The deadliest martial art in the world

On the day when man first realized that he could bash his little brother in the back of the head with a closed fist, he shouted out the caveman equivalent to "we shall call this the year zero" and went about the business of finding new ways to more effectively use his body to hurt other people's bodies. The project has been ongoing. As of this moment, there are roughly 170 recognized martial arts, according to Karate City, which is blessedly not a physical location and more of a state of mind. Different forms and disciplines range from Bartitsu, the 19th century art of British walking stick fighting, to Tae Kwon Do, the art of being dropped off by your parents at a strip mall for an hour on Saturdays.

And the wide array of fighting styles only makes sense. Setting aside the natural human predisposition towards being as much like a Power Ranger as possible, mixed martial arts tournaments are a multi-billion dollar industry, pulling in television viewers and wealthy attendees, all enthusiastic to find out which form of dude-smacking is going to generate the best concussions this week.

But after thousands of years of knuckle-popping physical inhumanity to our fellow man, have we found a definitive answer to the question "what's the deadliest martial art in the world?"

Kapu Ku'ialua: The hard Aloha

There are plenty of contenders for the title.

Kapu Ku'ialua has to be towards the top of the list. Hawaii, with its scenic vistas and posi-vibe Instagramability, might not spring to mind when you're putting together a list of places where folks are great at kicking the snot out of each other, but take a quick look at the descriptions of this ancient island art form. It was taught to royal guards in charge of protecting the sovereignty, with a focus on breaking an opponent's bones and taking advantage of their pressure points.

To hear it described by locals, Kapu Ku'ialua has the air of urban legend about it. Kids grow up hearing stories about noble warriors with almost supernatural abilities, with the first European descriptions of the art form in the 1865 publication Lorrin Andrews' Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language including vague references to the use of hypnotism and telepathy, according to Black Belt Magazine.

For the pragmatists in the audience who are more interested in hard facts than enigmatic Polynesian X-Men powers, you'll be excited to know that Kapu Ku'ialua is one of the only self defense techniques to incorporate the use of guns, a blind spot in most martial arts that would make Tai Chi in the park a whole different experience. Also worth mentioning: its practitioners regularly drench themselves in coconut oil in order to avoid being grappled, which means that their gymnasiums probably smell amazing.

Krav-en violence

Another solid candidate for World's Deadliest Martial Art is Krav Maga. Originating in pre-WWII Czechoslovakia, Krav Maga's roots lay in the gentlemanly art of fighting fast and dirty. Its founder, Imi Lichtenfeld, was the son of a police chief and former circus acrobat, which just has "superhero origin story" written all over it. A champion boxer and wrestler, Lichtenfeld reportedly began developing a new form of self defense around the time that his neighborhood became a hotbed of antisemitic attacks. The story goes that, after taking to the streets to defend his neighbors, he came to the conclusion that competitive fighting styles were just the teensiest bit pointless when somebody is, say, trying to stab you to death.

Krav Maga: Killing ruthlessly and viciously, martial arts great again

Enter Krav Maga, the martial art focused on causing as much pain and damage as possible in the shortest amount of time. It's one of those special forms of pugilism that you just can't turn into a sport, since half of the competitors would wind up, optimistically, in traction, while the other ones headed to jail. Krav Maga, as described by Elite Training Center, hinges on a squirm-worthy but fundamental truth: "Every joint in the body is designed to bend a specific way, and by forcing it in the other direction, it snaps." Today, it's the go-to method of self defense for the Israeli Special Forces. Basically, it's what Nazis have nightmares about when they're not busy worrying about the return of Indiana Jones or what everyone would think if they tried a different haircut.

Finish him

These are deadly martial arts, yes. But that's not what we're here for. We want to know about the deadliest. Unfortunately, there's not really a great way to quantify that. A week-one Krav Maga student, even with the rich history of the art form in their corner, could still be taken down by, say, a 20-year practitioner of pillow fighting. Self defense techniques are, in many ways, always going to be anchored in rhetorical Deadliest Warrior-style matchups, less grounded in reality than in the minds of the enthusiastic and the curious.

With that in mind, we feel confident in our assertion that the deadliest martial art of all is "wielding a flamethrower while riding a T-Rex with machetes strapped to its toes."