I'm looking for a martial art primarily focused on hand and elbow strikes.

I tried Tae Kwon Do for a little while when I was younger, but the focus on kicks was never really my thing. Later, I got involved a little bit with american boxing and fell in love. Now I know boxing is a sport and I'm not certain how well it would hold up in real world self defense, but because of my build and comfort with boxing, I'd like to learn something with less emphasis on kicks. I'm OK with some grappling, but I definitely prefer upper body striking.

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    Welcome to the site. I slightly edited your question so that it fits better -- mostly removed things that were not needed. We are all here to ask/answer questions, so no need to say "hi". Also, you thank people by up voting their answers. Have a look at the help centre for more information. Jan 28 '15 at 17:01

Boxing is probably the most effective "real world" martial art you could do. Especially if you cross-train in greco-roman wrestling. Bruce Lee said something to the effect that you learn more in one year of boxing and wrestling than 10 years of eastern martial arts.

  • I understand boxing teaches a lot of useful tools, but the limitations of the sport are my concern. Boxing doesn't teach you how to deal with someone attacking your legs, attacking you from behind, or to deal with anything in the sport that is considered a "cheap shot." The attack area for boxing is limited as well, focusing only on the front/sides of the core and head. I'm just interested to see if there is a martial art that expands beyond the limits of boxing while still focusing on hand strikes.
    – Ongi
    Jan 28 '15 at 16:58
  • Which is where wrestling comes in. Jan 29 '15 at 7:20
  • @Ongi "deal with someone attacking your legs" etc. - being light on your feet, fast, changing angles etc. counts for a lot - for example, watch here youtube.com/watch?v=6rPCs_kJmDM how the boxer steps away from the second attacker's attempted kick while picking off his unprotected jaw. Just being good at anything - with a realistic sense of the fight - counts for a hell of a lot.
    – Tony D
    Jan 31 '15 at 7:35

You may want to look into some styles of escrima, kali, or penjak silat. These tend to have a lot of striking with some use of grappling and locks. These also tend to deal with weapons (knives, sticks) as well as multiple opponents, which are extra bits that are critical to self defense that often get missed in sports-focused training.

Boxing gives you an amazing set of skills of delivering strong hits, taking them, reading opponents and dealing with range, so you'll already have a good set of fighting skills to whatever you go to next.

  • Awesome. Thanks for the suggestions fellas. I will have to check out those along with the greco-roman wrestling. I an completely unfamiliar with any of these.
    – Ongi
    Jan 29 '15 at 0:38

There are various options that you can take, each with its own merit.

Wing Chun and/or Tai Chi is a good option but it may take some time to properly learn the techniques. If you have a long term plan this is a good option though. Wing Chun does include kicks, but it is mostly low kicks.

Aikido or Judo are also good options. These though focus less on striking and more on 'manipulation' of your opponent.

Then you can also try something like Krav Maga or a similar system. Many of the military developed systems are available for civilians.

Lastly (on my limited list) is joining a MMA gym. There you are likely to get a good mix of some striking style, most likely boxing or kickboxking, along with some grappling style like Jiu-Jitsu. This will however vary from gym to gym.

Try out a couple of these in your area and see what works for you. In the end, whatever you do will only be as effective as the amount of work you put into it.


Boxing is pretty effective in real life and has that 1 hit knock-out power. That being said, you should also look into Wing Chun's or Tai Chi's techniques of 'push hands'. Basically they are 'arm trapping' techniques that can be used to lock opponents arm, preventing them from hitting & blocking your strikes.

Aside from that, they also integrate throws into the system that consists mainly of tripping your opponents.


Boxing is fit for self defense and upper body strikes but adding martial art for striking is definitely the better idea for improving the skills. The below upper body exercises will help you to generate stronger punches and grappling techniques, Back Extensions, Barbell Row, Bench Press, Bicep Curls, Chair Dips, French Press, Hand Gripper Exercises, Preacher Curls, Pull-Ups, Push Ups, Reverse Fly etc.

But most of the professional will advise you to go for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) that can fulfill your requirements for upper body strikes.

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