What Martial Art Should I Learn First for MMA? - Combat Sport Events

What Martial Art Should I Learn First for MMA?

What martial art should I learn is such a difficult question. Getting involved in mixed martial arts is not an easy task. Before you can begin to even think about stepping into the “big leagues,” it is best to have knowledge of at least two different martial arts styles under your belt. While your choice of which martial art style is best for you to learn can vary widely, many of the options will be more suited to the MMA ring than others. “So which martial art should I learn?”. Let’s try to answer this question here.

Which Martial Art Should I Learn: Are Striking Arts Your Thing?



Generally, a mixed martial artist will need to have working knowledge in both a “striking art” and a “grappling art” in order to be successful. The differences between these are pretty self-explanatory. Striking arts focus on landing hits. These include arts like boxing, Muay Thai, and Taekwondo. Grappling arts are more about clinches, throws, the “ground game,” and submission. These include arts like wrestling, Judo, and Jiujitsu. So when thinking something like “What type of martial arts should I learn?”, you should ask yourself if you are into boxing. If you are not, striking-training might not be the best kind of martial arts for you.



Some of the most common martial arts in MMA are boxing, wrestling, Brazilian Jiujitsu, Judo, Sambo, Muay Thai, and Hapkido Karate. However, this does not mean these styles are your only options. There are plenty of other equally effective choices that can help you succeed in MMA.

Striking Arts

MMA Strike with low kick

Striking arts are exactly that: these martial arts focus on landing hits on your opponent like kicks, punches, and elbow strikes. These are generally most effective from standing positions and at the range, although some can also be effective in a clinch as well. They also can be effective from a dominant position on the ground, although their effectiveness might be diminished here if you are unable to get your whole body in each strike.


ruiz vs Joshua

The quintessential fighting sport that has had the American people going for centuries, boxing has a long lineage. Boxing is a striking art.

This sport focuses almost entirely on punching, blocking, guarding, and evading. These traits are definitely a necessity in the MMA ring, as the objective of the match is to land the most hits while taking the least.

The issues that arise going into a mixed martial arts ring with just boxing, however, become apparent fairly quickly. For one, boxing focuses almost solely on hand strikes.

In an MMA ring, kicks, elbow strikes, and knee strikes are commonly used. In a traditional boxing match, leg shots are usually not allowed as well, so boxers tend to focus less on protecting them.

What Type of Martial Arts Should I Learn: Karate or Grappling Arts?

Hapkido Karate

learning Hapkido averting a front kick

While exploring the answers to “Which martial arts should I learn?” question, you should consider other arts as well. Hapkido Karate is a striking art of Korean origin. Its emphasis is on joint locks, throws, and kicks, meaning it will be most effective at leg-length range or in a clinch.

Because it has some grappling aspects to it, it is an effective all-around art for most beginners in mixed martial arts.

Hapkido Karate, as with most striking arts, loses its advantage on the ground or in non-dominant positions.

It can also be difficult to execute some of the more effective kicks during an MMA match because of the time necessary to effectively chamber and unleash them to their full potential.

Muay Thai


Muay Thai translates to “Thai Boxing.” It is a striking art that focuses on what it calls the “eight points,” which are the hands, feet, elbows, and shins.

This versatile striking art is often regarded as one of the best for MMA if you choose no other striking art, as it focuses on striking with all limbs and guarding all aspects of the body including legs, hands, and face.

Muay Thai, while having some clinching and a light grappling aspect to it, has no ground game. MMA has a focus on going to the ground to finish the match, which is where Muay Thai’s weaknesses show. 

As with any other martial art, it is best to couple this with a complimentary martial art focused on a ground game before stepping into a mixed martial arts match. So whenever looking for an answer to the “what martial art should I learn?” question, check out Muay Thai for sure if you know how to focus on different things at the same time.

Grappling Arts

Khabib Grappling Conor

Grappling arts are martial arts that focus on throws, joint locks, submissions, and ground fighting. These arts are particularly suited to clinches and close-in fighting, as well as effectively engaging while on the ground to either gain a dominant position and go for a submission, or find a joint lock while on the ground with your opponent in the dominant position.

What Martial Arts Should I Learn: Feel Free to Explore All Options



Most high schools have it. Most colleges have it. Wrestling is another popular sport in the US, and is also considered one of the best martial arts to learn for mma. This grappling art is all about gaining and maintaining the dominant position from a clinch, then pinning the opponent for a set amount of time (which can vary depending on the organization the participants are part of).

Some of wrestling’s key points are things like aggression and maintaining the dominant position. These translate well into the MMA ring for obvious reasons.

However, going in with a purely wrestling background will show its weak side on the MMA floor. For example, wrestlers are not allowed to strike each other in a traditional wrestling match. So it might come as a shock to a wrestler when they catch a right knee strike to the mouth while they’re going in for a single leg takedown.

Wrestlers also tend to keep their head lower than other martial arts, meaning that someone who has studied an art that focuses on kicks can finish the match with a knockout fairly easily.

One of the best examples of wrestlers in MMA today is Daniel Cormier.


iujitsu in all its forms has gained some notoriety in the MMA scene, especially as of late.

This grappling art focuses on ground fighting, with an emphasis on submissions and moving from non-dominant to dominant position.

Jiujitsu has smoother movements than wrestling, with less apparent aggression in exchange for more technical and graceful movements that may be difficult for a hammer-handed boxer or wrestler to keep up with.

It also helps you to be more comfortable in a non-dominant position, meaning that you will not be as out of your element if your opponent is able to successfully throw you and land in a full-mount position.

As with all grappling arts, jiujitsu’s largest downside is in its lack of effective strikes and, often, strike defenses. One downside that many do not think about in jiujitsu, however, is its instruction in using your opponent’s uniform or clothing as a weapon.

Some of its chokes and submissions (such as the Cross-collar choke) rely on using the opponent’s clothing as a tool, which does not translate well to the MMA ring, where participants are often shirtless or wearing clothing that does not have collars, and must be accounted for.


Judo Hip Throw

Judo is an unsung hero of the grappling world, It is a more modern adaptation of the ancient forms of jiujitsu, taking many of its philosophies and adapting them to appeal to a conventional audience. With this in mind, it is still a grappling art, but rather than emphasizing a ground game it focuses more on standing throws and using leverage to submit your opponent.

Judo’s downsides are similar to wrestling in that it is most effective from a dominant or standing position, rather than being truly effective from any angle you may find yourself in.

When you end up in a non-dominant position, you will find your judo will be less effective than another art which focuses on non-dominant and dominant positions, like jiujitsu, would be.


Sambo competitior slaming another on head

Sambo is an aggressive Russian style of wrestling. It is similar to traditional wrestling in many ways, but also features some striking training.

It originated in Soviet military training, with its name translating roughly to “self-defence without weapons.” Sambo is a heavier-handed style of fighting, with the focus being more on aggression and overpowering your opponent through sheer presence and motion than through graceful movements or using their body weight against them.

Sambo’s largest weakness is also its greatest strength: its focus on aggression. Individuals who are familiar with Sambo will know to expect this and may be able to take advantage of the consistent rushes and charges to cause a submission.

When it comes to the “Which martial art should I learn?” question, you should keep in mind the other question: “Do I really think that this type of MMA martial art is good for me?”. In the MMA ring, Sambo is well-suited to blend with an equally aggressive striking art to overpower your opponent through brute force. A great example of a sambo based fighter is Khabib Nurmagomedov.


Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a “best style” of martial arts to learn for anything.

So how can you answer the “What martial art should i learn” question? Every art will have its own advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of match you are competing in. It is best to both evaluate your own innate abilities and skills and research the martial arts you are looking into to find out which will be the most effective for you.

During my time in the mixed martial arts ring, I chose to focus on Hapkido Karate, Muay Thai, and Judo. I am a shorter and leaner man with long limbs, which meant I was most able to take advantage of these three styles’ focuses while using my own body most effectively.

Hapkido’s kicks are effective because I have longer legs, meaning I was able to keep my opponents out further from me while still being able to land strikes.

Dustin Porier raising his hands

My long limbs also increased the effectiveness of Muay Thai, as I am able to both land blows from farther away and generate more momentum on each strike because of how far my limbs were able to travel.

Because I am shorter, I am able to take advantage of my opponent’s momentum more easily, thus meaning that Judo is going to be one of my more effective grappling arts.

As with anything else, it is best to thoroughly research and find what fits you best. This does not mean these will be your favorite styles, and you might find you like martial arts that are not at all suited to your body type – and this is perfectly acceptable. Find what you are most comfortable in, and pursue that.

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