to severely incapacitate or permanently damage their opponent.
When striking styles that range from pure standup to mixed rules grappling. And a myriad of strikes that include almost every contact point on the body. From fists to feet, knees to elbows and seven some headbutts, both standing and ground-based for good measure. Which of these is truly the most deadly and violent of the fighting styles?
Below is a selection of what I consider to be the most brutal fighting styles we can find, which are more well known than some others. Sure there are some extremely rare martial arts in far-flung nations that most people may never hear of. But for now, let’s stick with some of the better known most destructive combat sports and martial arts on the planet today.
Silat – Malaysia
The name Silat is used as an umbrella term that covers a group of martial arts which exist in the Malay Archipelago region of the Asian subcontinent. And while there are several regional differences in its application. The name Silat has become synonymous with the sports combat version which is often most commonly referenced.
The martial art involves a host of fighting styles that use weaponry, strikes and joint manipulation. Sparring includes a range of scenarios from competition rules to the traditional, without any protective gear. And in it, its fighters have to engage in a diverse range of training techniques to prepare them for the inevitable battle.
Some of the most experienced Silat fighters can spar against up to twelve opponents at the same time, some of which may be armed. Luckily some of the more ancient training techniques have now been outlawed including fighting a Tiger or spending seven days and nights down a well. All of which are considered extreme by anyone’s measurement, but was part and parcel of Silat’s regime in years gone by.
Today its competitors compete in a circular ring with slanted sides. The fights are full contact and include a host of strikes with hands and legs. Also included is some grappling with submissions, ground and pound including elbows. Which is very similar in many ways to the far more modern mixed martial arts.
But still, from watching many fights I feel the level of striking and grappling is not quite on the level of MMA. But it doesn’t mean Silat is not one of the deadliest martial arts you can find. Watch a few fights and you can get a taste for just how competitive and brutal they can be. With explosive kicks, spinning fists and elbows, the martial art definitely has its place on the list.
Boxing – UK
When some people think of boxing they think of people wearing big padded gloves with no use of kicks or elbows to strike. But this can be somewhat of an oversimplification of this ancient sport. And its prowess and effectiveness in certain situations is unparalleled.
The sport of boxing and boxers perfect their striking with hands only through years of dedication and refinement. This sole focus on just one aspect of striking means that boxers learn to throw punches with pinpoint accuracy and crushing force.
And although its athletes do use gloves, this use of protection can be somewhat deceptive. As clinical trials have shown the use of gloves prolongs fights, which would have ended sooner had the fighters been bare-knuckle or with hand wraps as we see in some Asian martial arts.
The gloves allow for repeated strikes both in sparring and live fights to over time lead to an accumulation of damage. When you hear people surprise as they refer to a retired professional boxer who still has their senses and is not what is colloquially called punch drunk. But unfortunately for many, it is the cold hard reality of those who partake in the sport over many years.
Along with the brain-related trauma, physical injuries endured are also often severe. From broken orbital bones and jaws to cracked ribs and ruptured spleens. Boxers really can take some unbelievable punishment throughout their careers. So forget the padded only gloved handed strikes, boxing is without a doubt one of the most brutal fighting styles we see today. A statement backed by statistics and cold hard facts.
Shotokan Karate – Japan
Developed from a combination of other martial arts, Shotokan burst onto the world scene in the early 1900s. Fighters who train in this specific style will go through a number of stages before they eventually work their way up to live sparring or Kumite.
Some of the early training and infamous demonstrations of fighters breaking blocks and wood come from this as well as other Karate styles. And while those demonstrations can be both entertaining and awe-inspiring, they are sometimes too subject to ridicule.
But it is in the Kumite where Shotokan comes to life as the pinpoint accuracy and unorthodox kicks can quickly end a fight. Unlike its close relative Kyokushin, which focuses on fist strikes to the body only, Shotokan allows for full ungloved strikes to the face.
The result of the years of conditioning, along with very specific strikes and kicks means that this martial art is amongst one of the most efficient and devastating on the planet. Be in awe of some fight finishing combinations that leave but one winner.
Combat Sambo – Russia
Sambo or Combat Sambo as it is widely known was developed in the former Soviet Union. The Russian military originally created it specifically for its own soldier’s hand to hand fighting. The styles pioneers took what they had learned from their years living in Japan, adapting it to their own unique style and requirements on the battlefield.
While there is both Sport Sambo, the fighting system which in many ways mirrors that of Judo and Catch wrestling. This version allows for the use of throws and leglocks along with a range of holds.
But it is Combat Sambo which incorporated a range of grappling and striking that includes punches, knees and kicks which more so mirrors that of MMA. It additionally uses the headbutt and groin strikes, chokes and joint locks to incapacitate the enemy.
And while its origins are very recent in terms of the development of martial art. Sambo now looks to be well on its way to being recognised as an Olympic sport. And with elite MMA fighters such as P4P great Emelianenko Fedor and Khabib Nurmagomedov having previously held world championships. The future certainly does not bright for this brutal fighting style.
Krav Maga – Israel
Krav Maga is a true martial art in every sense of the word. Developed during the years prior to World War II. The focus of Krav was to defend Jewish people from attack in the ghettos of Bratislava Czechoslovakia. With its base being in western boxing and wrestling. The fighting system would later be adapted to include elements of Aikido, Judo and Karate.
Directly translated from its Hebrew name to English, Krav means “contact” and Maga “combat.” And the discipline looked to do exactly that, handling dangerous and life-threatening situations with extreme efficiency and lethal consequences.
With an emphasis on aggression, it looked to take the very best yet simplest elements from its chosen range of martial arts. Combining them into a single easily digestible programme, that could be then taught quickly to new army conscripts.
And while Krav Maga is seen by many as a martial art, it is not a sport and its proponents do not compete in the traditional sense, outside of their gym or dojo. The fighting system sees itself as a defensive art to neutralise and if necessary kill an attacker.
One of the defining factors behind the style is that it looks to target the vulnerable points of the human body to quickly stop the aggressor. These include the eyes, throat, solar plexus, groin as well as fingers. This focus on key weak points separates Krav Maga from many other fighting styles. Making it unworkable in a full-contact competition setting, yet extremely deadly in its application.
Muay Thai – Thailand
The martial art of Muay Thai or Siam boxing was born out of necessity. With a history steeped in many centuries of countless wars and invasions. The kingdom of Siam, now Thailand, trained its soldiers in its own form of hand to hand combat on the battlefield.
The concept behind the combat fighting style was to produce a system where the limbs of the body became the weapons of the moment. The art of now 8 limbs involved the hands replacing the cutting or stabbing weapon. Elbows were used as heavy instruments, swung at the enemy to concuss or often cut.
The hardened shins and forearms were used as defensive and offensive weapons to parry strikes from the main body area. The legs were used to push and deliver crushing strikes that would incapacitate, leaving the enemy vulnerable to follow up of finishing moves.
These would often include the world-famous Muay Thai clinch in which the enemy would be caught, disorientated by violently dragging their head off centre, then landing some finish knees or elbows.
The fighters in Thailand start to train and fight from a very young age, often racking up some one hundred and fifty professional fights in their career. The result of which is that many of their careers do not last into their late twenties, having suffered many years of brutal training and competition.
The effectiveness of Muay Thai is seen time and time again in the ring with many fights ending either via knockout or stoppage. It is not a sport where the fight usually goes the distance as the blows are often decisive. And becoming proficient in this style of fighting will no doubt offer you benefits for years to come.
Muay Thai is the standup martial art of choice for many of the worlds greatest MMA fighters as its application in the sport has been critical to much of their continued success.
Bare Knuckle Boxing – USA
Just when we were being told the world is moving toward a more peaceful and pc future. An old slugger from the past shows up and smashes this preconceived notion. As the sport of bare-knuckle boxing once again makes its way back into the mainstream.
I say mainstream, but what I really mean is on TV, limited TV. But gone are the days of bare-knuckle as a totally underground sport, where fights take place in backyards and basements. Boxing in its crudest form is making a comeback as it finally became sanctioned both in one US State, as well as across the water in the UK.
It’s actually quite hard to fathom how exactly this happened as for some time the pastime has been limited to scraps between either Irish Gypsies or people from the poor urban areas. Filming their exploits in smartphones and handheld camcorders only to be loaded up to YouTube for our consumption.
But bare-knuckle is making a genuine attempt at finally going mainstream. With fighters from a range of disciples looking to test themselves in its arena. The sport seems to be breathing life back into careers many thoughts was done and dusted. Perhaps a little bit rusty, but still too good for the scrap heap. Why not throw them into the bare-knuckle bloodbath to test their metal!
With no gloves and just some basic hand wraps that strengthen the wrists, while leaving the knuckles exposed. Many of the fights result in either severe lacerations or swelling. One fight I did see was where the fighter broke both his hands and was unable to carry on.
So yes, it’s a brutal and unforgiving sport that requires some true grit and opponents take full-on gloveless punches to the face and body. Whether or not the sport will continue to grow or be a flash in the pan is neither here nor there. Just let’s be clear, it’s as tough as hell and something very few people will ever experience.
Mixed Martial Arts – USA
Mixed martial arts really has it all. It’s the sport that covers all angles from the elbows, punches and kicks of Muay Thai. To the grappling and bone-breaking submission of wrestling and BJJ.
Mix in some elbows in the UFC or kicks to the head of a grounded opponent which we still see in promotions such as One championship. And there are very few fighting styles that offer such ferocity and a range of ways in which to inflict serious damage.
Without a doubt, the biggest bloodbaths I have seen throughout all my years of watching combat sports would have to be in MMA. Some others have come close, but the elbows to grounded opponents have allowed for some of the most gruesome fights ever to be televised.
Now, much of the damage is sometimes superficial and once a fighter is cleaned up and the cuts sealed, they actually don’t look too bad. But it’s that mid-fight house of horrors type scene when the psycho has had their way with yet another victim, that can be off-putting, at least for some.
And while broken bones aren’t overly common, they do still happen. A broken shin bone here, a snapped forearm there. Throw in some broken jaws or orbital bones and its all a potential part of this ruthless fight game.
But MMA is an extremely well-regulated sport and where these types of incidents can be avoided, they are. Many fights end with very little blood spilt with a simple tap out by the opponent. And while gruesome fights do exist, it’s important to realise that inflicting as much damage as possible is not the primary goal of all MMA fighters.
So let’s read on to our final two picks for the most brutal fighting styles to see what made it to the top of the list. In terms of sheer damage and violence.
Lethwei – Myanmar
Born out of war and turmoil, along with its close neighbour in Thailand. Lehtwei is a martial art of war for hand to hand combat. With records dating back to the mid 11th century, this ancient fighting style was used in the many wars which have littered the history of modern-day Myanmar.
And along with martial arts from its neighbouring countries, Lethwei shares many of the same techniques, but with the addition of actively using the head as a weapon during matches. And it is this use of the head for strikes that separates this combat style from modern-day Muay Thai.
With fighters using nothing but some gauze wrapping on their hands. The knee, punch, elbow, kick and headbutt their way to winning the fight. There is no ground fighting, but in a sport that previously had no rounds and no win on points. It was purely down to which man would be left standing.
Today this brutal fighting style is becoming more widely accepted. And as it starts to get more and more worldwide exposure, its popularity will begin to entice more elite fighters and fans from outside its borders.
Truly one of the most devastating of fighting styles, with headbutt finishes and bone-crushing stoppages. Will, there be a place for mainstream coverage of very brutal yet intriguing of martial arts, only time will tell.
Vale Tudo – Brazil
While Vale Tudo may not be a full-contact combat sport that is widely trained. There can be very little doubting the brutality of this fighting style. In reality, the very brutality that makes it stand out may be one of the defining factors as to why it is not more widely accepted outside of his home country of Brazil.
Combining many different styles the name Vale Tudo translates into “Anything Goes” and pretty much anything does go in this brutally aggressive style of fighting. And although it did make it to television in Brazil and a number of different organisations popped up both there and in Japan.
It would be the very brutality of the sport which would eventually force it off the air and back underground to where it still exists to this day. And while it was very much seen as the pre-cursor to MMA. Owing to the fact that the original promoters in Brazil would emigrate to the US to later establish the Ultimate Fighting Championships.
This crossover from Brazil to the US in the early years would also see an influx of seasoned Brazilain fighters into the UFC who had honed their skills in the ultra-aggressive fighting style. The result of which was that for a long time many of the top UFC fighters came from Brazil itself.
And while the popularity of Vale Tudo has wained over the years. Its blood-soaked no holds barred style of mixed fighting still manages to have many events across the country, even without receiving any mainstream coverage. But with its relatively short history of violence, it has to be top of this list of the most brutal fighting style of them all.
When it comes to testing themselves on the battlefield. Modern-day gladiators seek out the style of combat sports that will truly show them and us, who they are as fighters. Above I have given what I believe right now to be the 10 most brutal fighting styles without weapons we see today in pretty mainstream combat sports culture.
Without a doubt, there are many others, but the majority of which are less well known to the general public. These fighting styles are designed with pure efficiency and devastating effect in mind and for the most part, deliver on that promise.
If you are proficient in any of these fighting styles, it would not be in most peoples best interest to get on your bad side. Some were trialled and fine-tuned through centuries of war and aggression. Tested on the battlefield and in the dojo, in the ring and the underground basements. When it comes to inflicting maximum damage and pain on an opponent. Fighters need to look no further than the recommendations above.
Combat has always been and will continue to be part of every countries culture. And while it may not be palatable for many, it is better that we settle our differences in these controlled areas of violence than in unsanctioned fights on the street where anything can happen.
So I hope you enjoyed this extensive look into the history and culture of fighting and the brutality it brings. We as fans like to watch it, while the fighters involved love to compete in it. And long may this symbiotic relationship continue into the future.
Hi, I’m Ross, at 40 years plus, I have been involved in the Martial arts for most of my life. Along with my first pet Collie dog named Tyson, RIP. My journey in the world of Martial Arts is something I want to share. So that others too can learn from my experiences.