The best martial art for an older man – my top picks

You have read about how amazing martial arts can be for defending yourself (on this site, even). Or maybe you’ve even seen some YouTube videos of people using martial arts to defend themselves from attackers.

You may have noticed that these practitioners are usually younger men. You might think, is it possible for an older man to learn martial arts?

You wouldn’t be the first. The answer is a resounding yes.

We will go over what to look for when choosing a martial art for an older man. I will then explain my three favorite martial arts for an older man.

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What to look for when choosing a martial art

Each year, thousands of older men decide to learn martial arts as a way to stay mentally and physically strong, learn to defend themselves, or to learn a new and exciting hobby.

Yes, it is possible for an older man to learn martial arts. Sure, it will not be as easy as learning a martial art at 15 years old, but it is still very possible.

Choosing the right martial art is difficult. Each martial art has its own pros and cons. Some martial arts may also have moves that are risky for an older person.

My most important factor are:

  1. Lower stress on the body
  2. Lower strength requirements
  3. A convenient location

The first are two important factors to look for when choosing a martial art if you are an older person. The third factor applies to choosing a martial art at any age.

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Lower stress on the body

This is the most important part of choosing a martial art if you are an older person.

We want to pick one that is not too stressful on the body, especially on the knees and back. This means we want to avoid martial arts that involve lots of jumping, kicking, or throwing.

Taekwondo and Judo are eliminated from our list due to their physically stressful nature. Sure, Judo and Taekwondo look cool and are extremely effective at their intended purpose.

Throwing leg kicks and launching people over your back can be extremely stressful to the knees and back. Many younger people already suffer knee and back injuries from these martial arts.

Less strenuous martial arts exist, and we will focus on those instead.

Lower strength requirements

As the body ages, it loses muscle mass and speed. Making it important to focus on martial arts that do not require strength or speed.

This requirement means we would avoid martial arts that have a heavy punching or kicking emphasis as that requires an enormous amount of strength and speed to be effective.

Granted, those first two factors will be a boon in any martial art you learn – the third is even more important for actually getting out there and training.

A convenient location

Choosing the right location is also an important task when selecting a martial art. Sure, you may find one that you like, but if there is not an adequate trainer in your area, then you will not be able to train.

I recommend choosing martial art only if a qualified trainer is offering lessons in your area. It’s just not the same when you learn online via YouTube videos or even through live streaming lessons.

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My 3 best martial arts choices for an older man

Krav maga

This Israeli martial art meets our not too stressful and low strength criteria.

It does have some kicking and throwing, however the focus is not exclusively on those strenuous activities. The focus of Krav Maga is to adequately defend in the most efficient way possible in the case of attack.

Krav Maga does this through the use of very efficient moves that it borrows from a variety of different martial arts around the world. The keyword is efficient. The moves do not require that much physical strength and are easy on the joints.

These factors make it one of the best martial arts for defensive purposes for anyone and especially an older man. Check out this video of an 82-year-old UK man training in Krav Maga:

Tai Chi

This is one of the most famous martial arts for older people.

The Chinese martial art is most widely known for its health benefits, but it was originally developed as a defensive martial art for soldiers to protect the Chinese emperor.

Tai Chi focuses on slow deliberate movements, which makes it great for an older man. In addition, researchers have shown that older people that practice Tai Chi were less likely to have high blood pressure and are physically stronger.

Tai Chi makes an excellent choice for an older man looking for a martial art that is low stress.

I will say that the defensive focus in most modern day Tai Chi is weak compared to other martial arts. If you want a purely defensive martial art, then skip Tai Chi.

However, if you are looking for a martial art that may reduce blood pressure and make you physically stronger, then Tai Chi is a good start and why it makes the list.

Watch this video to get a glimpse at the peaceful nature of Tai Chi training in a public park in Hong Kong:

Wing Chun

This Southern Chinese Kung fu style is known for a specialization in close range combat. It focuses on training your reflexes, quickness, and efficiency, which are all benefits to an aging body.

Wing Chun trained properly will not require strength to be effective because of the efficiency training. This efficiency training is why Wing Chun has made the list despite some drawbacks.

Keep in mind, you will still have to throw punches and kicks with Wing Chun. The training and techniques you use make the punches and kicks less “strength-based” than in some other “hard” martial arts, but they still may be stressful on the joints.

Keep those factors in mind if you decide to train Wing Chun. However, having trained Wing Chun quite a bit, I highly recommend it for young and old.

Check out this video of Wing Chun Chi Sao (“sticky hands”) training techniques – perfect for an older man:

Conclusion – which should you choose?

Overall, there are still plenty of excellent martial arts to learn if you are an older man. You simply have to ensure you know your limits.

Then, simply choose a martial art that works for you based on your limits and the criteria listed above.

The three martial arts listed are all excellent ways to get healthy, learn to defend yourself, or both. They each have a slightly different end focus and different physical requirements.

Tai Chi has the least strenuous physical requirements and Krav Maga has the most strenuous physical requirements.

Even a martial art like Tai Chi is still much better than not learning any martial art at all, because of the physical and mental benefits that come with learning any martial art. You really can’t go wrong.

In any case, know your limits. If you move out of your comfort zone while training, it’s okay to stop and move on to something else. And as usual, train holistically – keep working on your situational awareness and use of weapons as equalizers!

Got another great martial art idea for older men? Leave it in the comments.

Comments 7

  1. I am a 60 year old Disabled Veteran, and have a service connected injury to my lower back. I do a lot of bodybuilding/weightlifting exercises, AS LONG as my lower back doesn’t come into play, i.e. Squats, Bent over rowing ect. I’ve been involved in these exercises, since I was in my late teens and early twenties. Now, for the past 6 to 8 months, I’ve been involved in Tai Chi and some Kung Fu movements, only by watching YouTube videos on these subjects. I really love, Tai Chi and the flowing movements. I’ve read and heard on YouTube, can also be used as a self defense art. So, I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with the above description. I also am very fond of Kung Fu, thanks to a lot of Bruce Lee movies, and the 70’s TV show “Kung Fu”. I realize that you can only learn so much from home, and that is why I am searching for Martial Art Lessons for seniors that close to me. So far, I haven’t seen anything. I live in the Granite Falls, Hickory, Lenoir Area of North Carolina. If anybody knows of such lessons, I would appreciate a reply….Thank You

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    2. I applaud your efforts and thank you for your service. I understand you attraction to Tai Chi Chuan. As a movement exercise it will help with your issues but yoga/pilates are better. As a source of self-defense skill building and training you will be hard pressed to find anyone who teaches more than the form and some Qigong. Most of the “application”, if shown at all, will be from some other source, i.e. Karate in the case stated, since in the West there are very few providers of TCC who know. Should some form of self-defense be your goal then I agree with Pavol, Wing Chun is a better choice.

  2. Dear Author,
    My appreciation to help the seniors still interested in martial arts.
    I do not know your age, I am 64, a former, retiredried instructor of Goju-ryu Karate, let me slightly support your point to start with Tai-chi, then with Wing-Chun and for those stronger and more ambitions, culminate with Krav Maga/or any style of Sports Karate.

    Taichi is slow and gives Time and Feeling to understand the meaning of defensive and offensive techniques, plus the moment of Changing from defensive to Offensive.

    Wing Chun, to my understanding is facing the stronger either in place or side stepping and defending from angles. Providing simultaneous attack while defeniding is only the cream to raise your Timing your acting to that of an attacker. (Seldom achieved, but side-stepping helps much to survive).

    Krav Maga, again in my understanding is aslos about finishing the attacker off. It also needs to spark the soul fighting for survival, but with adding more phyisical strength. In this regard a Judo may became aas a fair alternative to it.

    Hoping to have given my best experiences, I remain with best wishes.

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      I appreciate the input! Thank you for sharing your experience with those martial arts with us. Personally, I’ve studied Wing Chun quite a bit, and find that it is a perfect “all ages” martial art that can be as soft or difficult as you want it to be!

  3. Hi David,

    I’m 47, and although I actively study yoga and can roll off 100 pushups at a time, I have had several knee injuries that have made kicking an ineffective attack or defense. I studied karate in my late teens, but the style was a lot of kicking, so is no longer something I can effectively do. I can hold stances well, and because of my size throwing isn’t really an issue. Would You have any recommendations for a 6ft, 255 pound decent athlete who has “wrecked knees” and can’t effectively kick?

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      Hello Paul,
      You might enjoy Wing Chun – it’s pretty low impact on the knees, with not a lot of kicking. There is a lot of sitting in the “horse stance,” but a guy I used to train with had knee problems and was a big guy like yourself, but could hang. Most of the exercises are focused on your upper body and relaxing yourself – could be a good exercise if you usually go for a harder approach to martial arts. Hope that helps!

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