I have been thinking about learning some martial arts for self defense. I'm a thin guy, which worries me a little bit whenever I'm alone late in the night - I'm an easy target.

I understand that there's always a risk of injury. However I am a pianist and also a software developer - thus I want to minimize the potential of finger injuries (or the hands).

What kind of martial arts should I learn? Are there any specific moves, or weapons, that I should avoid, without invalidating the purpose of learning? I'm not interested in competing, but only to defense myself in an average fight.

  • possible duplicate of Down a hand, looking for new martial art Oct 5, 2014 at 20:45
  • This question is very similar to one of the previous ones: martialarts.stackexchange.com/questions/4258/… Oct 5, 2014 at 20:46
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    @SteveWeigand I disagree. This question is about minimizing the risk of injury to the OPs hands. The question you are referring to is about not using one hand. The latter doesn't help a piano player, because he/she would need both hands to play.
    – THelper
    Oct 6, 2014 at 8:10
  • The way I interpreted that question in the question I linked to was finding a martial art that didn't do much with the hands, assuming that hand contact of any kind was off-limits due to injury. In this new question, the question is very similar, except that the hands haven't been injured yet. This is someone who is trying to avoid injury. In the previous question I linked to, someone is trying to avoid re-injury. Very similar indeed. But I guess the primary difference might be that the one who hasn't injured his/her hands is willing to at least use them. The other author was not. Oct 6, 2014 at 18:31
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    Related to Bankuei's answer, if you are in a fight where your life is on the line, you'll use everything you have available. However, your concern for injury is valid in the context of training. Most people will not need to use their martial arts in too many fights, but they will spend countless hours practicing, and practice can always lead to injury. I would focus on systems where one does not need to practice such finger related techniques. That should help take the issue out of the exotic and into the practical.
    – Cort Ammon
    Aug 27, 2015 at 3:49

3 Answers 3


First, context. Unless you live in a place where a lot of random fistfights/assaults happen, you're mostly only going to be targeted for a mugging - which is primarily someone wanting to get your belongings - not someone trying to waste time beating or hurting you out the blue.

Second, if they are trying to hurt you, while your "hands are your livelihood" the fact is someone trying to hurt you bad enough you need to fight back means you've got things like your life, or perhaps brain damage or hospitalization on the line, all things which will affect your livelihood just as much as a broken bone in the hand would.

All that said, there's many martial arts and self defense courses that focus on palm strikes and forearm blows instead of fists - and that is because even well trained boxers fracture their hands often enough in street fights - so already a lot of people are concerned with protecting their hands in a situation. Based on your question, I'd probably check out one of the many self defense/combative courses in your area and ask the instructors what they feel about fists vs. palm strikes and let them tell you and you can pick from there.

Of course there are many arts with strong kicks and grappling, or even using weapons, but there's nothing that guarantees absolute hand protection - the main thing you're going to want to avoid is the styles with "hand toughening" which often involves striking hard surfaces repeatedly. While this is great for strengthening the bones over long periods of time, it also tends to create calcium deposits in joints years later, which, is not what you want as a career pianist.

  • "while your "hands are your livelihood" the fact is someone trying to hurt you bad enough you need to fight back means you've got things like your life, or perhaps brain damage or hospitalization on the line, all things which will affect your livelihood just as much as a broken bone in the hand would." I think the concern is injuring OP's hands during regular training, not in the event they would use it in real life Aug 30, 2019 at 18:19

I did some Arnis some years ago. The self-defense drills we did also included a lot of working with everyday items as weapons so that you don't have to use your hands. Depending on the trainer and style, hits on your hands in training are a real possibility. But for hand protection I still think this idea holds some merit.

That being said martial arts doesn't equal self-defense or self-protection. Take a look at https://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/bestMA.htm and read at least until "Why is this bad".

A lot of people get into dangerous situations after a little bit of training since they now believe they can protect themselves and don't have to worry about avoiding dangerous situations. In my opinion, every martial art that doesn't entirely focuses on street-fighting crosses that line after about 10 years.

You'd be probably served better with some self-defense classes where the focus lies more on situational awareness than on kicking punching and screaming. You might also consider taking up running. If you can run faster than your opponent, your hands will be fine (no sarcasm - I really encourage running over fighting)

  • 2
    Avoidance and running away are underrated self-defence strategies!
    – Mike P
    Aug 22, 2019 at 9:25
  • Kevin, I also strongly recommend NoNonsenseSelfDefense.com... read and reread the various pages until it sinks in. Aug 30, 2019 at 13:12

Maybe Jiu Jitsu would suit you. It is usually used to contain opponents and punches are not really utilized. Look for Jean Jacques Machado. He is a wizard at this martial art and his one hand is missing fingers (born like that).

Krav Maga can be another option. It is self-defense used by the Israeli police and army. They also avoid using fists, since this is a common way to injure yourself.

  • Whilst Jiu Jitsu might be a good choice for protecting your hands - completing the recommendation with talk of an artist who is missing fingers seems to portray the opposite (Did he lose them doing Jiu Jitsu?? - perhaps clarify this in the answer). Krav Maga recommendation is solid - states the recommendation and reason as to why well. Welcome to the site
    – Collett89
    Aug 30, 2019 at 14:00
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    @Collett89 Jean Jacques Machado was born with this disorder.
    – Georgios
    Aug 30, 2019 at 14:06
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    Finger injuries in BJJ are common: bjjheroes.com/bjj-tips-for-fighters/…. Hand injuries are not only from striking.
    – mattm
    Aug 30, 2019 at 19:15

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