Over 40? – What Martial Art should you choose?

As people move through the aging cycle of the lifespan it is quite common for our likes and interests to change. It is not uncommon for example for people who enjoy playing hard physical sports like Australian Rules Football to make a decision to retire around the age of 40 and to move on to another sport or interest. Let me point out that not all retire however, many people continue in their chosen sport until whatever age they feel like and more power to those that do.

Trying new sports,  in this case martial arts can be a daunting experience for many people and it can be exemplified somewhat if you are over 40. Yet it is also true that training in Martial Arts for Over 40’s can very much increase your fitness and confidence levels. I can very much recommend it and would like to challenge you to step out and give it a try.

So what Martial Art should you train in then?

In compiling this list I have taken into account a large portion of the lifespan between 40 and 80 years. I fully agree that a 40yro is often fitter and stronger than someone in their 30’s. Yet I am pointing towards the day that people discover that their strength is not what it once has been. With that in mind as the barometer, here is my Top Five Martial Arts for Over 40’s.


1, Tai Chi / Tai Chi Chuan

Tai Chi and Tai Chi Chuan go straight to the top of the list. Largely because these arts are often practiced by people of older ages. Clearly Tai Chi is based around forms that people can learn and practice at a level and rate that they feel comfortable with. The health benefits of Tai Chi are well documented and starting Tai Chi can often give you significant improvements to your health. Sadly Tai Chi Chuan on the other hand is much less known in the western world and it is getting a lot harder to find a qualified teacher of it. Still, if you are able to locate a Tai Chi Chuan training centre that teaches it as Self Defence, you will likely very much enjoy what you find there as the art is replete with all manner of striking, trapping and other content consistent with striking martial art systems.


2, Aikido

Aikido is an ideal martial arts for Over 40’s. People often look at Aikido and become concerned at the speed and level of break falling being practiced in the dojo, often in the warm up phase prior to the commencement of training. What many people do not realise is that break falling is not hard and simply relies on growing in confidence and being taught the technique correctly by a qualified Sensei. In fact there is some evidence to suggest that learning to break fall correctly actually strengthens the body and builds up the core strength of your body. It is not uncommon for Aikidoka of older ages to perform break falling as well or better than anyone else in the dojo.  Aikido has techniques that take the strength of an attacker and turn it upon themselves, enabling much less physically equipped people to overcome a much stronger opponent. It is also not uncommon for people that have participated in other martial arts systems to take up Aikido at older ages after moving on from their previous training.


3, Shito Ryu Karate

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy reading the stories of the many Karateka that have earned black belts into their 70’s or who are still training at older ages and doing well. There are no shortage of older people that train Karate and get a lot from it and give a lot back to it at the same time. The Shito Ryu denomination is often popular due to having a lesser focus on high extended kicking techniques and often works in short range techniques and trapping. The Kata’s required of members are clear and concise and to the point.

Some advice for those looking at Karate as an Over 40’s person is to be aware that classes are often full of teenagers and young adults and it’s not unreasonable to feel uncomfortable training in this environment initially. My advice is that this is a case, where you are better off not to contact the Dojo directly but rather the organization that the Dojo belongs to and to speak with them about joining either a class for Over 40’s, or if that is not available if they know of specific clubs where older people train that you may fit in with better. The contact there will be likely more than happy to assist you to find the right club, which geographically may not be the closest club, but will give you the start into Karate that you are looking for.


4, Judo.

There is a great book called “The Pyjama Game, a journey into Judo” written by Mark Law which chronicles his journey into Judo at over 40. You may be surprised to read of how well he turns out doing against opponents that had been practicing for much longer than he had. Clearly there may well be a reluctance from older people to participate in being thrown, or perhaps even completing the throws on the mat, yet again as is the case with Aikido, these techniques are taught slowly and new members are taught the correct manner to fall without hurting themselves. The one advantage with Judo is that if you enjoy it, you can also go on to participate in age appropriate and experience appropriate divisions as a sport. Watching Judo on TV with a full understanding of the rules can make for a quite exciting sport once you understand what it actually happening on your screen. – http://www.amazon.com/The-Pyjama-Game-Journey-Classics/dp/1781312737


5, Wing Chun. Whilst Wing Chun is a striking art it is focused towards move and combinations that work in close. The kicks are directed low and there is no jumping and no real knee pressure to complete techniques. This is general advice, Wing Chun has a broad lineage of Masters or “Sifu’s” and there are some differences between schools of Wing Chun and you are advised to make contact with them and discuss the expectations that they have of their students accordingly.


The list above is subjective and given as general advice only. If you are an older age person looking at beginning physical activity, I recommend that you speak first with your family doctor and get some personal advice on cardio levels that are right for you. The Martial Arts above can differ from school to school and its advised to meet with the Sensei of the school first and discuss your needs and expectations with them first. Above all, take up the challenge to step out and take the first step and give Martial Arts a go. Your only regret may be realising that this is something you should have done years ago!

9 thoughts on “Over 40? – What Martial Art should you choose?

    • hello my name is posh,, i’m a male of 58 years old ,and would like to no which art for practical self defense is best for my age ,,,and with dedicated practice how long would it take to have skills for self defense ?
      Thank you


      • Dear Posh. There are many opinions as to the best martial art for each person at their given age. Certainly, I would recommend aikido (though obviously, I have a personal bias). Since its emphasis is more on using an opponents actions against them and remaining calm and relaxed, it has a lot of benefits for an older student versus karate (for example), as the training required to strike or kick effectively becomes more difficult as one ages. Chinese martial arts also offer a wide variety of styles similar to aikido in that they emphasize “internal” aspects (breathing, muscle relaxation, etc.) over brute strength. Some really good ones are Wing Chun (which involves minimal efficient movement) and Bagua. I hope that helps. Feel free to message me if you have additional questions.


  1. Posh. I just turned 65 and have been a Krav Maga practitioner for the past three years. For practical, street level self defense, not belts and matches, it can’t be beat. Also, it’s a heck of a work out, very physical.


  2. Ok here I go…I’ve been feeling like I need to be in some kind of training for a couple years now…I was in dance and gymnastics as a teenager…now I’m a 46 year old adult…mom of three…have tried certain expensive home training resources to no avail. I’ve gotten to certain points and stop…either due to sore muscles or life circumstances. So hopefully I’ll choose the right training for me this time…aikido is sounding interesting but I was wondering about karate …I’ve a bum knee due to a diet bike accident. Ended up with arthroscopic surgery but I took the rehabilitation and it’s been very good to me. What would be best for me???


  3. I am disabled vet but I am still moblie and can take a hit. I want to learn the discipline as well as moves for that just in case you need it. currently 42


  4. Hi I’m Ryan. I’ll be turning 29 and was not very athletic when i was younger. With the past few months, i’ve been thinking of learning any martial arts that would fit me and make me healthier. Can you suggest me which martials that would be best for me?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s