Silat vs Krav Maga for Self Defense: An Expert’s Comparison!

Perhaps one thing that really unites different countries, cultures, and regions is the need for self-defense. Hence the reason for our discussion today. In this article, we’ll compare the South-East Asian Silat with the Israeli Krav Maga. You’ll learn their pros and cons, which one is better, their best techniques for street fight scenarios and ultimately which one you should be better off training.

If you’re just looking for a quick answer, here it is:

Krav Maga is a superior self-defense option because it teaches you to fight dirty and use techniques that are forbidden in Silat. Those include eye gouging and groin kicks, and using any objects at your disposal. You also learn how to fight standing and rolling on the ground, which makes you better prepared for any situation.

In comparison, Silat is marred by competition rules. It also lacks ground fighting options, except for a set of kicks that can be useful if the attacker remains standing. But if the attacker knows some jiu-jitsu and you both fall to the ground, you could be at a great disadvantage. 

But admittedly, this is an over-simplification. Things are not as black-and-white as you will discover throughout this article.

What is Silat?

Also called Pencak silat or Penchak, this traditional martial art from Indonesia has been overlooked for so many years, but today it is one of the fastest-spreading martial arts. Having dated back to the 8th century, it is now practiced in Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, Philippines, and even western countries like the United States, the UK, France, etc.

Basically, Silat is an umbrella term for fighting styles out of South-East Asia and it was originally designed for war against the dutch. As regards what it involves, it heavily uses bladed weapons, quick and direct counterattacks, throws, takedowns, and joint locks.

On one hand, you’d be taught hand-to-hand combat styles like punching, kicking, grappling, and blocking. On the other hand, you’d learn defensive and attacking techniques for weapon attacks.

With relevance to its history, most of the weapons used are farming and hunting tools, so if you plan to train Silat, some weapons you’d be using include the parang (machete), the keris (dagger), the lembing (spear), a sabit (sickle), and the sarong (a clothe wrapped around the waist).

Also, if you’re a fan of fancy martial arts attire, you might like this martial art. A student of Silat wears a black uniform and bandana – which devout practitioners believe carries magical powers. There could even be a picture of a tiger or Arabic letters on it.


1. It teaches weapon defense and attacks: Unlike most traditional martial arts, Silat takes self-defense to a different level by teaching you how to protect yourself against weapon attacks. Even better, it teaches you how to use weapons for attacks, hence, making you the ultimate fighter. Well, this is no surprise since it was made for real war.

2. Great for street fights: Most aspects of this martial art prepares you for street fights. It teaches how to defend and end fights very quickly. Also, besides its weapon training, it involves striking, grappling, blocking, etc. All of, which are needed in street fights.

3. Improves your mental awareness: Since you’ve drilled possible combat scenarios over and over, you would be able to sniff danger from a distance. It teaches how to examine your environment and before an assaulter strikes or does anything, you’d be aware and ready for the appropriate counter.


1. It is risky: Using many of its techniques in the real world could be very risky. The martial art doesn’t have a range of responses. Silat targets pressure points to end a fight quickly. For one, the individual might pass out, hit their head on concrete, or whatever. While it could do a good job of protecting you, you sure don’t want murder charges.

2. Many of the moves are difficult to execute: Many of its fancy moves could be really difficult to execute. However, with the right trainer, you should get a hang of it.

3. It only prepares you for when both fighters are standing on their feet: In real fight situations, once you lose balance, you could easily be taken advantage of because you’re not prepared for such scenarios.

4. The gyms are rare and hard to find: Until recently, Silat was largely restricted to Indonesia and South-East Asia. Despite its recent spread, it is still hard to find gyms that teach Silat. And quality instructors are even harder to find.

Silat application

It is a sacred rule in Silat that a fighter mustn’t look down on their opponents or back down from any challenge. Also, you must not go about looking for trouble, and neither must you form any disputes or instigate an attack.

For attack, one strategy Silat employs is taking the enemy from behind. It involves flanking him and finishing him as quickly as possible. This is to avoid possible direct hand-to-hand combat.

You might think this is a dirty strategy. Well, it was originally created for war times and not for sport or glory. Frontal attacks were frowned upon because the military lost men, morale, and weapons. So, deception was key and still is in this martial art style.

However, when you need to defend yourself, there are some things you need to have in mind:

For one, keeping your palms open is crucial. Of course, when being punched or kicked, you could block as a way of avoiding getting hit. However, that won’t neutralize the attack. Silat emphasizes on parrying and when you parry, you can neutralize an attack.

To execute a parry, you’d need to open your hands. Well, it would take you some reasonable time to master and fine-tune the art of parrying, but once you can master it, it is much better for defense.

Open palm defense would also help you get more relaxed and there’s nothing you need more during self-defense than a relaxed mind.

When an opponent tries to strike at you, use parrying to get in a snake position. To do this, you’d parry, then wrap the hand you used to parry to wrap around the arm of the opponent which was used to strike. In that clinch position, you could twist their elbow and follow up with strikes to the pivotal parts with your free hand.

What is Krav Maga?

When it comes to self-defense, there is hardly any that is more specific for that purpose than Krav Maga. No wonder it is rapidly spreading as one of the best martial arts for self-defense. Even better, it is constantly evolving and as soon as in 6 months, you could be skilled enough to protect yourself and inflict some damage of your own.

Thanks to a man called Imre Lichtenfeld, Krav Maga was developed as a form of hand-to-hand combat for the Israeli military. Of course, any fighting technique that is effective against other military soldiers, would no doubt be effective against attackers and bullies on the street.

Lichtenfeld during his time was highly skilled in wrestling, gymnastics, and even boxing. He took the simple and effective moves from these martial arts and combined them to make the fighting style of Krav Maga.

But more than that, he implemented weapon training and when I say weapon, it is not restricted to swords and spears. Weapon training included common tools like sticks and knives, and today, the martial art has evolved so much that your pen and keys could also be used to implement Krav Maga.

But that’s not all. One reason it tends to be neck and shoulders against other martial arts is the use of dirty strikes. When using traditional martial arts like Silat in a street fight, nothing in your training prepares you for where an opponent pokes your eye, kicks your groin, or even bites you. But in Krav Maga, the use of dirty strikes is not overruled. In fact, they are encouraged.


1. It is quicker to learn: While you might not master this martial art in a short time, in six months to a year, you could be skilled enough to defend yourself to a reasonable extent. This is unlike most martial arts.

2. It involves the use of everyday tools: One key aspect of Krav Maga is the use of basic and conceivable weapons like your key, handbag, or pen. This is crucial for self-defense

3. It looks to end the fight quickly: Primarily, Krav Maga involves defending an attack and simultaneously counter-attacking. In a matter of seconds and with a few moves, you can disable your opponent and make your escape.


1. No realistic sparring: While it does involve sparring, most of it is role-playing. Due to the lethal nature of some of the strikes, students hardly hit each other during sparring. So, most of the moves are memorized and you have to wait for a real-life situation to apply them.

2. It doesn’t adhere to the principles of martial arts: It is no secret, that dirty strikes are against the tradition of martial arts. Hence, why practitioners of other fighting styles hardly regard Krav Maga as a martial art.

3. Training is expensive: For one, finding a krav maga gym is rare and when you do find one, the training is pretty much always expensive, costing $80/month on average.

4. No competitions: Except for occasional competitions made within the Israeli military, there are no Krav Maga competitions. So how then would you test your skills and know the level you’re truly at?

Krav Maga application in self-defense scenarios

One cannot deny that Krav Maga involves hundreds, perhaps thousands of moves. Many of these are hard to memorize, so it’s necessary to learn and master a handful of them. Here are 3 Krav Maga moves that are likely to be relevant for your self-defense:

1. Knife defense

Especially during petty theft, the attacker is usually with a knife. Here’s how to stop a knife attack. Basically, you’d need to redirect or stop the knife attack in addition to coupling the redirection with some counter-strike that’d pause the attack. Where an attacker is repeatedly trying to stab you, redirecting and stopping the attack with a punch or kick is necessary.

One thing that can’t be emphasized enough is your control over the knife to put an end to the attack. Mind you, your technique would change depending on if it is a slash, stab, sideways, coming from up, down, or backhanded knife attack.

Once, you have control over the weapon, following through with a groin kick could be very effective to completely neutralize your opponent or to make your get-away.

2. Bear Hug defense/Takedown defense

Especially if your attacker is larger and stronger, a bear hug is a tactic they might employ. It involves wrapping your arms to your body from the back through a body lock. While this position itself might not be dangerous, you could easily be moved to a more private place, abducted, or taken down. Also, you could easily be slammed from the bearhug position. So, how do you defend it?

The terminology for the counter is ‘base and space’. It is done by bending your legs and doing a shallow squat. This move lowers your center of gravity and makes picking or moving you more difficult. From there, you need to create space and get their hips away from yours. The next step would be to strike at the groin with your shin, fist, or even open palm till you can make your escape.

3. Front kick to the groin

No doubt, this is one of the most effective shots that can quickly be used to destabilize an opponent. Since nobody can condition their groin, landing kicks well will hurt your opponent. Even better, everyone can land it as far as they’ve got some reasonable kicking power.

To deliver this strike, start by placing one knee in front of your body to serve as a solid base for the kicking movement. Next, bring your rear leg and aim for between the legs of your opponent.

Aim with your shin because it hardly misses due to the larger surface area. While striking, in your mind, you aren’t just stopping at the groin. Aim like you’re kicking higher to deliver the best impact. But always make sure you’re in the right range to deliver this strike.

Key differences between Silat and Krav Maga

For several reasons, these martial arts are quite alike. However, they are quite distinct in strategy, techniques, and, philosophy.

The most important distinction perhaps is that while Silat has several rules that govern it, Krav Maga thrives on the principle of ‘no rules’. Silat however is still one of the most dangerous martial arts. Even crazier, a recent ruling now allows flying elbows, elbows to the back of the head, calf stomps, and hard slams.

Besides, Silat is a sport while Krav Maga isn’t. Students don’t learn it to join competitions or earn medals, rather it is strictly done for self-defense or to become bodyguards and security.

Also, while both of these martial arts involve the use and defense against weapons, the weapons taught are not exactly the same. Silat involves farming and hunting-based tools like spears, wavy blades, sickles, machetes, etc. Krav Maga, on the other hand, involves basic and available weapons like your key, pen, book, bag, etc.

How long does it take to learn Silat and Krav Maga?

This could be another point in your choice of which to train. For Silat, it takes a lifetime to make this martial art. In this martial art, there’s always more and more to learn. Even Silat masters claim to be beginners. For practical reasons, if you train it for 30-60 minutes each day, you’d get great at it in about 2-4 years, depending on your dedication and instructors.

Krav Maga on the other hand gets you prepared in less time. Realistically, in 9-12 months, you should have some skills you can use to defend yourself. However, that doesn’t mean you’ve mastered it. It has a grading system of practitioner, graduate, and expert. When you become a graduate, you are already an instructor while the expert grade is for police and military personnel.

Moving from practitioner to graduate takes you 5 levels and passing all these levels could take you a total of 40 months.

But regardless, krav maga prepares for self-defense faster than Silat does.

Which is better for self-defense?

These two martial arts are some of the best options for self-defense, however, the superior effectiveness of Krav Maga is simply undeniable. Firstly, it prepares you for self-defense situations and it trains your awareness to simply be on point. You are taught signs to watch out for, so, before an attack is made, you’d realize it.

Also, the ‘no rules’ system of Krav Maga makes it better optimized for street fights. In street fights, there are no rules or boundaries. Moves that might otherwise be banned in Silat could well be used against you, and in those cases, you won’t have the appropriate response because you aren’t trained for it.

So, a martial art like krav maga where no rules are applied would prepare you better for the uncertainties of street fights.

In addition to this, many of the weapons you train with in Silat, won’t be readily available to you in unexpected street fights – except if you move around with a machete or sickle. On the other hand, Krav Maga uses basic weapons like your keys and pen which would likely be with you.

Valuable resources



  • Amerindo Self defense systems
  • PNW Silat
  • Silat Institute
  • Monmouth County Silat Self defense



Krav Maga


  • 3 Element lifestyle
  • Krav Maga Extreme defense
  • Krav Maga training center
  • Krav Maga Worldwide
  • Safety Training Center


  • KMD Self-Defence
  • KMWKravMaga


Well, now that you know better about these martial arts, making your choice for self-defense is much easier. Here’s a tip. Silat produces one-off warriors while Krav Maga trains soldiers to spec.

Peter Jerome

A seasoned MMA practitioner and an intermediate in BJJ and Krav Maga. When I'm not knocking heads with someone in a dojo, I like chilling out with my girlfriend and our adorable pug Betsy.

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